Mind that Abides: Panpsychism in the New Millennium

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David Skrbina
John Benjamins Publishing, 2009 - Philosophy - 401 pages
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Panpsychism is the view that all things, living and nonliving, possess some mind like quality. It stands in sharp contrast to the traditional notion of mind as the property of humans and (perhaps) a few select 'higher animals'. Though surprising at first glance, panpsychism has a long and noble history in both Western and Eastern thought. Overlooked by analytical, materialist philosophy for most of the 20th century, it is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts in several areas of inquiry. A number of recent books including Skrbina's Panpsychism in the West (2005) and Strawson et al's Consciousness and its Place in Nature (2006) have established panpsychism as respectable and viable. Mind That Abides builds on these works. It takes panpsychism to be a plausible theory of mind and then moves forward to work out the philosophical, psychological and ethical implications. With 17 contributors from a variety of fields, this book promises to mark a wholesale change in our philosophical outlook. (Series A)

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Is the great god Pan reborn? For a while there, it seemed every intellectual movement began with the prefix ‘post’, implying non-totality, but now there are indications that ‘pan’ (all) is returning to provide another answer to one of the most basic of ontological questions: What is the relationship of mind to matter? In this important book with 17 different authors, panpsychism is given its due.
From a previous widely-accepted dualism we have now mostly settled into the monistic worldview of what Skrbina calls mechanistic physicalism (p. 364), in which mind, if it exists at all, is somehow a derivative of the non-mental, deterministic physical universe of matter and energy. This book sets out to convince the reader that probably the most ancient of worldviews has been right all along: mind is ubiquitous in the physical universe, and psyche is everywhere in everything. Just like that, the hard problem is solved and no one need wonder how awareness could arise in a non-aware world. The exact form and nature of this pan-psyche, however, remain in question.
In the introductory chapter, Skrbina summarizes his earlier book on panpsychism in western philosophical thought, as well as mentioning more contemporary thinkers with panpsychist perspectives. He includes such recent luminaries as Teilhard de Chardin, Bateson, Nagel, Bohm, and, more controversially, Chalmers. He also mentions two books that stand out, each in its own way, as more coherent and stirring panpsychist statements than the current collection – Abram’s (1996) wonderful paean to the earth, and Griffin’s (1998) process panexperientialism. On the other hand, he overlooks Velmans (2000), who has significantly similar views to Strawson.
Strawson’s realistic monism or real physicalism is becoming the panpsychist standard position to judge by the number of citations it gets and the references to it in the other essays. Strawson’s contribution is the first essay in Part I: Analysis and science, though there is little science in it. His position is basically that consciousness can neither be accounted for by any known physical theory, nor can it sensibly be said to supervene or emerge from non-conscious matter. By default, it therefore appears that physical entities must each have been intrinsically conscious all along. For Strawson, all objects, not just quantum particles, are also subjects of experience, i.e., conscious. Panexperientialists understand experience qua experience to be taking place at all levels of being but experience that has become conscious of itself, i.e., conscious experience, as being much more rare. Both Skrbina and Strawson basically ignore unconscious experience, which surely is experience without an experiencer.
Skrbina’s overall image of panrelational holism and interconnectedness is somehow profoundly satisfying: ‘In a strange way, each of us is a world-soul’ (p. 378). If he gave more credit to creative experience in realms that we can only recognize from our perspective as unconscious, he would be close to the cutting edge of awareness – opening our culturally isolated minds to the subtle flux of their source in the out there. Overall a stimulating read, possibly profound, and highly recommended.
Abram, David (1996), The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World (New York: Pantheon).
Griffin, David Ray (1998), Unsnarling the World-Knot (Berkeley: University of California Press).
Velmans, Max (2000), Understanding Consciousness (London: Taylor & Francis


Acknowledgements and dedication
Panpsychism in history
Analysis and science
Realistic monism
Halting the descent into panpsychism
Mind under matter
The conscious connection
The dynamics of possession
Finite eventism
Metaphysics and mind
Zeroperson and the psyche
All things think
Something there?
Panpsychic presuppositions of Samkhya metaphysics
The awareness of rock

Can the panpsychist get around the combination problem?
Universal correlates of consciousness
Panpsychism the BigBangArgument and the dignity of life
Process philosophy
Back to Whitehead?
Does process externalism support panpsychism?
Why has the West failed to embrace panpsychism?
Minds objects and relations
The series Advances in Consciousness Research

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About the author (2009)

David Skrbina is a Lecturer in Philosophy in the Department of Humanities at the University of Michigan at Dearborn.

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