I find some versions of panpsychism quite attractive

David Bentley Hart said in this interview:

You don’t need the morphology [of New Testament cosmology] to believe in a spiritually living creation that is full of spiritual life. You know, I’m something of a panpsychist myself. Not in the modern way, in which, you know, you’re supposed to believe that every atom has a kind of quality called mind. But rather, that everything is founded upon spirit, is full of logos, is full of spiritual realities.

I’m always on the hunt for more about these concepts. The Corinthian Body by Dale Martin is yielding some fruit, and I’m hoping to post a review of it on here for myself before long. Meanwhile, I’m “rereading” The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss as audio book. In portions of pp. 215-230 (2013 print book version), Hart writes:

Alternatively, one could opt for the naturalist version of “panpsychism” (naturalist, that is, rather than dualist or idealist). This theory claims that consciousness is not a unique property of organisms with brains, but is a fundamental property of the universe at large, present in all physical reality in some form: perhaps as, say, a natural accompaniment to the exchange of “information states” that occurs whenever one material reality affects another (so that a thermometer or a coffee spoon could be said to be conscious, presumably at a fairly idiotic level, of a change in room temperature or of stirring cream into coffee). In this view of things, there is a qualitative and intentional dimension to everything, no less fundamental than the particles of matter, though entirely different from them in nature. This approach to things does, at least, relieve one of the burden of explaining the existence of mind—why, it’s everywhere!—but few committed philosophical naturalists will wish to solve the mystery of consciousness by invoking some ubiquitous quintessence more mysterious still. And, in any event, the whole notion, when posed in naturalist terms, merely conflates the distinct realities of information and our consciousness of information, which is both logically illicit and explanatorily vacuous. (For the record, I find some versions of panpsychism quite attractive, but am also quite certain that the idea is irreconcilable with materialism.)

…There is no good reason not to accord serious consideration to the ancient intuition that the true order of ultimate causes is precisely the opposite of what the materialist philosopher imagines it is, and that the material realm is ultimately dependent upon mind rather than the reverse: that the fullness of being upon which all contingent beings depend is at the same time a limitless act of consciousness. What could we possibly imagine we know about matter or mind that would preclude such a possibility? That the concept of incorporeal or extraphysical consciousness is unintelligible? That, as it happens, is a vacuous assertion: We have no plausible causal model for how consciousness could arise from mechanistic physical processes, and therefore no reason at all to presume some sort of necessary bond between mind and matter. And, truth be told, we have far better warrant for believing in mind than we do for believing in matter. Of the material world we have compelling evidence, of course, but all of it consists in mental impressions and conceptual paradigms produced by and inhabiting the prior reality of consciousness. Of consciousness itself, however, our knowledge is immediate and indubitable. I can doubt that the world really exists, but I cannot doubt that I have intentional consciousness, since doubt is itself a form of conscious intention. This certitude is the imperturbable foundation of my knowledge of anything else. We have and share a world only because each of us has this incommunicable and integral subjectivity within. That whole rich inner universe of experience and thought is not only real, but more real than any physical object can be for us—more real, for instance, than this book you hold in your hands, which exists for you only within the far deeper, fuller, and more certain reality of your consciousness. Once again, we can approach nature only across the interval of the supernatural.

…Perhaps, to exist fully is to be manifest to consciousness. If there were a universe in which consciousness did not exist, in what sense precisely would that universe itself exist? Certainly not as a fully articulated spatial and temporal reality filled with clearly discrete objects, concretely and continuously flowing from a vanished past to an as-yet unrealized future, like the universe that exists in our minds: the reality we find represented in our thoughts, in which intensities and den- sities and durations and successions are arranged in such magnificently complex but diverse order, exists only relative to consciousness; in a universe devoid of mind, at the phenomenal level of reality as it appears to intentional awareness—nothing would exist at all. In itself, if it had any reality in itself, this “mindless” universe would be only a plenum or totality of particles or quantum potentialities “extended” relative only to one another, but in a way quite difierent from the kinds of extension in space and time of which we conceive. Even then, however, it seems fair to say that such a universe, if it existed, would exist exactly to the extent that it could be known to consciousness of some kind.

…There is a point then, arguably, at which being and intelligibility become conceptually indistinguishable. It is only as an intelligible order, as a coherent phenomenon (sensible or intellectual), that anything is anything at all, whether an elementary particle or a universe; perhaps it is true that only what could in principle be known can in actuality exist.

Finally, a friend just recommended Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman. I’ll have to check it out. Anyone still reading this, do you have any other leads? Leave a comment.


  1. rossmallen says:

    Thank you so much for this: it’s a gift to read these words again.

  2. KDKH says:

    I’ve just ordered Lanzo’s Biocentrism book and the sequel, Beyond Biocentrism, and I’m looking forward to the read. Kudos to you for tackling this subject!

    1. Jesse says:

      Thank you for the encouragement. As I continue to read myself, you might also be interested in taking a look at either of these books (or others by these authors) *The Noetics of Nature: Environmental Philosophy and the Holy Beauty of the Visible* by Bruce Foltz as well as *Can We Believe in People?: Human Significance in an Interconnected Cosmos* by Stephen R. L. Clark. I’ve also just ordered a copy of *Ancient Mediterranean Philosophy: An Introduction* by Clark. I’ll also mention *The Invention of Science* by David Wootton. Finally, one more author to consider is John Milbank.

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