My concluding post on panpsychism, essentially my attempt to understand my own experiences in philosophic and theologic language, in preparation for a two-year study program in contemplative practice.
During my careers as anesthetist and therapist, I have consistently been attracted to understanding the nature of consciousness. As anesthetist, I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with neurobiology (and the scientific view on consciousness), and was impressed with the depth of understanding of how the brain functions. But I was also always aware that studies of consciousness rely on a small amount of evidence from neurobiology, and a large amount of assumption. Most important of all, neurologic defects of the brain (strokes, tumours, et cetera) frequently interrupt our ability to assess consciousnesss, but do not prove that the mind exists in the brain — only that the brain is a major modality whereby we access the mind (and whereby the mind communicates with the body). Given the precept of panpsychism that sentience exists all the way down, the brain may be simply one of the means by which consciousness is accesssed. My preferred metaphor is that the brain is like a computer, but the mind is the equivalent of the internet.
As therapist I did not want (or seek) academic knowledge only; I wanted something that worked in transforming human dynamics. Thus I trained in Gestalt Therapy (and later Family Systems and Neurolinguistic Programming — all very powerful for change work). Throughout, my basic stance has remained that of a Gestaltist — focussed on awareness, contact (experience of the moment), and personal responsibility. In retrospect, I now recognize that these are fundamental to choice and intersubjectivity, the basic modalities that underlie panpsychism.
The profound mystical experiences I have had are also incompatible with scientific materialism (SM), and entirely feasible within panpsychism (and idealism). Two mystical experiences, in particular, have deeply affected me.
First, when I was about nineteen or twenty, I was alone one evening, studying the physics of the Bohr atom while babysitting my nieces and nephew. Without any warning or precipitating event, I suddenly lost consciousness (for an uncertain time, perhaps 10 – 20 minutes), and experienced myself as an electron swirling around a Bohr nucleus, an experience I still clearly remember as peaceful, joyous choice. I “awoke” from this state at total peace, unable to explain it in any way, but knowing (from my current perspective) that somehow choice and sentience exists “all the way down.” This is in keeping with synchronicity and panpsychism.
The second mystical experience, when I was 31, was a sudden shift in consciousness to that of a feeling of deep peacefulness and blessedness; it recurred over the next month, and became a continuous state for almost three years, six months at its peak, then fading over two and a half years. In this state, I knew, without question, that the foundational basis of the universe was love, that the universe was friendly. At approximately five months, I encountered the book Cosmic Consciousness, a study of mystical states published in 1899; the book exactly described my own experience, and thus I now called my experience “Cosmic Consciousness.”
Both these experiences were transformational, totally unexplainable within SM, and although (in my current reflections) consistent with panpsychism, also consistent with emanationist idealism (the God of panpsychism is friendly, but impersonal).
[Incidentally, when I was in my 50s, again seeking to understand my life, I was talking with a well respected, very competent psychiatrist about these mystical experiences and other aspects of my life. She labelled me as schizophrenic, until I was able to convince her that I simply had a very different worldview than that offered by scientific materialism and the DSM-4 (the bible of psychiatric diagnosis). There is a price tag to having unusual experiences!]
Synchronicities have also guided me in amazing ways during my life, in ways that continue to astound me. Synchronicity is a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events [acausal] which have the same or similar meaning, The events could have been chance, but in their occurrence, they had a profound “wow” factor that said “go in this direction.”
Two also stand out. At one point in my life, I shifted from anesthetist to therapist, and six years later, decided to retrain as an anesthetist. At the end of the training, I was looking for a job all over North America where I could do part-time anesthesia and part-time therapy — with no success whatsoever. Months went by. Then, suddenly a possibility arose to work at the local hospital (where I was almost totally unknown), and in a space of three hours (from the start of exploring to completion), I had hospital privileges (essentially unheard of, if you know anything of hospital organization). An hour later, as my then-partner and I discussed the situation, we decided we needed a new house to accommodate both our careers. At that same moment, we saw the builder of our current house drive down the street; we walked down to talk to him, and he agreed to build us a new house, and exchange our old house as partial payment. New job, new home, hassle free, all in the space of hours. Talk about feeling “right.”
At another time, now separated and somewhat despondent, I was moving to an apartment, and drove past a country house I had always liked — which now had a “For Sale” sign outside; I said to myself “Likely can’t afford it. But I’m curioius.” Days before, I had had a new client, a local realtor (in my ten years of practice, I had never previously had a realtor as a client). So I phoned the realtor, and six hours later, I had a new house; that house became the center that I (and my current wife) ran for about 15 years. Again, it felt “right.”
Scientific materialism cannot account for synchronicity, but panpsychism can, as can idealism. Both also offer understanding of how we are creating global warming in our hubris, and that we as a species are in profound need of becoming more mature. That as a culture we need to be on a spiritual path, not an egoic path. (Incidentally, I do not like the term “spiritual” — it has too many connotations that get caught in religious argument. But I do not have a better term.)
Being on a spiritual path implies something is amiss with where you are right now. Utterly true for me of our modern world. Enlightenment is waking up and simply accepting what is, working with it as a starting point.
So, now my conclusions — as starting points for further exploration.
For me, the fundamental basis of the universe is Creativity (choice). I am also in favor of the moral imperatives as suggested by the theologian Thomas Berry (community, diversity, and subjectivity, to which I have added change) as discussed in The Great Work: Our Way Into The Future (1999).
Panpsychism provides an comprehensive process by which reality is created, one that makes eminent sense to me. It is weird, but self-consistent, and covers the ground much more than does scientific materialism.
God is transcendent (as well as immanent) — I still trust the Starmaker myth, and Starmaker exists outside the system. I thus ascribe to panentheism, and lean towards emantionist idealism.
God is love (my learnings from Cosmic Consciousness), and in that sense, intersubjectively personal — the synchronicities of my life have all felt deeply personal, as if the Creative Ultimate is specifically attending to me at that moment.
I am not sure that I want to pigeon-hole the process more than this. I am somewhat unclear if what I have indicated above makes me an emanationist idealist or a panpsychist, and it may not matter. I am willing to live the inconsistencies of mixing paradigms.
A major distinction for me between panpsychism and idealism is that miracles are possible within idealism, but not within panpsychism. (Miracles are events that are totally unexplainable, ever; in contrast, mysteries are unexplainable at present.) Partly I am undecided as to the nature of miracles (idealism requires a miracle for Spirit to initiate matter). The big miracle within Christianity is that of Jesus — however, for me, that Jesus experienced Cosmic Consciousness is a simpler explanation (Ockham’s Razor) than that Jesus is transformed God (although it can be argued that we are all transformed God).
Likely I need to sit with others to explore further (of which I likely will have ample opportunity to do so over the next two years). Thus, my journey continues.