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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars BIG topic but repeats & avoids, April 8, 2011
This review is from: Radical Nature: The Soul of Matter (Paperback)
Christian de Quincey, Managing Editor of the IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences) Review and advocate for a unified view of consciousness, cosmology, and spirituality should be well-known to the readers of this journal. He has placed his endorsement of panexperientialism -- the view that physical nature experiences -- in opposition to the perspectives of Colin McGinn (1994), Nick Humphrey (2000a), and Ken Wilber (2000b) in three JCS articles (much of which is repeated here). Panexperientialism is a bracing notion, one in which human consciousness arises from the natural life of the universe without the explanatory gap of traditional materialism or the need for any sort of supernatural miracle.

For me, it is 'a consummation devoutly to be wished'. Scientists, too, should feel a great sense of relief that they no longer have to suffer the frustration of seeking the cause of subjective experience amidst objective reality because subjective experience has been here all the time! De Quincey states forthrightly that his purpose is less to argue than 'to tell a new cosmology story aimed at healing the split between mind and body, between consciousness and the physical world' (p. xii). So what we are dealing with here is not traditional philosophy at all, but therapy. Since the case for panexperientialism cannot be revealed experimentally or logically, de Quincey's therapy will proceed by going beyond such and appealing directly to the 'paradox of experience' itself.

This all sounds agreeable to me so I gird my loins for this adventure into raw experience (even though de Quincey has proven himself so excellent at intellection that his restatement of Humphrey's A History of the Mind was recommended by Humphrey himself (2000) as the best summary available). But here all de Quincey tells me is that when intellect faces paradox, 'we must bow in silence before the mystery -- and participate with it on its own ineffable terms' (p. 22).

Unfortunately, de Quincey postpones such 'bowing' and does the usual thing with relativity, quantum physics, and chaos theory, the three twentieth century sciences that have undermined mechanism. We next get a summary of the philosophical mind-body problem (even though we know he's already solved it) and the history of panpsychist thinking. I was still awaiting my direct revelation when I found there were two meanings to 'consciousness': one `psychological' that distinguishes between conscious and unconscious (or preconscious) experience, the other 'philosophical' that equates consciousness with experience 'all the way down'. Ignoring the fact that many psychologists and philosophers would disagree with this prescription, it seemed to me de Quincey might be folding his tents and preparing to leave the panexperientialist encampment. (And this has be borne out in his later publications when he rejects the term.)

The important point about panexperientialism is that it recognizes that conscious experience is a particular quality or mode of universal experiencing in which the mindful apprehension of both world and of physical experience is present. To fall back on the archaic term panpsychism is to open the door to the Mind of -- or beyond -- Nature, which is top-down, shamelessly religious faith, not the sort of pantheistic panexperientialism I had come to expect from de Quincey. In this way, de Quincey differentiates his views from the panexperientialism of his colleague David Ray Griffin who apparently coined the term (in Cobb & Griffin, 1977).

This panpsychist-panexperientialist question left me in a panic. Who am I to believe now? Will my direct experience of 'radical nature' be conscious or unconscious? It is a good thing that *Radical Nature* is only the first volume in a proposed trilogy that will be followed by *Radical Knowing* and *Radical Science*. I eagerly anticipate the next two as surely they will cure my pandemic confusion. (This was written after the first edition.)


Cobb, J.B., Jr. & Griffin, D.R., eds. (1977). *Mind in Nature: Essays on the Interface of Science and Philosophy* (Washington, DC: University Press of America).

de Quincey , C. (1994), 'Consciousness all the way down? -- An analysis of McGinn's critique of panexperientialism', *Journal of Consciousness Studies* 1 (2), pp. 217-29.

de Quincey, C. (2000a), 'Conceiving the inconceivable: Fishing for consciousness with a net of miracles', *Journal of Consciousness Studies* 7 (4), pp. 67-81.

de Quincey, C. (2000b), 'The promise of integralism: A Critical appreciation of Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology', *Journal of Consciousness Studies* 7 (11-12), pp. 177-208.

Humphrey, N. (2000), 'In reply,' *Journal of Consciousness Studies* 7 (4), pp. 98-112.
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Initial post: Oct 18, 2014 6:56:51 AM PDT
Don Salmon says:
wonderful review, Greg (we had a few exchanges on the JCS forum some years ago). So do you reject non dualism as a possible alternative solution to materialism? I wonder what you would think of Bernardo Kastrup's "Why Materialism is Baloney". He proposes idealism, but one that is really non dualism in disguise. Take a look at - great stuff; and stop by the forum if you like. Best discussion on the net, for my money!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2014 2:50:24 PM PDT
Hi Don. Yes, I recall the name; we were usually on same (anti-materialist) team. But I reject what was once known as the monism of idealism, too, for the physical is real, at least as real as our experience of it indicates. So, am I a dualist? No, I would probably side with panpsychism (or its more refined cousin, panexperientialism), which indicates that what we call matter or, to be more exact, matter-energy, is not soulless, objective, mechanical, non-experiencing events, but is in fact the form taken by experience. It is multiple, in that there are many forms of experiencing (right down to quantum interactions, which seem to require an observer of some sort), but it must also be - at least potentially - unified (the "pan" in panpsychism). Phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty see the observed (what we call the object) united with the observer (what we call the subject), each needing the other and together constituting the phenomenon of being. I think that's a kind of monism, physical reality with an evolving soul, manifest in many, many ways, even attaining self-consciousness in a particular primate whose population has run amok on planet Earth! (I'll check out the forum, but like many others, I'm being kept pretty busy these days.)
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