A New Perspective
This letter is a personal plea to all of my colleagues in professional psychology, to notice and take appraisal of what is happening in the philosophy of science and metaphysics in the world of science. A gigantic paradigm shift is trying to take place in science, and hence in the world at large. It necessarily involves a deep shift in philosophy as well as scientific method. The theoretical foundations of reality are shifting beneath our feet, and this holds great promise for healing the negativity, racism, hate and destruction in our society.
The change is in the way we understand reality itself. Materialism/physicalism is dead as a metaphysical basis for reality. The materialistic metaphysic of classical science does not even acknowledge that consciousness exists; it considers mind as simply the machinations of the brain; it does not consider subjective experience to be legitimate (or real); and it cannot accommodate quantum mechanical phenomena. Materialism fails utterly as a comprehensive explanation of reality. A new metaphysical explanation which sees reality as processes and events rather than things and static structures is coming into play. The primary version of this trend is known as process philosophy or philosophy of organism. It is the most comprehensive and the most popular version of the process ontologies. It is an extrapolation from quantum mechanics (see: Double Slit Experiment explained! by Jim Al-Khalili - YouTube 9 mins. 8 secs., and Quantum Entanglement Simplified Microscopic Universe, You Tube 4 mins. 46 secs.), and is based on the idea that everything is always in the process of change, some things slower, some things faster. Therefore, the fundamental characteristic of reality is change, not stasis. Further, every element of reality, from the tiniest quark to the whole universe, has at least some minimal amount of sentience or responsiveness to its surrounding environment. For instance, quarks are either attracted or repelled by other quarks. Sentience, this tendency to respond, grows more complex as entities become more complex; until, at the highest level of complexity (humans), sentience becomes self-aware consciousness. Therefore, everything is at least somewhat life-like; hence, philosophy of organism. These factors provide a framework for reality which is virtually seamless in its inclusiveness, and it reinserts humans back into the continuity of nature. Life itself is seen as the essence of reality in this scheme (a living universe), and it is radically ecological. The whole universe is conceived as a single integrated holistic living being. What makes the philosophy of organism so incredibly important is the hope that it offers to our divided, angry, hateful, racist, and destructive culture, which seems to be growing worse at an alarming rate. This new understanding of reality offers a true remedy because of its focus on relationships, interconnections, cooperation, and holism, instead of separateness, competition, fearfulness, selfish acquisition, and meaningless things.
There are no ultimate truths in science; there are only better models, and someday this particular model will also evolve or recycle into another more sophisticated one. But, for now, I believe very strongly that it is incumbent on us psychologists to become more conscious of the science and philosophy involved in this gigantic paradigm shift. In the past, it has been the primary responsibility of the science of physics and the other “hard” sciences to describe the basics of reality. That has changed with the profound failure of materialism to explain ultimate reality. Physics is no longer the “queen” of the sciences; now it is psychology, because we now understand that consciousness is the fundamental reality. Consciousness is the stuff of mind; that’s our turf. Let us seize this opportunity to get ahead of the wave of change and lead science into the future, rather than just follow along behind.
All of us, by choosing to work in the field of psychology, whether clinically, academically, theoretically, experimentally, or applied, assumed, tacitly at least, a responsibility to help define and interpret how conscious reality functions. We are, by default, scientific and humanitarian emissaries to the rest of the society. However, it is probable that many of us did not receive instruction in our own training, about how to deal with philosophy of science issues or metaphysical issues. Nevertheless, psychologists, because our subject area is mind, are the first-order of professionals who are responsible for shedding light on the nature of conscious reality, to the rest of the society and the world. I realize that most of us have simply been going about doing the good work of helping others clinically, teaching, doing research and the many other things our profession enables us to do. We were not taught to expect a world-wide paradigm shift to come along in our life-time, let alone one that is so all-inclusive that it involves a major change in the definition of reality itself. But here we are. And for us to ignore this fact would have a potentially strong negative effect on the wellbeing of our nation and the world, as well as our profession.
Please bear with me. Let me assure you that all of this will make perfect sense after all of the parts of the puzzle are put together. And, that is precisely my aim in writing this letter. I will give you some further explanation in a moment; and in addition, I will provide you with the resources (videos, books, articles, etc.), to let you come to your own conclusions. I am virtually certain that you will see the beautiful symmetry, parsimony, and integrity of process philosophy, and will see the health-giving benefits of this new metaphysical picture.
Its main author was Alfred North Whitehead, writing extensively in the first half of the twentieth century. But his writings are so difficult, dense, sometimes obtuse, and often contain new words and concepts which he created, that few people read him. He was a world-renowned mathematician, a physicist, philosopher, and educator. He filled William James’ chair in philosophy and psychology at Harvard, several years after James died. Over the years Whitehead has acquired a huge reputation, and you may already be familiar with his brilliant work. He now has a significant number of followers and interpreters.
By the turn of the century, Whitehead was already a vociferous critic of classical physics and reductionistic materialism. He felt that science had forsaken human experience in favor of mathematical abstractions, and had become completely mechanistic. Whitehead opted for a truly empirical science that accepted human experience first-hand. And he noted that the only a priori knowledge we have is personal subjective experience. This phenomenon became known as pan-experientialism. Due to the fact that he was a physicist himself, he understood quantum mechanics as it developed during the 1920s-30s and accepted its implications immediately. He saw that it was the inevitable wave of the future and began developing a new metaphysics that is concordant with it. But, at that time in history, metaphysics had fallen out of favor among philosophers, and his new theory was most often ignored. Whitehead intuitively recognized the integrity and continuity of nature, the connectedness of all things; and he recognized that everything in the universe is hierarchically self-organizing, from the tiniest quantum phenomena all the way up to humans and galaxies; and not just the physical side of nature, but the conscious/mental side as well (see Neil Theise The Self-organizing Universe, you Tube, 18 mins.). Whitehead’s metaphysic became known, additionally, as “process-relational philosophy,” to acknowledge that the livingness of life is in the connections. The basic features of the ‘philosophy of organism’, as Whitehead called it, are as follows:
Actuality consists not of individual objects with attributes, but rather of interwoven processes. The belief in individual objects is an effect both of our evolved perceptual apparatus, notably vision (figure-ground discrimination), and an effect of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness: reification---we easily slip into believing that an individual word/term must refer to an individual object, perhaps the result of our Indo-European linguistic emphasis on nouns rather than verbs (content-oriented language).
Processes are not ‘things’ changing, but ‘things’ are movements abstracted (even atoms are processes).
A process can have a center of operation, but it extends spacio-temporally into its environment. Reciprocally, its environment is part of it. A part of a process continues into another process, and thus becomes part of that other process; e.g. a star enters into your eye and the star’s process becomes part of you. There is no representationalism; perception operates as part-to-part rather than object-to-representation. Participation replaces perception.
Even so-called ‘enduring objects’ (mountains, moons, etc.) are processes, as can be understood over time.
For Whitehead, a process is not merely a flux of matter/energy but also an organism that includes sentience or consciousness (everything, individually and/or collectively, is organism). The whole universe and all of its components are alive in terms of some amount of responsiveness and interaction.
A process is temporal; the notion of an instant is also an abstraction. Events (“actual occasions” for Whitehead) are essentially drops of experience which follow on a time-line---sequential instants of reality. His process of “prehension” replaces traditional perception; it is the spontaneous gathering of memories from all sources, coupled with the impressions from all sensory sources, both subtle and conscious, joined with data and impressions from trans-personal and trans-rational sources, with the inclusion of creative impulses and subjective intentions to form the next instant of reality. And it is immediately replaced by the next.
A so-called ‘constant of nature’ is also an abstraction for Whitehead. We commit the fallacy of generalizing from the particular when we believe that the regularities of nature (such as laws of physics) we observe at our timescale are eternal laws of nature (science produces only models, not truths).
Understanding the universe as a thriving interwoven mesh of processes leads to the rejection of many purported dichotomies. For example: subject-object, substance-attribute, organic-inorganic, cause-effect, nature-nurture, artificial-natural. Each of these pairs (and others) is collapsed or rendered moot when seen through the eyes of process. Immediate impressions are the barter of process thinking. Automatic bifurcation into mind and matter (reductionism) is arbitrary and often is destructive instead of constructive.
The main implication here is that no thing exists without a context of relationships, not just to put it in perspective, but to give it its existential meaning. No thing exists in the abstract, in a stand-alone fashion.
“The universe is non-material and completely self-organizing. It is composed of a hierarchy of complementary, process driven, and recursive phenomena, and is its own first observer and its own first subject. Therefore, it can be understood to derive from awareness rather than giving rise to it. The world is composed, a-priori, of awareness and privileges information over materiality, action over agency.
All experiences are nothing but qualia within the awareness which is the ground of existence. Therefore, the human brain is not the creator of conscious experiences, but the transducer of the primary non-dual, non-material consciousness into our own personal minds.” (Neil Theise & Menas Kafatos).
Process philosophy or the philosophy of organism is beautifully parsimonious and elegant; it appears as unified, as comprehensive, and as intricate as nature itself. Process philosophy has both the logical integrity of truth and the aesthetic appeal of essential beauty. This logical integrity and aesthetic appeal are the final criteria traditionally used by science to determine which theory is the correct one. And there appears to be no other theory available which can include the rigors of science, the trans-rational/trans-personal aspects of spirituality (and quantum mechanics), and the relational integrity of philosophy in one comprehensive package. At present, Whitehead’s model of process philosophy appears to be the most accurate and complete description of reality ever proposed.
I hope that we all will realize the benefits of learning more about this new view of the universe, so that we can pass it on to those we treat and teach and serve in all the many ways psychologists affect peoples’ lives. The potential for healing our society is huge. Well-informed clinicians and teachers, by adopting the new philosophy, can not only benefit the health and well-being of their immediate clients and contacts, but help propel the spread of this healing insight through the rest of the society. Obviously, now, more than ever, our nation is in desperate need of the hope which this philosophy promises, and psychologists are logically at the top of the list of potential specialists in this field. Other members of our society will likely look to psychologists first, for information concerning this huge cultural change.
Daniel J. Thompson, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist, Texas 21198
References and resources are roughly organized with videos and easier-quicker-essential listed first, followed by more difficult, long, or indirectly related sources. I recommend you view the four YouTube videos listed here first.
Footnotes2plato is the website of a process philosopher named Matthew Segal. I highly recommend browsing this website for a wide variety of video lectures, essays, and discussions about process philosophy. Also, you can simply search for: Matthew Segal on YouTube and get a lot of info.
Consciousness Creates Reality---Quantum Physics Explains. By Gary Lite. YouTube, 12mins. 30 secs.
Quantum Entanglement Simplified Microscopic Universe. YouTube, 4mins. 46 secs.
“The complementarity principle” mappingignorance.org/2016/02/11/the-uncertainty-principle. This short article offers a concise and easy-to-understand explanation of the uncertainty principle.
C. Robert Mesle, Process-relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2008). This short book is a great starting place for a general treatment of process philosophy.
Daniel J. Thompson, The Grand Delusion: The Lie We Have Lived For 300 Years (San Antonio, TX: Laughing Mountain Publishing, 2020) Provides a short and fairly comprehensive explanation of process philosophy.
Matthew Segal, Physics of the World Soul: Whitehead’s Adventure in Cosmology (Sacra Sage Press.com, 2021). A more comprehensive and detailed explanation of Whitehead’s metaphysics; a fount of information.
Elizabeth Kraus, The Metaphysics of Experience: A Companion to Whitehead’s Process and Reality (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998). A detailed interpretation of Process and Reality. Unpacks the meaning of Whitehead’s language, categories, and oddities.
Dean Radin, Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality (New York: Pocket Books, 2006) An excellent treatment of the relationship between extrasensory experience and nonrational quantum physics.
Carl Jung, Synchronicity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973). The key factor in understanding synchronicity is that it is a correlation between inner experience and outer observations.
D. Linderff and M. Fierz, Pauli and Jung: A Meeting of Two Great Minds (Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 2004). Wolfgang Pauli, Nobel laureate, saw the relationship between quantum entanglement and Jung’s synchronicity and helped Jung refine his theory.
Henry P. Stapp, Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer (New York: Springer, 2007). This book offers one of the most concise and understandable explanations of the weird quantum world and the part played by consciousness in the creation of material reality.
Dean Radin, The Conscious Universe (New York: Harper Collins, 1997). Dean Radin is an extraordinary researcher who has offered virtually unassailable proof of the existence of extrasensory (psi) phenomena as part of the array of our natural human ezxperiences.
Neil Theise and Menas Kafatos, “Sentience Everywhere: Complexity Theory, Panpsychism, and the Role of Sentience in Self-Organization of the Universe” Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research (April 2013/Volume 4/Issue 4/pp. 378-390).
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The realization of the Living (Boston: Reidel Publishing, 1980).
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: MacMillan, 1929). Whitehead’s philosophy is utterly and completely brilliant. He brought to science a seminal insight into the relationship between content and process, subject and object, being and becoming, and the transience of all things except the ultimate whole (God). His original writings are difficult to read, but there has been a lot written about his contributions. His thinking provides a fulcrum for the change from classical science to modern process thinking.
Ilya Prigogine, The End of Certainty (New York: Free Press, 1997).
M. Seligman, T. Rashid, A. Parks “Positive Psychotherapy” American Psychologist (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2006, no. 61).