Metaphysical Questions and Answers
Derived from David Griffin, Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), largely quoting the book

1. Contrast early modern and late modern worldviews (types of metaphysics). 22-23

The early modern worldview was a dualism (meaning that mind and matter are equally real, and neither can be explained in terms of the other) allowing supernatural power, while late modern materialism (meaning that only matter, or lifeless energy, is real, and mind is merely an appearance or function of matter) excludes God, so there can be nothing supernatural. This late modern worldview is completely reductionistic, explaining everything by ever smaller parts and ultimately by the four forces of gravitation, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong forces in the nucleus of the atom.

For an expression of the modern worldview in the form of Charles T. Tart's parody of a creed, see The Western Creed.

2. What are Griffin's nine hard-core commonsense presuppositions (which we take for granted in our living and ought to allow for in metaphysics)?

1. The reality of conscious experience, with its emotions, memories, beliefs, and purposes: Descartes was right about at least one thing: One cannot deny the existence of one's conscious experience without self-contradiction. As Searle says, "If your theory results in the view that consciousness does not exist, you have simply produced a reductio ad absurdum of the theory." We should, accordingly, eliminate eliminative materialism from the positions to be taken seriously.

2. The reality of the "external world": I have already pointed out that this presupposition rules out solipsism. I will now extend the implications of this presupposition to rule out all phenomenalisms and idealisms that deny, or at least fail to assert, that "nature" or "the physical world" is as actual as we are. This acceptance of realism need not mean a "naive Realism," according to which the world exists in itself just as it appears to our sensory perception or just as it is conceived in sensory-based conceptions. What is denied is only the idea that the very reality of what is normally called "the physical world" depends on its being perceived or conceived.

3. The reality of efficient causation as real influence: What is ruled out by this presupposition is the idea that efficient causation does not exist, or that it is, as Hume suggested, to be understood as nothing but the regularity of sequence (the "constant conjunction" of certain types of events).

4. The causal efficacy of our bodies for our conscious experience: This supposition, in fact, is one of the strongest bases for our knowledge of efficient causation as real influence, because we directly experience our bodies as causing pains, pleasures, and sensory perceptions.

5. Freedom in the sense of partial self-determination in the moment: This presupposition limits the scope of the previous one, saying that no matter how much our conscious experience is influenced by our bodies, it is not totally determined by them. Our bodies, for example, can cause us to feel extreme hunger pangs, but they cannot dictate what we will eat or, indeed, whether we will eat at all. This presupposition of freedom rules out all deterministic philosophies. That we really do in practice presuppose that we ourselves are free is shown by various reactions that we have to our own actions, such as feelings of obligation, shame, guilt, and remorse. That we presuppose that other people are not totally determined is shown by reactions such as gratitude, anger, and condemnation. Freedom in the sense of partial self-determination is the hard-core commonsense idea that is most widely rejected by philosophers. But, as Whitehead says: "This element in experience is too large to be put aside merely as misconstruction. It governs the whole tone of human life."

6. The efficacy of conscious experience for bodily behavior: Besides presupposing that our experience is causally influenced but not totally determined by our bodies, we also presuppose that our partially free decisions influence our bodily behavior in return.

7. The reality and efficacy of values: This presupposition is closely related to our presupposition about freedom. That is, in presupposing partial freedom, we are presupposing that our purposes and decisions are not totally determined by the power of the past (efficient causation), but are partly drawn by the attraction of realizing some possible value (final causation). That such values are inevitably presupposed in practice can be shown by the philosopher who says: "Although determinism may be an unpleasant philosophy, we have to accept it because it's true." This philosopher is presupposing that there is such a thing as truth and that it (rightly) exerts a pull on our experience.

Our awareness of norms. . . . In practice we all presuppose awareness of logical norms, and, more generally, we presuppose that there is such a thing as truth and that knowing or telling the truth is inherently good (which is not inconsistent with believing that its inherent value may be overridden by other considerations, such as kindness or, less happily, self-interest). We also have presuppositions involving the other two members of the traditional axiological trinity: goodness and beauty. That is, we all presuppose in practice that some modes of behavior and intended outcomes are inherently better than others and that some states of affairs, whether internal or external, are more beautiful, pleasing, fitting, tasteful, or what have you, than others. We may differ in our judgments and even our criteria; but that a distinction between better and worse exists, we all presuppose. . . .

8. The reality of the past and the future (footnote: By "the reality of the future," I do not mean that future events already exist, which would imply determinism and the unreality of time. I mean only that subsequent events, causally influenced by present events, will follow on them and that the anticipation of the future in this sense is a fact about the present.) And therefore of time. Full-fledged solipsism would be, in George Santayana's phrase, "solipsism of the present moment." But we all presuppose in practice that there has been a past and that there will be a future. Santayana spoke of these presuppositions as "faith," but that is too weak: We seem to know these things as strongly as we know anything.

9. The unity of our experience. Including this notion will likely evoke objections. . . . However, after all . . . qualifications are made, it remains true that, insofar as we "retain our minds" so that we are not merely "human vegetables," there is a significant unity to our experience. We are not simply aggregates of experiential data; that what call the mind is a unification of vast amounts of data into an experiential unity. . . . This unity is also presupposed in points 7 and 8, . . . which involve the active side of our experience. In summary, as Whitehead has observed, "what needs to be explained is not dissociation of personality but unifying control, by reason of which we have not only have unified behavior, which can be observed by others, but also consciousness of unified experience." (PR, 108).

3. What are the seven problems with "the materialist's view of the mind-body relation"? 113-120

1. "Inadequacy to the Unity of Conscious Experience." "Our experience is not simply an aggregation of bits of data but a unification of a vast amount of data into an experiential unity. . . . Given the fact that the brain is composed of at least 100 billion neurons [nerve cells], this unity of experience is hard to square with the idea that mind and brain are one and the same thing." If there are merely billions of brain cells working, "the very appearance of unity is utterly mysterious."

2. "Inadequacy to the Unity of Our Bodily Behavior." "If there is 'no single Boss,' but merely a vast aggregation of microagents, how is this coordination [such as driving while talking, smiling, etc.] achieved?

3. "Difficulty Acknowledging the Efficacy of Consciousness for Bodily Behavior." "The issue here is epiphenomenalism, the doctrine that consciousness is merely a nonefficacious by-product of the brain. . . . But the denial that our conscious experience affects our bodily behavior seems to conflict with out hard-core common sense."

4. "Inadequacy to Freedom. The hard-core commonsense presupposition most consistently denied by materialists is the partial freedom of conscious experience, along with the consequent partial freedom of our bodily behavior (which follows from the efficacy of consciousness for our bodily behavior."

5. "Inadequacy to Values." The doctrine "that nothing but material things exist . . . rules out not only a (nonmaterial) mind but also those things often called 'values,' such as truth , beauty, and goodness. . . . Materialism's reductionistic account of values inevitably creates an opposition between theory and practice."

6. "Epistemological Inadequacy." Materialism "entails a sensationist doctrine of perception, according to which we can perceive only by means of our physical sense organs. . . . As Hume saw, sense-perception as such gives us nothing but sense-data, and these are universals, or abstractions, such as colors and shapes. Sense perception as such, in other words, gives us no knowledge of the existence of other actual things. This means that the sensationist doctrine leads, in theory, to solipsism, the doctrine that I do not really know that anything actually exists except myself.

7. "The meaning of Mind-Brain Identity." Materialists assume "that the 'gray matter' of the brain is also 'matter' in the philosophical sense--namely, that it is devoid of all experience." How can our experience be identical with a large collection of nonexperiencing things. Even materialists are coming to admit that this makes no sense.

[Related summary, p. 127: "The main argument for materialism has always been that, whatever its problems, it is not as bad as dualism, with its insuperable problems. The main argument for dualism has always been that, whatever its problems, they are at least not as severe as those of materialism. . . . John Searle puts the point [about materialism] even more strongly, seeing the 'deepest motivation of materialism' to be 'simply a terror of consciousness.'"]

4. What is monism? 121

Monism (of the qualitative kind) is the position "that there is only one kind of reality." Materialistic monism, holding that there is only matter, "is really dualism in disguise," since materialists believe that there are also observing experiencers.

[The type of monism referred to here is called qualitative monism; the type of monism that maintains that there is only one unit of reality is called quantitative monism. Materialists cannot well claim that there is only one unit of matter, so they are monists with regard to quality, but pluralists with regard to the number of units of matter. However, although all idealists are qualitative monists, some idealists are quantitative monists (they are called absolutists or pantheists), while others are quantitative pluralists, maintaining that there are many units of mind, spirit, or experience (some are personalists; others are panpsychists, psychicalists, or, as Griffin prefers to call them--without clearly recognizing them as idealists--panexperientialists).]

5. What five problems do dualism and materialism share? 122-128

1. "The Problem of Discontinuity." The empirical dimension of this problem: The principle of continuity that maintains that there should be no absolute jumps in the evolutionary process, and we increasingly find by empirical enquiry such continuity, but the dualistic view, more than the materialistic, "posits an absolute difference in kind between entities that experience and those that do not. The former have an 'inside' and exercise final causation, whereas purely material entities are all 'outside' and operate entirely by efficient causation."

2. "The Problem of Where to Draw the Line . . . between mental and physical things." "Are we to say that bacteria are alive, and therefore sentient, while viruses, which have some but not all the properties usually said to characterize living things, or not? Or, if we include viruses, are we going to exclude macromolecules, such as DNA, RNA, and protein molecules, in spite of their remarkable abilities? . . . Wherever dualism draws its line between experiencing and nonexperiencing entities will be arbitrary. This problem, however, cannot comfort materialists. Because of their cryptodualism, it equally applies to them."

3. "How Could There Have Been Time for Experience to Emerge?" "[T]ime presupposes experience, because without experience there would be no 'now,' therefore no distinction between past and future. Dualists, accordingly, must hold that time itself arose sometime in the course of the evolutionary process. . . . [Yet] evolution itself presupposes the existence of time."

4. "The Problem of the Great Exception." "if minds with their experiences are real things with their own power, not simply functions of physical things, then they cannot be subsumed under the explanatory laws that account for most things (given the dualist's account of 'most things' as devoid of experience). They are the great exception. . . . [E]xperience cannot be described in purely objective or 'third person' terms, such as chemical transactions, neuron-firings, and the like; subjective or 'first-person' categories, such as feelings, emotions, and purposes, are necessary. On this basis, we can turn the Great Exception argument around, saying: Given the fact that human beings (and at least many animals) are not fully explicable physicalistically, would it not be strange if the rest of the universe were?

5. "The Problem of Emergence. . . . how conscious experience emerged out of insentient matter in the first place. This was not a problem for the supernaturalistic dualists of the seventeenth century, such as Descartes, because they could simply assume that God created both minds and matter at the origin of the world. It is not even an insuperable problem for contemporary dualists who are supernaturalists, even if they think in evolutionary terms. . . . But it presents an enormous problem for dualists who are naturalists (whether theistic or nontheistic). . . . How could bits of matter (or matter-energy) that that are wholly devoid of any experience of any sort give rise to conscious experience?"

6. What is nondualistic interactionism? 128-138

It is a view (of Griffin and other Whiteheadian philosophers) that accepts the numerical difference of mind and brain, while denying the ontological difference, so interaction is possible. Griffin says that henceforth we should use the term "dualism" only to refer to Cartesian dualism, "or some variant thereof, according to which mind and matter are said to be ontologically different in kind. In other words, 'dualism' should be used only as shorthand for 'ontological dualism.'" We should "distinguish between two types of interactionism: dualistic interactionism and non-dualistic interactionism." In other words, nondualistic interactionism is what is referred to in Anderson, p. 6, as "relative dualism," while Cartesian dualism there is called "absolute dualism."

7. Why do "almost all modern thinkers assume that matter is devoid of the characteristics that are basic to minds, namely experience and self-determination"? 131

"[A]s citizens of the modern world, they have been taught to assume it. . . . To question this mechanistic view of nature would be to question part of the essence of modernity. Perhaps, however, it is time to question it."

8. What does Griffin say about perception at a distance? 142

"According to this panexperientialist ontology, in fact, the causal interconnectedness of the world is constituted by an infinitely complex web of nonsensory perceptions. Sensory perception is a rather rare form of perception, being exemplified only by the minds of animals with central nervous systems. Our nonsensory perception, accordingly, is not a higher, more evolved mode of perception, but a more fundamental mode, which we share with al other organisms.

"Having argued that sensory perception is not our only or even our basic mode of perception, I now suggest that in nonsensory perception we are always directly perceiving not only contiguous events, meaning our brain cells and our immediately past moments of experience, but also remote events. That is, perception at a distance is going on all the time. For the most part, however, this direct nonsensory perception of remote events remains in what we call the 'unconscious' portion of our minds."

9. What does Griffin say about the function of the brain with regard to perception, and what is its side-effect? 143

"I suggest that the function of the brain, with regard to perception, is to give us rather clear and distinct perceptions with sufficient intensity to rise to consciousness, so that we can be conscious of certain dominant aspects of the physical world around us. A side-effect of this function is that most nonsensory perceptions of remote events, are blocked out. The brain's activity does not keep these nonsensory perceptions from reaching the psyche. It does, however, by providing more intense sensory data, prevent most of the nonsensory perceptions from rising to the conscious portion of the psyche's experience. So, although blocking most nonsensory perceptions from reaching consciousness is not directly the 'purpose' of the brain, it is an effect."

10. How does Griffin explain the fact that consciousness seems to depend upon the state of the brain? 149

"although the mind is distinct from the brain, it is intimately related to it. The general principle involved is that any occasion of experience is internally related to its environment, in the sense of being largely constituted by its reception of influences from the events in its immediate vicinity. Although an experience is directly influenced to some degree by the entire past, being directly as well as indirectly influenced by noncontiguous events, it s most intensely by contiguous events. It is to be expected, then, that the mind would be heavily conditioned by the state of the brain, so long as the brain constitutes its immediate environment."

11. At p. 275, Griffin asks the following question:

Why is it not sufficient to believe that this universe contains objective values which we, through nonsensory perception, can directly apprehend? By thinking of such objective values as "Platonic forms," why could the spiritual life not be adequately supported by such a purely Platonic religion? (I use the term "Platonic" for this view only for convenience; Plato himself, at least in some of his writings, spoke of an actual deity.)

There are two problems with this type of Platonic religion. In the first place, as intimated above, the idea that the forms, ideals, or norms as such, having a purely ideal existence, could exist on their own is dubious. There has been a widespread agreement, shared by thinkers as diverse as Whitehead and Thomas Aquinas, that they can exist only as entertained by something actual, by a mind. We can believe that values exist objectively (to the human mind), then only if they exist subjectively--as entertained by a cosmic subject. Such a subject of cosmic scope is what is here meant by "God." Whitehead's suggestion, furthermore, is not only that values exist in "the primordial mind of God," but that they exist there as appetitions. God prehends truth, beauty, and goodness with the appetition that they be actualized in the world of finite beings. This is Whitehead's explanation as to why we feel values as ideals, that is, as important, as possibilities that should be actualized [reference to MT 102-13]. We do not, therefore, with our nonsensory perception simply prehend these values directly; we prehend them by prehending God. Whitehead says, accordingly, that our "experience of ideals--of ideals entertained, of ideals aimed at, of ideals achieved, of ideals defaced . . . is the experience of the deity of the universe"[reference to MT 103].

A second problem with the attempt to have a purely Platonic religion is that the fundamental religious desire is the desire to be in harmony with the supreme power of the universe. It is hard to see the trinity of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, for all its grandeur, as the supreme power of the universe. We can accept as the supreme power only that which is the source of the stars above and the earth below as well as the call to truth, beauty, and goodness within. The supreme power can only be that which is responsible for the fine-tuned order of the physical constants of the universe, for the emergence of life, and for the human form of life.

For these two reasons, the kind of religion . . . according to which we use the term "God" for a cluster of values we have chosen to honor, will not work. We need to believe that the values we serve are discovered, not invented, and therefore we need an actual, not merely an ideal or "as-if" God.


Charles Hartshorne on Mind-Body Interaction

[O]ur cells respond to our feelings (and thoughts) because we respond to their feelings (and would respond to their thoughts if they had any). Hurt my cells and you hurt me. Give my cells a healthy life, and they give me a feeling of vitality and at least minimal happiness. My sense of welfare tends to sum up theirs, and their misfortunes tend to become negative feelings of mine. I feel what many cells feel, integrating these feelings into a higher unity. I am somewhat as their deity, their fond heavenly companion. They gain their direction and sense of the goodness of life partly from intuiting my sense of that goodness, which takes theirs intuitively into account.

From Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), p. 80.

For more of a similar nature, see here and here.

Philosophical and Other Resources

Metaphysics: Multiple Meanings

URL of this site:

Created Sept. 22, 2000, by Alan Anderson,

Latest update Sept. 23, 2000

Visits since Sept. 22, 2000
FastCounter by bCentral