Mod+ Neutral Monism & Nondualism [Resources]



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Neutral monism reconsidered

Neutral monism is a position in metaphysics defended by Mach, James, and Russell in the early twentieth century. It holds that minds and physical objects are essentially two different orderings of the same underlying neutral elements of nature. This paper sets out some of the central concepts, theses and the historical background of ideas that inform this doctrine of elements. The discussion begins with the classic neutral monism of Mach, James, and Russell in the first part of the paper, then considers recent neo-Russellian versions in the second half. The chances for a revival of neutral monism are probably slight; its key ideas and starting points lie far from those in contemporary philosophy of mind. A better route might be through the philosophy of science and a deeper understanding of causation.


Mind outside Brain: a radically non-dualist foundation for distributed cognition

We approach the problem of the extended mind from a radically non-dualist perspective. The separation between mind and matter is an artefact of the outdatedmechanistic worldview, which leaves no room for mental phenomena such as agency,intentionality, or feeling. We propose to replace it by an action ontology, which conceivesmind and matter as aspects of the same network of processes. By adopting the intentionalstance, we interpret the catalysts of elementary reactions as agents exhibiting desires,intentions, and sensations. Autopoietic networks of reactions constitute more complex super-agents, which moreover exhibit memory, deliberation and sense-making. In the specific caseof social networks, individual agents coordinate their actions via the propagation ofchallenges. The distributed cognition that emerges from this interaction cannot be situated inany individual brain. This non-dualist, holistic view extends and operationalizes process metaphysics and Eastern philosophies. It is supported by both mindfulness experiences andmathematical models of action, self-organization, and cognition.
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The linguistic con game of the 'mind/matter duality'

I have recently been accused of proposing a metaphysics that simply replaces one form of reductionism with another: instead of reducing everything to matter, I allegedly 'reduce' everything to mind, the supposed polar opposite of matter. Underlying this accusation is the notion that 'mind' and 'matter' are dual concepts or polar opposites at the same level of abstraction, so that a reduction to either of them is seen as equally abstract. The suggestion is that there is a higher, truer, more enlightened point-of-view that precedes both mind and matter ontologically, and from which we can contemplate both mind and matter as a lower-level duality or polarity. As such, I allegedly fail to bring us any closer to that 'higher point-of-view,' instead replacing one abstraction with another.

If this is what you think, you've fallen for a linguistic con game; one that, unfortunately, plagues most of our culture. Mind and matter are not a true duality; and they aren't polar opposites.


Dual-Aspect Monism `a la Pauli and Jung

Dual-aspect monism and neutral monism offer interesting alternatives to mainstream positions concerning the mind-matter problem. Both assume a domain underlying the mind-matter distinction, but they also differ in definitive ways. In the 20th century, variants of both positions have been advanced by a number of protagonists. One of these variants, the dual-aspect monism due to Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Gustav Jung, will be described and commented on in detail. As a unique feature in the Pauli-Jung conception, the duality of mental and material aspects is specified in terms of a complementarity. This sounds innocent, but entails a number of peculiarities distinguishing their conjecture from other approaches.

Lester Levenson's story at

KEYS TO THE ULTIMATE FREEDOM Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation By Lester Levenson at

Who Am I? - (Nan Yar?) The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi Translation by Dr. T. M. P. MAHADEVAN from the original Tamil

Be As You Are The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi Edited by David Godman at Maharshi - Be As You Are--The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi--Godman.pdf
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Why Neutral Monism is Superior to Panpsychism

I want to argue here that neutral monism is a superior position to either panpsychism or dual-aspect theories, neither of which is entailed by it. Indeed, I think the more progressive essays in the volume such as Manzotti and Skrbina’s concluding essay are most charitably interpreted as leaning toward neutral monism. At the end I will provide a sketch of my own brand of neutral monism and its relation to cognitive science.

Let us have a look at a little taxonomy, taken largely from Stubenberg (2009), which will help me explain why neutral monism is the stronger view in a family of views that are often conflated for obvious conceptual and historical reasons. I will dub this family of views dual-aspect theories broadly construed. Dual-aspect theories claim that mental and material properties are manifestations or aspects of one underlying non-dual reality that is neither intrinsically mental nor material.
Horst rightly points out that this unexamined assumption of successful intertheoretic reduction in the non-mental special sciences (and thus proof of metaphysical supervenience) drives much of the logic in various quarters of philosophy of mind. First, he notes that historically the plausibility and success of intertheoretic reduction is what drove physicalism and not the other way round. Second, the naturalist’s assumption that any special science phenomena (mental or otherwise) must either be reduced to be real or it must be eliminated. Third, dualism’s (or panpsychism’s in this case) assumption that because the mental alone is unique in failing to be reduced it must constitute another fundamental element alongside the physical. Both Horst (2007) and myself (Silberstein 2001, 2002) have argued that philosophy of science no longer supports the assumption of widespread intertheoretic reduction in the non-mental special sciences and has thus abandoned the “metatheoretical” norm of intertheoretic reduction. Rather, the lesson of philosophy of science is that intertheoretic reduction (certainly as characterized by many philosophical accounts such as the model by Nagel (1961)) is rare in the natural sciences.

Horst addresses the implications of post–reductionist philosophy of science for the canonical views in philosophy of mind. His main conclusion is that given the state of disunity in the natural sciences, there is no longer much warrant for believing that:

a) physicalism (or naturalism) is highly probable,
b) that phenomena must be reduced to be real or
c) that mind is unique in resisting intertheoretic reduction; though he grants it maybe unique for other reasons and may have special problems being reduced.

He argues that disunity in the natural sciences shows that mind is not unique simply for being irreducible and that rampant disunity in the natural sciences suggests that the shared assumption that mind is special in this way is not well founded. Explanatory gaps and failures of intertheoretic reduction are the norm in science and not the exception.
In my view the main problem with panpsychism is left completely untouched by all the essays in Mind that Abides. This problem is a variant of the “combination problem”, and it can be phrased as the following dilemma: Either panpsychism (P) is claiming that physical particulars have mentality in the standard sense or it is not.

• If the former is correct, then P is absurdly unwarranted and does not solve the hard problem any more than dualism.

• If the latter is correct, then P is meaningless/empty and cannot solve the hard problem without emergence anyway because the latter is necessary to solve the combination problem.
The claim here is that neurons for example have some sort of protomentality that somehow, when combined in the right way, yields conscious experience and the unity of consciousness. Of course, panpsychists do not despair of solving the combination problem someday given that neurons are not essentially non-mental on their view. However the identity theorist can simply solve their metaphysical problem by denying that physical phenomena are essentially non-mental. They do not have to go as far as the panpsychist does and say that neurons, for example, have proto-mentality. And again, what does proto-mentality mean? If the mentality of neurons is nothing like that of human conscious experience then how does combining them yield such qualitatively different phenomena as human experience – and why think panpsychism is any better off than physicalism in this regard? If proto-mentality just means the potential for conscious experience given the right conditions then the wise physicalist can embrace this idea as well. It is telling that panpsychism’s solutions to the “combination problem” all look exactly like the identity theory’s solutions to the “hard problem”. They both invoke computational and dynamical complexity, large-scale neural synchrony, etc., to explain the emergence of conscious experience from the brain. I am frankly suspicious of two allegedly different metaphysical theories of mind which nonetheless agree on everything about how science ought to proceed when it comes to explaining and probing the mind. If this means the end of a priori metaphysics spinning freely from science, I can live with that.
I agree with panpsychism wholeheartedly insofar as even if everything else could be reductively explained, conscious experience cannot ever be. However, when it comes to grounding the explanation of conscious experience it seems to me that panpsychism is the worst of all possible metaphysical positions and is scientifically moribund to boot. Although Strawson would not appreciate this way of putting it, I think that panpsychism with its many materialist assumptions is the negative image of physicalism. Not only does it share with materialism (traditionally conceived) belief in essences and substances, but even more damning, panpsychism typically embraces a kind of atomism whereby the universe is made of proper parts with some sort of “primitive thisness.” Indeed, it is really the assumption of some sort of atomism that drives panpsychism! For panpsychism, it is atomism that blocks physicalism from explaining the emergence of conscious experience and it is atomism that demands that the proper parts of the universe have some protomentality. Furthermore, panpsychism often shares the problematic assumption with dual-aspect theories that mental and physical aspects are essentially distinct, further complicating the picture. That is, panpsychism is a reification and multiplication of qualia or proto-qualia which makes the mind-body problem and the hard problem in general intractable. Nagel (1979, p. 181) sums much of this up with his master argument for panpsychism:

1) physical reality is composed of “rearrangeable” particles of matter;
2) mental states are neither reducible to or entailed by physical states;
3) mental states are real and
4) there are no “truly” emergent properties.

Whereas panpsychism is still a reification of scholastic thinking, neutral monism is a true deflation of the mind-body problem. Let us remind ourselves that according to neutral monism: • Mental and material features are real but, in some specified sense, reducible to or constructable from a neutral basis in a non-eliminative sense of reduction. • The neutral basis is generally not conceived as substance. • Mental and material features are not separable or merely correlated, they are non-dual, indeed, they are not essentially different and distinct aspects. Let me then be more specific in what neutral monism entails for me:

1. There are no qualia, and conscious experience is not a property, thing, entity or substance that emerges from a substrate like ectoplasm being excreted from the brain.

2. Subject (self) and object (world) are co-existent, co-defining and self-consistently constructed. As the co-related features of the wellknown face/vase Gestalt image, world and self are two complementary sides of the same coin.

3. Conscious awareness belongs to embodied, embedded and extended organisms. Therefore the very idea of neurons or atoms having experience is a non sequitur. A dynamical systems treatment of ecological psychology plus enactivism yields a new brand of neutral monism wherein affordances are about the world as experienced and not, say, steps and ladders.

4. The phenomenon of conscious experience is not internal to brains, not something that happens inside us. The outside/inside distinction is no more absolute than the mental/material distinction.

5. Conscious experience is intentional and it yields a meaningful world for the organism – the much discussed being-in-the-world. Conscious experience is not anything that can be in the world; rather, it is that which gives us a world in the first place and vice versa.

6. Conscious experience involves temporal flow essentially and it involves essentially the feeling of nowness or presentness wherein the past, present and future interpenetrate one another in that we anticipate the future and remember the past. In other words, the succession of present moments (that which feels real) are not windowless.

7. The world is not made of anything or composed of proper parts, it’s relations all the way down. The world is not a thing, entity or substance either – think of graph theory as opposed to set theory.

8. If brain-body-world forms a strongly coupled non-linear dynamical system, representationalism is unnecessary and thus computationalism is false. Intentionality and conscious experience go hand in hand – they are not orthogonal phenomena. So while there may be many interesting neural correlates of conscious experience, they are just necessary (but not sufficient) conditions of conscious experience.
I would argue that both (1) a correct understanding of scientific work on extended phenomenology-cognition and (2) resolving the hard problem strongly recommend rejecting the physicalist orthodoxy. This, some might believe, is too large a price to pay. I disagree. I would happily give up physicalism, which is problematic in its own right and useless on the ground in terms of scientific practice. A fruitful way forward in the science of cognition and phenomenology should be a way to see between a Nothing But and a Something Else as Well.



"We propose a generalized theory of “Non-Dual Conscious Realism” addressing the fundamental issue of consciousness. This theoretical framework posits the universing arising from an undifferentiated, non-dual field of pure conscious awareness. From within this universal consciousness emanate the complementary phenomena of Planck scale quantum vacuum and quantum foam, generating space and time, matter and energy.

Through successive, recursive, creative interactions, phenomena and entities at each level of scale self-organize into emergent phenomena and entities at each next higher scale, comprising the entire cosmos. These triadic principles of complementarity, recursion, and creative interactivity (wherein “sentience” is the special case of the biological) are reflected throughout all scales. Though emergentist/materialist positions predominate in contemporary discourse regarding consciousness, the primacy of this non-dual conscious reality, which we emphasize is the deepest possible “panpsychist” perspective, is not contradicted by any known scientific phenomena. Also, unlike most emergentist positions, it is inclusive of the inextricable linkage between observer and observed, subject and object, decisively revealed by quantum mechanics. Indeed, at all levels of scale above the quantum realm, quantum-like effects – such as uncertainty, complementarity, superposition, entanglement, non-locality - reflecting such interconnectivity are recognized. Corollaries of Non-Dual Conscious Realism include that: materiality is not implicit in the universe, but is entirely a scale dependent phenomenon; the “hard problem” of qualia is subsumed by confirmation that all phenomena of the universe are qualia within consciousness; neural correlates of consciousness are not how consciousness is created, but are, rather, the ways in which the nervous systems (human or other) transduce consciousness into adaptive, species-specific perceptions and behaviors. Individual consciousness and associated qualia are part of the universal, non-dual conscious reality."

Neil Theise, MD

Professor of Pathology and of Medicine at Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai

Neil Theise, MD is a practicing pathologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where he is Professor of Pathology and of Medicine. He is considered a thought leader in fields of liver diseases, liver stem cells, and adult stem cell plasticity. In recent years, interests in complexity theory applications to biology have led to novel insights regarding stem cell biology, non-Western models of the body, science-spirituality dialogue, and consciousness studies. With Menas Kafatos he is formulating a panpsychist approach to the relationship between consciousness and the universe. He is a Senior Student at the Village Zendo in NYC.



Russell Targ, a laser physicist, cofounded the remote viewing research program at SRI International. He is coauthor Mind Reach, The Mind Race, Miracles of Mind, The Heart of the Mind, and The End of Suffering. He is author of Limitless Mind and The Reality of ESP: A Physicist's Proof of Psychic Abilities. He is also coeditor of the anthology, Mind At Large.

Here he argues that, according to the Buddhist logic of Nagarjuna, Aristotle is wrong. A proposition can be both true and false at the same time. Most propositions are neither true nor false. He finds similar thinking in the wave-particle duality of modern physics, as well as in Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. The unity of consciousness is also expressed in the findings of remote viewing. He describes the path of Dzogchen in Buddhism and claims that it is the most direct path to enlightenment.