Objections, Replies, and Conclusion
This chapter is a discussion of the foreseeable objections against Whitehead's model as a metaphysical framework for psychosomatic healing, and my replies to those objections. It ends with a conclusion that attempts to accommodate these objections.
I. Objections and Replies
To date, Whitehead's system has found little acceptance by either philosophers or the health care industry. Much of this rejection can be traced to the materialist bias in twentieth-century science and philosophy, as well as the intellectual challenge of understanding Whitehead's model. However, these attitudes have nothing to do with the merits of the Process model itself. On the other hand, there are some legitimate reasons to reject, or at least question, the Process model. I have divided this discussion according to philosophical model, i.e., the objections of materialists, dualists, idealists, and those that may be shared from multiple perspectives.
Objections of Materialists
A materialist could introduce at least two arguments that have considerable merit. One of these is that there are good reasons for restricting science to its traditional, material domain. Observation is essential to the scientific method, and the material world is what we can observe. Kant, as well as others, such as the logical positivists in this century, have argued that the domain of science should be limited to that which can be empirically verified. Can there really be any intelligible discourse about mentality per se at all, when what we are attempting to observe is observation itself? It would make sense to say that we cannot observe, without significant distortion, the act of observation itself.
I agree that we cannot put one of Whitehead's occasions under a microscope to study. However, science accepts the existence of many things that do not lend themselves to direct observation, e.g., subatomic particles and (with some controversy) black holes. Physicists posit the existence of such entities, because they help explain more observable phenomena. Whitehead's actual occasions serve a similar function with respect to mind-body interaction. Mind-body interaction is true by hard-core common sense. The question is not whether it happens, but how it happens. The materialist paradigm fails completely in this regard. Although Whitehead's model may have its problems, they are far less than those of either materialism, dualism or even idealism.
Another materialist objection is that there may be a materialist ontology of psychosomatic healing. A materialist might say, "I accept the idea that my brain affects my health. Psychoneuroimmunology, if it proves anything, proves the importance of the brain in healing. Now more than ever are we likely to find a 'natural' (i.e., materialist) explanation for what we call psychosomatic healing, especially when we consider some of the new discoveries in the 'science of chaos,' in which complex, but completely insentient, far-from-equilibrium material entities like weather systems appear to exhibit downward (i.e., whole-to-part) causation and self-determination. Might the body be just such a far-from-equilibrium system, whose functions are fully explicable in terms of these newly-discovered forms of physical causation and psychoneuroimmunology? Why accept a radically new paradigm when we have not yet fully explored existing ones."
Personally, I would welcome this response from materialists, for it would mean that at least some of them are beginning to take psychosomatic healing seriously -- a major, positive step in its own right. Moreover, if they can develop a model that describes the phenomena observed as well or better than Whitehead's, I am interested in learning it -- but not before then. The ball is in their court. I would encourage any materialist that thinks he can do it to go ahead.
Objections of Dualists
Many of the dualist objections will come from those committed to traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic theology, who find a naturalist explanation of psychosomatic healing offensive on religious or theological grounds. These objections could run along any of the following lines:
My attempt to naturalize mental healing is also an attempt to trivialize some of the miracles that are so central to certain religions, especially Christianity. I am therefore reducing the role of God in the healings in the New Testament to metaphysical and theological insignificance.
There are other problems with the Process model, such as that of a relatively weak God with respect to the problem of evil, that render it contrary to some basic tenets of Judeo-Christian-Islamic faith.
A superficial answer to the first objection would be that the vast majority of the healings in the New Testament are psychokinetic healings (i.e., Jesus and the apostles healed others) and therefore lie outside the scope of this essay. However, this would be an exercise in evasiveness. If the reality of psychokinetic healing can be established to the same extent as psychosomatic healing, then I would argue that we need a metaphysical framework for it as well. However, that would be a topic for another essay. Moreover, an application of the Process model to psychokinesis has already been introduced by at least one other Process philosopher.(234)
Moreover, implicit in the first objection is the view that what is theologically significant is not the fact that God heals, but that God intervenes supernaturally. In the Process model, God is still the primary healing force, in that the primordial nature of God is the source of all change and novelty, including a change from illness or injury to health. Under the Process model, God still heals, but by purely natural means. If the theological significance of the healing miracles in the New Testament is their supernatural origin, then I must concede that the objection is a valid one. However, anyone taking such a position would probably find this entire project both heterodox and unnecessary. For them, we already have a perfectly viable explanation for any unexplained healing: God's supernatural intervention.
With respect to other problems with the Process model, such as its approach to the problem of evil for traditional theology, I must concede that I have not attempted to answer these objections in this essay. I leave that issue to others. My purpose here is not to show that Whitehead's theory is consistent with traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic doctrine, but that he has viable a theory that explains psychosomatic healing.
Objections of Idealists
Most of the idealist objections would come from those in Christian Science and New Thought, who would say that I am underrating the power of thought. Would it not be more healthy, they could argue, if people at least believed their minds were omnipotent? Whether the belief is founded in metaphysical truth or not, the belief itself is salutary. Why not let people take advantage of the power of the belief itself?
The question here is similar to that of being in denial about having a heart attack. The general calm engendered by optimistic, but false, beliefs actually serves to mitigate the condition about which the subject is in denial. There are times when the values of intellectual integrity and health appear to be conflict. My response to this objection would depend on the forum in which it is raised. If my idealist friend were himself suffering from advanced cancer, and needed all the help he could get, psychosomatic and otherwise, I would definitely not attempt to persuade him that efficient, physical causation is real. My primary concern would be his health, not his intellectual integrity, which we can address when he recovers. However, in this dissertation, intellectual integrity must take precedence over individual health. This essay is not intended to provide comfort and inspiration to the afflicted, but to make sense of what we do in fact observe. The evidence indicates both that belief becomes biology and that biology can sometimes overcome belief. Unlike idealism, Whitehead's model explains both. Moreover, Whitehead's model does not rule out "miraculous" healings as dramatic as the spontaneous regression of cancer. There is ample room within the context of Process philosophy for the power of faith. Within God's primordial nature are all manner of possibilities, many of which are beyond our present imagination, or even beyond human imagination altogether. In merely acknowledging the reality of physical causation, we are not necessarily accepting any kind of fatalism. Fatalism entails a certain intellectual pretentiousness in itself. Whitehead's philosophy quite explicitly rules out knowledge of the future. Because it is not yet actual, we cannot know the future. My father, after having practiced medicine for over twenty years, once told me, "I have long since ceased attempting to put limits on the length of human life. I have seen too many 'dead men' survive."
However, for myself the very fact that Whitehead's model seems to describe the world in which I live renders it psychosomatically superior to the idealist model in one very important respect. It is believable. The idealist model may be more optimistic in its content, but it is much harder to believe. In my own personal experience of applying psychosomatic healing techniques in my life, I have found that modest but credible affirmations work better than those that seem obviously too good to be true. Given the importance of sincere belief in psychosomatic healing -- which the idealists themselves so heavily stress -- I would argue that the optimism must also be credible.
Objections may also come from idealists outside Christian Science and New Thought. An Hegelian, for example, might argue that many of the problems with idealism can be attributed to the examples I used, i.e., Christian Science and New Thought. Had I used a better-formulated example of idealist model, such as those of the nineteenth-century Germans, my objections against idealism could be overcome. The problem with this objection is that it calls for a response to a theory that has yet to be formulated. Idealism, in its Hegelian form, was never used to explain mental healing, and I am not sure how an Hegelian would explain mental healing. Accordingly, I can only encourage my Hegelian idealist colleague to write and publish an essay on the subject. I would be delighted to both read it and respond to it at that time. However, as I argued in Chapter 9, any idealist model would still have to address the problem of explaining physical causation and the apparent limitations of the mind's power, as well as the objections to idealism raised by James.
General Problems with Process Philosophy
Whitehead's philosophy is not without its critics, and there are no doubt some who would say that his model just has too many ambiguities and internal inconsistencies to be acceptable in its present form. I have three answers to objections of this type. The first is, again, I never intended this essay to be a general defense of Whitehead. I leave that task to the more senior Process philosophers, some of whom have been defending Whitehead for decades. Secondly, at no time have I argued that we must accept Whitehead's model exactly as he developed it. Whitehead himself acknowledged that virtually all attempts at speculative philosophy are destined to be superseded.
The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation. The reason for the success of this method of imaginative rationalization is that, when the method of difference fails, factors which are constantly present may yet be observed under the influence of imaginative thought. Such thought supplies the differences which the direct observation lacks. It can even play with inconsistency; and can thus throw light on the consistent, and persistent, elements in experience by comparison with what in imagination is inconsistent with them.(235)
This essay began with the stage of observation and ended with a flight of speculative imagination. The next stage is "renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation." The Process model, as applied to the subject of psychosomatic healing, needs both further discussion by philosophers and testing by health care scientists. I suspect that it may well be revamped, reinterpreted, or even replaced. In presenting it as a viable model here, I am in no way declaring any attachment or allegiance to it. What I am saying is that it goes in right direction. There is little hope for bettering our understanding of mental healing, or even of mind-body interaction in general, so long as the discussion is limited to the Cartesian and materialist theoretical frameworks. If not Whitehead's model, then some another model, which is equally if not more radical, is needed. We cannot continue to attempt to solve the problem at the level of thinking that is creating the problem. We must either reframe our understanding of the discussion, or else simply concede that the enigma of mind-body interaction is insoluble. The latter option would involve laying claim to knowledge I do not possess.
II. Summary and Conclusion
In this dissertation, I initially introduced two major theses. However, in developing my arguments, I also introduced a third. The first is that psychosomatic healing is a real phenomenon, one that occurs frequently enough to merit the attention of our health care system. The second is that there is nothing supernatural in the process. If I succeeded in arguing for the first thesis, I probably did so in Chapters 3 - 8, where I reviewed the large and growing body of empirical evidence in its favor. However, the evidence itself does not prove conclusively that the phenomena these chapters describe are a product of mental causation. Throughout most of human history, this issue has not been a point of contention. However, in recent years, both philosophy and the health care sciences have had a strong materialist bias. The materialist paradigm says that mental causation in any form is impossible, and its activity in healing, illusory. In fact, under the materialist understanding of nature, psychosomatic healing would have to be supernatural if it occurs at all.
Nevertheless, to argue for the thesis that it is in fact natural, one must be able to show how it can be so. It is not enough to say that the belief in its supernaturalism is a recent thing, because one can say the same for relativity and quantum mechanics. Among professional philosophers, those who would contest the materialist claim have, almost by default, taken up Cartesian dualism, as if it were the only viable alternative. Although dualism allows for the possibility of mental causation, it cannot explain it, because it cannot explain mind-body interaction. The idealist model developed by Christian Science and New Thought can explain, albeit somewhat incompletely, how psychosomatic healing occurs, but it cannot explain its limitations, or why it often fails. This model must also be rejected, because an adequate theory must explain both.
This brings us to the third thesis, developed in the philosophical chapters of this essay. To present a plausible, natural theology of mental healing, we must take the discussion outside the traditional intellectual framework of substance and attribute and begin thinking in terms of processes, events, and creativity. This means going beyond the dualist, materialist, and idealist models that have dominated Western philosophy since Kant. Only then will we be able to make sense of the underlying issues of causation as real influence and mind-body interaction. Whitehead's model provides just this kind of natural theology of mental healing. Hence, the plausibility, if not the actuality, of my second thesis has been adequately demonstrated. Moreover, Whitehead's model was specifically designed to address the philosophical problems that have rendered mental healing so incredible: those of efficient causation as real influence and of mind-body interaction. In that sense, it begins with a commanding lead over any possible rivals. How well it stands up to philosophical critique and empirical testing are matters that the future will determine. This dissertation is intended to be but the beginning, not the end, of the involvement of philosophy in mind-body health care. If I have done nothing more than stimulate serious discussion of this topic among professionals in either academic philosophy or health care, I have achieved my purpose.
Notes on Chapter 11
234 Griffin, Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality, 144-6. Return to text
235 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 5. Return to text