Previous Chapter Contents Next Chapter

Chapter 9
Of Ghosts and Machines:
Understanding the Mystery of Mind over Matter

This chapter is an examination of mind-body problem of modern philosophy and its relationship to the phenomenon of psychosomatic healing. In addition to these introductory remarks, it consists of five sections:

  1. Philosophical Implications of the Evidence for Mental Healing
  2. The Discovery of the Problem in the Philosophy of Descartes
  3. An Overview of the Current Mind-body Debate
  4. An Overview of the Idealist Alternative
  5. Mental Healing as a Problem for Modern Philosophy

The first section is a review of the implications of the evidence with respect to the mind-body problem, free will, and supernaturalism presented in the previous chapters. Although the evidence tells us nothing new about the mind-body relationship, it nonetheless clearly favors either idealism or panexperientialism over dualism and materialism. The issues of free will and supernaturalism are closely tied to that of mental causation, which, in turn, hinges on the mind-body problem.

The second section shows how the mind-body problem became especially apparent in Descartes's philosophy. Descartes viewed mind and matter as two completely different kinds of substances, which, although they interact, have no coherent explanation of their interaction. However, this problem has overshadowed another problem with Cartesianism that is less obvious but more serious -- its inability to explain any kind of efficient causality as real influence.

The third section is a review of the current mind-body debate itself. This debate, which has consisted largely of the dualists' and materialists' refutations of each other, has become an intractable stalemate that has done little more than weaken both positions.

The fourth is an overview of the idealist alternative, which, although it has received little recent attention in academic philosophy, is the prevailing ontology among believers in mental healing. Problems with this alternative, especially when we apply the regulative principle of hard-core common sense, render this paradigm undesirable as well.

The last section is my explanation of why mental healing has been so problematic for modern philosophy, and, to some extent, why contemporary philosophers have been reluctant to tackle it. Inherent in the concept of mental healing itself are two problems that have been especially intractable for modern philosophy: causation as real influence and the mind-body relationship. I will argue that these problems go back beyond Descartes to Aristotle and his view of the world as composed of substances with attributes. Once we understand how substance thinking has contributed to the enigmas of causation and the mind-body relationship, both the origins of the enigmas and the road to understanding them may become apparent.

I. Philosophical Implications of the Evidence for Mental Healing

The evidence itself raises three major philosophical questions with respect to psychosomatic healing:

  1. The problem of explaining mental causation;
  2. The question of freedom to choose our own thoughts;
  3. The question of supernatural involvement, i.e., direct activity by God, unmediated by secondary (natural) causes.

The question of mental causation actually embraces two philosophical issues: the mind-body relationship and causation itself as real influence. Any adequate theory of mental causation must address both. The latter two questions, those of free will and supernatural involvement, hinge on the first. It is difficult to conceive of free will without mental causation, because free choice is in itself a form of mental causation. In free choice, a mental act, i.e., a decision or choice, acts as the first cause of what one will do. Without mental causation, there would be physical determinism or no causation at all.

The question of the supernatural depends on what is considered "natural." One could reasonably argue that nothing can ever be supernatural. The laws of science are supposed to be descriptive, not prescriptive. Anomalies merely indicate that the current formulations of the laws need to be changed or discarded, not that the actual laws of the universe have been violated.

Of course, not everyone shares this characterization of science, e.g., the materialist skeptics who argue that scientific laws do not permit mental healing. However, let us assume that scientific laws are prescriptive, as well as descriptive. We do not ordinarily attribute events that have a natural explanation to supernatural causes. When a person spontaneously recovers from a cold or flu, modern people do not proclaim it to be a miracle, because normal immune responses are known to cure these diseases. However, when a person spontaneously recovers from metastatic cancer, the story is somewhat different. Ordinary immune responses do not normally induce a spontaneous regression of cancer.

The reason that we have attributed such healing to supernatural causes is the apparent lack of a "natural" explanation. The nature of the causation involved is what seems so mysterious. We now know, for example, that natural killer t-cells can destroy cancer cells. We do not know, however, how thinking can at times stimulate the production of enough of these t-cells to eradicate a cancer. If mental causation is itself a natural process, then there is no reason to attribute psychosomatic healing to supernatural causes. God, if involved at all, could be acting through natural processes. On the other hand, if mental causation lies outside the natural system, then any Divine activity involved with it would be supernatural. I will argue later in this essay that God may act through our own thinking.

Although the evidence is quite conclusive with respect to the value of psychosomatic therapies in scientifically based medicine, it provides few, if any, new insights into the ultimate nature of mental causation. Although psychoneuroimmunology is discovering connections between the immune and nervous systems, it has told us nothing about how the mind affects the brain. The same holds for all the other empirical evidence presented, including the placebo effect, the Black Monday syndrome, the cancer personality type, the phenomena of hypnosis, and even the stigmata of the Catholic saints. None explain mental causation. All they tell us is that belief somehow becomes biology.

The problem of mental causation is not new to Western philosophy. It has contributed to the development of four distinct major theories of the mind-body relationship: dualism, panexperientialism, idealism, and materialism. Of these worldviews, materialism and dualism have recently dominated the debate in academic philosophy, whereas idealism has dominated the literature on mental healing. Panexperientialism seems to be neglected in both discussions. We turn next to the mind-body debate in modern philosophy, tracing its origins to Descartes and dualism, then moving on to the contemporary debate.

II. The Discovery of the Problem in the Philosophy of Descartes

Although the mind-body problem of modern philosophy did not originate with Descartes, he seems to have set the stage for the discussion. One of the problems with great minds is that they can do great damage. René Descartes is clearly one of the greatest thinkers in modern philosophy. However, he made a few wrong turns, from which modern philosophy is still trying to recover.

Descartes derived his two substances, thinking mind and extended matter, with two separate arguments. He proved the existence of his own mind by arguing that the very act of thinking proves the mind's existence, and that he himself existed as a being that thinks. Had he followed this line of reasoning further, the history of Western philosophy might have been very different. He could have, for example, further concluded that thinking presupposes an object of thought, as much as it does a thinker, and derived the reality of matter from that. Had he derived his notion of matter along these lines, he might have concluded that both mind and matter are essential aspects of human experience, and that neither can exist without the other. Thus, he might never have concluded that mind and matter were substances that could exist independently of each other.

However, that is not the course he took. Having derived his own existence as a mental substance in the cogito argument, he took leave of the cogito and moved directly to the ontological proof of God, deriving the existence of matter, his second substance, from the fact that God exists and cannot be a deceiver, and that we clearly and distinctly perceive material things. Therefore, extended, material things must also exist. Having derived their existence independently, and being able (or at least so he thought) to conceive of their existence as separate, Descartes concluded that each of the two substances could exist without the other. What remained a mystery was their mode of interaction.

However, this remaining problem was serious enough to be recognized even by Descartes's contemporaries, Malbranche and Gassendi to name two. If Descartes could not explain their interaction, then one could legitimately question whether he had a "clear and distinct" concept of either. The relationship of the two substances to each other may be an essential, as opposed to accidental, characteristic of both. The fact that both Spinoza and Leibniz, the most prominent among Descartes's immediate successors, developed panexperientialist systems is more than coincidental. Both Spinoza's monistic and Leibniz's pluralistic panexperientialism attempt to deal with the fact that, although mind and matter are indeed distinguishable, they seem to be inextricably linked.

The problem of explaining interaction, however, is not the most serious weakness in Cartesian dualism. More serious -- because it is less obvious -- is the underlying doctrine of the independence of mind from matter, and vice versa. If we start with experience as Descartes understood it, then we are led directly to the philosophy of the British empiricists. Although Locke's views were reasonably consistent with Descartes's, Berkeley challenged -- and I think successfully -- the Cartesian concept of matter as an extended substance that was itself devoid of experience and could exist independently of anyone's perception of it. Soon afterwards, Hume argued that Berkeley's arguments against matter could also be applied to mind or spirit, and thus, that experience tells us very little about the nature of reality.

Since Hume, philosophers have taken one of three courses. Idealism, which dominated much nineteenth-century philosophy and has also dominated the popular literature on mental healing, claims that matter is reducible to a figment of the mind. Materialism and epiphenomenalism, which have prevailed in both academia and medicine in the twentieth century, have attempted to deny the existence of mind or to reduce it to a mere property of matter. However, both materialism and idealism share with dualism a common belief: that either mind, as an unextended but experiencing substance, or matter, as an extended but vacuous actuality, or both can be adequately conceived without each other. I will attempt to show how this false assumption has reduced the mind-body debate to the exercise in futility that it has become.

III. An Overview of the Current Mind-body Debate

Although neither Leibniz, Spinoza, nor Hegel would have predicted it, Cartesian dualism is alive and well in the twentieth century. In fact, the current mind-body debate seems to be proceeding almost as if the series of great thinkers between Descartes and Kant, or at least between Descartes and Hume, had never existed. In the current debate, dualism and materialism, the least attractive paradigms with respect to psychosomatic healing, are assumed to be the only viable options. Metaphysically, it has come down to the modernization of Descartes and Hobbes. Alternative views, such as idealism and panexperientialism, are generally not considered worthy of serious discussion.

One would think that a review of this debate might introduce some arguments that would strengthen these two positions, but that is not the case. Each side attempts to make its case primarily by refuting the other and win the debate by elimination. The problem is that both sides have succeeded in this regard. The materialists have refuted dualism, and the dualists have refuted materialism. Hence, the debate has become a plague on both houses.

In Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem, David Ray Griffin summarizes the arguments that materialists and dualists have used to refute each other. In doing so, he notes that some arguments made by materialists against dualism can be turned back against materialism. The reason that materialism and dualism share these problems, argues Griffin, is that materialism itself is a form of "crypto-dualism," which will be explained later.

In this section, we will very briefly review the standard arguments against dualism and materialism. It should become clear why neither materialism nor dualism fulfills the requirements of rationality and adequacy defined in Chapter 2, especially when we apply the regulative principle of hard-core common sense. We will begin by reviewing the arguments against materialism alone, then those against dualism alone, and finally those that apply to both.

Problems with Materialism

Materialism is the only worldview that seems to conflict with the evidence for mental healing directly, because, at least under most formulations, materialism denies that the phenomena observed can occur. If the evidence really is factual, then this denial is irrational. What saves materialism from refutation here is that there is nothing in the evidence per se to prove that the brain, interacting with the endocrine, immune, and other parts of the nervous systems, could not produce all the phenomena observed. Materialists can still argue that the Black Monday syndrome, the placebo effect, the cancer personality type, and even the survival of the yogi Haridas after weeks of live burial are all products of the brain. Although it would be extremely difficult to show how the brain could accomplish such feats, we have no proof that it cannot. Accordingly, materialists could reclassify mental healing from "impossible" to "inexplicable," thereby improving both the internal and external consistency of their position.

However, it is reasonable to ask if this reformulation of materialism, which merely promotes it from inconsistency to marginal adequacy, is worth the effort. To demonstrate adequacy, one would have to explain how the brain actually accomplishes these things. The difficulty of explaining all mental functions in terms of the brain has been one of the major problems with materialism from the outset.

The humble placebo effect would pose one of the most difficult problems, because it is too obvious to deny. Medical research, in using blind and double-blind studies, almost universally acknowledges it. With a single-blind study, the materialist might attribute the placebo effect to the subjects' brains. However, the need for double-blind studies -- with its implication that the experimenters' beliefs can alter a drug's affect on the subjects' physiology -- suggests that something akin to telepathy or psychokinesis is happening, as well as mental causation. The materialist would have to attribute the apparent mental causation to the brain, and the apparent telepathy or psychokinesis to subliminal, but sensory, communication. Other phenomena described in the previous chapter pose similar problems. When one considers how difficult it would be to explain these phenomena in materialist terms, it is easy to understand the temptation to dismiss the evidence for mental healing itself as fraud or anomaly.

The problems with materialism are presented under two headings: "Problems of Rationality" and "Problems of Adequacy."

Problems of Rationality

One problem with materialism, which affirms that the mind is somehow identical to the brain, is that it is difficult to understand what mind-brain identity could actually mean. Most materialists have attempted to equate mind states and activities with the corresponding brain states and activities. However, something is invariably lost in the translation. If it is difficult to understand how a ghost can move a machine, and even more difficult to understand how a ghost can repair one, it is harder still to understand how the ghost and a machine could be identical.

Most materialists advocate a "supervenience" theory, in which mind-states relate to brain states in the same way as visible characteristics, such as the shininess of metal or the liquidity of water, relate to the underlying molecular structure and activity. However, the difference between molecular and sensible properties is much less than that of brain and mind. Both the visible properties and the molecular properties are physical properties. In Griffin's terminology, how could an experience ever reduce to the activities of non-experiencing things? The language and categories involved are completely different. As one of my undergraduate professors put it, "How, after all, could a brain state be true?"(175) Thus, reductive materialism is marginally intelligible at best.

To escape this and other problems of reductive materialism, some materialists have embraced eliminative materialism, which denies the reality of the mind altogether. However, the problems with this alternative are even worse. To deny the reality of consciousness outright is to believe that one cannot have beliefs. Griffin quotes materialist John Searle in summarizing this point:

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.(176)

Of course, eliminative materialists do not deny that we experience consciousness. What they say is that the language we use to describe subjective, first-person states tells us nothing that cannot be said in terms of objective, third-person states and processes.

One of the materialists' reasons for saying that we can dispense with the concept of mentality is that sentience and intelligence occupy only a small portion of a very vast physical universe. However, the place they occupy -- where we live -- is a very important one. The truth that Descartes held to be most self-evident was the existence of his own mind.

Another problem with materialism is that it ultimately leads to the denial of our knowledge of the external world. This is especially difficult for materialism, because the atoms and molecules that comprise the external world are the only entities that the materialist believes are real. The problem stems not from materialism per se, but with its corollary doctrine of sensationism, which says we can know things outside ourselves only via the five senses. If all our knowledge of the external world must come through the senses, we cannot know the external world as it is in itself at all, but only as it appears to us. The simple process of seeing an object across the room is a complex chain of physical and physiological events. Light rays ricochet from the object to the retinas of the eyes, and signals traverse the optic nerves towards the brain. At the end of the physical process, we have neurons firing in the brain. At each step, what actually occurs becomes less and less like the original object, or at least, further and further removed from it. Then, a miracle happens -- "a miracle," as Griffin quipped, "performed by an illusion."(177) The mind somehow extracts a reasonably accurate mental image of the external object from the firing neurons! The event is almost supernatural, because, for the materialist, the mind is but an epiphenomenon, a supervenient quality, or an outright illusion. Yet, it is able to fabricate an accurate picture of an external object from a bunch of firing neurons. This is an impressive feat, especially for something that does not actually exist, or, at the very most, exists without any power of causation.

Now if our illusory mind has the power to create mental images of physical objects from nerve impulses, why would it need the external objects in the first place? Who is to say that the mind is not dreaming or hallucinating the whole scene? Thus, our "knowledge" of the external world is reduced to speculation, and we have solipsism. (In fact, as I argue later, it becomes a solipsism of the present moment.) Reality, as molecules in motion and the physical laws the govern them, is lost completely. Given solipsism, we can ask, along with Berkeley, of what use is the concept of matter, an entity existing outside our perception of it? The only reality with which we have contact is our own mind, and we get idealism, materialism's exact opposite.

Problems of Adequacy

In addition to the problems in coherence and intelligibility, materialism also has problems of adequacy, in that it fails to explain some obvious facts and hard-core commonsense beliefs. These problems originate not so much from materialism per se, but from the related doctrines of reductionism and sensationism normally associated with it.

Materialist reductionism is the theory that the whole can be fully explained by the activities and characteristics of its parts. The behavior of subatomic particles determines that of the atom; the behavior of atoms determines that of the molecule; the molecules determine the cell; and so on, until everything about the organism is ultimately explicable in terms of the mechanics of its smallest parts.

This reductionist theory of human nature fails to explain some obvious phenomena. One is the unity of an individual's experience, i.e., how all of a life's experiences are contained within the single experience of an individual. There is no counterpart of that unity in the brain, which consists of billions of neurons. Yet, each of us experiences our mind and life history as one. Each of us, when we think of ourselves as individual persons, will (usually) refer to ourselves as an "I," not a "We." The brain is a collective; it has no physical counterpart to the unity of consciousness.

Closely related is the problem of explaining the unity of bodily behavior. Griffin describes the problem as follows:

The question here is, for example, how I can drive an automobile while talking to my wife (about the mind-body problem, of course), while smiling, while turning the dial on the radio, while remembering a childhood event, and so on. If there is "no single Boss," but merely a vast aggregation of microagents, how is this coordination achieved?(178)

The brain has no single structure that unifies command and control. To unify and coordinate all these activities, the brain itself would need to have something like a brain of its own to serve as a control center. It has no such center. Brain functions are distributed throughout the organ.

When combined with sensationism, materialism has problems explaining other hard-core commonsense beliefs. One is causality. This was the thrust of Hume's argument. If, as both Hume and the materialists maintain, we can garner information about the outside world only via the five senses, then we have no empirical basis for knowing how causes bring about their respective effects. The notion of a cause's power to bring about its effects is neither a sense datum nor a series of sense data, and sense data are all that experience gives us. We can know only the constant conjunction or correlation of the cause with its effect.

Mathematical relations cannot be perceived via the five senses, nor can the senses perceive values, such as truth, beauty, and moral virtue. One could argue that the senses can give us beauty, but how could they give us truth or moral virtue?

One of the more obvious sources of non-sensory information is memory. The five senses give us only immediately present data. Hence sensationism cannot tell us how we have the idea of "the past." This is why sensationism gives us not only solipsism, per the discussion presented earlier, but solipsism of the present moment.

Finally, materialism cannot explain the psi or "psychic" phenomena of clairvoyance, telepathy, and psychokinesis. Clairvoyance and telepathy are often called "extra-sensory perception" or "ESP," because they involve the ability to know things that cannot be perceived via the five senses, which is impossible under sensationism. Clairvoyance is the ability to perceive events at a distance, and telepathy is the ability to read minds, or to perceive what other people are thinking or feeling without known means of communication. Psychokinesis is the ability to move or reshape physical objects without applying physical force.(179)

Problems with Dualism

Faring somewhat better is Cartesian dualism, which does not, at least, overtly deny the possibility of mental healing. Although it is difficult to grasp its ghost-in-the-machine concept of mind-body interaction, dualism at least provides a framework that affirms mental causation. The evidence, therefore, does not render dualism contrary to fact, but its self-consistency is in serious question. Superficially, the main problem with dualism is its inadequacy. If the mind has no physical energy of its own, nor the ability to create it, one can rightfully ask how it can interact with the brain. Likewise, one can also ask how the brain, as a purely physical entity, can be receptive to the mind or act on it. How can a substance that deals in ideas, purposes, values, and intentions interact with an entity that can only pull or push? Dualism cannot explain how mind and matter can affect one another at all.

This has led critics of dualism to question whether the dualist concepts of mind and matter are themselves intelligible. What may appear to be a problem of adequacy may in fact be one of intelligibility. One could argue that the ability to direct the body is an essential aspect of the mind. If this is the case, any theory that defines mind and body in such a way that their interaction is inconceivable, is in itself inconceivable.

Problems Common to Both Materialism and Dualism

Griffin argues that dualism and materialism share many problems, largely because materialism is really "cryptodualism," or dualism in disguise. Materialism is nothing more than a dualism that attempts to deny the actuality of mind or spirit or to reduce it to a property of matter. While materialism discards the Cartesian notion of a mental substance, it retains Descartes's notion of matter as vacuous (i.e., non-experiencing) actuality. Because materialists must acknowledge, albeit grudgingly, that some actualities have experience, they must inevitably return to the view that there are two kinds of actualities: those with experience and those without it. While many philosophers of mind have criticized Descartes for his view of the mind, Griffin contends that the Cartesian view of matter is even more problematic.(180) Accordingly, in that it retains this view, materialism inherits any inadequacies and inconsistencies inherent in dualism. Most of the criticisms described in this section were originally materialists' objections against dualism. However, Griffin shows how they also apply to materialism, having originated from dualist concept of matter.

One major problem is in drawing the line between sentient and non-sentient things. Descartes drew it very high on the evolutionary chain, attributing sentience only to humans. Even his dog was a machine without a ghost. One can argue that he drew the line in the wrong place, but the problem of where to draw it remains. How sophisticated must a biomachine be in order to have, in Sartre's terminology, a "for-itself"? Are bacteria sentient? Are viruses? Could even atoms and molecules have experience? The problem applies to materialism, as well as dualism, if one rephrases the question as: How sophisticated must a machine be in order to feel the illusion of its own for-itself? The illusion of sentience is just as inexplicable as the real thing.

Closely related is the problem of the "Great Exception."(181) Wherever that line is drawn, those entities that lie on one side of it are different in kind from those on the other. The materialists ask: Why should certain things be so different from the vast majority of other things in the world -- in fact, so different that they are not really subject to the same natural laws, such as conservation of energy? Again, the question can be turned back on the materialists: How could some things, which are governed by the same physical laws as everything else, be so privileged as to have this very unique, supervenient quality we call experience?

Another question is how time could have arisen in the evolutionary process, when the concept of evolution itself presupposes time, and time, in turn, presupposes experience. Griffin presents the question in this way:

Yet another problem for dualists and materialists, because they both assume that experience arose at some late date in cosmic evolution, is to explain how the evolutionary process could have had the time -- literally -- to have gotten to the point at which time is said to have emerged. That is, as most of those who have thought much about it, such as the arch-materialist Adolf Grünbaum, have realized, time, in the real sense, presupposes experience: Without experience there would be no "now," and without a "now" there would be no distinction between past and future.. Assuming this necessary connection between time and experience, those who believe that experience arose historically must also hold that time arose at some point in the evolutionary process. The problem with this position, of course, is that it is circular, because evolution itself presupposes the existence of time.(182)

If time did not emerge until sentience, then everything up to that point must have occurred simultaneously. Evolution could not possibly have emerged at a moment in time, because time must have already been there for evolution to take place.

Perhaps the greatest problem common to both dualism and materialism is the problem of emergence. The evolutionary view of natural history implies that matter existed before mind. This gives rise to several additional problems. One is the break in continuity. How could evolution develop machines that could generate ghosts? In the beginning, the world was nothing but lifeless matter. Then, by some unknown quirk of fate, a particular lump of clay was able to catalyze a for-itself. In the words of materialist J. J. C. Smart:

How could a non-physical property or entity suddenly arise in the course of animal evolution? [W]hat sort of chemical process could lead to the springing into existence of something non-physical? No enzyme can catalyze the production of a spook!(183)

Although originally aimed at dualism, Griffin again argues that this critique also applies to materialism. Catalyzing the mere appearance of a spook is equally inexplicable. Be it a substance or an emergent attribute, we still do not know how, or when, it got there.

Griffin argues that the concept of the "emergence" of mentality out of non-experiencing entities involves a category mistake. Properties of things, be they Locke's "primary" qualities such as mass, extension, and motion, or the "secondary" qualities of color, odor, and sound, are all properties of things observed, as opposed to the act of observing. To categorize the qualities of things observed with the capacity to observe is, in his view, a "category mistake of the most egregious kind."

It involves the alleged emergence of an "inside" from things that have only outsides. It involves not the emergence of one more objective property for subjectivity to view, but the alleged emergence of subjectivity itself. Liquidity, solidity, and transparency are properties of things as experienced through our sensory organs, hence properties for others. Experience is not what we are for others but what we are for ourselves. Experience cannot be listed as one more "property" in a property polyism. It is in a category by itself.(184)

To use Sartre's terminology, to be mental is to be for-itself, or the observer, and to be material is to be in-itself, or a thing observed by another. Griffin elaborates elsewhere:

When we think of a molecule as a nonexperiencing thing, we are thinking of it as experienced by us. Actually, we usually experience a large aggregation of molecules, as in a rock, and then try to imagine what an individual molecule would be like. In any case, we do not experience what it is to be a molecule. We only know it, insofar we know it at all, from without.

But when we think of mind as an experiencing thing, we are thinking of it from within. We know what a mind is by identity, by being one.(185)

Griffin is saying, in effect, that mentality is what something is for itself, and that physicality is what something is for another. If mentality is a supervenient property, as the materialists would claim, it is a very different kind of property, one that Griffin argues belongs in a category all by itself. The analogy to other properties that are purely physical does not apply here.

IV. The Idealist Alternative

Viewed from a scholarly perspective, the writings on mental healing in Christian Science, New Thought, and pop psychology are easy targets. Their tendencies to overstate their case and to pay little heed to issues such as precise formulation and internal consistency render them easy to attack, or simply dismiss, by scholarly critics. I am prone to treat them somewhat more charitably. I myself subscribed to New Thought philosophy for over a decade and seriously attempted to apply it in my own life. In fact, New Thought philosophy gave me my original inspiration to write this essay. In retrospect, some of my attraction to New Thought idealism may have been wishful thinking. However, I also believed what the dualists and materialists were saying about each other in the contemporary mind-body debate. Ironically, it was the arguments given by materialists and dualists that made idealism seem attractive by comparison. However, in embracing idealism, I was admittedly guilty of the same offense for which I just berated the materialists and dualists: supporting one view largely because the known alternatives seem so obviously wrong.

Ultimately, it was experience, not philosophical argument, that persuaded me to abandon the idealist model. The idealist worldview simply did not describe the world in which I lived, nor did it really describe the phenomenon of mental healing as I personally had observed it. While dualism and materialism are unintelligible, the idealist alternative is simply unbelievable. As I did further research into the subject and continued to apply the practical aspects of the idealist model in my life, I discovered that the idealist model has some serious conceptual problems that explained my difficulties in applying and believing in it, problems that would remain even if the model were to be more carefully and consistently reformulated.

Nevertheless, the legacy of idealism to the philosophical discussion of mental healing is not without value. It has given us a set of healing techniques, such as imagery, affirmation, and affirmative prayer, with which we can both test and apply hypotheses about mental healing. It has also provided a set of propositions about mental healing that are good starting points for both empirical testing and philosophical debate. Whether we agree with the idealist metaphysic or not, much of what we do know about mental healing was discovered by idealists, and credit must be given where it is due. My treatment of the idealist model has three sections:

  1. An overview of the major tenets of the idealist position.
  2. A philosophical critique of the idealist model
  3. A summary of its real contributions to this discussion

Overview of the Idealist Model

In summarizing the idealist position here, I focus on the New Thought philosophy of Ernest Holmes, as well as the better-known writings of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. With respect to mental healing, idealism has one major advantage over both dualism and materialism: In contrast to materialism, it clearly affirms mental causation and therefore the possibility of mental healing. In contrast with dualism, it does not need to explain dualistic interaction to affirm it intelligibly. Another source of its appeal is its natural congruence with healings described in the New Testament. In fact, both New Thought and Christian Science base their claims more on the authority of the New Testament than any other single source. A third source of idealism's appeal is its simplicity. If, per Descartes, we accept our own existence as experiencing subjects as self-evident, we have within our experience all of reality. There is no need to describe, or even posit, the existence of an external, material reality whose nature is ultimately unknown or even unknowable. The external world is exactly as it appears, and we can deal with it as we would under naďve realism -- except that idealists would say that we can largely control our experiences via our thinking.

The metaphysics of both New Thought and Christian Science can be summarized with six concepts that are relevant to this discussion: idealism, monopsychism, monism, the omnipotence and omnibenevolence of God, and the denial of genuine evil. I summarize the remaining five doctrines below, using Holmes's The Science of Mind and Eddy's Science and Health as references.

1. Idealism. In both New Thought and Christian Science, it is always the thoughts and beliefs of the observer that determine the nature and existence of the events observed. The material world is not unlike the shadows on the cave wall in Plato's Republic.(186) This belief is based less on philosophical argument or natural theology than on revelation in scripture. God, the creative power in the universe, is Mind or Spirit. Therefore, Mind or Spirit is what creates.

2. Monopsychism. This is the term I use to describe the doctrine of the "One Mind," according to which the distinctions between individual minds are ultimately illusory. In both New Thought and Christian Science, there is really only one mind in existence -- God.(187)

3. Monism. This follows from the first two teachings. If there is only one mind, and that mind is all powerful, then it follows that God is everything. Holmes explicitly states, "God is all there is,"(188) and Eddy taught a similar doctrine.(189) However, Eddy, who believed the material world to unreal, explicitly rejected pantheism.(190)

4. The Omnipotence and Omnibenevolence of God. The omnipotence of God follows from the idealist and monopsychist doctrines. The omnibenevolence of God is a principle given in revelation.(191)

5. The Denial of Genuine Evil. Both New Thought and Christian Science regard genuine evil, including all illness, as either an illusion or an experience that is unnecessary. Eddy explicitly held the former view.(192) Holmes held the latter, attributing all apparent evil to ignorance and improper use of Mind's creative power.(193)

Critique of the Idealist Model

Neither Holmes nor Eddy were professional scholars. Both Holmes's The Science of Mind and Eddy's Science and Health are better described as exercises in homiletics than in philosophy, in that they were written more to comfort, inspire, and heal the afflicted, than to stand up to scholarly critique. (194) However, if anyone is to blame for the lack of scholarship in the writings on mental healing, it is not those who actually wrote on the subject, but those who could have done a better job, but nonetheless chose to not to. It would be easy to point out the flaws in the arguments of these homespun philosophers, but it would also be both mean-spirited and pointless. Were I to dismiss the idealist model altogether, on the grounds that Eddy's and Holmes's arguments were weak, a scholarly idealist (They do exist!) could rightfully accuse me of using them as straw men and insist that the idealist model would stand if reformulated. Instead, I focus on the problems inherent in the idealist model itself, which would inevitably surface no matter how well-formulated that model might be.

Although idealism explains mental healing better than dualism or materialism, there are some good reasons for rejecting it. Ultimately, it fails for much the same reasons as materialism, in that it too is a form of crypto-dualism that attempts either to deny the existence of one Cartesian substance, or reduce it to a manifestation of the other. Most idealist philosophies, although they publicly proclaim monism, are fraught with dualist overtones. For example, Berkeley offered two, radically different modes of existence: percipere (to perceive) and percipi (to be perceived). Although his was not a dualism of mind and matter, it was nonetheless a dualism of perceivers and perceptions. Mary Baker Eddy, although she denied the reality of matter, nonetheless took considerable pains to contrast it with Spirit. Like her materialist counterparts, she explicitly denied mind-matter interaction, saying that matter and Spirit cannot "mingle."(195) Ernest Holmes was less dualistic, but his views were panexperientialist as much as they were idealist.(196)

As one might expect, idealism has some problems in common with materialism, i.e.; it contradicts both fact and hard-core common sense. As the materialist attempts to reduce mind to a mere property of matter (reductive materialism) or else deny its reality entirely (eliminative materialism), the idealist attempts to reduce matter to a mere creation of mind (New Thought or Berkeley) or deny its reality entirely (Christian Science). Materialists would substitute properties of matter for subjectivity; idealists would substitute the mental activities of observers for the properties and activities of things observed. Under materialism, genuine mental causation is impossible; under idealism, genuine body-to-mind and body-to-body causation is impossible. Under materialism the mind of the observer is impotent, under idealism, omnipotent. Neither describes its power as we experience it.

Eliminative Idealism is Self-refuting

As Searle said of theories that deny the existence of consciousness, any theory that denies the existence of the material world has also produced its own reductio. Anyone who writes, speaks, or thinks is presupposing the existence of a material world in the very act of doing so. If the person is speaking, she is using her vocal chords. If she is writing, she is using her hands, as well as a writing instrument. If thinking, she is presumably using her brain. Thus, the denial of the existence of the material world is absurd on its face.

No Accounting for Mental Creation

Surprisingly, idealism also fails to account for mental causation. Its theory of creation is (somewhat ironically) not unlike that of realist Thomas Aquinas. Spirit creates by contemplation. However, like the mystery of mind-matter interaction in dualism and the problem of emergence in both dualism and materialism, the idealist notion of creation-by-contemplation is also problematic. The explanation that the mind can create things in much the same way as it creates thoughts both begs the question and raises new problems. It begs the question, because it fails to explain how a mind can create a dream, fantasy, ratiocination, belief, or any other thought, let alone a world. The additional problems that it creates are those of explaining how we can distinguish mere thoughts from actual things, when both are created by the same power acting in the same way.

No Accounting for Efficient, Physical Causation

In idealist systems, the only form of real influence is psychokinesis. Idealists often apply the model of Plato's cave, in which matter, like Plato's shadows, is merely the effect of unseen mental activity. Consider the following account of causation by Ernest Holmes:

The objective form to which we give our attention is created from the very attention which we give to it. The objective is but the reflection of the subjective state of thought. Life is a blackboard upon which we consciously or unconsciously write those messages which govern us. We hold the chalk and the eraser in our hand but are ignorant of this fact. What we now experience we need not continue to experience but the hand which holds the eraser must do its neutralizing work. Life is a motion picture of subjective causes. What is the screen and are the figures real? Yes and no. Real as figures but not self-created, not self-perpetuating. Happy is the one who holds the projecting machine firmly in his conscious thought and who knows how to make conscious use of it.(197)

The way in which we use our "chalk" and "eraser" is largely a function of our beliefs. So Mary Baker Eddy writes:

The cause of all so-called disease is mental, a mortal fear, a mistaken belief or conviction of the necessity and power of ill-health; also a fear that Mind is helpless to defend the life of man and incompetent to control it. Without this ignorant human belief, any circumstance is of itself powerless to produce suffering. It is latent belief in disease, as well as the fear of disease, which associates sickness with certain circumstances and causes the two to appear conjoined, even as poetry and music are reproduced in union by human memory.(198)

Unfortunately, these models do not explain how psychokinesis works any better then they explain how the contemplative process can create. Idealism, therefore, leaves us with Hume's account of efficient causation as the result of our thinking habits, i.e., fixed beliefs about the world. The laws of physics only apply because thinking makes them so. All power lies within the observer.

Although the evidence does indeed suggest that thoughts are powerful, it does not suggest that they are all powerful. Under the idealist account of causation, we should all be omnipotent. I should be able to enter a twelve-step program, kick the habit of gravity, and learn to walk on water or levitate. The proposition that our thoughts have this kind of power is not substantiated by fact.

One of the implications of this doctrine is that all physical cures are really placebos. Consistent with this doctrine, Christian Scientists eschew the use of medication. Says Eddy:

It is plain that God does not employ drugs or hygiene, nor provide them for human use; else Jesus would have recommended and employed them in his healing. The sick are more deplorably lost than the sinning, if the sick cannot rely on God for help and the sinning can. The divine Mind never called matter medicine, and matter required a material and human belief before it could be considered as medicine.(199)

Holmes took a more moderate position and never prohibited medical treatment. In fact, he regarded the incompatibility of spiritual and physical treatment as a "superstition"(200) and gave the following instruction to spiritual practitioners:

The mental and spiritual practitioner should deal with his field alone. He is not opposed to the medical practitioner, he does not say, "I cannot treat this man if he takes a pill." Unless the practitioner can prove that the man does not need to take a pill, the patient had better take it if it will benefit him.

The reason for this is that he, unlike Eddy, believed that matter and physical laws were both real, although they were real as creations of Mind. Illness and health were therefore both physical and mental. However, over time, the mental was the more powerful factor.

Man's life, in reality, is spiritual and mental, and until his thought is healed, no form of cure will be permanent. We understand that health is a mental as well as a physical state.(201)

Hence, drugs and surgery can buy time for the patient to correct his thinking, even if they cannot cure or prevent disease in the end. The disease will likely recur in some form if the thinking does not change.

Although Holmes was more flexible with respect to his idealism than Eddy, both held the mind to be the only real power. However, if this were the case, affirmation, visualization, and prayer should work as well as, if not better than, conventional medicine for all ailments, not just those where conventional medicine is less effective. In the summer of 1996, I contracted pneumonia, with a fever of almost 104. The doctor gave me one of the stronger forms of penicillin, and I was back to work in a week. The disease never recurred. At the time, one of my co-workers, who came from India, said to me, "You should thank God that you live in a time and culture in which this kind of medicine is available. For most of human history, and in some countries even today, you could have died from this." Under the idealist model, prayer should work as well as antibiotics in curing pneumonia, but the facts say otherwise.

Idealists in Christian Science, New Thought and some "New Age" circles will argue that the facts are what they are on account of our collective beliefs. If the human race, collectively, had sufficient mental discipline and training, we really could alter the laws of physics and chemistry. They attribute Jesus's alleged walking on water, feeding the multitudes, and changing water into wine to this kind of ability to rise above the collective unconscious of the human race. We can all learn to walk on water and levitate. What is out of control is not the world, but our own thinking.

Having practiced Buddhist meditation for several years, I must agree that few of us have much control over our thoughts. Moreover, trained meditators have accomplished extraordinary physical feats (remember the burial of the Yogi Haridas). In the 1960s, the world was shocked by pictures of Buddhist monks in Vietnam, who, in protest against persecution by the Diem regime, calmly poured gasoline over themselves and set themselves afire. Such behavior may be considered reprehensible for many reasons, but the lack of self-control is not among them. Hindus and Buddhists have been developing their meditation techniques for millennia. Were the laws of physics alterable by the mere power of mental control, the masters in these disciplines would almost certainly have developed and taught these techniques by now. This is not to say that thought is not powerful. In fact, my main objective in this essay is to show how powerful it really is. However, it is not all powerful. Some, if not most, of the real influence in causation lies in the events themselves, not just in the minds of the observers.

William James's Arguments Against Idealism

Finally there are the arguments against all forms of monistic idealism presented by William James in A Pluralistic Universe and elsewhere. The first part of James's argument is that idealism is an exercise in over-intellectualization. The idealism of the nineteenth century, which was the object of James's critique, heavily emphasized the role of the intellect in determining what was real. For these idealists, James argued, reality was to be found in the abstract concepts that rendered experience intelligible -- not the full, rich, and sometimes intensely aesthetic nature of experience as it is perceived. This emphasis on intellectualization inevitably leads to a somewhat barren, empty view of reality. It was a reality in which the substance of life was in the menu, not the meal.

From Green to Haldane, the absolute proposed to us to straighten out the confusions of the thicket of experience in which our life is passed remains a pure abstraction which hardly any one tries to make a whit concreter.(202)

For James there was much more that was real in the concrete, finite things experienced in every day life than there could possibly be in the idealists' concept of God.

To apply the notion of "abstraction" to the Infinite Mind of Holmes or Eddy would be a gross misinterpretation, especially of Holmes, who was as much a panexperientialist as he was an idealist. For him the finite things in life existed with all their richness precisely because they were manifestations of the One Mind. Our attitude towards them should be one of gratitude, wonder, and awe. Only the abstract concepts of the carnal mind, the tools of logic, are empty and devoid of liveliness. The last thing that Holmes, or even Eddy, would have us believe is that God is an abstraction.

However, James contends, contrary to idealist arguments, an all-inclusive, Infinite Mind is not required in order for the universe to be intelligible. The idealist argument James would refute is based on the Humean brand of empiricism, which says that all that experience gives us is a random stream of sense data. To render this stream of sense data intelligible, a mind is needed to determine relationships between the data and impose some sort of order on it. James summarizes the idealist position in his discussion of T.H. Green's arguments:

[R]elations are purely conceptual objects, and the sensational life as such cannot relate itself together. Sensation in itself is fleeting, momentary, unnamable (because, while we name it, it has become another), and for the same reason unknowable, the very negation of knowability. Were there no permanent objects of conception for our sensations to be 'related to,' there would be no significant names, but only noises, and a consistent sensationalism must be speechless.(203)

However, James offered a different rendition of empiricism than that of Hume. In his "radical" empiricism, experience yields much more information than Hume would have us believe.

Every examiner of the sensible life in concreto must see that relations of every sort, of time, space, difference, likeness, change, rate, cause, or what not, are just as integral members of the sensational flux as terms are, and that conjunctive relations are just as true members of the flux as disjunctive relations are. This is what in some recent writings of mine I have called the 'radically empiricist' doctrine (in distinction from the doctrine of mental atoms which the name empiricism so often suggests). Intellectualist critics of sensation insist that sensations are disjoined only. Radical empiricism insists that conjunctions between them are just as immediately given as disjunctions are, and that relations, whether disjunctive or conjunctive, are in their original sensible givenness just as fleeting and momentary and just as 'particular,' as terms are. Later, both terms and relations get universalized by being conceptualized and named. But all the thickness, concreteness, and individuality of experience exists in the immediate and relatively unnamed stages of it, to the richness of which, and the standing inadequacy of our conceptions to match it, Professor Bergson so emphatically calls our attention.(204)

In other words, the mere fact that the mind describes does not immediately and necessarily entail that it prescribes. Both the universe and its intelligibility are given to us, although our minds are hardly "adequate" to cope with the task of understanding it.

From that, James argues that an Infinite Mind is likewise unnecessary to hold the universe together. Instead of being connected like cherries in a bowl, events in the universe can be connected like links in a chain. James describes this as the "each-form," as opposed to the "all-form," of reality.

If the each-form be the eternal form of reality, no less than it is the form of temporal appearance, we still have a coherent world, and not an incarnate incoherence, as is charged by many absolutists. Our 'multiverse' still makes a 'universe'; for every part, tho it may not be in actual or immediate connexion, is nevertheless in some possible or mediated connexion with every other part however remote, through the fact that each part hangs together with its very next neighbors in inextricable interfusion. The type of union, it is true, is different from the monistic type of all einheit. It is not a universal co-implication of all things durcheinander. It is what I call the strung-along type, the type of continuity, contiguity, or concatenation.(205)

It is perhaps ironic that James, the implacable foe of monistic idealism, was the only major figure in the history of philosophy to take New Thought seriously.

The Practical Problem of Application

Although Norman Cousins coined the phrase "Belief becomes biology," it was the nineteenth-century New Thought and Christian Science thinkers who first put forth the concept (at least in the West). The major problem with this idea, both practical and theoretical, is that the belief in health must precede the biology of health. With respect to preventive medicine, it is not a problem. We simply reinforce our belief in our own health, and we tend to stay healthy. However, when we are sick and want to get well, a paradox confronts us. We must come to believe we are well at a time when we are in fact still sick.

New Thought and Christian Science address this problem with the doctrines of monopsychism and mistaken identity. The mortal body-mind that gets sick is not our real identity. Our real identity is the Divine Mind, which is always whole, perfect, and complete. Prayer for health, therefore, consists of reshaping our beliefs about who we are from that of the sick, mortal body-mind to that of the Divine Spirit. Once we have realized this idea, the mortal body-mind gets well.

The problem with this approach is both theoretical and practical. Theoretically, it is an area in which the lack of clarity and consistency in the writings on mental healing begins to take its toll. By definition, to say that we are identical to the Divine Mind is to say that we are not numerically distinct from It. However, this is patently absurd. Even in New Thought and Christian Science, the Divine Mind is always regarded as one, and the finite minds are obviously many. The lack of a precise, coherent explanation of how the Divine Mind participates in the human, or vice versa, is a major problem with the idealist theories of mental healing.

The theoretical problem takes on a practical dimension when one is lying in bed with a fever of 104, or in a hospital bed recovering from cancer surgery. Unless one is having a near-death experience, the experience of illness is anything but beatific. Yet, the idealists tell us that we must somehow convince ourselves, even in these dark moments, that we are not only healthy but one with Almighty God. I cannot speak for others, but for myself, this cognitive shift has not been possible. For these reasons, the idealist model also fails the test of rationality and adequacy.

Idealism's Real Contribution to the Discussion

Whether we accept their metaphysical views or not, most of what we do understand about mental healing came from idealists. Until now, they have stood alone in taking the subject seriously, and not all of their effort has been wasted. The idealists have put forth several propositions about mental healing, which, in spite of their vague and often inconsistent formulations, are either empirically verifiable, or, with some reformulation, philosophically tenable. The empirically testable propositions are twofold:

The first of these propositions is not only verifiable, but, to a large extent, already verified. The cancer personality type, the placebo effect, the Black Monday syndrome, and the studies of executives during the AT&T breakup all provide such verification. Further research could refine and clarify this proposition, as well as improve our methods of applying it.

The second proposition has been much less studied and tested, but it still lends itself to empirical testing. One way to test it would be to compare the effectiveness of traditional prayers of petition with the "affirmative prayer treatment" advocated in New Thought and Christian Science. Holmes makes the following distinction between the two:

One of the questions most frequently asked about the Science of Mind is, "Are prayers and treatments identical?" The answer to this question is both Yes and No.

If when one prays his prayer is a recognition of Spirit's Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Omnipresence, and a realization of man's unity with Spirit, then his prayer is a spiritual treatment.

If, on the other hand, one is holding to the viewpoint that God is some far off Being, Whom he would approach with doubt in his thought; wondering if by some good luck he may be able to placate God or persuade Him of the wisdom of one's request -- then, there is but little similarity between prayer and treatment. Nothing could bring greater discouragement than to labor under the delusion that God is a Being of moods, who might answer some prayers and not others.(206)

For Holmes and other idealists, the essential element in a successful prayer is developing the realization that one already has the desired good.(207) To test this hypothesis, one could compare the efficacy prayers by a group of traditional believers, praying by petition with the intention of invoking God's intervention, with those of believers in Christian Science or New Thought, who use affirmative prayer with the intention of shifting their own beliefs. If the difference in the healing rates between the two groups is statistically significant, then the proposition has been statistically demonstrated. Other tests comparing the effect of affirmations made in the present versus the future tense might also be helpful.

The major philosophical contribution of the idealists is their naturalist (or, in their terminology, "scientific") theology of mental healing. That such a theology is possible is one of the central theses of this essay. The idealists have suggested that mental healing involves Divine activity, but not supernatural Divine activity. Although I must ultimately reject their particular theology, some of its tenets could be retained -- with some reformulation of the metaphysics. The most important of these is that the creative process in the universe takes place within us. Although it may be impossible to understand how one could be identical with God, it is much more plausible to believe we are somehow instantiations of a larger, creative process -- even in a hospital bed. Moreover, it is equally plausible that God acts in this creative process, although God and creativity may or may not be identical to each other. Finally, the proposition that creativity is directed, at least to some degree, by our thoughts and beliefs, is not only plausible but also substantiated by a large and growing body of empirical evidence. Thus, we can summarize the legacy of the idealists with three propositions:

The creative power of the universe is active in the genesis of the individual's experience in the present.

God is actively involved and causally efficacious in that process.

The thoughts and beliefs of the individual can significantly affect that process, even to the point of directing it to prevent or heal an illness.

As it happens, Whitehead's process philosophical theology provides an excellent, philosophical framework for these propositions. This is the thrust of Chapter 10. However, before we move on to Whitehead's model, we must first complete and summarize our explanation of why modern philosophy has been so reluctant to tackle the issue of mental healing, and why it has failed so miserably in addressing two key philosophical issues it involves: the mind-body relationship and causation as real influence.

V. Mental Healing as a Problem for Modern Philosophy

I believe it was Einstein who said that one cannot solve a problem at the level of thinking that is creating the problem. The mind-body debate in contemporary philosophy is just this kind of an exercise in futility. In this section, I argue that the problem of mind-body interaction is fundamentally one of causation, complicated further by the enigmatic nature of the mind-body relationship, when mind and body are understood in the Cartesian sense. Neither Cartesian notion, mind nor matter, provides a framework for adequately understanding causation. For that, we need to go beyond the notions of mind qua mind and matter qua matter altogether and focus instead on notions like creation or creativity.

To some extent, modern philosophy has been unduly preoccupied with the differences between mind and matter that renders their interaction inconceivable. This is not to say that this problem is philosophically insignificant. On the contrary, it is serious enough to render dualism unintelligible, and, for some philosophers, to make materialism or idealism more attractive by comparison. However, although it is the most obvious problem, it is not the most fundamental. The real problem is that mind-body interaction is ultimately an instantiation of causation, which, per Hume, is highly enigmatic even when the interacting substances are as similar as two billiard balls. Neither mind, when conceived as sentient and intelligent substance, nor matter, when conceived as something with extension, mass, and velocity, is especially useful in understanding causation as real influence. The reason for this is that attributes such as mass, velocity, extension, sentience, and intelligence describe only the way mind and matter already are. They say nothing about how either minds or molecules come to be what they are. Therefore, the only notion of causation that can be derived from them is that of constant conjunction -- not causation as real influence. To explain causation as real influence, we would need to understand it in terms of a broader, more general theory of creation or creativity itself.

The necessary connection between causation and creativity becomes more obvious when we ask what we mean by "A causes B." When we make this claim, we are saying that cause A is in some manner involved in the genesis or creation of effect B. This does not mean that, by "genesis or creation," we mean creation ex nihilo in the Thomist sense. It merely means we know the nature of A's is involvement in bringing about B. Only when we understand the process by which B comes to pass can we definitively say that A is a necessary or sufficient condition for B to occur. For example, consider the discovery of the peculiar form of pneumonia called "Legionnaires' Disease." When it first appeared, its origins baffled us. We knew that its victims were all attending the same convention, but we had no idea how the condition itself developed or spread. It was only later, when the disease reappeared several times under similar circumstances, that we discovered its cause, which, it turned out, had nothing to do with being in the American Legion. The cause of the disease was identified as a pathogenic bacterium that grows in the accumulated condensation in air conditioners, which, in turn can blow pathogenic bacterial spores throughout a building.

Generalizing from particular, we can say that a viable, general theory of causation for all events can be understood only in terms of larger, even more comprehensive theory of how events in general come to pass, i.e., a general theory of the creation of events. The development of just such a theory was the primary objective in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. In attempting to formulate a theory that explains efficient causation as we experience it, i.e., as real influence, he found it necessary to develop a more general theory of creativity. In formulating that theory, he was forced, in turn, to address the mind-body problem along the way. However, this development was more than incidental. Whitehead had the foresight to see mind-body interaction as integral to the discussion of causation and creativity itself.

In the next chapter, I present an overview of Whitehead's "process" metaphysical theory. However, in doing so, I aim to show that Whitehead is doing much more than merely offering us a panexperientialist alternative to dualism, idealism, and materialism. He has, in fact, changed the entire context of the discussion.

Previous Chapter Contents Next Chapter

Notes on Chapter 9

175 Quote was by Robert Jaeger made in an upper division class on philosophy of mind at Yale College in the early 1970s. Return to text

176 Griffin, Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 102. Return to text

177 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 143. Return to text

178 Griffin, Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality, 114. Return to text

179 For a fairly comprehensive of the evidence for psi phenomena, see The Signet Handbook of Parapsychology, Martin Ebon, ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1978). Return to text

180 Most of the material presented comes from Unsnarling the World-Knot, but some will come from Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality. As further background material, I have also drawn on two other essays: "Panexperientialist Physicalism and the Mind-body Problem," Journal of Consciousness Studies 4, no. 3 (1997): 248-68, and "Of Minds and Molecules: Postmodern Medicine in a Psychosomatic Universe," in The Reenchantment of Science, David Ray Griffin, ed. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988). Griffin, in turn, draws heavily upon contemporary philosophers of mind, such as Jaeguon Kim, Geoffrey Madell, Colin McGinn, Thomas Nagel, Karl Popper, William Seager, and John Searle. Return to text

181 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 61-2. Return to text

182 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 62-3. Return to text

183 Smart, J.J.C., "Materialism," in The Mind-Brain Identity Theory, C.V. Borst, ed. (London: Macmillan, 1979), 159-70. Quotation taken from Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 63. Return to text

184 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 65. Return to text

185 Griffin, "Of Minds and Molecules," 151. Return to text

186 Holmes, 412; Eddy, 187. Return to text

187 Holmes, 87,393; Eddy, 469-70. Return to text

188 Holmes, 405. Return to text

189 Eddy, 587. Return to text

190 Eddy, 27. Return to text

191 Holmes, 478; Eddy, 140 Return to text

192 Holmes, Eddy, 207. Return to text

193 Holmes, 109-10. Return to text

194 The idealist model discussed here is that of Christian Science and New Thought. Other forms of idealism, such as those of the nineteenth-century Hegelians, and those of the Hindu-Buddhist schools may not be subject to this kind of critique. This is addressed in Chapter 11, when we review some possible objections of idealists. Return to text

195 Eddy, viii, 72, 73, 75, 97, 110, 173, 186, 223, 278, 281,468, and 479. Return to text

196 Holmes, 103, 113-4. Return to text

197 Holmes, 412. Return to text

198 Eddy, 377-8. Return to text

199 Eddy, 143.Return to text

200 Holmes, 320. Return to text

201 Holmes, 190. Return to text

202 William James, A Pluralistic Universe, in William James: Writings 1902-1910 (New York: Library Classics of the United States, 1987), 691. Return to text

203 James, A Pluralistic Universe, 756-7. Return to text

204 James, A Pluralistic Universe, 757-8. Return to text

205 James, A Pluralistic Universe, 778. Return to text

206 Holmes, 149. Return to text

207 Holmes, 164. Return to text