by contemplativeinquiry

Non-dualist author Peter Russell is happy to use the Western terms ‘panpsychism’ and ‘panexperientialism’ when discussing what he calls the “mystery of consciousness”. These terms are both modifications of ‘pantheism’ and the ideas have a kinship with those of modern animism. From a Druid perspective, I find it valuable to see this kind of connection being made with the non-dualist systems of Indian origin – whether Tantric, Vedantic, Buddhist or Jain. Challenging our modern mainstream culture’s assumptions about consciousness, Russell says:

“The underlying assumption of the current meta-paradigm is that matter is insentient. The alternative is that the faculty of consciousness is a fundamental quality of nature. Consciousness does not arise because of some particular arrangement of nerve cells or processes going on between them, or from any other physical features. It is always present.

“If the faculty of consciousness is always present, then the relationship between consciousness and nervous systems needs to be rethought. Rather than creating consciousness, nervous systems may be amplifiers of consciousness, increasing the richness and quality of experience. In the analogy of a film projector, a nervous system is like having a lens in the projector. Without the lens there is still a light on the screen, but the image is much less sharp.

“In philosophical circles the idea that consciousness is in everything is called panpsychism, from the Greek pan, meaning all, and psyche, meaning soul or mind. Unfortunately, the words soul and mind suggest that simple life forms may possess qualities of consciousness found in human beings. To avoid this misunderstanding, some contemporary philosophers use the term panexperientialism – everything has experience.

“Whatever name this position is given, its basic tenet is that the capacity for inner experience could not evolve or emerge out of entirely insentient, non-experiencing matter. Experience can only come from that which already has experience. Therefore, the faculty of consciousness must be present all the way down the evolutionary tree.

“We know that plants are sensitive to many aspects of their environment – length of daylight, temperature, humidity, atmospheric chemistry. Even some single-celled organisms are sensitive to physical vibration, light and heat. Who is to say that the do not have a corresponding glimmer of awareness?

“According to this view, there is nowhere we can draw a line between conscious and nonconscious entities; there is a trace of experience, however slight, in viruses, molecules, atoms and even elementary particles.”

Peter Russell From Science to God: a Physicist’s Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002