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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Varieties of panpsychism

Taking time off (off this blog as well, pretty much) to write two books, one on monadologies - Leibniz, Tarde, Whitehead, Latour - and one on animism in general. On the second one I'm now thinking through this relation between panpsychism (via Galen Strawson, see last post) and animism. On the first one I just finished the chapter on Whitehead and how creative advance makes a difference in a monadological metaphysics. As a non-intended related activity, been watching videos like this about plant communication. It is clear that the distinction between communication and navigation in a social landscape is hard to draw. In order to find one's way around all sort of communication signals are required - indications are coming from a communicating agent. Plants grow their roots underground guided by chemicals that are left by other plants and animals, signaling their purpose but also indicating which way to go to negotiate properly with their purpose. The research carried out by people in the video gives a clear impression that the distinction between matter with purely physical properties but organized chemically in order to display dispositions, capacities, purposes, rhythms - the flora is much slower -, causal powers and vulnerabilities and matter endowed with interiority is elusive. In the end of the day, panpsychism doesn't seem to be so far away from a well-thought eliminativism (to think of the two poles Shaviro stresses).

The distinction that strikes me there is really between a (panpsychist tendency associated to) system-based take on capacities, tendencies, causes and behavior on the one hand and a more (panpsychist in the Whiteheadian sense) agent-based take on those things. The first is present in most of the researchers on the videos. They draw from evolution theory that competition for survival (or some suitable variation thereafter) drives the communication, or the thinking, or the decision-making process. Some mention that it is not competition but rather cooperation that mostly shape, say, the underground network of roots in a forest: plants are part of a system of (qualified) cooperation. This system-based approach seems to me far from the idea of an animism where actualities are really agents with singular purposes and associate with each other through some process of negotiation guided by these purposes. There is a sense in which not all panpsychism will be animist - the latter requires genuine agents (genuine animas) capable of being geared by their own purpose (or, to be with Whitehead, by their creativity or their fight for self-satisfaction). In my terms in one of the books, one could be a panpsychist and still not an ontology of agents (or of agency) by claiming that minds are everywhere (or variations thereafter) and they are part of a system of laws - the agency is therefore not in the many minds. Maybe a non-animist panpsychism is more palatable for researchers educated in the idea of a law-like nature. In any case, the distinction elucidates what is at stake in the specific form of panpsychism that Whitehead inspires.

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