Section IV. Re-envisioning Nature; Re-envisioning Science 

Track 7: Neuroscience and Consciousness: 
Toward an Integral Paradigm

(Alex Gomez-Marin and Rod Hemsell)

A conversation on the nature of consciousness,
the future of neuroscience, and the evolution of mind in matter.

 In this track we will concentrate on moving aside obstacles and opening the doors for the emergence of a trans-subjective unity of consciousness and matter. Such an emergence would be dynamic for both knowledge and action in the world. Our view of neuroscience is that without real philosophy it doesn’t actually study consciousness but ‘only’ matter. In turn, philosophical abstractions that do not attempt to touch ground with current neuroscience findings diverge from the urgent task of lessening the duality between the double-headed hard problems of “matter” and “mind”. The views of Bergson, Whitehead, and Sri Aurobindo seem to suggest that these ‘two’ are actually mysteriously the ‘same’, in ways that are knowable, beyond theory. Such an experiential unification would definitely ignite the evolutionary advance. Here we aim at connecting the visions of these spiritual philosophers with matter and world in the context of what science and technology actually offer to understand the brain-body-environment confluence in humans (and other animals). That is what we mean by an “integral paradigm”, which could as well be termed an “evolutionary paradigm”. If we can create a more open space for fresh philosophical and scientific dialogue, with an evolutionary tone, implying that new thinking is not only possible but its emergence inevitable, it will be a more stimulating environment for both disciplines. Perhaps, then, our usually aggressive habits of dialectic discussion are transformed into a deeper comprehension of the phenomenon of Life, one where we can see and enjoy the unity from top to bottom and from bottom to top.

This track consists of an initial plenary lecture (with all tracks of Section IV) plus 8 main sessions, each lead by a main speaker and followed by a discussion amongst the group of participants.

 

 FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2015

 11-12:30 AM: Common Session Lecture

Philip Clayton

“Mind vs Matter”

Claremont School of Theology, California

http://philipclayton.net

 

2-3:30 PM: Session 1

Rod Hemsell

“Erasing the difference; filling the gap”

University of Human Unity 

http://www.universityofhumanunity.org

 

4-5:30 PM: Session 2

Gordon Globus

“Existenz and Quantum Brain Dynamics”

Department of Psychiatry and Philosophy, University of California Irvine

http://www.gordonglobusmd.com

 

 

SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2015

 11-12:30 AM: Session 3

Alex Gomez-Marin

“Consciousness explained, unexplained and unexplainable: conserving the scientific method and evolving its instruments”

Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme, Center for the Unknown, Lisbon

http://agomezmarin.com

 

2-3:30 PM: Session 4

Stanley Klein, Professor of Neuroscience, University of California-Berkeley, and Chris Cochran, Ph.D. candidate, Anthropology, University of California-Santa Cruz.

“Using an updated Whiteheadian quantum mechanics to connect this track’s Integral Paradigm to mainstream neuroscience”

Vision Science Program, University of California, Berkeley 

http://cornea.berkeley.edu/index.html

 

4-5:30 PM: Session 5

Mike Epperson

“The Behavioral, Neural, and Quantum Correlates of Conscious Experience: A Whiteheadian Look at Tononi and Koch’s Integrated Information Theory”

Center for Philosophy and the Natural Sciences, California State University

http://www.csus.edu/cpns/epperson/

 

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 7, 2015

 11-12:30 AM: Session 6

Georg Northoff

“What neuroscience can learn from Whitehead: A neuro-ecological view of the brain”

Mind, Brain Imaging and Neuroethics, University of Ottawa

http://www.georgnorthoff.com

 

2-3:30 PM: Session 7

Andrew Beath
 
“The New Creation Story: Spirit, Eros and Climate Chaos”

 

4-5:30 PM: Session 8

Debashis Chowdhury

“Consciousness Expansion in the age of Technology”

http://www.centerforfutureconsciousness.com/debashis.htm

 

 

SUGGESTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Nature Lifeless. Modes of Thought (Lecture Seven)

Alfred North Whitehead

https://www.brocku.ca/MeadProject/Whitehead/Whitehead_1938/1938_07.html

 

Nature Alive. Modes of Thought (Lecture Eight)

Alfred North Whitehead

https://www.brocku.ca/MeadProject/Whitehead/Whitehead_1938/1938_08.html

 

Brain and Thought: A Philosophical Illusion

Henri Bergson

http://www.amazon.com/Henri-Bergson-Writings-Contemporary-European/dp/0826457290

www.jstor.org/stable/40893012 (free, in French: Le Paralogisme Psycho-physiologique)

 

The Philosophy of Consciousness

Rod Hemsell

http://universityofhumanunity.org/audiodetail.php?audioid=2409

 

Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind

Evan Thompson

http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Life-Biology-Phenomenology-Sciences/dp/0674057511

 

Consciousness: Here, There, but not Everywhere

Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch

http://arxiv.org/abs/1405.7089

 

 

SESSION ABSTRACTS

 

Philip Clayton

“Mind vs Matter”

 Seven different tracks are working under the common heading, “Re-envisioning Nature; Re-envisioning Science” (Section IV). It is our shared conviction that the major themes of this conference — “seizing an alternative” and moving “toward an ecological civilization” — will require humanity to rethink the fundamentally mechanistic view of nature that dominated the modern period. If nature is complex, emergent, filled with organisms and agents, must not some of the reigning views of science also be called into question? Can we really be satisfied with a tool that lacks the ability to conceive us, the researchers, as living beings who possess consciousness and value?

 Each one of the working groups in this Section addresses these themes in different ways. For the opening lecture, we will explore the assumptions that are common to all the working groups. As a framework for this exploration, we have chosen the two lectures by Alfred North Whitehead, “Nature Lifeless” and “Nature Alive,” published in his late work Modes of Thought. The title of this lecture, “Mind versus Matter,” alludes to a core theme that runs across the philosophy of science. Questions of consciousness arise in quantum physics; questions of agency, meaning, and value arise across the biological sciences; and the most fundamental questions of who we are as embodied beings are raised in contemporary neuroscientific studies of the relationship between brains, thoughts, emotions, and consciousness.

 The global climate crisis can be addressed only through an intimate working partnership between the natural sciences, the humanities, and the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. Any view of science, or of religion, that forecloses the possibility of these collaborations entails de facto suicide for our species. The synthetic vision outlined in this lecture is meant to inspire the more concrete (and more important) work that will take place in the different working groups over the seven sessions that follow.

 “A reenchanted, liberating science will be fully developed only by people with a postmodern spirituality, in which the dualisms that have made modern science such an ambiguous phenomenon have been transcended, and only in a society organized for the good of the planet as a whole.” — David Ray Griffin, “Preface”, in The Reenchantment of Science, xiii.

 

Rod Hemsell

“Erasing the difference; filling the gap”

 What we know is not things themselves but the idea of things, the concept, the essence. This basic judgment determines the theoretical difference between matter and spirit, body and mind, the ontic-ontological difference. It is the root of the awareness of self and other, hence self-awareness. It is the fundamental dilemma of mind. There is a rupture between the metaphysics of presence and logocentrism, as Derrida says, between being that presents itself to consciousness and our speech/mind representations. There follows from this situation all our various speech based rational systems to understand beings (science) and the relations of knowing (philosophy). Phenomenology made some progress in the 20th century toward erasing the difference between subjectivity and objectivity, consciousness and world, for after all they must belong to one continuum of being and consciousness, matter and life and mind, otherwise we couldn’t know with such mastery what we do know. In the classical cultures of a more spiritual mind and time, contemplative disciplines disclosed, and still disclose, powerful experiences of the unity of self and world, generally available to initiates and practitioners. But these systems deal nonetheless with the same persistent dilemmas, and to say ‘all is mind’ is not much different from saying ‘all is matter’. The explanatory gaps between conscious mind, the way it experiences things, and what things are remains. And it is very real. Perhaps this is an indication of an evolutionary project beyond the limits of both science and philosophy. Perhaps these paths can merge their differences and exceed their limits. But this will probably entail a difficult effort to recognize both the differences and the limits. Afterwards both will need to practice the epoche – stepping back from – effectively erasing – the word systems and number systems, standing in the still Self and experiencing direct knowledge and a stable identity with the dynamic stream. This would constitute an evolutionary shift, a transformation of reason into supermind, and the manifestation a maximally effective knowledge-will.

 

 Gordon Globus

“Existenz and Quantum Brain Dynamics”

 Whitehead, Bohm and (surprisingly) Heidegger were fundamentally dynamical theorists: creative advance, the holomovement and das Ereignis (untranslatable). This talk focuses on the technoscience-scorning Heidegger, who literally crossed out consciousness (‘Consciousness-X’) and developed a philosophy of Existenz as situated world thrownness. Es gibt Sein. Es gibt Zeit., Heidegger writes. The dynamics gives Being and gives Time. Existenz is continually hoisted in waking and dreaming by a process of disclosure founded in the dual mode “between” of quantum brain dynamics.

 

Alex Gomez-Marin

“Consciousness explained, unexplained and unexplainable: conserving the scientific method and evolving its instruments”

We oscillate between the belief that “we can know everything” and the doubt that perhaps “we can’t really know anything”. These two tendencies radicalize with the problem of consciousness; what is at stake is the nature of our most intimate reality. In our habit of localizing function, the brain stands as the indisputable substrate for consciousness. Yet, the world is most likely made of events (process) and of language (meaning) rather than made of stuff (matter). So its physical substrate, as necessary as it might be, cannot be a sufficient explanation. But the scientist is instructed not to look “inside”, while the mystic prescinds from what is going on “outside”. One holds on to matter to control life, the other suspends life in order to grasp mind. And reality alternates between an enigma and a mystery. We thus recur in this double movement of crossing the boundary between manipulation and contemplation, between doubt and belief. Shall the boundary be crossed once more, or rather dissolved once and for all? And how? The process of evolution helps us move forward if we realize that, when fish literally left the water, the possible did not precede the real. In other words, creative advance is an inexorable march that allows to bootstrap our unfitting habits and trivial narratives, and to have the courage to face that “everything occurs in the presence of its opposite”. In this session we will be in the presence of the opposite. Recognizing our “obsession for explanation”, we might realize that it is about time to leave behind “the myth of reason”. Not to deny it, but to evolve it. Not to implement just another alternative, but to really attempt a leap towards a higher mentality. Most likely this needs to happen first at an individual level, and fleetingly. However, once the first man figured out how to ride a bike, riding a bike became a human fact. So, perhaps, after all, the solution to the problem that brings us together is more about willingness and less about speculation. Consciousness cannot be explained. It must be known. Are we willing to put down the hammer if we realize that consciousness is not just another nail? We will see.

 

Stanley Klein, Professor of Neuroscience, University of California-Berkeley, and Chris Cochran, Ph.D. candidate, Anthropology, University of California-Santa Cruz.

 “Reconciling process theology with contemporary science–Questions from neuroscience and quantum mechanics”

The social revolution that is needed to create an ecological civilization is the topic of this unique conference.  Many of us feel that process thinking can be an important force for that revolution. A part of that transformation may well involve building stronger connections between Naturalism and Theism.

John Cobb was asked by Robert Mesle to defend process theism against process naturalism in the last chapter of Mesle’s book “Process Theology”.  In that chapter Cobb said: “Hartshorne suggests that we think of the relation of God and the world as like that of the psyche or soul to the body, or most particularly to the brain.”  We agree, and in addition we believe that how neuroscience deals with psyche and psychic phenomena is of great importance to the future of process thinking as well as to the dialog between naturalism and theism.

Track IV-7 on “Neuroscience and Consciousness – Toward an Integral Paradigm” explores the above issues.  We agree with Hartshorne that the connection of neuroscience and consciousness is tightly related to the panentheist connection of Nature and God. Our guide in this journey has been Ian Barbour whose many articles and books show deep understanding of quantum mechanics and nature and provide a powerful key to progress. His final paragraph in “Neuroscience and the Person” in Bob Russell’s Vatican series on Divine Action is a nice example:  “In summary, process philosophy is supportive of the biblical view–which I suggested was consistent with the evidence from the neurosciences–that a human being is a multilevel unity, an embodied social self, and a responsible agent with capacities for reason and emotion. The dipolar monism and organizational pluralism proposed by process philosophy avoids the shortcomings of both dualism and materialism by postulating events and processes rather than enduring substances or entities.”

Psychic phenomena (psi) have a special place in process thought regarding neuroscience partly because it is often discussed in David Ray Griffin’s writings and partly because of the strong feelings associated with psi.  Psychic phenomena are a problem for Barbour’s vision because they seem to violate quantum mechanics. The main part of our presentation will explore whether psi is indeed in conflict with neuroscience and quantum mechanics. Approaches for resolving the conflict will be discussed. It could be that science needs to change, as argued by Whitehead in his chapter “Nature Lifeless”.  Or it could be that Whiteheadian thought needs to be updated.  In any case psi research is an excellent discussion topic because of its present controversial status.  That controversy needs to be resolved to enable process thought to be a strong part of the ecological revolution.

 

 Mike Epperson

“The Behavioral, Neural, and Quantum Correlates of Conscious Experience: A Whiteheadian Look at Tononi and Koch’s Integrated Information Theory”

 Recent discoveries of quantum dynamics in biological systems [1] will no doubt reinvigorate the quest for neuroscientific applications of quantum theory. The study of consciousness, in particular, has a decades long history of various appeals to quantum mechanics, where the latter’s infamous exemplification of the mind-body problem has served as a bridge to key problems in the former—most notably among them, Chalmers’ “hard problem” of conscious experience. But thus far, the strategy of direct appeal to quantum theory—typically toward some reductive quantum neuroscientific model—has yielded little progress in illuminating these key problems in neuroscience, let alone mitigating them. One promising route forward, however, entails a turn away from reductionism, instead focusing on the behavioral and neural correlates of conscious experience, and the integration of these within a formal neuroscientific framework. Tononi and Koch’s Integrated Information Theory (IIT) is a notable example, starting with phenomenological axioms of conscious experience (existence, composition, information, integration, and exclusion) followed by a speculative formalization of derivative postulates describing the physical dynamics of conscious experience. With respect to the potential role of quantum theory in neuroscience, IIT is especially advantageous in that its compatibility with the Whiteheadian philosophical formalization of conscious experience—grounded in the quantum actual occasion, whose quantum mechanical formalization has already been rigorously explored—yields a unique foundation for expanding IIT’s behavioral and neurological correlates of experience to include quantum correlates of experience.

[1] see, for example, Edward J. O’Reilly, Alexandra Olaya-Castro. “Non-classicality of the molecular vibrations assisting exciton energy transfer at room temperature.” Nature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4012, and Seth Lloyd, “Quantum coherence in biological systems” Journal of Physics: Conference Series 302 (2011) DOI:10.1088/1742-6596/302/1/012037

 

Georg Northoff

“What neuroscience can learn from Whitehead: A neuro-ecological view of the brain

Is Whitehead’s philosophy relevant for the brain and neuroscience? This is the question guiding my talk. It departs from Whitehead’s stance on Kant which he formulates in his reformist subjectivist principle. Following Whitehead, we need to link the subjectivity of the subject to its environmental context and thus pursue an ecological approach to subjectivity. Subjective mental features like self and consciousness are these days often located within the brain itself. This approach has however not really revealed the neural mechanisms underlying mental features. I suggest to conceive the brain in a neuro-ecological way as following Whitehead. Empirical evidence will be presented that the brain’s encoding of neural activity is strictly neuro-ecological rather than merely neuronal. I postulate that such neuro-ecological embeddedness and context-dependence of the brain predisposes the subsequent generation of mental features like self and consciousness. Put in a nutshell, I argue that Whitehead propels a neuro-ecological approach to the brain which makes it possible to link it in a rather direct way to subjectivity, i.e., mental features.

 
Andrew Beath
 
“The New Creation Story: Spirit, Eros and Climate Chaos”

 

Our New Creation Story is a long journey from the Big Bang to the Present Moment. Our planet is withering. This story tells us why and shows us how to overcome humankind’s monumental challenges by making choices based on our species’ recently advanced consciousness—providing a new context for everything that really matters. These pages examine the crisis and opportunity of our current human epoch. We examine “deep time”, including where we came from, who we are as a species, and why we are out of alignment with Earth’s community of all life. Human consciousness has always been in transition and is currently becoming more complex. But is there enough time to save us from ourselves? The answer to this conundrum runs the gamut between cosmology, life origins, and common ancestors in the evolving biological community of all life. As long as we retain our current cultural mindset, climate-chaos created conflicts over scarce resources, including clean water, will also increase. There is no easy political solution. Nothing less than changing how we see the world, our worldview, will solve the current dilemmas. This new story adds perspective that will help to integrate “Ecological Epoch” consciousness into our political and social landscape.

 Debashis Chowdhury

“Consciousness Expansion in the age of Technology”

 I intend to define ‘Technology’ broadly. In one end is the fundamental insight from Science, esp. Cosmic Physics, and the interesting evolutionary cross roads we find ourselves in. At the other end of the spectrum is social technology, the flow of demographics and the ashrama concept as a platform for expanding consciousness.

 


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