Archive for August, 2023

  • The Aftermath of BRICS: Its Challenges
    “The real problem is going to be the relationship between the BRICS countries and the West.”


  • British Ruling Class Involvement with the Socialist Fabian Society

    When you hear the names Sidney and Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw you might think of some kind of evolutionary socialism. (more…)

  • Heroic Skeptical Odysseys Into Parapsychology


    Beliefs about the paranormal in Yankeedom

    Believers in the paranormal, according to Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn in their book How to Think About Weird Things include the following statistics in a  Gallup poll:

    55% believe in psychic healing

    41% believe in ESP

    32% believe that ghosts can come back to certain places and situations

    31% believe in telepathy (mind-to-mind communication)

    26% believe in clairvoyance (knowing the future)

    24% believe that extraterrestrial beings have visited earth at some time in the past

    21% believe they can communicate with someone who died

    If discovered to be correct, what parapsychology might result in

    If these claims are true The Parapsychological Association has listed a number of possibilities:

    • The current scientific view of the universe, space, time and energy in information may be revolutionized.
    • Show that human capacities for perception and memory have been underestimated.
    • Beliefs about the mind being dependent on the brain would be wrong.
    • Fundamentalist monotheistic religions would have to make room for human powers it had previously dismissed as demonic.
    • There may be a greater, nonmaterialist spiritual world.
    • There may exist a nonmaterial human soul that survives death.
    • Paranormal historians and forecasters may obtain information by directly travelling to or viewing the past and future.
    • Paranormal archeologists could locate hidden treasures.

    On the more practical level parapsychology could:

    • May enhance human decision-making
    • May assist in locating missing persons
    • May assist in psychotherapy and counseling
    • Paranormal market investors could help people make stock choices

     Are these numbers and prospects signs that a New Age is upon us? Are the implications of how the world could be different realistic or pollyannish? For some, the amount of interest in the paranormal is troubling. 

    Rise of the skeptical movement

    When Marxists first heard of parapsychology, they paid no attention to it. It was almost always dismissed as more capitalist distraction from political organizing. They believed that ESP, telepathy and UFO’s don’t exist and the whole subject is for kooks. But a number of scientists were not so cynical and although they were skeptical, they wanted to understand why parapsychology is unscientific.

    Throughout the 1960s in Yankeedom, there had been a growing dissatisfaction with mainstream science, as it was perceived either as part of the capitalist system of part of a deep state apparatus to control people. Interest in the mysterious and exotic was attractive to middle class and upper middle class people who were apathetic or cynical about international and domestic politics or the “materialism” of life in Yankeedom. In the mid-1970s, interest in the paranormal phenomenon blossomed along with a larger New Age movement which promised to bring back the mysterious and the exotic without traditional religion.

    At first scientists were surprised at how many highly educated people would choose the paranormal over mainstream science and its methods. A growing group of scientists and philosophers decided to fight back. Led by Paul Kurtz, a collection of skeptics began to join together to form their own organization called The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Kurtz began a publishing house, Prometheus books, to house skeptical writers. A monthly magazine and conferences followed. Some outstanding contributors over the years included psychologists, physicists and  stage magicians. James Randi, Susan Blackmore (in the cover image of this article) James Alcock, Martin Gardner, Joe Nicoll and Ray Hyman are just some of the people who developed a scientific methodology specifically for the study of the paranormal. Their story is told in the wonderful book Skeptical Odysseys edited by Paul Kurtz. This article describes their method.

    In part I of this article I distinguish the difference between the paranormal and the superstitious. I then follow the lead of Jonathan C. Smith in his book Pseudoscience and the Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal and group the paranormal phenomenon into a spectrum of eight categories from the least to the most expansive claims. I then identify two types of questions skeptics ask about parapsychology. One is why believe something and the second is are there scientific explanations? Under the category of why believe something, part one reviews three topics:

    • Are the sources credible?
    • Is the logic sound?
    • Are the claims based on good observation?

    In part II of this article, I answer the last five critical thinking questions which have to do with what alternative explanations are offered. After offering a summary table of all weaknesses in parapsychological research I identify some of the qualities of what a good scientific theory entails. I close with the reasons why believing in the paranormal can be dangerous to the individual and to society.

    Difference Between Paranormal, Supernatural and Superstition

    The tamest paranormal belief need not be superstitious or even supernatural provided it accept natural laws and simply claims parapsychology is just an extension of these laws that haven’t been discovered yet. Other more ambiguous parapsychologists might believe that parapsychology violates natural laws of matter and energy but they may not be superstitious. Furthermore, superstitious people may be uninterested in either the paranormal or supernatural. They may be atheists. Superstitions are beliefs and actions rooted in an imaginative, invisible connection between objects, places and people. These can bring about positive or negative results and introduce predictability into unpredictable situations.

    The Spectrum of the Paranormal

    At the beginning of his wonderful book Jonathan Smith identifies eight types of paranormal claims. These are laid out on a horizontal spectrum moving from the least to the most challenging to science. They are:

    • Borderline, gratuitous paranormal claims which may or may not violate the laws of physics

    These included Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, flying saucers

    • Simple superstitions based on coincidence, folklore and similarities.

    Examples include magic charms, rabbit’s foots and, stepping on cracks. People do not find careers on the study of these things.

    • Paranormal patterns including secret messages and special information

    Examples are palm reading, tarot cards, some astrology, numerology and the I Ching

    Some people can develop a career by doing this.

    • Paranormal powers which clearly violate the laws of physics

    ESP, psychokinesis, astral projection, out-of-body experience and dowsing

    • Simple energies which do not direct guide or show purpose. They lack psychological characteristics.

    Examples are Chi, magnetic field therapy, homeopathy, traditional acupuncture and faith healing, karma, fate, dark energy, quantum physics.

    Clearly people make a living doing this,

    • Intelligent forces/entities. These do direct and guide people and may have psychological characteristics and consciousness

    Here we find spirits, werewolves, witches, demons.

    • Afterlife entities including ghosts and reincarnation

    Lastly, we find the spectrum of the paranormal that claims the most extensive power. It goes beyond the paranormal and beyond challenging natural laws.

    Included are organized religions which consists of hierarchies of gods, afterlife places life heaven and hell.

    It includes the miraculous such as virgin birth and resurrections.

    The Problem of Ontological Fusion in Parapsychology

    In science there are three levels in nature.

    • The world of physics, material objects that have volume, occupy space and can transmit physical energy.
    • The world of biology in which living creatures, who require food, reproduce, transmit diseases, get sick and die.
    • The world of psychology where living beings have choice, make decisions and have a conscious mind.

    What parapsychologists do is cross these boundaries in:

    • Mixing physics and psychology, claiming that rocks can have thoughts and that thoughts can move rocks.
    • Mixing physics with biology, claiming you might get sick by standing next to a broken rock.
    • Mixing biology with psychology by claiming you can make someone sick by thinking about them.

    Eight Steps in Critical Thinking to Access Paranormal Claims

    There are two types of questions to ask:

    • Why believe something?
    • Are there other scientific explanations?

    In “why believe something” there are three kinds of support of the paranormal claim:

    • Are the sources credible – not hearsay, tabloid newspapers or misuse of sources?
    • Is the logic sound? What is true or false? What is possible or impossible?
    • Are claims based on observation?

     Are there other scientific explanations?

    • Are we misinterpreting oddities of nature and the world of numbers?
    • Most people don’t understand statistics and as a result we have mistaken ideas about what is probable and what is unlikely.
    • Is their potential error or trickery?
    • The night is a little cloudy and the city lights a bit distracting.
    • Is there potential for memory error?
    • Might the placebo effect may be at work (sugar pill)? It can effect genuine psychological and physiological changes through nothing more than suggestion. Was it just the vibrations? Perhaps it was the music that made you happy.
    • Are we misinterpreting sensory anomalies or hallucinations?
    • The human brain and nervous system is quite capable of conjuring up false percepts that appear convincingly real.

    Psychology of Anomalous Experience

    This is a field of psychology which focuses on extraordinary events and provides us with psychological, as opposed to parapsychological explanations. Smith gives us the following  examples. Instead of haunted houses we have the normal settling of older buildings or changes in our air pressure and temperature that can cause doors to slam and walls to creak. Instead of ghosts, it actually is reflected light from passing cars or aircraft that can appear as “ghostly faces”. Random patterns, especially in low-light conditions, can be construed into medium patterns through something called “pareidolia”. Pareidolia involves projecting recognizable forms in an ambiguous object. Sound frequencies lower than 20 Hz are inaudible but may cause a person to sense a nonspecific presence and create anxiety, for example seeing a ghost. Cameras used to detect ghosts are notorious for producing various strange optical distortion effects. Apophenia is a term from the field of anomalous psychology where we see connections and find meaning in unrelated things.

    Anyone who is serious about parapsychology must have a full command of this field and exhaust all the possibilities for anomalous experience before claiming something is paranormal. While it is reasonable to imagine that some professional parapsychologists are knowledgeable about the field of anomalous psychology, it is highly unlikely that the public who supports parapsychology knows anything about the field of anomalous psychology.

    The remainder of this article addresses  how well parapsychology does with the first three steps.

    Questionable Sources

    • Ancient wisdom—The field of parapsychology often has a romantic theory of history

    For example, claiming astrology is true because it is 4,000 years old. Astrology has changed over the centuries, but astrologers behave as if since it is old it must be true.

    It does not mean that the early priesthoods got it right the first time. We should ask – do the claims about the stars make sense in the light of our current knowledge about the stars? This is the fallacy known as appeal to tradition.

    • Testimonials and anecdotal evidence

    One case does not prove something is true. Carroll has offered a succinct evaluation of anecdotal and testimonial evidence. Stories are prone to contamination by beliefs, later experience, feedback, and selective attention to details. Stories get distorted in the telling and retelling. Events get exaggerated and time sequence get confused. Details get muddled. Memories are imperfect and selective as we shall see in part II. They are also filled in after the fact. Some stories are delusional and there is always the possibilities of deception.

    • Popularity and common use

    Amazon lists twice as many books for astrology as for the Ten Commandments. A Google search reveals 30 million hits for astrology. They can’t all be wrong – right?  In critical thinking, this is the fallacy of appeal to the people. Many interpretations can be part of a popular fad and be completely wrong.

    • Mass media and the internet

    Standards for getting information in the mass media are lower than for professional publications. Programs about the paranormal are notorious for editing out disconfirming evidence. Paranormal topics  are a thriving business. Mass media has a stake in keeping its businesses alive. They would lose money if they revealed the truth of scientific research. In drug studies, research supported by pharmaceutical companies reports more positive results than research supported by public funds. Once a study is submitted for publication, a journal has an incentive to publish positive results. There is a publication bias for positivity. Neither they nor the public are interested in failures. Journals do the same thing. This is one reason why scientific findings of negative research don’t get much air time.

    The Question of Individual Authorities

    Things to consider in evaluating an individual expert include do have they the education and training from a relevant and up-to-date program? Are they experienced and have accomplishments in their area of claimed expertise? It is common in paranormal research that a licensed person in one field (like Deepak Chopra) will claim to be an authority in a field in which he is not trained, like physics. Is the authority up with current research? Are they respected by peers, other experts in the area? Another common problem is that are not respected by other authorities in the same field. Because much parapsychology often appeals to the public, the public does not know what other experts think if these expects do not have a public reputation. Is there a conflict of interest in what parapsychologists have to say? In other words, are they making money from pushing false memories – as in claims of alien abductions or claims about past lives?

    Further Grounds for Scientific Suspicions

    The mainstream scientific community is suspicious of its claimed experts when parapsychologists:

    • Make exaggerated and unqualified claims full of superlatives like “breakthrough”, “revolutionary” or “pioneering”.
    • They have a record of gullibility in regard to paranormal that has been clearly shown to be fraudulent in the past.
    • Fail to distinguish a well-designed study from a badly designed one where there is possibility of fraud
    • Have a record of failing to report breaches in good design, whether their own or others. This can include an entire project that might have been conducted by relatively novice assistants.
    • Resort to ad hominin arguments – accusing scientists of being mean-spirited, narrow-minded and dogmatic.

    How Sound is the Logic?

    • Confusing a necessary with a sufficient condition

    As many of you know who have taken critical thinking classes, there are both formal and informal fallacies. A typical formal fallacy that parapsychologists often commit is confusing a necessary and sufficient condition. In a statement that is not fallacious such as:

    If the color of ice cream is white,

    It is vanilla flavor, then b is true.

    The color of ice cream is white, it is therefore vanilla

    A fallacy of confusing a necessary and sufficient condition (affirming the consequent) in parapsychology goes like this:

    If the stars and the planet are aligned properly you will recover from your cold quickly.

    You recovered quickly form your cold.

    Therefore the stars and planets have been aligned properly.

    This ignores the fact that (you could have taken cold medication).

    Here is another one:

    If a psychic can read your thoughts, he can tell if you are skeptical.

    The psychic you are visiting correctly observed that you are skeptical.

    Therefore, the psychic can read your thoughts.

    The problem here is they could simply be reading your body language.


    • Fallacies in chain arguments

    The typical form of chain arguments go like this:

    • All A is B.
    • All B is C.
    • Therefore all A is C.

    In paranormal arguments one of the links in the chain doesn’t follow the others. Here is an example from the relationship between subatomic particles and consciousness:

    Subatomic interactions may appear at a distance far away (true).

    The human brain is made of atoms (true).

    The human thought generated from the brain follows the rules of quantum physics (true).

    Therefore human thoughts follows the same quantum rules as subatomic particles in the brain (not true).

    Here is another one:

    All atoms possess some gravity(true).

    Our brains are made of atoms (true).

    Thought are generated by in the brain (true).

    Thoughts travel by means of gravity (not true).

    Thoughts that travel to other dimensions return to our dimension instantaneously (questionable).

    This results in telepathic communication (questionable).

    Last one:

    A mysterious dark energy forces some galaxies apart (true).

    They travel at a speed faster than light (true).

    When human thoughts come into contact with dark energy they can travel at a speed faster than the speed of light (questionable).

    Therefore, this proves telepathy exists (not true).

    • Weasel words

    Weasel words are very common in parapsychology. These words can make passionate claims, but in looking at their track record, there is a loophole which gives parapsychologists  an out in case their claim is challenged. For example, the use of the word “some” can mean the same as “most” on the one hand and as little as one exception on the other. More specifically you might say “some” scientists believe UFOs have landed on earth, when the reality might be only 1%.

    Paranormal psychologists use the word “healing” in tricky ways. Smith points out that healing generally means returning to physical health. But alternative medicine practitioners smuggle the world of psychology into what healing means. Then alternative medicine can claim to heal people when research shows only that it was because of the placebo effect (people wanted it to work). In the case of faith healers, they can wriggle out of promises. Your spirit has been healed if your body hasn’t. How can you measure what a healing spirit looks like?

    The words controversial and debatable are popular weasel words in paranormal literature. Usually, controversial means there is good evidence on both sides. However, parapsychologists can use controversy to bring in claims that might not have good evidence but they stir argument. Velikovsky and his followers did this in the field of astronomy. For skeptics, having sound evidence is a precondition or necessary condition for having a controversy. No claim is accepted as a candidate for a controversy if their evidence is not sound.

    • Equivocation

    Parapsychologists use the word faith in equivocal ways. For example, the formal definition of faith is contrasted to logical truth or material evidence. It’s fair to say that parapsychologists might have faith they will eventually produce evidence that is public and can be replicated. But parapsychologists claim that science is also based on faith. However, it is unfair to call scientific hope faith. What scientists have is confidence in the values of the expansion of the natural laws that have already been discovered.

    • Appeal to ignorance

    This is an especially important one for students of the paranormal. Lack of evidence against something does not make it reasonable for something that is paranormal to be true. Absence of normal explanation does not require an extraordinary explanation. There can be many normal explanations. For example, every careful scientific exploration of dark shapes in abandoned houses has found an alternative to the ghost explanation. They can be found in shadows of objects like drapes, reflections of moving lights or the activity of rodents.

    If there is no evidence that a claim is false it can mean that the claim is unfalsifiable or that currently mundane explanations don’t exist yet. It could be that mundane explanations do exist, but paranormal researchers haven’t heard of them. For example UFO sightings can be explained naturally as:

    • Reflections of the moon
    • Ball lightening
    • Aircraft
    • Missile Launchings
    • Satellite
    • Balloons
    • Searchlights
    • Test clouds
    • Flares
    • Elmo’s Fire
    • Optical camera distortions
    • Fraud
    • Confusing Correlation with Cause

    Just because an event came right before another event does not mean it was caused by that event. The causes of events could have occurred deep in the past and the most recent events could be surface rippling which have nothing to do with what really happened. Furthermore, if events A and B occurred at the same time, we don’t know if A may have caused B or B caused A. It could also be possible that both A and B were due to chance. An example of A and B being caused by a third variable is the following. If we notice that in a city there is growth in the number of churches and the number of brothels. We could imagine that the growth of brothels caused more churches to be built. Or the growth of sex-negative Churches produced more prostitution as a reaction from desperate priests. But both the rise of prostitutes and churches could have been caused by a growth in population of a new city which causes both more houses of prostitution and more churches to be built.

    The Tricks and Tribulations of Observations: How Trustworthy are the Senses?

    Let us take three paranormal circumstances and see whether what is attributed to psychic phenomenon might be something else.

    • Channelers sit silently in a darkened room waiting for communication with the dead.
    • UFO watchers sit in a quiet field at night silently awaiting the arrival of spacecraft.
    • Haunted house investigators sit in the basement at night with the hall lights turned off.

    Autokinetic effect

    Ordinary neurophysiological states can evoke experiences easily misidentified as paranormal. Jonathan Smith encourages us to go outside and look at a darkness area of the sky with only one or two stars. Gaze for 5 minutes at the stars. In time, you will see it move. It isn’t a flying saucer or a waking dream.

    Autokinetic effect is a small point of light in a dark and featureless background. It appears to move because of minor, involuntary eye movements, eye fatigue or simple suggestion. (204)

    Yet a friend may claim they  can move small distant objects by simply looking at them.

    Pupil dilation

    Another physiological reaction of the eyes is pupil response. In darkness the pupils dilate to let in light and bright colors while they constrict to keep lights out. This protects the retina from overexposure. It may seem as if the lights were being turned down or shades drawn. Shaded areas may suddenly emerge while dark areas grow darker and seem as if they are moving. So the next time you are in haunted house and someone surprises you by whispering “look a ghost”, you may well see a shadowy form emerge and move, but it’s all because of a pupil response.

    Coming Attractions

    If you flip a coin and it comes up heads three times in a row, on the next flip is tails more likely to come up? Understanding how to reason quantitatively (gauging probability) is foundational for science. Yet psychics, like most everyone else, interpretation patterns of connection which aren’t there and we underestimate the probability of rare negative events. This compromises parapsychology investigation.

    Your horoscope predicts that you are conflicted about your work, feeling that some of your skills aren’t being utilized. In your relationship you are happy but feel that parts of you are not understood by your partner. Emotionally you are cautiously optimistic but sometimes you have fits of demoralization. Why do so many people feel like the astrologer is very good and understands them?

    Memories are like tape recorders that record everything. If a person has a traumatic experience those memories are buried as psychological protection. True or False? Both these statements are the foundation for claims of alien abduction and reincarnation. We discuss this in part II.

    In the mind-body relation, how much does the body control the mind and how much does the mind control the body? Can the mind act independently of the brain? Under what conditions can we say wishing something to be true can make it so?

    How might we test whether claims of ghosts, extraterrestrials and angels are real or whether they are hallucinations? Hallucinations are the result of sensory deprivation, sensory orchestration or drugs such as LSD. Which form of hallucination might go with ghosts, extraterrestrials or angels?

    In spite of all the skeptical criticism of parapsychology, the sad truth is that these results do not put a dent in the public’s interest in parapsychology. Why might this be? Does research uphold the parapsychologists’ claim that they are more open than mainstream scientists when their claims are challenge? What is the harm of believing in the paranormal? Why not just let people believe what they want to believe? Skeptics seem so uptight and crabby. Why don’t they just loosen up?

    Finally after reviewing the eight steps of critical thinking tests, what are the characteristics of a good scientific theory? What are the conditions of a good experimental design? When the results come in, what are the five characteristics of an adequate theory? Do all five characteristics have to be met? Are some more important than others? All this is covered in part II.

  • Strange Bedfellows

    While cultural relativism appears to be the opposite of imperialism a deeper look shows how, in spite of its best intentions, cultural relativism unwittingly supports imperialism. (more…)

  • Hold Your Horses: BRICS Has a Long Way to Go!
    It’s easy for those of us who are anti-imperialists here in the West to get very excited about BRICS and imagine it has arrived on the world scene faster than it actually has.


  • Organizing on the Job: Keep it Short and Sweet!
    Normally, organizing workers involves long meetings that are off-site.


  • Propagandist Obstacles to the Peaceful Reintegration of Taiwan Into China
    What would be the reaction of  Mordor neocon rulers if China sent political representatives to meet with the Hawaiian sovereignty movement?


  • Pepe’s Optimistic Summary of Three Day BRICS Conference

    The is a wonderful summary, not only of the agreements these countries came to but also their tension points. (more…)

  • Worker Co-ops Through Sociocracy

    The stereotype of worker co-ops’ organization is that they are very practical and they figure things out as they go. (more…)

  • China and South Africa’s Relationship: Key to African Economic Integration?
    China has been helping South Africa on many fronts. This is the case not only in terms of infrastructural development but also in creating skilled jobs for its working class.


  • Rise of BRICS and the Sinking Ship of G7

    Who was the originator of BRICS? (more…)

  • China’s State Controlled Enterprises More Productive than Private Capitalist Enterprises
    The Western stereotype of state owned enterprises is that they are sluggish because they are not “incentivized” by the prospect of unlimited profits as are private corporations. However, in China this is hardly the case.


  • The Future of Africa Through BRICS

    How much will BRICS be able to pull the continent of Africa out of the horrors of neocolonial status of the 20th century? (more…)

  • How The Mighty Have Fallen

    Germany is now in its worst crisis since World War II. (more…)

  • Michael Hudson: From The Deep State to Digital Currency
    This is a very wide-ranging interview with Michael Hudson which begins with who the power sources are in Mordor.


  • The Purity Fetish of Western Marxism

    For decades one of the only feathers in the cap of Western marxists was to say that “actually existing” socialism was just as bad as capitalism. (more…)

  • The Place of Trading Skills Without Money in a Solidarity Economy

    “What if there was a way to trade time and share skills with your neighbors in a way that met a range of needs without involving cash?” (more…)

  • How the CIA and the British Ruling Forces Shaped the New Left

    To what extent are social movements shaped by the ruling classes? (more…)

  • The Quadrillion Dollars Derivative Tsunami Coming Right Up!

    “The original purpose of derivatives was to help farmers and other producers manage the risks of dramatic changes in the markets for raw materials. (more…)

  • Striking Writers and Actors Holding the Line Against Tech Slicing and Dicing
  • Japanese Rulers Offer Themselves as Doormat for NATO of the East
  • Crypto New Left Entitlement Reaches the Halls of Power

    “During the past five years there has been an aggressive encroachment of woke and postmodern race ideologies into every aspect of society: local school boards, college campuses, corporations’ human resources, and the halls of federal and state legislative bodies.” (more…)

  • Here is the Lowdown on the Niger Military Takeover
    Why do Nigerians want French soldiers out of their country?


  • David Confronts Goliath
    “Spurred in part by COVID and by a growing housing affordability crisis, tenant organizing is picking up, not just in expected places like New York but elsewhere.


  • From Twitter to X – From Social Networks to Social Media
    This article by Binoy Kampmark begins by criticizing Musk for his lack of understanding that the use of the letter “X” to replace the blue bird is bad for business.


  • Why Neopagan Marxists are Not Pantheists or Animists


    In human life it is clear that we are external nature – we have an affinity with other life forms like primates as real, objective beings. However, we also have an internal nature – a psychology – of mental states, goals, imagination and sexual urges that is internal to us. We know from cosmologists that the natural world goes all the way back to subatomic particles. But how far back does internal nature go?

    Nine Ways of Understanding the Body-Mind Problem

    Descartes’ mind-body dualism

    In the history of philosophy, David Skrbina tells us there are usually six possible modes of interaction between bodies and minds. For purposes of this article, I’ve added three more. Perhaps the most famous is Descartes’ answer depicted as mind-body dualism. Here the mind and the body (or nature) are thought of as two different substances (thought and extension) that interact through the pineal gland. Each substance is subject to its own laws.

    Epiphenomenalism and eliminative materialism

    Epiphenomenalists such as Santayana or the behaviorists are primarily focused on body or nature. Bodies affect mind, but minds do not affect bodies. Mind is the result of the interaction between the brain and the body. By not being a physical entity the mind has no causal power. It is like a shadow on a wall. Eliminative materialism (or mechanical materialism) takes the body-nature emphasis to an extreme. People like Patricia and Paul Churchland, along with W.V.O Quine, argue that there are only bodies. Mind is an illusion. This philosophy is also called physicalism.

    Idealism and neutral monism

    Idealists like Plato say that the world is primarily spiritual and matter is a derivative and less real. Spiritual, eternal forms are the archetypes of the world while matter is understood as an inferior copy. The idealist theory of mind holds that mind is really a soul that is distinct from the body and has nothing to do with the brain. The next theory of the mind-body problem is neutral monism. The two extremes of eliminative materialism and idealism are challenged by a third contender. In the hands of first, Spinoza and then Ernest Mach, nature (or the body) and mind are two sides of the same coin. They are the creatures of a third substance which is beyond nature and mind which Spinoza called substance,

    Hylozoic monism and pre-established harmony

    While physicalists claim that everything is made of matter, hypozoic monists claim that all of what exists is life. They might strive to discover the properties of life that may be found in parts of the world that are considered inanimate. Ernest Haeckel, Fredrick Paulsen and David Bohm were all representatives. But to say all nature is life that does not mean that all of life has mind or psyche. Many forms of life exist without nervous systems that are self-maintaining and self-creative without having any psyche at all. Neither are any of these forms conscious. Much of the natural order is self-regulating without any conscious regulation. Even with human beings, much of our thinking is unconscious and part of the ancestorial brain with no reflection at all.

    Leibniz had what was to me the strangest system of mind-body interaction which he called preestablished harmony. The universe consisted of an infinite number of monads (the lowest unit of possible organization). A monad is windowless and is like a living atom. All monads are active and conscious, but they vary in clarity and distinctiveness. Each monad had a final cause or purpose. Leibniz believed that monads do not influence each other. There is a correspondence between each monad’s perceptual state and the conditions of the external world (nature or the body). However, those perceptions can only mirror external events. Neither can cause the other.

    Pantheism and emergent evolution

    As opposed to materialism, idealism or neutral monism in its starting points all agree that the psyche or the mind is a late development in evolution. Even idealists will say that the soul is given to humanity by God late in His creation. Pantheism opposes all this and states that the mind, soul or spirit goes all the way back in nature – including molecules and subatomic particles. Animists seem to be a kind of pluralist pantheist. They have a more specific claim about the internal structure of matter. Animists claim that not only that every piece of matter has a soul or psyche but that these souls have intentions including rocks, rivers and wind. Animists and pantheists claim that the mind is embedded in nature, right from the beginning.

    In emergent evolution, nature undergoes a series of quantitative and qualitative changes. As a result of qualitative change, new levels emerge and mind is added at a certain level of complexity. In emergent evolution the effects of something can be more than the cause as genuine novelty appears. Past a level of complexity, the shear creativity of matter produces new things. While initially the body in the form of the brain impacts the mind, the mind can reciprocally react back on nature or the body. Higher stages, while more complex than lower levels, are still dependent on it.

    Neopagan Marxism

    Marxian materialists believe the world is composed primarily of matter and that mind is a late development in evolution. The materialist theory of mind has at least two basic assumptions:

    • The mind is limited to humans and perhaps higher animals.
    • The mind is somehow dependent on the physical substrate of the human brain.

    Materialists usually draw the line where mind emerges with the arrival of a central nervous system. As dialectical materialists we understand the mind as an emergent property of matter. As with emergent evolutionists there can be more in the effect than there is in the cause. However, emergent evolutionists say that cosmic evolution can be divided into matter, life and mind. For us the levels are matter, life and society. Societies are what provide for the material conditions (along with the brain) for mind to emerge. For us the brain and the mind are distinct. You need a brain to have a mind but mind is a product of a new layer of nature, society. Without societies there are no minds.

    What is My Claim?

    We agree with pantheists and animists that nature has an internality far back in cosmic evolution. However, my claim is that pantheists’ claim about internality being composed of minds, spirits and consciousness is coming at internality at too high a level of complexity. Internality is present in more primitive forms such as experience, memory, irritability, circular feedback, metabolism, attraction-aversion and tension between community and individual and in holons. These existed long before consciousness, mental life or psyches emerged in evolution.

    Why should you care? As materialists we are in no great rush to tack on consciousness, mentality and psyche into nature to make it respectable. Matter already has a respectability in the form of self-creation and self-maintenance long before mind consciousness or psyche existed.  We sympathize with pantheist views because they see nature as self-regulating and in no need of any extra-cosmic buttinskies. However, we reject their claim that mind goes all the way back or down to subatomic particles. As for animism, Marxist Neopagans feel sympathy that the animists claim every object has soul and intention, because it makes nature creative with purpose rather than being the passive creatures of an all-powerful God. However, we question the existence of souls or that rocks and rivers have intentions.

    What is Pantheism?

    What is the difference between saying “God is in everything” and “everything is God?” Since most every Christians will imagine God as bodiless, unworldly and spiritual, to say “God is in everything” seems to mean that even disguising body products such as phlegm or feces is somehow spiritual. But if you say everything is God, you are starting with nature as it is immediately, without any prettying up, including phlegm, feces, and decay just as they are materially and elevating it to the spiritual. This kind of God is simply the king of matter and not very noble at all. In pantheism God is identical with all that exists and no more. 

    So pantheism is simply an ontological claim about the relationship between nature and God. Now there are two ways of dividing the pantheistic universe. One is to say pantheism is swallowed as a single whole, a kind of king of matter. The other is a kind of riot of pluralistic panpsychism where there are infinite individual centers of psyche-matter. This seems indistinguishable from animism. As David Skrbina writes in his book Panpsychism in the West all things, however defined, possess some mind-like, noetic quality. It says nothing specific about what the nature of what mind is. Neither does it insist on the specific proportionate relationship between matter and mind. It rejects drawing the line where mind begins. It argues for a theory of continuity non-emergence. There can be nothing in the effect that is not in the cause. This makes it both the opposite of both emergence and physicalism.

    To many scientists of the early 20th century, panpsychism was uncomfortably close to the recently discredited theory of vitalism. Virtually all contemporary naturalistic theories of mind are forms of emergentism. They argue that mind is a rare and unique phenomenon that arises under only highly specialized circumstances.

    David Skrbina argues there are at least four reasons for studying the relevance of Panpsychism today:

    • It offers resolutions to the mind-body problem that dualism and physicalism find intractable.
    • It has important ethical consequences, specifically a compassion for nature that comes with ecological values.
    • It brings into sharp relief both Descartes mind-body dualism and the physicalism of Hobbes.
    • Panpsychism is the most under-analyzed philosophical position in Western philosophy. The last systematic study was performed hundred years ago.

    Do We Need to Say Internal Life is Mind, Mentality, Spirituality and Conscious?

    When we speak as pantheists what is inside of matter is claimed to be

    • Mind
    • Mental
    • Spiritual
    • Conscious
    • Soul-like

    As I stated in my claim, I think this is coming at internality at too high a level of complexity. This is called the pathetic fallacy. When hard scientists argued that all biological or social phenomenon were “nothing but” chemical or physical processes they were called reductionists. Conversely, when philosophers or sociologists claim that physical phenomenon are really about consciousness or mental phenomenon they commit the pathetic fallacy.

    As dialectical materialists we say mind is a property of matter at a very high level of evolution. In fact, the mind is the property of the brain after the brain has been humanized. To claim that all of matter has mind ignores a long history of matter without mind. The same thing is true for consciousness. The word consciousness comes from the Greeks meaning “together knowledge”. Consciousness, at least self-reflective consciousness, is the product of human societies. Other animals may be aware, but since they don’t pool their knowledge, they are not self-conscious. Other animals have mental life where thoughts, feelings and intentions, much of mental life, is not conscious. Lastly, to say that matter is spiritual implies taking an otherworldly dimension into the bargain and one with laws that usually go beyond nature. If it didn’t, we would have no need to call anything spiritual.

    Why Does Inanimate Nature Seem to Lack Internality

    Skrbina says there are at least four reasons why inanimate objects appear devoid of mind: a) inactivity and inertness; b) lack of freedom and initiative; c) no clear distinction between parts and wholes; and d) lack of purpose. Process philosopher Hartshorne says mechanism and materialism assume that inanimate matter is; a) dead; b) blind; c) uncreative; and d) insentient.

    Forms of Internality Without Mind, Consciousness, Mental Life or Soul

    Panexperientialism What is experience? As a result of the impact of external nature we are changed so that some adjustment has been made internally. This does not require consciousness, mental life or the existence of souls or spirits. For example, when I go out running in the morning the result is that physiologically I feel more lively and relaxed. It requires no consciousness or mental life to have that experience. Panexperientialism means all matter experiences. This term was coined by David Ray Griffin, deriving from Whitehead and Hartshorne.


    Humans record experiences through morphological changes in the brain.

    Ancient documents such as fossils, rocks and even planetary fragments can be dated with reasonable precision because of the permanent, cumulative record of all things acquired. William James says the whole sea and the whole tree are registers of what has happened to them. Bergson elaborated the philosophy of memory as the decisive factor in a graded transition from matter to mind. Bergson wrote in his first book, Matter and Memory in 1896, of a continuum from matter to life. As Skrbina points out, duration implies time, and in the realm of life this implies memory. Memory grows with the complexity of the organism. Humans have the most memory and memory dwindles as nature becomes more primitive. The most primitive matter has perception without memory. There are both novelty and stability in all aspects of nature. Stability is an aspect of memory.


    Even in the most primitive forms matter does not passively react in a completely predictable and mechanical way. They become irritable, twisting and turning in unpredictable ways to get away from the initial irritant. This needn’t involve any consciousness, mental life or purpose.

    Circular feedback (Bateson)

    Gregory Bateson was very aware of the importance of concepts of energy, feedback and information anticipating later development in chaos theory and nonlinear dynamics. Quoting Skrbina, Bateson was adamant that it was the circular feedback system itself that was important as an elementary cybernetic system and its messages. Cybernetic feedback systems pervade nature at all levels of organization from molecular to galactic, anywhere that parts intersect and persist. The exception for him are the fundamental atomic particles because they are without parts and lack the dynamic feedback interrelationships. More complicated systems are more worthy of being called mental systems. Interacting with parts is only a necessary condition of mind, not a sufficient condition. Chalmers agrees with Bateson and concludes that it is reasonable to assign experience an even consciousness to a simple feedback system like a thermostat.


    Another characteristic of internal life without bringing up souls, minds or consciousness into the picture is the self-motion of organisms in their ability to learn; their ability to maintain themselves by feedback; repair themselves; elimination of waste; and self-replenishment through the search for resources.

    Attraction-aversion (love and strife)

    As far back as Empedocles there was a tension between attraction and aversion, or more poetically between love and strife. Hartshorne assessed that pure sympathy would destroy individuality by merging all into one. On the other hand, pure antipathy would not allow for any structure or knowledge at all. All of nature is driven by attraction and aversion. Chardin writes that the universe is driven by forces moving away from the center to the periphery (centrifugal forces stretching out) and centripetal forces moving from the periphery to the center.

    Individual vs community

    Beginning at the more complex end of mammalian levels of evolution, there is tension between individuals and communities as laid out in primate social life between individual and group selection. Of course this carries through the entirety of social evolution.


    As Koestler points out in his books The Ghost in the Machine and Janus, virtually every part of nature is both self-assertive in expressing relative autonomy and at the same time must participate in a larger system in which it is a part. Koestler claims this tension goes all the way back in nature. He calls this whole/parts holons.

    The Place of Process Philosophers in Panpsychism

    For one thing, process philosophy understands time as an ontological category.  It understands space, not as a container of matter but in a dialectical relationship with time on one hand, and matter on the other. As many of you know, the new physics has challenged mechanical descriptions of physical reality when we reach the subatomic level. Because human consciousness is involved in determining whether subatomic matter is a wave or a participle, this new physics created some fissures for process philosophy and panpsychism to nestle into them. The standard view of process philosophy after Whitehead is that atoms, molecules and cells are included among the sentient.

    Leibniz, along with Whitehead, Hartshorne and Griffin deny consciousness to inanimate material objects but grant it cells and molecules. Hartshorne openly advocated for panpsychism and was the first western philosopher to extensively employ the term panpsychism. Hartshorne made some interesting distinctions between matter as an aggregate and matter as individuals.

    Matter as Individuals vs Matter as an Aggregate

    Contrary to popular understanding of animism, in process philosophy tables, rocks and houses do not have consciousness. This is because they are mechanical, predictable and display no unified action. They do not have experience and they have no minds. They are a collection of inorganic objects. On the contrary, from single-celled organisms up to humanity, they have a consciousness because they are individuals with an organic unity, even the atoms from quantum theory. Individuals have spontaneity and are unpredictable. They display unified action or purpose. Individuals have experience. They are like Koestler’s holons. They are a both a part of a larger system and a whole to a smaller system. All aggregates, even though composed of sentient atoms, molecules and cells are not in themselves sentient.

    Hartshorne criticizes science for treating objects in nature only as aggregates, not as individuals. The problem that Hartshorne had to explain was why such things as rocks and tables, though composed individual monads, lost their individuality and became aggregates. Skrbina points out that Whitehead names four types of aggregates:

    • non-living which is dominated by the average
    • vegetable grade – coordinated individuality and the average
    • animal grade aggregates which contain both individual organisms and aggregates such as herds
    • human grade aggregates such as crowds of individuals

    A living aggregate is clearly different from a non-living aggregate but there is no explanation as to how they are different. Skrbina claims that moving into the 21st  century there are five varieties of panpsychism:

    1. quantum mechanics – imitated by Haldane in the 1930s and elaborated by Bohm
    2. information theory, Bateson and Chalmers
    3. process philosophy – Whitehead, Hartshorne, Griffin
    4. part-whole hierarchy – Cardano, Koestler, Wilber
    5. nonlinear dynamics – Peirce and Skrbina

    The Greeks Had the Right Idea: There is no Independent Psyche in Ancient Greece

    In his book True to the Earth, Kadmus writes that in archaic Greece the psyche was not the ultimate organizing principle of the body. The psyche and the body are engaged in a complex partnership rather than a division between chaotic matter on the one hand (the body) and order on the other (psyche). To separate the psyche from the body is to treat the body as an object, which the psyche puts in motion. Kadmus writes that psyche should best be understood as a body within a body. He says what is really going on in nature is the transformation of bodies, rather than the transmigration of souls. This is the transformation from one process to another, whether it be into grains of wheat or waves on the sea.

    All bodies live but saying they live does not mean all bodies and minds are self-reflexive consciousnessunless we are talking about the most complex forms of evolution on this planet. To focus on the mind and self-consciousness as the foundation of life or natural existence is to engage in a specific kind of anthropomorphic projection backward in time when neither mind nor self-consciousness existed. Most living bodies do not have a psyche.

    A focusing psyche in the body does not necessarily mean being conscious

    Being aware is something we and our bodies act and do, rather than  something that we have or are. The process of paying attention only gets turned into an abstract entity or a property with the development of writing which pushes us to turn to turn verbs and action words into timeless nouns. After all, we act, speak and think only in moments of breakdown. Then we reflect in such a way as to become conscious of these things when there is a problem. To capture the high pagan view of the cosmos, we must resist the urge to turn the action of focusing on something into having awareness. Any time contemporary animism or panpsychism tries to bring in consciousness as the governing force of nature we have fallen into Anthropomorphism and commit the pathetic fallacy.


    The article begins by describing nine ways of understanding the body-mind problem including philosophical dualism; epiphenomenalism; physicalism (eliminative materialism); idealism; the preestablished harmony; neutral monism; hylozoic monism; pantheism of Whitehead, Hartshorne and Griffin; and the emergent evolution. Lastly, I briefly include the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels because this is the philosophy of Neopagan Marxism. After brief descriptions of each I spend more time discussing pantheism, since this is a common philosophy of Neopagans.

    The purpose of this article is to say that as Neopagan Marxists with an orientation towards process philosophy, we don’t need to attribute mind, consciousness, souls, or mental life into the cosmos from the beginning in order to make an immanent nature self-maintaining and self-creative. We say that internality in nature is present all the way back in nature in pan experience: in memory; irritability; circular feedback; metabolism; attraction-aversion; tension between community and individual; and in holons. Minds, souls and spirits, whether pagans believe in them or not, are emergent properties of human beings at a very high level of evolutionary complexity.

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