Written by Dr Steve Minett
Book Review by Paradigm Explorer (Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network
This is a brilliant and significant contribution to debates on the philosophy of consciousness, drawing on a wide range of literature and proposing a new and more adequate ontology as part of an explanation of its role and function. It is aimed at informed readers already familiar with the main issues, and its arguments are correspondingly detailed. Steve shows how the ‘hard problem’ arises from developments in science and the history of philosophy notably the Western ‘ethno-psychology’ originating in Descartes and ultimately leading to the denial and dismissal of the self, free will and qualia to be found in contemporary philosophy and best exemplified in Daniel Dennett. He calls this the “Car-Ton’ view (Ton from Newton) and discusses how ‘folk psychology’ has been dismantled and consciousness – characterised for him by sentience, qualia and the self – is reduced to information-processing. He critically and informatively covers all the main schools of thought, highlighting their neglect of emotions and affect as well as of metaphysics under the influence of behaviourism, logical positivism and what he calls ‘ideological empiricism’.
Drawing on many authoritative sources, Steve argues that mainstream philosophers of quantum mechanics suffered an ontological failure of nerve in not developing an updated ontology corresponding to the findings of quantum theory (though personally, I believe that David Bohm was working in this direction). They have remained within the realist Car-Ton worldview, which has also perpetuated the hard problem. The second part of the book develops a new ontology that he calls ‘Whit-Tum’, an abbreviation of Whitehead and Quantum. Whitehead developed a philosophy based on process rather than substance and his successors have built on his views to formulate ‘pan-experientialism’ (to be distinguished from panpsychism) whereby sentience and experience are ontologically fundamental. Among the thinkers drawn on here are Henry Stapp, Bernard d’Espagnat and late judge-philosopher and SMN Member David Hodgson (The Mind Matters). Steve crucially notes that ‘within this Whit-Tum world the ‘hard problem’ of sentience does not arise since experience not only permeates the entire universe, but is the substance out of which it is fabricated’ (p. 608).
A further consequence of this view is an emphasis on embodied rather than disembodied spirituality based on the mind-matter split and a focus on transcendence. Although the thesis of the book is to restore sentience and feeling to centre stage, Steve does not cover the thought of women such as Mary Midgley, Evelyn Fox Keller or Riane Eisler. The work on self-reflexive consciousness by Max Velmans would also have been a useful addition to the discussion, as would the views of Chris Clarke, not only in relation to philosophical implications of quantum theory, but also embodied spirituality. Steve refers the significance of Gilbert Ryle, but could have reinforced his argument for the centrality of metaphysics by citing the work of R.G. Collingwood, Ryle’s predecessor in the same chair at Oxford. Nonetheless, as I said at the beginning, the book is a significant contribution to the current debate and deserves a wide readership in the consciousness studies community. We certainly need the kind of ontology he proposes here.”
Edwin Mellen Press 2019
The full text of the book can be downloaded for personal purposes from https://consciousvm.wordpress.com/my-book-on-consciousness-theory/)