ʼEh‧yeh′ ʼAsher′ ʼEh‧yeh′ – “I shall become what I shall become” (Ex 3:14 – my own interpretation)
I thought perhaps I might try and open up how I see that phrase “fundamental cosmic creative propensity” (George Gantz’s comment in response to Anthony Aguirre’s essay at Big Questions Online) being quite explicit and meaningful to my own model of reality.
Materialism states that the most fundamental (i.e. the foundation on which the rest is built) aspect of reality is the matter/energy of which the physical reality is composed. Recent developments have postulated that in fact matter/energy may be composed of something more fundamental and essentially immaterial (information). An idealist immaterial information-based scheme might seem a more viable explanatory scheme for approaching the truth about reality than materialism because of its ability to encompass the rather obvious aspects of reality that are not material things – ideas, consciousness, mind, qualia etc. But materialism does have a trick up its sleeve – it can call on emergence to account for things like these. Unfortunately (at least if you are looking for the most elegantly simple account of the nature of nature), both of these schemes (materialism and “informationism”) end up in dualism even if they don’t start off there. Materialism proceeds strictly from (interchangeable but ultimately strictly conserved – as far as we can see and notwithstanding Stephen Hawking’s conjectures about what may or may not happen in the middle of black holes) energy/matter to mind; “informationism” goes from (fundamental) “mind-stuff” (Plato’s eternal realm of ideal forms) to matter/energy and back to (emergent) mind again. For materialism, there can be no knowing, no experience at the most fundamental level, for “informationism”, the fundamental level is all KNOWING (that is not to say omniscient in the traditional sense of the word, but that all possibility of knowing is contained within the fundamental KNOWING of the eternal “mind-stuff”).
There is no denying the FACT (not the content) of our experience – so experience must be either a fundamental aspect of reality or (as materialism would suggest) an emergent one. If it is entirely emergent then there is indeed no “knowing” at the fundamental levels – there is no sense in which an electron (for example) “knows” or “senses” or “experiences” its surroundings. I find that implausible because electrons “behave” like electrons – there must be “something that it is like to be” an electron and an electron must, in some sense, “know” how it is supposed to behave as an electron. This idea has been called “panpsychism” (note that this is not the only definition of panpsychism). The electron, I think must also, in some way, “sense” or “experience” (sensibly) the influences of its neighbors (it is, for example, repelled by like charges and attracted by opposite charges) and adjust its “behavior” accordingly. This is called “panexperientialism”. Not many materialists would admit these ideas, but I think they are inherent in materialism whether atheistic “scientism” likes it or not. In any case, their only alternative is the sudden, unprecedented, radical emergence of experience at some point during the evolution of the cosmos – a miraculous event that makes walking on water look like a cheap party trick by comparison. Indeed, if it were not for the fact that experience is so obviously undeniable, many materialists would undoubtedly dismiss it as a case of euphoric misinterpretation or a deliberate hoax. Actually, some do invoke exactly those ideas to explain (explain away) the fact of experience, labeling all of our experience as illusion. But this manoeuvre doesn’t help their cause at all, because even if all of our experience is illusory, we still experience the illusion and that, it seems to me, just makes the problem even more mysteriously intractable than accepting that our experience is real.
So now, I find myself at a kind of half way house somewhere between monistic materialism and dualistic “informationism” – I have no mind (or “mind-stuff”) at the fundamental level but I do have experience. I am, I suppose, a “panexperientialist”.
Since I am depending on the fact (not the content) of experience, I might as well further investigate the nature of experience. Experience depends on time – it must – one cannot have an experience that does not have endurance (i.e. that does not last a finite amount of time). Even the most fleeting experience cannot be truly “momentary” – there can be no “points in time” in our experience because if no time had passed we could not have had the experience. Experience depends on change, if there is no change, what has been experienced? I suppose the change could be merely the passage of time without change – but even if the only thing happening is that the clock is ticking, there remains change. If nothing changes but time, each second is a new one. But in reality it is never like that anyway, there is always something new emerging – some new creation being built upon the foundation of the past and stretching forward into a future filled with “unpredescribed” novelty. Nature, it seems to me, is always and everywhere inventive, creative.
So this “creative propensity” is both fundamental (i.e. it functions both from the earliest times and on the smallest scales of reality) and cosmic (there is nowhere that its driving force is not felt). And, it seems to me, it probably never stops – at least I cannot for the life me imagine what could get it started again if it ever did stop. So I am also, I suppose, a “pancreativist” (which is nothing to do with imaginative cooking methods). Of course this is more or less the scheme of Alfred North Whitehead in Process and Reality in which he has the “actual occasions of experience” as the fundamental “atoms” of the real world.
For me God is fundamentally both the (pan-)experiential and (pan-)creative aspects of the world, hence my choice of “pandeism” (or I suppose “pantheism” would do almost as well) as a label for my God-model. But God is also more than that, God is, by virtue of the fundamental “panexperientiality” and “pancreativity” of the world, continually becoming more than that. God is also the content of the collective experience (and creativity) of the world. In that sense, God is also emergent – just as the minds of men continually emerge from their existential reality and their evolving experience – only more so. And yet God is always uniquely one – there is nothing that is not God and God is never actually anything more than the continually-becoming, more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts whole of the whole world. That is where I part company with Whitehead’s pan-en-theism.
What do you think? Go on, tear my essay to shreds – it is no use posting them if either your thinking is not challenged by them or mine goes unchallenged by the thinking of others. I promise I will not be offended.