Idealism and Panpsychism

Idealism is the belief that the only thing that exists is consciousness itself.  Bishop Berkeley summed it up in a bit of pleasant Latin: “Esse est percepti” — to be, is to be perceived.

The only experiences we have are mental experiences.  We seem to drink, say, a glass of wine, but really we only perceive the wine.  The wine exists — as far as we are concerned — only insofar as we are conscious of it.  We form an idea of wine and then externalize that idea into the wine.  “This is earthy and unassuming, with a citrus finish,” we might say.  But until we tasted it, the wine was no such thing.  The wine was, Berkeley would say, nothing at all.

Samuel Johnson, my good buddy and trusted friend, was once walking with some friends who were discussing Berkeley’s idealism.  One said something along the lines of “Yeah, of course it’s nonsense, but how do you refute it?” meaning, of course, in the philosophical sense.  Johnson aimed a square kick at a stone and said “I refute it thus!”  But what Johnson (a man smarter than me by a factor of ten) failed to recognize is that he still only recognized the solidity of the stone as an idea.

I’m a flavor of idealist who admits to the existence of a world outside my mind.  Otherwise, I’d be a solipsist, and they’re terrible party guests.  However, this world outside my mind is, itself, a world if ideas.  The world is a mental, not a physical, construct — the very idea of physicality is just that, an idea.  This particular flavor of idealist is labeled panpsychist, from the Greek pantos, all, and psyche, mind.

Why do I think this?  That’ll be another post — this one is already too long.


2 Responses to “Idealism and Panpsychism”

  1. I’m interested in following your thoughts on this further. It reminds me of a quote by Eduardo Galeano: “Do birds announce the morning? Or by singing do they create it?”

  2. Of course, Berkeley had an out. Things didn’t wink into and out of existence in Berkeley’s paradigm, since he was an Anglican, and could therefore fall back upon an omniscient Deity who perceived everything everywhere and everywhen.

    When one talks about epistemology, though, past is often prologue. There may be something to Berkeley’s argument, since in contemporary quantum physics, photons only exist as probability waves (and thus do not behave as discrete particles) until someone or something observes them and thus collapses the wave form in question. Einstein himself once argued that our universe is one persistent illusion! When one accepts the idea of universe as (persistent and somewhat consistent) illusion, then all sorts of things become possible, magically speaking.

    Blessed Be!

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