Dual Aspect Monism: the Alternative to Neural Reductionism

By Peter B. Todd

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Neural Reductionism is currently the most common solution to the psychophysical or mind-matter problem in which consciousness is regarded as an epiphenomenal and causally inefficacious by-product of brain processes. However this position overlooks the possibility of a relationship of complementarity in which the mental and the physical are viewed from the perspective of dual aspect monism.

With regard to aspects of symbolic reality with which psyche and physis confront us, Physics Nobel laureate Wolfgang Pauli proposed that the notion of complementarity coined by Niels Bohr would serve as a guideline. Pauli wrote, “real pairs of opposites like particle versus wave or position versus momentum or energy versus time exist in physics…. One member of the pair can never be eliminated in favour of the other but both are taken over in a new type of physical reality which expresses properly the complementary character of the contrast” (von Meyenn, Mind and Matter, 2011: 18) A similar notion of complementarity would characterise the relationship between mind and matter, psychology and physics, science and religion.

In a similar formulation by Physicists Basil Hiley and Paavo Pylkkänen in their paper, “Can Mind Affect Matter via Active Information” (Mind and Matter 2005:23) argue that, at each level, quantum information (putting form into process) is the link or bridge between the mental and physical sides. The conclusion of this argument is as follows:

Mind regarded as a process taking place at a higher level of organization with both a mental and a physical aspect goes beyond processes studied in traditional neuroscience but can nevertheless play an active role in the physical world. Through its effect, for example, on exocytosis Mind is now understood as a new level containing active information which affects the quantum potential which in turn affects the physical processes in the brain. (Hiley and Pylkkänen 2005, 23)

As Hiley and Pylkkänen concluded, it was necessary to go beyond the standard quantum theory to make approaches such as that of Nobel Laureate Neuroscientist Eccles coherent. The factor beyond the notion of quantum effects triggering neural processes in the brain is that the active information contained in Eccles’s “mind field” could affect neural firing at the quantum level controlling the release of neurotransmitters at the synaptic cleft between neurons. Thus, according to Hiley and Pylkkänen, mind can be viewed as a relatively autonomous, though higher, level of active information, the mental and physical aspects of which stand in a relationship of complementarity, so that mind can have a genuine effect on neural processes without violating the conservation of energy law.

A more detailed argument for the epistemological position of dual aspect monism is provided in chapters 3 and 4 of my book, The Individuation of God: Integrating Science and Religion (Chiron Publications, 2012). Susan Blackmore’s position is essentially that of neural reductionism which identifies mental phenomena and consciousness with brain processes. My position is that emergent reflective consciousness is the mirror which the universe has evolved to reflect upon itself and in which its very existence is revealed. An epiphenomenon could neither investigate itself nor direct the future of cultural evolution on earth as evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley believed.

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