Dual-Aspect Monism or Idealism?

These are a few random thoughts on the current long series of articles by Gerald R. Baron on the subject of the philosophy of dual aspect monism, specifically the 12th, ‘Dual aspect monism as the convergence of science and spirituality’.

Baron is an excellent writer, who does much research, and his work deserves a wider audience — anyone interested in the relationship between spirituality, religion, and science. As is clear, he has become a fan of this philosophy, which he has explored in great depth. He defines it thus: “Dual aspect monism is the idea that mind and matter are two aspects or manifestations of a unitary foundation which is psychophysically neutral”.

My immediate response is, well yes that’s true, but does that go far enough?

He explains that this is an old idea to which many modern thinkers are returning, and traces its history, mentioning many significant philosophers. He then concludes: “All these thinkers and many more came to the conclusion that the competing philosophies of idealism and materialism don’t answer the deepest questions. They saw that neither substance dualism nor the monisms of pure idealism and pure physicalism will work. We, they concluded, are not merely minds and minds are not merely matter. Somehow, we had to come to grips with the twin realities of the mental and physical. We need to find where they come from and how they can possibly relate to explain the world we know through our investigations and experience”.

I readily concur with the suggestion that materialism completely fails but, as someone tending towards the philosophy of idealism, I found these statements interesting. Does pure idealism really not work? Does it really fail to come to grips with the twin realities of the mental and physical? Is dual aspect monism therefore ok as far as it goes, but ultimately incomplete, therefore unsatisfactory? Does idealism in fact resolve its problems? Those are the questions I want to address briefly here.

Firstly, dual aspect monism seems to be saying that there are two aspects to reality, one of which is matter. Many physicists, however, will tell you that there is no such thing as matter, matter is actually immaterial. In modern times this discovery began with Einstein, who revealed that matter is actually a form of energy. Later, early quantum physicists came to the conclusion that what appears to us as matter, seems rather to be a manifestation of thought — for example Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Sir James Jeans, Sir Arthur Eddington, and others later on. In this case, the “twin ‘realities’ of the mental and physical” disappear, and such a conclusion fits far better with idealism. (I have discussed this at length in an earlier series of articles, and also here.)

Secondly, dual aspect monism gives the impression that mind and matter are two complementary opposites of reality which are unified, synthesised at a higher level, the source from which they emerge, and that is all there is. Is that a complete description of the universe, however? Is a human being merely a body and a mind?

All this leads Baron on to say that “there is a bit of a chicken and egg question in the emergence of mind and matter. What came first?”. We normally assume that a chicken-and-egg-question has no answer, and is therefore a paradox. To get a chicken you need an egg, but to get an egg you need a chicken. This problem does not arise in idealism, however, which would agree that both mind and matter emerge from a higher source, but that the dual-aspect-monism statement in its simplest form is limited in its understanding. It perhaps distorts the ‘true’ picture, that matter is a manifestation of mind (as mentioned above, this is the conclusion of various quantum physicists), which is itself a manifestation of a higher level/source. Matter and mind are not contrasting opposites; they are both manifestations at different levels of the ultimate source, which is pure consciousness.

Thirdly, what do the words ‘mind’ or ‘mental’ actually mean in this context? Do they refer specifically to the mind, i.e. that which thinks, or are they general catch-all terms for anything non-physical? I assume that in this context it can only mean the latter, for there is much non-physical which is not ‘mind’ in the normal sense of that word: emotions, instincts, imagination, artistic inspiration, visions, dreams, hallucinations, and more. Ghosts and other discarnate entities, if you believe in them, are non-material, but does that make them ‘mental’?

In a nutshell, I would suggest that reducing the observable universe to a mind/matter dichotomy simply doesn’t do justice to all there is. There is much more to the universe than the “twin realities of the mental and physical”.

Even if we restrict our understanding of ‘mental’ to that which thinks, i.e. the mind, the situation is still very complicated. I’ve read somewhere that Buddhism (possibly Tibetan) has more than 20 words to describe what we in the West call ‘mind’. They obviously have a very sophisticated understanding, compared with ours which is very limited.

One expression of dual aspect monism is Carl Jung’s Unus Mundus (One World), developed in collaboration with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Baron is impressed by this, and quotes Harald Atmanspacher in relation to it: “In so doing, the undivided, psychophysically neutral reality in the Pauli–Jung conjecture can be interpreted as a placeholder for the divine”. We can easily see why Baron, as a Christian, would be attracted to such an idea. On that theme he further mentions Herbert Spencer’s idea that “in the ‘synthetic philosophy’ he saw a means of bringing science, religion and spirituality together. The ‘one world’ brings ideas of a creator, an immanent God of divine action, a pantheistic and deistic God and the religious ideas of Eastern thinkers together”.

The interesting word here is the synthetic philosophy, as if there were only one. Why not say a synthetic philosophy, for there are others? The best known is the Perennial Philosophy, which believes that at their core all religions are saying the same thing. This Perennial Philosophy is an idealist tradition. It’s also worth pointing out that the Eastern religions referred to in the last quote — presumably Hinduism and Buddhism — are idealist traditions.

Secondly, I am a big fan of Jung, so it’s worth commenting on his belief in this Unus Mundus. In simple terms, he tended to hold back from expressing his deepest beliefs in his published works, because he did not want to completely alienate himself from the intellectual climate at the time. His truer beliefs can probably be found in the works unpublished during his lifetime, for example The Seven Sermons to the Dead, an apparently Gnostic and idealist outpouring.

Like Baron, I too am very interested in bringing science, religion and spirituality together in a synthetic philosophy. However, I think that, even if there is nothing essentially wrong with dual aspect monism, non-dualistic idealism goes deeper, and fits the bill far better.

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I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). All but the most recent can be found there.

Gerald R. Baron

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Graham Pemberton

Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com