Dual-Aspect Monism or Idealism? Follow-Up
I recently published an article in response to Gerald R. Baron’s 12th in a series on the subject of dual aspect monism, defined as “the idea that mind and matter are two aspects or manifestations of a unitary foundation which is psychophysically neutral”. He has now completed the series with a 15th post, where he states that “it’s an ancient recipe for answers to our deepest questions that has been dusted off and given not only new life, but a great deal more depth by some of the greatest scientists of all time”. It comes into the void that has arisen because of the failure of physicalism. Following Carl Jung, he uses the term Unus Mundus (One World) to refer to this unitary foundation, and says that “the Unus Mundus and dual aspect monism provides, in my mind as well as our guides (the scientists he has quoted during his series), the best answer to what that ‘something there’ is”.
The words that I have italicised are all big claims. I will try here to assess whether such enthusiasm is justified.
He further says that this is a “unity of mind and matter” which is “not idealism”. My purpose here will be to examine and discuss that claim. To state my conclusion in advance, I believe that dual aspect monism is merely a simplified version of idealism, which is true as far as it goes, but that it does not go far enough. Nothing that Baron says gives me any reason to change that point of view.
Baron is especially impressed by the ideas of physicist John Polkinghorne. He quotes him saying that idealism is faulty because it “ fails to account for our encounter with the stubborn facticity of the physical world”. A Hindu, a Buddhist, or an idealist might respond that Polkinghorne has simply fallen for the illusion of maya. Is there a stubborn facticity of the physical world? Many physicists would say no, that matter is actually an illusion. Baron adds: “ Even if particles in their pre-observation form are merely perturbations of energy in a quantum field, that does not make them less real”. Agreed, but the more relevant question is whether this makes them less material. I would say yes.
Baron says that we can access this Unus Mundus, but only through direct experience. The problem here is that he merely asserts its existence without describing its nature (although he may have done so in previous articles), which therefore remains an open question. We do not know how an experience of the Unus Mundus might differ from the experience of an idealist, who would say that this unitary foundation is pure consciousness.
This problem is compounded when Baron cites mysticism in support of his argument:
- “Mysticism also strongly suggests that there are some who have been given access to a deeper reality. Mystics believe that what they experience is real, very real, in many cases more real than their daily existence”.
- “Evidence for dual aspect monism and the ability through direct experience to access it is the nearly universal explanation of mystics about the nature of the reality they encountered”.
- “Mystics believe that their experiences disclose the existence of an extrasensory dimension of reality”.
- “In the religious mind there is that state of silence… which is not produced by thought but is the outcome of awareness, which is meditation when the meditator is entirely absent” (Krishnamurti).
- “Unity — a dropping away of a sense of boundaries between oneself and the universe, accompanied by a sense that somehow everything is connected or even one”.
As far as I can tell, there is no reason to believe, even though Baron thinks these quotes support dual aspect monism, that an idealist would not make exactly the same statements. Mystics actually tend to be idealists, so I fail to see how these quotes support his argument.
In conclusion, Baron says that “an inescapable conclusion of dual aspect monism is that of unity”. “It seems clear that moving in the direction of a unity underlying all provides a more promising direction for consideration of what is real than (a) vacuous physicalism”. Agreed, but no more so than idealism which also provides a unity underlying all — the most common term used to describe it is non-dualist — which is pure consciousness. A recent Medium article by Paul Mulliner gives a clear exposition of that position.
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.