Cosmos and History 15 (2):236-264 (2019)

Arran Gare
Swinburne University of Technology
The explosion of interest in consciousness among scientists in recent decades has led to a revival of interest in the work of Whitehead. This has been associated with the challenge of biophysics to molecular biology in efforts to understand the nature of life. Some claim that it is only through quantum field theory that consciousness will be made intelligible. Most, although not all work in this area, focusses on the brain and how it could give rise to consciousness. In this paper, I will support this challenge, but I will suggest that the focus of work in this area reflects the failure to fully overcome the assumptions of Cartesian thought, associated above all with a defective understanding of consciousness as a ‘thinking substance’. Firstly, as Bergson, Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty argued, consciousness is embodied. Secondly, as Jacob von Uexküll argued, consciousness is only comprehensible in relation to the organism’s world defined as such by the organism. Thirdly, in the case of humans, this is a ‘with-world’, a world shared with others. The consequent social nature of human consciousness is better captured by the German word for mind: Geist, which also translates as ‘Spirit’. And as Hegel argued, along with Subjective Spirit, there is also Objective Spirit, the realm of institutions, and Absolute Spirit, the realm of culture, with Subjective, Objective and Absolute Spirit being conditions, and even components, of each other. My argument is that this broader notion of mind as Spirit should be embraced, but without abandoning the work in biophysics. What is required is a further expansion of the notion of mind and Spirit as humanity comes to appreciate that it is part of nature and that it is through the development of institutions and culture that nature, through human subjects, is becoming conscious of itself and its significance. The development of process philosophy inspired by Whitehead, associated with the development of the concepts of field and ecology, should be seen as a development of the semiosphere and the advance of the Spirit of Gaia, essential for the creation of a global civilization able to augment the life of the current regime of the global ecosystem of which we are part. It is to orient humanity to create an ecologically sustainable civilization; an ecological civilization.
Keywords Consciousness  Mind  Spirit  Neurophysics
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