What if Mind and Matter are Connected by Meaning?

January 25, 2024
IONS Science Team

The millennia-old debate on the philosophy of mind has long grappled with whether the mental and physical realms of the universe are separate, or whether one is derived from the other. In a recent article, IONS Chief Scientist Dean Radin, PhD reviewed the new book Dual-Aspect Monism and the Deep Structure of Meaning (by Harald Atmanspacher and Dean Rickles) where the authors propose a novel theory about the nature of reality: what if mind and matter are connected by meaning

The book’s underlying philosophical theory is dual-aspect monism, which proposes that there’s a fundamental part of reality that is not just mind (e.g. thoughts) or matter (e.g. physical things) but has the potential to give rise to both and even more. Similar concepts of an undivided reality have popped up in different forms across time, from esoteric literature to the idea of the cosmic singularity preceding the Big Bang. Even Carl Jung referred to this fundamental reality as the “unus mundus” or the “one world”. Dual-aspect monism suggests that this holistic realm splits into the two aspects we perceive as mind and matter. 

Although Dual-Aspect Monism and the Deep Structure of Meaning is a dense and scholarly book, it offers valuable insights into mind-matter interactions while seeking a balanced perspective on reality. Unlike the three popular philosophical models—dualism, idealism, and materialism—dual-aspect monism, explored in the book, strives to move beyond these limited frameworks.

Dualism, associated with Descartes, posits two fundamentally different substances—mental and physical. However, it faces challenges in explaining how these distinct substances interact, so dualism may not be the best way to understand how mind and matter connect. Idealism, commonly found in esoteric traditions, asserts consciousness as primary over the physical world, or like our thoughts and consciousness come first, and the physical world is a product of our minds. Yet, challenges arise as some things in the world seem to exist on their own, even if we’re not thinking about them. Materialism, the prevailing assumption today, asserts that everything, including the mind, is ultimately physical. However, it struggles to explain how non-physical aspects, like subjective experiences, emerge from the physical. The book navigates through these philosophical perspectives, offering a fresh and insightful exploration of mind-matter relationships.

But, dual-aspect monism also leaves a few remaining mysteries, such as: why would the unus mundus split at all? Also, if it did split into two separate realms of mind and matter, how would these realms interact? 

The book suggests that meaning plays a role in encouraging this split. However, the nature of this meaning is unclear – is it in the human-centric sense or something more cosmic, beyond human understanding? Although it’s not clear exactly what is meant by meaning, the book suggests that it acausally – or without a clear or direct cause – leads to the split in the unus mundus. 

In simple terms, the theory suggests that even though we may not fully understand why the mind and matter separate, they come into existence and interact with each other. This interaction creates a kind of loop, where each influences the other in a continuous way. Additionally, because mind and matter arise from the same source – the unus mundus – they are correlated, meaning there’s a connection between their properties. However, it’s essential to understand that this connection doesn’t follow the usual rules of cause and effect that we’re familiar with. So, even though the mind and the physical world seem to be correlated, one doesn’t directly cause the other. They’re more like a mysterious dance, similar to the way particles in quantum physics can be connected without a clear cause. 

This unique connection can make experiences like synchronicities, where mental and physical events align in meaningful ways, feel mysterious because they don’t have a clear cause-and-effect relationship. It’s as if there’s a purpose or goal behind these connections, but it’s not easily explained by conventional reasoning. Mind and matter, it appears, are intertwined in a way that goes beyond our usual understanding of how things affect each other.

The book suggests that these correlations may arise through meaning and the authors delve into the role of meaning in this evolving worldview, distinguishing between surface and deep meanings. Surface meaning involves the relation between things, where one thing refers to another, conveying meaning through that connection. It’s like connecting the dots to understand the story. On the other hand, deep meaning is described as an abstract “felt sense,” akin to an intuitive conviction. It’s like when you sense something meaningful, but it’s not something you can fully explain. The authors think that understanding both these types of meaning can help develop a richer and more intricate scientific worldview.

A drawback of the book is its lack of attention to the century of laboratory studies investigating mind-matter correlations. Instead of delving into this empirical literature, the authors dismiss it in a single sentence, suggesting fraud, incompetence, or insignificance without evidence. Additionally, the book leans heavily on qualitative research, which involves anecdotal reports and personal stories. While these stories are intriguing, they don’t give us a detailed understanding of the physical aspects of mind-matter connections. To truly comprehend these connections, we need solid quantitative data, which involves numbers and measurements, considering things like memory, biases, and additional details. Though replicating such experiments might be challenging, using advanced analyses has shown that mind-matter correlations, including psychic phenomena, can be consistently observed in controlled laboratory environments.

The book’s exploration of dual-aspect monism opens doors to profound questions about the nature of reality, mind-matter connections, and the role of meaning in shaping our understanding. It sparks curiosity, and yet leaves us yearning for a future edition that embraces both qualitative and quantitative dimensions, honoring the aspirations of all those seeking answers in the vast landscape of consciousness and existence.

Read the publication this blog is based on

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