Table of Contents
The Mysterious Matter of Mind
Whence Came Mindedness?
have something we call self-consciousness we cannot doubt even
if we find it difficult to define precisely. J. R. Smythies (Department
of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh) wrote in 1969: "The
consciousness of other people may be for me an abstraction, but
my own consciousness is for me a reality." (12) That animals below man
have consciousness seems clear enough. That they have self-consciousness
is not so clear, in spite of the recent experiments in teaching
the larger primates some form of sign language.
Further experiments with a chimpanzee
have revealed that it was able to identify itself in a mirror
as indicated by self-directed behaviour. This is taken by some
to demonstrate the possession of self-consciousness. But it may
be necessary to distinguish between the self-consciousness of
man by which he is aware of his own mental experience
and the self-consciousness of an animal by which it is aware
of its own body. The former seems clearly different from
12. Smythies, J. R., "Some Aspects of
Consciousness," in Beyond Reductionism, edited by.
Arthur Koestler and J. R. Smythies. London, Hutchinson Publishing
Group, 1969, p.235.
The San Francisco Chronicle (21
July, 1968) reported the case of a chimpanzee in the Chessington
Zoo in England which, having been for years a show-off of and
fun-loving friend of the public, suddenly became shy and morose
and took to hiding all day. The keeper decided that it was embarrassed
because the hair on its head was thinning! It was provided with
a toupee and this seemed to restore its "self-confidence"
completely. But, again, one must ask, "Is this kind of body-awareness
to be equated with the mind-awareness that permits a person
not only to think, but to think about his own thinking?"
Zoologist W. H. Thorpe (Cambridge),
a recognized authority in this area, wrote in 1974: "Sir
Karl Popper agrees, I think, with most students of animal communication
that consciousness of selfhood, that is, a fully self-reflective
consciousness, is absent in animals." (13)
David Bidney (of the Graduate School,
Indiana University) opens his study of Theoretical Anthropology
with the following: (14)
Man is a self-reflecting animal
in that he alone has the ability to objectify himself, to stand
apart from himself, as it were, and to consider the kind of being
he is and what it is that he wants to do and to become. Other
animals may be conscious of their affects and the objects they
perceive; man alone is capable of reflection, of self-consciousness,
of thinking of himself as an object.
do have self-consciousness or not, there is at least no doubt
that both animals and man have consciousness. Thus, even if we
limit ourselves to consciousness as opposed to self-consciousness,
we still have to ask, How did it arise?
Stanley Cobb suggests that consciousness
is an attribute of mind, that part which has to do with awareness
of self and environment. It varies in degree from moment to moment
in man, and from fish to man in phylogeny. It may be that invertebrates
and even plants have rudimentary forms of awareness of self.
(15) This sounds
absurd. But if consciousness evolved from non-consciousness,
we should find, as we trace its development back to the properties
of matter alone, that it becomes less and less manifest until
it no longer
13. Thorpe, W. H., Animal Nature and Human
Nature, London, Methuen, 1974, p.310.
14. Bidney, David, Theoretical Anthropology, New
York, Columbia University Press, 1953, p.3.
15. Cobb, Stanley, quoted by A. I. Hallowell, "Self,
Society, and Culture in Phylogenetic Perspective," in Evolution
After Darwin, edited by Sol Tax, Chicago, University of Chicago
Press, 1960, vol.2, p.348.
appears to exist: or,
in reverse, we should trace the development of matter until evidence
of mindedness first emerges and is manifest. Such a manifestation
would be a "new thing" (a de novo) but not a
creation (ex nihilo) because it arises out of what already
exists and without discontinuity
It is important to distinguish
a "novelty," which arises suddenly but has its origin
within an existing system, from a "new thing" which
has been introduced from outside the system. The first is something
de novo, the latter is something ex nihilo. Since
science cannot deal successfully with the latter, the idea of
outright creation is not allowable. Within the framework of scientific
thinking an object which is claimed to be ex nihilo is
suspect, and a determined effort will be made to show how it
can be derived from what already exists, however complex and
novel it may appear to be. If mind arises de novo as an
entirely new thing in nature, perhaps as the result of a mutation
of some kind, it is nevertheless assumed that it is to be derived
directly from what is already in existence. The idea of something
new which has appeared ex nihilo, that is to say, out
of nothing, is most unwelcome in the present climate of scientific
We therefore have two basic views
about the origin of mindedness, one of which is acceptable in
spite of the mystery surrounding it, because it is derived out
of existing matter. This is termed monism. The other view,
which sees it as a direct creation, not derived out of existing
matter but "out of nothing,'' is termed dualism. It
is not scientifically respectable.
We may, however, make a further
division of the subject by recognizing that within the strictly
monistic view mindedness might arise de novo in two different
ways. It might arise by slow emergence until it suddenly becomes
recognizable as mindedness. Or it might appear by a single leap
as soon as the complexity of the brain had reached a certain
critical stage. The first is a gradual formation of a mindedness
that was "always there" but at such a low level as
not to be recognizable. This is the position of panpsychism,
which holds that all matter has mindedness. The second is
a sudden appearance of mindedness which
thereafter has an existence
in its own right, but born of existing matter nevertheless.
Dualism can also be conceived as
occurring in two ways. Mindedness may be introduced ex nihilo
in kind of embryonic form which does not reveal itself until
a certain stage of organic development has been reached. Or it
is introduced ex nihilo only when the advanced stage of
development has been completed
Thus, although we have four alternatives,
they can be viewed as two: monism and dualism. We may thus say
that mindedness arose because matter contained within itself
the potential for it; or we may say that it was introduced
by some means external to matter. Either view presents a dilemma
which has been recognized for a long time. In one case we must
say that even atoms have potential mindedness a circumstance
which is difficult to conceive. Or we have the direct creation
of something out of nothing which is equally difficult
to conceive. We face a hard choice.
In 1964 Cyril Ponnamperuma wrote
a paper on "Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life"
in which he argued that "life is only a special and complicated
property of matter, and that au fond [basically] there
is no difference between a living organism and lifeless matter
. . ." (16)
This implies that consciousness, which emerged out of living
matter, must therefore also have been latent in non-living
This sparked some interesting correspondence
in subsequent issues of the journal which had a bearing on the
point. One of the correspondents, D. F. Lawden (University of
Canterbury, New Zealand) remarked: (17)
If consciousness is a characteristic
of this material aggregate (the brain), then by the principle
of continuity it must also be a feature of every aggregate and
ultimately of the fundamental particles. If this were not the
case, at some level in the hierarchy * mentioned earlier, consciousness
would arise discontinuously and it would be possible to draw
a sharp dividing line separating conscious from non-conscious
forms of matter. This would only be a disguised form of the line
earlier assumed to
16. Ponnamperuma, Cyril, "Chemical Evolution
and the Origin of Life," Nature, vol.201,1964, p.337.
17. Lawden, D. F., in Letters to the Editor under Biology, Nature,
vol.202, 1964, p.412.
* i.e., "from inorganic, to organic, to biological chemistry."
separate living from non-living forms.
Undoubtedly, such mental characteristics as are possessed by
the fundamental particles must be of poor quality and weak intensity,
but unless some such features are postulated, I fail to understand
how consciousness could ever arise in any system of matter, however
A system of particles, each of
which possesses the known physical characteristics of electric
charge, spin, etc., might very well be designed to behave like
a human being, but not to experience consciousness as
human beings undoubtedly do. . . . We may perhaps hope
to explain human behaviour, but our experience of this
behaviour will remain unaccounted for. [emphasis mine]
is the problem: our mindedness of our own behaviour. . . . Where
and how did it arise? Was "mind" introduced as something
entirely new, or did it emerge simply because matter had reached
the appropriate level of organization and had the appropriate
Furthermore, when we speak of reaching
the appropriate level of organization, what precisely does this
involve? Do carbon atoms have mindedness, either real or latent?
How much organization of organic chemicals is necessary to support
mindedness? There is evidence that some of the very simplest
organisms display its presence.
H. S. Jennings long ago (1915)
established the reality of "mindedness" in unicellular
organisms. So clearly did he perceive this mindedness in amoebae,
for example, that he had no hesitation in describing them as
exhibiting attention, desire, frustration, established habits,
and even intelligence. He wrote: (18)
Intelligence is commonly
held to consist essentially in the modification of behaviour
in accordance with experience. If an organism reacts in a certain
way under certain conditions, and continues this reaction no
matter how disastrous the effects, we say that its behaviour
is unintelligent. If on the other hand, it modifies its behaviour
in such a way as to make it more adequate, we consider the behaviour
to this extent intelligent. It is the "correlation of experiences
and actions" that constitute, as Hobbhouse (1901) has put
it, "the precise work of intelligence." It appears
clear that we find the beginnings of
18. Jennings, H. S., Behavior of the Lower
Organisms, Columbia University Biological Series 10,New York,
Columbia University Press, 1915, p.334.
such adaptive changes of behaviour even
in the Protozoa.
So, as far as
the objective evidence goes, Jennings would hold to a complete
continuity between the [minded] behaviour of lower and higher
organisms in this respect. (19) He concluded: (20)
The writer is thoroughly
convinced after long study of the behaviour of the amoeba, that
if it were a large animal, so as to come within the everyday
experience of human beings, its behaviour would at once call
forth the attribution to it of states of pleasure and pain, of
hunger, desire, and the like, on precisely the same basis as
we attribute these things to a dog.
J. Boyd Best
found exactly the same wide range of minded responses in experiments
with planarian worms, and concluded: (21)
One finds that planarian behaviour
resembles behaviour that in higher animals one calls boredom,
interest, conflict, decision, frustration, rebellion, anxiety,
learning and cognitive awareness. . . . All one knows of
the "mind" of another organism is inferred from its
behaviour and its similarity to one's
own. . . .
If the major psychological patterns
are not unique to the vertebrate brain but can be produced even
by such primitive animals as planarians, two possibilities suggest
themselves. Such patterns may stem from some primordial properties
of living matter, arising from some cellular or sub-cellular
level of organization rather than nerve circuitry. . . .
An alternative is that behavioural
programs may have arisen independently in various species by
a kind of convergent evolution.
We are thus
led to the conclusion that even the material substance
of the single-celled animal already has a kind of embryonic mindedness.
Does all matter therefore have some kind of mindedness?
Arthur O. Lovejoy, in his Great
Chain of Being, (22) observed that one of the
principal motives of panpsychism is the desire to avoid any kind
of real discontinuity, the independent introduction of any new
thing into matter as soon as it has reached a certain level of
organization capable of supporting it. This can apply equally
to life or to mindedness. He pointed out
19. Ibid., p.335.
20. Ibid., p.336.
21. Best, J. Boyd, "Protopsychology," Scientific
American, February, 1963, p.62.
22. Lovejoy, Arthur O., The GreatChain of Being, New York,
Harper and Row, 1960, p.276.
that the French Philosopher,
J. -B. -R. Robinet, in his magnum opus De La Nature
(published from 1768), argued that we must either attribute
appropriate form of consciousness even to stones, some level
of intelligence even to the least atom of matter, or we ought
to deny the reality of consciousness altogether. (23)
Twenty-five years ago, Sir Julian
Huxley, driven by this kind of logic, observed: (24)
It would have been more correct
to speak of the possibilities inherent in the world-stuff * (than
in matter per se); for the most startling potentiality
revealed by evolution is mind, and mind cannot be said to be
tamed, even as a potentiality, in matter. In most organisms
all plants, and all animal types produce the early stages of
evolution there is no direct evidence of mind at work,
no need to postulate mental property. But higher animals are
clearly the seat of mental process akin to ours, processes of
perception, cognition, emotions, will, and even insight.
We must conclude that the world-stuff
possesses not only material properties, but rudimentary potentialities
mental properties as well, and that these properties, when specialized
out of their latent state into actuality, are of advantage to
their possessors. . . .
In most processes, the mind-aspects
of the world-stuff are still as undetectable as were the electrical
aspects material processes up to the late nineteenth century.
problem of the origin of mind now descends to the stuff of the
molecules themselves. That molecules could carry some form of
embryonic mind seems absurd, but it is necessary to assume some
such potential unless we are to agree that mindedness arises
ex nihilo. Indeed, this situation appears even in the
developing embryo. That molecules do have some kind of proto-mindedness
has been seriously proposed in recent years by a number of writers,
among whom may be listed A. N. Whitehead, C. Hartshorn, Bernard
Rensch, and L. C. Birch. These writers Whitehead and Rensch
in particular ascribe some rudimentary
23. Robinet, -J. -B. -R., De La Nature,
Paris, 1776, vol.4, p.1112.
24. Huxley, Sir Julian, "Genetics, Evolution and Human Destiny,"
in Genetics in the Twentieth Century, edited by L. C.
Dunn, New York, Macmillan, 1951, pp.6045.
* By "world-stuff" Huxley does not seem to mean matter
in some even more elemental form, but energy of some kind
though no personal energy such as a divine immanence.
form of life, sensation,
and even volition to entities such as molecules, atoms, and subatomic
One of Dobzhansky's senior colleagues, E. W. Sinnott, with whom
he disagreed (though amicably), wrote a volume entitled Cell
and Psyche: The Biology of Purpose. In this Sinnott remarked
. . . that biological organization [concerned with organic
development and physiological activity] and psychical activity
[concerned with behaviour and leading to mind] are fundamentally
the same thing. To talk about mind in a bean plant . . .
is more defensible than trying to place an arbitrary point on
the evolutionary scale where mind, in some mysterious manner,
made its appearance. [emphasis his]
he seems to be quite correct. It is logical enough if
mind emerges automatically from brain at some stage in the elaboration
of matter. But Dobzhansky held that this is "a kind of vitalism
made to stand on its head." (27) Perhaps it is. However, it seems that if mindedness
did not emerge automatically from brain, we ought to be able
to locate the precise moment of its emergence. What would location
of the precise moment of this emergent mindedness signify if
there were no discoverable antecedents? A creation?
It would seem that Dobzhansky was
prepared to allow that life would emerge automatically
as soon as matter reached an appropriate stage of organization,
and that consciousness would arise automatically, in its turn,
when life reached a certain stage of complexity. What he was
not prepared to agree to was that this matter was already in
some sense alive, or that this life was already in some sense
conscious of itself. There was no force acting upon dead matter
to introduce life; it was only necessary that matter by chance
reached the necessary stage of organization. And there was no
necessity for some external force to act upon life to make it
conscious of itself; it only required that life should have arisen
to some higher level in order to become conscious automatically.
What he objected to was the "always there" concept.
Mindedness is seen as a new phenomenon, but it is not something
introduced from outside, a creation ex nihilo, which had
to wait until matter could provide a proper vehicle for it.
25. Dohzhansky, Theodosius, in "Book
Reviews," Science, vol.175, 7 January, 1972, p.49.
26. Sinnott, E. W., Cell and Psyche: The Biology of Purpose,
Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1950, p.4850.
27. Dobzhansky. in "Book Review's," p. 49. DOC
In another paper Dobzhansky restated his assessment
of this "always there" position: (28)
Non-living matter, down to atoms
and electrons, supposedly partakes of vital and volitional powers.
In his imposing philosophical system, Whitehead has developed
this view in some detail. . . . I must say that in my opinion
[such] views must be rejected both on scientific and philosophical
Yet on logical
grounds one seems indeed to be on the horns of a dilemma. Just
as in the case of life itself, either consciousness arose because
the raw materials have the potential to give rise to it, or it
arose ex nihilo from outside the system.
C. H. Waddington (of Edinburgh),
reviewing Rensch's work, Evolution Above the Species Level
(1959), notes that the author (29)
. . . finds himself driven to attribute a capacity for sensation
to the lowest organized creatures which can be shown to be capable
of learning, that is, coelenterates and possibly even protozoa.
He seems, in fact, to agree in general with the outlook of A.
N. Whitehead (to whom he does not refer) that something which
belongs within the same realm of being as consciousness has
to be attributed to all existing things, including the inanimate.
It was the same
logical compulsion that drove Sir Charles Sherrington to write:
I would think that since mind
appears in the developing soma, this amounts to showing that
it is potential in the ovum (and sperm) from which the soma sprang.
The appearance of recognizable mind in the soma would then be
not a creation de novo but a development of mind from unrecognizable
into recognizable. [emphasis mine]
By this logic
we come to the position of Whitehead and Rensch. One then has
to ask, What was the form of this proto-mindedness that it could
be potentially resident not only in the basic subatomic particles
but even in these particles at a time when they were existing
at the enormously high temperatures of their initial state as
first brought into being? Somewhere one has to call a halt and
say, Here is where proto-mind began to
28. Dobzhansky, Theodosius, "Man Consorting
with Things Eternal," in Science Ponders Religion,
edited by H. Shapley, New York. Appleton-Century-Crofts. 1960,
29. Waddington, C. H., Book Reviews, Discovery,1960, p.453.
30. Sherrington, Sir Charles, Man on His Nature, Cambridge
University Press, 1963, p.251.
exist. But where then
did it come from to make that beginning even in its proto form?
When the Mindedness of Individual Cells
Becomes a Shared Mindedness of the Multicellular Organism
or consciousness has appeared on the scene in unicellular animals,
does the rest follow automatically? When single-celled
organisms unite to form multicellular aggregates, does the proto-mindedness
of the amoeba become the corporate mindedness of the larger mass?
Is Lovejoy's "great chain" still unbroken?
Sherrington identified this problem
in the developing embryo: (31)
The embryo, even when its cells
are but two or three is a self-centered cooperating society
an organized family of cells with corporate individuality.
The human individual is an organized
family of cells, a family so organized as to have not merely
corporate unity but a corporate personality. . . . Yet
each of its constituent cells is alive, centered in itself, managing
itself. feeding and breathing for itself, separately born and
destined separately to die.
Evidently this aggregate or society achieves
a sense of unification and the billions of selves becomes a single
Self. Edward McCrady wrote some time ago: (32)
I, for instance, certainly have
a stream of consciousness which I, as a whole, experience, and
yet I include within myself millions of white blood cells which
give impressive evidence of experiencing their own individual
streams of consciousness of which I am not directly aware. It
is both entertaining and instructive to watch living leukocytes
crawling about within the transparent tissues of a living tadpole's
tail. They give every indication of choosing their paths, experiencing
uncertainty, making decisions, changing their minds, feeling
contacts, etc., that we observe in larger individuals. . . .
So I feel compelled to accept the
conclusion that I am a community of individuals who have somehow
become integrated into a higher order of individuality endowed
with a higher order of mind which somehow coordinates and harmonizes
the activities of the lesser individuals within me.
31. Ibid., p.65.
32. McCrady, Edward, Religious Perspectives of College Teaching
in Biology, New Haven, Connecticut, Edward W. Hazen Foundation,
How is this unification achieved? Most would say that
it somehow does it itself. Sir Alister Hardy believes it is the
result of some kind of group-mind, of mental telepathy at a very
basic and semi- or sub-conscious level. He wrote: (33)
It is possible to imagine
some such pattern of shared unconscious experience: a kind of
composite species pattern of life. It is important to remember
that in the concept of the individual mind we are faced with
a mystery no less remarkable. The mind cannot be anchored to
this or that group of cells that make up the brain. The community
of cells making up the body has a mind beyond the individual
cells the "impression" coming from one part of
the brain receiving sensory impulses from one eye and that from
another part of the brain from the other eye are merged together
in the mind (i.e., as a whole), not in some particular cells
as far as we know.
has a beautiful discussion of this gathering together to a critical
size of the number of minded components that then make a fully
conscious and purposeful whole. (34)
Termites are even more extraordinary
in the way they seem to accumulate intelligence as they gather
together. Two or three termites in a chamber will begin to pick
up pellets and move them from place to place, but nothing comes
of it; nothing is built. As more join in, they seem to reach
a critical mass, a quorum, and the thinking begins. They place
pellets atop pellets, then throw up columns and beautiful, curving,
symmetrical arches, and the crystalline architecture of vaulted
chambers is created. It is not known how they communicate with
each other, how the chains of termites building one column know
when to turn toward the crew of the adjacent column, or how,
when the time comes, they manage the flawless joining of the
arches. The stimuli that set them off at the outset, building
collectively instead of shifting things about, may be pheromones
[scent given off by one animal to signal to another] released
when they reach committee size. They react as if alarmed. They
become agitated, excited, and then they begin working like artists.
Even more closely
knit in organization is the conglomerate of free living cells
which constitutes the Portuguese Man-of-War. This organism is
33. Hardy, Sir Alister, The Living Stream,
London, Collins, 1965, p.257.
34. Thomas, Lewis, The Lives of a Cell, New York, Viking,
colony of originally
identical polyps, each of which is specialized for a particular
function. But who or what decides which shall become the tentacles,
or the floats, or the reproductive organs? And this Man-of-War
is by no means alone in this respect.
Recent experiments have shown that
healthy organs that have been teased apart will re-assemble and
show themselves to be, within the limitations of their isolated
condition, functional. It has been demonstrated for frogs' eggs,
(35) brain cells,
(36) heart cells,
(37) and kidney
tissue. (38) It
has even been reported that cells which prove to be deficient
in some way in the re-assembly process will be helped along if
necessary by healthy cells. (39) Such a system of communication and co-ordination
of activity suggests an organizing force or "field"
of some kind (these words being used not because they explain
anything but because they appear to cover our ignorance of what
is going on).
So we see the possibility of mindedness
in an individualistic form in the very lowest orders of life,
and we see individualistic mindedness elaborated in conglomerates
of cells which are able to communicate and constitute themselves
into a larger form of mindedness. Nevertheless, the basic problem
of whence arose mindedness, even in the unicellular forms, still
remains behind all the later complications. We thus have the
three possible views (see Figure 1): the panpsychic or "always
there" view, the "sudden emergence view," and
the "introduction of mind by creation ex nihilo view"
(with its two forms).
We have already referred to a remarkable
volume written jointly by Sir Karl Popper and Sir John Eccles.
Together they have examined, somewhat in the form of a debate,
both the origin of mindedness and the nature of the interaction
between mind and brain.
Both men reject panpsychism and
agree that man ends up constitutionally as a duality of mind
and matter, each of which has a measure of real independence
and each of which interacts with the other.
Popper argues against the necessity
of assuming that mind has been "always there" in matter.
"We do not need to postulate," he says, "that
the food which the body eats (and which in the end may form its
35. Montagu, Ashley, On Being Human,
New York, Henry Schuman, 195), p.34.
36. Seeds, Nicholas and Albert E. Vetter, Proceedings of the
National Academy of Science, vol.68, p.3219; L. W. Lapham
and W. R. Markesbury, "Human Fetal Cerebellar Cortex: Organization
and Maturation of Cells in Vitro," Science, vol.173,
27 August, 1971, p.82932.
37. Harary, Isaac, "Heart Cells in Vitro," Scientific
American, May, 1962, pp.14152.
38. Weiss, Paul, and A. C. Taylor, "Reconstruction of Complex
Organs from Single Cell Suspensions of Chick Embryos in Advanced
Stages of Differentiation," Proceedings of the National
Academy of Science, vol.46, September, 1960, p.17785.
39. Chedd, Graham, "Cellular Samaritans," New Scientist,
31 October, 1968, p.256.
qualities which can
be, with informative success, described as pre-mental or as in
any way even distantly similar to mind." (40) All that is required is that matter has the capability
of assuming a form that is appropriate to mindedness and that
when this occurs mindedness somehow appears.
Eccles holds that mind cannot be
introduced until matter is sufficiently organized. But he argues
that the organization of the individual as a unitary self out
of the materials of the body is due to the self-conscious mind
which neither is in the materials themselves nor arises out of
them but is introduced from outside. The minded self is an active
organizer that brings about unification and employs this unified
system for its own purposes.
Both men are therefore dualists,
though they hold differing views as to the origin of the
mind. For Popper, matter somehow gives birth to mind;
this is all that can be said about it. For Eccles, the origin
of the mind seems more like a creation ex nihilo for each
Before exploring their conclusions
more fully, we turn to the experimental evidence that led them
to accept an interactionist model.
40. Popper, Sir Karl and Sir John Eccles,
The Self and Its Brain, Springer Verlag International,
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
Previous Chapter Next Chapter