Cosmic Consciousness?

Does consciousness pervade the cosmos? You betcha.

Philip Goff, “The Universe Knows Right from Wrong,” Nautilus, September 9, 2020.

Philip Goff believes that things like right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and truth are built into the warp and woof of the cosmos. He believes objective value exists and can be known, and that it is irrational not to believe this way: “Some philosophers deny that there can be facts about values. I used to be one of them. But I’ve come to appreciate how claims about objective value infiltrate every aspect of rational thought and action, and because of this I no longer consider the denial of objective value to be a rationally sustainable position.”

He continues: “Consider the value claims we make in relation to evi-dence. We say that beliefs should be shaped by evidence and rational argument. This is in itself a claim of objective value; we are saying that someone who ignores evidence is failing to act as they ought. Indeed, the very act of believing involves taking yourself to have good reasons for the belief in question.” Hard to argue with that.

His view is called panpsychism, which he explains as “the view that consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it.”

He looks at the explanations of moral sensibility offered by Plato and Aristotle and finds them wanting. Reality, he argues, is infused with things like goodness and morality; since we are part of Reality, (his capital R), we are also so infused: “My proposal is that the inherently directed nature of Reality entails that it’s objectively good for Reality when it manifests as pleasure and objectively bad for Reality when it manifests as pain. And given that all things (whether actual or merely possible) are manifestations of Reality, all things participate in the goal-directed nature of Reality.”

Reality is a kind of cosmic consciousness before it is a material thing: “The mere fact that I am a manifestation of Reality doesn’t entail that I have cognitive access to the essential nature of Reality. But if Reality is itself a very general form of consciousness, and my consciousness is a specific form of that general form of consciousness, it follows that Reality is present within my consciousness. This allows us to begin to make sense of how I might have intuitive access to the goal-directed nature of Reality.” He adds, “If the goal-directed nature of Reality is present within each particular conscious mind, it follows that any conscious mind is acquainted with the goal-directed nature of Reality.”

He believes his view accounts for why people disagree about so many things: “If everyone is acquainted with the ground of moral truth, why is there moral disagreement? In fact, there is a striking level of cross-cultural agreement regarding value. It is broadly agreed that (all things being equal) pleasure is good and pain is bad, and that (all things being equal) knowledge is good and ignorance bad.” This reminds me of Lewis, writing about the Tao in The Abolition of Man, and of Eco’s essay and book on beauty.

Goff insists that the universe is its own best argument for his view: “It might be nice to think that the universe has an inherent moral direction, but do we have any evidence that it does? And if we lack good evidence for these claims, surely respect for Occam’s razor ought to stop us from accepting them? This objection, though, is jam-packed with value-claims: It claims what we ‘ought’ to believe and references ‘good’ evi-dence. The very challenge presupposes the reality of value.”

Here is yet another example of unbelieving man borrowing on the teaching of Scripture and moved by his being an image-bearer of God to try to account for himself and the world without acknowledging God or His divine economy. The goodness and judgments of God are in all the earth, the Scriptures insist (Pss. 33.5; 105.7), but these are in the form of the Word of God, Who upholds all things (Heb. 1.3), and not some mysterious cosmic consciousness.


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