Is the cosmos ensouled ?
Well, the idea has a long pedigree, we’ll briefly look at some of its most capable defenders here, the Cambridge Platonist’s, Fechner, Campenella, and James, all mentioned by David Bentley Hart who sums up the position well in Roland in the Moonlight in an illuminating conversations he had with his dog :
“‘Is it a kind of panpsychism you’re proposing?’ I asked.
He sniffed loudly and emitted a small growl.
‘Not a term I care for,’ he said after a moment. ‘’Not that it’s wrong. It’s misleading, however, now that there’s this crop of philosophers around who think they can be both panpsychists and physicalists, which is sheer folly. They think of consciousness as a physical property that, in sufficiently complex composite structures, achieves reflective awareness and intentionality. You know - Gale Strawson, Guilio Tononi, Philip Goff.
But that’s nonsense, of course, since consciousness isn’t a property, properly speaking, and certainly not one that can be measured in an aggregated volume, and it doesn’t exist in discrete packets that can be added up into cumulatively more conscious totalities. It’s not a *property* at all, in fact, but an act, and therefore exists only within a noetic agency, and always already involved intention and autoaffection and so forth . . .
So anyway, I am suggesting a type of pansychism, if one must call it that, but most definitely not a physicalist version of the idea, which is just sheer gibberish - a vacuous panchreston of a theory at best. But that’s not very exotic to me, is it? I mean, you’ve written on the metaphysics of classical theism, haven’t you? Well, if you believe in God in that elevated and transcendent sense, then you’re already a panpsychist of some kind.’
When, once again, he failed to explain his meaning, I asked, ‘How do you reckon?’
He sighed, obviously vexed by the sluggish pace of my wits. ‘If you believe that everything arises from an infinite act of mind - the rock over there no less than the intelligence in you - then you believe there’s a presence of a... of an infinite knowing logos within the discrete logos that constitutes each thing as what it is. There’s a depth - even a personal depth, so to speak - in everything, an inner awareness that knows each reality from inside ... or from deeper than inside - an act of knowing it’s *interior intimo suo*. There is *one* who knows what it’s like to be a rock.
And wouldn’t that infinite personal depth have to express itself, almost of necessity, in a finite and personal interiority of sorts? Surely the knowledge of what it is to be a rock is already the spirit of the rock *as* a rock - the rock knowing itself. So isn’t that very knowledge of ‘what it’s like’ already the reality of a finite modality of personal knowledge, a kind of discrete spiritual self? A personal, reflective dimension as the necessarily contracted mode in which the uncontracted infinite act of mind is exemplified in that thing?
And why shouldn’t we call that dimension or mode by its classical names - dryads, hamadryads, naiads, nereids ... kami and tama ... yaksas and yaksinīs and gandharvas and apsaras ... nymphs and fairies and elves and longaevi of every kind? Especially when they’re pretty and graceful and scantily clad?
‘I see. I don’t . . .’
‘It’s really just as Thales said so long ago: all things are full of gods. Or as Heracleitos said: there’s logos in everything. All the ancients, really, with few exceptions. Plotinus, for instance: life and soul in all things, he says. And the Renaissance Platonists. The living world is an incalculably populous pantheon. And God - the infinite vanishing point, the comprehensive simplicity of Being as infinite spirit - is full of gods. And so are you ... if you throw that window open. Which I think you know full well, in that essentially Shinto soul of yours. Or esoteric Buddhist soul, perhaps - if one can call what has no svabhāva a soul. It was the great Shingon priest Yukai himself, after all - the fiery scourge of Tachikawa-ryu, as you’ll recall - who said that mind pervades all things: the grasses, flora of every sort, trees, the earth underfoot . . . That’s good cittamātra orthodoxy, I imagine ... with a specifically Japanese inflection.’”
“‘It makes sense, if you think about it, that this infinite consciousness, refracted into finite instances and modes and self-reflective awareness and thought, might engender ... well, a kind of limitless modal regress. Consciousness might inhere in all sorts of natural totalities, but also in totalities within other conscious totalities, with a corresponding subjectivity appropriate to each - parts as wholes, wholes as parts of other wholes.
Campanella, of course, treated this with rare brilliance. So did Gustavo Fechner. And James, and Royce, and Pierce, needless to say. And this like a physicalist panpsychism, in which every totality is subsumed into whatever is most integrated within it, like modular brains. Rather, it would be as if every level within every composite were just as conscious in its own way as every other: particles, simple objects, composed from those particles, complex structures, organisms, natural systems, the *anima mundi* ...
All part of an endlessly complex, infinitely divisible hierarchy of conscious perspectives, containing and contained, reflecting and inflecting in one another. And the subjectivity of persons, too, like me - and I suppose you too, in a manner of speaking - would be one mind of modal contraction within the total hierarchy of modes of mind, an ever more particular and ever more comprehensive subjectivity and autoaffection and intentionality.
It’s a lovely and stirring idea, at least: all of nature as a system of living coinherences, an endlessly multifarious mirror of the boundless potency contained in the infinite actuality and simplicity of the eternal ‘I Am’ - all of nature as an incalculably variously faceted prism of the infinite light of the divine Spirit? Don’t you agree?’”
The scholar Lee Irwin summarizes this theory in various philosophers thought the ages HERE.
Below are summations I’ve pulled:
"Tommaso Campanella (d. 1639) represents a late example of a Renaissance theory of panpsychism. He identifies three primaries: power, wisdom, and love as inherent to all things. Power or perhaps better, energy, is his first principle—the power to be, to maintain being, to sustain existence. Wisdom derives from sensation, perceptions of being, and as all things are and perceive, they “know” both themselves and other beings. The primary elements of the world are such knowing beings, with varying degrees of perception and power, and through combination “the heavens are sentient and the earth and animals as well.”
Further, the world and its multitude of beings reflect the image of God and are related to one another through (divine) love. This primary quality of love is fundamental to the joy, power, and awareness of existence; self-knowledge and more inclusively, knowledge of others, results in “change in the sentient body” through a sharing of perceptions, in both sympathy and antipathy.
The medium of this sharing and communication is soul, individual and universal, “infused by God” (infusa a Deo). This identity of being and knowing creates a panpsychism that is also pantheistic, the world ensouled, the constituative elements and all complex beings ensouled, but all imaging divinity and divine presence.
Knowledge in this context is a reflective process by which the higher intellect (intellectus mentalis) is assimilated into that which it contemplates, such that “the world becomes a conscious image of God with all its parts endowed with sense perception.”
Thus Campanella emphasizes perception over traditional knowledge and the “testimony” of direct witness over distant authority or mere opinion. The human being is thus a microcosm (or epilogo), a witness who can reflect on the macrocosm as a living soul, a “perfect animal with its own body, spirit, and soul.”
The Cambridge Platonists such as Henry More (d. 1687) and Ralph Cudsworth (d. 1688), both dedicated Protestants, defended a view of nature and matter as a “vital, formative (plastic) ground” of Spirit. Cudsworth wrote, “we constantly oppose the generation of souls . . . out of dead and senseless matter and assert all souls to be substantial as matter itself.”
Thus the “spirit of nature” was a divine power pervading the physical world and sowing “spermatical or vital” seeds, thus giving rise to all natural forms. These “seminal forms” (like Stoic logoi spermatikoi) pervade all of “plastic nature” and act from within to shape matter into variable forms—beings, plants, animals, humans—as a “whole corporeal universe . . . together in one harmony.”
According to Henry More, the vital conjunction of spirit with matter (or soul with body) was through a shared “vital congruity” that blurred their differences and made each receptive to the other. Soul pervades the entire universe, within all matter, and working through the plastic vitality of nature, shapes each thing according to the “predispositions and occasions of [its] parts.”
This soul (or spirit of nature) was the “vicarious power of God” as a shaping power inherent to matter-nature, a power that permeated the entire body of each and every created being.
This immanent “spirit of nature” could not be accounted for by mechanical explanations or measureable and observable effects; rather, it reflected a purposeful, spiritual universe “above fortuitous mechanisms.”
In Gustav Fechner’s (d. 1887) famous book, Nanna: On the Soul Life of Plants (1848), he wrote about his “day light view” of the world as nature utterly alive and conscious, matter outwardly and spirit inwardly. Spirit and soul were inseparable from matter and nature; for Fechner, souls were inherent to every aspect of nature, with simpler souls below humans and more complex above humans in the planet, the sun, the solar system, and the cosmos overall.
Each soul contributed to the complexity and diversity of the whole of nature that formed a perfect unity, an ensouled cosmos. He contrasted this view to the “night view” of materialism in which humans were a product of blind forces in a universe of utter darkness.
Arguing by analogy, Fechner believed that where there was life, as in human beings, there was also soul. Human consciousness only contributed to the existing consciousness of every plant and animal to create a collective earth consciousness, or earth-soul, that in turn contributed to the living consciousness of the conjoined planets, sun, and moons.
Between earth and sun a special relationship existed through an exchange of light-energy that connected all organic beings in a unitary consciousness. In this “intercourse of light” (Lichtwerkehrn), each organic being contributed its unique quality of awareness to the whole.
In turn, this created an “earth system” superior to humanity that maintains the harmony and balance of nature. Fechner calls the earth consciousness a “guardian angel” who watches over all inhabitants in communion with the sun, moon, and other planets and to which human beings may pray.
Even at the level of plants, the water lily could enjoy the warmth of water and the invigoration of sunlight. Every being had a soul capacity for aesthetic response and “words for us were like fragrances for them.”
Thus all organic beings have a degree of inwardness, distinct by species, location, and habitat. God is the unifying matrix of this shared awareness; soul development is a guiding influence in an increasing scale of complexity for each aspect of nature (a cell, a plant, an animal) in “a state of becoming that gives direction to the entire process.”
The great American psychologist William James…articulated a view he entitled “pluralistic panpsychism” in which all things maintain an independent psychic perspective, down to the atoms, while also forming a unitary field of shared perceptions in living beings.
Under the term “polyzoism” James expressed the view that every cell of the brain has its own unique consciousness, but through interaction, cells contribute to a unitary field (including the subconscious) or “arch-cell” reflecting brain activity as a whole.
He writes, “the self- compounding of mind in its smaller and more accessible portions seems a certain fact.” This compounding aspect does not stop with the human mind but continues into superconscious unities; through mystical experience, the individual may participate in these higher unities.
Thus James agrees with Fechner that an earth-soul consciousness is “a formidable probability” and that higher degrees of ensoulment, in a living cosmos, may well lead to a formative God compounded out of the collectivity of all conscious entities.
James further argued for a synthesis of experience and reason in which a pluralistic universe could be comprehended in a rational manner that valued the empiricism of mystical perception as contributing to our understanding of a panpsychic “continuum of cosmic consciousness.”
Irwin’s essay goes into a several others as well, check it out HERE