Review of Beyond Chance and Necessity by Lorna Green
Titus Rivas (publicatiedatum: 8 August, 2011)
Review of Beyond Chance and Necessity by Lorna Green
Lorna Green. Beyond Chance and Necessity: The Limits of Science and the Nature of the Real. Lincoln: Writers Club Press, iUniverse, 2003. ISBN 0-595-26493-X.
Canadian cell biologist and philosopher Lorna Green is part of a broader panpsychist current within contemporary philosophy, which aims at radically reforming science. Green does not only stress that we encounter a non-physical consciousness in man and (other) animals, but in her view, every living cell and even matter as a whole would be animated by spirit. She mentions a new 'Copernican revolution' and explicitly opposes the shamelessly reductionist book How the Mind works by Stephen Pinker. The author shows that within materialist science only chance and blind necessity are recognised as principles of order. She counters this with Plato's vision of an animating intelligence behind physical reality that acts according to a preconceived, 'artistic' plan.
Green's panpsychist programme is mainly founded on the fact that we exclusively have direct access to our own consciousness, whereas of other people and animals we can only see the outside. It is more plausible to hold that other beings are conscious as well, than to assume that consciousness only occurs in ourselves. In fact, all of matter would have to be accompanied by consciousness.
Furthermore, Green explicitly emphasizes that Near-Death Experiences show that consciousness can be separated from the brain. She stresses that all the cells of our bodies are vitalised by consciousness, but this does not imply that consciousness should always be linked to a physical vehicle.
Concerning the reduction of ordering principles to chance and necessity, she points at all kinds of phenomena that go against this. Such as good deeds that cannot be reduced to biological motives, cases of synchronicity (meaningful coincidence), the playfulness of organic evolution, beauty, the power of prayer and religious emotions. The fact that science has denied all of this for a very long time, may have created a fertile ground for the depressions that harass the western world on such a large scale.
Then, Green tries to elaborate on her panpsychist monism. All of matter would have been produced by a cosmic consciousness. Unfortunately, I could hardly follow the description she tries to give of this hypothetical process, as she seems to use terms like love, consciousness and vibrations rather unconventionally. At any rate, she mainly sees Spinoza as a kindred spirit. Thus, she also tries to 'overcome' mind-body dualism. At this point she clearly goes astray, as he describes consciousness as a special kind of fluid. Brain cells would interact with consciousness as cells 'drink fluid'. Also, she claims without much elucidation that consciousness and matter would at their deepest level amount to one and the same principle, as both would exist as 'vibrations'. Similarly, she reveals that she is directly inspired by messages from channelled 'entities'.
However, she is right to restate here that Near-Death Experiences cannot be reconciled with the identity theory of brain and mind.
The main part of this book consists of a mixture of valid insights, often vague intuitions and even some incorrect, unrealistic ideas, e.g. that animals (while alive) would in spirit continuously leave and return to their bodies. Or that genetically engineered produce would be bad for health because it would possess a confused consciousness of its identity as food.
Another part of her book describes a spiritual growth which the author herself underwent during her stay of about six months in psychiatric hospitals and also at a Roman Catholic monastery. In fact, this part may be seen as a separate book that mainly relates to the first part by the common theme of spirituality. Green endorses the views that it's really normality rather than lunacy that is disturbed (something which of course can hardly be denied, at least in certain respects), that the atmosphere in psychiatric hospitals may be compared to that of convents because of their openness towards the non-rational, and that psychiatric disorders may stimulate a person's spiritual development. Nowadays she follows the spiritual path of the Carmelites, though interwoven with non-christian concepts such as reincarnation.
In the last part of the book, the reader is offered a lot of short statements, for example that Green regards her philosophy as essentially pre-Sokratic. An interesting statement concerns the fact that Kant would have rejected metaphysics less easily (because of its apparent lack of consensus) if he had known about the uniformity of mystics when describing their spiritual experiences.
This book may mainly be characterised as a document about the intellectual and personal life of the interesting 'revolutionary' personality Lorna Green, but it may also be seen as an interesting sign of our times, in which materialism in both philosophy and science is more and more losing its credibility.
English translation of Dutch Book Review, published in Terugkeer 15(2-3), Summer/Fall 2004, 47-48.