I have put this monism blog under religion, but it could have easily fit under free will or other stuff (philosophy). Having said that, interpretations of some religions can be monistic.
There are various flavours of monism, eg in opposition to dualism (ie) mind versus matter, good and evil. Some see monism as a priority monism and quite often we see such thinking reflected in vaguely religious people who argue for The One, notice the upper case. Everything goes back to a source that is somehow distinct. I’m not sure how this can be seen as monism, but there we go. These people see evil not as distinct, but the absence of Good. Such thinking is often peppered with upper case common nouns. This might be seen fitting with a panentheist view.
Existence monism suggests that there is only one thing, the universe. This we divvy up into all sorts of things, though it could be argued we do so somewhat arbitrarily. For example, take a tree, is the tree in some way separate from the atmosphere, the sun, the soil, the moisture, the other living and inanimate stuff that share the tree’s space. The tree is not separate from the evolutionary process that shaped the tree. This of course is at one with a pantheistic view.
A third kind of monism, substance monism, posits there is only one kind of reality or substance. Everyday stuff can be explained in terms of this reality or substance. While I accept this might be true, physics as yet not identified this single reality or substance. What physics has identified is a plethoric zoo of particle types and it is questionable whether substance would be a suitable descriptor. Having said that I remain agnostic on this one, but don’t have to include into my ontology.
Modern philosophy of monism has posited three flavours: physicalism, idealism and neutral monism. These are more attributable to the nature of consciousness. The physicalist will argue that matter has priority over mind, the idealist vice versa and the neutral monist would give them equal priority. I find idealism hard to fathom, I don’t particularly believe it, but I can see no sensible way to eliminate it either, other than discarding the possibility of solipsism. Neutral monism is there is an underlying [single] reality that explains matter and mind. I naturally float to physicalism; assuming there is a reality beyond my perception then it makes sense that my perception is a reflection of that reality, (though not necessarily an accurate reflection). Bertrand Russell and I suspect Galen Strawson are neutral monists. So, I will for the moment not be too critical of this position. But this position does lend itself to panpsychism, which may be of concern to some.
Of course, there are other types of monism and I won’t dwell on the traditional religious aspects of monism (not to be confused with monotheism). I will let those interested surf Wikipedia to see how traditional religions deal with monism; but, I will add that the traditional Abrahamic religions hold people as separate from God and by and large believe in good and evil.
I think this little clay animation brilliantly depicts the illusory aspects of being separate. And it gives an emotional view of where I am coming from.
The YouTube blurb describes the video as:
… chronicles the evolution of Consciousness from its inanimate state into human form and then back through spiritual seeking to Oneness. Its inspiration is the spiritual teaching of Wayne Liquorman and Ramesh S. Balsekar
Personally, I would have used lower case for oneness. We don’t use an upper-case U for universe. For me it describes beautifully the illusion of separateness from the universe (environment, nature).
Even Sean Carroll seems to appreciate the connectivity of the universe in a probabilistic way.
Quantum mechanics predicts our future in terms of probabilities rather than certainties, but those probabilities themselves are absolutely fixed by the state of the universe right now. A quantum version of Laplace’s Demon could say with confidence what the probability of every future history will be, and no amount of human volition would be able to change it
The Big Picture, Sean Carroll
Here’s my take on my version of monism
- Cause and effect are true for the universe.
- Cause and effect might be deterministic or perhaps indeterministic (Carroll’s quote?)
- If cause and effect are false, then I don’t cause anything to happen and in no sensible world could I be considered responsible.
- Then the various bits and pieces of the universe are connected and interdependent.
- The various bits and pieces tend to move en bloc, ie they move as one. The movement might be displaced in our perceived time.
- The movement may well be probabilistic rather than deterministic, so we will never be able to make absolute certain predictions (even deterministic actions are subject to chaos).
Nevertheless, predictions we do make based on our reductive understanding and reasoning.
This view has been described in not so many words as bleak. And yet it parallels the spiritual view strived for by so many religions. The atonement (to be at one) with God, or in my case the universe.