by David Skrbina (2005). I grew up in a devout and practicing Roman-Catholic family with Purzel, a fearless and high energy dachshund. He, like all the other, much larger, dogs that subsequently accompanied me through life, showed plenty of affection, curiosity, playfulness, aggression, anger, shame and fear. Yet my Church taught that while animals, as god’s creatures, aught to be well treated, they do not possess an immortal soul. Only humans do. Even as a child, this felt intuitively wrong. These gorgeous creatures had feelings just like I did. Why deny them? Why would God resurrect people but not dogs? This core Christian belief in human uniqueness didn’t make any sense to me. Whatever soul, whatever consciousness and mind are, and no matter how they relate to the brain and the rest of the body, the same principle must hold for people and dogs and, by extensions, to other animals as well.
It was only later, at university, that I became acquainted with Buddhism and their emphasis on the universal nature of mind. Indeed, when I spent a week with His Holiness the Dalai Lama earlier this year, I noted how often he talked about the need to reduce the suffering of “all living beings” , and not just “all people” . My readings in philosophy brought me to panpsychism, the view that mind (psyche) is found everywhere (pan). As Skrbina shows in this book, panpsychism is one of the oldest of all philosophical doctrines extant and was put forth by the ancient Greeks, in particular Thales and Plato. Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz who laid down the intellectual foundations for the Age of Enlightenment argued for it, as did Arthur Schopenhauer, William James, the father of American psychology, and the Jesuit and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin. Declining in popularity with the rise of positivism in the 20th century, panpsychism is enjoying a renaissance in philosophical circles. As a natural scientist, I find a suitably modified version of panpsychism to be the single most elegant and parsimonious explanation of the universe I find myself in. But that is a different story. Skrbina’s volume gives a great introduction to this doctrine and its reception in the west, from ancient times until today.