Reflexive monism

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Reflexive monism is a philosophical position developed by Max Velmans, in his book Understanding Consciousness (2000), to address the problem of consciousness. It is a modern version of an ancient view that the basic stuff of the universe manifests itself both physically and as conscious experience (a dual-aspect theory in the tradition of Spinoza).[1] The argument is that the universe is psycho-physical.[2]

Monism is the view that the universe, at the deepest level of analysis, is composed of one fundamental kind of stuff. This is usually contrasted with substance dualism, the view found in the writings of Plato and Descartes that the universe is composed of two kinds of stuff, the physical and the stuff of soul, mind or consciousness.

Reflexive monism maintains that, in its evolution from some primal undifferentiated state, the universe differentiates into distinguishable physical entities, at least some of which have the potential for conscious experience, such as human beings. While remaining embedded within and dependent on the surrounding universe and composed of the same fundamental stuff, each human, equipped with perceptual and cognitive systems, has an individual perspective on, or view of, the rest of the universe and him or her self. In this sense, each human participates in a process whereby the universe differentiates into parts and becomes conscious of itself, making the process reflexive. Donald Price and James Barrell write that, according to reflexive monism, experience and matter are two complementary sides of the same reality, and neither can be reduced to the other. That brain states are causes and correlates of consciousness, they write, does not mean that they are ontologically identical to it.[2]

A similar combination of monism and reflexivity is found in later Vedic writings such as the Upanishads.[3]


  1. Velmans, Max. "Dualism, Reductionism and Reflexive Monism," in Max Velmans and Susan Schneider (eds.). The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, p. 346ff.
    • Velmans, Max. "Reflexive Monism," Journal of Consciousness Studies, 15(2) pp.5-50 (2008) preprint
    • Hoche, H-U. "Reflexive monism versus complementarism: An analysis and criticism of the conceptual groundwork of Max Velmans’s reflexive model of consciousness," Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6(3) pp.389-409 (2007), doi:10.1007/s11097-006-9045-8 preprint
  2. 2.0 2.1 Price, Donald D. and Barrell, James J. Inner Experience and Neuroscience: Merging Both Perspectives. MIT Press, 2012, p. 277ff.
  3. Rao, K. R. History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization Volume XVI, Part 1: Cognitive Anomalies, Consciousness, and Yoga. New Delhi: Matrix, 2011, pp. 322-323, 376-383, 766-774.