Evolution, nature spirituality, time, psychological Now, idealist ontology,
idealism, materialist realism, collective conscious experience,
collective consciousness, transpersonal psychology, philosophy of science

Cognition, Biology and Idealist Philosophy

By Axel Randrup


International Center for Interdisciplinary Psychiatric Research, CIRIP,

Bygaden 24 B, Svog. DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark


September 9, 2006. Electronic publication only.


The basic philosophy of mainstream biology, the philosophy of materialist realism,
assumes the existence of a material world independent of human observation and
cognition. The scientific study of cognition in the context of biology has, however,
led to the result, that all our thoughts and cognitions, including the assumption of a
material world, are dependent on our cognitive apparatus in its present stage of evolution.
I think, this shows a contradiction within materialist philosophy, and I therefore find, it is
impossible to make a contradiction-free account of cognition based on this philosophy.
An account of natural science, biological evolution, and cognition based on an idealist
philosophy is offered, and it is argued, that this account is free of contradictions. In the
idealist philosophy "material objects" are regarded as concepts based on sensory

Key words : Cognition, evolution, philosophy of science, idealist ontology,
idealism, materialist philosophy, time, psychological Now.


The scientific study of cognition in the context of biology assumed from the beginning ,
like all mainstream biology, the existence of a material world independent of the human
observer (materialist realism). The study led, however, to the contradictory result, that all
our thoughts and cognitions, includimg the assumption of a material world, depend on the
human cognitive apparatus in its present stage of evolution.

It is my opinion, that this contradiction is an unavoidable consequence of the philosophy
of materialist realism, and that it therefore cannot be resolved within this frame of
reference. In the following I shall propose an idealist frame of reference, within which I
think it is possible to overcome the contradiction and arrive at a consistent account of

Concepts Basic for the Study of Cognition, Biology and Idealist Philosophy

Natural Science Seen in the Optic of Idealist Philosophy

The idealist philosophy relied on here contends, that only conscious experience is real
[1 - 4]. In this idealist frame of reference natural science is regarded as a catalogue of
selected conscious experiences ("observations") acknowledged to be scientific. I think that
scientific "observations" must be regarded as extracts from whole perceptions. The
reading of a measuring instrument can serve as an example: usually only the position of the
pointer is recorded, while the colour and shape of the instrument together with many other
features of the perceptual whole are ignored [5]. To be acknowledged as scientific the
observation has to be intersubjective, and it can be seen that the extraction from the whole
perception facilitates intersubjectivity. Observations belong to the class of immediate
experiences we cannot change, i.e. to what Diettrich [6] calls Wirklichkeit and Berger
and Luckmann [7] call "reality".

Natural science, the catalogue of scientific observations is structured by means of concepts
and theories, which are also regarded as conscious experiences. Material objects are thus
regarded as heuristic concepts (or constructs) useful for expressing observations (visual,
auditory, tactile etc.) within a certain domain together with some of their mutual relations.
This reinterpretation of materialist objects allows a direct understanding and use of
traditional scientific theories without accepting their ontology [1,8]. This differs from
contemporary mainstream science, but it does maintain the methodological presupposition,
that all scientific research rests on empirical observations from which concepts and
theories are derived. The idealist ontology emphasizes even more the role of the empirical
evidence in science and is particularly open to new theories and to the application of more
than one theory and set of concepts to a domain of observations [9 - 13].

The idealist ontology also readily accomodates the intense nature-experiences known as
nature spirituality [1]. These intense experiences are felt by the experient to be essential
and important, indicating to him, that they must be real and that nature is primarily an
experience. Nature spirituality is also experienced as unifying "observer" and "observed"
and is therefore felt to be in conflict with the materialist view, that nature exists separated
from and independent of the "observer". Also on more secular ground many people resist
the alienation from nature entailed by strict materialist realism, and tend to retain naive
realism or scientific naive realism. The former means, that material nature is believed to be
as perceived, and the latter, that it is believed to be as experienced by scientific
observations, concepts, and theories, or nearly so. Both forms of naive realism may be
regarded as a mixture of materialist and idealist views.

Immaterialist views such as idealist philosophies, phenomenalism, and radical
constructivism have often been met with the objection, that they are based entirely on
private (individual) experiences, and thus are or lead to solipsism (only "my" experiences
exist). This objection, however, seems untenable. It is based on the presumption that
conscious experiences are always individual, but I think that collective (and egoless)
experiences are viable alternatives or complements to individual experience. A collective
experience is regarded as one experience associated with a group of persons as the subject,
the We, and related to all the brains of this group. This differs from traditional
neuropsychology which usually discusses conscious experiences in association with one
brain only. Persons, including the "I", as well as brains are here seen as heuristic concepts,
analogous to the concept of material objects mentioned above [2,3].


In the idealist philosophy proposed here physical time and the placement of events in this
time is seen as a construction developed on the basis of experiences in the Now [3,4]. These
experiences include memories and anticipations which may be seen as special modes of
experience in the Now.

I think that the construction of physical time (and of other sorts of time) are based on these
special modes of experience and also on the experience of succession in the psychological
Now. The available evidence indicates that this experience of succession is possible, and
that the psychological Now has temporal extension and thus differs from the physical point
of time which is seen as infinitesimal having zero duration. I find that the evidence for this
provided by the psychologist Rubin is particularly clear and significant. Rubin performed
phenomenological studies of the immediate experience of time., some of them with " two
very short sound stimuli in the outer physical world succeeding one another." When the
interval between the two sound stimuli was a fifth of a second (in physical time), he
describes the immediate experience thus:

"Quite contrary to our general notion of time, the experience does not occur that one of the
sounds is present and that the other belongs either to the just expected future or to the
immediate past. Either both of them are past or both of them are future or both of thave the character of being present, although they are experienced as a succession." [14]

According to Rubin the perceptual Now can thus comprise the experience of succession.
Rubin also found that immediate experience of duration is possible in the perceptual Now.

Searching the literature I have found no direct replication, continuation or critique of
Rubins work, but there are several authors who on various grounds concur with Rubin
[3,4, both with references] . Thus Fraisse has like Rubin performed many
phenomenological observations and experiments on the psychology of time, and he thinks
that our perception of change is characterized by the integration of successive stimuli in
such a way that they can be perceived with relative simultaneity . He also states that, when
he hears the tick-tock from a clock, the tick is not yet part of his past, when he hears the
tock, so the order of the tick and the tock is perceived directly [15].

It should also be considered that different concepts (or constructs) of time exist in various
cultures as well as in modern advanced physics. These differ from the ordinary linear
physical time and comprise: cyclic time, spiral time, static time, imaginary time, sacred
time existing alongside with secular time, etc. [3,4]. Hawking describes imaginary time
which is a spatial and therefore static construct and states that like other theories in
physics, it is a mathematical model describing our observations. He finds that it is
meaningless to ask, whether the usual or the imaginary time is the correct or real one, the
question is, which description is the most useful [16].

Interestingly, the conception of time as constructed from the Now was already expressed by
Nicholas of Cusa (15th century):

"All time is comprised in the present or 'now'..... time is only a methodological
arrangement of the present. The past and the future, in consequence, are the development of
the present" (quoted in [17] p. 840).


Even if the material conception of biological evolution is presumed, it is clear, that all the
observations leading to this theory have been made in our time, i.e. in a short span of time
compared with the presumed length of the biological evolution. This comes close to the idea
that the theory of evolution is a development of the present. In the idealist frame of
reference proposed here all the evidence is seen as being experienced in the Now, in the
focus or the periphery of its conscious content [3,4]. The theory of evolution itself,
associated with the theory of linear time is also regarded as experienced in the Now and
seen as a methodological arrangement of the present.

In this idealist view we construct the past from the present, while science usually tries to
see the causes for the present in the past and the causes for the past in a more distant past.
There is, however, a special case, where science to some extent relies on the present for
understanding the past. This is the use of the anthropic principle for understanding
certain features of the structure and evolution of the universe.

The anthropic principle is discussed thoroughly by Barrow. He states that we must accept,
that there are aspects of the large-scale structure of the universe, which do not have any
explanation in the conventional sense. They arise as random events in the first moments of
the universe's history. There are also a number of remarkable and apparently disconnected
"coincidences" in the universe. These structures and coincidences are, however, a necessary
condition for life in the present, and according to the anthropic principle their appearance
in the distant past is understood in relation to the fact that we exist now and observe the
universe. The anthropic principle may be seen as a complement to the standard theories in
cosmology [18].

The materialist exposition of biological evolution does not express the fact that all the evidence for the theory stems from our time. This must be stated as an addendum. Further,
when cognition is included in the theory of biological evolution, the theory leads to a
fundamental contradiction. This contradiction and its resolution by applicatiom of an
idealist frame of reference will be discussed in the next sections.

Discussions of the Fundamental Problem with the Materialist Exposition

It was argued in the Introduction, that the materialist exposition of cognition entails an
inevitable contradiction between the basic assumption of a material world independent of
the human observer and the conclusion, that all our thoughts and cognitions (including
the assumption of an independent material world) depend on our cognitive apparatus in
its present stage of evolution. Indeed in the light of the scientific study of cognition the
assumption of an independent material world appears to be self-contradictory.
Students of evolution and cognition have over the years struggled with this fundamental
problem. Thus Clark asks, what the proper attitude of the evoutionary epistemologist
should be towards science. Should he regard science as disclosing information concerning
the way the world is in itself, independently of the species-specific needs, bias and
cognitive orientation of the human life-form, or should he conceive it as intrinsically
limited and indelibly marked with the stamp of his own humanity ? Clark finds himself
attracted to the alternative of dropping the notion of the world-in-itself entirely, he prefers
to envisage theoretical models ultimately justified by keeping faith with observable
phenomena [19]. As the theoretical models can be seen as mental constructs, this view is
not far from the idealist views proposed in the present paper.

Ruse has written on evolutionary and Darwinian epistemology at length. He arrives at the
notion "common-sense realism" which he regards as an alternative to the either/or of
materialism/idealism [20] He thinks, that there is a real world, but not a real world
independent of us. "We cannot escape our own mind-injected element" [21]. Ruse
struggles with the problems originating in abstract philosophy and scepticism:
".... the human mind is such that, even if abstract philosophy leads to scepticism,
unreasoned optimism keeps us afloat. As human beings, we all believe in the reality of
causality and of the external world and of the worth of consiliences, whatever philosophy
might prove. And that is what counts." [21]. I will here contend, that we humans do not all
believe in the reality of an external world. I for one don't, and others are quoted below.
Ruse also states that "truth rests in coherence, not in correspondence" (i.e. correspondence
with an independent world) [21]. The latter statement is actually close to the idealist view,
I propose in this paper.

"Hypothetical realism" is a term, which earlier was often encountered in the literature on
cognition and biological evolution. It assumes that there exists a real world independent of
man, and that our knowledge about this world is dependent on our cognitive apparatus,
therefore hypothetical. But Löw criticized hypothetical realism, because he regarded also
the existence of the external world, materialistic realism itself, as hypothetical. He writes

"If reality is given us only through the glasses of our "ratiomorphic world-view
apparatus", then every statement about the "true" reality is, at the same time, a statement
viewed through such glasses and no "truer" than others." [22].

I concur with Löw and regard common sense realism and hypothetical realism as
compromises, which are insufficient for overcoming the fundamental paradox inherent in
the materialist account of evoutionary epistemology. More radical changes are required.

A Consistent, Contradiction-free Exposition Based on an Idealist Philosophy

The term "hypothetical realism" was used quite frequently in the 1980es , but seems to
have been forgotten in the 90es; in the journal, Evolution and Cognition (New Series)
published 1995 - 2004 the term is hardly ever found. But in this journal there are some
indications of views that are wholly different from materialist realism:

Thus Krall regards ".... objects as invariances in observations and not as something that
may or may not exist in reality" [23].

And Stotz writes: "No matter how far we we turn the spiral of knowledge gain, the
problem of demarcating subject from object remains insoluble. Much as we might even
"trivially" presuppose an objective reality and regard it as plausible, all our highly
complex theories are merely "assimilatory instruments" all the same: reality is always
mediated - an operational construct of cognition". [24].

In a very thoughtful account Diettrich states, on the basis of "complete constructivism" ,
that our perceptions contain regularities and specificities, we cannot influence, and these
unchangeable features of our perceptions he denotes by the German word Wirklichheit. In
daily language this German word means nearly the same as reality, but in Diettrich's
exposition reality ("materialist" reality) is seen not as something existing independent of
humans, but as a special human-made theory of Wirklichkeit [6]. This of course comes close
to my idealist descriptiion here of "material things" as mental concepts.

Diettrich realizes, that it has been used as a major objection to constructivist approaches,
that they may lead to solipsism. He counters this objection by stating, that the cognitive
efforts he describes are "human specific" (p. 111) and that the experience, that our
perception contains regularities we cannot influence, is a basic experience of "all men" (p.
105). I have denied, that solipsism is an implication of immaterialiat views by invoking the
notion of collective conscious experience (see the section on Natural Science above) and I
think that this is closely similar to Diettrich's argumentation.

In a way reminiscent of Diettrich's definition of of Wirklichkeit Berger and Luckman define
"reality" as a quality appertaining to phenomena that we recognize as having a being
independent of our own volition, we cannot "wish them away". Thus Berger and Luckman
do not define reality as independent of human observation or human cognition altogether,
only as independent of our volition [7].

The constructivist approach emphasizes epistemology more than ontology. But in the
idealist philosophy proposed here ontology is in the focus, and it asserts that only
conscious experience is real [1,4]. Conscious experience consists of immediate experiences
which we cannot change (the Wirklichkeit ) and experiences (concepts, theories) which we
can change and discuss, and which structure the immediate experiences.

Every immediate conscious experience has relations to many other conscious experiences,
and the experiences can be grouped in various ways.Thus visual, tactile, auditory etc.
experiences can be grouped together in such a way, that they become constitutive parts of
the construct (or concept), a "material" object. The very same experiences can also be seen
as constitutive parts of the construct, consciousness or mind of the experient. By
consciousness (individual or collective) I here understand the total of conscious experience
in the Now. In the construct consciousness the perceptual and conceptual experiences are
grouped together with other experiences such as emotions, aesthetic and ethic experiences
etc. (Wimmer and Ciompi [25] emphasize the opinion, that affect or emotion and cognition
form an inseparable interactive unit). In this view object and subject are not disentangled,
since they have constitutive elements in common. The construct, the "material" world, may
be regarded as a subset or subsystem of the construct, consciousness; this view has earlier
been expressed by the physicists Lindsay and Margenau, who began their book
"Foundations of Physics" with the statement: "Physics is concerned with a certain portion
of human experience" [9].

The grouping of perceptions (scientific "observations") into the constructs or concepts of
"material" objects expresses some regularities (or constraints) in the occurrence of these
experiences, and the grouping into a subject (I or We), seen as consciousness or mind
expresses other regularities. The latter is clearly understood, when we compare with the
splitting and loose associations encountered in communications with schizophrenic
patients. In the idealist exposition there is no logical contradiction in the grouping of the
same experiences into two different constructs, "material" object and consciousness. In
mathematics it is well known, that an element may be a member of more than one set, each
membership expressing relationships of the element with other elements. This of course
also means that two sets or two systems can have one or more elements in common. The consciousness or mind conceived as above has relations to the constructs, body and
brain. These relations too express regularities in the occurrence of perceptions and other
conscious experiences. It is clear, however, that these regularities are not in contradiction
with the other regularities or constraints mentioned above.

Consciousness is often conceived as individual, but as argued above and in previous
publications by the author [2 - 4]it may also be conceived as collective, shared by a group
of individuals. This agrees with the generally acknowledged central position of
intersubjectivity in science. The necessity to obtain intersubjectivity also gives some
constraint to concepts and to observations regarded as scientific. This is clearly felt, when
it is attempted to describe an unfamiliar new idea or observation in words and discuss it
with others.

Convincing evidence indicates that egoless conscious experiences occur too. Here there is no
subject like in monistic material realism, but an egoless experience of the world (perceived
or conceived) is still a conscious experience and avoids the dichotomy between the material
and the mental [2,4].


In the idealist philosophy a cognition is not of something, but rather an experience. Our
perceptual, conceptual, and other experiences are not of an external world, but the world
itself (and at the same time they are parts of our consciousness). We have visual, auditory,
and tactile experiences for example, and between these experiences we can experience
regularities and coherences, which may be expressed and experienced by concepts such as
"tree" for example or "a living animal in the past". In this way "a living animal in the
past" may be seen and experienced as a structure or arrangement of perceptual experiences
in the Now [3,4]. The same holds for the concept "evolution" and for scientific theories
such as Darwin's theory of evolution. Conscious experiences in the past (human or animal)
are understood on the basis of collective conscious experience across time [3,4].
Clearely, the fundamental paradox in the materialist exposition, the contradiction between
the world seen as independent of humans and also seen as dependent on the human
cognitive apparatus, does not appear in the idealist exposition.


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