Earth Mind

 

Earth Mind

 

Let’s suppose that object mentalism is true—the doctrine that every object has a mental life. I mean this doctrine as derived from the thesis that all secondary qualities need a psychological subject: since such qualities are mental they must be perceived, so everything having them is a perceiver of some sort.  [1] My concern here is with the consequences of this view for the nature of planet earth: what does it tell us about the mental status of that planet? Well, it immediately follows that earth has a mind (or many minds), since it has a multitude of secondary qualities: earth perceives all its colors, tastes, smells, sounds, and tactile qualities (though not necessarily its primary qualities). But earth is a very large complex object with an enormous variety of qualities, so that should affect the kind of perceiving mind it has. It may be expected to have a mind commensurate with its size and complexity, especially its rich array of secondary qualities. It should be a larger mind than the moon’s mind, or even the sun’s mind (which doesn’t have a wide range of different sensory qualities). I would estimate that it possesses the largest mind of any celestial object we know of. The earth does an enormous amount of perceiving. We may not know much about what the earth’s mind is like, but we can be assured that it is capacious—though focused on its own appearance. It is a gigantic kaleidoscopic sensorium.

            I mention this consequence of object mentalism because I think it might help with ecological ethics. For we have had trouble marshaling much moral concern for planet earth, on the assumption that it is just an insensate rock (with some sentient beings at and around its surface); and recognizing that earth has a complex mind might help us generate a more robust moral concern for its fate. If sentience of some sort is the criterion for moral concern, then the earth qualifies, according to the doctrine of object mentalism. The earth has a mind of its own and hence deserves moral consideration. It may not be an organism, as some have supposed, but it is a repository of mental states, along with an appropriate perceiver. This is to assume that the objects that make up the earth are unified in some way, so that we are not dealing with a mere aggregate of individual sensing objects; but this hypothesis can’t be ruled out, so it may be that the whole earth has a mind not just its parts. In any case, there is a lot of mind in the earth, whether unified or not. This may help us treat the earth with more care and respect.  [2]

 

  [1] See my “Mind in World”, “Color and Object”, and “Secondary Qualities and Possible Worlds”.

  [2] The expanding circle of morality is ever widening and it is past time we widened it yet further to include the planet we live on. We might even bring it under a utilitarian ethic by postulating that some of earth’s sensations are connected to pleasure and pain, particularly in the case of sensations of taste and smell, but also with respect to color and sound. Our sensations of secondary qualities are intimately connected to pleasure and its opposite. Remember it was once thought fanciful to attribute minds to “brutes”. The concept of mind has politics built into it. Is in the interests of certain groups to deny that the earth is anything but a mindless soulless rock, as it was in the interest of certain groups to deny that animals have minds or souls (ditto selected peoples).  

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