Dr. Willy Obrist, a retired physician, historian and Jungian scholar, has just published his third, major German-language book entitled Die Natur -- Quelle von Ethik und Sinn. Tiefenpsychologie und heutige Naturerkenntnis (Nature -- Source of Ethics and Meaning. Depth psychology and modern-day nature perception). Walter-Verlag, Olten, Switzerland, 1999. 319 pp. + bibl. 132 p. + index 4 p., DM 58.
Can consciousness be explained? Recently a conference of consciousness philosophers was held at King's College in London to compare notes and pool their findings. Afterwards the German journalist Dirk Lipski concluded that "philosophers' century-old body/soul problem [had] some time ago turned into the question as to whether consciousness could be explained" (Die Zeit, May 6, 1999, p.33). When you compare the results from philosophers with the results from neurobiologists, brain researchers, information and cognitive scientists, the former don't have much to show for their work. Dr. Obrist posed similar questions in his earlier books, and is now asking what proof can be found for the existence of "objective mind". In this latest ever-more scientific tome, he sets out to provide the proof in a degree of detail that would satisfy natural scientists. Physicists and biologists, he recalls, have uncovered a lot of facts that cannot be explained under the energy paradigm. When seen in relation to the traditional concepts of mind and matter, they would have to be regarded as mind.
"In order to explain these facts, one has only to run through modern-day knowledge about nature, and sort out the facts that cannot be covered with physics' energy concept. However one should not expect to be able to separate mind from matter in this way. One great accomplishment made by the great evolutionary leap of western consciousness is the complementary view. Ever since that, one should no longer speak of matter and mind (nor of body and soul), but instead of material and mind aspects -- one somatic and the other psychic -- of the space/ time reality, which is actually ('an sich') uniform."
Too much has fallen under the heading of matter thus far, Obrist says. Matter's meaning should be reduced, and the space it leaves filled with something complementary to matter, namely mind. As simple as this summary may sound, the undertaking becomes terribly complex when the proof is presented.
As for the reference to ethics in the title, Dr. Obrist recalls that "before the Enlightenment, the source of ethics and purpose used to be outside humans, in objective reality." It used to be in a personal god. However, now that supernatural mind-beings have been eliminated in nature, divine revelation has also been discarded. Since the Enlightenment, human subjective mind has been taken as a source of ethics and meaning. But our post-Enlightenment thinking requires a base in objective reality. "Such a reality will no longer be a supernatural, but a natural one." And that is Dr. Obrist's aim: to account for the existence of the elusive objective mind in a strictly natural world.