Emotional Commitments

Today I’m going to psychologize a bit concerning the formulation and evaluation of worldviews and metaphysical systems. In 1994, I read the book “Descartes’ Error” by neurologist António Damásio. It was a game-changer for me. At the time, I subscribed to a common notion that emotions could be the bane of being rational. Both Plato and Aristotle felt that reason was superior to emotions or as they called them, the passions. The idea is that emotions can taint reason. This view is understandable because who hasn’t seen either in themselves or others where emotions can lead to unreasonable conclusions. I felt the same way. However, that view changed after I read Damasio’s book.  There were similar books like Joseph Ledoux’s “The Emotional Brain”.

What Damasio and others showed was that emotions aren’t just some independent force tainting reason but actually an intrinsic and necessary part of reason. In his book, he talks about several real-life examples of what is going on. These examples illustrated what happens when the parts of the brain associated with emotions become damaged. A famous example of this Phineas Gage. Gage was a construction foreman who was installing an explosive charge into a hole in a rock. An accidental spark ignited the charge and drove a tamping iron through his left eye and into his left frontal lobe. He survived that accident but his personality was changed forever. Contrary to his previous personality, he became volatile and profane with poor judgment and the inability to take on complex tasks.

An even more striking example Damasio recounts is a man who by all accounts was a perfectly reasonable, rational individual, well known for his judgment in complex issues. This man, however, sustained a lesion in an area of the brain known to be responsible for emotions. While not life-threatening, this damage had a lasting effect on the man. His psychological affect became subdued. Also, whereas before his judgment was unassailable, after the disease that changed dramatically. He was able to reason just as well as before but unable to make good judgment calls. He had great difficulty in making decisions and as a result, his judgments were suspect. Something was missing. That missing component seems to be emotion.

What are we to make of these examples? What Damasio and others claim is that emotions are a critical element in making judgments. They are not necessarily a taint on making well-reasoned judgments but crucial for them.

So, what’s going on with the process of reason? There is obviously a strong element of logic involved. The structure of logic creates guard rails within which the process can proceed, avoiding wild unsustainable threads of thought. However, logic is not some sterile, simple process. Logic requires language and language is inherently value-laden. Each step in reasoning has value associated with it. In a simple case, this valuation is embedded in subscribing to things like the law of noncontradiction or the excluded middle. It can also be encoded in a list of logical fallacies. These are all value-laden because there is a sense of wrongness (a value) to them. In other words, emotions are in large part about valuations. The reason emotions manifest themselves in physiological ways (feeling good, being anxious, rapid heartbeat, sweating, feeling calm) is because there are deep-seated values at work.

This value may not be something simple but rather a combination of many factors. However, even with its complexity, in the gestalt, it offers a weighting force.  It pushes the reasoning in certain directions.

Emotional Commitments
As life proceeds from childhood, various emotions are imbued within us. These proceed from both positive and negative experiences. Early on, pleasure and pain play a pivotal role in the valuations we make about circumstances and our response to them. As we get older, our valuations become more complex and nuanced. Still, these emotional (valuational) responses shape how we will evaluate what is presented to us and influence our response. There are what I’ll call “emotional commitments”. A commitment is a strong bias toward something. However, all commitments have an emotional content. That’s because there is always some value associated with it. These commitments are deeply engrained within us and almost autonomic. One might call these “knee-jerk” responses just like those tested in the doctor’s office. This can be advantageous because we can make very fast decisions. It can be valuable in certain circumstances but also problematic if those biases are counterproductive. The point is that we all have emotional commitments toward a certain perspective of reality. Those commitments shape how we will evaluate new experiences and information as it arrives. Depending on what those commitments are it can create either a blockage or openness to the new we experience.

Metaphysical Emotional Commitments
Is there any doubt that there are strong emotional commitments in metaphysical worldviews? One has only to witness the heated arguments among opposing worldviews. Metaphysics speaks to “beyond or underlying the physics”. Since the foundations of reality are underdetermined by our knowledge and perspective, metaphysics speculates about the unknown and what it might mean. As such, there are existential concerns (life, death, meaning, freedom, value, etc.) in the balance. These concerns reflect our sense of self and the meaning of our lives. No wonder there are emotions involved.

For millennia there have been many metaphysical formulations offered. They try to offer a picture of reality that addresses not only what empirical investigations suggest but also existential concerns. For those interesting in creating or evaluating metaphysical systems, I think, emotional commitments should be considered. What might those be?

Emotional commitments are as complex as individuals. They stem from the entire history of the individual as well as their engrained makeup, be it genetic or cultural.  As psychology has shown, they may even be a mystery to the individual, buried within the unconscious mind. However, if an effort is made, they can become somewhat apparent if probed. If that task is undertaken perhaps it can inform future choices.

At this point, I think it is also important to understand that there is a hierarchy to these emotional commitments. Some provide more force than others. There can be competition among them. This can create what psychologists call a cognitive dissonance. I offer a metaphysical metaphor about this here.  As the mental process proceeds, inevitably the strongest emotional commitments will have a strong influence on the result.

Also, another factor could be called the domino effect. In this effect, if one particular domino (say a proposition) falls then many subsequent dominos will fall as well. This can be rapidly assessed by our brains. If this happens the emotional response can be multiplied enormously. Each domino represents some emotional commitment.

Here, I’ll offer an example within religious thought but it can apply, as well, to other metaphysical worldviews. Religious philosophers, theologians, and adherents are a varied bunch. They each have their own histories and personality types. They also have their particular emotional commitments. What might those be? There is a continuum for these commitments.

For some, there is a strong emotional commitment to certainty. We see this with evangelical theologians and adherents. It is very important to them to have a sense of certainty regarding the worldview that ensues from the philosophy or theology. For some, this means a commitment to the inerrancy of some scripture or religious text. If that “domino” were to fall the subsequent falling of other dominos may be more than they could emotionally bear.

 At the other end of the continuum, there are religious thinkers and adherents who aren’t that concerned about an absolute certainty and are fine with some level of vagueness. In between is where we find most of these religious thinkers. There is a commitment to rigor but also an acceptance of some level of uncertainty.

I’ll extend this example from my own experience. Ever since my two-year break from engineering to study theology at a Lutheran seminary, I’ve followed the developments in theology both past and present. Prominent among the areas of concern was and continues to be the science and religion debate. Both theological and scientific inferences offer a picture of how reality is constituted. Because of certain putative inferences, at times these seem to be in conflict.  Theologians found themselves with a conundrum. How can these two realms be reconciled?  On the one hand, they had an emotional commitment to embracing empirical investigations but on the other hand, they also had a commitment to a religious tradition.  Predominantly (unfortunate in my view), liberal theologians accepted the “law and chance” model of reality. This creates a problem for those who want to assert God’s continued teleological activity in reality. So, there are strong emotional commitments in conflict and with it a considerable cognitive dissonance, seemingly with no way out. Not deterred, what resulted, in my view, was a constant flow of obfuscations, equivocations, ad hoc postulates, or surrender towards a deistic worldview. Since the debate still continues, no resolution seems adequate. The point is that emotional commitments can put a stranglehold on progress. Depending on what they are they can, coupled with the domino effect, block thinking outside the box.

Since we are all existential creatures, this same emotional dynamic applies across the board for any system that impinges on our inherent creaturely interests. This includes metaphysical systems like atheism, theism, nontheism, agnosticism, materialism, and the like. The question to ask is what are the emotional commitments and their hierarchical order?

If the strongest emotional commitment is sustaining a particular worldview, that will guide what can follow and be entertained. If the strongest commitment is toward certainty, that will narrow what can even be considered. If, however, the dominant emotional commitment is to the truth, that can trump all other commitments. Obviously, that can be scary because it may mean abandoning or modifying those other commitments. Not an easy task.

Conclusion
In the final analysis, creating or evaluating a metaphysical or theological system is a judgment call. However, in that process of creation or evaluation there can also be a probing and evaluation of the personal emotional commitments that are at work. Are the commitments strongest toward the truth or are they aimed to sustain a current position? This can be difficult to determine and requires courage to go there but if taken seriously it might result in a more stable and less conflicted state.

God is All Sweetness and Light — NOT

Ok, this is a bit of a rant. But sometimes theologies of God really irritate me. There is a strain of theology that bothers me to no end. It is found in Process Theology as well as its cousin Open and Relational Theology. It presents a picture of God as all “sweetness and light” or pure love. Sounds good doesn’t it? Not to me. Here’s why. In this view, God is ontologically distinct from this reality but somehow also engaged in what happens. Usually, this engagement is expressed in terms of “lure”. Supposedly, God is distinct from this reality but “lures” it towards the good. Since God is ontologically distinct, God is untainted by the flaws of life. God “feels” our pain, “suffers in absentia”, and tries to lure the world to a better place.

Now, I have no problem with God-as-transcendent trying to shape the world such that the good and beautiful become manifest. How this might happen is a subtle and complex issue but what I find irritating about these ontological views of God is that God is too good to “be in the trenches” with any ontological risk, or ontologically fighting for what is noble, courageous, good, and true. Why should we care about such a pure, impotent, distant God? This God can’t be interested in prayers of supplication because God can’t do anything ontologically active about them. God is constrained (by who knows what), relegated to a persuader trying passive-aggressively to influence what happens. Strikingly, this persuasion-only God isn’t very good at persuasion. Just look at the horrors this God failed to dissuade. An addict can get more benefit from a skillful therapist or a proactive friend orchestrating an intervention than praying to this God.

The God of Process Theology and Open and Relational Theology is an impotent “goody-two-shoes”. Sorry, I told you this was a rant.

No! The God envisioned in the ontology offered on this website is a God who chose to live in all its aspects both good and evil. God-as-living is ontologically at risk. Every life must deal with the struggles of finitude. Every life has the divine within, with forceful impetuses toward divine goals. This impetus is not some passive persuasion but rather an active powerful force like a magnet or gravity that can intensify as needed while still honoring the free-will of God-as-living. Even what we consider the most despicable individuals have this depth and with it that “still small voice” calling to embrace it. In some, this impetus fails and we get horrid evils. Such is the nature of free-will. For most, however, this impetus toward divine goals has an effect, even if partial and ambiguous. It has an effect because the God “in the trenches” is a living aspect (God-as-living ) of God-as-transcendent.

God isn’t just for the fortunate or powerful. God is particularly for those who are the weakest and most fragile among us. They pray for help and God answers powerfully. Their suffering may not end but they are not alone. That is because God is suffering as them. The strength of God within means they can endure and even thrive in spite if their trials. This can offer a peace “that surpasses all understanding.” It means that they, even in their suffering and trials are part of something profound and meaningful. Their lives and how they respond to it have a deep impact on the communion of all things. They contribute to the eternal creation of love, courage, beauty, and meaning. The God of my belief is not some distant, pure being as depicted in these theologies, but one who is “in the trenches” striving to be noble and brave, to love and create beauty, and reveling in the meaningfulness of life both with its joys and sorrows.

A Music Metaphor — Consonance and Dissonance

Perhaps you have heard someone practicing the piano or some other instrument. It may be going well but all of a sudden, a note is struck that doesn’t seem right.  Depending on how out of place it is, it may even make us cringe.  In music this could be called a dissonance.

Definitions:
Consonance:
“a combination of notes which are in harmony with each other.”

Dissonance:
“a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.”

In a consonant piece of music things fit together well. There may be many variations in timbre, intensity, tempo and the like, but everything fits together so well it may even seem inevitable. I am particularly fond of the Rachmaninoff piano concerto 3.  It has all the elements of great music where we experience the full range of emotions. It’s a long piece with many variations but in the end it all works. In great music, there are periodic cycles of rising and falling tension, variations on a theme, and often many voices at work but taken together as a whole it can be a satisfying experience. The same is true for other forms of art.

Dissonance is quite different. There is something that seems out of place and disjointed from the rest. At some point there is a level of discomfort that arises and a tension created that begs for some resolution. Now, this dissonance need not be by accident. One example of this can be seen in jazz. A dissonance is introduced to create tension but eventually there is a resolution such that, in total, it makes sense. We feel relieved that it wasn’t just left hanging there.

Metaphysics
Evaluating a metaphysical system is an extremely complex process.  It may include evaluating the system based on logic, coherence, completeness, science-friendliness, explanatory power, and so on.  However, it may also be evaluated based on its ability to address our existential concerns like meaning, purpose, morality, free-will, consciousness, etc. 

Now, all this evaluation is occurring throughout our mind.  Certain aspects of the process may be a primary focus, at the time, but as we know there is a vast network of connections within the brain so nothing occurs in complete isolation.  Eventually there is an evaluative gestalt: “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts”. It’s a whole that has a certain feel to it. To use the music metaphor, there may be a consonant or dissonant feel to it. We may feel comfortable with the result or have some level of discomfort. If there is a dissonance, there is a sense of something wrong in the mix. It can create a nagging discomfort that something needs to be addressed better. Now, it is important to think of this, to use another metaphor, like a symphony with many parts to it.  If a wrong note is struck somewhere in the orchestra at some point, it may not be significant enough to be terribly concerning but it still seems out of place in the grand scheme of things.  The symphony goes on and the mistake may be forgotten. So, in metaphysics there may be many parts of the system that feel right. However, there may also be certain elements that do persist and just don’t seem correct. They create a dissonance that keeps nagging at us. This is, in essence, why those interested in metaphysics keep tackling the same problems for millennia. Something doesn’t seem right about the answers offered or they seem incomplete.

Why the Consonance or Dissonance?
Obviously, I think metaphors can be helpful, so here’s another. I’m old enough to have gone to County Fairs where there is a House of Mirrors. Within those there are mazes but also mirrors that distort the image.  If you look at yourself in one, you are distorted — too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, or just odd looking. You recognize there is a distortion from what you really look like. There is a dissonance with your sense of self.

In the ontology offered on this site, we are all aspects of the One (God) in the Mind of God. As such, we are part of God and participate in God as living aspects. As philosophers have said “to know is to participate in”.  Since we participate in God, we can also have some knowledge of God. Theologian John Calvin called this “sensus divinitatis” (a sense of the divine) and Paul Tillich called it “the mystical a priori”. Now, although our knowledge of ourselves and the divine within is conditioned by our finitude, it is there and can make itself known to us.  A glimpse of it may be fleeting or somewhat ambiguous, but it still makes an impression.

So, like the distorted mirrors in the house of mirrors, when we seek to evaluate a metaphysical system the question is whether or not that system creates an image that seems distorted or not. Is it consonant or dissonant with the divine within? If it is dissonant then perhaps there is something wrong with it and bears further questioning and investigation.

Seeking some sort of resolution to the dissonance can take many forms. Perhaps the dissonance stems from our expanding empirical knowledge of how the universe is constituted. If the inferences and interpretations of empirical knowledge don’t seem consonant, then perhaps there are alternative inferences and interpretations that are compatible with observations but also reasonable and more consonant.

Or, perhaps the dissonance is more on a personal/existential level. Something doesn’t seem right with a metaphysical system in relation to our intuitive sense of reality and our place in it. This might not be as explicated as empirical explorations, but the gestalt of that intuition has a force that cannot be easily dismissed. That can prompt further questioning both of our internal intuitions and the elements that seem dissonant with them.

Now, it is important to remember that as living creatures we are a mixture of many competing and sometimes conflicting images of reality and ourselves. So, if we had a dissonance and feel we have resolved it, we should also be somewhat skeptical and humble about our evaluations and results.  If we accept a resolution that is not true, in the long run another uncomfortable dissonance may arise. Finding a consonance with our divine depth is a lifelong process.

Parsimony — Its Use and Misuse in Metaphysics

Where It’s Useful
I’m a big fan of simplicity in principle but with one major caveat.  Except for a two-year break to study theology, I worked about 40 years as a design engineer designing machines, systems, and software. In that work, simplicity was an important goal. Simpler designs are less costly, easier to manufacture, maintain, and generally more reliable.  The fewer “moving parts” in a machine, system, or software the less likely there will be problems with it. But here’s the major caveat. The design had to work.  It had to meet the specifications even if that required more complexity.

This goal of simplicity could be broadly understood under the concept of parsimony. One of the most generally recognizable ways of characterizing parsimony is Occam’s Razor, named after English Franciscan friar William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347).  Often the Razor is summarized in sentences like: “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity”, or the one most likely attributable to Ockham himself, “Plurality must never be posited without necessity”. The one I particularly like is probably a paraphrase of what Einstein actually said. It goes: “Everything should be made as simple as possible — but not simpler.” The key point in these is that necessity should guide how simple or complex a theory or system should be.  So what determines the necessity?

Let me offer an example from my work.  When I worked in the aerospace industry, specifications for a system often had hundreds of requirements. Now, here’s a key point. All those specifications had to be met. The necessity was meeting the entire specification.  However, one of the prominent specifications, either explicit or implied was parsimony. Systems had to work but if they were unnecessarily complex that could make them very costly to make, maintain, and be less reliable. So, “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity”. Parsimony then is an essential component of the mindset and method of design so that things work well.

Now, let me turn to the use of parsimony in theology and metaphysics. I think the aforementioned understanding of parsimony is also an essential part of the mindset and method of doing them.  Metaphysics and theology both require speculations. That is the nature of metaphysics. So, the KISS method (“keep it simple, stupid”) should be taken seriously.  However, there is also a constant dialog going on.  Every step in a design (theological or metaphysical) constrains what can come next. So as the design process unfolds, every step along the way must try to anticipate the consequences for what will come later. If this is not taken into account, entities will have to be multiplied later to compensate for this lack of foresight. When that happens things can get out of hand quickly and create more opportunities for the system to become incomplete, incoherent, contrived, or inconsistent.  So, the challenge for these types of systems is finding one that works (more on this in a bit) without creating complexity beyond necessity. To do that one needs to think about the entire specification throughout the design process.

Where it is Misused
Parsimony is misused in metaphysics when it is used as an argument. There are several ways the concept of parsimony can become problematic. Metaphysicians and theologians try to make arguments for why their formulations are right. Fair enough. They offer exhibits like data, logic, consistency, coherence, explanatory power, and so on. However, if parsimony is used as an exhibit — an argument, that is problematic. It’s problematic because it can lead to a misunderstanding, be counterproductive, and/or be misleading.

The first way it can be misunderstood is when it is really an argument from simplicity. There is a major difference between “not multiplying entities beyond necessity” and an argument from simplicity.  Parsimony is neutral on whether or not an explanation will end up being simple or complex. It simply suggests that it is best to not go overboard with speculations when they are not necessary. However, if the argument-from-parsimony is really an argument from simplicity that has a presupposition embedded in it that fundamental reality is simple so it can or should be characterized in a simple way.

An example of this type of inclination can be found in physics where there can be a presupposition of simplicity such that major efforts and resources are committed to finding an equation that completely explains physical reality but can also fit on a tee shirt. Now, I don’t think searching for such an equation is problematic itself, but if there is a driving desire for such a simple solution, that can be counterproductive and prematurely cut off entertaining other more complex options. This could also apply to metaphysics.

However, the most abused form of parsimony-as-an-argument comes in from the very nature of metaphysics. Almost invariably metaphysics is systematic. Systematic metaphysics is a complex arena. There are many parts to it that are relational and often combinatorially so. 

What characterizes a system? It should be coherent, logically sound, consistent, complete, rigorous, and elegant(including parsimony in the first sense I mentioned). There is so much going on in these systems that parsimony-as-an-argument, if used, would have to apply to the whole system.  Since there are so many interrelational parts involved, how could parsimony possibly be asserted coherently?  At best it would be just a vague intuition and not definitive at all.

So, for those who are trying to evaluate a metaphysical system, an invocation of parsimony could be misleading.  An argument is supposed to contribute to the validity of an explanation or solution. But does parsimony really do that in systematic metaphysics?

A way to approach this question is to look at it pragmatically. To use an engineering phrase: “Does it work?” That depends on what “it works” means. To answer that we’d have to look at the domain of “it works”. Does it meet the entire “specified requirements?”  One way to think about this domain is to determine what questions are being asked. Metaphysics is an attempt to speculated beyond “the physics” which means explanations are sought that offer answers to certain questions. If parsimony-as-an-argument is invoked, almost invariably the domain is very restricted.  This can be misleading because as the system expands beyond that limited domain and tries to offer answers to the full gamut of questions, the so-called parsimony can evaporate with a series of ad hoc assertions, questionable brute facts, or odd contrivances in an attempt to make things work.  This is why seeking parsimony-as-an-argument for a system is ill-conceived and often misleading.

Let me offer a couple of examples where I think this issue can be the case. The problem of subjective experience or phenomenal consciousness has found a lot of interest among philosophers of mind and in social media. How do we explain subjective experience within present worldviews? Materialism (a.k.a. physicalism) seems to have a problem with this. I won’t go into this question in depth here but among the proposals getting traction that supposedly offer better answers than materialism are forms of panpsychism and idealism.  There are many varieties of these but in some of the prominent ones, the idea is to make experience fundamental.  If subjective experience doesn’t fit in with materialism, why not just make it fundamental? So, in these systems, experience is what might be called the ontological primitive upon which everything else is built.  Some forms of idealism have called this the “consciousness only” model. (Note: This is very different from the divine idealism I argue for on this website.)

So, what are the arguments for this approach?  Prominent among them is an argument-from-parsimony.  Supposedly it’s the simplest explanation that accounts for subjective experience.  Now, if the question of subjective experience is the complete domain of interest, parsimony-as-an-argument could carry some weight.  But is that really the total domain of questions? Hardly. First, when a simple primitive is posited as fundamental then how are the complexities we see accounted for? For example, in physics, the standard model has various types of particles (or excitations in quantum fields) and the four fundamental forces.  So, this physics model is complicated. To be consilient with this model, the experiential fundamental would have to be more than just a raw experience. There would have to be some relational dynamics also in play that mirrored things like mass, spin, charge, as well as the strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity, and electromagnetism or the fields associated with them. Suddenly, experience as a fundamental becomes much more complex with lots more going on than just a raw experience.   

Then for human beings, there is much more. In systematic metaphysics, all related issues need to be addressed. They can’t be ignored because inevitably these other issues will enter into the conversation. We see this in interviews, podcasts, and videos.  Questions are posed like “what does this say about the meaning of life?” or “does free-will fit in somehow?” or “what does this mean for morality?” Eventually, existential issues like meaning, free-will, purpose (teleology), morality, and so on, are raised because metaphysics isn’t taken as just some neutral puzzle-solving endeavor.

How would a so-called simple fundamental answer those questions?  Is there a meaning principle in experience? Is there a free will process in experience? An experiential purpose element? A value law?  And so on.  Again, suddenly a so-called parsimony begins to seem suspect. To make it work what we might see are odd contrivances, equivocation, obfuscation, and ad hoc postulates or brute facts. In other words, “entities will have to be multiplied” to make the system work.

Now, perhaps there are ways to make this “consciousness only” model work. Time will tell. My point is that parsimony-as-argument based on an extremely limited domain is ill-conceived for systems. For systematic metaphysics, parsimony-as-an-approach is a perfectly legitimate aim but as-an-argument it shouldn’t be given any weight.

Why this might matter?
Human beings are meaning-seeking creatures.  Without a sense of meaning all sorts of psychological problems arise.  To a large extent that meaning comes from a worldview — who and what we are and our place and relationship to reality. In every age, there are many worldviews in operation. They vary not only among individuals but also between cultures. Often they form a basis for how lives and societies are structured and operate. 

It appears we are in one of those periods in history where there is a growing trend to reject past worldviews and the metaphysical systems that support them. They just aren’t compelling to many people. Of course, this is nothing new. There have been periods of relative stability where certain worldviews were generally accepted for long periods of time.  However, as things change in culture and knowledge that can present challenges to a current metaphysical system or religious tradition.

As an example, polls have shown that the fastest growing group relating to religion are the “nones” — the unaffiliated. This is particularly true for younger people.  Whether or not this is problematic for someone depends on the individual.  I can speak from personal experience because I became unaffiliated over 30 years ago.  There can be a sense of loss but it can also be liberating. However, for me, it also created a feeling of being adrift religiously.  I remained a theist but wasn’t sure what that meant for me.  That situation was the impetus for me to work on the theology found on this website.

So, there is a growing number of those who do not feel the religious traditions compelling anymore but there may also be others who are outside the traditions and have an uncomfortable feeling about the worldview they presently feel aligned to.  These could be atheists, agnostics, or those who do not have a religious background.  If there is this metaphysical unrest then what is a person to do? Often this results in a search for something to address that unrest.  It may start with surveying long-standing metaphysical systems.  If those don’t seem right then it may broaden to new approaches.  As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there haven’t been many new systematic metaphysical systems recently. I can think of a couple — process philosophy and integral theory (Ken Wilber), but there does seem to be more on the horizon coming from the philosophy of mind arena like those I mentioned earlier.

The question is, how can they be assessed and which ones seem compelling?  What criteria or reasons can be brought to bear?  Well, obviously this can vary greatly from person to person. For some, it may be primarily intuitional but for others, a more explicit, detailed, and rigorous approach is needed. If the latter is the case then arguments are important.

Now, since the religious traditions have become a disappointment to many, the last thing those searching for their metaphysical bearings would want is to entertain a new metaphysical system only to find out later that it had deep flaws concerning the most pressing existential issues I’ve mentioned. This is why I think it is important to be clear about what is being argued for in a metaphysical system.

Accordingly, I think too much illegitimate weight is put on parsimony-as-an-argument for metaphysical systems.  Claiming parsimony as a major argument for a particular system can be so misleading I don’t think it should be used at all.  Systems are far too complex, combinatorial, and interrelated to claim parsimony. Instead, the totality of arguments within a system that addresses all relevant issues should determine whether the formulation is compelling or not.

If it’s Laws and Chance — That’s It. Full Stop

I recently watched yet another video on free-will. Boring. Same old, same old. So here’s the deal. How is reality constituted? If reality is constituted by laws and chance then any attempts to rescue existential concerns like free-will, meaning, moral objectivity, and purpose are hopeless. Why? Because that means everything at all levels of complexity are determined by necessity (laws) and chance (quantum indeterminacy). The causal chain, no matter how complex just does what it does and can’t do otherwise. If this is the case then everything, including the human being, is just an autonomic system. That should be a straightforward conclusion, right? Apparently not because so much effort is put into somehow spinning this obvious conclusion with all sorts of linguistic gymnastics, obfuscation, or some sort of magic. I think enough is enough. With all the attempts over the centuries to overcome this conclusion it should just be accepted as futile.

So, if this situation is untenable both existentially and psychologically then what might be the options? One option maintains the law-and-chance model but seeks to overcome it with supernaturalism. In this approach, laws and chance are affirmed but the way to avoid the fatalism entailed is to override those laws and chance at times. Now, since we are talking about free-will this overriding isn’t just occasional. It’s happening all the time. Every free decision must override the necessity and chance inherent in how reality is normally constituted. Also, in the ontological dualism of standard theism, this means every free creature is also a supernatural agent.

If the supernatural model seems odd or not appealing what might be another option? Enter divine idealism. In divine idealism reality is constituted by the divine mind. So, every event is intentional and includes divine freedom. There are no laws or chance. Everything, down to the most elemental event is intentional. Now, that doesn’t mean there are no regularities. That would entail a chaotic system that wouldn’t make life possible. We empirically affirm and characterize those regularities with scientific investigations. Also, from science, reality seems to be constituted with a statistically consistent framework. Not just anything goes. In a divine idealism, there are divine self-imposed constrains in how the divine mind constitutes reality. Here you can think of how you would imagine and construct a story in your own mind. It would have regularities that made the story possible and coherent but it would also not be autonomic with no novelty or freedom. Everything would be intentional with a constrained freedom that still maintained a stability.

I think this is a valid, reasonable model for how reality is constituted that would allow for free-will, meaning, objective morality, and purpose. If reality is constituted by the divine mind and each life is an aspect of that divine mind then the freedom, meaning, and value of the divine mind is shared with finite creatures within some constraints. We aren’t supernatural creatures but rather participants and co-creators with God-as-transcendent in how reality is constituted both for ourselves and the cosmos.

An Unabashed Argument from Absurdity

There are metaphysical systems that claim reality is constituted non-intentionally. In this worldview, there are non-intentional laws and processes that create reality at every level. If that constitution is non-intentional then existential concepts like purpose, objective value, free will, and meaning are vacuous because no matter at what level of complexity there is, it’s just autonomic — mirroring the character of that which constituted it. For thinking and sentient beings, this presents an absurdity. Why? Because those beings have a profound sense that those existential concepts are not just an illusion perpetrated on them by non-intentional nature but are real. Also wouldn’t it seem absurd that all this — the entire universe and all the beings in it are just meaningless.

This absurd sense becomes apparent when we see the extraordinary lengths those who profess that worldview go through to salvage them somehow. These attempts always fail with a necessity and chance causal structure that a non-intentional constitution entails.

Now, an argument from absurdity is considered a logical fallacy. So what? This only carries weight for those who think that logic alone can capture the essence of reality. Sure, without logical constructs there can be a descent into nonsense. What is often missed, however, is that logic is grounded in our intuitions about how things work. If logic alone was determinative then we would expect that analytic philosophy would have eventually reached a consensus of conclusions. Not even close. Something must be missing. Can the structure we see be just part of the picture? Perhaps the structural aspect provides the stability that life can exist but there is also novelty within constraints that offers the meaning and purpose we intuitively feel.

There is a reason humans personify the ultimate. If the ultimate is personal then it is intentional as well — and relational. Even non-theistic religions like Buddhism have personifications among adherents. We want to be in relation with the universe and beyond. Without a relationship to the ultimate we are alone and isolated. As finite creatures this doesn’t work. It deprives us of a sense of being part of something profound. If taken seriously, that only leads to despair and nihilism.

So, there is a choice. We can obscure the absurdity of being an automaton through ignorance, denial, or repression and just carry on. Or we can embrace that there is a personal, intention ground to reality that we can relate to and be a part of something profound going on in this life.

Intentionality vs. Non-Intentionality

There are a lot of terms bandied about regarding the metaphysical foundations of reality. Some are physicalism, materialism, panpsychism, idealism, theism, deism, pantheism, panentheism, and so on. Of course, the devil is in the details on what these really mean.  Here I’d like to distill this down to a couple of terms that I think indicate an essence of these terms. Those terms are intentionalism and non-intentionalism.  At the bottom line, the question is, is there intention or non-intention fundamental to how reality is constituted?

Intentionality has certain features.  First, there is a goal or purpose in mind.  Intention isn’t just happenstance. It is about something. If there is a goal then there must also be some value system at work. If there is a goal in mind and values at work then that means there must be options. Without live options, intentionality is meaningless. If there are live options, that means that there must be freedom to choose from them.  All this entails complexity. Intentionality requires complex processes. Goals must be determined based on values. Choices and actions must be evaluated according to their effects, and decisions must be made based on all that. We all know this intuitively from our own sense of self. Without intentionality the only thing left is fatalism — things just happen for no intentional reason. Non-intentionality has none of the features of intentionality.  Stuff just happens.

So, what has all this to do with fundamental reality? A lot. That’s because of causation.  We know things happen within a causal chain.  One thing causes another. The chain may be short, say in a rock falling to the ground or it may be highly complex like in the neural networks of the brain. But causes beget effects which, in turn, beget other causes.  If fundamental reality is non-intentional then every step in the causal chain is also non-intentional. Unless magic is invoked, there is no place for intentionality to come in. So, no freedom. No value. No meaning.

Now, if someone acknowledges the fatalism in the non-intentional approach, fine. At least they are being honest. This rarely happens. Why? Because it’s hard to swallow that worldview. So, what happens? A lot depends on influencers. These are public intellectuals who know the details of arguments and promote their worldview to others. Now, since the fatalistic worldview is abhorrent to many in the public, what are they to do? In short, equivocate. Definition of equivocation: “the use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth”. The general public might not know the nuances of the argument so they are ripe for being mislead. All that is required is to throw in a few equivocated intentional terms in the non-intentional presentation and the public will be none the wiser. Examples are free-will in compatibilism or teleology when teleonomy (no real purpose) is what is meant. Terms like meaning and purpose are often used when they are vacuous in an autonomic universe.

A reality grounded in fundamental intentionality can offer so many things we existentially feel we have and would like. Meaning, purpose, free will, moral objectivity, etc. are all in the offing. So, when evaluating a particular metaphysical system perhaps it can be helpful to ascertain if what is being promoted is fundamentally intentional or non-intentional.

The Often Ignored Necessary Element for Free Will

Most people don’t like to think of themselves as automatons — just inevitably doing what they do. But that is the logical inference if reality is constituted by necessity (laws) and chance (quantum indeterminacy). So what do those who subscribe to the non-intentional model of reality do? There are numerous attempts to somehow salvage free will. Some are just nonsense like compatibilism and others try to find some way to use indeterminism. None of that works if necessity and chance determine every event in the universe.

Another thing most people want to believe is that we make conscious decisions. Here the key word is “conscious”. But how would that work? After all, we know that most of the decision-making process is done unconsciously. There are billions of neural processes going on that we have no awareness or experience of. It’s only very late in the process that we experience a decision. So, there is all this processing going on unconsciously and then after all that is done there is suppose to be some other different conscious processing that makes a decision or vetoes the decision make unconsciously. In that case there seems to be a phenomenal (experience based) homunculus (some extra something that has its own decision making processes). Seems like a weird contrivance to me.

Now, even if any of that were truth the missing necessary element in those schemes would be why a certain decision is made. The unconscious neural processes have all sorts of biases in their circuits that determine the processing at every step. Here you can think about a single neural synapse that has a chemical/electrical bias to react a certain way because of an input. Now, obviously there is an incredible complexity at work with all parts of the brain interacting but in the non-intentional model the brain just does what it does, much like a computer. In a computer each bit sets its state based on the input to it. It has a bias that responds to an input.

So in the non-intentional model, our unconscious processes do their biased thing and eventually end up with a decision (sometimes through a very tortuous process). Then the homunculus steps in and accepts or rejects that? Based on what? This is the missing necessary element in this scheme. There should be some other criterion for making a different conscious (homunculus) decision than what the neural process came up with. But what would that be? The non-intentional constitutionalists would need to come up with something here. In years of following this topic I haven’t seen anything like that.

So, instead of the non-intentional approach, here’s what I think may be going on. In a divine idealism every event in the universe is intentional. There are no laws and no chance. Everything happens because of intentionality — both the regularities and novelties. This includes everything in our brains. Every event happens for a reason. Those reasons are twofold. They are twofold because they include those of God-as-transcendent and God-as-living. I’ve talked about this elsewhere — and will in more detail on how this might work in an upcoming essay on divine action. So, the issue at hand is what is involved in why we make a certain decision?

Now, here I’m going to speculate from physics but based on some mainstream models. I think that every event in the universe is connected and integrated with everything else. Thus decisions are not just something “magical” happening. They occur within the life giving constraints of this reality.

In the divine idealism model, there is a teleological impetus involved in every event, even at the microscopic level. I’m using the term “impetus” because it denotes an active, forceful factor. As an analogy, think of how a magnet applies a force to attract a metal object. This is not some passive “lure” like in process theology. It is an active (but not coercive) influence toward a certain direction. The force of the magnet can be resisted but it is still an important factor in a decision. God-as-transcendent provides an impetus according to the divine purposes for this reality. However, God-as-living (that’s us and everything else) also has internal impetuses at work. These ensue from being finite creatures with certain motivations, needs, and desires. Sometimes there may be a competing impetus. I think that competition can occur at every step in the decision making neural processes, not just at the end. Every step is part of an integrated whole within the Divine Life Communion. What this means is that at every point in the process a decision must fit within the statistical model of how reality is constituted and take into account what is possible within those bounds. However, novelties can also occur within those bounds. So, live options are available. At various points in the process the competing teleological impetuses can become pronounced and a decision must be made. There is a constrained free will at work here. Each decision narrows what is possible. Eventually a final decision is made. It’s a decision on what impetus we freely choose to win out.

So, where does consciousness come in? I’m not sure about this, but to avoid the homunculus scenario, I think what consciousness does is experience the decision we made unconsciously. Now some might say, well “that’s not me making the decision”. Of course it is. That would be like having a back pain and saying, “that’s not me I’m experiencing”. A person is a whole, including their unconsciousness. If that wasn’t the case then the “me” would be different from everything else going on in our bodies.

So, the necessary element in free will is the reason for making a decision. That reason comes down to making a free choice between the sometimes competing impetuses of God-as-transcendent and God-as-living. God-as-transcendent has a purpose in mind for this reality. I think a big part of that purpose is the creation of love, beauty, and meaning. God-as-living, as finite constrained beings also have impetuses. The question is which impetus to embrace and act on.

Honor, Courage, Commitment

I just watched a video of a US marine getting a promotion to sergeant. In the ceremony, the marine was charged with executing his duties according to the Marine Corp’s values of honor, courage, and commitment. These soldiers sometimes face life threatening situations but they are expected to face that challenge with these highest values.

In Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be” he talks about the courage of soldiers, who in spite of the risk to their own being, face that risk with courage. It seems to me this is the ultimate embrace of finite being when faced with non-being. Now, this type of courage doesn’t have to be about life or death. It can be found in any situation where ordinary people face adversity with honor, courage, and commitment. The risk might be about finances, personal ego, family, relationships, health, reputation, etc. Life has a way of presenting situations that test our metal. How do we respond?

The actual response to those situations is often not that simple. There are consequences to how we respond that are not known. However, if we try to respond out of our value-commitments, perhaps that is the best we can do. The fact that there is a risk is why values are possible. Without risk nothing really matters.

Perhaps this is why God chose to live finite being. Without the risks that occur in life, values can’t arise. It is the very uncertainty and tentativeness of life that gives life meaning and value. When faced with adversity, we have the opportunity to probe deeply within ourselves to embracing the divine transcendent depth of ultimate values within everything.

The Problem of Evil — Who Suffers?

In addressing the problem of evil in various theological formulations, it is often said that God feels our suffering but there is still an ontological divide between God and us. God doesn’t literally do the suffering. But what if God is literally doing the suffering? In a divine idealism and aspect monism ontology that is the case. I talk in depth about the problem of evil but here let me offer a metaphor to illustrate part of this.

When a woman becomes pregnant and the baby grows in her body, if the baby has some distress, the mother literally suffers that distress. The baby is an aspect of the mother’s body so she literally experiences the suffering of the baby. The baby’s life is part of the mother’s life. Even after giving birth the mother also suffers when the child suffers. Is that just because of an abstraction within the mother’s mind or is there also a deep ontological connection between the mother and the child? I think there is both.

In the Divine Life Communion, both parts of the metaphor that can be illustrative. The child in the womb is illustrative of the ontological unity of God with each individual life – an individual life of God-as-living. When we suffer, God literally does the suffering. The child after birth illustrates that life is finite and constrained. There is distinction to be made between God-as-transcendent and God-as-living but not as some ontological divide, instead as a decision of God to take finite life into God’s self.

If God chose to take on the suffering of finite life, that must mean there is something so very valuable to God about what constrained being can offer. When we or others suffer it can be difficult to understand the reason for it. But perhaps knowing that God is suffering as us can help us through it and feel there is some positive meaning at work.

Other Divine Lives

It can be tempting to think that this life, this universe is all there is. That seems arrogant. If one of the fundamental attributes of God is creativity, then there would be no reason to think there couldn’t be other Divine Lives also, each with its own purpose. One of things that is so apparent in this universe is that it is value-laden. Value permeates everything. Some of the things we value so greatly are love, courage, integrity, honor, sacrifice, vitality, work, and on and on. This reality offers opportunities for those values to become actualized. However, this reality could be just one set of circumstances where those values or others are possible. After all, this universe has a certain set of fine-tuned parameters that make life, as we know it, possible. Perhaps there are other universes where things could be very different but also value-laden in different ways.

Leibniz said that we live in the best of all possible worlds. I also think we do but just for a certain set of purposes God has in mind. There could be many other “best of all possible worlds” with a somewhat different set of purposes in mind.

Now, if this is true, it doesn’t denigrate our world. To the contrary. It means that this world is important for certain divine reasons. In fact, what it means is that we are part of a grand divine multi-world narrative where values are of ultimate importance and we can contribute to that narrative in a powerful way.

Suffering by Choice

The problem of evil or suffering is often given as a powerful reason to reject the idea of a good and powerful God. The problem of suffering is a significant problem for theism. If God “stands from afar” and watches creatures suffer when God could do something about it does seem to be cruel.

So, I’ll raise the question of who is suffering? In many forms of theism it is we creatures who do the suffering while God (although maybe feeling our suffering) does not literally suffer (God’s impassibility). However, in a divine idealism and aspect monism ontology, it is literally God who is suffering. This is because God literally lives each life in this reality. Here one might think of the stories about the incarnation in Christianity or the avatars in Hinduism. God self-empties (kenosis) and takes on the constraints of life. For instance, in the story of the Cross in Christianity, it is literally God who suffers and dies. There is a powerful truth to this except I think the incarnation should be expanded to include everything in this reality.

However, if God is literally suffering in each aspect of the Divine Life then the question could be why? Since God is the creator, why would God choose to suffer? Let’s take a look at what suffering is about.

As I’ve said in the ontology, I’m characterizing life as constrained being. There is a finitude to life. This means that at some point a certain life will end. From an evolutionary standpoint this promotes change. The old dies away and the new takes its place. Biological systems try to stay alive. If they do then their genes get promoted into the next generation. If they don’t then those genes do not move on. This is the process of selection that has led to life in this world. But since there is a built-in impetus to live, there is also a pain or suffering that, at least partially, is included in this impetus. So there is suffering. If life is constrained being, then suffering is inevitable and necessary for life as a whole to proceed and change (hopefully for the better).

So, God’s choice to suffer is part of choosing for there to be life. No suffering, no life. I think that is part of the choice. However, I think there is also another part.

Let me offer an example. Many people enjoy learning or being creative. However, don’t those endeavors also create suffering. Every creative act entails both creation and destruction. The old dies (to some extent) and the new takes its place. I’m sure anyone who has tried to learn new material, feels the pain involved. There is a struggle and some amount of pain involved. But we do it anyway. Why? Because there is a goal in mind that accepts the momentary pain to reach that goal. The famous mystery writer Dorothy Parker once said “I hate writing, I love having written.” As a writer myself, I have also found this to be true. However, it’s not just the end of the project that is fulfilling but every step along the way has it’s own reward when something is created.

The thing about finite being is that it offers opportunities for things we admire so much. What do we admire so greatly? Love, beauty, courage, resolve, creativity, justice, self-sacrifice, honor, hard work, integrity, etc. All of these would not be possible without some level of risk and suffering. It is the carrying on “in spite of” that we admire so much. I speculate that God admires these things as well and therefore chose to enter finite being and suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” because God saw such great worth and value in facing finitude where those admirable traits could become real.

It may not be about the Problem of Evil

For a long time I’ve thought that the problem of evil was the major stumbling block for a belief in God. However, more recently I’ve come to think that it may not be the root problem for many people.

Absolutely, the problem of evil is a major concern for theism. How can one see all the horrid examples of evil in the world and not question that there is a powerful, good God. There would have to be major mitigating factors to resolve this issue. I’ve talked about those here. Still, a totally satisfying answer may just allude those who believe.

One reason I question that the problem of evil is the major reason some people reject the idea of God, is that many of those same people are nature lovers. They wax poetic about the beauty and awe in nature. To be consistent those same people should rather be neutral about nature. After all, nature would be responsible for the same horrors propounded in the problem of evil for theism. If anything those senses of awe and wonder would just be nature’s trick to propagate our genes somehow. There would be nothing to venerate.

Instead, I think a lot of these theism rejecters just don’t like the idea of a God. They don’t like the idea of being subordinate to something. Now, to be fair, many of these people have a rather sunday school conception of the idea of God. For those exposed to the fundamentalist precepts early on, God is some judgmental, overbearing monarch who tells them in the strictest terms what to do and not do. In this age of individuality accentuation it’s understandable why this would not be appealing to many. So, any more sophisticated theology is truncated and never revisited. This is evident if one listens to the theology of the prominent anti-religious atheists in social media and books. It is well known in liberal theological circles that these individuals don’t have any clue about the sophisticated thought of the best minds in theology.

Now, of course, this is psychologizing but, if true, it may reduce the wasted time of theists addressing the problem of evil for these people. It won’t make dent and that time may be better served elsewhere.

Honoring Those Who Suffer

Life isn’t easy. I was just watching a video about Karen Carpenter and her struggles. In my view, she was one of the best pop singers of all time. She struggled with self esteem all her life and eventually it led to her death. Even so, she went on to enrich the lives of many with her wonderful music. However, she is not alone in her struggles. Sure, she was famous but everyday people also struggle. They don’t get the headlines but somehow they persevere and make a contribution. In spite of their struggles, many face life with courage and a positive attitude. It may be just in simple acts of love for family and friends but it has an impact. Is it any less impactful than those of the famous? No. Every act of love impacts the whole — the communion of all things. Those simple acts accumulate and become a resounding impetus for everything to aspire to and create the good and beautiful.

The thing about suffering is that it forces us to look deeply into what really matters. That focus can plum the depths of our existence and ask profound questions. It can create powerful expressions of longing and hope, just like Karen’s songs do. Now, most of us will seek ways to thwart suffering. It hurts, so why not find ways to avoid it. This can manifest itself into distractions like consumerism or other addictions. Still, in the long run they don’t work. In fact, they can lead to more suffering.

Now, I’m not advocating some sort of masochism — seeking out suffering and reveling in it. Absolutely not. But suffering is telling us something. It’s telling us that being finite will include suffering and evil. To live entails the potential for suffering and evil. There is a fight on. Either we engage in the fight or we succumb to fatalism and despair. The great theologian Paul Tillich wrote a book called “The Courage to Be”. Life is not some utopia with no pain or suffering. It takes courage to be. A utopia or heaven would be so boring and unfulfilling I don’t think anyone would really want it. Instead life offers the potential to be creative. Even amidst the suffering such wonderful things can come about. Those who suffer also experience great moments of fulfillment and meaning. We should revel in that and continue to fight for the good and beautiful.

In metaphysical thinking, often the focus is on the evil present in the world. It is true that there are horrific evils. It makes headlines — “if it bleeds, it leads”. But what about the good? The problem of evil should be countered by the problem of good. Why is there so much good in the world? It may not make the headlines but every day people and other animals constantly act out of kindness, generosity, and concern for the other’s well being. For the most part it goes unnoticed but if we think about the communal impact, it is enormous. I think it speaks to something deep within everything that strives for the good. We tend to focus on the dramatic and off the charts. Instead I think we should acknowledge the pervasive everyday acts of kindness and love that pervade everything in the world. We all suffer, but by embracing the divine within us the good and beautiful becomes real. Let’s keep at it.

On Focus

I just watched some videos on panpsychism.  Since I affirm a divine idealism, I think panpsychism is a step in the right direction.  However, I think the focus of this approach is too narrow.  By focus, I mean, to use a photographic metaphor, what is in the frame of interest and concern?  There is a tendency towards reductionism in current scientific and philosophical investigations.  So, the “frame” is narrowed down to what might be considered a manageable level.  This can make things easier to deal with but it can also end up being problematic.

I’ve mentioned this before with regard to religious sentiment on the matter of emphasis. If a particular issue is focused on without paying due regard to other issues, then the resulting “solutions” run the risk of being discarded or in need of major modification when confronted with other big-picture problems.  The thing about a systematic approach is that everything needs to be taken into account and fit together coherently and reasonably.  If certain issues are ignored, they will, more than likely, come back to bite.

So, what’s wrong with the panpsychist approach?  First of all, it has such a laser focus on consciousness.  The thinking might go something like this.  Consciousness is such a real problem for the current materialist paradigm so let’s make that fundamental — it’s all consciousness. How this would work in the grand scheme of things isn’t talked about, as far as I’ve seen.  If the issue is subjective experience (phenomenal consciousness) then how does experience fit into the complex causal network that we see?  How do experiences interact? Are there some additional properties at work?  If so then experiences aren’t fundamental.  I think what we’re seeing here is an attempt to solve a problem without including the broader explanatory picture.  The focus is too narrow.

The other problem with this near-sightedness is that is doesn’t take into consideration existential issues.  Now, many of today’s philosophers may shy away from these issues because it’s not fashionable to talk about deep metaphysics.  So they ignore this and just “talk among themselves” in their cloister or avoid these issues in public discussions.  The problem with this is that it eventually comes out.  I saw a Zoom discussion on panpsychism with prominent philosophers where a viewer asked about the practical implications of the view. That question was totally ignored.  Broadening the focus presents major issues to deal with.

So, what existential issues am I talking about? Here are some:

  • Meaning and purpose
  • The problem of evil
  • Teleology
  • Free will
  • Morality

If a philosophy doesn’t address these, then who personally cares?  It would be just some intellectual tempest in a teapot, signifying nothing.

Most people probably can’t assess very well the technical details of a philosophical discussion. They are not educated or trained for that.  They want to know if a particular system seems right (more in an intuitive sense) and how it affects their worldview and way of thinking and living.  If philosophy is just some intellectual exercise without real-world implications, then why bother? I think these explorations can be but they must broaden their focus just as it did in past centuries.

So, what is the alternative to this near-sightedness?  Obviously, from this site, I think a divine idealism is a viable option that addresses both the problem of consciousness and the existential issues I mentioned.  In a divine idealism, where everything is in the divine mind, consciousness seems to fit in seamlessly.  So, what do we know about mind?  We know that minds are complex with both conscious and unconscious processes going on. There is a lot happening with many interactions.  There is intent, choices, morality, meaning and purpose. The full gamut of existential issues are in play within the mind.  If there is a divine mind as the source of all this then our minds are part of that mind and have a share, within limits, of the Divine Mind.  Of course, even with that model, much must be explored but I think, at least it has a broad enough focus to be meaningful.