Making the Case for Idealism: Et Vita Interviews Bernardo Kastrup

Bernardo Kastrup at TEDxBrainport 2011, Vincent van den Hoogen.
As the political climate of our world comes to be defined by the secularizing influence of science, there exists a vital obligation to revisit and inspect its foundational axioms to ensure their soundness.

Bernardo Kastrup, one of the more notable philosophers of science to emerge from the Internet age, speaks about this need quite cogently.  I recently was able to sit down and have a chat with him over email.

Et Vita: Can you briefly explain your conception of idealism and how you came to entertain it?

Bernardo Kastrup: The materialist worldview entails that matter is the primary medium of reality, and that subjective experience is somehow generated by matter in the form of a brain. The implication of materialism is that everything you experience is actually a kind of hallucination generated by your brain, and resides solely inside your head. This way, when you see the stars at night, materialism states that your skull is actually beyond the stars.

The 'real' reality, according to materialism, is not what you see, hear, and feel everyday, but an abstract world of subatomic particles and energy fields fundamentally beyond direct empirical verification. This is highly inflationary, unprovable, and extremely counterintuitive.

When I reached a point in my life when I actually thought about this, I couldn't help but conclude that materialism is absurd. There is no need to create a whole universe outside of experience, since experience is the sole carrier of reality that anyone can ever know. Instead, I think that subjective experience is the only reality. The stars you see at night are the actual stars, not a copy created inside your brain. If this is correct, then reality itself is subjective experience. In philosophy, this position is called idealism.

EV: What do you see as the relative strengths and weaknesses of realism and idealism?

BK: The strength of materialism is that it can explain the consistency of experience across observers. People seem to agree that they all share the same world. Materialism can explain it by postulating that the 'real' world is outside of anyone's mind, and modulates each person's experience of it. But the price materialism pays for this explanation is that unprovable, counter-intuitive universe outside of mind that I spoke of above.

Now, the strength of idealism is that it does not need to postulate such unprovable universe, granting reality only to what we can verify empirically and directly: subjective experience itself. As such, idealism is more skeptical. Its challenge is to explain the consistency of experience across observers. People tend to ask how our minds can conspire to create the illusion of a shared reality under idealism. Yet, this very question is based on a misunderstanding: If idealism is correct, then it is our bodies -- including our brains -- that are in mind, not mind in our bodies.

You could think of your body as an avatar in a collective dream, like in the movie Inception. The brain, in my view, is just an image of a mental process, analogously to how flames are just an image of the process of combustion. For the same reason that flames aren't the cause of fire -- but the image of fire -- the brain isn't the cause of mind, but an image of a mental process.

This neatly explains the ordinary correlations between mind states and brain states that neuroscience has found. But then, if brains are in mind -- instead of the other way around -- there is no reason to think that there are separate minds; there is no need to require any conspiracy. Reality can be a projection of a single 'collective unconscious,' similarly to how a part of your mind generates the universe of your nightly dreams.

Mind may be, and probably is, just one. Our personal psyches may be just split-off complexes of a single mind, similarly to how someone suffering from Multiple Identity Disorder can host multiple split-off complexes in his or her psyche.

EV: What is the relationship of materialism to realism?

BK: All materialists are realists, in that they postulate that reality is outside of mind. Materialism adds another notion: Mind itself is supposedly created by matter. There are realists who are not materialists: For instance, dualists are also realists, but not materialists.

EV: While discussing this topic with others, I've run into this barrier where someone will say something like, "There's no reason to assume realism can't account for everything in the future." What would you say to this?

BK: Let's suppose that realism could account for everything in nature. That still wouldn't make it the best explanation, for realism requires many unprovable assumptions. For instance, it requires that there be a whole universe fundamentally beyond experiential knowledge, and that processes in this unprovable universe actually generate consciousness by some magical step. If one could explain nature without making these extraordinarily inflationary and unprovable postulates, one would certainly have a better explanation.

Now, having said all this, it is not true that realism can explain the whole of nature. For one, it cannot explain the most obvious and overwhelming aspect of reality: conscious experience itself. There is simply no explanation for how dead matter, under certain circumstances, can suddenly light up with awareness, which is called the 'hard problem of consciousness' in philosophy.

In its 125th anniversary edition, Science magazine has selected the 'hard problem' as the second most important unanswered question in science. It should have been the first.

EV: What was the first?

BK: The first was: "What is the universe made of?"[1]

EV: Is this debate relegated to the field of philosophy, or can we devise tests to refute one or the other? Do you have any suggestions how that might be accomplished?

BK: It's both science and philosophy.

The ultimate question of the underlying nature of reality is a philosophical question. After all, science can only model the patterns and regularities of nature. It can only explain one aspect of nature in terms of another, as Bertrand Russell cogently argued decades ago. Science cannot shed light on the underlying nature of reality as such, which is a question best left to the methods of philosophy.

But the insights of science do inform philosophy. For instance, it is extremely relevant for philosophy that there are correlations between brain states and mind states. No metaphysics purporting to explain reality -- materialist or otherwise -- can ignore this fact.

EV: How would the adoption of something like idealism be significant for scientific inquiry?

BK: As I discussed above, I don't think it is. Science, if done right and interpreted right, is ontologically-neutral. In other words, science should simply find and model the patterns and regularities of reality without making statements about its fundamental nature. This way, science can be done just as it is done today, even if idealism is finally recognised as obviously true.

The key, though, is to separate scientific inquiry from philosophical arguments. It has become fashionable today for scientists to feel that they are philosophers, which leads some well-known scientists to making preposterous pseudo-philosophical statements.

Now, where the adoption of idealism would really make a difference is in how we live our lives and relate to the rest of the world. Under idealism, physical death means simply a change in your state of consciousness, not the end of it. After all, under idealism, your body exists within mind, not mind within your body. Thus, there is simply no reason to believe that the decomposition of the body means the end of mind. The body is an image of a process in mind, so if the body dies, that's a clear sign that a mental process is changing or ending, which must correlate to a significant alteration of one's state of consciousness.

EV: Which would you say is more intuitive, idealism or realism?

BK: Idealism is far more parsimonious and intuitive: It does not require a whole unprovable universe outside of experience, and it does not suffer from the 'hard problem of consciousness.'

The problem is that our culture has played a game of steal-and-switch: Most people tend to think of idealism as entailing that reality is inside our heads, while believing materialism to say that the world we experience is outside of ourselves. Well, it’s exactly the other way around! It is materialism that states that the world we experience is hallucinated and entirely within our heads, stars and all. And it is idealism that states that the world is not inside our heads. How it came to pass that our culture could reverse the logic of the situation so dramatically baffles me.

EV: I'm of the opinion that there is a practical infinitude of energy available for us to access, but when I mentioned this to a friend he countered that Universe is finite and that there will always be resource scarcity. What are your thoughts regarding this dilemma? Can the issue be framed alternatively under idealism?

BK: I don't think an ontological interpretation of reality under idealism changes the question much. Energy is a very difficult and abstract concept associated to how the patterns and regularities of reality unfold. As such, it is a scientific question.

EV: I noticed on your blog that you are interested in social issues like environmental health, the commitment to acknowledging our own psychological processes, and so on. To what extent are these considerations informed by your understanding of idealism?

BK: I think we face two enormous crises as a civilisation today: One is the environmental crisis; the other, a psychological crisis. Idealism certainly informs my position here, particularly regarding the latter.

You see, materialism, as the reigning metaphysics informing society today, has a number of pernicious consequences: It tells you that only matter exists, so there can be no other truly valid goal in life but the accumulation of material goods; it tells you that you are going to die anyway, so you better plunder while you can, for you have nothing to lose afterwards; it tells you that existence is meaningless anyway, so it spares you the weight of all responsibility for achieving something meaningful in life; and so on. As a result, most people live in deep anxiety for the inevitable oblivion that awaits them; they are depressed because they lack meaning in their lives; and they act irresponsibly towards others and the world, because what have they got to lose anyway? In this manner, materialism makes a significant contribution to psychological imbalance and social irresponsibility.

Now, if materialism were indeed the best explanation for what's going on, then so be it; let's bite the bullet. But it is not. We do not need to pay this price as a society, because materialism is wrong. You aren't going to die; your life isn't meaningless; and plundering the stuff of the Earth is not what this is all about. 

EV: People seem to make much of "the law of attraction" made famous in books like The Secret. Can you speak a little to how that does or does not fit into the idealistic worldview?

BK: Under either materialism or idealism, I do not see sufficient empirical evidence to take the so-called 'law of attraction' seriously. To say that all reality is in mind does not entail that the ego -- a tiny, localised process of mind -- can change the empirically-observed patterns and regularities of nature. This way, I don't think that idealism gives any more substance to the 'law of attraction' than materialism.

Think of it this way: When you dream at night, there is a part of your psyche that generates the environment of your dream, and another part that generates your dream character. You only identify yourself with the latter. Your dream character lives in the dreamed-up environment but cannot control it, even though the environment is generated by the very same psyche that generates the character! Similarly, a schizophrenic patient cannot control his own visions, despite their being generated by his own mind, because they are generated by a part of his mind that lies outside his ego. Thus, to say that all reality is in mind does not imply that our egos -- small parts of mind -- can control reality.

I believe that a 'collective unconscious' is the part of the medium of mind that generates our shared, ordinary reality. Our egos clearly have little or no control over this 'collective unconscious.' Moreover, it is empirically clear that the 'collective unconscious,' unlike our egos, can operate according to the strict patterns and regularities that we've come to call the 'laws of nature.' Idealism gives no more credence to a possible violation of the laws of nature than materialism does.

EV: The collective unconscious is a concept originally proposed by C. G. Jung. Can you tell us a little how his work has influenced yours?

BK: Jung has influenced me significantly. He showed that the same empirical method used by science to investigate the patterns and regularities of the 'world outside' can also be turned inwards, to make discoveries about our psyches. Through his empirical investigations with countless patients, Jung discovered a deep region of the psyche that we all seem to share: the 'collective unconscious.' As such, the bottom of our psyches seems to be a common substrate unifying all conscious beings. Our egos seem to arise, through differentiation, from this common substrate, like different stalks arising from a common root.

For idealism, the discovery of the 'collective unconscious' is very relevant: It shows that, at bottom, mind is only one, so no 'conspiracy' of different psyches is needed to create the experience of a common, shared reality. It is the 'collective unconscious' that creates this shared reality, analogously to how a deep part of the psyche of a dreaming person creates the environment of his dreams.

EV: Can you tell us a little about your new book?

BK: I've written a new book -- my fourth -- tentatively titled Why Materialism is Baloney: How True Skeptics Know There Is No Death and Fathom Answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything. In it, I not only provide a sharp critique of materialism substantiated with both philosophical arguments and hard scientific data, but also propose an alternative metaphysics that is consistent with all science and explains more of the phenomena of nature than materialism.

The key argument is that materialism isn't skeptic enough, and that a more skeptic metaphysics can be even more powerful than materialism in its explanatory power. Currently, the manuscript is being shared with different publishing houses. I hope it will be published towards the end of this year, or early next year.

EV: What are some salient examples that you discuss of data comporting with idealism?

BK: For one, idealism does not suffer from the 'hard problem of consciousness,' since it does not artificially create a new ontological category outside of subjective experience. Under idealism, matter is simply a particular category of the flow of experience.

Moreover, under my formulation of idealism, the brain is merely an image of certain mental processes -- like flames are an image of the process of combustion-- which localize and restrict awareness. But in the same way that not all details of the process of combustion are visible in the flames, the brain is a partial image of the mental localization processes it represents. This means that we can explain why, in non-ordinary states of consciousness, there is clearly a break of the correlation between brain states and mental states.

For instance, it is now proven that psychedelics only decrease brain activity, despite leading to an unfathomable increase in subjective experience.[2]

There are many other examples of procedures that reduce brain activity while leading to an expansion of awareness, like hypoxia, or even accidental savant cases in which brain damage leads to genius-level mental skills.[3]

Since I believe the brain to be the image of a process of awareness localizationand restriction, it is only logical that certain reductions of brain activity lead to expanded awareness. Under materialism, however, because brain states are supposed to be (the sole cause of) mental states, these observations cannot be explained. 

As a third, and a little more fringe, example, idealism is conducive to explaining psychic phenomena like telepathy. After all, all psyches are supposed to rise from the same mental substrate (the 'collective unconscious') under idealism, being fundamentally connected. Explaining psychic phenomena under materialism, while theoretically possible, is a lot more cumbersome.

EV: FascinatingThank you, Bernardo.

BK: Thanks for helping promote these ideas. It's time our society woke up from the mad assumptions of materialism, and it is small efforts like this that will help us do that eventually.

1. D. Kennedy and C. Norman (July 1, 2005). "125 Questions: What We Don't Know". 125th Anniversary Issue: Science. Archived from the original on March 16, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2013.

2. Mo Costandi (January 23, 2012). "Psychedelic chemical subdues brain activity". Nature | News. Archived from the original on March 16, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2013.

3. Adam Piore (February 19, 2013). "When Brain Damage Unlocks The Genius Within". Pop Sci. Archived from the original on March 16, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2013.


Jayinee Basu said...

Great interview. Especially loved the connection between our psychological state and materialism, although I'd actually guess that most people are actually idealists.

That said, I disagree entirely that idealism is more intuitive. That very small, difficult to measure things make up larger, more easily measured things seems to be a basic aspect of reality. Consciousness as a synergistic phenomenon makes intuitive sense for anyone who has ever arranged letters into words and words into a poem. (I see the contradiction in claiming that most people are idealists and also that materialism is more intuitive, and I'm not sure how to deal with that.)

It is unfortunate that the materialist premise is untestable, but verifiability is a requirement for science, and as you've stated, science doesn't need to be making statements about the nature of reality.

Ross Brighton said...

"The implication of materialism is that everything you experience is actually a kind of hallucination generated by your brain"
what? Hallucination? I call Straw Man.
Just because something is processed and mediated doesn't imply that it is an inaccurate representation of the thing that it it representing. If that were the case, language, which is a far more vague and far less accurate system of representation than sense data would have to be dismissed as useless.
Furthermore, "unprovabiltity" or "unverifiability" is not, and never has been, grounds for dismissing something as untrue or unreal. That is the height of counterintuitiveness - indeed, it is fundamentally irrational.
Indeed, if this was grounds to dismiss something as untrue then everyone would have to revert to solipsism. Which is more than counterintuitive - it's untenable, as demonstrated by no one's subscription to such based on their actions (someone might claim to subscribe to a solipsistic position, but they will still demonstrate a belief in the existence of a world, and other people, in their everyday actions - in fact, claiming to be solipsistic demonstrates such, as it demonstrates a belief in the person one is talking to).

Bernardo Kastrup said...

Ross Brighton,

In his book 'Incognito' mainstream neuroscientist David Eagleman explicitly states that the neural mechanisms behind our perception of ordinary reality are the same as those underlying dreams and hallucinations. So my use of the word 'hallucination' in the context of 'a kind of hallucination' is accurate: Perception is a kind of hallucination insofar as the underlying neuronal mechanisms are the same. Naturally, the 'kind of hallucination' we call ordinary reality is, supposedly, modulated by electromagnetic signals that render it a more-or-less accurate of facts.

But even this accuracy is called into question by materialism itself, as I (http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2011/06/thought-experiment.html) and Plantinga (Plantinga, A. (1993). Warrant and Proper Function. Oxford: Oxford University Press Inc.) pointed out.

Unverifiability, in itself, is indeed no reason for dismissing an argument. But if there are two alternative explanations for the same phenomenon, the one requiring the least number of unverifiable assumptions is to be deemed the best. My claim is that we can explain reality perfectly well without requiring the unverifiable assumptions entailed by materialism. I stand by this point.


Bernardo Kastrup said...

Jayinee Basu,

First of all, thanks. :-)

I agree that most people implicitly assume idealism, without even knowing it.

I do not understand your argument about why materialism is more intuitive than idealism.

You seem to say that it is intuitive that consciousness can be an 'emergent' phenomenon of matter. The problem is that ordinary emergent phenomena must be deducible in principle from the properties of their substrates, like I can deduce the shape of a sand dune from a complete knowledge of the properties of the sand and wind involved in its formation. But subjective experience cannot be deduced, not even in principle, from the properties of matter. I refer you to David Chalmers' paper on this (http://consc.net/papers/emergence.pdf).

I concur that science doesn't need, and shouldn't, make statements about the underlying nature of reality. Materialism is not science; it's a metaphysics. That many scientists are also materialists is a separate, psychosocial matter. My argument is against the materialist metaphysics, not the scientific method.


Ross Brighton said...

@Bernardo - I've written a whole bunch, so this reply is in two parts. Here's pt 1:
- common usage would dictate that a hallucination is by definition inaccurate and deceptive - the OED defines a Hallucination as "The condition of being decieved or mistaken", or medically as "the apparent perception of an external object when no such object is present" (I was going to check the DSM, but my university proxy access is down). That is to say, that something being a hallucination is not predicated on the apparatus of perception, but on the veracity of said perception. Ergo, to use the term to define perception which may or may not be mistaken is deceptive - it is using language predicated in favour of the conclusion that said data is faulty.

Regarding your second point, the logical conclusion to be drawn from such is that data is incomplete, which I don't see as a problem. We work pragmatically from incomplete data all the time, and scientific method is largely predicated on such (that is why scientific data is always-already contingent). To argue that incompleteness is grounds for dismissing all data doesn't logically follow.

regarding the invocation of Occam's razor, I don't accept that your idealism is the most viable conclusion, or that it is necessary from the data at hand. In everyday life we all operate pragmatically - we accept data as sufficient (yet always contingent) not based on its objective truth, but based on its consistency with data which we already have, and hold that data as long as there is no further inconsistency. When inconsistency is discovered, we re-evaluate our data, and draw conclusions from there. It is by no means a perfect system, but it allows us to operate day to day (and to quickly adapt to new circumstances). Following from this, I accept the reality of the outside world because the data I have regarding such is consistent and sufficient, and I have more reason to accept such that I have to dismiss it. This data includes both my own experience, and my observation of others. It is wholly contingent - for all I know I might be in the Matrix - but I will only act as such when I have evidence to support such a belief. Its possibility isn't by itself sufficient.

Perhaps an analogy might help - I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow not because I have proof that such will occur, but because it has always appeared to do so, and I have no evidence on which to ground any doubt as to such. Which isn't to discount the possibility of the sun not rising - but doubt, like belief, must have sufficient grounds, and must above all be practical (or pragmatic).

Ross Brighton said...

And pt 2 -

Further, your idealism doesn't necessarily pass Occam's razor - there are multitudinous questions that could be asked (just as there are of materialism). Idealism doesn't solve the problem of ontology. Where, or in what, does the ideal inhere? If, as you posit, "Mind may be, and probably is, just one", then where does the experience of conscious singularity come from? How does this reconcile itself with the "collectivity" of shared experience? It doesn't solve the hard problem of consciousness, only reverses it. One has to account for the appearance of material existence, which, if such does not exist, seems... rather a strange thing to happen. And one also has to account for why scepticism about reality doesn't extend to other consicousnesses - why one stops short of solipsism. One can use Wittgenstein's beetle in a box as an analogy for consiousness - on what grounds do I accept that anyone else has a beetle, rather than a match, or a moth, or a city, or nothing?
also, on what grounds do you (or idealism) claim that "You aren't going to die"? That seems fundamentally unverifiable - and, for someone who is basing their assertion of idealism on scepticism a very large claim to make, which is totally counterintuitive to a sceptical position.
Further to this, under your formulation, one could modify the old tree koan, and ask, if something happens, and no one is there to experience it, does it actually happen? The vast majority of the projected material universe occurs outside of human experience, or naturally beyond it. If there are no aliens (and even they wouldn't shrink the field of non-experience drastically) and there is no higher power (for which there is no evidence) how does the (projected material) universe maintain consistency? Is there anything beyond the event horizon of a black hole (which is necessarily beyond the possibility of experience)? If not, how come what the singularity seems to affect reality around it?

All of this stuff must be accounted for by (your) idealism. Whereas materialism's assumptions seem to be solely that the Real exists, and the problem of consciousness (that the Real is apprehensible and understandable, and everything is explainable, is a question of epistemology, not ontology/metaphysics - you seem to confuse this at several points. I am a materialist, and I would call anyone who claims that everything is even potentially apprehensible out on that point).

Bernardo Kastrup said...

Ross Brighton,

-- Your insistence on criticizing my use of the expression 'kind of hallucination', given the context of my use, is splitting-hairs on semantics, in my view. My intent was clear: Subjective perception, under materialism, is not a direct apprehension of facts, but a creation of the brain. The facts have no color, taste, sound, texture, or any of the attributes of subjective perception. In that sense, subjective perception is radically different from facts, despite assumed isomorphisms. Pointing this out is legitimate in that most people are not aware of it. In fact, most people assume the contrary. Highlighting this with a contextual use of the word 'hallucination' is legitimate in the context of a popular press article, aimed at lay people. I will not rebute this point further, for I think I made my case sufficiently in my two replies.

-- You wrote: "the logical conclusion to be drawn from such is that data is incomplete." No, incomplete AND potentially distorted. The rest of your argument does not hold when you consider that the data may be distorted too.

-- You wrote: "I don't accept that your idealism is the most viable conclusion." That's perfectly fine with me.

-- You wrote: "In everyday life we all operate pragmatically - we accept data as sufficient." Pragmatically, we put a man on the moon using Newtonian physics. That doesn't make Newtonian physics fundamentally right and Einstein's relativity fundamentally wrong. You're mixing up technology with ontology. As a technologist, I care not about ontology; only about what works in practice. As a human being trying to understand my place and role in existence, I do care about ontology.

Gr, B.


Bernardo Kastrup said...

Ross Brighton,

-- You wrote: "there are multitudinous questions that could be asked." That's why I wrote a 70K-word book answering them.

-- You wrote: "on what grounds do you (or idealism) claim that "You aren't going to die"?" If consciousness, not matter, is the primary ontological primitive, one has no logical reason to infer that consciousness disappears upon an entropic dissolution of certain arrangements of matter (i.e. the body-brain system). This seems quite obvious.

-- You wrote: "All of this stuff must be accounted for by (your) idealism." I agree. It is naive to expect that the many questions you raise can be properly answered here. The underlying theme of the answers, however, is that 'mind' is not the same as 'ego.' You experience reality, ordinarily, from the perspective of the ego. But your unconscious, as empirically shown by analytical psychology, is vast and creative in nature. It is the part of your psyche that creates the environment of your dreams, schizophrenic hallucination, which drives neuroses, and maintains your metabolism. The ego is merely a semi-autonomous complex of your psyche. Idealism extrapolates this to an trans-personal level: It is a collective unconscious, which feels separate from your ego, that creates a collective experience of reality, much like a collective dream. Matter is a particular category of experience in this; one that has solidity, continuity, and momentum.

-- You wrote: "Whereas materialism's assumptions seem to be solely that the Real exists." This is a tautology. It doesn't mean anything.

-- You wrote: "I am a materialist." Great. I am not.

Art Novice said...

Re: The idiomatic use of 'hallucination.'

I have no problem with 'hallucination' being used in this context. I don't think Bernardo is intending to use it pejoratively, but literally. There is a rich debate in philosophy on whether our sense perceptions accurately convey the nature of what is being perceived. For instance, the visible spectrum is a pretty narrow band of the available information; there's no guarantee that we perceive all the information that is there, and it's quite reasonable to conclude that what information we receive is deliberately distorted in ways conducive to survival (such as via psychological biases). We may see things not there, or not see things that are there, in addition to mere distortion. That there is some consistency with observation across individuals does not remove the possibility that sense perceptions may be thoroughly grounded in hallucination, in this sense.

Having said that, this is only a problem for materialism. The question, "To what extent do our perceptions not reflect the true nature of things?" is meaningless for idealism, since, according to idealism, there is no existence apart from mind.

In conclusion, I'm satisfied that Bernardo was not using 'hallucination' to denigrate yours, or anyone's perceptual reality.

Anonymous said...

I do not think that the idealism is more intuitive than the realism, because realism claims that perceive objects often exist independently of our perception, a claim intuitively true. By contrast, idealism claims that perceive objects do not exist independently of our perception, something that clashes with our intuition. In defense of idealism can say that we perceive objects exist independently of our perception, but they depend on some minds, the collective unconscious, but this is not intuitive and is too complicated.

Second, as has been written in another comment, idealism does not solve the hard problem of consciousness, only becomes it in the hard problem of matter, because it has to explain how aparent matter arises from the mind.

Third, it is true that idealism is closer to an afterlife that materialism, but idealism does not imply an afterlife and the existence of a form of afterlife is neutral about the confrontation idealism / realism.

Moreover, materialism makes unverifiable and counterintuitive claims, but this does not imply that they are false. I merely pragmatic realism and focus psi phenomena and phenomena that indicate a form of the afterlife.


Bernardo Kastrup said...


Your claim is this: It is LESS complicated to postulate an entire universe outside of mind, for which we cannot ever have any direct empirical confirmation, than it is to postulate that the apparent autonomy of reality results from the formation of mental complexes, a well-known phenomenon.

I personally find your claim ludicrous. I believe it flies in the face of reason.

We have plenty of precedents for mental contents appearing to be autonomous. Carl Jung even called the unconscious the 'objective psyche' for that reason. We all have demonstrations of this every night in our dreams, which often feel as autonomous as ordinary reality. Schizophrenics have demonstrations of this every day, and so do neurotics. But instead of this, you think that it is less complicated to postulate an entirely new ontological category (things outside of mind), which we can't ever directly access. A complete abstraction that doubles reality, in your opinion, is less complicated than extrapolating known mental phenomena. Well, I beg to disagree.

Materialism is not intuitive at all when one is cognizant of what it entails. Most people assume idealism without knowing it: They assume their experiences to be the actual facts of reality, directly, not reproductions inside their skulls. I think they are right.

There is no 'hard problem of matter' at all under idealism. Asserting so is a complete misunderstanding of what the original 'hard problem' means. The 'hard problem of consciousness' exists because materialists assume two distinct ontological categories: matter and mind. Then, they fail to reduce mind to matter. Under idealism, however, there is no such division; idealists do not create two distinct ontological categories. So there is no 'hard problem of matter.'

All idealists need to explain is the perceived solidity and apparent autonomy of matter as a type of experience. In other words, they need to explain why some types of experience gain momentum, while others seem to fall easily within the control of our egoic will. This has absolutely nothing to do with the 'hard problem,' since the explanation here does not entail different ontological categories, but properties of a single category: experience itself.

I am not sure what you mean by 'after-life,' so it is hard to reply to that part of your comment. But idealism does imply that mind doesn't end upon the dissolution of the body, for it is the body that is in mind, not the other way around.

The fact that materialism is counter-intuitive and unverifiable indeed doesn't make it necessarily wrong. But it does make it a far poorer explanation than an alternative that is not counter-intuitive and does not require unverifiable assumptions. That alternative is idealism, when idealism is properly articulated under the light of the latest scientific insights about the patterns and regularities of nature.


Anonymous said...

If we insist on less complicated as a criterion for what is true, then we must admit solipsism, but I think that solipsism is not reasonable. The reasons for admitting the existence of experiences that are not mine are the same as the reasons for admitting the existence of inexperienced objects.

I believe that common sense is neutral on ontological questions about whether there are one or two ontological categories, but common sense says that objects continue to exist even when not perceived.

Materialism does not assume that there are two ontological categories, mind and matter, that is dualism. The hard problem for materialism exists because this position has to explain how the apparent mind arises from matter. The hard problem of idealism is explain how apparent matter marises from the mind. That is, how phenomenological diversity derives from pure ego.

Idealism does not imply that there is an afterlife, only more friendly to this idea, like materialism does not imply that there is no afterlife, only less friendly to this idea. I instead prefer to leave these metaphysical matters and addressed
psychic phenomena as such.

Bernardo Kastrup said...

You wrote: "The reasons for admitting the existence of experiences that are not mine are the same as the reasons for admitting the existence of inexperienced objects."

This is not true. Idealism grants the existence of merely other _instances_ of a category known to exist -- namely, subjective experience. In other words, it grants that other people are conscious. But materialism requires a whole new category -- namely, things outside of experience. Obviously, from a logical point of point, the idealist step assumes much less than the materialist step. I elaborated on this argument here:

Some other ideas here:

You wrote: "common sense says that objects continue to exist even when not perceived."

Idealism does not deny that objects continue to exist even when not perceived by your or my ego. That does not imply that objects exist outside of mind. Therefore, common sense applies equally to idealism here.

You wrote: "Materialism does not assume that there are two ontological categories, mind and matter, that is dualism."

As materialist philosopher Galen Strawson wrote (Strawson, G. (2006). Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 13, pp. 3-31.), materialism implies a form of dualism because of the 'hard problem.' Granted that some materialists, like Dennett, deny the hard problem in order to avoid dualism. But that puts them in the absurd position of having to say that consciousness is an illusion. If you think that consciousness is an illusion, then your argument is consistent here and I won't argue against it anymore. I will just consider it empirically absurd, though internally consistent.

Many prominent materialists do assume two distinct categories -- mind and matter -- like neuroscientist Christof Koch.

You wrote: "The hard problem of idealism is explain how apparent matter marises from the mind."

There is nothing 'hard' about this. All matter you or anyone else have ever known, and everything about matter that you or anyone else have ever known, have always been experiences in your mind; from the beginning. I think I made this point sufficiently in my last reply, so I won't elaborate further.

You wrote: "Idealism does not imply that there is an afterlife, only more friendly to this idea."

Again, I don't know what you mean by after-life here. Idealism implies directly that consciousness -- mind -- does not end upon physical death, since it is not generated by the body but is an ontological primitive in itself. This is crystal clear. Now, maybe you attribute other properties to the 'after-life,' like survival of the ego. These are details... it's like asking in which state mind continues after physical death. But the point is, under idealism, mind continues after physical death. There is just no escaping this implication the moment you depart from the notion that it is certain arrangements of matter that generate mind, and adopt the notion that mind is the substrate of reality. I won't reply to this point further.


Art Novice said...

I'll throw in my 2¢ on a couple points.

Re: Eliminative materialism.

It's perfectly consistent to ascribe to eliminative materialism. But like Bernardo, I find its claim that mental phenomena do not exist exasperating and exceedingly counterintuitive. It seems to deny the experiential reality of the very thing I assess truth-value with -- my mind -- and is thus of limited relevance to the most obvious realm of human affairs.

Re: The dissolution of the body.

That this issue poses such difficulty for the understanding of people is, I think, a testament to just how accustomed we've become in assuming materialism, rather than indicative of a flaw in the idealistic premise. As Bernardo alluded, that the mind survives death is not to say that our individual egos survive. I think this is one distinction deserving of emphasis.

Sophie said...

BK: 'The brain, in my view, is just an image of a mental process, analogously to how flames are just an image of the process of combustion. For the same reason that flames aren't the cause of fire -- but the image of fire -- the brain isn't the cause of mind, but an image of a mental process.'

Phew! Brilliant elucidation! (Am still reeling.)

Bernardo, you postulate 'ego'. But to name what ... the same concept that Jung names? I suppose that the answer has to be 'yes', for you say:

'The ego is merely a semi-autonomous complex of your psyche,

and Jung says:

'Inasmuch as the ego is only the centre of my field of consciousness, it is not identical with the totality of my psyche. I therefore distinguish between the ego and the self, since the ego is only the subject of my consciousness, while the self is the subject of my total psyche, which also includes the unconscious' (Analytical Psychology, p. 425).

You said also:

'Now, maybe you attribute other properties to the 'after-life,' like survival of the ego. These are details... it's like asking in which state mind continues after physical death. But the point is, under idealism, mind continues after physical death.'

I see the purpose to which you make your 'details' point here. But even so: Once we've postulated the survival of consciousness after physical death, are we not forced into a consideration of the 'details' of what survives? It would be nice if it were Jung's 'the self ... the subject of my total psyche, which also includes the unconscious'. It is inconceivable that it would be the kind-of petty self, the ego, for why would survival prefer that above 'self? But does idealism let us investigate along ego/self lines? Or would those lines have to be declared materialist lines, despite the hostility to them of materialism (hehe), because the very act of distinguishing 'ego' and 'self' is to imply their objective reality, and thus their independence of the mind/consciousness? (Or are they both attributes of mind/consciousness, thus not separable from it? If yes, then both necessarily survive. Or am I totally confused?)

Bernardo Kastrup said...

Hi Sophie,

-- Yes, I use the word 'ego' mostly in the Jungian sense, though other depth psychologists also consider the ego merely an autonomous psychic complex among other psychic complexes.

-- Since I see the brain as the image of a mental process, insofar as death represents the dissolution of the brain it entails that _some_ psychic process in the fabric of mind unravels upon death. So something definitely changes. Now, we know empirically that pure ego consciousness seems to correlate with certain measurable brain processes (the 'default mode network'). Those processes certainly unravel upon death, insofar as their image dissolves. It is, therefore, a safe bet to infer that egoic processes end upon physical death, and that our state of consciousness falls back onto something that is ordinarily 'unconscious.' This is for the same reason that aspects of the process of combustion can be inferred to end when you no longer see flames, even though combustion may continue in a different form (e.g. hot coals).

-- I don't see the line between ego and the rest of the psyche as material at all. I just think that certain mental processes and complexes -- like the ego -- have a discernible image in ordinary awareness, while others don't. Both ego and the 'unconscious' are, in my view, different topologies of the fabric of mind. Under idealism, all nature is mental, matter being just the visible image of a certain modality of mental dynamics.

Cheers, B.

Rupert McWiseman said...


I very much enjoyed reading your books "Rationalist Spirituality" and "Meaning In absurdity", and look forward to the forthcoming book on the shortcomings of materialism.

Might I comment, however, that I find the proposed title "Materialism Is Baloney" to be ill-advised. This is emotive language more suited to writers of books on militant atheism or pseudo-skepticism.

I feel a less confrontational title - maybe "Mind In Disguise", or "Matter Unmasked", or "Mind Is All That Matters"; followed by a subtitle such as "The failure of the Materialist Worldview", might be better.

The proposed title is likely to offend the faith of dogmatic materialists and atheists, and to provoke an unwelcome backlash by these people - although I don't agree with their views, they are entitled to be respected for them.

Best wishes.

Bernardo Kastrup said...

Rupert, many thanks for your thoughtful feedback. I see the reason in what you're saying and will take this into account. At the end, it's always a delicate balance and, in any case, it depends mostly on the publisher. Cheers, B.

Ian Wardell said...

Anonymous said:

"The hard problem for materialism exists because this position has to explain how the apparent mind arises from matter. The hard problem of idealism is explain how apparent matter marises (sic) from the mind. That is, how phenomenological diversity derives from pure ego".

(other replies express the same opinion)

In my view we can reduce matter to patterns of sensory qualia, mainly our visual qualia. Thoughts, emotions, qualia etc are intinsic to the concept of the mind or self.

So what could the problem possibly be? Why minds/selves exist at all? Or if they do why do they have the nature they do?

But then this isn't the opposite of the hard problem for the materialist since their metaphysic cannot in principle accommodate consciousness. Rather it would be the opposite of the "problem" of why there exists a world at all, or if it does why does it have the nature it does? But that's not a problem for the materialist in the same way as the "hard problem" is.

Some of these responses are clueless!

Art Novice said...

Thats a good point, Ian. The "problem" of how to account for matter from an ontologically prior mind is just asking "why" -- why anything exists at all, or in the way it seems to, in this case. The problem faced by materialism (deducing how consciousness causally springs out of matter) need not be applied to idealism if matter is defined as a type of experience in mind.

Anonymous said...

Regarding this baloney that "The implication of materialism is that everything you experience is actually a kind of hallucination generated by your brain...," I'm curious how you account for "color, taste, sound, texture, or any of the attributes of subjective perception." ? You say it's regarded by materialism as "a creation of the brain." Yes, exactly, that's was materialistic, perspicacious science has discovered, but do you have another cogent and rigorous explanation? Of course, you need not have another explanation since many idealists do not deny the findings of science, but then, if you don't have another explanation and instead acquiesce to science's findings, it necessarily follows that this "kind of hallucination generated by your brain applies to your idealism too! I suspect what you've done is given a fallacious, false contrast between idealism and materialism on this matter. If not, then what explanation would you like to offer for color, taste, sound and texture that's a viable, credible alternative?

Bligh said...

The "evidence" for materialism is almost infinitely greater than the "evidence" for idealism.
I am not sure I have yet to meet a progressive liberal who was not a rationalist or idealist at heart.

Art Novice said...

The problem of why anything should exist at all is not exclusive to the idealistic formulation. The idealist simply regards experience as fundamental while the materialist seeks to reduce it to processes in the brain. The false dichotomy being presented by Anonymous above is that idealism must either confirm materialism or start over from scratch. But what if all that changes in an idealistic conception is how the data is interpreted - not the actual data itself? It seems Anonymous has not allowed for this possibility.

I don't understand Bligh's comment about progressive liberals. I think there may be a conflation of two meanings. It's been my experience that progressive liberals tend to take the materialistic picture for granted. That said, the evidence for either materialism and idealism is the same. It's just that the idealism being advanced in this interview is more parsimonious and thus more skeptical than the standard materialist narrative currently ascendant in philosophy of science.

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