The physical body

The anatomy lesson, painting by Rembrandt. Image source: Wikipedia.
If reality is a projection of mind – a collective dream – it follows that the body itself is a projection of mind. In an earlier article, I talked about the brain being a specific pattern in the flow of consciousness, which I compared to a whirlpool in a stream of water. One could thus see the rest of the body as the peripheral flow of consciousness that helps maintain the specific pattern we call the brain. As such, it is consciousness that 'does' the body through imagining it. Continuing on with exploring the implications of this hypothesis, upon my physical death my consciousness will stop 'doing' my body. Indeed, one could even define physical death as the process by which an individual and (partially) differentiated conscious point-of-view of Mind stops imagining its respective physical body. Yet, a corpse will stay behind, at least for a limited amount of time. How is that possible? If my mind stops imagining my physical body, why doesn't the latter instantly vanish with a 'puff'?

Carl Jung recounted two dreams he had, in which it became clear to him that his empirical self – that is, his body and ego  were imagined by his true, unconscious Self. In the first dream, he saw a UFO in the sky that looked like a magic lantern. It sped through the sky and stopped about sixty or seventy yards away, pointing straight at him. Jung recounts (in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, page 355): "I awoke with a feeling of astonishment. Still half in the dream, the thought passed through my head: 'We always think that U.F.O.s are projections of ours. Now it turns out that we are their projections. I am projected by the magic lantern as C. G. Jung. But who manipulates the apparatus?'" In an earlier work titled Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Jung had postulated that UFOs were psychological projections whose round, triangular, or lenticular shape represented the archetype of the Self – that is, our true, whole, integrated personality (often called the "Higher Self" in spirituality circles). Therefore, the dream suggested to Jung that his body and ego were projections of his true Self.

In another dream, he was hiking in the hills when he chanced upon a wayside chapel. He went in and saw a yogi in deep meditation. When he came closer, he realized that the yogi had his own face; the yogi was himself. He then awoke with the following thought (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, page 355): "'Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream, and I am it.' I knew that when he awakened, I would no longer be." Yet, when the yogi awoke, on 6 June 1961, Jung's body was left behind in our empirical world. Who was meditating that into existence?

Alan Watts explained the underlying intuition here in a very cogent and concise manner. He wrote in The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, page 79: "The death of the individual is not disconnection but simply withdrawal. The corpse is like a footprint or an echo  the dissolving trace of something the Self has ceased to do." Watts is right on. Yet, his explanation leaves one question open: If the corpse is an echo of something the Self is no longer imagining, where is it echoing? What is the medium where the dissolving traces of an image no longer imagined still reverberate?

Perhaps it reverberates in the minds of those still in the dream. You see, when many minds (in the sense of many points-of-view of Mind) contribute to a collective dream, the images being dreamed-up acquire a special kind of 'momentum' associated to their sharing across minds, as I discussed in Dreamed up Reality; they seem to gain a life of their own, independent of any individual mind. Such momentum prevents sudden discontinuities from arising in the dreamed-up storyline. This may actually explain why the 'puffing' of things in and out of existence only happens at the microscopic, quantum level – well-away from our conscious awareness  and not at the level of tables, chairs, and people. So when a person's Self stops imagining the person's body, the image of the body persists as an echo in the minds of all other people still partaking in the collective dream of physical reality, so there is continuity in their storylines. Still, as any echo, the body image dies out slowly but inexorably, for its main sustaining force  the coherence continuously imparted on it by the imagination of its own Self – has withdrawn, leaving the body image at the mercy of entropy.

As an image, the corpse is part of those who stay, not of the one who departed.

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.


  1. Bernardo,

    You descibe the problem of someone's corpse apparantly staying behind after its death, whille assuming the body is just a projection of mind.
    However, in your first paragraph, you seem to distinguish between the reality of a person's body as result of a collective projection or dream (top) and it being the sole result of the imaging of ones physical body by someone himself (end).

    If it is just the mind of the deceased that had projected its body in such a way that by doing so, his physical body became "real" to everybody else, I can see that this could indeed raise a problem at the time of its user's physical death. 

    However, isn't assuming someone's body exists only because he is imagining it himself, a somewhat far-fetched assumption? For instance, wouldn't this also imply that one now must differentiate between corpses and other type of bodies (tables, chairs, etc.) depending on who is projecting those? Tables, chairs and likes are not expected to disappear when someone dies. 
    Or do you mean that just alive or previously alive bodies are projected by the persons using them? This is somewhat confusing to me since this fails to explain where the rest of the reality comes from. 

    It seems then more appealing to accept that reality is indeed a collective dream, so the dead corpse can still be realized/projected by the remaining (in "reality" left behind) collective. Then, there is no reason to expect it will "puff" away when just its user passes away.

    Or, as an alternative,  isn't it even more easy to imagine that (even if you are as real as you are, having your own consiousness, including your capacity to die / leave your body), your body -dead or alive- is always imaged by me alone, allowing me to easily keep on projecting your corpse after you death, including its decay till nothing is left?

    Since the last two options essentially do not need to explain the left over, non- vanished body after one has died, would that not make these more favorable explanations to what we witness in perceiving our reality?


  2. Bernardo,

    After reading your post again, I realize that in the end you say one can imagine reality to be some collective dream, so a dead corpse can still be projected by the remaining collective at least for some time(?).
    However, I am still not sure about the point you want to make. It seems to me that bringing up the example of the not-vanishing body, this in itself cannot explain or proof the existence of a collective consciousness (if that is your objective).

    I believe it would be just as (or even more) easy to imagine that anybodies body (dead or alive) has always been imaged by me alone. This does not require a collective to explain the observations we (or I, as an individual) make when someone dies.

    While considering all of this, it remains difficult for me to imagine what would happen after my death when I am not around to project my (meanwhile dead) body into the reality in which originally all other people were subject of my imagination. I would appreciate it if you would point out the inconsistency here and save me from going to solipsism once again.


    1. Hey Rob,
      Our conversation this evening was very helpful to understand where you are coming from here. As we discussed, I am with you in that I think there is only one Mind playing all roles in the dream of reality. Strictly speaking, however, that is not solipsism: solipsism entails that you are the ONLY point-of-view of that one Mind within the dream, while everybody else is a philosophical zombie. I think neither of us believes solipsism when defined this way; we both seem to grant that there are multiple, conscious points-of-view of the one Mind, that we may call "minds," partaking in the dream. As such, the body is indeed imagined solely by the one Mind. Yet, when a particular point-of-view ("mind") corresponding to the body withdrawals, the body remains in the imagination of the remaining points-of-view witnessing the dream.
      I do think the "mind" corresponding to a body has a privileged and more important role in maintaining the coherence of that specific body (i.e. preventing entropy from taking over). One can imagined that there is a kind of "proximity" that makes a specific "mind" play a more indispensable role in the maintenance of its corresponding body-image.
      My goal with the article was simply to explore the implications of an idealist worldview. In the first paragraph, I take the position of a "naive idealist" (to use the terminology Benjamin used in the comment below) in order to motivate the remainder of the article.
      Cheers, Bernardo.

  3. Hi Bernardo,

    I think many of apparent problems like this one are solved simply by giving up "naive idealism".
    Reality is not simply constructed by a mind / minds, especially not our individual minds. Everything is an emergent property of an infinitely complex, chaotic process in the infinite consciousness.
    And this "mind" has little to do with the notion of human mind.
    It doesn't follow any of the rules we expect from our narrow notion of mind.

    So in this light, there is no reason to expect the physical body to vanish after our death. It is not your mind that is imagining the human body, it is the infinite collective consciousness, so what happens to our individual sense of personhood doesn't determine what happens to the body.
    The individual mind is merely an outgrowth of the collective consciousness and not at the root of reality.
    It's important to note that collective consciousness doesn't mean human collective consciousness. The latter is also only an infitesimal aspect of the infinite consciousness.

    This makes clear that there can be no trivial answers to anything about our world. I think this fits nicely with what we observe, which is often totally unexpected, inexplicable, or even seemingly non-sensical (like you nicely described in your book).
    In this way embracing idealism means also that we have to be very careful what we are saying about how the world works if we don't want to strengthen the impression of idealism as irrational. I often see people that believe in the primacy of consciousness proposing or even adhering to very half-baked theories about how it all works (for example with regards to free will, reincarnation, paranormal phenomena, how the world evolves and where it comes from...). Nothing wrong with speculation, but I feel it's often better to just remain humble and emphasize that we really don't know.


    1. Benjamin,
      I agree with your post and think you articulate it very well. As you probably read in "Meaning in Absurdity," I also take a more subtle view on Idealism that looks upon our individual "minds" (i.e. egos) as relatively small causal agents in the construction of reality; mere tips of the iceberg of Mind. In this post, I -- on purpose -- take a "naive idealist" position in the opening paragraph in order to reach people who are not so involved with the subtleties of Idealism.
      Thanks for the insightful comment.
      Cheers, Bernardo.

  4. I want to raise what I think is an important question for idealism. I'm posting it here since this article is about idealism.

    Some physicists make a compelling case that information is the fundamental thing of the universe, underlying matter or energy. What do you think the relationship is between the mind in idealism and information? Do you see information as an aspect of mind, or just a concept that emerges from the regularities of our experiences?

    1. Hi Sam,
      This is a very pertinent question, and one I am trying to address at length in the book I am now finishing; trying to make an extensive and detailed case for idealism. As you may have read elsewhere in this blog, my metaphor for how mind creates reality is that of a vibrating membrane. I imagine mind as the membrane and experience as the _movement_ (that is, vibration) of the membrane. More here:
      Now, in this context, information is analogous to experience: Experience only arises when the membrane moves, which implies a contrast. Information also requires contrast -- differentiation -- as detailed in information theory.
      So, in my view, information is also the movement of the membrane of mind, that is, experience. In a sense, information is just a formalized, quantifiable way to talk about experience. David Chalmers, in his book 'The Conscious Mind,' postulates precisely this: conscious experience is fundamentally linked to information.
      So I entirely agree with physicists that information is at the basis of all existence. But instead of seeing information as some kind of abstraction about what happens in an objective reality outside of mind, I see it as a formalization of experience itself.
      I hope this makes sense.
      Cheers, Bernardo.

    2. Thanks for the response, that does indeed make a lot of sense. It's a topic which could be delved into much deeper, as I'm sure you're doing in the book, which I do plan on purchasing.

      One major question remains for me, though. Information in the observable world is a very tangible, quantifiable thing, intimately related with matter and energy, and also causing them to behave in very particular ways, as made most plainly clear through quantum theory. So why doesn't information seem to exist in the same way or play by the same rules in our subjective experiences?

    3. Hi Sam,

      >> Information in the observable world is a very tangible, quantifiable thing, intimately related with matter and energy <<

      From an idealist perspective, matter are energy are -- just as information -- models and formalizations of the flow of experience. We abstract that matter and energy exist outside of experience but, naturally, all we know about matter and energy is derived from experience alone.

      When you dream at night, there are analogues to matter and energy in your dreamed-up experience. And there is certainly information in your dreams, generated unambiguously by mind.

      >> and also causing them to behave in very particular ways, as made most plainly clear through quantum theory <<

      To postulate that everything is in mind does not mean that there can't be stable patterns and regularities according to which mind flows. I believe the laws of physics basically capture the patterns and regularities of the flow of a large segment of mind that we normally do not identify with, and project outwards as if it were outside of ourselves.

      Because we identify ourselves only with the ego, a fairly small part of mind, we attribute to the whole of mind the idiosyncrasies of the ego. So we think that all mind is voluble, chaotic, and unstable.

      You don't identify with the part of your mind that generates your dreams, otherwise you would never be scared of a nightmare. But that is clearly a part of your mind. We also don't identify with the parts of our minds that generate neuroses, obsessions, etc., yet they are clearly us too. So the postulate here is that there is a part of mind we don't recognize as ourselves, but which is busy generating reality. This part of mind is collective (part of the 'collective unconscious') and operates according to the stable patterns and regularities we call physics.

      Underlying physics, as we know today, there is information. This information is a much more direct representation of the 'movement' of mind, in my view. Information is behind all reality in just the same way that information underlies our nightly dreams.

      >> So why doesn't information seem to exist in the same way or play by the same rules in our subjective experiences? <<

      I think it exists in the same way. But the 'rules' you are referring to are derived from just a small part of our subjective experiences: the experience of consensus reality. As such, _by construction_, these 'rules' mirror the patterns and regularities of only that part of mind. There are other types of 'rules' for other parts of mind, also derived empirically: For instance, the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Psychologists and physicists are looking at different parts of the flow of mind and deriving 'rules' based on their partial observations.

      It is conceivable that, at some point in the future, we will look at the whole picture, the whole flow of mind, and try to identify more global patterns and regularities that blur the boundaries between physics with psychology, at least to some degree.

  5. "Perhaps it reverberates in the minds of those still in the dream. You see, when many minds (in the sense of many points-of-view of Mind) contribute to a collective dream, the images being dreamed-up acquire a special kind of 'momentum' associated to their sharing across minds, as I discussed in Dreamed up Reality; they seem to gain a life of their own, independent of any individual mind." - so is it an unitary dream or to each, his own?


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