If not materialism, then what?

Continuing on with my series of brief essays on subjects covered more extensively in my latest book, Why Materialism Is Baloney, I'd like today to summarize my main argument. This article, thus, is a kind of overview of the book.

The source of our bleak contemporary worldview is the materialist metaphysics: the notion that the real world exists outside subjective experience, and that experience itself is generated by particular arrangements of matter. This view entails that your entire experience of life unfolds within your head, for it is generated by your brain. The real world is supposedly a realm of pure abstraction, akin to mathematical equations, devoid of color, sound, flavor, fragrance or texture.

At first sight, materialism seems to make good sense. It seems to explain why we cannot control reality. After all, if matter is fundamentally outside mind, it’s natural that we cannot change things merely by wishing them to be different. Moreover, materialism seems to explain why we all share the same world: unlike a private dream, a reality outside mind can be observed concurrently by multiple witnesses.

Yet, materialism is not the only metaphysics that can make sense of things. In fact, among the alternatives, materialism is particularly cumbersome: since knowledge can only exist within subjective experience, a material realm outside experience is fundamentally unknowable. In the book, I explore a more parsimonious and logical metaphysics according to which reality is a kind of shared dream; according to which matter arises in mind, not mind in matter; a metaphysics that implies that consciousness doesn’t end upon physical death.

As readers of the book will see, materialism is based on two childishly flawed conclusions: it mistakes a world outside the control of our conscious wishes for a world outside consciousness itself; and it mistakes the visible image of a process for the cause of the process. The book argues that the brain is merely the visible image of a localization of the flow of consciousness, like a whirlpool is the visible image of a localization of the flow of water. For exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water, the brain doesn’t generate consciousness!

Contemporary culture is extraordinarily biased toward the unprovable and clumsy materialist metaphysics. For instance, if I say that reality is a kind of shared dream, most people will take it to mean that reality is inside our heads. In fact, it is materialism that says that everything we experience is inside our heads: people, trees, stars and all! If reality is a shared dream, then it is our heads and bodies – as parts of reality – that are in the dream, not the dream in our heads. Somehow, our culture has come to attribute to materialism the intuitiveness of other worldviews, while attributing to other worldviews the absurdity of materialism.

In the book, I explore these questions in a rational, empirically sound manner. This isn’t a feel-good spiritual book, but a logical and rigorous exploration of reality. It looks past the cultural fog that for so long has obscured our view and negatively influenced our lives. It unveils a reality much more conducive to hope than the bleak materialist view implies. It concludes that life is pregnant with meaning and purpose, and that death is just a change in our state of consciousness. It is time we opened our eyes and dropped the insanity of materialism; 21st-century humanity demands a more mature, adult worldview. So join me in this exciting exploration, one that may just change your entire outlook on life and reality.

See also:

Copyright © 2014 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.


  1. I've just got the new book, Bernardo. I may comment when I've read it.

  2. First impressions are very favourable. The introduction in chapter 1 (which is the bit in the Kindle sample that can be downloaded) is a masterpiece of lucidity. It's amazing that English isn't your first language, Bernardo: you write better than at least 95% of native English speakers!

  3. I'm just about to start ch. 5 of your book, Bernardo, but something has been nagging at me. I've done a quick search in my Kindle edition for "evolution", but I'm not sure that, while you touch on evolution, you're much concerned with the implications for neo-Darwinism, which in my opinion is all part and parcel of the materialist paradigm.

    It occurred to me recently that the most successful organisms on earth are the bacteria and Archaea, viz. the prokaryotes, which lack a membrane-bound nucleus. Their biomass may exceed that of all plants and animals on earth, and they inhabit every conceivable ecological niche (even inside humans, where they may be 1-3% of our biomass). If the driver for evolution is random mutation + natural selection, and it's all down to survival of the fittest, one wonders why evolution wouldn't have stopped with them. They're still around after billions of years, whilst most of the advanced (multicellular) eukaryotic species have become extinct over time.

    Empirical evidence seems to me to support the hypothesis that the "aim" of evolution isn't to support the survival of the fittest, but to promote the increase in complexity of organisms regardless of population sizes or how long species endure in time. With the general increase in complexity comes a specific increase in the complexity of neural networks. And with that, the greater the potential for the "whirlpools" characteristic of particular species to communicate with one another and also with the information currents occurring in the stream "outside" them. Almost as if the aim (no quotes, since teleology is allowed in Idealism) is to become aware of more and more of Global Consciousness.

    That needn't mean that there's anything supernatural going on, or that panpsychism has validity. There might be perfectly natural laws which aren't currently acknowledged by science (which might even be susceptible to logical/mathematical modelling and analysis), that could account for evolution so long as it was accepted that consciousness had primacy, even if it were not considered the ground of all reality.

    Admittedly, I've got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about neo-Darwinism, and maybe it doesn't engage you so much, but from my position, Idealism has to be compatible with the view that neo-D is also largely baloney, except perhaps at the micro-evolutionary level, where it helps populations within species, or perhaps genera at the highest level, to adapt to environmental demands and constraints.

    1. I don't dispute much of what you said. I even published a video once where I argued that there is no proof that the mutations at the basis of evolution are indeed random, instead of being biased towards some telos. (http://youtu.be/mi0DqeHxm4w)
      My allusion to the 'essential points' of Darwinian evolution in the book is about what I consider to be the undeniable empirical fact that species derive from other species when there are advantages according to some fitness measure. I also don't deny the role of survival in that fitness measure, though I suspect that there is more to it than just survival. All this fits perfectly well in the philosophical framework I lay out. Personally, as you will see later in the book, I believe the fitness function is biased towards the emergence of organisms capable of self-reflective awareness.

    2. Watched the video. I don't see how anyone can dispute your basic point that to say evolution is completely random as opposed to weighted in some way, is a complete act of faith that would be impossible to substantiate. However I would think that artificial life simulations based on evolutionary algorithms that implement neo-Darwinist rules could shed some light on this. I suspect this has been attempted and gone no where. Unlike using genetic algorithms that are goal seeking.


  4. Thanks for the video link, Bernardo. I thought I'd seen all your videos, but evidently not. I'll check out the others in the "Reflections and Meditations" series to see if I've missed (or maybe forgotten?) others.

    I think we are pretty close in our views on this, and I've been influenced by Stephen C. Meyer's books, particularly Signature In the Cell and Darwin's Doubt, which latter I've posted a long review of over at Skeptiko. I don't agree with his view that the "Intelligent Designer" is the Christian God (as He is usually conceived of), but his dissection of the problems with neo-Darwinism makes for fascinating reading.

    The fact that the Cambrian Explosion indicates top-down rather than bottom-up evolution points, I believe, to natural laws in which, because of feedbacks, there are intensive periods of "experimentation" as you aptly put it. The pattern of the fossil record indicates to me that (insofar as it acts in nature through law), Source Consciousness doesn't behave omnisciently; there's a kind of playful exploration of potential going on. It's getting a kick out of its play and taking delight in the results, if that's not being too anthropomorphic. :-)

    1. "Source Consciousness doesn't behave omnisciently; there's a kind of playful exploration of potential going on."

      Yep, I think this is the core of the issue!

  5. Our mental experience in this world starts with a phase in which there is no distinction between "inner reality" and "outer reality". At that point in time, they form an undivided whole. But as our experience grows and our brains matures and we are trying to make sense of the world, we become aware of the distinction between our own mental states, and the outer world. This disctinction "creates" so to speak both our consciousness ( we see ourselves as a seperate entity, can make the distinction between dream states and real experience of the outside world) and that what we call the "outside world" (which is just: the other of our own mind).

    For that reason the vision that the "outside world" would also be a form of "consciousness" is just stating that the distinction we made (for good reasons) would not be meaningfull, and we would be better off in the childish dream like state in which the distinction between experienced reality and reality itself would vanish.

    For that reason, it can only be said that that vision on reality is just as immature as the mind of babies, and not much worth considering.

    1. Well, clearly you are considering it, given all your comments in this blog . :-) That's a good thing, Rob, I think you're doing good in following your inner impulse to be engaged here, even if comes out angry.

      I agree entirely with your first paragraph. The differentiation between the emerging personal 'self' (with lower-case 's') and the world is a critical step in the growth of self-reflectiveness, which is what makes us human. It allows us to stand outside the world and inquire critically into that world. That's a good and important thing that may have a lot to do with the meaning of human life.

      But your second paragraph is a non sequitur. What the differentiation of self does is to create a segment of the flow of experience that we don't identify with (namely, the 'outside world'), because we have become identified with another segment of the flow of experience (namely, thoughts and emotions). This does not imply a world outside experience itself. An analogy: in a nightly dream or during a schizophrenic hallucination, we also don't identify with large segments of our flow of experiences; we believe them to be external, alien to us. Yet, those segments are unquestionably in mind and nowhere else. Again: the emergence of the personal self only shows that we become disidentified with segments of our flow of experiences, not that those segments exist beyond experience. These are different things.

      All this said, it is possible that babies have a more authentic and immediate, less conceptualized and deluded, perception of reality than adults do, because they are closer to the ground of nature than adults lost in abstractions and conceptual frameworks. Naturally, however, babies can't articulate that perception.

    2. So, you promote then some "infantile profound wisdom" :)

      Please grow up! A baby isn't realy aware of itself, it doesn't even identify with itself.

      Nevertheless it can sometimes be "relaxing" from time to time to do some relfection on the world and our place in it. That is why we sleep :)

      But as a "world vision" at the basis on which one can understand the world, I don't think it can offer us very much, apart maybe from some self-reflection, We live in social reality and histroric reality. Humans are historic figures. So our understanding of reality must include that. We must understand our relation with nature and our relation with history and society, and esp. our place within the economic system we live in, which more-or-less leads us to desctruction, ecological disaster, war, and human suffering.

      The problems there is not the "materialistic conception of reality". On the contrary! The problem is more I guess that we are not always consciouss of our histroric roles and that we can influence history, and force it to take another path! A more sensible path for human beings.

      We live in critical times, Please consider the phase in which we are now, we are in the middle of a big economic crisis, an ecological crisis, and at the brink of warfare (see the middle-east, ukraïn).

      We are forced to have an understanding on why this al happens, and need to find a way out of self-desctucting society, that harms people and nature (social injustice is rising - read Piketty! - conflicts are escalating everywhere - ecolology is in danger, etc.).

      We have become slaves of a productionn system that exhausts nature and harms people, just for profit, but in the long run, and we see the limits clearly now, this system won't work anymore.

      So let us think about solving the immanent crisis, and not go back into "daydreams" or "utopianism".

    3. Rob, your difficulty in grasping subtlety and nuance suggests someone else has some growing up to do. The point I was making, obviously, was not about self-awareness, but about (not self-aware) contact with the primordial aspects of reality, before concepts and abstractions take over in later life. I fully stand by that point. I never denied the importance of positioning ourselves in a historical and social context. In that sense, your argument is a straw-man. And the reference to dreams and utopianism is your own; it's your hallucination of what I am talking about. I am talking about our immediate apprehension of reality, as well as the value system and morals that derive from that. Our ontological worldview is critical to the historical crisis you allude to. A worldview that states that reality is fundamentally outside subjectivity has direct consequences to this crisis.
      In general, sticking to the topic is a good idea. If you can't argue against what I am saying, diverting the discussion to some other (important) topic is understandable but not necessarily constructive.

  6. Since the point of "evolution" was brought up, I'll just add a quick comment on this.

    I like the video did (you used tin foil) wherein your reference the "end-goal" of Mind to reach a state that is entirely self-reflective and aware at same time - in essence, both a giant whirlpool and a stream at the same time. I thought this was a great insight. I'd like to submit that evolution is just the "outward picture" of this process taking place in "reality" (perhaps this is obvious). Terrance Mckenna referenced some ideas about there being this "singularity" at the end of space and time that everything is being ineluctably drawn to through the expression of novelty. Seems there are some parallels there.

    If greater self-reflectivity is the goal, then what is the next step of evolution? Is some type of group-mind the next step in this process, or is there still much more to achieve within the individual whirpool's of our consciousness? If you take the idea of whirlpool's merging, or at least touching, it seems you get into an arena of telepathy or group mind.

    1. Yes, interesting thoughts! I still think though, when contemplating the lamentable state of our culture, that much is yet to be achieved at the individual level...


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