Raving materialists and their nonsense

Francisco de Goya's The Madhouse. Source: Wikipedia.
Today I did something mildly exciting: I went to a militant materialist website and rattled the cage a bit. I felt the need to expose the scandalously flawed logic of a prominent materialist – a renowned neurologist – who argued that there were survival advantages for the brain to have evolved consciousness. These were his original points:

1) The brain needs to pay attention and subjective experience is required for attention.
2) The brain needs a way to distinguish a memory from an active experience. Therefore, memories and active experiences must 'feel' different subjectively.
3) Behavior conducive to survival requires motivation and, therefore, emotion.

All three are incoherent arguments within the framework and logic of materialism itself. Within the materialist logic, attention has absolutely nothing to do with a need for consciousness. Computer operating systems have the mechanical equivalent of attention (interrupts, priority policies, task scheduling, etc.) while their activity is presumably unconscious; there is no need for subjective experience. Regarding point 2, the neurologist contradicts materialism altogether by assuming that memory and active experiences must 'feel' different in order to be differentiated, which begs the question of consciousness, instead of explaining it. There are millions of ways to classify and differentiate data without anything 'feeling' anything. On point 3: motivation does not require emotion or any sort of subjective experience. Within the logic of materialism, motivation is simply a calculation that aims at optimizing gain and minimizing risk/loss. The neurologist's attempt to present consciousness as something 'natural' or 'advantageous' within the framework of materialism fails the most basic internal logic.

So I went to their site and expressed the above. What followed was an assault by materialists. I reproduce the exchange below, in an edited and re-written form, for your entertainment. The questions were the attempts by materialists to defeat my argument. The answers are my counterarguments. The exchange was useful in that it illustrates very well the situation we face in our culture today: although materialists like to think of themselves as taking the rational high-ground, many suffer from an acute breakdown in simple clear thinking.

Q: There is strong evolutionary adaptive value for attention, for we can only do one thing at a time with our bodies.

A: Attention, as per the definition implied in your question, is simply the ability of an organism to optimize the utilization of its limited cognitive resources. That can be accomplished entirely without subjective experience, for it is merely a computational task. Subjective experience is not required for focusing an organisms resources on priority tasks.

Q: You are assuming a divide between objective/subjective things that does not exist.

A: The neurologist's argument is that there are survival advantages for consciousness to have evolved. If consciousness had to evolve – presumably from something unconscious – then initially consciousness wasn’t there. Clearly, thus, the original argument assumes the divide you talk about: initially everything was objective, and then subjectivity evolved later. Therefore, it's not me who is assuming the divide, but the neurologist who articulated the initial argument.

Q: I also don’t understand this divide between objective and subjective. To me, it’s just a change in perspective: 'objective' is essentially watching a computer’s processes from a second-person perspective. Subjective experience is the first-person perspective of those processes.

A: I don’t think there is a divide at all. I also think it’s all a matter of perspective: observation from within and from without. But now notice: if perspective entails subjective experience, and there is no divide, than idealism follows logically. That said, and to repeat myself, it's the neurologist's original argument that requires the objective/subjective divide. You guys can’t have it both ways. The moment one argues that it was useful for consciousness to have 'evolved' (presumably out of something initially unconscious), you are implying a divide. Otherwise, consciousness was there from the beginning. So you either agree with the neurologist's argument and accept the divide, or you reject the divide and reject this nonsense talk of consciousness having 'evolved.' What evolved were mechanisms of attention and classification, not consciousness. Consciousness was there from the start.

Q: Well, clearly consciousness evolved out of something unconscious: even if you classify all life as conscious, it evolved from non-life, which is clearly unconscious.

A: That’s where you guys contradict yourselves. First, there are all these righteous claims that the divide between consciousness and matter is artificial, dualist nonsense, woo, and what not. Then you turn around and say 'but hey, of course consciousness arose out of something unconscious, since life evolved out of non-life.' I find it all very amusing. You guys can’t have it both ways. Which one is it? Did consciousness evolve out of unconscious matter, or is the divide between consciousness and unconscious computers fallacious woo? The problem here is this: you keep on thinking that consciousness is in the brain, as opposed to the brain in consciousness. And since the brain obviously evolved out of not-brain, then you guys get all mixed up.

Q: Conscious animals evolved from non-conscious ones, though I would speculate this was gradual and there is no woo-divide between consciousness and computers. They are in no way incompatible.

A: A 'very gradual' logical contradiction is still a logical contradiction. If consciousness arose out of unconsciousness, there is a divide in the sense that something new has emerged out of something else, very slowly as the case may be. Otherwise, either consciousness was there all along or it still doesn’t exist today. The latter, of course, is absurd.

Q: What makes idealism meaningfully different from materialism?

A: According to idealism, your body/brain system is in your consciousness. According to materialism, your consciousness is in your body/brain system.

Q: It sounds like a recipe for solipsism.

A: It may sound like it, but it isn’t it. I spend a lot of space in my new book rejecting solipsism.

Q: A subjective viewpoint that can differentiate between memory and reality, illusion and reality, by way of feeling (which is really another way of evaluating) has an evolutionary advantage over one that can’t.

A: If you accept that there is a divide between consciousness and unconsciousness, then differentiation between memory and reality can be done by an unconscious computer. It can be computationally accomplished through tagging, which is done routinely in artificial intelligence systems. This differentiation is no basis whatever for claiming that consciousness provides a survival advantage. Now, if you don’t accept the divide and consider that everything is conscious to some degree, then you are contradicting the neurologist's original argument.

Q: What about the correlations between consciousness and brain states? What does idealism say about that?

A: The brain/body system is an image in consciousness of a process of localization of consciousness. This is analogous to how a whirlpool is an image in water of a process of localization of water. For the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water, the brain doesn’t generate consciousness. Now, the image of a process, obviously, correlates very well with the inner-workings of the process. You can infer a lot about combustion by watching flames safely from a distance. If the brain is the image of a process of consciousness localization, the first-person view of consciousness should correlate very well with what can be seen in that image from the outside, for the same reason that a lot about combustion can be inferred by watching flames.

Q: Why does my consciousness get drowsy when I take a medication that causes drowsiness?

A: Do you have any problem making sense of the fact that your thoughts (processes in consciousness) influence your emotions (other processes in consciousness)? Probably not. After all, what problem is there that a process in consciousness influences another process in consciousness, right? Now, you take a drug and feel drowsy. Under idealism, the drug is a process in consciousness (what else could it be?). It affects another process in consciousness (your alertness). The situation is entirely analogous to thoughts influencing emotions. What’s the problem there? If you see one, you are letting dualism creep in unnoticed.

Q: I’m confused by your terminology. The brain is an 'image'? It’s clearly a physical thing, currently in my skull…

A: Why is the physical thing in your skull not an image? Can you know a physical thing through anything but its images? (Here, I use the word 'image' in the broad sense of any percept.) A whirlpool is a very recognizable thing too. It’s right there in the water. You can point at it and say 'there it is!' You can even delineate its boundaries. It’s a very physical thing. Yet, it’s an image. In that sense, so is the brain.

Q: On what basis do you conclude that everything is conscious?

A: I don’t. I strongly reject that everything is conscious. It is materialists that often believe that. I think panpsychism is animism in disguise; a bad fairytale. There is precisely zero empirical evidence that any inanimate thing is conscious to any degree whatever. I see no reason to believe in that. But I do think that everything is in consciousness, which is a very different thing to say. Why do I believe that? Because it’s the primary datum of knowledge. Anything you knew, know, or will ever know is in your consciousness. Things outside consciousness are abstractions beyond knowledge. I prefer to stick to the most parsimonious explanation of reality that still can make sense of all the data available, and that is that all is in consciousness (not that all is conscious!).

Q: Most inanimate things would be at an extremely low level of consciousness compared to humans, but they do process information.

A: If you say that consciousness is information processing, you’re rendering the word 'consciousness' useless. That’s a rhetorical fallacy. Even Christoph Koch, who endorses Tononi’s Information Integration Theory of consciousness, rejects that consciousness is information processing, although he accepts that it is strongly correlated with information processing.

Q: Living things use their consciousness for survival and reproduction purposes. Computers use their consciousness for other purposes. There is a range of variation in levels of consciousness, from very simple ones up to complex ones like human consciousness. What’s so bad about that?

A: It implies panpsychism. That is, it implies that there is something it is like to be a chair, or a vacuum cleaner. In fact, it implies that there is something it is like to be parts of the vacuum cleaner, and combinations and permutations thereof, and… you get my point. The problem I see with it is that there is precisely zero empirical evidence that vacuum cleaners (or atoms) are conscious. To me, this is an attempt to make nature conform to theory, as opposed to theory conform to nature.

Q: Your idealism doesn’t sound very parsimonious because you’re effectively positing a new, more complex entity seemingly for the purpose of simulating a materialist universe.

A: Do you accept that there is such thing as consciousness? If you do, that’s all I postulate. This consciousness isn’t 'simulating' anything; it's simply doing what it does, and what it does happens to be the universe. This requires postulating no more complexity than materialism, for materialism also requires that irreducible laws of nature create the universe. It's we who invented the metaphysics of materialism as an interpretation of the patterns and regularities of nature. Nature simply does what it does. And clearly, as far as we can ever know for sure, it is in consciousness.

Q: If it's all a simulation playing itself out in mind, why can't we go through walls?

A: You’re projecting your prejudices and misinterpretations onto what I am saying. There is nothing in what I am saying that denies that nature unfolds according to the stable patterns and regularities that we’ve come to call the laws of physics. There is nothing in idealism that denies that, if you jump out of a window, you will fall. Idealism states that everything is in consciousness, not that everything is under the control of your egoic volition. Even large segments of your own psyche clearly aren't under the control of your egoic volition, otherwise nobody would ever have nightmares, or psychoses, or neuroses of any kind.

Q: I find your worldview unnecessarily 'meta.'

A: Materialism is the 'meta' worldview here, in the sense that it postulates an entire, completely abstract universe fundamentally outside the primary datum of knowledge, which is subjective experience. If anything, idealism is a rejection of the 'meta;' that is, a rejection of metaphysical abstractions.

Q: Your theory predicts the same things materialism does. I don’t see any additional explanatory or predictive power from asserting that the universe is mental.

A: Under idealism, when you die the story you call your ego or personal identity will die too, but not your fundamental subjectivity. Under materialism, on the other hand, all consciousness should cease upon physical death. That’s but one difference in the predictions of idealism and materialism. In my latest book, I elaborate extensively on how they differ in their implications, and offer empirical evidence for the predictions of idealism.

Q: Let me see if I’ve got this straight: there’s some complex collective mind-thing that is simulating a world in order to provide us with experiences which are exactly consistent with what they would be if materialism were true, to the point that our consciousnesses are also affected in a manner consistent with materialism.

A: There is no 'simulation' of materialism going on nor any attempt at deception. These are your own complex prejudices that you are projecting onto the very simple things I am saying. My claim is that reality is exactly what it seems to be: a process in consciousness. Colors, tastes, flavors, are all the real thing, and the world we see is not inside our heads. Materialism, on the other hand, states that color, sound, flavor, and all the qualities of experience exist only inside your head. The real world ‘outside’ is supposedly an amorphous, colorless, tasteless arena of dancing fields, akin to a mathematical equation, lacking all qualities of experience. It’s materialism that states that the real world is very different from what it seems. Idealism states the opposite.

All in all, it is useful to engage militant materialists from time to time. It gives striking insight into how a worldview that is so wrong manages to keep such a hold on the intellects of so many: it blinds you, immerses you in an unfathomable but insidious network of abstractions, hidden assumptions, and prejudices that infects every aspect of your thinking and judgement. It literally makes you unable to see simple and self-evident things right under your nose. It makes you project your own preconceptions, expectations, and misunderstandings onto everything others are saying, so you also become unable to listen. Deaf and blind, one can't escape the cage. It's surreal.

See also:

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


  1. Once I began to understand your take on Idealism the old Materialist view did indeed begin to seem surreal. However, I do appreciate how difficult it is to make such a radical change in one's view of reality. I find myself looking around and then - looking around. Pixels, eh? Who knew?

    1. I am happy to see that you took up the challenge of going to Novella's Website.
      Your responses were met by incomprehension. The simplicity inherent in your formulations of Idealism completely escapes them. They cannot overcome their basic thinking bias that underlies Modern Western Materialism. They poke fun of it, call you a crank and misinterpret your ideas. They cannot, however , engage in a philosophical debate with a way of thinking that is fundamentally so different than their ingrained belief systems.


    2. Rick, it strikes me that you knew exactly what was going to happen when you sent me that fragment of text, huh? ;) You did right. I had just finished a long, very busy week and was feeling de-energized a bit. The debate reloaded me quickly. I think you are right in your assessment above: militant materialists do not have the eyes to see the simplicity of what I am saying. They project all their baggage and prejudice on every statement. But I didn't really expect them to behave differently. People who are active on 'militant skeptic' websites are not trying to understand anything, but rather interested in making a point. My interest was rather to test myself and see if they would say something that might cause me to think deeper. But they didn't. Still, the debate was useful for its illustrative power o the mentality of militant materialists today, that's why I reproduced it here in a cleaned-up form. Thanks!

    3. Can you give the link to the discussion, Bernardo?

      I agree, they seem impenetrably obtuse. Are they being cynical and feigning that? Or are they so imprisoned in the materialist paradigm that they genuinely can't see, even as an intellectual proposition, what you are trying to say?

      The thing is, I don't have much difficulty understanding the materialist viewpoint even though I don't agree with it. Why can't they understand the Idealist viewpoint even if they don't agree with it? If they did, I'm sure they would be able to argue more cogently.

    4. http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/after-the-afterlife-debate/#more-6561, then do a search on "Bernardo", or simply go to my first message on 23 May 2014 at 11:43 am. I think they were genuinely unable to see the simplicity of what I was saying. They kept on projecting their own prejudices on it, as if I was arguing for New Age or something... In order words, they weren't as much replying to what I was saying, as to what they expected me to be saying.

    5. Wow! So true. Whenever I encounter a materialist I often tell them to get back with me when they're actually prepared to talk to me and not some fictional character in their heads. It's as if their eyes glaze over while engaging with an imaginary enemy while looking past me-blind to what I am saying. I feel for you Bernardo


  2. The major problem with those who replied to you is at core they do not have a consistent understanding of how consciousness is defined.

    I go to Christian de Quincey's delineation of two ways that "consciousness" may be defined;

    "Psychological consciousness is about the contents of consciousness (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, images), and about the mode of access (conscious or unconscious) to these contents. It is also about the state of awareness, or form of consciousness, characterized by being awake or alert, and is contrasted with the "unconscious," a state of being asleep, and with psychic contents below the threshold of conscious-awake awareness. For example, a person engaged in conceptual cognition is conscious in this sense; a person in a coma, or a worm, are examples of what being unconscious means.
    Philosophical consciousness is about the context of consciousness; it is about the mode of being that makes possible any and all contents and forms of consciousness. Philosophically, consciousness is a state or quality of being, the fact of consciousness characterized by having a capacity for sentience, subjectivity, and self-agency. It is contrasted with being "nonconscious," a state of affairs wholly without sentience or subjectivity-that is, brute physicality. For example, a person (awake or asleep), a dog, or a worm exemplify consciousness in this sense; a rock, a cloud, or a computer do not. Looked at this way, it is clear that the philosophical meaning is more fundamental-for without consciousness as a state of being (i.e., an ontological reality) there could be no psychological states or contents. Even the psychological unconscious has something psychic or mental going on. To be unconscious is still to be sentient (worms and sleeping people still feel), whereas to be nonconscious is not (rocks and computers do not feel)."

    Many posters on Neurologica either define consciousness as a "brain state" necessary for normal waking awareness and various dream states as well as the baseline potential within the brain that defines the background state and liminal boundaries for the above neurological states to arise. Or they mistake consciousness philosophically for the ego.

    It seems to me that a solid definition of how you are using consciousness may be helpful if this "debate" should continue.

    Perhaps enough is enough. ;-)


    1. I think you are right about the need for a clear definition. Even I used the term 'unconscious' to mean what you described as 'non-conscious.'

  3. great post Bernardo... I love that you continue to engage these folks in this way. It would be one thing if their absurd position wasn't the status quo :)


  4. Speaking of de Quincey, this is from a FB link titled "7 step science-based proof that nature has a mind of its own".

    "(1) We (humans) are sentient beings made of atoms and molecules;

    (2) There are no “unique human atoms or molecules” (you won’t find any special “Hu” atom in the table of elements). Any atoms or molecules that exist as part of us also exist elsewhere in the universe;

    (3) No intrinsic difference exists between atoms of any kind (they all consist of electrons and protons);

    (4) Since there is no difference between the atoms that make us and atoms throughout the cosmos, and we are conscious sentient beings . . .

    (5) And because it is impossible for sentience to evolve or emerge from insentient atoms;*

    (6) All atoms and molecules throughout the universe must also be sentient.

    (7) Therefore, because the cosmos is permeated by sentient atoms and molecules, we can confidently conclude that nature must have a mind of its own.

    QED. It’s that simple!


    Might you explain how your Idealism differs from de Quincey's panpsychism? Also where your paradigm might agree with de Quincey's. He is clearly influenced by Whitehead and Schopenhauer and Bergson.


    1. Yeah, here I am not with de Quincey all the way. Point (4) of his argument implicitly assumes that consciousness is a property _of_ atoms. Only then does (6) follow from (4). This implicit assumption is an echo of a type of realism, namely the idea that mind is a property of matter, like mass or charge. Chalmers called it "Type F" monism. I disagree with this implicit assumption, because I don't see any empirical reason to grant it. As far as I can ever know, atoms are in mind, not mind in atoms. I think matter is a particular type of subjective experience. I don't think mind is a property of matter, but that matter emerges in mind. I think all the universe is in consciousness, but not necessarily conscious.

    2. In general, Rick, I think de Quincey repeats a pervasive type of projection. I, as a conscious entity, conceptualize basic objects like atoms. I then conceptualize myself as a being formed out of those concepts, and then project my own subjectivity onto them. There is an outward movement -- projection of my subjectivity onto concepts of my subjectivity -- and then an inward movement -- identifying myself with those concepts. What if no projection is made; what do we really know then?

  5. Bernardo: "As far as I can ever know, atoms are in mind, not mind in atoms."

    There it is!


  6. Here's my comment at the blog:

    I don’t know a lot about Marxism. If I wanted to learn more, perhaps so that I’d be qualified to enter a discussion about it, maybe I’d read Das Kapital. Maybe I’d find that it ran totally counter to my preferred world view and disagree with it vehemently. However, I couldn’t with intellectual honesty argue against it without having read it.

    Bernardo has written a book, Why Materialism is Baloney, which I am reading and have nearly got to the end of. As a result of reading it, I have some grasp of what Bernardo is saying: maybe not a perfect grasp, but a lot better than that of anyone who hasn’t read it.

    It cost me £4.32 in Kindle format: less than the cost of a couple of beers down the pub. If anyone actually reads it, they might be able to demolish Bernardo’s arguments and earn themselves my admiration.

    Good luck with that, by the way. I mean that sincerely. I’d like to see them demolished if they are demolishable. But if they’re rejected sight unseen, I am going to have to forgo that pleasure, aren’t I?

  7. Very entertaining! I like how the nature of the objections switched around so easily. It was as if anything is good enough as long as it has some promise of silencing your viewpoint. Notably missing were "I'd like to understand your point of view. Please tell me more." and "I'm sure you see evidence for your view. Can you summarize it for me?" My favorite comment of yours was: "Materialism is the 'meta' worldview here, in the sense that it postulates an entire, completely abstract universe fundamentally outside the primary datum of knowledge, which is subjective experience. If anything, idealism is a rejection of the 'meta;' that is, a rejection of metaphysical abstractions." I love that one.

    1. Exactly! I had the same sense that they kept on switching lines of attack the moment a contradiction was exposed on their side, as if the goal was to win, not to understand.

    2. Never invest too much time with anyone committed to misunderstanding you

  8. In my view, you could have responded to the second to last question ("Your theory predicts the same things materialism does. I don’t see any additional explanatory or predictive power from asserting that the universe is mental") a little more sharply by hitting back with Berkeley's eliminativist argument regarding matter. That looks like more or less what you did in your response to the last question, but I think it would have been even more effective to respond to the second to last question by saying something to the effect of "Idealism is a strong position because it requires one less assumption, that this stuff called 'matter' exists independent of mental sensation of it and which is inaccessible to our minds because it lacks all qualitative properties. Therefore under the old Richard Dawkins formula of how compelling an idea is [number of things a theory can explain/number of assumptions the theory requires you to believe] idealism is a stronger theory because while the numerator is the same, the denominator is smaller."

    All in all, though, this was a fantastic read. Materialists tend to rely heavily on snark, smugness, and mockery, but you demonstrated patience and analytic grace by pointing out the flaws in their arguments.

    In the old USSR, quantum physics was initially forbidden by the state-controlled science institutions on the grounds that it seemed to support Idealism and contradict the Materialist basis of Marxism-Lenninism. It was only after Stalin decided that he needed atomic bombs to compete with the Americans that quantum physics was given the green light. This is more or less unrelated but I always like to annoy materialists by pointing this out :)

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Elliott! The bit about the USSR is interesting... :)

    2. The current discovery about gravitational waves in the cosmic microwave background was already predicted by Soviet scientist Alexei Starobinsky in 1979, who made a first attempt of describing the early universe (using quantum corrections to gravity) in a model that is very similar (but derived differently) as cosmological inflation,

  9. Bernardo, your form of idealism actually creates a new dualism, and fails to address the new "hard question" you've created.
    Let me explain: I support that the only knowledge we have is subjective knowledge, courtesy of consciousness. You assert that consciousness forms the content of consciousness (after all, we must be conscious OF something). And in order to explain how we seem to experience consciousness of consciousness' constructs in the same way, you postulate a great "collective subconscious". This collective subconscious is unknowable, except through whatever proceeds from it into the consciousness that we all seem to share. You've created an objective reality by creating the "collective subconscious". It's a form of dualism: I have that which I know thanks to my own consciousness, and I share in what I know thanks to the collective subconsciousness. If I substitute objective reality for the collective subconsciousness - your theory is the same. And since we can't know whether or not the collective subconscious consists of physical substance, you've built yourself into a dualistic philosophy in order to explain why you and I are both conscious of living in the same universe. If all I can know is my subjective reality, then I can't even know if you have a subjective reality yourself, or if you are just a construction of my consciousness. You haven't gotten rid of the hard question.

    1. Hi. I acknowledge (even in the book) that there is a form of 'dualism' implied. But you go way too far with it. In the book, I explain my position that the subconscious (or 'unconscious') is, in fact, an obfuscated part of consciousness. As such, it is not a new ontological category, but merely a form of consciousness. As such, the subconscious implies no substance dualism; the 'dualism' here is just apparent. That alone makes my formulation of idealism entirely different from the materialist invention of something fundamentally outside consciousness. Moreover, it does get rid of the hard question, since consciousness does not need to magically emerge from anything else, not even from the subconscious (which, as I say above, is just a form of consciousness).
      Next, the subconscious is not an unprovable abstraction (like a world outside mind) but an unquestionable empirical reality. After all, our dreams and psychotic hallucinations -- obvious outcomes of mental activity -- all emerge from a part of our minds that escapes our immediate awareness or identification; that is, a subconscious. As such, by postulating that consensus reality is generated by a collective subconscious I am postulating no new ontological entity, but simply using an entity empirically known to exist. This is different, of course, than materialism's postulation of an entire universe outside mind.
      Finally, the predictions of my formulation of idealism are different than those of materialism. Idealism predicts that reduction of brain activity should lead to a de-localization and, therefore, expansion of consciousness, which is consistent with reports from NDEs, psychedelic trances, meditation, hypoxia, etc. (see chapter 2 of the book for extensive review of the evidence). Idealism also predicts that physical death is merely a chance in our state of consciousness, not a loss of it.
      All in all, I categorically disagree that my formulation of idealism is equivalent to materialism. Postulating that an empirically known and undeniable segment of the psyche (the subconscious) is responsible for consensus reality is certainly much more parsimonious than postulating an entire world outside mind. The 'dualism' behind my formulation is not substance dualism, but merely a dualism of perspectives. In essence, it's just an apparent dualism, and the very use of the word 'dualism' for it is based on the common English meaning of the word, not on its philosophical meaning. Finally, the predictions of my formulation may be equivalent to those of materialism for ordinary physical events, but are certainly not so when it comes to profound changes in our states of consciousness, physical death, or questions around the meaning of life.

    2. We don't know that a collective unconscious exists. You're assuming the existence of something you can't know, just like the materialists assume the existence of an objective reality. I don't see how you can get around this. I'm already familiar with the evidence of NDEs, trances, etc. - which still can't be used to support your claim of a collective unconscious, any more than materialism can support the idea that consciousness "emerges" from the brain. There's no consciousness without informational content, the accuracy of which we must judge by consensus. You're saying that content is just more consciousness - then what is the content of that? What forms the constructs of this collective consciousness? Someone or something must be conscious/unconscious in order for us to be aware of that consciousness. And if it's all of us together, living and dead, then what information has informed THAT collective consciousness? I'm afraid I must conclude that this is a form of duality. And as such, would be more simply put as the duality of consciousness and materiality, or a duality of properties (Chalmers). I don't think your ideas offer adequate explanations for how we experience existence, and something that we experience in similar ways mostly unknowable to each other. That is, why should I believe that the reason you and I are seeing these letters the same way (if we are) is because we're both accessing a common unconsciousness, rather than merely sensing the same independent information in the same physiological way? A way which is conscious?

    3. Bernardo has given a good précis of his view and why it doesn't entail dualism. I see it as a question of perspective/mode of mentation. In ordinary states of mind, substance dualism is a fairly natural interpretation of the world, and quite useful. However, if mind and matter are different realms, how come they seem so enmeshed? Why wouldn't we exist as pure conscious entities, and the realm of matter, as a realm of complete non-consciousness, of which we might be entirely ignorant?

      Materialistic monists think everything's material, and yet the most certain thing, consciousness, seems not to be. They make it illusory, or emergent and/or an intrinsic property of matter. Matter that can agglomerate, interrelate and complexify/evolve, and in parallel with that, become progressively more conscious and then, self-conscious. After death, the complexity is lost through decay, along with the "collective" consciousness of interrelated parts. Conscious entities are like transient sand dunes appearing and disappearing in the desert. The potential for complex intelligence to manifest itself resides, as it were, in the "sand grains", which natural processes like "wind" and "erosion" continuously form, demolish and reform as "dunes".

      But how come complex arrangements of elementary particles have the potential to generate very sophisticated, self-reflective consciousness? There's no telos allowed; no reason why elementary particles should possess the property of consciousness, no less than other properties such as charge and spin etc. that just happen to facilitate their coming together in complex arrangements. Moreover, whilst properties like charge and spin can be objectively observed and measured, consciousness apparently can't. The only reason we know it exists is through our subjective experience of it. In materialistic monism, we can never quite get rid of duality: not without objectively identifying/measuring the property of consciousness associated with matter (rather than mere correlations of consciousness with, say, complex material arrangements in the brain).

      Emergence of consciousness at some higher level of complexity, rather than panpsychism at every level, has essentially the same problem: until we can identify and measure consciousness as an objective entity, the materialistic monism is promissory.

      Contrasting this with idealism, it doesn't have to demonstrate the objective existence of consciousness: consciousness is all there is, and *everything* is subjective. What we think of as "objective" is that subjective regularity that can be verifiably shared. What we think of as the "unconscious" is that subjectivity which localised consciousness can't perceive from its current perspective.

      We find it hard to grok the notion of a single consciousness that can simultaneously perceive itself from many different points of view. As localised conscious states of mind (whirlpools if you like), we don't seem to be able to do that; however, in many accounts of "mystical" experiences, people have perennially reported perceptions of being but one aspect of a greater whole. I've experienced this myself, albeit not, I think, at its most profound level.

      I find Bernardo's metaphors very helpful, but I have to be careful not to take them too literally. Once, while I was in a local Chinese takeaway, the guy behind the counter wrote something down in Chinese characters. A customer asked what it meant, the answer was something like "pork". "Ah," the customer said, "so where is the "p", the "o", the "r" and the "k"?"

      Been there, done that. ;-)

    4. Anonymous,

      The evidence from trance, NDEs, hypoxia, etc., indicates that less brain activity leads to a broader scope of consciousness. This is a prediction of my formulation of Idealism and contradicts materialism. You may question the validity of the evidence; that's OK. I suggest you have a look at Chapter 2 of my latest book before you judge it. The evidence for a collective 'unconscious,' on the other hand, comes from a century of analytical psychology. Again you may question it, but there is an overwhelming amount of material that is taken seriously by countless respected practitioners and scholars.

      All this said, regarding the question of parsimony, I don't need to prove that the 'unconscious' is collective. I only need to know that it is there. And it obviously is: dreams and psychotic hallucinations are clearly generated by a part of our minds that we don't identify with and have no control over. I guess you can accept this empirically undeniable fact. Yet, we all experience the effects of the activity of this part of our minds (i.e. dreams and hallucinations). I guess you won't dispute this empirically undeniable fact either. Now, that's all I need: I state that it is this very part of mind that generates consensus reality, just like it generates dreams and hallucinations. You may claim that the 'unconscious' isn't collective and, as such, can't generate consensus reality. But the answer here does not change the fact that, in terms of the ontological entities postulated, my Idealism is much more parsimonious than materialism:

      Materialism: postulates an unprovable, abstract universe outside experience -- that is, a new and quite overwhelming ontological entity;
      Idealism: postulates that an empirically undeniable part of mind (that is, no new ontological entity) is, in fact, collective, for which there is good -- even though admittedly not absolute -- evidence.

      You claim that I cannot know that the 'unconscious' is collective. Maybe, but the game here, which your original question raised, is what is more parsimonious and consistent with the evidence, not what can be known for sure. Materialism can, by definition, never be known, which makes it the champion of fundamental unknowability.

      Now on to the main question you raise: what is 'generating' the contents of the collective 'unconscious.' I also reject that my formulation here requires the same leap of faith as materialism, or analogous ontological assumptions. Again from psychology, we know empirically about the phenomenon of split-off psychic complexes, where parts of an individual's psyche split-off and become autonomous. The DSM talks about it as 'Multiple Personality Disorder," I think. What this shows is that mind can split into, say, two segments, each of which becomes 'unconscious' from the perspective of the other, although its activity continues to influence the other in indirect ways. There you go, this known empirical fact is all I need in my formulation: we, as personal egos, are split-off complexes of the broader medium of mind. That broader medium has become 'unconscious' to us but its activity continues to influence us in the form of the empirical world we recognize around ourselves (and maybe even in other form, but let's leave that out for the sake of simplicity). It is the broader medium of mind that generates the contents of the 'unconscious,' which we, split-off complexes of that medium, perceive through our sense organs as the empirical world.
      So, in conclusion, I still feel quite assured that it doesn't make my formulation of idealism in any way as inflationary as materialism.

    5. It is very like (it seems to me) the problem of pseudo-forces which arise in different co-ordinate systems. I think it was Feynman who remarked - in the context of gravity - that lack of understanding could be due to an incorrect frame of reference. For example, the coriolis force only arises in the frame of reference centered on the rotating body, but does not appear in the equations of motion when derived from a frame outside the body. Here, too, is the same problem appearing as "pseudo-dualism" and so on. Perhaps a new frame of reference is required but as to what form that takes or "where" it lies - i have no idea.

    6. I think you're hitting the nail in the head, Paul. Now, think along with me: you're a five-year-old kid and culture hasn't planted any abstractions in your head yet, nor are you projecting those abstractions onto nature. What's your natural frame of reference? Your own subjectivity. Your own body exists within that subjectivity, not the other way around. Atoms exist within that subjectivity, for they are ways to conceptualize the patterns and regularities of the experiences unfolding within your subjectivity. As far as you, the five-year-old kid, knows, you are the subjective space within which your life -- including your body -- unfolds. That is the only natural frame of reference, uncontaminated by culture-bound abstractions and projections.

    7. Yes, I understand exactly what you are saying and indeed I vividly remember the unconstrained world of childhood and the apparent ease of molding reality as i wished - at least the subjective experience of it. I often wonder, regarding the nature of atoms and the subworld of quanta, whether or not these things "objectively" exist or are they just a manifestation of our "desire" that they exist. Maybe nature does bend to our will at these scales if it feasible within the laws. If we see an up or down quark in a collision does it mean that it exists? Or does it mean that that it comes into existence when we smash things together, but if we don't do that then nature doesn't have much use for quarks per se but will allow them to exist for the fun of it? As I am writing this, there's a robin sitting on the table on the patio outside the window and he is looking at me with regard. It's hard to define how I know this, but I do. It's a sense. He does this often - comes and looks at me up and down, letting me know he is looking at me. Things like that remind me always that there is a connection - an underlying unity - in all of life. It's a great gift to be able to see one another in that way and to consider the other. Under the precepts of materialism, I would not think that such a thing could arise. I would think that curiosity would surely be anti-evolutionary in any form in such a system, but yet we find that all forms of life are curious - they explore and grow despite the risks. This I think must be the underlying principle of consciousness - it is fundamentally ignorant of itself and must manifest in this way to try and build a picture of what it looks like. I once read - can't remember where - that all that is required of us is that we, upon or after death - are able to tell our story and it seemed to make sense to me. Anyway, i'll be buying your book soon, I think you are doing a great job in developing these ideas in the way you do and i hope at some stage these ideas will reach a critical mass in such a way that they start to force some change in this almost inhuman model we are being led to blindly pursue

    8. Thanks Paul. I sympathize with the notion that curiosity is a strong -- if unrecognized -- irreducible driving force, immanent in nature. On whether we see an objective subatomic particle in atom smashers or simply a manifestation of our expectations, I can only tell you this: having worked in the biggest of all atom smashers, I know that nobody has ever seen many of the fundamental subatomic particles that normally make news. What is seen are the traces supposedly left behind by these particles (their 'decay paths'), in the form of histograms on a computer screen. The particles themselves are inferred models, even 'convenient fictions,' so to speak.

    9. I've never been envious of anything, or anybody really, but working with that thing in CERN certainly causes me some envy. It must be one helluva buzz. The curiosity thing is weird though isn't it? If you accept in the general sense the principle of Hermes "as it is above, so it is below", then the nature of the conscious field must manifest itself in us. Curiosity then is an attractor - a sink - and therefore it must be a source in the underlying field. Potentially known but not actually known unless subjected to a spacelike and timelike experiment. It would be wonderful if we decided to accept the idealist principle as a given and then see how we could explore it - what experiments could we design - rather than debate it. Surely the whole thing cannot be passive, just a thing-as-it-were, it must want to be prodded if it exists at all. After all, there is no living thing in nature that i know of that doesn't want to have some form of interaction and definitely, as you climb up the scale of complexity, it wants to play at some point. Is that not a reflection of the underlying nature? Fun, Risk, Curiosity, Love? If we, as conscious beings, like to have fun, (we also seem to like war too) is this not a characteristic of the underlying field?
      Regarding the body - the bodies of all forms and organs of life etc. I'm with Plato's theory of forms on this - which I suppose fits with an idealist theory - that once it's built it can be called upon again as a vehicle. Now I know he was referring to truth and beauty and so on, but I am thinking more about eyeballs, livers, kidneys, bones, processes etc. So a good test of the idealist theory might be the interface between genetics and the expression of these forms (eyeball, kidney etc) So, rather than being a chemical/gene process - it was a more mmmmm wave-based process, then we should be able to excite these manifestations using a "tuned receiver" approach. I accept, of course, that this seems materialistic in its approach - but surely materialism can arise as a "special" or "limited" case within idealism. Nevertheless, can we not explore this realm (idealism) and probe it? Can the whirlpool talk to the water? In your fluid example we can of course cause whirlpools - we can direct a flow into a corner for example, so how can we do the same for consciousness? Can we manifest a brain? This is the problem - we cannot yet measure this field. Where do we start? In the movie "Predator" Swarzenegger had that great line "if it bleeds, we can kill it" - so where do we find the field? if we can get it to move..we can describe it. Does it have a Divergence? A Curl? It seems from your model that it definitely has a Curl - does it have a Divergence? is our local brain a source or sink? So, Bernardo, what I am saying to you is this - how do we prove it? Subjective though it may be, we can surely exploit that even though the methods will be unusual and maybe transiently materialistic.. Although it may initially beg the question, we have to assume it is true to allow us to discover the truth. If mind and brain exists in consciousness, then we must find a way to prove that. If we have a whirlpool, we must be able to define the river (easy in fluid dynamics - at least locally).
      I look forward to your thoughts on this.

    10. >> Is that not a reflection of the underlying nature? Fun, Risk, Curiosity, Love? <<

      Yes! I happen to be writing about something related to this right now... pretty cool that you latched onto it. There are also some thought on this in the last chapter of my latest book.

      >> I'm with Plato's theory of forms on this - which I suppose fits with an idealist theory <<

      It does. The Forms, or archetypes, can be interpreted as the primary intrinsic characteristics of Mind that ultimately manifest themselves in psychology, physics, biology, etc.

      Much of what you write is reminiscent of Rupert Sheldrake's morphic resonance ideas.

      >> So, Bernardo, what I am saying to you is this - how do we prove it? <<

      I'd say it is materialism that needs proof, since it postulates more. Idealism is default, since mind is the only carrier of reality and knowledge that we can ever know. I don't see idealism as a scientific theory, but as a philosophical way to interpret scientific theory. That said, an idealist take on reality certainly opens some new doors for experiment design in science... which would be very interesting to explore. The disclaimer I always make, however, is that idealism does not imply the so-called 'law of attraction;' it does not imply that reality is under the control of the ego, or of conscious volition.

  10. Bernardo,

    When I see this "Brain states and Consciousness" stuff, I sort-of shake my head because, to me, brain chemistry has to do with cognitive functions and bodily behavior, not consciousness, which is different.

    I also like what you said above about materialism. Proof is more for physical things than spiritual things. That is why I laugh when strawmanners like Richard Dawkins try to reduce God to a human and subject him to scientific analysis.

    1. Yes, Dawkins and the other 'horsemen' miss out on all the subtlety and nuance... it's a pity.

  11. Excellent responses Bernardo. It strikes me that the materialist refutation is not new. When the modern (post Plotinus) notion of idealism in its complete form emerged with Berkeley, that well known English wit, Samuel Johnston, responded by kicking a rock across the street and proclaiming 'I refute it thus!'.

    Clearly, the ontology of idealism appeared counter intuitive to those who were not familiar with it. However, Dr Johnston's realist assumptions have not really changed down through the years. It still remains most people's default assumption.

    1. Hi Douglas. As I wrote in 'Why Materialism Is Baloney,' Johnston's appeal to the _felt_ concreteness of the rock actually supports Idealism, not materialism... it goes to show how materialism steals the intuitiveness of idealism through ignorance, and attributes to idealism the silliness of materialism (as in "obviously the world is not in your head")

  12. The first objection to idealism quoted in this post begins 'The brain needs to pay attention...' This made me laugh. What sort of blind person cannot see that this is an absurd idea?

    1. good one. But people like Novella don't' understand this at all. They'll hem and haw and say, "Well we really didn't mean that literally" but they do. It is truly remarkable how otherwise intelligent people can say things that are so completely incoherent, and as you say, absurd.

  13. Thanks Bernard, I enjoyed this very much. Growing up in the materialist paradigm, as we Westerners have, I find that no matter how many arguments I read that nudge me towards the idealist position, the black void of materialism with its contradictions and concommitant despair retain a kind of gravitational pull over my psyche. It is deeply inculcated, and if I don't think about the issue for a while, I find myself falling back into materialist assumptions. Your blog posts are a great way to continue to counteract that pull, to build up an escape velocity from this dark star our culture has built. Really enjoyed the Baloney book as well.

    1. Just noticed I left the 'o' off your name. Sorry!

    2. Hi, and thanks for the kind words! Frankly, it is people like you that I try to reach the most, because I am like that too. It took me a lot to build 'escape velocity' and I feel very sympathetic to the way you describe your dilemma. When I debate raving, militant materialists I don't do it for their sake (they are too deep in the illusions, projections, and too invested in a particular imago to be helped), but for the sake of people like you and me, who read those debates with an open mind.

    3. Regarding my name, it's no problem at all. I sometimes give my name as "Bernard" because it's easier ;)

  14. Bernardo, have you ever considered doing an AMA (ask me anything) on reddit.com/r/iAMA? I don't know if you have the time or not, but it's fairly common for authors to create one in promotion of a book and answer whatever relevant questions people might have. I think it could be a good way of getting your ideas to out to a different demographic. The downside is I can't really promise the responses you get will be all intelligent and devoid of snark. Still, I've had pretty good discussions with people on the site on matters related to materialism, idealism, and consciousness.

    1. Interesting idea, Sam. I will consider. Thanks!

    2. The atheism subreddit has over 2 million subscribers. Until recently, it was featured on Reddit's default home page. You may find a passionate, if unsympathetic, audience to interact with there.

  15. A few observations from an Indian philosophic perspective

    Re: the collective consciousness as "unknowable". This is not the case, at least from a specifically yogic perspective. As long as we identify with a particular configuration of body and mind (which are BOTH "in" consciousness - this answers another objection about this being "dualistic"and also potentially points to something beyond what we ordinarily think of as "mind" - which is not yet another category but simply another form of "Consciousness" or Chit) - our "ego" (ahamkara; or "I maker"; which is the process of identifying with an apparently "separate" part of the universe) cannot control what it doesn't identify with. So, for example, take psychokinesis. It has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt in the laboratory, over and over, but the effects are very weak. This is because even the best practitioners still identify mostly with the separate ego, and are not "in tune" with the universal or transcendent consciousness and thus cannot lend their will to Its Will. (which is the only way we can ever "control" that which is outside our apparent "ego").

    I'm sorry this is probably sounding incredibly abstruse but it's actually quite simple.

    Somewhere above, Rick Stuart suggested consciousness as content vs consciousness as context. This fits aha Iain McGilchrist describes as the ways of attending characteristic of the left and right hemisphere -the left honing in on details, the content, and the right providing content.

    Regarding the rather yogic practice which Bernardo attempted of sitting in on conversations which oppose what he is writing about, it may help to understand it is not quite the conscious militant fight you might think. The materialist ego (just like the ego of everyone in here, on this site) fights desperately to hold on to what it identifies with. To the extent Novella and Carroll and others like them identify with being rational scientific people, and identify rationality and science as equivalent to materialism, they need to fight anything that challenges materialism because it threatens the very core of who they are and what they feel is the solid stability of the world they live in.

    Again, to be fair, the Dalai Lama talks about what you should feel if you're doing analytic meditation properly. The purpose of analytic meditation could be said to be to thoroughly undermine every materialistic notion you have, not only in regard to the outer world, but in regard to the "felt sense" that "you" are a solid, objective entity. The Lama said that if you don't feel utter panic, as if your entire universe is falling apart at the seams, leading to complete terror, you're not doing it right.

    I think he was being somewhat - or mostly - tongue in cheek here, but there is a point to it. If you have any idea what he's talking about, then read the desperate attacks that materialists make, you'll see them more compassionately as drowning men with their arms flailing about. you may know that at times, lifeguards have to actually knock unconscious the people they are trying to rescue, in order to avoid their flailing arms.

    Maybe you need to knock the materialist unconscious and then slowly coddle him and provide him with gentle pointers as to the nature of the subjective reality with which he is surrounded in order to get through.

    I don't know:>))

    1. Here is something I wrote in Why Materialism Is Baloney, which may be relevant:

      "Since the eye that sees cannot see itself directly, mind can never understand itself literally. A literal – that is, direct – apprehension of the nature of existence is fundamentally impossible, this being the perennial cosmic itch. The vibrations of mind – that is, experiences – can never directly reveal the underlying nature of the medium that vibrates, in the same way that one cannot see a guitar string merely by hearing the sounds it produces when plucked. Yet, the vibrations of mind do embody and reflect the intrinsic potentialities of their underlying medium, in the same way that valid inferences can be made about the length and composition of a guitar string purely from the sound it produces. The sound of a vibrating medium is a metaphor for the medium’s essential, underlying nature. The medium obviously isn’t the sound, but its essence is indeed indirectly reflected in the sound it produces.
      As such, consensus reality is nothing but a metaphor for the fundamental nature of mind. Nothing – no thing, event, process or phenomenon – is literally true, but an evocative vehicle.157 As we’ve seen above, not only is this sufficient for mind to capture its own essential meaning, it means that only this essential meaning is ultimately true. Everything else is just packaging: disposable vehicles to evoke the underlying essence of mind. The plethora of phenomena we call nature and civilization holds no more reality than a theatrical play. They serve a purpose as carriers, but they are not essential in and by themselves."

  16. Dear Bernardo,

    Please allow my enthusiastic endorsement of your assistance to the human race to negate the next one thousand of your detractors! I found out about your book (ordered) and this blog exactly yesterday. Perhaps you will be the one to help me help my spouse, who forlornly admits to wishing I could find a way to save us from death/nonexistence, but who seems to me to be a prisoner of the type of thinking you struggle against. He is from the former Soviet Union, and all his formative and early adult years were in that milieu. He admits he wants to live yet the patterns of thinking are so ingrained...and this is precisely why your efforts are not wasted. That is, there are always some who will be ready to change their minds if provided some assistance, and also very many who have had an ineffable experience but their ingrained thinking tempts them to negate it. The two must be integrated eventually as we are intellectual beings.

    On your question #3 above, I'd like some clarification.
    "Behavior conducive to survival requires motivation and, therefore, emotion. "

    You said the above is illogical within the framework of materialism and seem to have given the example of a computer that calculates without motivation. Perhaps the problem with the above statement is that the materialist is assuming subjective consciousness as being synonymous with life, and denying it at the same time. Because in my thinking, the above statement is exactly right - every living thing must have motivation. Even an amoeba must have motivation -->desire --> will. I think that this motivation, which is a motivation to live in the body, is what differentiates inanimate matter from living entities. Inanimate matter has no preferences; to be alive is to have subjective consciousness. Without the desire to live there would be no reason to bother calculating anything, and I doubt the "motivation" of a computer could be analogous to a living thing as it is a machine and machines have no volition, they are mechanical and they are activated by beings who have designed them to operate in accordance with their wills.


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