Ripples and whirlpools

Whirlpool and ripples.
Yesterday I gave a long and extremely engaging interview to Rick Archer, of Buddha at the Gas Pump. Rick pressed me very intelligently on the distinction I make between idealism and panpsychism; that is, between the notions that everything is in consciousness and that everything is conscious. As my readers know, I reject panpsychism: I reject the idea that everything, like a rock or your home thermostat, is conscious. But I strongly endorse the notion that everything is in consciousness and exists only insofar as it is in consciousness. To Rick, this distinction wasn't clear, and he argued his case very well. I replied to him as best as I could during the interview, but wanted to clarify the point with some more structure in this brief essay.

As my readers will conclude from my book Why Materialism Is Baloney, I make a distinction between inanimate objects on the one hand, and living beings on the other hand:

Inanimate objects: these are excitations of consciousness, like vibrations are excitations of a guitar string or ripples are excitations of water. There is nothing to a vibrating guitar string other than the string itself, yet the string manifests a discernible behavior that we call vibrating. Analogously, there is nothing to a ripple other than water, yet water manifests a discernible behavior that we call rippling. Both behaviors obey certain patterns and regularities that can be modeled mathematically, which is what science does. Now, in exactly the same way, inanimate objects are simply 'vibrations' or 'ripples' of consciousness and, ultimately, nothing but consciousness itself. They are images in mind of excitations of mind. (Here, as in the book, I use the words 'mind' and 'consciousness' interchangeably.)

Living beings: these are images of processes of self-localization of consciousness, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of self-localization of water. However, in exactly the same way that a whirlpool causes disruptions of the water flow surrounding it, mental self-localization also causes excitations of consciousness in their surroundings. Because of this, living beings can also be perceived as objects. Do you see the point?

Watch this related video:

While mental self-localization causes excitations of consciousness, not all excitations of consciousness arise because of mental self-localization. In other words, while living beings are also perceived (especially by other living beings) as images in consciousness, not all images in consciousness are of living beings. Some are merely of inanimate objects. The key difference between the two is that there is nothing it is like to be an inanimate object, while there is something it is like to be a living being. There is something it is like to be you, but I don't think there is anything it is like to be the electronic device you are using to read this essay. The electronic device exists in consciousness, but you are conscious. You ground a subjective, localized point-of-view into reality at large. The electronic device doesn't, although it is part of the same reality.

Living beings are split-off, dissociated segments of the one mind, while inanimate objects are merely images in that mind. Here is another analogy to help you grasp this: inanimate objects are paintings on the canvas of mind ('vibrations' of the canvas would be more accurate for dispensing with paint, but bear with me), while living beings are particular segments of the canvas. One is a painting on the canvas, the other is a part of the canvas itself. Do you see what I mean? You, I, other people, and all living beings, are dissociated segments of the one mind behind all nature. Inanimate objects are paintings on that mind.

How to gain intuition into this dissociation I am speaking of? Think of Dissociative Identity Disorder, which WebMD describes as follows (the italics are mine):

Most of us have experienced mild dissociation, which is like daydreaming or getting lost in the moment while working on a project. However, dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person's thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. ... Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct or split identities or personality states that continually have power over the person's behavior. ... there's also an inability to recall key personal information that is too far-reaching to be explained as mere forgetfulness. ... The "alters" or different identities have their own age, sex, or race. Each has his or her own postures, gestures, and distinct way of talking.

My claim is that each living creature is a dissociated 'alter' of the one mind underlying nature. The process of dissociation is a process of mental localization (a 'whirlpool' in mind). The image of the process of dissociation is what we call life. Inanimate objects, therefore, are not dissociated 'alters': they are just images in mind; that is, excitations of mind.

When the unified mind behind all nature 'breaks up' or dissociates, each dissociated 'alter' will appear to the others and to itself as an image: a biological body. When we see other living creatures, we see these images of other split-off 'alters' of the one mind. After all, just like a whirlpool causes disruptions in the water flow surrounding it, the process of self-localization/dissociation also causes excitations (that is, images) on the broader canvas of mind. But an 'alter' is more than just the image it causes: it has inner life, in the sense that there is something it is like to be it. An inanimate object, however, is just the image (that is, just the excitation), without the inner life. It is a painting on the canvas, not a dissociated segment of the canvas.

Though both whirlpools and ripples are nothing but water in movement, ripples aren't whirlpools. Idealism holds, not panpsychism.

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


  1. Bernardo, I've just recently been turned on to your work and have to say I love what you do. Your outlook resonates with what appears to be the newly emerging paradigm (which hopefully will eventually serve to lift the several-hundred-year-old materialist curse from Western thought). You present your ideas in a clear, direct, and most importantly unapologetic manner that I think does a huge service to the overall argument of this new paradigm.

    However, IMO the issue of panpsychism is a bit more nuanced than you seem to acknowledge. Your analogy of the canvas vs. the paint, while helpful to a certain extent, completely sidesteps the question of where to draw the line between that which is canvas and that which is paint. What I mean here is that the analogy assumes 1) that there is a sort of yes/no or on/off status we can assign to entities as to whether or not they are conscious, 2) that this distinction is to some extent obvious (as obvious as being able to distinguish between canvas and paint). Do we assign conscious status to every living organism? Do we categorically deny the possibility that non-biological entities could possess at least rudimentary aspects of conscious perception? Or does the potency/capacity of individual consciousness exist along a graded continuum perhaps reaching across the animate/inanimate boundary (resulting in at least a weak formulation of panpsychism) ?

    It is by no means obvious to me that your main idea (that everything exists within consciousness) is incompatible with panpsychism in at least some form. What is really needed here is a definition of individual consciousness (it seems we are positing an ontological primacy to the one Consciousness, which is therefore not in need of defining) or a set of criteria by which we can evaluate whether or not a particular entity possesses the attributes we associate with conscious experience. I have my own speculations as to what those criteria might be, but I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the issue.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Kenneth. Maybe Fab's comment below will help you understand what I mean. I think panpsychism is a projection, a left-over of materialism: we project onto images in consciousness the very property of being conscious. I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to do that in the first place. Canvas and paint is a limited analogy, since it entails a duality. A more accurate analogy would be: inanimate objects are vibrations of a membrane of mind (no paint, just a behavior of mind without dualities), while living beings are segments of the membrane. This is the metaphor I actually use in the book. Cheers, Bernardo.

    2. Thanks for the reply! I completely agree with you that attributing consciousness to certain entities and not to other entails a duality, and I much prefer your notion of living beings as localisations of the one Mind (or "segments of the membrane" as opposed to "vibrations of the membrane.") That's not where I'm having trouble.

      It seems that the question still remains: how can we confidently distinguish between that which is part of the membrane and that which is simply a vibration upon it? Or to use your whirlpool analogy: where is the dividing line between the whirlpool and the body of water it is a part of? Is it simply that all living beings are part of the membrane and all inanimate objects are necessarily vibrations? Are prokaryotes part of the membrane and viruses not? What about organelles and molecules?

      To me it seems that some sort of classification system is needed in order to ascribe membrane or vibration status to entities existing within Consciousness. I personally don't see any evidence for drawing a hard, fast line between the inanimate and the animate with respect to whether each is a "dissociated alter" of Mind or merely an excitation of it. There definitely appears to be a gradation. That's why I think some form of panpsychism might be at play. This wouldn't necessarily be incompatible with the main conceptual framework you're espousing, nor would it have to be materialism in disguise. There could still be localisations of the one Mind--but it might just be that there is a sort of magnitude associated with these localisations, existing along a continuum. It just seems a bit overly simplified to assert that every entity must be either a dissociated alter of Consciousness or an excitation of it, when the entirety of the biological spectrum is taken into account. Any thoughts?

    3. Oh, and I take back my question about the whirlpool analogy above--I just realized I didn't formulate the question in a way that appropriately relates to the situation at hand. I stand by all my other questions/comments.

    4. One more thing...sorry for all the first sentence should have read: "I completely agree with you that embedding certain entities into the fabric of Consciousness while having others simply resting or piling up on its surface entails a duality..."

    5. My understanding of pantheism, in which panpsychism is sourced, is that it holds all is God, or in this case, all is Mind, or as I would have it, all is consciousness. And if there is a God/Mind/Intelligence/Consciousness which is all that is, then clearly pantheism is correct and so too is panpsychism.

      Otherwise we are back to the materialistic view that there is live matter and dead matter and never the twain do met and there is them and us and no connection and that God etc., somehow is some things and not others and that is just not possible.

      If Mind underpins this reality then it underpins all of it, not some of it. Just as we can study so far and so much of the universe and then beyond it is 'nothing' so nothing is something.

    6. Panpsychism is the claim that is is _conscious_, not _in_ consciousness. A materialist can be a panpsychist, and many are. Some claim that panpsychism is a necessary consequence of materialism. Yet, materialism is the opposite of the claim that all is IN consciousness. The idea that all is in one "cosmic consciousness" does NOT imply panpsychism. I need to make a video...

    7. I just added a video to the essay exploring these questions in more depth. See above.

    8. within a non-panpsychist view - an idealist (or non dualist view) - how to we understand the relationship of the all-pervading Consciousness "within which" the rock abides?

      This is still a rather dualist description, so let me put it another way.

      I see a rock.

      Further refinement - Seeing, mediated by a particular mind, takes the form of "rock". The "rock", in other words, is the seeing, there is no separation.

      This still fits, somewhat, your idea of the rock being "in" consciousness. But rather than taking "consciousness" to be a kind of physical container within which something else (the rock) exists, we see an inseparable relationship between percept (rock) and perceiving (Seeing).

      (by the way, I'm not saying that you are putting forth this kind of physicalist container metaphor, only that some others reading this might misinterpret it this way; I think what you've written fits what I said, I just like putting it this way to avoid dualist assumptions).

      Now, having got that out of the way, does it mean anything to say, as the pan psychists might, "the rock is conscious"? Obviously not.

      However, is there another way of understanding the relationship between consciousness and the (perceived) rock?

      I think so.

      Ulrich Mohrhoff suggests that all of what we conceive of as "subatomic particles" are an image - or more correctly, a conceptualization - of the phenomenon of Consciousness - One, inseparable, boundless, infinite - "conceiving" (or more properly, imagining) Itself as individualized.

      Don't worry, i'll try not to get too far out or "woo woo" here….

      But we don't find "consciousness" in the so-called material world, so again, are we back to saying "the rock is conscious?"

      No. The rock may be "in" consciousness, but if what we mean by "rock" is - hold your breath now - "Consciousness-seeing-itself-as-a-particular-form-AND-to-some-extent-absorbed-in-that-seeing" - then in a way, we could say that the "rock" (remember, by "rock" i always mean a percept, a seeing, not a "thing' not a physical or material object) has a kind of awareness or experiential quality associated with it, but that awareness is so fully ABSORBED in being an object of consciousness that we can't say the rock in itself is "conscious."

      I"m afraid I'm not taking any time to edit this and it may not be at all clear.

      To put it very simply, what we call "material" objects are consciousness absorbed in a form of itself.

      What we see then, over the course of evolution, is this absorption gradually (over several billion years) lessening, as consciousness slowly comes back to Itself.

    9. I think the rock being in consciousness implies no duality for the same reason that a spinning top implies no duality: the spin is just a state of the top, not a separate entity. The ripple is just a behavior of water, not a separate entity from water. The rock is a behavior -- an excitation -- of consciousness (and, as such, "in" consciousness for the same reason that the ripple is "in" water), not a separate entity from consciousness.

      >>The rock may be "in" consciousness, but if what we mean by "rock" is - hold your breath now - "Consciousness-seeing-itself-as-a-particular-form-AND-to-some-extent-absorbed-in-that-seeing..."<<

      Yes, that's fine with me.

      >>...then in a way, we could say that the "rock" (remember, by "rock" i always mean a percept, a seeing, not a "thing' not a physical or material object) has a kind of awareness or experiential quality associated with it<<

      I don't see how or why this can follow. You really need to push language to quite ambiguous territory for this to follow in some metaphorical way, and I don't understand why we need to do it. To be in awareness does not mean to be aware. I made my point in the video as best as I could, I don't know what else to say.

      >>To put it very simply, what we call "material" objects are consciousness absorbed in a form of itself.<<

      Again, I have no problem with this. It doesn't follow that the forms are themselves conscious in the sense of being the image of a dissociated segment of mind.

      Cheers Don, Bernardo.

    10. I agree with you that all is in Consciousness(Cosmic Consciousness). But I do not see any contradiction between being open to panpsychism and open to the idea of all is in consciousness. Because I am open to that everything in nature are a little bit conscious. And that is also a shamanic og indigenous spirituality view of nature. So could you misinteprate the view of panpscyhism vs All in Consciousness?:)

      From David Peat - Blackfoot Physics - A journey into Native American Universe:
      The knowledge of Indigenous science must be passed from one generation to the next, but it is not given from one to the next. "You cannot ‘give’ a person knowledge in the way that a doctor gives a person a shot for measles." (59) Instead, "In a traditional society children learn by watching and hanging around rather than through structured teaching, questioning, or experiment." (71) Moreover, this sort of coming-to-knowing is not abstracted, but rooted in the society itself and (a crucial but difficult concept) rooted in the landscape surrounding that society. "Knowledge in the traditional world is not a dead collection of facts. It is alive, has spirit, and dwells in specific places." (65) For example,

      "The skills necessary to build an Algonquin canoe are tied to a particular landscape, to the trees that grow there, to the game that can be trapped," (62)

      I think it is possible to be open to both panpsychism which is also close to shamanism and indigineous teachings and the idea of Cosmic Consciousness(All is in Consciousness).

  2. Hola Bernardo! Thanks many for sharing your work!
    Some of my thoughts right now:

    "That all is _in_ consciousness does NOT mean that all is _conscious_!"
    The one-mind (consciousness) is alive, all in the one mind is made of aliveness, but not all in the one mind is a process of self-localization of the one-mind (consciousness)... This computer or the cup I have here with me right now do not have a subjective localized point of view into reality at large of their own as you say. If I understood you correctly this is what you mean by not all is conscious.

    If for a moment I don´t make any distinctions or separation between the images in the one-mind I could say all is the ONE-mind, this one-mind is conscious. To say something is conscious and other things or not first I must "brake up" in separated images the content appearing in the one-mind, if I don´t I could then say all is bound together as the one-mind there for all is conscious, all is one consciousness.
    Your thoughts on this please.

    1. That's _precisely_ right! You're with me!

    2. Will await for your video about this subject. Cheers and fun :)

    3. I just added the video to the essay. See above.

  3. I'm with Ken on this. I see why you have written off inanimate objects as participating in consciousness but its not necessary to do so.

    In 2011, I argued in my blog that panpsychism requires a rethink of how to define consciousness. I proposed that there is a spectrum of consciousness analogous to the electromagnetic spectrum and that we should not define consciousness in anthropomorphic terms. I entitled the post "A New Definition of Consciousness"

    1. What one has to ask is whether it's necessary to attribute consciousness to inanimate objects, not whether it's necessary to discard the possibility. After all, there is precisely zero evidence that inanimate objects are conscious. To attribute 'being conscious' to a _content of consciousness_ is, in my view, pure psychological projection and, as such, a fallacy. Moreover, it's entirely unnecessary for idealism to work coherently and internally-consistently as an ontology.
      There seems to be enough people misunderstanding my philosophical position as supporting panpsychism that I will come out even more strongly against this with a video shortly. With the risk of losing many of you, I want to be very clear here: I DO NOT endorse panpsychism in any way, shape or form, not even panexperientialism. I consider both to be merely projections of our own minds and, as such, to entail a very similar mistake to that materialists make. It is this similarity with the inverted way-of-thinking of materialism that I find extraordinarily dangerous.

    2. I would say it is not about attributing consciousness to inanimate objects but recognising that it exists.And there is not zero evidence that inanimate objects are conscious because any study of shamanism reveals a great deal of evidence - there is just evidence defined by science as it stands that there is zero.

      In terms of disagreeing, I don't hold it as necessary that anyone on any subject needs to agree on all theories or beliefs. I find much of value in your books but do not embrace it all. I am sure others are the same.

    3. I just added a video to the essay exploring these questions in more depth. See above.

  4. (Sorry, this ended up very long, so I've broken it up.)

    Bernardo, I have been aware of your position on this, and I think I see things somewhat the same yet somewhat differently. I understand your point about panpsychism, and have had my own similar issue with it--it's often a way to hang on to a materialist-like framework by sneaking in the emergent property from the beginning.

    It is, of course, extremely difficult to know if something is conscious, if it has its own subjective inner life. We can't, of course, even be absolutely certain that other people are conscious, though it seems weirdly egocentric to suppose they are not. The day may come when robots are able to behave just as intelligently as people, and then we'll be faced with the issue of whether, somewhere along the way, consciousness has actually arisen in them--genuine consciousness, not just "consciousness" defined as some form of advanced computational ability.

    I think at that point, we really should turn to extended human capacities. Hopefully, there are people who can in one way or another "sense" whether there is actual consciousness in the robot.

    As it turns out, what is sometimes called the extrovertive mystical experience provides some hope that such a "sense" actually exists. This term was invented by W.T. Stace as a contrast with introvertive mysticism. Whereas introvertive mysticism involves a withdrawal of sense experience and an experience of formless unity with the One, extrovertive mysticism involves seeing the One in everything that is revealed by the senses. What is interesting about this experience is that it is often accompanied by descriptions that everything, even inanimate things, have their own subjective inner life. Here are three examples:

    "I saw the radiance that I experienced in my NDE in every molecule, object, and life form. Plants, stones and animals had an awareness of this connection and their inner spark of life." (NDEr Beverly Brodsky, personal communication)

    "The buildings were decrepit and ugly, the ground covered with boards, rags, and debris. Suddenly every object in my field of vision took on a curious and intense kind of existence of its own; that is, everything appeared to have an “inside” — to exist as I existed, having inwardness, a kind of individual life, and every object, seen under this aspect, appeared exceedingly beautiful. There was a cat out there, with its head lifted, effortlessly watching a wasp that moved without moving just above its head. Everything was urgent with life...which was the same in the cat, the wasp, the broken bottles.... All things seemed to glow with a light that came from within them." (quoted by W.T. Stace)

    "It was as if everything in the room had an inner aliveness which was communicating with me, and pouring love on me. Everything – from the cupboard door, to the curtains, to the clothes on the floor....This lasted a couple of minutes and there were no exceptions to this – literally everything I looked at appeared to be alive and pouring love and blessings on me. There was no difference to how things actually looked, physically, except that in sensing the aliveness within each object, things did give off a sense of a glow, much like when you look at a person or an animal and can sense their aliveness. There is a certain animation you experience when looking at them. It’s the difference between looking at a real person and looking at a shop mannequin." (Nicola Perry, my wife)

    1. Bob, those are three excellent examples. When we leave our egoic complexes behind, if we enter the “collective unconscious” (I mean the non-localized stream of consciousness), then that’s how I think we would view the images we see – as pregnant with meaning.

      Perhaps rather than emanating from the images themselves, the meaning is a reflection of the Collective Consciousness projecting itself?

  5. (Continued from previous comment...)

    I am not saying such reports settle the matter, but I do think they are possibly our best chance of getting a glimpse of what is going on outside our own limited consciousness. I don't see how else we are ever going to peer inside the stones, broken bottles, and laundry on the floor to see if it is conscious.

    It may seem like I completely disagree with you, but I don't think I do. My personal belief is that the forms of this world are images in consciousness, and that the image itself is not conscious. Rather, it is held in consciousness, a content of consciousness, just like the mental image of an apple that I would conjure up in my mind right now.

    My belief is that the images we see are all like the human brain, in the sense that they are all filters for consciousness. (I know the filter metaphor is slightly different than your whirlpool metaphor, but I also know you're not averse to it.) Consciousness, I believe, is naturally infinite, but it is scaled down, reduced, as it passes through (so to speak) these filters--that's what filters do; they only allow through so much. And different filters allow through different amounts. So the filter we call a human brain allows through more than the filter we call a fly brain, which itself allows through more than the filter we call a speck of dust.

    The filter itself is not conscious. It is a device whereby naturally infinite consciousness appears in this world in scaled-down form. So I would agree with you that the forms, which are contents of consciousness, are not themselves conscious. But I would disagree in saying that all forms in this world have consciousness attached to them, associated with them, filtered through them.

    Obviously, you yourself believe that about certain forms--basically, nervous systems. Yet we don't really know how nervous systems do it, how they have consciousness "attached" to them, which means we don't know enough to declare this property to be exclusive to nervous systems. It may be that nervous systems are special in just being bigger filters, in allowing through more natively infinite consciousness.

    This is obviously a form of panpsychism, yet it firmly avoids the notion of consciousness as we know it arising from some ultra-primitive state through material evolution. It still affirms that consciousness is the only reality and is naturally infinite. It just expands the number of images in this world that act as filters for consciousness, retaining a key role for nervous systems, but removing them as the sole, exclusive filters.

    1. a study of shamanism provides fascinating insights.... thanks for the post. My view is that either we are all sourced in the same thing or we are not, but not being sourced in the same thing raises enormous problems which go far beyond mere language.

      I believe the 'thing' is consciousness and that just as human beings have varying ability to communicate and reflect, so too does everything. But since we have absolutely no way of assessing, beyond shamanism of course, what a rock, grain of sand, cloud etc., 'thinks' we either have to decide that all is one and all is sourced in and manifests from the same quality, energy, form etc., or, somehow there is 'that which is not' and I can't see that as logical, just as it is not logical to half think, or half feel or be half pregnant.

    2. I just added a video to the essay exploring these questions in more depth. See above.

    3. I think it's great that you made this (extremely clear) video. It's really nice to see all the activity on your blog, to the point where you feel compelled to create a video in response to some of it. Something is happening.

      I know you are responding to the general uproar, and even to contemporary thinkers not present on your blog, so I understand why, but I don't think I heard anything that rules out the particular synthesis of panpsychism and idealism I was trying to express above.

      And just for the record, while I believe that everything is conscious, I am particularly resistant to believing that your statue is conscious!

    4. Bacteria are undoubtly life forms. They were the first life forms appearing on earth. Have they a mind?
      What about viruses? RNA?

      The problem here, IMHO, is that we are setting a threshold in Nature: living vs. not living. But the nature has teached us that such thresolds in nature usually does not exist.

  6. It seems to me that it is really all or nothing. I am that I am, as a spiritual phrase through many cultures and times reflects that and just as you cannot be half pregnant, if consciousness is all that is, then all things are conscious to lesser and greater degrees.

    And defining lesser and greater of course depends on ability and is highly subjective. How do we know the consciousness of a cell or grain of sand or slug? We cannot. It is hard enough to define the consciousness of another human being when we have neither shared language or culture. We get so much wrong then that trying to define it without language, which is the issue, or a capacity for mutual communication with our limited language is impossible.

    Many cultures, through what is called shamanism, would claim they can communicate non-verbally with plants, rocks, animals, birds etc., but this ability is neither recognised nor accepted by the material world in general and science in particular.

    I do not grasp the distinction you seek to make between 'mental localization' or 'excitations of mind.' If mind underlies it all, i.e. consciousness, then mind is all of it and the rock is just as much a mental localization as we are an excitation. The long history of cultures believing in consciousness or intelligence contained within and even expressed by inanimate form suggests that they do have their own capacity to 'think.

    In times past science considered the baby in utero had no capacity to feel pain or to process emotions or thoughts and that view is changing. In times past no-one would have considered that the gut had a capacity for consciousness and 'thinking' despite the fact that humans intuited this now re-discovered reality as the gut 'brain.'

    And with mind or consciousness as all that is, there can be no separation. Surely it is not a matter of unified mind breaking up as in manifesting or expressing something else of its nature? We do not break apart or separate, well, not if we are mentally healthy, when we are in our various roles of wife, mother, lover, friend, daughter, colleague etc., so why would unified mind have to separate.?

    My sense is that you are making this more complicated than it needs to be or is because you are still operating partially within a material/mechanistic mindset.

    And it is also still either/or instead of the 'and' that it is more likely to be.

    1. I just added a video to the essay exploring these questions in more depth. See above.

    2. I love the way you think Rosalyn . I've had OOBEs and everything was alive where I was . Trees stones rivers . We can't see it here but it's real. Bernardo is very very smart and one day he will see this. Bernardo is also very cute. Hey I'm a girl.

    3. Thanks Zaria, you mad me blush. :) I do think that everything can be said to be 'alive' in the sense that everything is a manifestation -- an excitation -- of the one consciousness, a living 'thing' if anything is. But this doesn't imply that of everything is a dissociated alter of that one consciousness; not everything has inner life and a private stream of experiences of its own.

  7. I also am still unclear why panpsychism must be rejected. The idealism being endorsed seems to allow it to be true or false. I don't have an opinion either way, but I see no reason to close off the possibility of its truth.

    1. I just added a video to the essay exploring these questions in more depth. See above.

  8. Bernardo,
    While you seem to point the finger at the right direction you missed a subtle but very significant point. Mind as you call (Whirlpool) is not part of the canvas. It's part of the painting. Awareness always remains undivided ONE. There is no distinction between the inanimate objects which are mere reflections of Consciousness and MInd which is always another form of reflection of the same.

    Having said that, let me quickly add - there is RIGHT or WRONG idea here in its absolute sense including my own thoughts mentioned here. There is nothing wrong or right about any wave - it's mere illusion of reality. Awareness itself never has understanding in the absence of these waves. In other words it's all semantics of language - mere thought waves surviving by themselves with no real meaning!

    1. Hi Sarada,
      -- I agree that consciousness always remains undivided at the deepest, 'unconscious' levels, but there is an obvious illusion of separation, which is a dissociative process. Otherwise, I would be aware of your thoughts. Clearly, I am not. We must acknowledge and explain this dissociation, otherwise we are closing our eyes to reality;
      -- There is an obvious distinction between life -- that is, metabolism -- and inanimate objects. To deny this is to close one's eyes to reality. And once the distinction is there, any ontological view of reality that has the ambition of being true must account for it;
      -- I use the words 'mind' and 'consciousness' interchangeably, although I know that, in advaita circles, 'mind' is normally used to mean 'thoughts.' I use the word 'mind' according to its ancient western-philosophical meaning;
      -- I am not sympathetic to a strongly-relativist view of reality whereby all can be true and all can be false at the same time. Adopting this view, in my opinion, is tantamount to giving up on reason, empirical observation, and any attempt to acknowledge and make sense of nature.
      Cheers, Bernardo.

    2. If you are trying to keep "Undivided consciousness" theory intact even while hanging on to "reason" "empirical observation" it is like saying we MUST explain anatomy of the a snake appearing in a dream even while calling it a mere dream! We are trying to reason out something that can not be reasoned while accepting the basic theory of ONENESS of awareness.

      The reason why you are not aware of my thoughts is the fact that "thoughts" are part of reflections like any other inanimate things and not part of the Awareness. I have a feeling you are trying to reinvent corrected version Advaitha. While there is nothing wrong in doing that if you have better understanding of how things work, I have a feeling you never travelled beyond the realm of mind and intellect to understand how Awareness operates. There lies the serious pothole most intellectuals get trapped into. It is not something you understand using intellect.

      These theories sound great and very appealing to other "intellectuals" andd thereby very opt to sell boos and theories. Intellect has funny way of feeding itself with grandiose ideas that mean nothing to the Awareness.

      This comment may sound critical and harsh but I mean these words with utmost respect for you. I say these with my own experience and hence affectionately sharing the plain truth with you.
      Thank you.

    3. Hi Sarada,

      >>The reason why you are not aware of my thoughts is the fact that "thoughts" are part of reflections like any other inanimate things and not part of the Awareness.<<

      I don't understand what this means.

      >>I have a feeling you are trying to reinvent corrected version Advaitha.<<

      I am just sharing my thoughts. I had these thoughts before I ever heard the word "Advaita."

      >>I have a feeling you never travelled beyond the realm of mind and intellect to understand how Awareness operates.<<

      That would be incorrect, as I reported in my book "Dreamed up Reality."

      >>There lies the serious pothole most intellectuals get trapped into. It is not something you understand using intellect. <<

      I am keenly aware of this. Yet, if we are going to speak, to articulate things in words, we necessarily have to use the intellect. And then, I rather to do properly, rigorously, coherently, and as accurately as possible. One can't excuse loose thinking reflected in ambiguous, self-contradictory, or meaningless words by claiming that truth transcends the intellect anyway. It does, but then why open our mouths or write words? We can approximate truth with words; we can't get to the bottom of it, but we can point in the right direction if we are diligent, internally consistent, rigorous and honest in our thinking and our choices of words. Otherwise, we just muddle the way by speaking or writing.

      >>This comment may sound critical and harsh but I mean these words with utmost respect for you.<<

      I know, that's what I sensed too. Thanks.

    4. You said: but then why open mouths or write words?"

      True. No wonder people who understand don't open mouths and the rest keep struggling to put it in words. The irony is that it sounds like escapism while it is plain simple truth.

      Yes yet we need to try to articulate in words but get trapped in trickery of mind. The mistake I point out here is very simple. Except Pure Awareness, the rest of it is part of the "painting" as you call it - including thoughts, intellect and mind.

      This is another trait of the mind, we get an idea we love it and we keep defending it no matter what on face of all the evidence to the contrary. Eisenstein himself was victim of that who argued against Uncertainty Principle all his life.

      I request you to first try to understand what I am saying. Mind is part parcel of material body, so are the thoughts so is intellect. Having said that I have a feeling there is meeting point in this debate I might as well keep quiet.

  9. Correction: I mean there is NOTHING right or wrong. (2nd para first sentence)

    1. I just added a video to the essay exploring these questions in more depth. See above.

  10. Bernardo, I must not be expressing myself clearly enough (sorry, my writing skills aren't great!). As you are no doubt aware, there are many different forms of idealism, and you happen to subscribe to one of them. Correspondingly, panpsychism may come in several different forms--I'm suggesting a WEAK form of it that would not conflict with your particular idealist framework, and which takes into account the apparent gradation of sensory faculties exhibited in living beings, from the most complex all the way down to the least. But if using the word panpsychism is not jibing with you because of its typically materialist connotations, I'm happy to adopt a different term or just avoid using a term for what I'm talking about altogether.

    I'll try to rephrase my questions as succinctly as possible (because I'm really very interested to know what you think about it!):

    1) Is BEING ALIVE the sole criterion by which we determine whether an entity is a localization vs. an excitation of the one Mind? In other words, do you think that all living beings are necessarily localizations of consciousness as opposed to what you’re calling excitations?
    2) Are inanimate objects barred by definition from exhibiting properties of the localization of Consciousness? In other words, are all non-living entities necessarily excitations?
    3) Is the capacity to localize Consciousness the same for all living beings, or is there some kind of magnitude to this capacity that could be arranged along a continuum (with the least complex organisms at one end and the most complex organisms at the other)?
    4) Let’s say that the two poles of the above-mentioned continuum are Excitation and Localization. If this is the case, would there really be a stark dividing line between what we classify as excitations vs. localizations? Or does that line become rather fuzzy somewhere in the middle? I am perfectly fine with calling this apparent continuum phenomenon WEAK panpsychism, but I understand your objection.

    So, like Roslyn, I’m still confused as to why it has to be either/or, because it’s clearly not that simple!

    1. I just added a video to the essay exploring these questions in more depth. See above.

  11. I hope you don’t mind my intruding, or consider me presumptious, Kenneth, but I can’t resist answering from what I understand of Bernardo’s position:

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. There are differences in magnitude of self-localization, as shown in WMIB: egoic beings like us have the deepest structure (biggest protrusion), amplifying certain patterns of the membrane of mind to make us recursively self-reflective. So the depth or magnitude of our localization is greater than that of egoless animals. At the lowest end of localization structure are probably viruses, though there is some doubt about whether viruses are alive, and Bernardo is prepared to leave that for scientists to decide.
    4. Bernardo would prefer to draw a clear dividing line rather than accept a continuum, because (a) this distances him further from materialist assumptions (including panpsychism), which want to treat mind as an outgrowth of matter; and (b) there is no particular point in postulating localization of consciousness for partial images which reveal no evidence to us that they are conscious.

    Of course, I may be wrong…

    There is also the point Bernardo makes about freewill being 'Mind in movement' and the driving force of experience. I assume this implies that if there are no choices being made by a localized structure, Life would seem to be absent, and if Life is absent, consciousness is also absent – leaving only an excitation that is “in consciousness”.

    1. I just added a video to the essay exploring these questions in more depth. See above.

  12. There's an interesting concept I first came across in Ken Wilber's writing: that of the heap. An obvious example is a rubbish dump. It's just a pile of things heaped together. Rocks are heaps: they arise contingently and can be very heterogeneous. Lots and lots of stuff that we're aware of can be thought of as occurring in heaps.

    Other stuff isn't like that: though examples of it may be found as constituents of a heap, each has stringently delimited sets of properties. Examples include what we call elementary particles, atoms, molecules, and living entities. Human-created artefacts are heaps, by the way: however complex they are, we've heaped them together in useful or aesthetic ways.

    It might just be conceivable to think in terms of non-heap entities (Wilber would probably call them holons, or hierarchical assemblages) that aren't what we normally call "alive" in panpsychic terms. But can heaps be thought of like that? No way. Watching Bernardo when he's doing his videos, he's a living holon surrounded by non-living ones, some of them possibly heaped together: his room and all the things in it including his clothes. We'll ignore the other living holons there might be around: microbes, insects and maybe a pet goldfish that's not on camera.

    What makes Bernardo, spiders and mice living entities? Well, the first biology lesson I ever had defined various "criteria of life" such as reproduction, respiration, irritability, nutrition, excretion and growth. The vast majority of living entities possess these kinds of properties in one form or another, even primitive chemotrophic prokaryotes. Viruses are a bit contentious, but saving those, we have no difficulty distinguishing living from non-living holons.

    In other words, there's not a seamless continuum between living and non-living holons. The division is there in nature. So why should there not be a dividing line between that which is conscious and that which is not conscious?

    As I see it, the problem with panpsychism is this. An atom (say) is posited to have consciousness to a certain degree. Presumably, a holon of which it is part (say a molecule) gets more conscious. How does that go? Does the atom within the holon retain its consciousness, or does it lose it? If it loses it, does it regain it if and when the holon of which it is part disintegrates? To me, it only makes sense if the atom retains its consciousness, albeit that atoms associated in molecules might exhibit a higher-level group consciousness.

    The degree of consciousness then becomes contingent on atoms having certain interrelationships within a holonic hierarchy. To me, that's obviously a materialist conception, for when a living thing dies and no longer does what living things do, its constituent parts decay, possibly some of them all the way back to atoms, in time possibly helping generate higher levels of consciousness in newly-arising holonic hierarchies.

    To my mind, and in the context of a metaphysics that is compatible with a monism of consciousness, panpsychism is a non-starter. I can't see how higher degrees of consciousness (even logically) could be contingent on a bottom-up ontogeny that at its heart depended on what we think of as matter inherently possessing consciousness. It's philosophically incoherent. I think idealism is far more parsimonious.

    1. What then is the degree of consciousness contingent upon if not the interrelationships within the holonic hierarchy? I'm not saying I favor a bottom-up approach (because I most certainly don't). Perhaps the solution is neither bottom-up nor top-down, but a sort of "co-contingency" in which neither the parts nor the whole have causal efficacy.

    2. The holonic hierarchy we deem to be a living entity goes (bottom-up) from atoms to molecules to cells and (in multicellular organisms) to tissues to organs to the complete organism. Top-down, it goes the other way; let's muse over that.

      Maybe some ultimate conscious entity/holon manifests itself as lower-level holons within a hierarchy. Since we're after a monism of consciousness, it must be a hierarchical manifestation of consciousness; we can't ascribe the appearance of organisms to some ontologically distinct kind of stuff that we call matter. Bernardo sometimes refers to "processes" occurring in consciousness. So maybe there's a hierarchy of these processes; living entities are ones that have the potential to be conscious. They are perceived by us in certain ways, sharing a common set of basic characteristics: things like the ability to reproduce, feed, grow, metabolise, excrete and so forth, and also, to experience/perceive. Non-living processes don't have that ability and don't appear to us in that way.

      It's very easy to start thinking in terms of the appearances of living and non-living processes as being dependent on matter when the processes appear to be hierarchical; appear to comprise lower level processes. There's apparently a modularity to it: like a Lego set, or how computer languages may allow programs to be built up in complexity from lower-level routines through higher-level ones.

      We find such modularity in the purposeful heaps designed by us humans. However, this apparent holonicity is imposed by us: nothing we can create is like natural, conscious holons that have the capacity to experience. Computers, for example, don't possess the faintest capacity to do that.

      So: nature can be, and often is, viewed as modular; deemed to use and re-use component parts, and at the bottom of the hierarchy, we have elementary particles. When you say that there might be a co-contingency, I'm not entirely sure what you mean except maybe as a kind of bidirectional interaction between telos and evolution carried out in the arena of time and space.

      Even if one thinks purely in terms of processes within consciousness, it's easy imagine lower-order processes generating higher-order ones, and you still have the same issue when a higher-order process decays. There's maybe also an issue in thinking of things in the other direction: the idea of ultimate consciousness decomposing itself into insentience, when in nature we definitely see examples of entities evolving in time.

      I think Bernardo's on the right track, though when you get down to the nitty-gritty of appearances, a large number of questions remain. When you say: "What then is the degree of consciousness contingent upon if not the interrelationships within the holonic hierarchy?", I'm tempted to turn the premise of the question around.

      Suppose consciousness isn't contingent on the hierarchy, but the (appearance of) the hierarchy is contingent on the (highest level) consciousness. IOW, it's all the appearance of how Source Consciousness has ordered the universe and what laws and regularities are in place. We're beguiled by the appearance and impose our own limited structure on it, and that's what leads to seeming conundrums and paradoxes. These are probably telling us that we haven't yet properly understood how it all works, though we may have some of the basic notions approximately correct.

  13. PS: I wrote the above before watching Bernardo's extra video. I see he made more or less the same point about the obvious division between living and non-living entities.

  14. Bernardo, thanks so much for the new video—it definitely helped clarify your position on the issues we've been discussing. It seems Ben was pretty spot on with his prediction of how you would respond.

    I found your explanation of the dissociation process of the one Mind (using your eye metaphor) stunningly beautiful. I think you're absolutely right—life is indeed the image of the dissociation/localization of consciousness. As soon as Mind begins to dissociate, localizations of consciousness begin to appear. However, I think it is a bit careless to assume that this process of dissociation immediately results in biological life forms (as images of localization). If that were the case, would we not have to completely reject or reformulate our understanding of both cosmological and biological evolution (which holds that biological entities enter the scene relatively late in the game)?

    It seems much more plausible to me that localization begin at the pre-biological level. If we do not accept this, then the alternative is that Mind goes about its business for billions of years as a unity producing “primary excitations” and then all of a sudden begins dissociating, instantly and arbitrarily manifesting localizations of itself in the form of biological life forms. We are then faced with a problem akin to the hard problem of the materialist paradigm—I’ll call it “the hard problem of idealism.” Sure, it doesn’t involve a duality, but it does imply a weak form of emergence—namely, the arbitrary emergence of localization. I must clarify that this is NOT emergence in the same sense as in the materialist paradigm, in which the emergent phenomenon is CAUSED by the lower level phenomenon from which it arises. Rather, it is a WEAK form of emergence—which I think is just as, if not more, problematic—in which a new mode of being (localized/dissociated Mind) spontaneously springs into existence without warning or precedent. If you don’t like my coopting of the word emergence, then I’m happy to substitute another term for the problematic phenomenon I’ve just identified.

    You acknowledge the grey area that exists in the distinction between life and non-life in the world of the microscopic. You say, “For all practical reasons, that grey area is incredibly small. For our daily experiences, there is an enormous difference between life and non-life.” But a cogent formulation of any philosophical framework has to go beyond the practical and the realm of daily experience. We’re talking about fundamental concepts that should apply to reality at all levels. And the grey area may be small with respect to the entire spectrum of biological complexity, but the overwhelming majority of life on our planet inhabits this grey area! So I don’t think it can just be brushed aside for the sake of convenience of argument. Any passible formulation of idealism must take it into account—otherwise we’re simply dealing with pretty metaphors.

    1. >>It seems much more plausible to me that localization begin at the pre-biological level.<<

      Yes, I concur. I didn't mean to suggest that I disagreed with it. Primary and secondary excitations are both excitations: they reflect processes intrinsic to consciousness. The separation between them is purely a handy linguistic trick that helps clarify my idea. I don't think the transition to life from non-life was sudden or binary, for the same reason that there dissociation can happen gradually int he psyche as well, as psychologists know. But there is that moment when an alienated complex in the psyche, which is being progressively repressed, can be said to have split off. The exact moment is difficult to pin down, which is reflected in the difficulty to pinning down if a virus is alive. But it surely happens because we see the differences between both sides of that line.
      The image of the slow alienation of psychic complexes that preceded life can be said to be the chemical processes that led to the emergence of life.

  15. Continued:

    You posit the existence of two fundamentally different classes of phenomena within Mind: primary excitations (ripples in Mind) and secondary excitations (images of the localization of Mind). My argument is that, if we accept both your formulation of idealism and the current understanding of evolution, we must then conclude that secondary excitations either 1) evolved from primary excitations and that these two classes are therefore opposite extremes of a continuum (with a necessary grey area in the middle), or 2) randomly appeared after billions of years of nothing but primary excitations. Neither of these options is particularly appealing to me, and I think the problem lies in the splitting of Consciousness into two classes of phenomena.

    If any idealist model is to be taken seriously, it should be as parsimonious as possible. The optimal fulfillment of that requirement would entail boiling all observed phenomena down to one process. However, if this one process is truly all that is going on, then it has to be present FROM THE BEGINNING. It can’t just spontaneously appear at some arbitrary point along the way. I believe that this one process could be the dissociative process of Mind you describe. Furthermore, I don’t believe that the concept of primary excitations is necessary.

    You might think, “But clearly dissociation can’t be all that’s going on because teddy bears and statues aren’t conscious. It’s obvious that there’s nothing that it is like to be a teddy bear or a statue. Therefore, they are primary, not secondary excitations.” I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is nothing it is like to be a teddy bear or statue. However, I do believe that there could be something it is like to be the molecules and atoms which make up those objects. Their conscious perceptions would be tiny blips or flashes in Mind that simply register the existence of other entities upon coming into contact with them (after all, registering external entities and events is fundamentally what perception is).

    Now, following this line of thinking, the teddy bear and the statue are merely aggregates of secondary excitations and thus have no capacity for localization. They are therefore not conscious. Yes, living organisms would also be aggregates of secondary excitations, but with the distinguishing factor of an internal metabolism (which you mentioned) which serves to integrate the aggregate (or image of localization) into a unity that persists in time. Atoms and molecules of course do not have metabolism, but are perhaps integrated to an extent by their ability to retain and internally configure information caused by interactions with the environment and between constituent sub-particles. They are perhaps forming tiny little whirlpools in Mind. After all, if they exist in Mind and are part brought about by the One process that governs all things, why should they not have the capacity to do the only thing that can be done (localize Mind)?

    So, you say that there is no evidence that inanimate objects are conscious. I agree with you, but would add that there is no evidence that trees, flatworms, and archaea are either. But you attribute conscious status to them anyway because it fits your model to do so. Well, I say that a more parsimonious formulation of your model would allow for conscious status at all levels of organization.

    1. >> You posit the existence of two fundamentally different classes of phenomena within Mind: primary excitations (ripples in Mind) and secondary excitations (images of the localization of Mind).<<

      I don't think they are fundamentally different. I think they are actually fundamentally the same. I made the distinction merely to help clarify my point: in one case the excitations are caused by a dissociative processes. Instead of explaining this every time in order to make the distinction, I just gave it a name. That's all.

      >>we must then conclude that secondary excitations either 1) evolved from primary excitations and that these two classes are therefore opposite extremes of a continuum (with a necessary grey area in the middle)<<

      Yes, I have no problem with this. I totally believe this. The image of this slow transition were the chemical processes that preceded the emergence of life. A dissociation doesn't happen binary: a psychic complex is slowly separated, alienated, repressed, until, at some point, it splits off. The exact point is difficult to pin down, that being reflected in the difficult to pin down if e.g. a virus is really alive or not.

      >>the problem lies in the splitting of Consciousness into two classes of phenomena.<<

      Ripples (inanimate objects) and whirlpools (dissociated complexes) are both just movements of water. There is just water. It's just handy to speak of them with different words because, obviously, the pattern of water motion is different in each case. Nonetheless, the difference is important because, in one case, it leads to a dissociation of mind and, in the other case, mind remains unified.

      I think the whole thing is simpler than you are making it. Without dissociation, all is images in one mind (but it's still mind!). With dissociation the 'screen' of mind apparently splits off into multiple segments, each with its images, while each segment also becomes perceivable as an image in the other segments ('secondary' excitations). But, again, it's still all mind.

      >> this one process is truly all that is going on, then it has to be present FROM THE BEGINNING<<

      Yes, it's all one process ('water movement') and it's present from the beginning. Some ripples gone funny and ended up forming a whirlpool. That created an 'unconscious' through obfuscation of mental contents and, as such, a dissociation. The whirlpool also caused ripples around it, which could be perceived by other whirlpools as images. I don't see the problem.

      >>However, I do believe that there could be something it is like to be the molecules and atoms which make up those objects.<<

      Then there is something it is like to be the teddy bear, even if it's not a unified, coherent field of subjective experience. And, clearly, I don't think there is anything it's like to be an atom, in the sense that I don't think an atom is a dissociated segment of mind. The atom is in mind, not ind in the atom.

      >>would add that there is no evidence that trees, flatworms, and archaea are either<<

      There surely is, even though it can't be said to be conclusive or definitive: all life shares the incredibly complex and specific details of metabolism.

  16. Oh, and of course the other alternative is that our understanding of cosmological and biological evolution is incorrect and that living beings predate the non-living contents of consciousness, including stars, galaxies, and the rest of the cosmic make-up. I am actually willing to entertain this notion if formulated convincingly.

    1. Very nice points Kenneth. I hadn't thought about the problem you mention, that biological intentional consciousness cannot have emerged all at once only when a certain level of biological complexity had been achieved. If there was no localised consciousness in the early universe this seems to imply materialism. Some subtle issues here, though, so maybe there's a way around this.

    2. >>If there was no localised consciousness in the early universe this seems to imply materialism.<<


      If there was no localized consciousness in the early universe (which I think was the case), the entire universe was an image in one mind, like the dream of the first thought experiment in the video. Those images reflected the intrinsic nature and properties of the one mind (what else could they be?), like the dynamics of ripples reflect the intrinsic nature and properties of water (water doesn't stretch or compress, it doesn't fly, it forms ripples). This intrinsic nature and properties implied a certain dynamics in the processes of consciousness, which eventually lead to a gradual alienation and dissociation of certain psychic complexes. The image of the dissociation was the first life. What's the problem?

    3. The problem is when you take into account people who have developed the ability to investigate the consciousness associated with what we call matter. This ability comes when the thoughts passing through the individualized mind are completely quiescent.

      What kind of awareness, if any, is associated with a rock. It is certainly not individualized. In fact, there is good evidence (if you accept the evidence of contemplatives) that the awareness associated with the most primitive animals (from one celled organisms up to and even including reptiles, and possibly some mammals and birds) is primarily a kind of "group" or field awareness, with very little localization. The ethnobiologist Frans de Waal suggests there is a kind of 'centering" in fish, reptiles and amphibians, and some mammals and birds, but we only find anything approaching the self awareness of humans in some chimps, dolphins - more recently, possibly whales - and a few others (Alex, the African Grey, is the focus of much controversy regarding this).

      But in terms of this field awareness which we find in primitive life forms - certainly, there is nothing at all in our contemporary scientific methodology which would help here. We may look at cellular activity in amoeba or plants and make certain correlations but science at present has no method of direct investigation.

      So back to our advanced contemplative scientists. They describe a kind of field consciousness not only in the most primitive organisms, but in rocks and other apparently inanimate phenomena (I hope you recogznie that I'm not remotely suggesting pan psychism or panexperientialism; i'm describing phenomena which are images in Consciousness).

      It is not individualized. It is not even a defined field in rocks, water, etc in the same way as it is in primitive organisms. But the data - not theory - appears consistent across a remarkable number of contemplatives. There is some kind of completely non-indvidualized, barely field-like awareness which is almost incomprehensible from the view of our ordinary mentality, but which can be "contacted" (experienced?) with a more refined contemplative consciousness.

      I don't think this conflicts with your idealist view at all. And it does not involve any kind of localized awareness or consciousness in inanimate objects either.

    4. >> is primarily a kind of "group" or field awareness, with very little localization<<

      Yes, weak localization and little obfuscation. I talk about it in the book using ant colonies as an example.

      >>We may look at cellular activity in amoeba or plants and make certain correlations but science at present has no method of direct investigation.<<

      Metabolism underlies all life, and the commonalities are exquisitely specific at a chemical level, like the amino-acids underlying all life, protein folding processes (to this day without explanation), etc.

      >>They describe a kind of field consciousness not only in the most primitive organisms, but in rocks and other apparently inanimate phenomena<<

      There are many reports of psychedelic trips in which people describe being the awareness of a painting, or a wall, or a vase. How to distinguish that from psychological projection or fantasy? How to distinguish that from the intuition that consciousness is the field underlying all objects, which I not only accept but defend? This is too flimsy and ambiguous evidence to make the giant step of saying that every atom has an experiential point of view of its own, dissociated from a larger psyche.

      >>There is some kind of completely non-indvidualized, barely field-like awareness which is almost incomprehensible from the view of our ordinary mentality, but which can be "contacted" (experienced?) with a more refined contemplative consciousness. <<

      This is equivalent to saying that all reality is IN consciousness. I have no problems with this! All reality are excitations of consciousness, and consciousness is the underlying field. No problem. But to say that a rock is a dissociated segment of the field -- therefore having its own awareness -- is, in my view, totally unjustified both empirically and logically.

  17. Okay, thanks for the clarification! It seems I'm pretty much on the same page with you, my only point of contention being the conscious status of inanimate matter. I’ll have to just agree to disagree with you about that (since neither of us can really prove one way or the other)!

    So then my next question (really, more questions?!) is: where do the images/ripples in mind come from? In the beginning, if the one Mind is all there is, it seems some sort of action would be required to initiate the formation of ripples. But action presupposes a plurality—at least one other entity to act upon or in conjunction with the One. So are the ripples simply always there? I know this question is a bit removed from the topic of conversation. I’m just wondering if you’ve developed your model to this point.

    Also, sorry if there are repeats of this comment popping up elsewhere. I tried to enter it into the reply box, but it's not showing up on my computer.

    1. (You have to click on "Load more" at the bottom to see the latest comments)

      It's part of the nature of mind to ''vibrate,' or to form 'ripples.' Stating this is exactly the same thing as to say that it's part of the nature of the universe to lead to a Big Bang, or collision of branes, or quantum fluctuations, etc. Those vibrations unfold according to certain patterns and regularities, which is the same thing as to say that nature behaves according to the laws of physics. This is an ontological primitive: it simply is, like the laws of physics simply are. The question you ask is an age-old one: it's the question of why there is something rather than nothing. This question is valid also under materialism or any other ontology, and is not exclusive to Idealism. We cannot go down the chain of causality forever under any ontology. We cannot keep finding the cause of the cause of the cause ... of the cause forever. At some point, it simply _is_.

  18. Reality is a cruel bastard, getting your teeth kicked in would wake you up to the harsh objective truth that reality is outside of you.

    1. It's outside that segment of mind -- your ego -- that you identify yourself with. That's for sure. But that doesn't mean it's outside of mind. What generates your nightmares is also outside that part of mind you identify yourself with, yet your nightmares are clearly generated in and by mind. What generates the hallucinations of a schizophrenic is also outside that part of mind the schizophrenic identifies him or herself with, yet the hallucinations are clearly generated in and by mind. The existence of cruelty, finally, is no logical reason for the claim that reality is outside mind. I've never said that mind is a domain of pure dualistic love and kindness. Empirically, we know it's not.

  19. Haven't had a chance to read all the comments or watch Bernardo's new video yet, but here are some thoughts:

    Everything is a self-localization of Mind, whether conscious or not. In other words, everything is consciousness, but not everything is conscious in any meaningful sense.

    Granted, there is nothing it is like to be a rock, but Mind is omnipresent. Therefore the rock is as much in Mind and Mind in it as is the case with a human being. Look to the atomic and sub-atomic levels in either and we see the same orderly laws of nature at play. But move to lesser degrees of magnification and we see much more sophisticated, complex structures in living beings than in rocks - structures capable of reflecting consciousness enough to be conscious, conscious that they are conscious, and in the enlightened, conscious that they are consciousness.

    Analogously, we might take the raw materials from which a radio is made - metal, silicon, glass, plastic, etc., and throw them in a heap on the floor. They won't function as a radio, yet they will be permeated by the ubiquitous electromagnetic field which a radio interprets as music as much as a functioning radio is.

    You could do the same with a human being. Take the proper amounts of carbon, water, various minerals, etc., that comprise a human being and put them in containers on a table. Essentially, they are universal consciousness appearing as form. But they won't be conscious in any meaningful way. But "assemble" them properly - or let nature do it since human intelligence is incapable of doing so - and you have a conscious being.

    The raw elements comprising the human being are Mind appearing as form no less than when they are "assembled" as a human being. It's just that the properly "assembled" elements are an instrument capable of conscious experience, while the unassembled elements are not.

    "God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in the human being." - Sufi saying

    1. >> Everything is a self-localization of Mind, whether conscious or not. In other words, everything is consciousness, but not everything is conscious in any meaningful sense. <<

      I agree with the second statement, but I don't think it's the same as the first. I think life is a self-localization, or dissociation, of consciousness, but not non-life. The latter are just excitations of consciousness. Metaphorically: life is a whirlpool in the stream of mind (self-localization) and non-life are just ripples on the same stream.

      >>Granted, there is nothing it is like to be a rock, but Mind is omnipresent. Therefore the rock is as much in Mind and Mind in it as is the case with a human being.<<

      Yes, but the rock isn't the image of a dissociated segment of mind like you or me. It's not self-localized. It's not a whirlpool, just a ripple.

      >>Look to the atomic and sub-atomic levels in either and we see the same orderly laws of nature at play.<<

      Yes, all nature is an image of the fundamental structure and processes of the one unified consciousness! But not all nature reflects dissociated, "split-off," self-localized segments of that one consciousness, in my view. Whatever is not dissociated is in the one consciousness, but not conscious in its own right, i.e. doesn't ground a localized point-of-view of its own within the great dream.

      >>The raw elements comprising the human being are Mind appearing as form no less than when they are "assembled" as a human being. It's just that the properly "assembled" elements are an instrument capable of conscious experience, while the unassembled elements are not.<<

      I agree with all this, but none of it contradicts my point. You are saying that all is in the one consciousness and reflects the nature of the one consciousness. Yes! But that doesn't mean that a rock is a self-localized, 'split-off,' dissociated segment of the one consciousness having a localized stream of experience of its own, apparently separate from the rest, like you or I.


  21. A distinction without a difference. I read and saw Bernardo's video about the difference in consciousness between animate and inanimate things. It was beautiful but I don't see a fundamental difference. We can see whirlpools ripples splashes or other forms in the stream but they're all just the stream. The ego is such a desperate thing that always needs to be in control always needs to be better but there is nothing to control and nothing to be better than. In the final analysis everything is the stream. I wish we all could let go a little and relax into the stream. It's all there is. It's a privilege to be part of the stream even for a while.

    1. Is it *ego* that makes me prefer strawberries to straw? Differences exist. Don't pretend they don't.

    2. John, I for one see a huge difference between being conscious and being in consciousness. The people I come across in my nightly dream are in my consciousness -- and not in w world outside my mind -- but they are not conscious; they are not a dissociated personality of myself. Similarly, rocks are not a dissociated alter of the one consciousness. Not everything has inner life and a private stream of experiences. Why should it be so? To say so is not only arbitrary and ungrounded on empirical observation, it entails an unimaginable explosion of conscious entities and dissociated streams of experience. It's an epistemic mix up, a confusion of language; it reflects difficulty in seeing the difference between 'being in consciousness' and 'being conscious.' The non-duality adherent's inability to see this, it seems to me, is very similar to the materialist's inability to see reality as a manifestation of consciousness itself, but just turned inside out.

  22. I certainly agree that everything that is experienced is within consciousness. It's also obvious that all other life forms are the same consciousness I am and that whirlpool metaphor describes our sense of being individuals.
    However when you say that objects that are of the same things as my body are not aware you seem to be moving away from parsimony. Doesn't each whirlpool eventually transition into ripples? In addition many of those who experience altered states of consciousness say that everything is alive. Bringing us full circle back to experience being the only thing we can know.

    1. Everything can be said to be 'alive' in the sense that everything is a manifestation -- an excitation -- of the one consciousness, a living 'thing' if anything is. But not everything is a dissociated alter of that one consciousness; not everything has inner life and a private stream of experiences. Why should it be so? To say so is not only arbitrary and ungrounded on empirical observation, it entails an unimaginable explosion of conscious entities and dissociated streams of experience. It's an epistemic mix up, a confusion of language; it reflects difficulty in seeing the difference between 'being in consciousness' and 'being conscious.' The non-duality adherent inability to see this, it seems to me, is very similar to the materialist's inability to see reality as a manifestation of consciousness itself, but just turned inside out.

  23. from Brin:

    Bernardo ~ I really appreciate the intent of your work, especially when you speak of opening a crack in the intellect. Maybe we can open the crack a little more and let the water from the whirlpool open into the water surrounding?

    What is Awakening or Self-Realization in this context?

    When as a whirlpool we realize we are water ~

    How does direct realization happen?

    Again, this is experientially profoundly simple. We shift our identification from a whirlpool to water.

    Instead of identifying with the whirlpool in the water, something about the qualities inherent in the water directly fascinate ~ and in the fascination, that focus draws us to experience directly as the water. It is this shift of focus that causes us to have a different experience, to experience as water instead of as a specific whirlpool.

    As we do this, there actually can be awareness of water in other whirlpools or all kinds of water beyond a specific whirlpool point of view. It has to do with the shift of focus ~ and the resulting holes in the whirlpool's point of view open up more and more to pure water or pure awareness, or the water at the base of all the ripples and whirlpools so that you have spontaneous awareness that happens of all kinds of things, usually through need ~ but that probably is a residue of a shift of focus caused through need.

    As long as we are fixated on a whirlpool, it is the filter through which we see, feel and so on, blocking out the larger experience of water itself (Self-realization).

    (Individual brain activity is a kind of static in this process ~ as exemplified in the experiments you spoke of at SAND which correlate less brain activity with opening to this greater consciousness.)

    A teacher should not be about control, simply a spread of this direct experience of being or awareness without the constriction of the whirlpool. Then each will usually share a particular method found for arriving at this. But there are truly infinite "methods" (which usually come down to very simple things) because it is inherently who and what we are, water. It really is as simple as a shift in focus. Like noticing awareness now at this moment before it notices *something*, notice the *awareness* that sees, that reads this and so on ~ shift and simply rest in this awareness (rather than always looking outward *from* it). Feel how the awareness feels before you do something with it? Simply rest in this. Do this some everyday and you'll see for yourself, it can be that simple. This is essentially all that Nisargadatta did.

    (Part One)

    (Part Two follows because of character count!)

    Best, Brin

    1. Yes, I have had fleeting experiences along the lines of what you describe. I could relate them to a de-localization of consciousness, like a slowing down and expansion of the whirlpool, or even a partial dissolution of the whirlpool that releases the center of awareness into the broader stream.
      Alternatively, I think consciousness localization leads to an amplification of local mental contents that obfuscate all the rest (the rest of the stream, other whirlpools, etc.). I can thus also imagine that one can broaden awareness by reducing amplification (egoic focus, obsessive thinking, etc.), even without de-localization. In fact, I think the challenge of enlightenment is precisely how to reduce obfuscation while maintaining self-reflectiveness, or lucidity. This, in fact, is what I think distinguishes enlightenment from death: death is a de-localization of consciousness that reduces obfuscation at the cost of also reducing self-reflectiveness; enlightenment, on the other hand, maintains localization but somehow reduces obfuscation, without a loss in self-reflectiveness. I expand on this in the book Why Materialism Is Baloney,

  24. (Part Two ~ from Brin)

    As we shift focus from qualities of a particular whirlpool to the qualities of water itself, this tends to open up this shift of identity -- noticing the oneness of the water, opening to love which is a quality of the water, or beauty or any quality of water itself. Noticing the Light of consciousness and focusing on this Light, (or any light seems to lead into this ire awareness). Then unforgettable experiences happen which blow open the individual whirlpoint of view ~ yet often at first we don't know what caused this or why it happened, so don't know how to open directly to that larger awareness, though really it is a simple shift of focus, a simple shift of identity from whirlpool to realizing we are the water ~ directly experientially realizing this.

    The stronger the realization or experience of water, the more impossible it is to go back to just being the whirlpool. The water is moving in and out of the focal point of experience, so that more of the whole is experienced as oneself, until the oneness of the water becomes the baseline instead of a whirlpool. From this we may experience the arising and falling of whirlpool, and how they seem to arise from "nothing" and fall back into "nothing" -- yet when you are identified with the water instead you realize awareness continues. Nothing is born, nothing dies. You are the water, the consciousness, the awareness looking out through all the eyes -- and you begin to experience this.

    What we experience as the identity shifts from whirlpool to water, has a lot to do with how we conceive of the experience. We habitually identify with the whirlpool and a sense of separation ~ even with a point of view. When this falls away, all kinds of experiences are possible.

    From this perspective, even inanimate objects, everything radiates with the inherent consciousness that is the ground of Being. Sometimes the walls themselves can seem to breathe. It isn't just projection, it is the direct experience of consciousness which enlivens everything. This is the sense that even the inanimate is as if alive, because what is the basis of it all is alive everywhere, so there is no where, nothing that isn't That aliveness.

    Does a cell in the body feel fear when we feel fear? love when we feel love?
    Are we also as if a cell in a larger body? (and then able to experience directly in that larger sense?)
    (Fractals, _Powers of Ten_ film and book)

    As we experience the falling away of separation, the differentiation of forms within consciousness are seen second, rather than first. Like a subject / ground shift.

    Best to all ~ Brin

    1. I follow you. I can related to the experience that everything is 'alive' in the sense you describe. Yet, I don't think it contradicts what I wrote above in the essay. :)

  25. But in that state of experiencing the water - the wider river - you are simply seeing as Consciousness at large sees. Consciousness at Large doesn't create your particular localised consciousness to do what It can do perfectly well all the time. There is no advantage to it. Mind at large wants you to be exploratory and self-reflective.

  26. I enjoyed your book, and I think you are on the right track, but some of what you write suggests to me that there is a problem.

    I would agree with you that that reality is "just this", no need to postulate an invisible background world. However, the idea of something called consciousness that is more than a mere abstraction, seems to me to be unwarranted. I can see at least two ways in which we infer that there is a real substance called consciousness. The first is the idea of being conscious or unconscious of an object. This seems to be to be based on a misunderstanding. We can perceive a rainbow (or rather, perception of the rainbow and the rainbow are the same thing). Then we can turn our backs to it, and we erroneously think that the percept-object is still there, but we are unaware of it. And so we come up with the idea of rainbow with consciousness and rainbow without consciousness. What remains when you are not looking, however, is not a rainbow, but conditions that can give rise to the perception of a rainbow, given the right circumstances. I agree with you that these conditions are not material "stuff" or an invisible world behind appearances.

    The second way we infer the idea of consciousness is by being "unconscious". That is, if I am undergoing surgery under anesthesia, I can infer from the testimony of others, and the changes that have occurred, that something has happened without my being aware of it. But this still does not support the idea of something called consciousness that is more than an abstraction. The waking from anesthesia is not dual. There is not something called consciousness and the experiences that arises in it. They are one and the same. I also see no reason to postulate an awareness during anesthesia that does not register in memory. Awareness seems to be completely inseperable from phenomena. It is not that it is the stuff they are made of. It is a concept, a useful abstraction that exists conventionally. But color, seeing, phenomenon, consciousness all refer to the same reality.

    I don't think there is an ontological foundation at all. Nothing truly existent (in the way we imagine) exists at all. Reality is completely ineffable, and conceptual models will always fail for this reason. We can say what reality is not, but we cannot say what it is other than pointing to it and saying "thus". Both idealism and materialism have their limitations beause they are conceptual constructs, while they may have their pragmatic uses, they are not an ultimate explanation of anything.

    1. Did you read the book all the way to the end? If you did, you will remember that I ultimately conclude that consciousness is void. It is certainly not a thing or a substance. It is the field of subjectivity itself. It's what we are, not a separate thing we observe. It is that whose excitations produce subjective experience. And subjective experience is all there is. So when consciousness isn't excited, it isn't. It's just a potential for experience and, thus, a potential for existence. There is a strong sense in which my 'Idealism' is in fact non-dual philosophy. There have been several discussions about this in my Discussion Forum (see top menu on this site for a link).

  27. "but conditions that can give rise to the perception of a rainbow, given the right circumstances."
    So instead of localized consciousness and excitations of consciousness, you prefer "conditions" and "circumstances"?

  28. @Anonymous. I tried answering, but I think the reply got lost, so I will try again. I apologize if I am making the same point twice.

    The point I was trying to make was that concepts cannot capture experience. This includes concepts such as "circumstances" and "conditions". I think it is a mistake to reify abstractions such as "energy", "matter" or "consciousness", "circumstances" or "conditions" as if they have some separate, independent existence, or are made out of some primordial stuff. The metaphor Buddhists use for this is called Indra's net. An infinite web of interconnected jewels, which are nothing more than the reflection of every other jewel. No jewel substance, just reflection. No mirror reflecting, no aware "screen" as in Advaita. No water. No quicksilver. Just reflecting.

    1. I don't turn consciousness into an abstraction or a thing. I go to pains in the book to warn readers against interpreting me that way. But language is structured in object/subject and other dualities. So the moment one talks about consciousness, one inevitably starts implicitly suggesting that consciousness is an abstracted thing, like a stream or a membrane. In fact, those are just metaphorical devices. I can't talk about consciousness without them.
      It may be legitimate to then stop doing philosophy and simply follow a direct experiential path. But I chose to try philosophy because our entire society -- and its value systems -- is based on some form of explicit or implicit philosophy. So I have to run this risk of coming across as objectifying or abstracting consciousness.
      Let me be clear: I don't abstract consciousness. Consciousness is the vey thing that I am. It is the field of my subjectivity, the excitations of which produce experience and, as such, reality itself. It is the ground of my very being. It is the most concrete thing possible, if anything at all can be concrete. It is the sole undeniable fact of existence. Everything else is created within consciousness. And my entire book is consistent with what I just said, if you read it with the right eyes!

  29. Yes, this reminds me of what Bashar said – that originally there was a dimensionless point in the void, but as there were no laws (that is, restrictions, like the speed of light), the point could be everywhere at once and appear to be many, with multiple viewpoints.

    Multiple viewpoints, each limited by its own perspective, must be desirable to nonlocal Mind. Reflection, via the Arts, sciences and religions is aimed at capturing experience. So it would be a mistake to dismiss Culture as an unimportant abstraction.

  30. Hi Bernardo,

    I find myself in trouble with something. People like Sam Harris, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra talking about the Self being an illusion and even Sam Harris is making the claim that therefore free will cannot exists. He says that his view is not based on materialism and even if we had a soul you still cannot have free will. I have a quote here from his conversation with Dan Harris about meditation and the Self: It’s possible to look for the one who is looking and to find, conclusively, that no one is there to be found. I wanted to know this for myself and started meditating and indeed saw this stream of thinking and thoughts just emerge in my conscious awareness.
    I did some research on the internet about the self and i found Anirban Bandyopadhyay PhD(really impressive guy!) talking about the self and he was suggesting that the self is the Realisation of music(vibrations)that YOU are composing.
    My question to you is the following: How can ''I'' be the one who is composing this music if the Self is an illusion? If there is nobody who is doing that then how can there be a ''I'' if there is nobody who is composing the music? The reason i ask you about this is because you seem to talk a lot about the self and you also make a statement that we DO have free will which indicates to me that there must be something that has the ability to do what he wants to do right? Therefore it confuses me that you are making such logic explainations in such good detail and clarity and on the other hand the self really indeed looks like a ilusion and therefore i cannot see how if there is no self who is doing things, that your hypothesis is correct.

    Thank you bernardo!

    1. Freewill is a function of what you identify yourself with. If you think you are your ego awareness, I think you have very little -- if any -- freewill. In that sense, I think Sam is correct. But if you identify yourself with consciousness as such, with mind at large, I do think you have freewill. I wrote about this in two other essays:
      Ultimately, there is no individual self, for the same reason that there is nothing to a whirlpool but water. But there is one ultimate Self, whose consciousness is the ground of all reality. In the book Why Materialism Is Baloney I dedicate an entire section to a discussion about how the absolute, unrestricted freewill of this one Self necessarily gives rise to limitations, and to the lack of freewill os illusory personal selves.
      So, in summary, I agree with Sam that our personal selves have little or no freewill. Maybe all we have is free-won't, an ability to make efforts that go against the natural flow of life. But the ultimate Self, the Dao, flows in preferential ways that are a reflection of its own freewill; of its own underlying nature. And ultimately, we are It.

  31. “C-Rex?” asks Karl.
    “Yeah, C-Rex, consciousness is king, as opposed to U-Rex, universe is king, which is the reigning paradigm we all know and love.”
    Karl reads through my notes. He takes his time.
    “No,” he says, “I don’t think so.”
    We discuss it for a few minutes.
    “The difference between U-Rex and C-Rex is simple,” I explain to him. “Imagine a sheet of white paper and put a dot somewhere in the middle of it. The white page is infinite, it goes on forever in all directions. Okay?’
    “Yes, okay.”
    “Now, label the infinite sheet of paper Universe, and label the dot Consciousness. Okay?”
    “That’s what I’m calling U-Rex, our shared paradigm of reality. Regardless of any other consideration, that’s how everyone understands their reality. I am conscious, and my consciousness is one small thing in a great big universe. Agree?”
    “Certainly,” he says.
    “And that universe is just as we know it. It has time and space, energy and matter, everything we all experience all the time. It’s full of people and planets and stars, incomprehensible vastness and complexity, everything we mean by universe, right?”
    “Fine, yes.”
    “That’s the reigning paradigm of reality. Universe is king, U-Rex. Your consciousness is a dot, one small thing in an infinite universe.”
    “Got that piece of paper in mind?”
    “Yes.” He smiles indulgently, but his eyes are bright with intelligence. “So how do we arrive at this other paradigm of yours?”
    “Just switch the labels.”

    Jed McKenna, 'Theory of Everything'.


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