Peeks into Meaning in Absurdity

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the Public Domain.
Today I've received the latest sales figures of all of my books, as is customary in the beginning of the year. I couldn't help but find it striking that my least popular book is also perhaps my personal favorite: Meaning in Absurdity. Alright, Why Materialism Is Baloney may be more important or relevant given our present cultural circumstances, but that doesn't change the fact that the key theme explored in Meaning in Absurdity is, to me, extraordinarily fascinating: high-strangeness, absurd phenomena. The idea developed in the book is, in my opinion, one of my key contributions, for not only does it shed light on the absurd in an unexpected but intriguing manner, it also bears direct relevance to our entire view of the nature of reality. It is for these reasons that I will now star an effort to raise awareness about that older work of mine, starting with this post.

Below, you will find an extensive extract of the book, comprising its table of contents, prologue and one entire (though short) chapter. I hope this triggers your curiosity and encourages you to investigate that nearly forgotten little book...


Meaning in Absurdity

Contents

Prologue
The calls of the absurd
The elusiveness of the absurd
The demise of realism
The desacralization of logic
Constructing reason
The reality within
A cosmology beyond absurdity
The Formless speaks
The shape of things to come
What to make of it all?
Epilogue
Notes

Prologue

This book is an experiment: an attempt to use logic to expose the absurd foundations of logic; an attempt to use science to peek beyond the limits of science; an attempt to use rationality to lift the veil off the irrational. Its ways are unconventional: weaving along its path one finds UFOs and fairies, quantum mechanics, analytic philosophy, history, mathematics, and depth psychology. The enterprise of constructing a coherent story out of these incommensurable disciplines is exploratory. Yet, finding ourselves confronted with the undeniable contradictions of our culture’s current worldview, we must test untried waters if we are to escape banality and find our way back to the mysteries of existence. The payoff is handsome: a reason for hope, a boost for the imagination, and the promise of a meaningful future. 

But it does not come free: this book will ask you to have an open mind and enough mental flexibility to navigate through seas that will drag you out of your comfort zone, wherever it may lie. If you are at home with the wacky, the weird, and the absurd – but can keep yourself engaged when structured thinking is called for – you may find a new world of insights when we explore quantum entanglement, Gödel’s theorems, intuitionistic logic, and the history of science. If, instead, you are comfortable with science and formal philosophy – but can balance your skepticism and cynicism – you may find a breath of fresh air when we explore the serious aspects of UFOs, the Otherworld, and the inner landscapes of the unconscious. If the experiment works, at the end all these disparate threads will come together to unveil a startling picture of reality and of our condition as minded characters within it.

For me, personally, this book represents a difficult critique of previously unquestioned assumptions and values I had held for most of my life; a departure from ingrained structures of thought I had grown so identified with I could hardly conceive of any other legitimate avenue of thinking. Yet, this is precisely what I now believe this book to embody: a previously unthinkable but legitimate articulation of an uncanny scenario about the nature of reality. If my own experience while researching it is representative, this book may confront some of your dearest notions about truth and reason, just as it confronted mine. Yet, it may do so in a way that you cannot dismiss lightly, because the (laboratory) evidence it compiles and the philosophy it leverages are solid in the traditional, academic sense.

The most exciting discoveries always entail the loss of previously held certainties. So here is my invitation to you. This is a short and sharp book, wasting no space on non-essentials or divagations. Making your way through it will not demand any major investment of time or effort. So give it an honest chance, and it may just help you open up entirely new dimensions for exploring that ultimate of all questions: What is going on?

...

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the Public Domain.
The Formless speaks

We are incessantly, relentlessly, tirelessly telling ourselves stories; constantly attempting to categorize and match everything we experience against some (coherent) storyline playing out in our minds. Well, at least I am like that, and I seem to observe others doing the same. That is why certain forms of meditation prove so challenging: there, the idea is to stop the story-telling. It turns out many of us require instruction, the learning of techniques developed over centuries or millennia, and years of training to have a chance to momentarily pause the story-telling; so inborn it seems to be. Some people even feel they need to isolate themselves completely, in mountains or monasteries, for years at a time, to stop telling themselves what is or might be going on.

So it is no wonder we are prisoners of the consensus meta-reality we build, to the point that many of us – cruelly, often the most intellectually critical – believe there is nothing else. We become prisoners of our own stories and we forget we are telling them ourselves. If we are lucky, we sometimes succeed – by trial or chance – to relax the constraints of the story, so the absurd may emerge in archetypal forms and speak to us. This is, by any measure, a great and significant achievement. But as liberated from the straitjacket of logic, physics, and all that is entailed by consensus meta-reality as it may be, the absurd is still a story. These meaningful, living metaphors from the unconscious reveal deeper secrets about the nature of our condition as living beings, but they are still self-created myths.

When one finally, and precariously, succeeds in shutting out the story-telling perhaps for a brief moment, that is when one ‘jumps out of the system,’ as Hofstadter put it. One then has a chance to survey the process of story-telling standing outside it. The idea is to go beyond the absurd, and into the Formless: the part of being that is pure potential, undifferentiated into any myth or storyline. What insights might that perspective entail? What might the Formless have to tell us?

Once one intellectually buys into the worldview we have been articulating, it becomes impossible not to attempt a certain active-imagination exercise: to imagine what the perspective of the Formless might entail. As I have discovered, there is something liberating about it, so I will share my attempt with you for what it is worth. Naturally, in order to communicate my imagined message of the Formless through language, I have no alternative but to make a story out of it. This defeats the point somewhat, but hopefully not completely. The story form I chose is that of an imaginary letter sent to me by ‘the Formless.’ It goes like this...

Rejoice, for I am from a world beyond the farthest reaches of your rational modeling. In my home, a subject is merely a moving viewpoint in a maelstrom of perceptions, feelings, and ideas; like a sliding pair of eyes trained at the inside of the body that is Creation. From here, your logic, your science, but also your conceptions of life, death, and soul, are but cartoons: flattened, simple, infantile stories conjured up by a sweet childhood of thought in a desperate search for closure. A gaping abyss stretches out between the images they evoke and the recursive, self-referential landscapes I watch unfold as I drift along the stream of qualia that I am. 
Your life is a patchwork of projected concepts; a thin conceptual crust around an unfathomable core of the amorphous substance of existence. Logic – which you create by channeling and constricting the flow of this substance – exists only in the crust. Lifting the rug of logic can take you closer to the secret behind what you call reality: the self-referential nature of all conscious experience. He who cracks this secret witnesses in awe the shattering of consensus reality into a million pieces. As these pieces fall to the ground, like a broken mirror, he is confronted with the unspeakable: the most alien and yet most familiar of all realizations. 
But this is a realization you have not yet reached; just glimpsed from a ludicrously long distance. So immersed are you still in conceptual patchworks, so submerged in the manifested stream of your being, that you cannot see that which you have always known but forget every time you awake to the sleep of life. Still, this is how it should be. Your condition is the epitome of life, for you are going to die, and I am not. Rejoice, for I am you, yet I transcend you. 
It is a saddle of your condition that you think only in terms of references and categories you are comfortable with, even when you intuit the existence of that which transcends these references and categories. Anguished by your mortality, you ponder about the survival of awareness beyond bodily death. You conceptualize a ghost-like ‘soul,’ existing in time and space, which ‘leaves’ the locus of the physical body upon death as if it were circumscribed by this physical body. You intuitively recognize the cartoonish naïveté of these models, and try to justify them to yourself by postulating ‘subtle energies’ and other ill-defined physical metaphors that help you hide your ignorance from yourself. Yes, these metaphors have their place, and some may even be the closest you can come to the truth with your limited language. But they are as literal and space-time-bound as the conceptual constructs they supposedly transcend. The aspects of being that ‘survive’ death and transcend physical existence are as alien to the references and categories of your waking life as your waking life is alien to the references and categories of your dreams. Your attempts to define the transcendent are as hopeless as a dreaming man’s attempt to define his physical body as an entity within his dream. Alas, the body is outside the dream and cannot be thought of in terms of the circumstances of the dream! In the same way, that which is transcendent and eternal in you escape the references and categories of your conceptual reality and cannot be conceived as a construct within it. 
Yet your life is itself a dream. The problem is that you got it the wrong way around: the dream is not in the body; it is the body that is in the dream. All metaphors, all cartoons of explanation and closure, exist only in the dream. When you sleep, you partially awake. But ‘Who is It who dreams?’ I hear you ask. This question is itself a reflection of your myopia; your infantile need to conceive of everything as being produced by something else. You see, the Dreamer is Itself the dream. The dream is the eternal unfolding and expression of the Dreamer to Itself. And it encompasses countless, perhaps unending viewpoints within it; viewpoints which the Dreamer assumes, and which entail amnesia from all other perspectives. 
Yes, every realm in the unfathomable dream of existence rests on layers upon layers of amnesia. Without identifying with a viewpoint, and forgetting who you really are, you could not taste from the many cups of experience. What finality or limitation could you know were it not for your forgetfulness? What weight could your actions carry? What significance could your achievements or failures hold? Rejoice for your ability to forget, for it endows you with the colors of life. But bear this in mind: you will once again remember. And when you do, you will again be home. In the interim, live out your myths – imaginatively.

Copyright © 2011-2015 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. I had a dream last night where I confronted a dream character and interrogated him. I knew it was a dream as I had become lucid. My dream characters try to convince me they are conscious and they usually fail but last night's particular dream character was zen-like and convincing. He told me that I am conscious and live in a real world but that he was also conscious and lived in my mind's fabricated landscapes. He said that he and other entities act as metaphors for physical processes in my brain. So for example, he was a specific neural network manifesting in a form I can understand; a dream character in a dream landscape. I left him be and went for a walk in the dream landscape as I tried to make sense of what he said. After that, I was catapulted into another lucid dream where everything was almost as vivid as real life. Next, I lost lucidity and had a conversation with another dream character in which I tried to explain profound things I knew about while dreaming but cannot recall right now in reality. Something that stands out for me regarding dreams is that during even lucid ones I have amnesia. I know many things instinctively but how I came to be in the dream and my life up until that point is not connected up like it is in my waking life. My mind's ability to put me in scenarios with a high degree of amnesia with me not fretting about it shows me that I'm fully capable of experiencing a break in continuity without stress. Therefore, when I die, should I go into a new state with a new landscape I will be fine just like in my dreams. That being said, I do enjoy waking reality's consistency and what are highly likely to be fellow conscious beings like yourself (I'm not a solipsist). Your book, Materialism Is Baloney, filled a number of gaps in my personal philosophy of mind and reality. I intend to read all of your books including Meaning In Absurdity. Much appreciation for your work as it is in my opinion some of the most up-to-date information available on the subject of existence.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks!
      An interesting speculation is to turn the words of your dreamed-up character around: what if the neural networks in your brain are a metaphor for the dreamed-up character who lives in your mental landscapes? Maybe they are metaphors for each other? And since we're talking about it, what if the whole world is a symbol, an icon of mental activity in mind-at-large? ;-)
      Maybe we are all suffering from amnesia right now...
      Cheers, B.

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  2. I recently read the Allen Kardec "The Spirits Book". Between all the topics, two particular hit me. The first, question 35 , that all space is filled with matter, but large part of it is in an undetectable state ( really? like dark matter?) , the other one concening dreams: simply put, when we dream the soul partially detaches from the body and goes everywere he wants, so actung with the memory, ability and the peculiar sense of time of spirits. See chapter 8.

    Do you have had a reading of this book. Do you feel that this book could be in accordance with your philosofical views ?

    Thank you in advance

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    Replies
    1. Haven't read Kardec, Pierluigi! May do one day, after going through my current reading list. Thanks for the heads-up.

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