The heart of the matter

A few hours ago, I had a lively and productive dialogue with Canadian author and filmmaker Jean-Francois Martel, which is now episode 6 of my Inception Dialogues podcast. See the video below. As my regular readers know, Martel and I exchanged criticisms through our respective blogs in the past couple of months. See, for instance, this article. However, this latest dialogue helped both of us notice more commonalities between our respective positions than we had realized before.


One particular topic, however, deserves further elaboration than what was discussed in the dialogue. Martel considered it the heart of our disagreement: one hour, 2 minutes and 25 seconds into the video, he refers to my four-point argument against materialism, as discussed in my earlier book Why Materialism Is Baloney. The four points consist of increasingly inflationary statements about reality that are entailed by materialism. Here they are:

  1. Your conscious perceptions exist;
  2. The conscious perceptions of other living entities different from your own, also exist;
  3. There are things that exist independently of, and outside, conscious perception;
  4. Things that exist independently of, and outside conscious perception generate conscious perception.

In a nutshell, a materialist must grant all four points. An agnostic realist must grant the first three. An idealist grants only the first two. And finally, a solipsist grants the first point alone. As an idealist, I grant points one and two, but not points three and four. As an agnostic realist, Martel grants points one, two and three. His motivation is the following:
'How does statement two not imply statement three? ... Because for there to be other living beings that I can then judge to be conscious or not conscious, I need to believe they exist outside of me.'
To believe that they exist outside of you – that is, outside the stream of conscious experiences you call your life – does not require that they exist outside consciousness itself. It only requires that there be other streams of conscious experience different from your own, which is precisely what is stated in point two. By denying point three, I don't deny the inner lives of other people, since their inner lives are in consciousness. I don't deny that you have an inner life – a personal stream of experiences – different from mine and ordinarily inaccessible to me. I don't deny that you have experiences that I don't necessarily have. But your inner life is in consciousness and so is mine. By acknowledging that you have your own inner life I am not forced to acknowledge that this inner life is hosted, generated, modulated, or otherwise couched in anything outside consciousness. I am simply acknowledging a broader variety of experiences than those I ordinarily have access to as an individual. And the inner lives of other living beings appear in my inner life as the subjective images I call other bodies. My subjective inner life appears in your inner life as your subjective perception of my body. Only subjective experience is required.

This is a simple but often misunderstood point. The idealist denies that anything exists outside consciousness, but not outside his own personal stream of mentation. Indeed, the idealist acknowledges that countless other experiences do exist, which happen to not be included in his own inner life. None of this implies that there must exist anything outside experience itself, since I am only talking about different streams of experience. I can grant validity to statements one and two above without any need to grant it to statements three or four.

ADDENDUM of 19 August 2015:

I'd like to summarize some key points that I've had to make in the comments section below:

  1. If one says that the qualities of experience – or qualia in philosophical jargon – like the redness of red or the taste of an orange exist in the world, as opposed to inside our heads, then the world necessarily entails at least one non-personal/trans-personal experiencer. There is no escape from this, since experience by definition entails an experiencer. Redness cannot exist without being experienced as such, since redness is an experience. The only valid point of debate is whether the experiencer is human (or at least human-like) or non-human, embodied or disembodied. I argue that it is disembodied – bodies existing as experiences within the experiencer – and not even human-like.
  2. One cannot explain how different people experience the same world unless one infers something transpersonal, which binds together different streams of personal experience information-wise. Under materialism, a universe of matter outside mind is such an inference. The most parsimonious inference, however, is to simply extend the one thing we know for sure to exist – i.e. mind – beyond its face-value personal boundaries. This is analogous to inferring that the Earth extends beyond the horizon in order to explain the cycle of day and night, instead of postulating a flying spaghetti monster who pulls the sun out of the sky. It is impossible to offer a coherent ontology that isn't solipsist and doesn't infer something beyond ordinary personal experience.
  3. My formulation of idealism differs from Berkeley's subjective idealism in at least two points: (a) I argue for a single subject, explaining the apparent multiplicity of subjects as a top-down dissociative process. Berkeley never addressed this issue directly, implicitly assuming many subjects; and (b) I argue that the cognition of the non-dissociated aspect of mind-at-large ('God' in Berkeley's formulation) is not human-like, so it experiences the world in a manner incommensurable with human perception (details in this essay). In Berkeley's formulation, God perceives the world just as we do.
  4. If one's goal is to offer a viable alternative to materialism as the ontology that grounds our cultural narrative, unarticulated, disconnected intuitions and ambiguities won't do. One needs a coherent, unambiguous and explicit system that (a) explains everything materialism does; (b) preferably explains at least some of what materialism does not explain but which has been empirically verified; and (c) does all this preferably with less ontological categories than materialism. I argue that my formulation of idealism does all three.


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

Comments

  1. Out of interest, to what does Martel's agnosticism pertain exactly? I am studying Greg Goode's The Direct Path
    : A User Guide where he makes the point that we do not know whether there is anything outside our direct conscious experience and can therefore neither accept it nor dismiss it. For that reason, even Idealism is a position of inference, as you said, and I'm curious about the use of the term 'agnosticism' by Martel. Surely that would suggest that he should be equivocal on whether there are real things out there whereas he seems to assert that there are?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Neil -- I believe that you and I both have the sneaking suspicion that the world exists outside our consciousness while engaged in everyday life. Whatever the ultimate nature of reality, the world presents itself to us as real and outside consciousness. That is how we differentiate imaginings from realities. I'm an agnostic to the extent that I realize that this impression we have of an external world may be false. I don't think it's false, and I think there are good reasons to reject idealism. But I'm well aware that realism a belief and not a fact.

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    2. I do not think that it can be said that the world presents itself to us as something objective and outside of consciousness. The world presents itself to us as an experience. That there exists experienced objects in experienced reality that are outside of our own personal awareness does not imply that the nature of reality is objective.

      I agree with your statement that idealism is not a proven fact. No views of reality are proven facts. All of them are beliefs. The way I see things the most logical way to choose between these views is parsimony. Parsimony is what shapes my personal beliefs.

      Our starting point is experience. It is what we absolutely know to exist. If reality can be explained in terms of the subjective, then I see no reason to step outside of subjectivity. I do not think that you countered Bernardo's points on parsimony.

      I wanted to ask you about your points on ethics. Why would murder be any more ethical under the view that the nature of reality is subjective, and not objective? To say that the nature of reality is subjective does not mean that actions do not have experienced consequences. As I see things idealism carries with it the potential for a higher purpose, consequences, evolution, and ethics.

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    3. Hi walrusrider,

      With much respect, "the world presents itself to us as an experience" is an incoherent statement unless you mean by it, "experience presents itself to us as experience," in which which case the statement is tautological. It's analogous to saying "things seen present themselves to us as things seen." Indeed, they do. But if you use the term "the world" at all, then you recognize that the object of experience presents itself to us as at least *potentially* objective.

      Bernardo does not disagree with the assertion that the world presents itself as objective *relative to personal awareness.* "Personal awareness," as he calls it, is all we can know if we honour the dualist subject-object logic that underlies the whole debate between idealism and materialism. Following that logic to the end, however, leads you inevitably to solipsism, because the only thing you can honestly claim to *know* under its terms is -- not mind itself -- but your own "stream of consciousness," as acknowledged by Bernardo in WMIB and elsewhere. The existence of other streams of consciousness must be *inferred*. The existence of "pure mind" beyond your personal awareness must also be inferred (as Bernardo admits in the video). The only given is personal awareness; hence the only truly non-inferential view is solipsism. This is something Descartes recognized and struggled with even as he laid out the foundations of this debate.

      So my belief remains that monistic idealism as argued by Bernardo and others is very much solipsism with the following modification: the solipsistic subject for whom the entire universe is a private mental construct is projected onto the cosmic scale. But this projection, this inference, is an "extrapolation" which is not in itself given. Again, the only thing that can be said to be *given* under the terms established by the subject-object, cogitans-extensa divide, is solipsism. Bernardo gets us out of that by proposing Cosmic Solipsism, just as Berkeley before him proposed Divine Solipsism.

      Speaking of Berkeley, all of modern idealism hinges on his famous statement "to be is to be perceived." It was in realizing how empty this statement was that the edifice began to crumble before my eyes (I too saw idealism as incontrovertible once). What, after all, are the arguments for this equation of being with experience other than the tautological insistence that "I can only know what I know"? Idealists have been arguing for centuries that, since only experienced things can be known to exist, only experienced things exist. Whereas in truth, the fact that I must experience things in order to know them to exist in no way implies that they cannot exist without my experiencing them. To me, "to be is to be perceived" reduces the world to a mere idea in the head (perhaps even more severely than materialism does). It does not recognize that experience is always an engagement with something outside, something real, strange, autonomous...

      My opinion is that this whole idealism-vs-materialism debate is an exhausted and futile Pepsi-or-Coke dichotomy. Each side's arguments merely serve to prop the other side up by way of cognitive dissonance. Hence the constant accusations from both sides that the other is "deluded" or "insane."

      Sartre's essay "The Transcendence of the Ego" or Henri Bergson's "Matter and Memory" are two key works that helped me transcend that debate. As for contemporary thought, I also recommend the work of the so-called "speculative realists" (Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Tim Morton, Steven Shaviro, Ray Brassier, etc.). These guys are trying hard to push thinking out of the semantic ruts that in which philosophical discourse gets stuck when it overvalues its own abstractions.

      As for the ethics question, if you really need me to explain the ethical consequences of solipsism, please let me know.

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    4. JF, I disagree with all this. As far as we can ever know, the world IS a set of experiences. Your life is a chain of experiences. That there is some kind of world outside mind behind those experiences is an intellectual abstraction, a conclusion from a model, not something built into the _experiences_ we call the world. You are taking implicit intellectual assumptions for granted and passing them for self-evident empirical facts. The fallacy is here is ignorance of your own cognitive processes.

      I acknowledge the "objectivity" of the world only insofar as I grant that the corresponding experiences are outside our personal volition and shared across individuals. But this does not require anything outside mind. Our nightmares are also outside volition and remain entirely mental. The sharing of experiences can be explained -- as I do, in my books -- without anything outside mind.

      Nothing in my formulation of metaphysics leads to solipsism. The most skeptical metaphysical view is indeed solipsism, but it fails to suitably explains many facts of reality. Indeed, we have very good reasons to grant that there are other streams of conscious experience than our own, whose images in our own stream are our perceptions of other living beings. Indeed, granting that is a more logical and parsimonious explanation for many empirical facts of existence than solipsism, as I argued in Why Materialism Is Baloney.

      Extrapolating mentation beyond its face-value personal boundaries is like extrapolating that the Earth continues beyond the horizon. This does not require inferring a whole new ontological category; it only requires the Earth to exist, as already known. Realists like you, however, postulate a new category: not-mind. This is akin to postulating, say, black holes instead of the continuance of the Earth. It is less parsimonious and carries the burden of proof.

      This is a crucial point: you keep on insisting that I cannot prove mind-at-large. Well, I don't need to. It's you who carry the burden of proving not-mind, since not-mind is the newly postulated theoretical entity beyond the primary fact of existence, which is mentation. You postulate the spaghetti monster, so you carry the burden to justify your postulate. Can I disprove that there is no world outside mind? No, but I don't need to, for exactly the same reason that I don't need to disprove the flying spaghetti monster. Nothing you've ever said to me comes close to justifying this postulate. I can't counter-argue you here
      because you haven't made an argument yet.

      Although I understand what you mean, what you call "divine solipsism" has no philosophical meaning and is extremely misleading. The philosophical meaning of the philosophical term 'solipsism' is to deny that other living being are conscious, which idealism does NOT deny. Ergo, idealism is not solipsism, not matter how one massages the term.

      Idealism does not deny that things can exist without YOU experiencing them. It only denies that things can exist without _being experienced_. There is an obvious difference between these two statements.

      I am not Bishop Berkeley. My articulation of idealism is coherent, internally-consistent, and empirically honest. It is also public. I am here to discuss my formulation, not what Berkeley wrote in the 17th or 18th century.

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    5. JF,

      You wrote: "To me, 'to be is to be perceived' reduces the world to a mere idea in the head." This is a classical misunderstanding that we already discussed ad nauseum. It is materialism that says the world of experience exists solely in your head, being generated by your brain. Idealism says that your head is in your mind and, therefore, the world is cannot be inside your head! Idealism says that the world is in mind (not in your head), and even then not in YOUR personal mind alone.

      What makes it so difficult to argue with you is that you don't explicitly or clearly define your terms and arguments. You keep everything vague and ambiguous. For instance, what do you mean when you say that mind permeates an objective world without inanimate objects necessarily having mentation? What does mind do in this world then? Vague references to Whitehead don't count. What do you mean by the word 'mind'? You never articulated it with any level of precision in our dialogue, despite my asking you. What do you mean when you say that the color red exists "out there" but that the world isn't in mind? Where can the qualities of redness exist but in mind, since qualities are, by definition, mental? This vagueness and ambiguity allow you to basically take any position at any time, freely contradicting yourself repeatedly. You deny all coherent philosophical systems without offering any unambiguous and internally-consistent alternative. I understand that you have strong intuitions about what is true and not true, but to engage in argument those intuitions need to be articulated explicitly, unambiguously, and coherently.

      What do you call mind?
      If the qualities of redness exist out there in the world, how can that world not be mental?
      What does it mean for mind to permeate an objective world?

      Bergson's work 'Matter and Memory' is a basically idealist book. The first chapter alone is sufficient to determine that. The problem, in my opinion, is that your misinterpretation of what idealism means doesn't let you see it. You are fighting your own misunderstanding of idealism when you, in my view, are in fact an idealist. At least, that's the best I can make of what you say, like redness existing in the world.

      As for ethics: I am interested in what is TRUE. After we pin that down, we can derive an appropriate ethics from the truth. I am certainly not going to let my ethical preferences cloud my best assessment of what is true, as far as we can determine from observation and reason. In the meantime, ethical systems for the maintenance of society can be perfectly derived from, and grounded on, humanist principles independent of metaphysics, as the humanist movement has convincingly shown, in my view.

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    6. Hi Bernardo,

      Apologies for the long post.

      I think I’ve been fairly clear about my position. I believe that all is becoming. I believe that the paradoxes one encounters in metaphysical speculation are perennial: they are mysteries that the human mind simply cannot resolve. I also believe that consciousness has no content, that all consciousness is consciousness *of* something, which for its part exists outside of it.

      At the beginning of Matter and Memory, Bergson states clearly that his first chapter is heuristic — it’s a picture of the world as it would be if memory did not factor in. Having said that, even chapter one of MM is certainly not idealist in your subjective sense of the word. It rejects the idea that a subject must preexist its object. It posits the world as a system of self-existing images that are neither things nor representations, but something in between. The world is therefore not generated by consciousness. Rather, consciousness (which for Bergson is more or less synonymous with memory) emerges in some particular images (bodies).

      What I like about Bergson is that he is not picking sides — *either* realism or idealism. Rather, he is trying to synthesize the two, creating what amounts to a kind of “realist idealism” or “idealist realism”. More specifically, he is putting the idea IN the real. But his system does not hinge on the primacy of the subject as it does in Berkeley and your work.

      You asked: "What do you call mind?"

      What I call minds are self-organizing creative systems. These exist everywhere in nature in various forms, one of which is the human being. I call subjective or reflexive consciousness a particular kind of mental event that happens in humans (without by any means being always present in them) and possibly in other creatures as well, and even perhaps in inanimate objects (certain houses or places for example: this is my animism talking). Whether that makes me a panpsychic, I don’t know. Probably. Panpsychism is a big tent.

      "If the qualities of redness exist out there in the world, how can that world not be mental?"

      The world that we experience is, of course, mental, but that does not for me imply that there is nothing outside mentation or that mind generates the world.

      If I encounter a red car, that encounter is a real event. In a sense I agree with materialists that the redness exists “only in my head,” but since I’m a realist about psyche as well as matter, this doesn’t mean that the redness isn’t real. The experience of redness is a real event in the real world, even if “I” am the only one to experience it. Indeed I would say that the experience of redness shapes not only the car as a perceived object but also my self as a perceiving subject. This is why I place so much value on art — it reveals to us the world as it exists before the intellect separates it into matter and psyche, subject and object. There is much discussion of this stuff in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice.

      "What does it mean for mind to permeate an objective world?"

      Mind *seems* to permeate the world. The formation of galaxies, the emergence of beauty, the existence of “genii loci,” the occurrence of synchronicity, the weird and inexplicable self-unfolding of mathematics: all of these phenomena exhibit something like what we humans understand as mind. My feeling, however, is that the human concept of mind is derived from these more mysterious processes, which for their part are 100% psychophysical in some way human cogitation cannot work out. This, I believe, is what Jung was talking about when he referred to the Unus Mundus of the alchemists. The world is both mental and physical; one does not generate the other. Yet the human intellect, which I agree with Bergson is a faculty designed for biological survival, is constantly dividing it up into inadequate categories.

      (to be continued)

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    7. (cont'd)

      These are some of my beliefs. They are constantly evolving and I don’t believe they will ever arrive at some kind of final, incontrovertible propositional truth.

      When I wrote my initial critique of your philosophy, it wasn’t in order to prove that my system was better than yours. I was prompted by your essay characterizing panpsychism as an “extremely dangerous cultural threat.” I had also previously been a bit turned off by your calling materialism an “insanity.” I felt motivated to point out the logical flaws I saw in your argument in order to make the point that no system is solid enough for its proponents to bestow upon themselves the right to belittle others, let alone paint them as enemies of civilization. I probably should have kept my mouth shut, because the truth is that I have no problem with your conclusions, even if I feel there are flaws in your argument. Monistic idealism may well be the truth you seek, or it may not. Either way, we will never know. Which is my point.

      Respectfully,
      JF

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    8. JF,

      Writing about Begon's Matter and Memory, you reject that it is idealist by saying:

      1- "It rejects the idea that a subject must preexist its object"

      Under my formulation of idealism, the object IS the subject. There's no distinction, just as Bergson highlights. There's nothing to a vibrating guitar string but the guitar string itself. I use the word "subject" for the essence of mind because language forces me to use some word. But idealism destroys the distinction between subject and object, just as Bergson suggests.

      2- "It posits the world as a system of self-existing images that are neither things nor representations"

      Yes, he talks about experienced images being neither objects outside perception nor representations of objects outside perceptions. That's exactly what idealism states: experience is the actual reality, not a representation of some other, abstract, inferred reality outside experience. Again, this is idealism and utterly contradicts realism.

      Then you say "The world is therefore not generated by consciousness." This doesn't follow from the above at all. It parachuted here from nowhere. When Bergson says the world are images -- that is, perceptions, experiences -- he is, if anything, highlighting the primacy of experience.

      Somehow, you want to acknowledge that experiences exist in and by themselves, but deny mind. This makes no linguistic sense. Experiences are mental by definition. You defend the idea that the qualities of experience exist in themselves ("self-existing system" or "the color red is really out there") but then turn around and deny the idealist system that makes sense of that. This is a contradiction. If the qualities of experience -- redness, Bergson's images -- exist out there, independently of ourselves as individuals, the "out there" is a transpersonal mind by definition. There is no other option unless you redefine language. The qualities of experience exist, by definition, in mind. That's why I say the world out there is in mind, although not under the control of my personal volition. It's a collective dream.

      I am not at home now and don't have my copy of Matter and Memory with me. I might quote it later though, since my copy is already heavily underlined with passages relevant to idealism.

      You wrote: "he is trying to synthesize the two, creating what amounts to a kind of “realist idealism” or “idealist realism”. More specifically, he is putting the idea IN the real."

      This is the kind of slippery, ambiguous language that I find so difficult when discussing things with you. You can never be pinned down on anything, since you don't actually clearly state your metaphysics. "Idealist realism"... what the heck does that mean? "Putting mind in the real"... does it mean that inanimate objects are conscious? If not, what does it mean then? If it means that the qualities of experience exist outside our individual psyches, then you are basically saying that there is a transpersonal mind, where these qualities can exist.

      Idealism does NOT dependent on the individual subject. Strictly speaking, idealism destroys the dichotomy subject/object. If anything, its "subject" is a transpersonal one, which does not hinge on the illusion of personal subject that Bergson correctly denies (when he talks of his own body being just a privileged imaged in his stream on consciousness).

      To be continued...

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    9. Continuation:

      Then you say: "What I call minds are self-organizing creative systems."

      This is idiosyncratic and not what most people -- philosophers included -- would call mind. After all, there are loads of self-organizing systems that are inanimate (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organization). If you say that these inanimate systems are actually minded _because_ they are self-organizing, then you aren't defining the essence of mind but simply pointing at external signs of its presence. It's like defining the flu by saying that it IS cough, or fever. Because it completely misses the essence of what it seeks to define, such use of words isn't helpful at all, just confusing.

      The word "mind" obviously evokes consciousness, experience. Indeed, it's "the faculty of consciousness" according to a Google definition. I define mind as that whose excitations are experiences, which is consistent with both everyday and philosophical usages of the term, but avoids the materialist assumption built into dictionary definitions. In conclusion, your idiosyncratic definition of mind renders the discussion hopeless, since we will just talk past each other. In my opinion, it also renders your metaphysics meaningless.

      You wrote: "The world that we experience is, of course, mental, but that does not for me imply that there is nothing outside mentation or that mind generates the world."

      My argument is not one of implication, but of parsimony. I cannot imply that the flying spaghetti monster doesn't exist, but I don't need to infer the existence of the monster it to make sense of reality. In exactly the same way, I don't need to infer anything outside mind to make sense of reality.

      You wrote: "If I encounter a red car, that encounter is a real event. In a sense I agree with materialists that the redness exists “only in my head,” but since I’m a realist about psyche as well as matter, this doesn’t mean that the redness isn’t real."

      What DOES this mean then? In my view, you contradict yourself multiple times in the space of two sentences. In what specific sense do you agree with materialists, and in what specific sense do you not? You can't have it both ways. If you are "a realist about psyche," what else can this mean but that there is a transpersonal psyche (i.e. mind) outside our personal egos?

      Then you say: "The experience of redness is a real event in the real world, even if “I” am the only one to experience it."

      What else can this possibly mean, or imply, but that there is a transpersonal mind where this experience exists? Experience entails mentation, for it IS mentation. If you insist, as you seem to do, that this transpersonal mind is real, I'd say I agree!

      In reply to my question regarding what you mean when you say that mind seems to permeate the world, you said that empirical "phenomena exhibit something like what we humans understand as mind. ... The world is both mental and physical." This doesn't help to bring more clarity to the question at all, does it? Do you see how vague and ambiguous it is? I still have no idea what your metaphysics actually DOES say. It's slippery, ever moving, and seems, at least to me, to contradict itself internally.

      (PS: It goes without saying that I am arguing with respect, though I do always argue robustly, especially when being attacked. It's OK to attack me, I even like it, but I do reserve the right to counter robustly.)

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    10. JF, you wrote:

      "When I wrote my initial critique of your philosophy, it wasn’t in order to prove that my system was better than yours. I was prompted by your essay characterizing panpsychism as an “extremely dangerous cultural threat.” I had also previously been a bit turned off by your calling materialism an “insanity.” I felt motivated to point out the logical flaws I saw in your argument in order to make the point that no system is solid enough for its proponents to bestow upon themselves the right to belittle others, let alone paint them as enemies of civilization. I probably should have kept my mouth shut, because the truth is that I have no problem with your conclusions, even if I feel there are flaws in your argument. Monistic idealism may well be the truth you seek, or it may not. Either way, we will never know. Which is my point."

      I understand. And I am glad you didn't keep your mouth shut. Some comments related to this...

      Materialists routinely belittle other metaphysical views, calling their proponents stupid, ignorant, and yes, even insane. Just look at Mlodinow, Shermer, Dawkins, Coyne, Cox, etc. I take my tone from theirs, a bit in actor's mode, to make a point both in content AND in style. I choose to immerse myself in the cultural dialogue and use its forms and masks. I do it because I think the culture has unnecessarily surrendered rational high-ground to materialists. I want to deny them that high-ground by putting a mirror in front of them, also behavior-wise.

      As for panpsychism, though I know the term is ancient and has more nuanced meanings, it has become highly associated today with a form of progressive materialism that acknowledges mind to be an intrinsic property OF all matter. To me, this is just materialism++ and I am out to criticize it too. There is also another motivation for me: in nonduality circles, people are mistaking this contemporary articulation of panpsychism to be consistent with nondual philosophy, which it isn't. I want to highlight that with effect. Sometimes, a little controversy kick-starts a debate and gets people to think. Though I like to think I don't exaggerate on it, I do sometimes deliberately try to start a controversy. My panpsychism essay was intended as such. I wanted to rattle the cage a bit. Clearly, it worked. :)

      None of it is personal to me. I'm ready to shake hands with militant materialists tomorrow (and have shaken hands with some of the most famous ones), off stage :-). I like some of them at a personal level. I'm just playing the game of the culture wars. Or at least that's my intention. Naturally, this doesn't mean that I am not being sincere in content: I never wrote, and never wil write, anything I don't truly believe in at the moment I write it. I say only what I believe to be true, whatever the cost.

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    11. One final comment, JF, then I will leave it at that. At the level of intuition, I suspect strongly that you and I see the world in very similar ways and that our positions aren't far apart at all. It only gets complicated when we try to word them. I, too, think that the universe reflects mentation, and that this mentation is real, outside and independent of our personal psyches. Empirical reality is the image of cognitive processes in a transpersonal form of mind. That's why even inanimate systems show self-organization and creativity: the universe is the image of cosmic cognitive activity, like our brains are the images of our personal cognitive activity. As such, I believe the entire inanimate universe is indeed conscious, minded. I just don't think that particular inanimate objects have a private stream of experiences of their own (contemporary scientific panpsychism).

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    12. Hi Bernardo,

      Just a few comments left for me:

      Bergson places perception in the world without requiring there to be any subject doing the perceiving. There is a radical reinvention of “perception" in his work (picked up on and developed further by Deleuze in his brilliant Difference and Repetition). If anything, Bergson is a panpsychist. You keep saying the choice is between classical idealism and classical realism, omitting that there is a third option. And truly, how could panpsychists and idealists NOT agree on a lot, since they both recognize the place of experience in the universe? But I don’t think we will be able to bring this any further in the present context.

      After our discussion of the other day, we both remarked that we do indeed agree on a lot. Our disagreement is in the details. I find that your conception of mind is anthropocentric and results in a model of reality that structurally absolutizes human experience. My thinking is that the human mind is just one more thing in a world that transcends the categories and concepts it invents to explain that world. You put a lot of stock in language and logic, in propositional thinking. I put a lot of stock in allusion, in imaginal language and poetics, because I think these modes are better aligned with the nature of the real.

      Here is a quote from contemporary philosopher Graham Harman that takes this home:

      “Any philosophy is unworthy of the name if it attempts to convert objects into the conditions by which they can be known or verified. The term *philosophia*, possibly coined by Pythagoras, famously means not ‘wisdom’ but ‘love of wisdom.’ The real is something that cannot be known, only loved. This does not mean that access to [objects] is impossible, only that it must be *indirect*. Just as erotic speech works when composed of hints, allusion, and innuendo rather than declarative statements and clearly articulated propositions, and just as jokes or magic tricks are easily ruined when each of their steps is explained, thinking is not thinking unless it realizes that its approach to objects can only be oblique.”

      I suspect that you and the materialists you admirably battle in the "culture wars" reject this completely. But in discovering this passage recently, I felt heartened and emboldened in my endless, hopeless hunt for the spaghetti monster which I believe really lurks in the depths.

      Yours,
      JF

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    13. Hi JF,

      "If anything, Bergson is a panpsychist."

      How do you define panpsychism as it applies to Bergson's ideas? How does it differ from idealism? Remember: if we need to speak of a "subject" in idealism, it's not a personal one.

      "I find that your conception of mind is anthropocentric and results in a model of reality that structurally absolutizes human experience."

      This is puzzling to me, JF, since I am constantly insisting precisely that the mind of idealism isn't a personal, human mind, but a transpersonal mind-at-large. In fact, I constantly repeat that the so-called human psyche is just a dissociated alter of mind-at-large; a kind of illusion. How can such a view possibly be considered anthropocentric, of all things?

      "You put a lot of stock in language and logic, in propositional thinking. I put a lot of stock in allusion, in imaginal language and poetics, because I think these modes are better aligned with the nature of the real."

      I sympathize enormously with this, JF, as you can see in my latest manuscript. But at some point, discussion becomes too confusing if we can't be minimally precise about what we are saying, especially if criticism of someone else's position is involved.

      Cheers, B.

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    14. JF, I will put this out there: what you've been calling panpsychism is, in fact, insofar as I understand what you're trying to say, idealism.

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    15. Hi Bernardo,

      You wrote: "How do you define panpsychism as it applies to Bergson's ideas? How does it differ from idealism? Remember: if we need to speak of a ‘subject’ in idealism, it's not a personal one."

      I’m not sure what you’re hoping to accomplish by insisting that Bergson is an idealist. He denies it explicitly throughout Matter and Memory (not to mention his other books). The preface to MM begins with the following sentence: “This book affirms the reality of spirit and the reality of matter, and tries to determine the relation of the one to the other by the study of a definite example, that of memory. It is, then, frankly dualistic.”

      Dualism is not idealism. Are you perhaps being misled by his heuristic use of the term “image”? Bergson only refers to phenomena as “images” in MM because he is starting from a phenomenological place. He says: to us, the world appears as “images.” These images are not reducible to things beyond experience, nor are they simply contents of the mind. They are self-existing events that we perceive. And we – that is, our bodies – are events on the same plane as these other events. Bergson rejects dictum “to be is to be perceived” which I believe is the key notion of idealism.

      Going back to the preface, Bergson goes on: “But, on the other hand, [the book] deals with body and mind in such a way as, we hope, to lessen greatly, if not to overcome, the theoretical difficulties which have beset dualism, and which cause it, though suggested by the immediate verdict of consciousness and adopted by common sense, to be held, in small honour among philosophers.”

      In my view, the change that Bergson brings to dualism results in a form of panpsychism. After all, his thesis, in a nutshell, is: matter is real and memory is built into it. Idealism and realism are for Bergson points of view on one reality. If you nevertheless want to call this idealism, that’s fine: we can give it any name we wish. But if you think that Bergson’s philosophy is in any way compatible with the subjective idealism you propose in your work, then it appears to me that you reduce every position other than materialism, your enemy in the culture wars, to something like your own. You see an either-or situation where in reality there is a seething multiplicity of possible views. Sometimes when we’re discussing, I feel like I’m being told: “You’re either with us or you’re with the materialists! There is no alternative. You see, even your hero Bergson was an idealist! So tell me, JF, whose side are you on?”

      You wrote: "… I constantly repeat that the so-called human psyche is just a dissociated alter of mind-at-large; a kind of illusion. How can such a view possibly be considered anthropocentric, of all things?"

      1) Let’s say all humans accepted your version of idealism as true and unquestionable. All of a sudden, the human mind would have comprehended the whole of being. The entire universe would reveal itself to us as a construct of the one Mind, of which we are all alters, though only humans could realize it. Existence would become a kind of spectacle. Rocks, amoebas, thermostats and gazelles would lose the inherent reality they seem to have under naïve realism. Everything would appear as a ripple in the surface of a cosmic mind to which only humans have the key, because only humans possess the language necessary to articulate its nature.

      2) I find your analogy between the structure of the cosmos and the structure of the brain, as well as your metaphor of the cosmic mind as a subject suffering from dissociative identity disorder, anthropomorphic if not necessarily anthropocentric.

      (TBC...)

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    16. (cont'd)

      You wrote: “But at some point, discussion becomes too confusing if we can't be minimally precise about what we are saying, especially if criticism of someone else's position is involved.”

      When it comes to writing out my own philosophy, I can be as “vague” and “ambiguous” as I feel is necessary. Even so, I think it’s unfair of you to judge my entire philosophy based on the few paragraphs I hastily put together in this thread.

      Insofar as my criticisms of your philosophy are concerned, I don’t think I’ve been imprecise. My basic objection has remained the same throughout our exchanges: you say that we can extrapolate transpersonal mind from personal awareness. I say that personal awareness is all one can know about mind, and that the idea of a transpersonal mind is every bit as much of an inference as whatever it is that the materialists posit as the fundamental reality. To me, it seems more parsimonious to accept that my mind perceives a world that is not my mind and does so through the organs of the body, which is therefore self-existing. Whether that world is made of mind-stuff or not is a separate issue. Idealism says that the universe is mental because idealism equates being with experience. Naïve realism simply accepts that what appears to be the case, i.e. that the world is independent of my mind, is indeed the case. The world then presents itself in dualistic form to the intellect (mind-matter, self-world, subject-object, yin-yang, etc.). My contention, which I articulate in Reclaiming Art and elsewhere, is that direct intuition reveals a nondualistic world. The world is one in what I call the Real: less pure subject than pure object (or more precisely, pure event). That’s why I prefer panpsychism to idealism.

      You don’t buy any of this, but there’s nothing ambiguous about it.

      The debate between idealism and realism is an old one, and I don’t think it can be resolved until we transcend its terms altogether. I say I am a realist, but as I’ve made clear, I am not a realist in the materialist sense; I don’t think that the phenomenal world is JUST an illusion in our heads. But neither do I think the phenomenal world is an illusion in mind-at-large. I believe that the world exists exactly as it appears to us outside of intellection, and that all the mystery and the weirdness are within the world. Call it weird or magical realism. Point is, I see no need to postulate a deeper ontological order, be it the subjective void you describe at the end of WMIB or the mathematical void described by materialists.

      It’s been a real pleasure discussing all this with you, Bernardo. I sincerely wish you great success in all your projects.

      Best,
      JF

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    17. JF,

      The problem seems to be my use of the word "Idealism," which you seem to associate with something I am not saying and, in fact, am all the time contradicting: that mind-at-large is human-like. IT ISN'T.

      There are many formulations of Idealism in philosophy: objective idealism, transcendental idealism, subjective idealism (e.g. Berkeley), epistemic idealism, etc. All can use the label "idealism" accurately because of what they have in common, but they are all different in critical nuances. What I call Idealism is, again, a different formulation. As I already insisted upon before, when discussing with you I am defending MY formulation of Idealism, not Berkeley's. And I'd prefer that you countered MY formulation, not your prior expectations about the word "Idealism."

      Now, on to specifics. You wrote: "I’m not sure what you’re hoping to accomplish by insisting that Bergson is an idealist. He denies it explicitly throughout Matter and Memory"

      I believe he is an Idealist as far as MY formulation of idealism; not as far as Berkeley's subjective idealism, which is what Bergson explicitly denies throughout the book. To see this, you have to see past Bergson's use of the word 'mind,' which, like you and Berkeley, he associates with human-like cognitive activity. For instance, in the next page of the Introduction to Matter and Memory, Bergson writes:

      'It would greatly astonish a man ... if we told him that the object before him, which he sees and touches, exists only in HIS mind and for HIS mind, or even, more generally, exists only for mind, as Berkeley held. Such a man would always maintain that the object exists independently of the consciousness WHICH perceives it.'

      Clearly, his notion of mentation is that of human-like mentation, even if the mind that perceives isn't necessarily human, as Berkeley held. In other words, Bergson implicitly attributes to all mentation anthropomorphic cognitive characteristics like whimsical volition, action orientation, impossibility to adhere to strict patterns and regularities, discontinuous imagination, chaotic associations, etc. Throughout the book, Bergson is consistent with this meaning of the word "mind." In opposition to this, he says (p. viii) that 'the object exists in itself, and, on the other hand, the object is, in itself, pictorial, as we perceive it: image it is, but a self-existing image.'

      By 'self-existing,' he obviously means that the object exists independent of its human perceiver, or even of a non-human perceiver with human-like cognitive activity. YES! I agree! Mind-at-large is NOT human-like. Its cognitive activity unfolds according to the strict patterns and regularities that we've come to call the laws of physics. For Bergson, something like this can't be called mind. He writes (p. ix): '...there was no need to go to the point of making [matter] one with OUR own mind. Because he did go as far as this, Berkeley was unable to account for the success of physics.' (again, the association between mind and 'our own mind'). For Bergson, the orderliness of physics isn't compatible with mentation, because it isn't compatible with HUMAN-LIKE mentation. Now that you are familiar with my output, you know that this is precisely one of my key points: mind-at-large isn't human-like, but it is still mind in the sense that it carries the qualities of experience, or 'pictoriality.' (continued...)

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    18. (...continued from previous post)


      Indeed, Bergson acknowledges that the object exists 'pictorially, as we perceived it;' that it has thus the qualities of experience, like colors. That's why he calls them 'images.' In modern philosophical terminology, the qualities of experience are MENTAL. In this strict sense, Bergson's position implies that the object exists in a form of mind, even though nothing like the human mind. This is a direct implication in modern philosophical language. And it is the reason I say that Bergson was an idealist as far as MY formulation of idealism: he acknowledged a mind-at-large in precisely the sense I define it. My metaphysics is (p. x) 'half between the place to which Descartes had driven it and that to which Berkeley drew it back.' Bergson's book is full of passages substantiating this. Here are some:

      p. 3: 'The afferent nerves are images, the brain is an image, the disturbance traveling through the sensory nerves and propagated in the brain is an image too.' This could have been taken straight out of Why Materialism Is Baloney. Bergson is basically saying that our entire bodies, our personhood, is part of the self-existing pictorial images we call the world. In other words, what we call a human being is a segment of mind-at-large. This shows that, if the meaning of the word 'mind' is extended to mean more than whimsical human mentation -- which is how I define and use it -- Bergson's position actually isn't dualistic at all: it's all mind. He characterizes himself as a dualist solely because of the restricted sense in which he uses the word 'mind,' as made clear in his own writings. For instance, here:

      p. 12: 'Let us no longer say, then, that our perceptions depend simply upon molecular movements of the cerebral mass. We must say rather that they vary with them, but that these movements themselves remain inseparably bound up with the rest of the material world.' It's hard to imagine a more monist statement! He goes further:

      p. 13: 'of the aggregate of images we cannot say that it is within us or without us, since interiority and exteriority are only relations among images.' Exactly! This could have been lifted straight out of a non-dual philosophy book, or neo-advaita.

      Bergson' terminology is a reflection of his time. You cannot take a book from 1908 and read it literally, without accounting for this. Neither can you project his implicit definition of mind onto my arguments as if it meant the same thing. It isn't fair to Bergson or to me. Here's some more;

      p. 14: 'perception is just what the the idealist [as in Berkeley's subjective idealism] starts from. ... But as soon as he attempts to connect the present with the past ... he is obliged to ... suppose that [all images] no longer vary for HIM, but for THEMSELVES.' Clearly, his objection to subjective idealism (Berkeley) is that images don't vary only for the HUMAN psyche of their perceiver, but have an existence independent of the human-like cognition. Yes! That's what I call mind-at-large. It is mind because we're talking about pictorial images, not unconscious matter devoid of all qualities of experience. Yet, it unfolds according to strict patterns and regularities that do not depend on human observation.

      I could go on and on, but I guess you get the point.

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    19. Continuing on, JF. You wrote:

      "But if you think that Bergson’s philosophy is in any way compatible with the subjective idealism you propose in your work..."

      My formulation of Idealism is what I articulate in my work. I reject the label 'subjective idealism' and have always rejected it. When I say that the world is purely 'subjective' I am simply emphasizing my denial of a world outside experience, which is subjective. But the subject in my metaphysics isn't human or human-like. As such, you can't call my philosophy subjective idealism.

      Then you wrote: "...then it appears to me that you reduce every position other than materialism, your enemy in the culture wars, to something like your own. You see an either-or situation where in reality there is a seething multiplicity of possible views. Sometimes when we’re discussing, I feel like I’m being told: “You’re either with us or you’re with the materialists! There is no alternative. You see, even your hero Bergson was an idealist! So tell me, JF, whose side are you on?”

      This is a meta-discussion, JF. It gets into muddled waters of projections, inferred motivations, emotional biases, prejudices, and what not. I prefer to stick to the arguments at hand.

      As for your arguments (1) and (2) about why you consider my metaphysics is anthropocentric, I believe they just show that the descriptive metaphors I use are anthropocentric, not the metaphysics itself. It's a conflation of descriptive device with what is described. I acknowledge my metaphors are anthropocentric: that's the only way to make my message clear and evocative to people, who are all, after all, anthropoid.

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    20. JF, final bit now:

      You wrote: "I say that personal awareness is all one can know about mind, and that the idea of a transpersonal mind is every bit as much of an inference as whatever it is that the materialists posit"

      It is certainly not AS MUCH an inference as materialism for reasons I already explained. But yes, it is an inference as far as philosophy is concerned. Yet, you seem to suggest that you don't make any inferences beyond personal experience, which is necessarily untrue. Only a solipsist can claim to make no such inferences. Since you are not a solipsist, unless you infer something -- even if it is ineffable, transcendent, forever inaccessible to human reason, etc. -- you cannot explain how different people experience the same world. You need a global, shared scaffolding behind personal human experience to connect it all together. And that is, by definition, an inference beyond personal experience. If you don't infer it, you cannot explain the world and are left without an actual metaphysics. My claim now is: whatever you infer, my inference is more parsimonious than yours, since it simply states that mind -- a known ontological category -- extends beyond its face-value personal boundaries, like the Earth extends beyond the horizon. I challenge you to explain how multiple people experience the same world by making either no inferences or an inference more parsimonious than mine. Good luck. :)

      You wrote: "To me, it seems more parsimonious to accept that my mind perceives a world that is not my mind ... which is therefore self-existing."

      This is precisely what I have been saying all along! The world is NOT in MY mind as a person. It is self-existing as mind-at-large, which is not human-like. It exists as Bergson's self-existing images, which are mental because any image with the qualities of experience is by definition mental.

      You wrote: "Naïve realism simply accepts that ... the world is independent of my mind"

      No, naive realism states that the world is independent of mind, not only of your mind as a person. It states that the world exists beyond experience. That's what I reject.

      You wrote: "My contention ... is that direct intuition reveals a nondualistic world."

      This contradicts your own interpretation of Bergson and substantiates my interpretation. So I agree with you here!

      You wrote: "The world is one in what I call the Real: less pure subject than pure object."

      If you aren't dualist, strictly speaking there is no subject/object duality, since subject and object are mutually-defining. Then we can choose to call the unity left either subject or object. I chose to call it subject to emphasize my denial of anything outside mentation, since in our culture mentation is associated with the subject, never with the object. You seem to chose to call it object to emphasize its dissimilarity with, and transcendence of, human-like cognitive activity. That's fine too. Even Jung liked to call the 'collective unconscious' the 'objective psyche,' to emphasize the fact that it escaped and transcended egoic volition. It's a matter of semantics.

      My hope with investing so much time in this discussion is that you understand what I mean, not the labels I may use or that you may attribute to me. I am not defending Berkeley's idealism. I define my terms clearly. I articulate my position clearly. Please judge it based on what I say, not on labels and prior expectations and prejudices.

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    21. One final remark, JF: the 'dualism' that Bergson acknowledges to be applicable to his metaphysics is, obviously, not substance dualism. Bergson, after all, rejects the need to infer any substance behind his 'images.' It is instead, the kind of 'dualism' that I also acknowledge to apply to my own metaphysics, as explained in pages 195-197 of Why Materialism Is Baloney. What Bergson calls 'matter' are simply those among the 'images' that unfold outside the control of any person's individual volition, in a mental 'space' beyond the boundaries of personhood. I acknowledge precisely the same type of 'dualism' in my metaphysics. Again, the correspondence I've been trying to point out to you.

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    22. Bernardo,

      I intended Monday’s post to be my last, but reading your latest responses, I feel that we may have a chance at last to make the point of disagreement clear. I apologize in advance for the length.

      Bergson's prime target in Matter and Memory isn't Berkeley, as you insist, but Kant, whose transcendental idealism is quite moderate when compared to subjective idealism. Bergson believes that matter – the physical universe – is real and self-existing, and happens to include an experiential (or at least potentially experiential) dimension. Kant thought similarly, but argued that humans perceive only a false picture of the real, mind-independent world. In Matter and Memory, Bergson argues against Kant that sentient beings have direct access to the real world via the mind. As he states in the preface, he is defending the “common sense” view of reality—that is, naïve realism (dualism), not idealism of any kind. When he says there is no hidden force producing qualities in our minds, he does not mean that matter is reducible to our perceptions. He is, in this sense, a realist. To save myself the trouble of going through the book, I found this paper by Trevor Perri of Loyola University; it lays out Bergson’s views on idealism and realism pretty clearly. Here’s the clincher:

      “Thus, although Bergson concedes to idealism that ‘every reality has a kinship,
      an analogy, or, finally, a relation with consciousness,’ he does not thereby state that the being of matter is reducible to what is actually perceived. That is, and this is where Bergson draws away from idealism back towards realism, the material universe also maintains an independence from consciousness insofar as it always exceeds the perceptions that we have of it. In short, matter is not essentially different than the perceived, but it is also always more.” https://www.academia.edu/1536957/A_Short_Note_on_Realism_and_Idealism_in_Bergson

      I think that settles our discussion of Bergson. I guess you could argue that even here, we’re just talking about human perception and not divine, cosmic or universal perception, but no such entity is necessary for Bergson for reasons explained below. To posit even the need for such an entity here really is to pull a flying spaghetti monster out of your sleeve.

      (TBC)

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    23. (cont’d)

      The first question that came to mind upon reading your latest posts was: If your philosophy really is what you’re trying to make it look like now, why would you ever object to panpsychism, even in Galen Strawson’s physicalist rendition? But on closer reading, I realized that you’re not changing your philosophy; you’re changing everybody else’s. At this point in the conversation, you are doing what you accused me of doing earlier: you are being slippery. Since I believe that you’re a person of integrity, I can only assume that your slipperiness is unintended, and that you actually believe that your form of idealism is compatible with Bergson’s philosophy, that I’m a closet Kastrupian, and that you’re not a subjective idealist. And I think I may know why.

      Having read your work closely, I can honestly say that I am unable to figure how anyone could possibly NOT read you as a subjective idealist. Your argument is, for all intents and purposes, a secularized version of Berkeley’s. The proof is your unconditional endorsement of the doctrine esse est percipi, which equates being with experience. I reject that doctrine. So does Bergson. So does Kant. You and Berkeley, by contrast, absolutely need it to be true.

      Imagine for a moment that this doctrine were refuted once and for all (impossible, I know, since it is unfalsifiable). The foundation of your philosophy would instantly disintegrate. There would no longer be any need to infer mind-at-large (however minor the inference) because there would be no need to justify being—nothing would need to be there to “generate” the world. It could just exist on their own, without justification, just as it seems to in everyday life.

      In other words, your entire philosophy hinges on an unfalsifiable statement that we reject every time we decide, against its natural ultimate implication (solipsism), to believe in the reality of anything other than ourselves, be it another living being, an external world, or a cosmic mind. Lose the doctrine, and you lose the need to infer anything.

      You say that you are not a subjective idealist. But can you really deny it? It’s easy, once you’ve arrived at pure mind as “ground of experience,” to dodge the charge of subjective idealism by saying something like, “Since there is only one subject and no objects, and since the one subject is a void, the word ‘subjective’ is meaningless; you could very well call it ‘pure object’ if you’d like.” Sure, I could also call it Santa Claus. But this is a cop-out, because structurally, what we have under your system is a (real) subject experiencing itself as an (illusory) object. There is one subject dreaming up a universe, which universe exists only as modifications of said subject. That’s what your philosophy says. And that is what subjective idealism is. Or monistic idealism. Or cosmic solipsism. Call it what you will – you can’t take the logic of subjectivity out of it. Why? Because ESSE EST PERCIPI.

      There is a video on YouTube in which you set out to modernize Berkeley by cleansing him of his theism. The main problem for you is that Berkeley’s Christian faith renders his articulation of idealism obsolete. But in modernizing Berkeley, have you really changed him? He calls his universal subject God. You call it Void. But the two entities are more or less identical. You say yourself that “there is something it is like to be the entire universe.” The divine nature of mind-at-large is especially apparent when we consider your view that it has a redemptive telos: that the universe has some kind of purpose. Your void is obviously not the void of the nihilists: it’s a void with a heart. I think Bishop Berkeley would be proud (though possibly irked, to be fair, by your pantheism).

      (TBC)

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    24. (cont’d)

      Bernardo, you often write that you’re interested in only one thing: Truth. In your response to my first essay on your work, you wrote: “My commitment is to truth, and truth alone, whatever the cost." What interests me are the social and moral implications of this commitment, which in your mind trumps even ethics, and which you maintain even after admitting that no model, not even yours, could ever be proven to be true.

      Unverifiable though your system may be, you insist that it is more parsimonious than anything else on offer. Personally, I don’t think we know enough about reality to assess the parsimony of this or that metaphysical doctrine. The principle of parsimony itself rests on all kinds of assumptions about the world (e.g., “To be is to be perceived”). As far as I can tell, there is only radical mystery, the full kick-in-the-ass of which each of us must experience in due time. You can write from a place of recognition of this fact — this is what for me results in great art and great philosophy — or you can write from a place of negation, via a belief in “truth at all cost," in which case your metaphors will always turn out to be anthropocentric and ideological. Why? Because you will be forced to conceive of reality in a way that fits the conceptual mould of your language and culture, whereas reality could never in a million years fit into that mould.

      Here is what I believe in a nutshell: There is one reality. It is neither physical nor mental, exceeding by its nature the categories of rational thought. It is literally impossible to rationalize it, and it forever remains hopelessly paradoxical from an intellectual standpoint. I call it the Real in my book, using that term in both an epistemological sense (what we experience when we see that discursive thought breaks against reality like a wave against a rock) and an ontological sense (the unspeakable reality itself). This means that, for me, philosophy is semantic abstraction at its worst, a form of poetry at its best. When philosophy is semantic abstraction, it remains ensconced in the ideology of its time. When philosophy is poetic, it can touch on what Nietzsche called the “untimely” – the eternal, the Real. For then it isn't trying to discern truth with language and reason; it is using language and reason to create truths that transcend language and reason. It is literally “making sense” of what Cézanne called the “iridescent chaos” of reality.

      So, your images and metaphors are more important to me than the arguments that underlie them. And it turns out that the images you present in your work are anthropomorphic and anthropocentric. Humans in your system are in a privileged place within the order of nature (again, this is especially true when we consider your belief in a universal telos). I believe that anthropocentrism is inevitable, given your conviction that the human intellect can describe the ultimate nature of reality.

      Your actual thinking is more subtle and nuanced than your writing lets on. But what you put out into the world reads like a kind of hyper-rationalism according to which truth is a matter of thinking A, B, and C. At times this makes philosophy look like a parody of the Pepsi Challenge. Perhaps I shouldn't take this too seriously, since your goal in the end is to beat the material dogmatists at their own game in the “culture wars.” On the other hand, you do end up writing some pretty dogmatic things yourself sometimes. And if the world today has one real metaphysical problem, it isn’t materialism but à dogmatic rationalism, of which absolute materialism is one variant, and absolute idealism another.

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    25. JF,

      >> "Bergson's prime target in Matter and Memory isn't Berkeley, as you insist, but Kant"

      I didn't say that Berkeley was Bergson's prime target in the book. I said that, in the Introduction, which you quoted, Bergson's references to Idealism were references to Berkeley's subjective Idealism. I stand by that.

      >> "Bergson believes that matter – the physical universe – is real and self-existing, and happens to include an experiential (or at least potentially experiential) dimension."

      Either (1) matter exists as the qualities of experience, despite being independent of personal perception; or (2) matter exists as something more than the qualities of experience but happens to include the qualities of experience. My position is (1) and this is how I interpret Bergson as well. After all, (2) would force Bergson to depart from his 'common sense' approach and lead to abstract inferences entirely analogous to materialism. I am not sure what your own position is: you seem to oscillate between (1), when you say that you are a monist, and (2), when you say that you are a panpsychist. It's unclear to me.

      >> "Kant thought similarly"

      Similarly? The key element of Kant's argument was his agnosticism of the underlying nature of reality, or the noumenal. He said: "By applying the pure forms of sensible intuition and the pure concepts of the understanding, we achieve a systematic view of the phenomenal realm but learn nothing of the noumenal realm." As such, Bergson seems to go way beyond Kant insofar as he says that reality itself -- the noumenal -- has the qualities of experience.

      >> "[Bergson] is defending the “common sense” view of reality—that is, naïve realism (dualism), not idealism of any kind."

      You cannot make this statement since it presumes (1) that Bergson was fluent in all formulations of idealism, including those articulated after his death, and (2) that you have complete and accurate understanding of Bergson's thinking. I stand by my previous comments that Bergson's views, as expressed in Matter and Memory and therefore available to analysis, are compatible with my formulation of idealism. The justification for this is in my previous comments.

      >> "When he says there is no hidden force producing qualities in our minds, he does not mean that matter is reducible to our perceptions."

      Neither do I, as I've said many, many times now. Matter is not reducible to OUR perceptions as individual beings. I am not going to elaborate on this again because I've repeated this point ad nauseum.

      >> "I guess you could argue that even here, we’re just talking about human perception and not divine, cosmic or universal perception"

      Exactly.

      To be cont.

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    26. ...continuation:

      >> "To posit even the need for such an entity here really is to pull a flying spaghetti monster out of your sleeve."

      Absolutely not. As I explained in an earlier post, either you are a solipsist or you need to infer a transpersonal scaffolding of some sort to make sense of the fact that we all share the same reality at a phenomenal level. Therefore, such inference is necessary. I've also argue above why it is the most parsimonious inference that can be made. As a necessary and maximally parsimonious inference, it cannot be compared to the spaghetti monster.

      If you don't like to infer a transpersonal entity of some sort, how do you explain the fact that we all seem to share the same world? I asked this in my comments but you did not answer. Are you a solipsist after all? Obviously, this is just a rhetorical question. My intention is to highlight what I see is outright contradictions in your discourse.

      >> "If your philosophy really is what you’re trying to make it look like now, why would you ever object to panpsychism, even in Galen Strawson’s physicalist rendition?"

      The premises of this question make no sense to me. My philosophy is, obviously, totally different from Strawson's panpsychism.

      >> "But on closer reading, I realized that you’re not changing your philosophy; you’re changing everybody else’s."

      I substantiated my interpretation of Bergson with arguments published here, in the open. Anyone can judge whether those arguments hold up to scrutiny or not. One thing is for certain, though: your statement quoted above doesn't count as refutation of my arguments. If you think I am wrong in how I interpret Bergson and my own philosophy, you are free to argue on substance. You haven't done it in your reply.

      >> "The proof is your unconditional endorsement of the doctrine esse est percipi, which equates being with experience."

      Yes, I endorse this notion. I endorse that the world exists -- independently of human perception -- because it is perceived by mind-at-large. Where I depart from Berkeley is that I don't think mind-at-large perceives the world __as we perceive it__. As I repeated many times above, I think mind-at-large's cognitive processes are not human-like. They unfold according to strict patterns and regularities, which explain physics and avoid Bergson's key criticism of Berkeley's subjective idealism. Nonetheless, the world IS EXPERIENCED by mind-at-large in ways incommensurable with our perception. I elaborated on this extensively in essay 2.6 of Brief Peeks Beyond, as well as here: http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2014/09/on-how-world-is-felt.html. I hope this clarifies one of the key differences between my formulation of Idealism and Berkeley's, who never conceived of the idea of individual living beings being dissociated alter of 'God.'

      You claim to be fluent with my output, but I find this not to be quite the case.

      >> "I reject that doctrine. So does Bergson."

      Insofar as Bergson insists that objects exist as the qualities of EXPERIENCE ('pictorially,' as 'images'), he cannot be said to reject the notion that experience is inherent to existence. This is as plain as day and it confuses me that you don't see it. When Bergson says that a red flower exists as an object with the quality of redness, he is building experience -- the experience of redness in this case -- right into the fabric of reality. To avoid it, you have to fall back to ordinary realism, which denies that atoms have any of the qualities of experience.

      To be cont.

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    27. Continuation...

      >> "Imagine for a moment that this doctrine were refuted once and for all (impossible, I know, since it is unfalsifiable). The foundation of your philosophy would instantly disintegrate."

      What you describe as the foundation of my philosophy isn't a foundation (i.e. it isn't an axiom or basic postulate), but an implication of explaining reality in the most parsimonious way possible. You're mixing up implications with postulates.

      >> "There would no longer be any need to infer mind-at-large (however minor the inference) because there would be no need to justify being—nothing would need to be there to “generate” the world."

      How do you explain the fact that different human beings share the same phenomenal world? For as long as you fail to address this without contradicting your other stance -- namely, that no inferences beyond personal experience are necessary -- you will be contradicting yourself. Can't you see it?

      >> "In other words, your entire philosophy hinges on an unfalsifiable statement that we reject every time we decide, against its natural ultimate implication (solipsism), to believe in the reality of anything other than ourselves, be it another living being, an external world, or a cosmic mind. Lose the doctrine, and you lose the need to infer anything."

      I am not sure where to begin here. Falsifiability, a la Popper, is a burden on those who postulate new theoretical entities. If I postulate that Quarks exist, I must offer a way to falsify or confirm their existence. Falsifiability does not apply to those who reject a theoretical entity, claiming to explain the world with less entities. In this latter case, explanatory power is the criterion, not falsifiability. You're mixing up these two things.

      My philosophy hinges on finding a balance between inflationary inferences and explanatory power: I avoid inferring the entity we call a material universe outside mind, but I do grant that mind extends past personal boundaries, so to explain the fact that we all share the same reality. It's an approach that marries maximum parsimony with necessary explanatory power.I would love to hear a better alternative from you, but you have never articulated a coherent one. How do you explain that we all share the same world?

      >> "what we have under your system is a (real) subject experiencing itself as an (illusory) object. There is one subject dreaming up a universe, which universe exists only as modifications of said subject. That’s what your philosophy says."

      Yes.

      >> "And that is what subjective idealism is."

      No. Berkeley himself would talk of both people and God -- multiple subjects -- experiencing the same world in the same way. This is not what my philosophy entails. For one, there is no true multiplicity of subjects in my formulation, and mind-at-large does not experience the world in the same way humans do. I already covered this ground above. The same answer applies to the rest of your post.

      To be cont.

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    28. ...continuation:

      >> "I don’t think we know enough about reality to assess the parsimony of this or that metaphysical doctrine."

      Parsimony applies to what we do know, regardless of whether we know a lot or not. Given what we do know about reality -- as incomplete as it may turn out to be -- we CAN assess the relative parsimony of different attempts to explain that which we know. The most parsimonious ontology is that which explains everything we know while inferring the lowest number of theoretical entities in order to explain it. It is on this basis that I claim my ontology to be more parsimonious than materialism, and realism in general. And it's perfectly legitimate; it does not require infinite knowledge of the nature of reality.

      >>"The principle of parsimony itself rests on all kinds of assumptions about the world"

      The assessment of parsimony rests on what we know about the world. The principle of parsimony itself is a clean, well-defined concept.

      >> "As far as I can tell, there is only radical mystery" (and the remainder of your comment)

      Either this means that philosophy is futile (in which case, why do you do it yourself?) or it bears no relevance to the points in contention, does it? Because the moment we both implicitly grant that there are criteria for evaluating which philosophy is better -- as we implicitly do the moment we begin a philosophical debate like this -- what's the point of stating that it's all a great mystery?

      >> "you can write from a place of negation, via a belief in “truth at all cost," in which case your metaphors will always turn out to be anthropocentric and ideological."

      This hints at a false dichotomy and unfairly mischaracterizes my work and motivations. As you well know, my intent is to find the best possible explanation -- the best possible model -- for the world we experience. Do I claim that this explanation is the absolute ultimate? No. Am I even trying to find the ultimate answers? No. Do I deny that nature, at bottom, is a mystery beyond human intellectual capacities? No (in fact, I claim precisely this in my latest manuscript, which you have). Does any of this mean that it is invalid to search for the BEST explanation we CAN come up with, given our current experiences and knowledge? Of course not. It's perfectly valid.

      And as for the accusations of using anthropomorphic metaphors, I already covered it in earlier replies. The part about ideology is completely inapplicable to my work. If you think otherwise, please explain.

      To be cont.

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    29. Last part:

      >> "I believe that anthropocentrism is inevitable, given your conviction that the human intellect can describe the ultimate nature of reality."

      I confess that it can often be frustrating discussing with you. No, I do NOT have the conviction that the intellect can describe the ultimate nature of reality. In fact, I hold the conviction that it cannot. How can someone who claims to be fluent with my work make such a statement? In Brief Peeks Beyond I contradict it all over the place. Check, for one, the essay titled "Intellectual Fundamentalism."

      To be clear: I think that all we can hope to do, intellectually, is to come up with the BEST model we CAN come up with, given everything we know, so to use that model as the basis of our cultural narrative. And I think we SHOULD do that; it is our responsibility as a culture to do so, instead of living with suboptimal alternatives. Materialism falls well short of the best we can do, and you offer no coherent alternative. You offer no philosophical system, but spurts of intuition that aren't internally consistent and do not address the key questions explicitly and unambiguously. As you say in your comment, you do a form of poetic philosophy. That's fine and valuable, but it won't replace materialism as an ontological model to ground our cultural narrative, because it simply isn't a closed model. It isn't even a model, just a series of rather vague intuitions. It's earlier art than ontology. Don't get me wrong, it's great stuff and very useful. But what I am trying to achieve is something else. I am trying to offer an internally-consistent, empirically honest, coherent, rational, parsimonious alternative to the narrative of materialism.

      And if you say that it is futile to even attempt to come up with such a coherent, internally-consistent, etc., intellectual model of reality, I'd say you're closing your eyes to obvious cultural facts. We will always have a model, an ontology, that people believe to be as close to the truth as we can make it. That model will largely base the values of society and the way everything works, as materialism does today. Whatever alternative we envisage to materialism, it needs to be coherent, empirically honest, explicit, internally consistent, etc. Otherwise, it's intellectually useless. You may not be trying to offer a better alternative to materialism, but I am.

      I don't think the intellect can ever unveil the most profound truths of nature. To think so is, in my view, even preposterous. But I also don't think that the intellect is useless and valueless! That's extreme and rather blindly fundamentalist on the other end of the spectrum. Clearly there is a place for well constructed, sound, unambiguous intellectual models. Their value is not only abstract and spiritual, but very pragmatic as well, as far as the functioning of society. If that's not what you are after, I understand and accept (how could I not?). But it is what I am after.

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    30. In summary:

      -- If you say that the qualities of experience -- or 'qualia' in philosophical jargon -- like the redness of red or the taste of an orange exist in the world, than the world necessarily entails a non-personal/trans-personal experiencER. There is no escape from this, neither for you nor for Bergson, since experience by definition entails an experiencer. Redness cannot exist without being experienced as such, since redness IS a bloody experience. The only valid point of debate is whether the experiencer is human or at least human-like, embodied or disembodied. I think it is disembodied (bodies existing as experiences within the experiencer) and not even human-like.

      -- You cannot explain how different people experience the same world unless you infer something transpersonal, which connects people at a fundamental level. The most parsimonious inference is to simply extend something we already know to exist -- i.e. mind -- beyond its face-value boundaries. This is analogous to inferring that the Earth extends beyond the horizon in order to explain the cycle of day and night, instead of postulating a flying spaghetti monster who pulls the sun out of the sky. It is impossible to offer a coherent ontology that (1) isn't solipsist AND (2) does not infer something beyond ordinary personal experience.

      -- My formulation of idealism differs from Berkeley's subjective idealism in at least two points: (1) I propose a single subject, not many, explaining the apparent multiplicity of subjects as a top-down dissociative process. Berkeley never addressed this issue, implicitly assuming many subjects; and (2) I state that the cognition of mind-at-large ('God' in Berkeley's formulation) is not human-like, so that the way it experiences the world is incommensurable with human perception (see: http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2014/09/on-how-world-is-felt.html). In Berkeley's formulation, God perceives the world as we do.

      -- If the goal is to offer a viable alternative to materialism as the ontology that grounds our cultural narrative, poetry and ambiguities won't do. One needs a coherent system that (1) explains everything materialism explains; (2) explains at least some of what materialism cannot explain but has been empirically verified; and (3) does so preferably with less ontological categories than materialism. You offer no coherent system, but a series of inspired intuitions. You don't even attempt to articulate your position explicitly and unambiguously. There is value for what you are doing, but it's not in offering an alternative to materialism.

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    31. Bernardo I'm with you as far as this back and forth is concerned.

      As far as your below however......
      Since all life/personality/forms are alters of Mind at large I'd say that what Mind at Large experiences is also what we experience. I'm sure Mind at Large experienced my hands on wheel as I drove home, the feel of air-conditioned air blowing on my body, saw the massive cloud bank on the horizon. Of course Mind at Large also experiences in other than human ways and probably in ways we can't understand as alters.

      "I state that the cognition of mind-at-large ('God' in Berkeley's formulation) is not human-like, so that the way it experiences the world is incommensurable with human perception"

      Delete
    32. Hi TJ,
      Yes, what are we but 'parts' of mind-at-large? When we experience the world, mind-at-large experiences the world the way we do, because we are it! What I meant to say was that the NON-DISSOCIATED part of mind-at-large has a very different experience associated with the world; a non-human form of cognition that unfolds according to stable patterns and regularities. This fits into what you said when you stated that 'Mind at Large also experiences in other than human ways and probably in ways we can't understand as alters.' Yes, that's the part I meant.
      Cheers, B.

      Delete
  2. The heart of the matter is that words only ignite arguments and that we are never be able to fully agree with one another just because of the fact that we all, each of us, have totally unique experiences.

    You can argue that it is fun to do so and that should be the case. I liked the mentioned video only because of that fact.

    Do you know what Process Mining means?
    It means finding solutions on the go, without argueing too much about it. That is putting words into action.

    So go find that ethical system that underpins your common agreement and put it into action for humanity as a whole.

    This is what common people do all the time in their common life :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. It seems to me as I listen to and read discussions like this that people get hung up on preconceived notions about what certain words entail and then never seem to get the mental trigger to step outside that initial perception. Words like "mind" and "illusion". When idealism is characterized as the view that says "what I observe 'out there' is an illusion; It's not really there" it seems incorrect and very misleading to me. The word "illusion" has been influenced by materialism and it basically means to most people that something does not exists as a material thing; which means it "is not real". JF seems to dislike Idealism because he thinks it contradicts his intuitive notion that things out there ARE real. I find it easier to understand this topic if I stay away from words like "Illusion" and "dream"etc when characterizing the outside world because our society has been so co-opted by materialism that all these words are synonmous with "not real" and then you get the intuitive backlash from people like JF who don't believe nature is "tricking" them. A view I can certainly understand. But nature is not tricking us. We are tricking outselves with the preconcieved notion that real = Matter.

    The way I look at these things is very simple(to me anyway). Under Idealism the things 'out there' ARE real. They are just as real as anything in a material universe. They exists outside of my stream of conciousness and independent from me just like they do in materialism. The difference between Idealism and Materialism is not "what is real". It's all real. The difference is "what is it made of?" "What is its nature?" The things I observe "out there" are real in both views but Materialism says it is made of billiard ball particles or strings or maybe something else tomorrow. Idealism says the stuff "out there" is made of "mind stuff". In Materialism, the container and source for all things material is called Space/time. In Idealism, since there must be a container/source for a universe of mind stuff we'll just called it a "transpersonal mind". This container we know and can say very little about. The word "mind" is not intended to imply any specific properties like thrones and long white beards. It is simply the best word we have to represent the container and source for the universe of mind stuff we observe "outside" of us including our experience of ourselves. Bernardo's philosophy does go a bit further by postulating how we as conscious entities might relate to the transpersonal mind when he talks about disassociation etc but I perceived that the primary problem JF has with Idealism is not related to those details as much as it is the confusion about "what is real?"

    Once you get past all the semantic problems, Idealism stands out as the better choice because everything is made of a single ontological category that I already know exists and explains everything I observe. I don't need an abstract world of particles and strings and all the hard problems it brings (hey that rhymes!).

    Thanks to Bernardo and JF for the discussion and Bernardo feel free to correct or caveat my thoughts. They are simply the way I view it to keep things simple for a simple mind like mine :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fliption, I agree completely! You articulated it very well, in my view.

      Delete
    2. I have posted my next bit in the forum: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/metaphysical-speculations/NgYRCsXAkIQ

      Delete

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