On why Idealism is superior to Physicalism and Micropsychism

Idealism, an ontology of pure ideas.
Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.

I have written a technical white paper summarizing my metaphysical views. Unlike most of my written works so far, which try to convey an intuitive understanding of my metaphysics as much as an intellectual one, this white paper is more technical and rigorous. It aims at striking a balance between accessibility and the more formal, unambiguous style of analytic philosophy. Of course, it runs the risk of failing at both, but at least it is an honest attempt.

I ask for your help in spreading the word about this white paper. I am making it available for free everywhere I can, despite the fact that it took me a lot of time and energy to put it together. If you know academics, scientists, philosophers or mathematicians who have an interest in the areas of metaphysics, ontology, panpsychism, the mind-body problem, the hard problem of consciousness, the combination problem, etc., please forward it to them and urge them to forward further. You can also download the PDF file and then upload it elsewhere in its entirety. Just do not edit it or quote it extensively out of context, please.

The goal is to show that Idealism is not only a viable metaphysics, but the best metaphysics to make sense of reality. Unfortunately, Idealism is hardly discussed today in academia, which is dominated by Physicalism and Micropsychism. Frankly, this is a reflection of the cloud of metaphysical ignorance and bias we live under today. We need to overcome this and return to reason. I hope you can help me by spreading this paper around as much as you can. Remember, it's entirely free.

Here are the current download locations:

Scribd
Academia

There is now also a discussion on Reddit (Thanks Mitchell!)

If you upload it elsewhere, please let me know so I can update the list above. Other ideas: post the link on Facebook, Google+, tweet it, make a YouTube video about it, post it on forums, reddit, anything you think might help.

Now, if formal, rigorous philosophy is not your cup of tea, there is an alternative. In Part III of my upcoming book More Than Allegory I explain the same ideas in the form of a story. Not only that, the ideas are elaborated upon much more extensively than in the white paper. The story conveys more details, discusses implications, explores more nuances, all in a very readable manner. In fact, some have told me that it is as engaging as a novel, which isn't really surprising, since it adopts a novel format. If you are curious, you can already pre-order More Than Allegory on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Available for pre-order.

Thanks for your help!

Copyright © 2016 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Bernardo,

    Uploaded to Scribd; link is https://www.scribd.com/doc/295795222/On-Why-Idealism-is-Superior-to-Physicalism-Bernardo-Kastrup

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  2. I sent a copy to Steve Braude and Ed Kelly.

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    1. Fantastic, Troy, thank you! Gosh, I'm beginning to owe you a huge list of favors... :)

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  3. I posted the scribd link on reddit:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/philosophy/comments/41gb0j/bernardo_kastrup_on_why_idealism_is_superior_to/?

    There's also some interesting dialogue in the comments section that you might be interested in responding to.

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    1. From reading the comments there (especially the top one), I'm as convinced as ever of your main obstacle. It's that people consider consciousness as just another *thing*. This can only happen if a person does not recognize the "sheer fact of consciousness"; *that* they are experiencing. They are merely thinking about consciousness, as opposed to "experiencing it." So your claim that it cannot be explained even in principle rings hollow to them.

      And as you know all too well, when a person in "thinking mode" reads the above paragraph, it only comes across as gibberish. That's why an experiential approach will be required to get the message across to a large swathe of people.

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    2. I agree, Aditya. I am doing what I can with words.

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    3. Bernardo, very good work. I know you may initially balk at deriving any insights from theology (I know I would have before coming across this particular work) but I suggest you take a look at David Bentley Hart's "The Experience of God."

      I imagine you have an enormous amount of reading and would hesitate to consider yet one more - however, if you go to the Amazon '"look within" feature (or even google this book and look at a few reviews) you'll find Hart's definition of "God" which - perhaps to your amazement - deals exactly with this problem that most moderns have of understanding "God" (or Consciousness, or Mind At Large) as simply one thing (or with regard to "God" - one "being") among others. Hart gives one of the clearest explanations of this confusion i've ever seen, and also present astonishingly precise refutations of physicalism, atheism, materialism, and related "philosophies" (one can hardly refer to such views as "philosophies" without scare quotes!).

      Perhaps I can find a relevant quote. Be right back...

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    4. Ok, here's an excerpt from one review (commonweal): [Hart's definition of "God"] “one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.”

      As Hart makes plain, however, and as anyone even slightly familiar with the history of metaphysics is aware, that definition is not Hart’s, but one shared by most major religious and philosophical traditions. It is as much Aristotle’s definition as it is Moses Maimonides’s and Thomas Aquinas’s and Mulla Sadra’s and, indeed, Spinoza’s. It describes equally Brahman and Yahweh. Nor is Hart here proposing a dilution of the real differences among religions, à la Huston Smith; he is interested in what the theistic traditions disclose, a common conception of the ultimate transcendental ground of being. For Bahá’ís as for Sikhs, God is not one being among others, not even an especially powerful and wise being (this, Hart points out, is what differentiates God from gods). As Aquinas puts it, God is ipsum esse subsistens. In fact, Aquinas’s definition of God at the outset of the Summa, which uncannily anticipates Hart’s, has made more than a few Christian theologians uneasy precisely because it is a philosophical definition that could apply just as easily to Allah or Yahweh as to the Trinity.

      Hart is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, but The Experience of God is, as the above suggests, wonderfully ecumenical: he draws with ease on the Upanishads, Sufi poetry, Islamic philosophy, and the Church Fathers to support his thesis that “naturalism—the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order, and certainly nothing supernatural—is an incorrigibly incoherent concept, and one that is ultimately indistinguishable from pure magical thinking.” He grounds his argument in three chapters: one on being (“Why is there something rather than nothing” is not a question about what processes within nature—quantum fluctuation, say—gave rise to the universe, but about being as such, a question for religion and ontology rather than for a materialist cosmology); one on consciousness (despite the cocksure proclamations of certain pop neuroscience writers, we still have no idea how the activity of eighty-some billion neurons gives rise to the qualia of subjective experience; mind is obviously related to brain, but there is simply no credible rationale for ruling out the mental as a formally distinct reality); and one on bliss

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  4. Two things "Of course, the same cannot be said of any inanimate object or phenomenon that hasn’t been engineered by humans." Did you mean to say this implying that some human engineered thing could be an alter? Also during an OBE self reflective consciousness still occurs though metabolism has ceased. It seems like the alter in this situation cannot actually act on what we consider to be the physical universe however.

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    1. Hi TJ,

      >> Did you mean to say this implying that some human engineered thing could be an alter? <<

      No, I meant to say that in nature there is nothing inanimate that presents behaviors even remotely similar to our own. I was just trying to anticipate the criticism that e.g. robots are inanimate and behave like us in certain ways, but then again they are engineered to do so, therefore it doesn't count. That was my point. I think humans could hypothetically engineer a true alter, but that would entail abiogenesis, the creation of life from non-life.

      As for self-reflection during NDEs (which is what I think you meant), I wonder if it really happens during the NDE itself, or only afterwards, when the person thinks retro-actively about the experience. Our dreams, for instance, are not self-reflective while we are dreaming. We only think self-reflectively about them -- e.g. when we try to interpret them -- after we are awake.

      Cheers, B.

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    2. I think it should be written like this "Of course, the same cannot be said of any inanimate object or phenomenon that HAS been engineered by humans."

      As for your second comment I was referring to Out of Body Experiences (OBE) in general and during NDEs. I don't see how that conclusion can be made unless you're trying to make data fit philosophy. May NDErs clearly state they see their bodies and other aspects of physical reality while they are outside it and are surprised to do so. "I was still me....". In dreams I still exist though not necessarily thinking about my identity. I think lucid dreamers are more aware of their identity.

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    3. None of what you say imply self-reflectiveness or contradict what I said. Based on many reports of NDEs I've read, I couldn't find any definitive evidence for self-reflective thought during the NDE itself (only afterwards, when people reflect back at what they experienced and then comment on it). They are akin to (non-lucid) dreams in that regard. Maybe I am wrong, but my hypothesis is coherent.

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    4. I don't see how you get that. If they experienced it then they must have been aware while it was happening. They obviously couldn't relate it at that point since they are cut off from the physical and have to wait until they return before they can talk about it though they do try to connect unsuccessfully with people during the event.

      What about when one alter experiences another deceased alter before even knowing the second alter has passed? Evidently the first alter experiences the second alter as consciousness/personality with no metabolism at all happening at that point.

      Your hypothesis is coherent as far as it goes but doesn't seem to encompass all the data. Unless you reject OBE, NDE, ADC data as confabulation.

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    5. No all experiences have to be self-reflective. A dream is clearly experienced, yet it isn't self-reflective in the sense that you don't think about your thoughts during the dream. The issue of the after-death state is complex. A hierarchy of dissociation could account for the reports. But it's difficult to write about this at this stage, because the evidence isn't as solid as that for ordinary events. I am not saying the evidence is insufficient, just that it isn't as solid as everyday reality. Tackling everyday reality is my first priority, and the philosopher's primary concern today, since we don't have a working ontology even for everyday reality. I do remain open, however, to the preservation of some form of personal identity after physical death. This possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand.

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    6. "Tackling everyday reality is my first priority, and the philosopher's primary concern today, since we don't have a working ontology even for everyday reality."

      And what about the mediums? It seems that for them the afterlife is an reality of everyday. For me, things like that are much more important than the idealism vs. realism.

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  5. Bernardo, I appreciate your article (though for me it's a strenuous read) . . . but most materialists would dismiss it simply by stating. "The Universe behaves in every instance exactly as though it is material, so it is material." My question: Would the universe behave exactly the same in a Materialist/Physicalist vs Idealist framework? If the universe would behave differently in one framework than the other, we should be able to test for that difference. If the universe behaves the same in both frameworks - then why make the distinction?

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    1. People who say that do not deserve to be interacted with, frankly. The universe is the universe. The question before us is: how best to make sense of it, as it is? Any half-decent tentative explanation will be consistent with most observable facts. The body of my work is an argument for why the universe behaves exactly as predicted by my formulation of Idealism. And idealism wins on parsimony and explanatory power, as articulated in the paper.

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    2. Point them to the latest in the double slit experiments if they think the universe behaves like matter in every instance. (Am I correct in suggesting this? I'm no physicist but that's what I got out of the doc)

      https://vimeo.com/126833477

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    3. Science itself has shown that Materialism doesn't work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C5pq7W5yRM&feature=youtu.be

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    4. I found the paper to be mostly plain sailing; an admirably clear exposition of your thesis, Bernardo.

      Have you ever thought about the idea of causation? We tend to think that everything has a cause, an explanation, a *mechanism*. I suspect this is based on how we perceive and interpret the world.

      Might it be better to think in terms of correlation? All our perceptions are correlations with that which apparently exists, and all our explanations an attempt to project onto that the idea of causation. That is indubitably useful in the practical everyday experience of being alive, and indeed allows us to create particle accelerators and two-stroke engines. But at the end, TWE is what it is, for no earthly rhyme or reason.

      If we were to regard causation as a convenient construction that allows us to negotiate *apparent* reality, we'd be able to avoid over-attachment to "scientific truths" such as relativity, gravity, "forces", "fields" and so on. This wouldn't harm our progress as a technological species, but help us remain nimble in our thinking, no?

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  6. Although my main interests are empirical phenomena relating to the afterlife, I thought a defense of idealism that perhaps you do not know.

    Suppose that there are beings who have the power to project hallucinations to others, for example they can make you feel that your arm is dislocated. Then there are other beings who have psychokinetic power and can dislocate someone's arm only with intending. But suppose that those who can project hallucinations can generate collective hallucinations, everyone can perceive how one has a dislocated arm. If the hallucination disappears, the arm feels good but psychokinetics also can be placed well a dislocated arm.

    So what is the difference between psychokinesis and hallucinatory projection? There is not, because these abilities pushed to the extreme blur the difference between physical facts and mental facts; all facts are the same ontological type, that is, experiences, whether similar to each other or not. Realism implies that there is a conceptual difference between those two, but there is not because manipulate the perception of others in such a high degree is identical to manipulate physical reality. Realism has to use God's eye view, which is unprovable and unnecessary. Hence it follows experientialism aka idealism.

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  7. Hi Juan:

    This is interesting, but I'm not sure i understand it.

    Is there basically any difference between this example and the "world as collective dream" metaphor that has been used for thousands of years by Eastern and Western mystics, sages, yogis and philosophers?

    The "One" who 'projects" the collective illusion is The One, the Absolute, Brahman, God, Allah, the Tao, Dharmadhatu, etc. The "individuals' 'dreaming their illusory part in the collective dream, then, eventually wake up to discover they are not merely "dreams' in the ordinary, conventional sense, but very real aspects of that One (Krishna, in the Gita: "The Jiva is an eternal portion of My Being" - that is, in more philosophic language, multiplicity is always inherent in the Absolute - that multiplicity can be dissociated or under the spell of Maya or fully awakened as Eternal, individualized centers of that Reality which is beyond One and Many.

    Or so it seems to my understanding, based on the inner science on which all outer science is founded, beyond quantitative objectivity and merely emotional, biased subjectivity - the most truly exact science there can be, founded on the Absolute.

    anyway, interesting theory!
    Don

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  8. Hi Don:

    That's right, I've written shows basically the same as idealistic tradition but in a more modern way on ideas about comics, superpowers, reality warpers, etc.

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  9. Bernardo: How can there be personal identity after death in your metaphysical system? The metaphors used in "Materialism is Baloney" and other books don't seem to allow for it. If life is like a dream, where the dreamer creates both shared reality and a personal avatar, the problem is that no one of us, individually, is "the dreamer." So we can die and disappear from the dream, but it goes on without us. If our body/mind is a "filter" that steps down total consciousness into a human-shaped, self-reflective format, when the filter disappears, what is left of the stepped-down, individualized consciousness? If we are whirlpools in a stream of consciousness, when the whirlpool dissolves, how can anything be left? Benedict de Spinoza got in trouble in the 17th century by saying "sure, I believe in immortality. The individual exists forever within the eternal mind of God. But once his body is gone, there is no longer a place for his imagination or his memories, which are not part of the eternal mind of God." Which, as commentators like Steven Nadler have recognized, is equivalent to saying there is no personal immortality at all! I would appreciate knowing how your theory is different from Spinoza's in this respect...

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    1. Bernardo wrote:

      "I am open to the idea of intermediate stages of dissociation."

      Which is relevant to your comment, because he does not rule out that organic death involving other whirlpool of the universal mind, that is, the etheric body.

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    2. Frank,

      When the whirlpool disappears, none of the water disappears with it. And there was nothing to the whirlpool but the water to begin with. The whirlpool was just something the water was doing. So nothing disappears. The water just goes do something else.

      It's simplest to infer that the illusion of personal identity disappears upon physical death. But, as Juan pointed out, I cannot eliminate the possibility that the dream of reality happens in hierarchical levels; hierarchies of whirlpools, and that the physical world we can perceive -- with or without instrumentation -- is just the tip of the iceberg of this hierarchy. If that is so, physical death eliminates only one level of localization, personal identity then falling back to another underlying level. These other levels, to use a physicalist metaphor, can conceivably be located in dimensions beyond 4D spacetime. All this is highly speculative, so I normally refrain from discussing it. I don't see compelling-enough empirical reason to engage more deeply in this speculation beyond just expressing my openness to the possibilities entailed.

      All this said, the loss of personal identity doesn't bother me at all; not anymore than I am bothered by the loss of my dreamed-up avatar upon awakening. Personal identity, if I am right, is an illusion right now. Your desire for its preservation is just a consequence of your ego's grasping for its imaginary existence. It's a symptom of the delusion, without any true reality.

      Cheers, B.

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    3. Hi, Bernardo. Thanks for the response. Loss of personal identity after death doesn't really bother me, either, so long as we are in an idealist system where (as you say) the "water" still exists and presumably preserves all experiences within a larger system of mind. I think we can agree that one appalling feature of the materialist world-view is that there is no reason to believe that anything at all remains of the individual mind after death--we are all lonely accidents, after all. Not that this is a reason to reject materialism, of course--there are plenty of other reasons for that...

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    4. " All this is highly speculative, so I normally refrain from discussing it."

      But the study of NDEs, apparitions and mediums is less speculative than what you do on this blog.

      "All this said, the loss of personal identity doesn't bother me at all; not anymore than I am bothered by the loss of my dreamed-up avatar upon awakening."

      However, we are the same when we are dreaming than when we are awake, but mentally undermined so that there is not a loss of personal identity of avatar in the dreams.

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    5. I'm curious, Bernardo, what you mean by highly speculative. I don't recall the exact phrasing, but somewhere you said that the "objective evidence" for individual consciousness beyond the death of the physical body is lacking. I'm curious what objective evidence there could be for a negative conclusion. I'm not aware that any living scientist has presented counter evidence to Alan Wallace's statement that the present time, there is no widely acceptable scientific methodology (particularly if you confine "scientific methodology" to quantitative methods, and follow William Lycon in his denial of introspection as a valid form of scientific methodology) for detecting the presence of consciousness anywhere in the universe. If all we accept are third person/quantitative methods, then we only have indirect observations, and all of those ultimately (ironically) depend on first person reports of consciousness (for example, to the best of my knowledge, neuroscience would be irrelevant for the entire study of mental health if at some point, someone didn't report their first person experience for neuroscientists then to study neural correlates).

      On the contrary, there is - if one is not confined to physicalist or "panpsychist" views - abundant evidence of individual consciousness continuing after the dissolution of the physical body. If you reject the debunker's refusal to even acknowledge single case studies (wrongly referred to as "anecdotal" cases) in which the evidence is airtight, then you have thousands of instances collected by Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker which cannot be dismissed merely as "super Psi".

      In any case, I'm very interested in what you consider to be objective evidence of the lack of continuation of consciousness after the dissolution of the so-called "physical" (that portion of the soul, William Blake said, that can be perceived by the five senses, in this age)

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    6. Just to elaborate slightly on the neuroscience irrelevant-to-mental-health claim - take the famous case of Phineas Gage. One might say, "Well, you don't need introspection - just look at the behavioral results from severe frontal lobe injury." Yes, but we all have implicit assumptions about the correlation of behavior and internal experience which are necessary to make sense of the behavioral-brain damage correlations. As far as I'm aware (and I think Alan Wallace has consistently stated this, informed at least in part by his conversations with hundreds of world class scientists over the past quarter century), this is true of virtually all neurological/psychological correlations.

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    7. " I don't recall the exact phrasing, but somewhere you said that the "objective evidence" for individual consciousness beyond the death of the physical body is lacking. I'm curious what objective evidence there could be for a negative conclusion."

      I do not know if I understand you in this point, but those are two different things, like saying that is not the same evidence of absence and absence of evidence.

      On the other hand, I consider that there is reasonable evidence of the existence of a personal afterlife, although not purely objective, but well considered no evidence of human sciences is purely objective.



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    8. and no evidence from physics is purely objective!

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    9. As far as reincarnation, think about what is really reincarnating. Allen Watts said it quite simply. "I return with every baby born". Pure conscious reincarnates with every life form that shows up. There is only One Consciousness and that consciousness is what reincarnates. YOU are reincarnating right now! As far as memories of a past life. All experiences are stored as resonances in what is called the Akashic Records. When pure Consciousness reincarnates as a life/personality form it can resonate in a way that is close to a previous life form and therefore accesses those memories. Could be animal could be human. It seems like individuals are reincarnating but that is simply memory of experience. That also explains why several life forms can believe they were the same previous life. Several different people for instance may believe they were Napolean for instance because the life forms happen to resonate close to the Napoleon frequency.
      We are all the One Consciousness. Individuality is simply an illusion created to play the game. Individual reincarnation is just another concept of the game.

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    10. "There is only One Consciousness and that consciousness is what reincarnates."

      That is not what follows from the Stevenson type cases, according to which a particular consciousness reincarnates, because otherwise, how would we know that an instance of reincarnation happened? In addition, cases of mediumship indicate that what survives after biological death is the individual consciousness. I do not know what good use the One Consciousness, if any.

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    11. TJ, let me see if I understand what you're saying

      1. There is only One Consciousness
      2. Memories of experience are stored in the Akashic records.
      3. When the One Consciousness is associated with a particular form, it can access the memories from he Akashic records.
      4. There is no separate individual reincarnating from one life to another, it is simply the One Consciousness accessing memories from the Akashic records associated with a different life/personality/form.
      5. This explains why several people may believe they are incarnations of the same life because they have accessed the same memories.
      6. Since there is only one Consciousness, individuality must be an illusion.

      Have I got it correct?

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    12. Tssailor - You were fine up until "Akashic Records" which were made up by Theosophy. Theosophy's leaders were amongst many charlatans of the late 19th, early 20th period that was characterized by the sudden appearance of leisure time and disposable income (that seemed ripe for exploitation by cons and frauds, of which there were thousands). Theosophy was one of the bigger calamities to occur in the field of spirituality and religion, because many Indian religious groups accepted them without examination because they were British and so the fictional Theosophical ideas (like "Lemuria") have become incorporated into some Eastern religious groups.

      Prior to Theosophy, there are no refernces to "Akashic Records" in any scriptures. "Akasha" just means "sky".

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  10. Bernardo, point 9 from the assumptions (that the universe is free of volitional influence) might be just an empirical observation of an effect too small to be quantified. What is there is a volitional influence, but given the "number" of "wills", the effect is too small to count? while the result is more or less the same, it is a big difference and not something that should be taken for granted. Think of vector cross product - too many different intentions are compounded in such a way that we see our current world. However, that would change if the zeitgeist changes - if enough egos are aligned in a view, the world might change. Even the laws of physics.

    Adrian

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  11. Bernardo, do you think that god is infinite? Objectivists make the argument that God doesn't exist, because everything that exists has a limited identity, and God is supposedly infinite, and as such can't exist.

    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/god.html

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    1. This is one of those dopey grammatical arguments that have little, if any, relation with reality outside language games. On this criterion, perhaps even the quantum vacuum of Quantum Field Theory (QFT) wouldn't exist. Fractals and other infinite mathematical constructs wouldn't exist. Of course, the question is: what does one mean by infinity? 'God' is the ontological primitive, just like the quantum vacuum of QFT is supposed to also be a primitive. It's the primary cause of everything, again just like the quantum vacuum. So it's 'bigger' than anything and everything, for if encompasses and lies at the root of everything. Can we call this 'infinity'? I am comfortable saying so.

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    2. In Objectivist metaphysics, "Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification" [Galt's Speech].

      By definition, consciousness here is limited to conceptual awareness.

      "If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness." [Galt's Speech]

      This is a decidedly 'realist/dualist' metaphysics/epistemology, grounded in entities with existence capable of being known. Concepts are themselves valid insofar as they rooted in this naive realistic framework. The concept of God in this construction is therefore nonsensical.

      Nonduality posits a more fundamental metaphysic of 'God' as ontologically prior to this dualism, as inherent in but not dependent upon these, transcending and subsuming them. This does not deny the experience of the world as such, but offers a more inclusive understanding of the fundamental nature of existence.

      And infinity is a problematic concept in that it implies temporality, which itself is conceptual and derivative. Many a straw-man "God" have been knocked down by would-be philosophers attempting to "define" God (see the 'New Atheists'). The best we can do is point to the fundamental nature of reality and the experience we have of it. Forming derivative conceptual frameworks and pretending they can define that which is prior is a fool's errand.

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    3. That's amusing, because it is perfectly opposite to Ramana Maharshi's definition of "real". So everything that "exists" to Objectivists is "unreal" to Vedanta, and vice versa:

      Ramana Maharshi: What is the standard of reality? That alone is real which exists by itself, which reveals itself by itself and which is eternal and unchanging. (Maharshi’s Gospel, p. 61)

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  12. Unfotunately, Scribd won't let you download the PDF without a paid account and Academia won't let you download the PDF without giving them a boatload of personally identifiable information.

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