Our future sanity

(An improved and updated version of this material has appeared in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)

In an earlier article in this blog, which I titled Our modern madness, I argued that our present day consensus that reality exists 'out there,' separate from our minds, is an enormous leap of faith from a logical standpoint. Notice that, although there is empirical, scientific evidence that reality and mind are one and the same thing, my argument in that article has been eminently based on common-sense alone (therefore, my use of the word 'madness'). That has raised several questions and criticisms online. Here, I'd like to elaborate further on my earlier article, tackling the key questions and criticisms brought up.

The notion that reality is a kind of shared, compound thought is called idealism. On the other hand, the notion that reality exists 'out there,' independently of our minds, is called realism. My claim has been that idealism is a more skeptical, parsimonious, and cautious worldview. Here, I'd like to expand on why I think this is the case. Indeed, we can make the following four statements about reality:
  1. My conscious perceptions exist;
  2. Other conscious perceptions, separate from my own, exist;
  3. There are things that exist independently of conscious perception;
  4. Things that are independent of conscious perception create conscious perception.
Notice that the statements are ordered according to how likely they are. Indeed, statement 1 is the famous cogito ergo sum, 'I think, therefore I am.' If I can be sure of anything at all, it is that my conscious perceptions exist. So statement 1 is the most certain we can ever make. Statement 2 requires a small leap of faith: It states that there are other conscious entities (e.g. other people or animals). We can never be absolutely sure that anything else is conscious; for all we know, everybody else could be unconscious zombies faking consciousness in a very convincing manner. But the leap of faith here is small, since it merely postulates other instances of a category (i.e. conscious perceptions) that we know to exist. Statement 3, on the other hand, requires a much more significant leap of faith, since it postulates an entirely new category (i.e. things independent of conscious perception) for which I can never have any direct evidence. Indeed, everything we can ever know comes into consciousness the moment we know it, so the belief that there are things outside of consciousness is an abstraction beyond knowledge. Statement 4 is even worse: It postulates that things we can never know to exist actually cause our conscious experience of reality.

My own worldview, as discussed in my books and other articles in this blog, requires statements 1 and 2 to hold. In other words, it acknowledges the most certain and then requires merely a small leap of faith. The reigning materialist worldview, on the other hand, requires all four statements above to hold; a gargantuan and gratuitous leap of faith. This is what I called our modern madness.

Another criticism often leveraged at my worldview  because it rests so much on a form of extreme scepticism, direct experience, and the questioning of abstractions  is that it entails solipsism. Solipsism is the notion that all that exists are my own conscious perceptions. In other words, reality is purely my private dream. There are no other conscious entities, like other conscious people; they are merely figments of my own imagination. Now, notice that solipsism entails the acknowledgement of statement 1 above, and the rejection of statements 2, 3, and 4. It is the most sceptical ontological position one can take. But it is not my position. I believe that, once acknowledging that conscious perceptions exist (statement 1), it is a very reasonable step to extrapolate this to other entities as well, based on the similarities of their form and behaviour to my own. So I accept statements 1 and 2, therefore rejecting solipsism.

Finally, some people confuse the claim that all of reality is in consciousness with the idea that everything is conscious. There is a profound difference between these two notions. When I say that everything is in consciousness, I am saying that things exist only insofar as they play themselves out in the mind of a conscious observer. For instance, when you dream at night, everything in your dream exists only insofar as it is in your mind; the stuff in your dream does not have an independent existence. But that does not mean that every person or animal in your dream has a consciousness of their own; they do not ground a subjective point of view separate from yours; there is nothing it is like to be a character of your dream. So my worldview entails that, like a dream, reality exists only insofar as it is in consciousness, but not that everything in it is conscious. For instance, while acknowledging that other living entities are likely conscious (i.e. statement 2), I do not subscribe to the notion that rocks, windmills, home thermostats, or computers are conscious. Technically speaking, my worldview does not entail panpsychism.

A sober, sane view of reality should be extremely sceptical of statements 3 and 4 above. For too long have we replaced reality with our mad systems of abstraction. We have become lost in the dense fog of unreal inferences, taken for granted without critical thought. It is time we woke up to what is truly real; to our immediate experience of reality. It is time we realized that everything physics has to say informs us not about a reality 'out there,' but about ourselves; about how our deeper mind, our unconscious mind, works.

Fortunately, there are signs of a coming paradigm shift that may restore our sanity. Not only are the newest empirical developments promising, as I mentioned at the top of this article, but also a general convergence of intuitions seems to be taking place around the notion that reality is a great thought, made of unconscious linguistic constructs. Even the resurgence of interest in psi phenomena seems to be part of this convergence (indeed, psi can be construed to be evidence for idealism), as discussed in the video above. Let us hope that we will all wake up to sanity; to a worldview that is concurrently more sceptic, meaningful, and freer from the grip of unreal inferences, including the most cruel and unreal of them all: that bodily death is the end of mind. After all, it is the body that is in the mind, not the mind in the body.

Note: I'd like to thank the participants of the Skeptiko discussion forum for the spirited debates that inspired some of the articulations above.

1 comment:

  1. Very good post! I agree with statement 1 and 2 and duobt strongly 4. 3 is maybe somewhat dependent on what we mean with "exist".
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