Hyper-dimensional fantasies...

There seems to be a lot of talk in the New Age community these days about hyper-dimensional ideas, like "5D ascension," "higher-dimensional realms," and what not. Much of the stuff is either completely unsubstantiated or articulated in a way that flies in the face of science and reason. So although the fantasies are rich and appealing, their lack of any grounding is a complete turn-off. Yet, hyper-dimensionality, as a concept, can be explored in full accordance with materialism/physicalism to weave surprising possibilities about what it means to be a human being. Amazingly, it can even reconcile survival of consciousness, eternal life, and reincarnation with strict physicalism. Curious about how? Read on, and/or watch the short video below.

According to different versions of String Theory, and especially M-Theory, up to 10 dimensions of space are required for describing and explaining the behavior of matter. For years now popular culture has acknowledged this abstraction with a certain degree of wonder, thanks to the likes of Brian Greene and other science popularizers. Yet, there is one remarkable implication of these theories that seem to escape the attention of most of us: If matter exists in 10 spatial dimensions, then our bodies, which are made of matter, also fundamentally exist in 10 spatial dimensions. So the 3-dimensional body we see when we look down while dressing up each day is, in fact, a flattened projection of a 10-dimensional structure way beyond our ability to visualize spatially.

When we take a picture of a face, we are making a 2-dimensional projection of something that exists in 3 dimensions. A lot of information is lost in that process: A head-on picture of a face still shows a nose, but misses all the information about what the nose would look like in profile. Yet, at least there is a hint of the broader structure left: We still see the nose. In other cases, however, every hint of the presence of an entire structure in 3 dimensions can be lost in a 2-dimensional projection. For instance, if you have a mole on the side of your neck, there will be no sign of it in the head-on picture. By looking at the picture alone, nobody would be able to infer the presence of the mole, or of large parts of the structure of your ears. Now take this thinking several levels up: How many structures are lost when we project a 10-dimensional body onto only 3 dimensions? How many 'organ systems' become completely invisible? How many complex, vital structures inherent to the inner-workings of a living body disappear in the projection? Going from 3 to 2 dimensions, as we all know, implies significant loss of information; and that is just the loss of a single dimension. Imagine the loss of 7 dimensions.

If we had a closed causal explanation for human physiology today, all the way down to the molecular level, it would be fair to say that postulating invisible hyper-dimensional structures is totally unnecessary and gratuitous. In such case, we could still acknowledge that the visible human body is indeed a 3-dimensional projection of something in 10 dimensions but, just like the nose in our example, every structure in 10 dimensions is still hinted at, in some way, in the 3-dimensional projection we see; enough for us to construct said closed causal explanation. In other words, there would be no need to postulate moles or more complex structures that leave no hint in the projection. But we do not have a closed causal explanation for the inner-workings of the human body. Molecular biology is very, very far away from it. Most of the molecular-level details of life are still a profound mystery. Moreover, research has been generating more questions than answers, so it's hard to say even that we are getting closer. As such, we can still legitimately fantasize that there are bodily structures, inherent to life, existing in those 7 invisible dimensions, no hint of which is left in the 3-dimensional projection we normally call the human body. We can even fantasize that the difference between living and non-living structures in nature is precisely the presence of a hidden, hyper-dimensional core in living things, whose intrinsic dynamics becomes visible as the molecular physiology of life. According to this imagination, life is itself a 'protrusion' into our 3D world of something grounded in hidden dimensions.

Expanding on this fantasy now: Our 'regular' bodies (that is, the three-dimensional projection) have parts that grow, get older, and eventually get discarded: hair, nails, skin, teeth, etc. Nobody sits around in a gloomy mood because he or she has just shed a patch of dead skin; the core of what it means to be us remains intact. Now, imagine the visible human body as something analogous to that: It is a 'protrusion' into the regular 3 dimensions of our true hyper-dimensional bodies; a protrusion that grows and gets older throughout a lifetime, and eventually is discarded. The core of the structure, the thing it means to be a human being, albeit hidden, remains intact in those 7 invisible dimensions. Like the roots of garden plants, which survive underground throughout the winter even though their visible structures die and are discarded, the body we see may be just the glorified 'flowering' appendages that have their moments during the spring and summer. No need for a soul in this fantasy: Survival may be entirely physical.

A different, but ultimately equivalent, way to approach this is the following: Neuroscience today states that the entire reality we actually experience is a brain-constructed hallucination modulated by external electromagnetic signals coming from an outside world (for the sake of the fantasy, I will pretend I agree with this position, so we can explore its implications). In other words, you live your whole life locked into a kind of 'copy' of reality generated by your brain. But if that is so, then everything we think to know about our brains is itself part of that 'copy' of reality generated by the brain; a self-referential loop. What we call a 'brain' is, thus, merely what 'something' related to a brain looks like from within the reality this 'something' creates. To make description easier, let us define the following terminology: Let us call a 'hyper-brain' the true structure that actually generates our subjective reality; and let us call a 'brain' the way a hyper-brain looks from within the subjective reality it creates. Naturally, the hyper-brain fundamentally exists outside the reality we experience every day, for this everyday reality is itself created by the hyper-brain. Computer programmers can understand this with the following analogy: A 'brain' is an internal model, within a piece of software, of the computer that runs the piece of software. The internal model exists within the virtual reality of the software, while the machine itself exists in the same reality you and I inhabit. Clearly, despite important equivalences, a machine model running in software is not the actual machine, in the same way that your Facebook timeline is not your life, despite equivalences; one thing is just a representation of the other. The brain we see is merely a representation of a hyper-brain within the virtual reality created by the hyper-brain, in the same way that computer operating systems have virtual representations of the actual machines they run on.

Now the question, of course, is: How complete and accurate is this internal software model? How accurate a representation of the hyper-brain is the brain? How much about the hyper-brain is it safe to infer from observing a brain? Continuing on with our fantasy: The brain may be a faint, distorted, partial 'echo' of the real thing; of the hyper-brain. As such, making assertions of certainty about the beginning or the end of the hyper-brain based on observations made within the reality created by the hyper-brain is, at best, tricky. We cannot infer the end of the hyper-brain from the decomposition of a brain within the hallucinated reality, in the same way that we cannot infer the destruction of the computer from erasing its software. This way, even though this second fantasy is not literally a hyper-dimensionality one, it leads to a similar conclusion.

I hope you've enjoyed our little excursion into the unexplored spaces of the physicalist imagination!

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Rational, evidence-based, non-materialist model of mind-brain interaction

Cover of the Paranthropology journal.

An article which embodies my best attempt thus far to explain my own non-materialist view on the relationship between the mind and the brain is finally out. The article is the first in the magazine, linked below. I refer to none of my books in it, so there's no marketing. I'd like to kindly urge you to pass this on to anyone you think may be interested; it's free. We need to divulge rational, evidence-based alternatives to the dominant materialist paradigm, which many people still hold to be the only model available that is reasonable and consistent with the empirical evidence. The person I was 4 years ago would much appreciate it if someone sent this link to him! So please pass it on as widely as possible. Here is a link to the magazine:


Here is a direct link for a FREE download of the PDF:


Meaningful evolution

(An improved and updated version of this essay has appeared in my book Brief Peeks Beyond. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)

A few days ago I released a new video in which I discuss my thoughts on a neo-darwinist spin on the theory of evolution by natural selection. See above. Motivated by the comments I received on the video, I feel the need to elaborate a little more on what I am saying – and, perhaps more importantly, what I am not saying – in the video. In what follows, I'll assume that you have watched the video.

The first thing to highlight is that the main thrust of my argument is not a new hypothesis for the processes underlying genetic mutations, but, instead, to point out that there is no evidence for what neo-darwinists casually peddle as established truth: That the genetic mutations that get selected for – or not – by natural selection are random at origin; that is, entail no identifiable pattern. There is simply no evidence for this. In order to get such idea across, I contrast this with the obvious alternative possibility: That there is an underlying, as-of-yet undetected pattern in the mutations. The purpose of my discussing this alternative possibility is not the possibility itself, but solely to demonstrate, through an example, that there are other reasonable scenarios that neo-darwinists seem to lack sufficient scientific imagination to contemplate. Physicists are off talking about parallel universes, hidden dimensions, reverse causality and what not, while neo-darwinists seem stuck in 19th-century billiard-ball materialism.

Science is about finding the patterns underlying nature, and it is a fundamental premise of scientific activity that there may be patterns in natural processes where we currently cannot see one. To deny so amounts to arbitrarily decreeing an end to the process of scientific discovery. Indeed, openness to – and even an inner hope for – the possible presence of new and as-of-yet undetected patterns is integral to scientific thought. The conclusions of the discovery process in science should – and, fortunately, almost always do – focus on the patterns we do find, for these are the footprints of the laws of nature. In this context, neo-darwinism is unique in that it makes a direct, positive statement about there not possibly being a pattern, even though no evidence exists to substantiate such statement. There is a sense in which this is an aberration in modern scientific thought, and runs counter to the scientific spirit of discovery. The only evidence available that relates to such statement is the very richness and variety of nature, which ought to be construed, if anything, as suggestive precisely of the presence of an undetected pattern waiting to be discovered.

When we state that a process is 'random,' all we are stating is that we cannot identify a pattern in such process. This can say something about the process (i.e. it has no pattern) or about ourselves (i.e. we are not able to see the pattern). In the absence of objective evidence, it seems more appropriate to me that we remain cautious and state simply that, so far, we have been able to detect no pattern behind the genetic mutations at the basis of evolution, and that we currently do not see any strong-enough reason to believe there is one. This is accurate, cautious, fair, and leaves the appropriate doors open. To state – or worse, to teach in science classes in schools – that the mutations are random is, in a fundamental way, analogous to teaching religion: It's just a belief, no matter how reasonable and even necessary it may sound to neo-darwinist ears.

For clarity, the alternative hypothesis I mentioned in the video is this: There are phenomena in physics suggestive that the universe is, at a fundamental level, unified; in the sense that any event can potentially influence any other event across time and space limitations, at a quantum level. The phenomenon of quantum entanglement, when taken together with the Big Bang theory, is suggestive of this possibility. Some interpretations of quantum mechanics suggest the same, like David Bohm's Implicate Order. So it is not completely unreasonable to imagine that there could be some form of non-local feedback from the results of natural selection back into the probability envelops governing the quantum-level processes from which genetic mutations arise. After all, those mutations are probabilistic processes at a molecular level, governed by quantum wave functions.

If this is true, natural selection could conceivably not only preserve past mutations that provide a survival advantage; it could also tilt the probabilities of future mutations in favor of complementary ones. If anything, this would help the evolutionary algorithm avoid local minima – where it is notorious for getting stuck at, according to computer simulations – and reach a globally optimum result. The scenario here is one where a hypothetical, underlying intelligence interwoven in the fabric of the universe (or identical to the universe itself) is experimenting in the laboratory of nature, using natural selection as its evaluation function. In the process of experimentation, it does make many mistakes: Mutations that are useless or destructive are continuously tried out. But through such iterative trial-and-error, it learns and gets ever closer to its telos.

You may say that the hypothesis I discuss above is entirely gratuitous, in the sense that we have no strict evidence for it today. And you will be entirely correct to say that. But what I am doing here is not attempting to convince you that there is a telos behind evolution; I don't know for a fact that there is one. Instead, I am merely illustrating one conceivable scenario according to which mutations are not random, so to show that randomness cannot be taken for granted in the absence of evidence. Therefore, all I need to show is reasonable conceivability for my example hypothesis, not proof or even solid substantiation. And reasonable conceivability, I dare say, has been achieved in the discussion above.

In science, understanding what you do not know is often more important than understanding what you do know. I hope it is clear to you now that the core of my argument in the video is not to state positively that there is a telos behind evolution – for I do not have enough objective evidence to substantiate such hypothesis, even though I personally feel it is true – but to show that the hypothesis cannot be discarded on the basis of the available evidence, nor on the basis of hand-waving arguments about what is reasonable to conceive.


The Parthenon, Athens (source: Wikipedia). Many aspects of Western thought and civilization are a legacy from ancient Greece.

As many of you know, my 'day job' is in the corporate world. This past week, I was completing a relatively long corporate leadership capability program, and one of the topics addressed was the professional legacy the participants wanted to leave behind. Of course, I immediately started thinking about legacy in general, not only executive legacy. The appeal of the idea is that legacy is something that survives us: Through our legacy, many of us imagine to achieve an aspect of immortality; our legacy stays behind after we check out from space-time. Under a purely materialistic metaphysics, which dominates Western culture today, legacy is the human being's best shot at transcending death. But then, to my own surprise, I didn't seem to have a ready answer to the question posed by the course leader: What legacy do I want to leave behind?

You see, I have always been very achievement-oriented. From early life, I saw great meaning in building devices, winning school tournaments, etc. As a young adult, I realized how futile all those ephemeral things were; mere toys. The real meaning lay, I concluded, in helping advance human understanding through science, and improve the human condition through technology. That set up the first phase of my adult life, up until very recently: Life was meaningful because of my contributions to the LHC, the technologies I developed, the companies I started, the corporate changes I helped make a reality, etc. Even more recently, there was great meaning in the books I wrote. Do you see the pattern here? All these achievements were very palpable, concrete things one could point at. The meaning of my legacy, I thought, was in the concreteness of these things.

But is that really so? You see, the meaning of a legacy lies in how much of ourselves it captures and preserves, so our presence in space-time endures in a way. As such, a valid legacy is inextricably tied to who we truly are. Indeed, a legacy that does not reflect our true selves, regardless of how important and significant it may be, is meaningless in that it preserves nothing of us. Think about it for a moment: A legacy that does not reflect your true self, even if it helps change the world, is not your legacy; it gives no meaning to your ephemeral presence in space-time. At best, it gives meaning to somebody else's presence here. And now consider this: What captures best an aspect of the person you truly are? The concrete things you leave behind, like books or companies, or the people who actually knew you?

No legacy is more meaningful than the direct effects on people of my mere presence in the world. Achievements are secondary. I am building my legacy every hour of every day merely by interacting with people; merely by being alive. The lives of a few people are changed slightly, every day, because of their interactions with me: My family, my friends, colleagues at work, the baker, the security guard, the neighbors, the people who read anything I wrote, including you right now. The world will inevitably be ever so slightly different tomorrow because I have lived one more day today, regardless of any 'concrete' achievement. As such, the world of tomorrow will incorporate in its very essence the person I was today, even if I am no longer alive tomorrow. And according to the equations of chaos theory, the value of these ever so slight differences that arise through my presence should not be underestimated: Like the proverbial butterfly wings causing a hurricane, they can potentially lead to major transitions in the far distant future.

Now the really important point: For this legacy to give any meaning to my life, I must live life in as authentic a manner as possible. For the world of tomorrow to incorporate a part of me, I must be myself today. Otherwise, the world of tomorrow will incorporate an aspect of someone else; a fictional character that lends no meaning to my ephemeral presence in space-time. To wear a mask and behave as someone you want to be, but are not, creates a legacy that is not yours. There is still some meaning in that, insofar as living a lie reflects an interior need that is itself part of who you are. But I, personally, have now come to prefer unreserved authenticity. I have come to prefer my actions to reflect what I really think, who I really am, with all my defects and shortcomings, for good or otherwise, even if what I really think changes every month. At least I will have been, every month, authentic to who I was in that month. Better I cannot hope to do.

The hardest thing is to be true to oneself. The ego weaves invisible and sticky webs of self-deception: Often, when you think you are finally being honest to yourself, that is when you are getting trapped in one of those webs. But practice makes perfect, and a few errors down the road one slowly begins to 'get it.' The award for perseverance is, in this case, the highest one can ever hope for; the elixir of life; the philosopher's stone itself: Immortality.