Transcending Our Brain Created Reality

Medieval illustration of transcendence.

An article I wrote for New Dawn Magazine, published in print a few weeks ago, is now freely available online thanks to the kindness of David Jones, the magazine's editor. I'd like to make it this week's blog post, since I believe the message in it is quite important. Below, you will find the first paragraph of the article and a link to the full text on New Dawn's website. Enjoy!

The study of non-ordinary states of consciousness is quickly becoming an established area of scientific and philosophical inquiry. Yet, all the enthusiasm about finding out what these non-ordinary states are somehow obfuscates much bigger, important, and urgent questions: What as-of-yet unknown aspects of reality do they give us access to? And what significance do those hold for the human adventure in space-time?

Continue reading on New Dawn's website...


  1. Hello Bernard.

    I have read your article and I would like to tell you some ideas to see what you think.

    First, you write that there are basically two ways to get non-ordinary states of consciousness: psychedelics and meditation. But I have more suggestions: if non-ordinary states of consciousness are achieved by decreasing brain activity, then we should also include the near-death experiences. And we could even include extracorporeal experiences and mediumistic communications, because if in the extracorporeal experiences the mind dissociates from the body, then the mind could access the reality as it is, and if the mediums are what appear to be, then we with the extreme case, where we communicate with someone who has no brain activity except that of the medium.

    My opinion is that for some extracorporeal experiences something really out of the body and this is the vehicle of consciousness, as shown in Osis experiments with psychic Tanous, but in the extracorporeal state not grasp the reality itself, but mediated by our culture and our astral body. In the case of mediumship I think something similar happens, because according to the content of mediumistic communications more reliable investigated by the Society for Psychical Research, the spirits of the dead still have the same beliefs that before dying, so that the death is not automatic enlightenment.

    And second, I do not know if you know, but I found this article by Donald D. Hoffman: ~ ddhoff/ConsciousRealism2.pdf

    In this article Hoffman defends ideas very similar to the ideas of your blog, as a restricted and simplified representation of reality is more useful for survival that a true and accurate representation, and that idealism, realism conscious call him, is preferable to dualism and materialism. What do you think?

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      > First, you write that there are basically two ways to get non
      > ordinary states of consciousness: psychedelics and meditation.
      > But I have more suggestions: if non-ordinary states of
      > consciousness are achieved by decreasing brain activity, then
      > we should also include the near-death experiences.

      Absolutely. I didn't mean to make it sound like only these two ways were possible. I think there are _many_ ways to reduce brain activity and achieve a transcendent state. In my book 'Dreamed up Reality' I mention several, including brain entrainment, sensory deprivation, ordeals (not recommended), hyper-ventilation, etc. So I fully agree with you here.

      I know Hoffman's article; it's an intriguing one!

      My own ideas on mediumism is that it is potentially a valid phenomenon (that is, true). But given my Idealist stance, I am less inclined to Dualist metaphors like subtle bodies and things like that. I think death is rather like waking up from a dream, as opposed to a literal separation between soul and body. I think our bodies, which are part of the dream, are in our souls (the dreamer).

      Cheers, Bernardo.

  2. I greatly enjoyed your article, Bernardo. It’s an interesting idea that being selective in filtering what is perceived of what CAN be perceived offers an evolutionary advantage; I don’t think I’d ever thought of that myself, although I was aware, of course, that filtering does take place, and of different possible perceptions in different organisms.

    One thing I thought was that there’s some evidence (a la Sheldrake) that some animals, e.g. dogs and maybe parrots, have a degree of ESP ability. If so, then that would seem to imply, based on your thesis, that there’s a selective advantage for them to have ESP. One can surely imagine circumstances where that might apply, e.g. in relocating lost offspring, or awareness of some distant source of food.

    That said, the same could apply to human beings, and there is anecdotal evidence that people in tribal societies may possess such capacities. Maybe that has become attenuated in developed societies because we have so many other means of communicating and determining things that conduce to our survival.

    Putting ESP aside, other organisms certainly seem to possess the ability to perceive things that we can’t, and not to be able to perceive things that we can. There seems to be little doubt that filters are in place, and the idea that “overload” would be evolutionarily disadvantageous seems sound enough to me.

    I found your speculations about the formation of an NKI think tank delightful--by the way, that could make for a marvellous sci-fi novel, always assuming it hasn’t already been done. What caused me to pause and think a little was the way you envisage marrying the study, development, and application of unusual states of consciousness, not just with a rigorous scientific approach, but with technology. I suppose that’s inevitable given your background and expertise, but something in me seemed to baulk at the notion.

    I suppose that could be a remnant of my cultural conditioning, or then again, it could be an intuitive sense that the two things may to a large extent interfere with each other’s mode of operation. The world of technology seems to be one of collapsed potential, and the world of the psyche, of open potential. Inevitably, once we try to explain and provide organising schemata and definitive proofs, etc., we collapse and limit potential to some degree.

    Rather than the think tank notion, I found myself back in nursery school where I can remember on the very first day being taught my prayers and how to make the sign of the cross. I can remember thinking how peculiar that was, and wondering what it meant and why we were doing it. What if, instead of the mumb-jumbo, I had been introduced from an early age to elementary techniques for opening up consciousness, taught as matter-of-factly as my letters and numbers? What kind of adult would a child educated like that become? It would surely influence ones’ approach to everything, not excluding science.

    Michael Larkin

    Bernardo KastrupSunday, September 23, 2012 7:35:00 PM

    Indeed, Michael! What if...
    Hey, you commented on the wrong article. You meant to comment on my earlier post ;-). But it's all good!
    Regarding science being associated with 'collapsing' possibilities... well, that is somewhat true, and also the price of that avenue of knowledge. But technology is a lot less plagued by paradigms than science. Technology is all about what works, not interpretations about what is allowed to be true. Technology is about opening up possibilities! :-)
    By the way, I realized I don't have a way to contact you. Feel free to use the 'contact me privately' link to the right so to stay in touch beyond specific comments on posts.
    Cheers, B.

  3. Hi!

    It occurred to me that the conventional idea that the brain creates a simulation of the outside world inside the skull (which you mentioned in your article), is in fact a sort of admission that neuroscience doesn't begin to understand consciousness. All it can conceive of, is the identity transformation!

    1. Haha, true! :-) It's quite a schizophrenic attitude in science today, to recognize that all we see is a brain-generated hallucination, but then assume an ontological model which implies that we have direct and unrestricted access to reality as-is.

  4. This was a really excellent article. I'm so glad you posted it on your blog.

    I love the idea, and enjoy how much you have thought it through. Now all you need is to get some wealthy backers and quit your day job! I realize it's just a dream of what could/should be, but I for one would dearly like to see it actually come to be.

    It is extremely odd to me that we can study these altered states without it ever seriously occurring to us that we should study their vision of reality, just in case that vision is actually true. I've been in touch with a few NDE researchers about trying to pull out the worldview(s) and value system(s) contained in NDEs, mainly through use of an extensive questionnaire. I think I'll see if we can actually get that going some time next year. It seems rather incredible to me that more attention hasn't been given to the NDE philosophy. To me, it virtually screams out for attention.

    Which brings me to a question: Do you see your hypothetical institute, in addition to collating the results of your psychonauts' explorations, also collating the data of spontaneous ASEs out in the field, so to speak?

  5. Hi Robert,

    > I've been in touch with a few NDE researchers
    > about trying to pull out the worldview(s) and
    > value system(s) contained in NDEs

    This is VERY interesting. I'd love to hear more. Are you a researcher yourself? An academic? In what context are you carrying out this work?

    > To me, it virtually screams out for attention.

    YES! I agree!

    > Do you see your hypothetical institute, in
    > addition to collating the results of your
    > psychonauts' explorations, also collating the
    > data of spontaneous ASEs out in the field, so
    > to speak?

    What are 'ASEs'? *blush* :-) Something related to altered states, I assume?

    Personally, I see some value in controlled settings, as opposed to accidental field experiences. That said, I would not discard any field experience as invalid. In fact, NDErs seem to go deeper than anyone doing subjective exploration under controlled conditions (nobody will choose to deactivate the brain as much as it happens to an NDEr!). So I'd definitely want to integrate that data too.
    Gr, B.

  6. Bernardo, good to hear back from you. About the NDE study, I'll start by saying I am not an academic and wouldn't call myself a researcher. I am, however, working on an article for the Journal of Near-Death Studies at the encouragement of the editor (on parallels and differences between the worldviews of NDEs and A Course in Miracles). Also, Bruce Greyson was part of a study I led on an extreme form of synchronicity, and he co-authored the eventual paper. About the NDE study itself, nothing is in motion yet, just some ideas and tentative plans kicked around, and some expressions of interest and offers of help from some prominent researchers. If you'd like to know more, please feel free to contact me privately:

    You haven't heard of ASEs? They are actually, well, just a typo! I meant to say ASCs.

    I really like your institute idea. I've had vaguely similar thoughts about a general discipline arising that would scientifically study non-ordinary states of consciousness and other relevant phenomena to see what they disclose about the nature of reality and the purpose of life. But your institute idea strikes me as probably more achievable--or at least the lesser of two unachievables!

    1. Robert,
      I had a look around your site and was intrigued by your book on syncronicity! ( I guess I will get myself an e-copy soon. I'm glad to see you're a fellow author.
      If anything ever becomes slightly concrete about the NKI institute idea, I will let you know, so we could think of joining forces. Right now, however, it's just an imagination.
      Cheers, Bernardo.

  7. Bernardo, if anything does develop with your NKI institute vision, it's the kind of project I'd very much like to contribute to in whatever way is appropriate. So thank you for your comment.

    If you do order my book on synchronicity, I hope you like it. I would be happy to send you an e-copy if you like. It's a very different model of synchronicity and people, therefore, tend to have a hard time wrapping their heads around it. If you do read it, please feel free to offer any comments that may come up for you.

    1. The NKI think-tank would be a dream-come-true, wouldn't it? I can't conceive of a more meaningful way to invest one's life during the current historical juncture.

      I will get your book on amazon. ;-) Thanks for the offer!

    2. Bernardo, I know the trail on this post has grown kind of cold, but I wanted to let you know that I emailed a link of your NKI article to a consciousness researcher I know. His response was favorable to your basic idea, but he explained at some length that by working outside the academic community, your proposed think-tank "will be marginalized and largely ignored by other scientists who badly need to understand and engage with this NKI."

      My question is: What exactly are you thinking the relationship will be between your NKI think-tank and academia? Is the independence you envision a case of merely being under its own independent control, or are you seeing the think-tank as genuinely outside of academia in the way my friend is understanding your idea?

  8. Hi Robert,
    Nice to hear from you again.
    I never envisioned isolation of any kind for the NKI; not from society and not from academia. Much to the contrary: I think it would be fantastic to engage with academia to the extent that this engagement is welcomed. My only point was that the NKI should not be _dependent_ on general academic support in terms of, for instance, getting grants or peer-review approval as the only means to publish. I think it would be important for the NKI to have its own publication channels _in addition_ to whatever it could get published in traditional academic journals. The end-goal, in my view, is to gain general acceptance from society and academia about the validity of this kind of study, so I actually see integration with academia as part of the end-game.
    Cheers, Bernardo.

  9. Thanks, Bernardo. I like the sound of that. I think it strikes a nice balance.

    I had an interesting synchronicity around your idea. When I wrote the person I mentioned above, I summarized your NKI think-tank vision and provided a link to the article. A few hours later, I was reading a book I'd just started, which said this: "In the future, there should be research and training centers for psychedelic experience that are safe and secure, with both secular and sacred settings to ensure adequate training for wise and compassionate use. Such institutions would restore the care and respect that psychedelics have been accorded in almost every other culture over thousands of years." While not the same idea as yours, the similarities were pretty striking.

    1. Let's hope something like this happens in the not-too-distant future. But I also hope it entails more than psychedelics. Maybe some form of pin-point transcranial magnetic stimulation, mixed in with brain entrainment, would really be a step forward.

  10. It seems to me that the Monroe Institute is actually the beginning phase of one of these NKI organizations you are envisioning.