Response to Bernardo's presentation at Science & Non-Duality 2013

By Michael Larkin

(This guest essay is an interesting essay in reaction to an earlier post of mine. I particularly like Michael's interpretation of space-time under the idealist framework of the whirlpool metaphor, as described in that earlier post. I trust you will enjoy it at least as much as I did!)

Space-time representation under Relativity theory.

The materialist paradigm implies that everything is perceived internal to the brain. There must be something "out there", but as far as each of us is concerned, it's rendered in terms of neuronal signals. We perceive things we call "stars", but those twinkly things are perceptive impressions in our brain inside our skulls. And, of course, the interpretations of those impressions are held to be thoughts, also the result of neuronal interactions.

The "things themselves", the stars, and all the different things we perceive, are actually inside our heads. Even if you argue that you can set up some kind of detector that is outside the brain, the output of that detector once again comes through sense organs to the brain. The "real world", "out there", is ineffable: we don't actually know what it is; all we know of it is what we perceive internally.

Even if we say that we agree we perceive the same thing inside our skulls--that that agreement comes from "out there"--we haven't thereby actually externalised what we perceive. Everything is subjective: what is objective is deemed so by agreement of a number of subjects, each of them individually inside their brains. According to the materialist paradigm, never in our lives do we get so much as a millimetre outside our skulls. Human beings are merely transducers of reality, and if I've understood him correctly, Bernardo is saying that that idea is metaphysical to its core.

It could make more sense to say that what is "out there" is contiguous with what is "in here"; that "in here" and "out there" are illusions set up as soon as one thinks in dualistic terms. This seems for me to tie in with what Rupert Sheldrake says: our consciousness isn't inside our heads: stars and everything else (including brains and skulls) are within our field of consciousness, which is potentially as big as the universe.

It's as if our consciousness reaches back in time to perceive distant objects. This applies to anything at a "distance", which is related to time. We see the stars instantaneously "where they were some time ago", where they effectively "are" for us. But we usually think in terms of light having a certain speed and travelling to our eyes so that we can see objects inside our brains in the present moment. It's a conditioned way of conceptualising "reality" that we have great difficulty seeing differently.

Reflecting further, I have arrived at a fresh concept (for me) of the distance/time (or space/time) concept. It's only recently in human history that when we look into the night sky and see what we call stars, we have come to think of them as being suns like our own; but since they appear much smaller and fainter, we deem them to be very far away. However, another possible explanation is that--being constricted in our ways of perceiving by our "whirlpools"-- we don't *notice* them as much as our own sun: they don't impinge as much on our consciousness, even if they might be bigger and brighter than our sun. This isn't limited to perception of light; it could also be applied to perception of sound, for example. An atomic bomb exploding in the Mojave desert might be inaudible not because we are "far away", but because the current conformation of our whirlpool imposes restrictions on how much can be perceived: hence we don't notice the explosion.

So in this model, time/distance and apparent effects on us are a function of how much something impinges on consciousness as constricted by our whirlpool. If for some reason our whirlpool conformation changes, but consciousness remains, then we might in theory have a different perception of reality.

It seems to me that key to the idea of the whirlpool is that it represents the limitation imposed on the perception of reality when we're what we call "incarnate". In certain conditions, such as what we term "NDEs" and various other "spiritual" experiences, its conformation might change so that we perceive a lot more, including phenomena that we might otherwise not notice. We might then still have an individual POV, still possess *some* limitation on how much of reality we can notice, even if by comparison that were to be vastly more than in our usual waking state. This might allow, for example, for what we would think of in the ordinary incarnate state as telepathic communication; merging with other entities; instantaneous "travel" or interaction facilitated by attention and intention, etc.

I like this idea of persistence of the whirlpool in different states of conformation because it readily explains reincarnation and the inaccessibility (usually, at any rate) of information gleaned in previous incarnations. It's also compatible with ideas of individual evolution. The typical "human" conformation might allow us to periodically have certain experiences that help us in some way refine a higher-level conformation. At some stage, we might cease to reincarnate in human form, and move permanently to the next level of conformation: and who knows, there may be yet further levels of conformation to be analogously progressed through. There's also the possibility of merging back into the ultimate conformation of all conformations, that which we might call Source or God.

"Physical death", then, might not completely disrupt the whirlpool. It might rather change its conformation so that it's more aware of the reality that's there: in other words, after death, we might still have a sense of individuality of some sort, but with a greater appreciation of reality. As long as one has individuality in some degree, then one wouldn't be aware of all there actually is. Indeed, individuality could perhaps be seen as being in a state of some degree of ignorance of all there is. The ultimate evolutionary impulse could be the desire to overcome all ignorance through merging with Source, thus allowing It to have the experience of knowing Itself as if there were something else other than It.

I can't help recalling the words of the famous Hadith Qudsi: "I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known. Therefore, I created the Creation so that I might be known."

Copyright © 2013 by Michael Larkin. Published with permission.


  1. Whenever I think of really distant objects like stars or galaxies from the perspective of Idealism, I can't help wondering if these objects are 'rendered' in a really coarse way - rather like distant scenery might be rendered in a computer game!

  2. Thanks for posting this, Bernardo. The idea I had has been quietly marinating in the background, and David's brief comment is somewhere near the mark. What is a human being? It's what happens when a whirlpool organises itself in a certain way, and comes to experience itself as an upright biped with a certain degree of intelligence. Constrained by the limitations of that experience, it interprets everything that impinges on its awareness as an upright biped with a certain degree of intelligence is wont to do.

    In some other conformation, it might experience itself, and other conformations like galaxies, etc, in a completely different way. It might actually experience them as close by and of some different nature. Things like: chairs and computers; ocean liners and Scotch whiskey; mathematics and engineering, are artefacts it constructs that behave coherently.

    They function as it intended them to do, and are faithful to and consistent with the experience of an upright biped. Everything works and is a terribly convincing rendering, as David calls it, of reality--but it's only a particular way of experiencing reality. Science/philosophy is one way of trying to break out of the matrix, as it were: to grope towards a more accurate understanding of reality. Nothing attracts attention more than a few displaced pixels or a slight glitch in the backdrop/scenery.

  3. The Wikipeadia says it better than I can, so I'm pasting from wiki an Advaita Vedanta which is generally the Indic take on the nature of reality . Having followed this blog for quite sometime, I can say that some of Bernardo's speculations are not really new at all, just more sciency stuff thrown in for good measure. I'm not here to proselytize, just to add to points of discussion if anyone is interested at all. (Adi Sankara was one of the best commentators on Indic religion/philosophy).

    Advaita Vedanta is a so-called substance ontology, an ontology "which holds that underlying the seeming change, variety, and multiplicity of existence there are unchanging and permanent entities (the so-called substances)".[137] In contrast, Buddhism is a process ontology, according to which "there exists nothing permanent and unchanging, within or without man".[138]

    Criterion of Sublation

    Sublation is replacement of a "truth" by a higher "truth", until no higher truth can be found. Shankara uses sublatibility as the criterion for the ontological status of any content of consciousness:

    Sublation is essentially the mental process of correcting and rectifying errors of judgement. Thus one is said to sublate a previous held judgment when, in the light of a new experience which contradicts it, one either regards the judgment as false or disvalues it in some significant sense [...] Not only judgment but also concepts, objects, relations, and in general any content of consciousness can be sublated.

    Three Levels of Reality
    See also: Two truths doctrine

    Advaita took over from the Madhyamika the idea of levels of reality. Usually two levels are being mentioned, but Shankara uses sublation as the criterion to postulate an ontological hierarchy of three levels:

    Pāramārthika (paramartha, absolute), the absolute level, "which is absolutely real and into which both other reality levels can be resolved". This experience can't be sublated by any other experience.

    Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya[143] (empirical or pragmatical), "our world of experience, the phenomenal world that we handle every day when we are awake". It is the level in which both jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Iswara are true; here, the material world is also true.

    Prāthibhāsika (pratibhasika, apparent reality, unreality), "reality based on imagination alone". It is the level in which appearances are actually false, like the illusion of a snake over a rope, or a dream.

  4. Continuation:

    The world is unreal and real

    The world is both unreal and real. but something can't be both true and false at the same time; hence Adi Shankara has classified the world as indescribable.

    Adi Sankara says that the world is not real (true), it is an illusion. Adi Sankara gives the following reasoning:

    Whatever thing remains eternal is true, and whatever is non-eternal is untrue. Since the world is created and destroyed, it is not real (true).

    Truth is the thing which is unchanging. Since the world is changing, it is not real (false).

    Whatever is independent of space and time is real (true), and whatever has space and time in itself is not real (false).

    Just as one sees dreams in sleep, he sees a kind of super-dream when he is waking. The world is compared to this conscious dream.
    The world is believed to be a superimposition of the Brahman. Superimposition cannot be real (true).

    Adi Sankara also claims that the world is not absolutely unreal (false). It appears unreal (false) only when compared to Brahman. At the empirical or pragmatic level, the world is completely real:[155]

    If the world were unreal (false), then with the liberation of the first living being, the world would have been annihilated. However, the world continues to exist even if a living being attains liberation. But, it is possible that no living being attained the ultimate knowledge (liberation) till now.

    Adi Sankara believes in karma, or good actions. This is a feature of this world. So the world cannot be unreal (false).

    The Supreme Reality Brahman is the basis of this world. The world is like its reflection. Hence the world cannot be totally unreal (false).

    False is something which is ascribed to nonexistent things, like Sky-lotus. The world is a logical thing, a fact which is perceived by our senses and exists but is not the truth.

  5. Creation of the world
    Adi Shankara assumes that Creation is recreation or play of Ishvara. It is His nature, just as it is man's nature to breathe. Creating the world for any incentive slanders the wholeness and perfection of Ishvara. Creating the world for gaining something is against His perfection. Creating the world out of compassion is illogical, since the emotion of compassion cannot arise in a blank and void world in the beginning, when only Ishvara existed.[citation needed]

    Adi Shankara states that, at the empirical level, the world is created through Satkāryavāda. According to Satkāryavāda, the effect is pre-existent in the cause. There is only an apparent or illusory change in the appearance of the cause, and not a material one, when it becomes effect. The effect is just a transformation of the cause. The original cause or ground of everything is seen as Prakriti.[156]

    Shankara's understanding differs from the Samkhya-understanding of Satkāryavāda. Samkhya-philosophy adheres to a sub-form of Satkāryavāda called Parinamavada, evolution, whereby the cause really becomes an effect. Adi Shankara adheres to a sub-form called Vivartavada. According to Vivartavada, the effect is merely an apparent transformation of its cause, like illusion. For example, in darkness a man often confuses a rope to be a snake. But this does not mean that the rope has actually transformed into a snake.

    A criticism against Satkāryavāda is the question how Ishvara, whose form is spiritual, can be the effect of this material world. Adi Shankara says that just as from a conscious living human, inanimate objects like hair and nails are formed, similarly, the inanimate world is formed from the spiritual Ishvara.

    1. You wrote: "I can say that some of Bernardo's speculations are not really new at all"

      I'm glad about that and have noticed it myself. To me, it gives credence to a non-materialist interpretation. And I'm personally completely unworried about being original or making a personal mark. My attempt is merely to bring new, more up-to-date metaphors that speak more clearly to modern people. That said, I did develop my ideas independently. I'm not just re-phrasing ancient philosophy. That both turn out to be consistent with one another gives me comfort and reassurance.

  6. Bernardo

    Sorry about the length.

  7. Bernard, thank you. I thought you might be interested to have a look at the work of Douglas Harding, who is a great proponent of simplicity and direct evidence. His first major work "The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth" very much resonates with your metaphor of the whirlpool and gives a few more intersting way of looking at this very simple yet potent idea.

    1. Thanks Arjuna, I will have a look. It sounds intriguing.

    2. Yes, I would second Arjuna's recommendation. Harding spent years on "The Hierarchy" - it is dramatically different from his "Having no Head" and other simpler, more popular books, but has a lot in common with what you're presenting. I believe a PDF is available for free online. I would recommend taking it VERY slowly - it is a very dense work and worth dipping into from time to time, taking it at a slow, contemplative pace.