The Idealist Symbolism of the Christmas Archetype

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.

As we experience the afterglow of Christmas—the date that symbolically commemorates the birth of the Christ in the Christian world—I wanted to share some reflections about its archetypal symbolism. Just as Pentecost symbolically marks the Divinity's entrance into Its own Creation in ethereal form (the Holy Spirit), Christmas symbolically reminds us of God's entrance into the world in human form. Surprising as this may sound to the average Christian, this archetypal idea of the Creator entering Its own Creation is by no means exclusive to Christianity.

In the creation myth of the Aranda people, in Australia, the Creator deity Karora dreams the world up as He sleeps. He then wakes up in His own dream, effectively entering it. Once within the dream, Karora even eats some of the animals He'd imagined into existence. On the other side of the world, the Witoto people of the Amazon jungle believe their Creator deity Nainema also imagined the world into existence while in a state of slumber. He then stamped on His own imaginings and eventually penetrated them, subsequently spitting the jungle into existence. In a foundational Hindu myth, the supreme deity Brahman creates the basic scaffolding of the world as a thought in his mind. Brahman then births Itself into Its own imagination, by imagining a cosmic egg and then hatching from it. And so on. More details about all these myths can be found in my upcoming book More Than Allegory. The key point, however, is that cultures across time, geographies and languages have expressed this primordial notion that God imagines the world into existence, and then enters Its own imagination. Isn't this a fair way to also describe what happened when the Christ was born? Symbolically speaking, wasn't the Christian God also entering His own Creation in the form of Jesus, the man? The human mind, in its trans-intellectual and trans-linguistic depths, has always known something about this; something more true than mere allegory, which it has expressed in profoundly symbolic, mythical forms.

Available now for pre-ordering.

Remember: according to the Christian myth, Jesus wasn't only the son of God. He was God incarnate. It is this identity between God and human that gives us symbolic clues about the metaphysics suggested by the religious myths mentioned above, including the Christian myth. There is a passage from More Than Allegory that discusses this. I will quote it below but, first, I need to quote another passage that explains what I call the cognitive 'big bang':
The present moment is the cosmic egg described in so many religious myths, which we briefly discussed in Part I. It is a singularity that births all existence into form. It seeds our mind with fleeting consensus images that we then blow up into the voluminous bulk of projected past and future. These projections are like a cognitive ‘big bang’ unfolding in our mind. They stretch out the intangibility of the singularity into the substantiality of events in time. But unlike the theoretical Big Bang of current physics, the cognitive ‘big bang’ isn’t an isolated occurrence in a far distant past. It happens now; now; now. It only ever happens now. (pp. 102-103)
And now the passage about the Idealist metaphysics hinted at in many of the world's religious myths:
Significantly, idealism is precisely what many of the world’s religious myths have been hinting at for thousands of years, as discussed in Part I. In the Arandan, Uitoto and Hindu myths we explored, as well as in the Hermetic myth that underlies Western esotericism, the world is seen as the mental activity of a cosmic mind. As a matter of fact, the sophisticated Vedanta school of Hinduism states explicitly and unambiguously that all phenomena unfold in consciousness alone. The same notion is found in Buddhism, particularly the Yogācāra School. Even the Christian New Testament hints at this in a magnificently symbolic way when John the Evangelist writes: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... Through [the Word] all things were made.’ ‘Word’ here is a translation of the original Greek Λόγος (Logos), which also means reasoning or thought. So through thought ‘all things were made.’

Kripal states that ‘Logos here does not refer to some form of rationalism or linear logic, but to a kind of cosmic Mind, universal intelligence, or super-language out of which all that is emerges and takes shape. Logos is not human reason here. It is “with God.” It is God.’ Yet, John has the Logos incarnate as a man, Jesus. So this ‘cosmic Mind’ is also the human mind. The Logos is also human reasoning because God was also the man Jesus. Indeed, as we’ve seen in Part I, the words of language are the form and manifestation of human thought.

Ponder about this for a moment: just as John’s incarnated Logos makes all things, the cognitive ‘big bang’ resulting from human reasoning (logos) creates the substantiality of the universe across space and time through a trick of self-reference. As God is born within His own creation as the Christ, Brahman is born in primordial waters from the cosmic egg—the singularity—that Brahman Itself created, subsequently uttering ‘the Word’ to bring forth the world’s substance. The self-referential, circular character of the process and its parallels with the cognitive ‘big bang’ are even more striking here.

And it goes on and on: Nainema breaks into his own illusion to spit—a movement of the mouth, like the utterance of words— the substance of the forest into existence, while Karora wakes up within his own dream to experience, by eating, the substance of the animals sprouted from his own navel. Do you see how different peoples have been trying to suggest the same subtle cosmology through the symbolism most evocative to their respective cultures? The world we ordinarily experience is a mental creation. Its concrete form arises out of emptiness through cognitive self-reference, a process whose inherent circularity makes you believe that you were born in the world. But it is you, through your human thinking, who is creating the whole of it now; now; now. (pp. 110-111)

Back to Sam Harris' Critique of Eben Alexander's NDE

Who is this clown? Image source: Wikipedia.

A teacher of philosophy called Michael Sudduth has written a blog post criticizing what I say, in my book Brief Peeks Beyond, about Sam Harris' attack on Eben Alexander. Let me admit upfront that I had never heard of Michael Sudduth, have no idea who he is beyond what I found in a quick google search, and know nothing of his work. I will explain at the end of this essay why I nonetheless decided to comment on his criticism.

He starts his critique of my views rather colorfully, implicitly promising a knock-out punch at some later stage:
It’s astonishingly evident to me that Kastrup’s thinking on this matter is not merely confused; it’s profoundly confused. ... Kastrup’s reasoning in both his blog and book is an astonishing display of misrepresentation and philosophical obfuscation.
Apparently I astonish him a lot. Undeterred, he uses 1142 words (!) to introduce his essay and disparage my position with pure rhetoric before he even begins the attempt to substantiate his allegations. It's a lot of gratuitous disparaging that doesn't seem motivated by eagerness to debate: when he posted his essay on Facebook, he tagged 34 people (!) with visibility in the media, but failed to tag me, the very target of his criticism. I found this rather curious.

After disparaging me repeatedly, one would expect that, by the time he actually began to justify his prolific allegations, a mortal blow would soon follow. I confess: I was somewhat curious. But the implicit promise of a knock-out punch never materialized. His post disappoints. He uses almost ten thousand words (!) in total to basically fail to even argue against—let alone defeat—the substance of any of my points; the true and unsurpassed feat of philosophical obfuscation in this whole story. But don't let the ten thousand words frighten you: I can summarize the essence of what he says about me in only 3 quick points:

  1. The DMT similarity argument. Harris originally stated that Alexander's NDE looked like a DMT trip. Harris overtly suggests that Alexander's experience could have been caused merely by chemicals in Alexander's brain, as opposed to having a transcendent nature. I then argued that a chemical or physical trigger does not necessarily invalidate the transcendent nature of the experience, since all NDEs are, ultimately, triggered by some physical event. What does Sudduth have to say about this? He writes: "Kastrup is correct, of course, that in at least one sense the similarity between Alexander’s NDE and DMT experiences doesn’t defeat the authenticity of the former as a valid transcendent experience." But this was my point. So Sudduth actually agrees with my point. What's his problem then? Well, he asserts that "Harris nowhere claims [that] Alexander’s NDE was produced by brain chemistry," so my point is a straw-man. What? With a blush of embarrassment, I leave it to you to judge it after you consider the following passage by Harris: "Does Alexander know that DMT already exists in the brain as a neurotransmitter? Did his brain experience a surge of DMT release during his coma? This is pure speculation, of course, but it is a far more credible hypothesis than that his cortex “shut down,” freeing his soul to travel to another dimension." Can someone explain to me how is it that Harris is not suggesting here that DMT could explain Alexander's NDE on a purely chemical basis? I mean, how much clearer could this possibly be? Sudduth's grievance is that Harris does not outright state that the NDE was caused by chemicals; that Harris merely mentions the possibility that it was. Duh. So what? It would obviously have been ridiculous if Harris had asserted that he knew what caused Alexander's NDE. Raising the possibility of a chemical cause was as far as Harris could have gone to try to debunk Alexander. And I rebutted this by arguing that a chemical trigger—even if true—wouldn't invalidate the potentially transcendent nature of Alexander's experience anyway (this, even Sudduth agrees with). In other words, I granted to Harris the possibility of a chemical trigger and argued against the relevance of that possibility as far as Alexander's claims were concerned. I never assumed or implied that Harris did anything more than to raise a hypothesis, the force of my argument being directed precisely at the relevance of that hypothesis. I'd bet that all readers of my essay, except perhaps for Michael Sudduth, fully understood this. It's embarrassing to have to spell it out now. Either Sudduth is splitting hairs for the sake of inventing something to criticize and create polemic, or he is so myopically focused on the strict formal semantics of Harris' words that he fails to see the obvious thrust and intent of the text. Harris, my dear Michael, is not writing for analytic philosophy majors here; he's trying to debunk Alexander's story in the public's eye and he is perfectly aware of how the public will understand his words. That you fail to see this is so sweetly naive it makes me smile. Perhaps you've become too engrossed with linguistic games in your academic ivory tower and now lost touch with the real world. Or are your motivations of a different nature? (More on this later.) 
  2. The cortical inactivity argument. Harris originally claimed that Alexander didn't sufficiently demonstrate that his brain lacked enough activity to account for his NDE. In turn, I argued that appeals to residual brain activity in sub-cortical areas weren't enough to explain Alexander's NDE: the type of experience Alexander underwent normally correlates with neocortical activity, as opposed to residual activity in deeper parts of the brain. And it was precisely Alexander's neocortex that was devastated by the meningitis. What does Sudduth have to say about this? He writes: "we can concede that Kastrup is at least correct to say that whether there could have been residual brain activity misses the point." Well, once again that was precisely my point. How curious. So what's Sudduth's problem this time? He claims that Harris' grievance was that Alexander did not show that his neocortex was inactive; that Harris was not appealing to activity in sub-cortical regions. Yet Harris' own words, as quoted by Sudduth himself, indicate the opposite: "almost no one thinks that consciousness is purely a matter of cortical activity." Clearly, Harris is appealing to sub-cortical activity to suggest a materialist explanation for Alexander's NDE. Be it as it may, once again Sudduth admits that I was essentially correct. What is he trying to achieve with this?
  3. The "Failures of Proper Argumentation" critique. Sudduth writes paragraph after paragraph claiming that I failed to establish that Alexander's neocortex was incapable to generate his NDE. The only problem is that I never tried to construct an argument to establish that in the first place. After all, I have not seen the hard clinical data and, just like Sudduth, am not qualified to judge it. So who is "profoundly confused" here? I simply took seriously the assessment of the data by Alexander—a Harvard professor of neurology and practicing neurosurgeon—and explored its implications. Indeed, I believe Alexander is better qualified to judge this than Harris, who has no clinical experience and isn't a practicing neuroscientist. Harris seems much more interested in studying religion and politics than neuroscience. My argument, as I clearly state in the book, was against the notion that residual sub-cortical activity could have been sufficient to explain the NDE. Sudduth doesn't dispute this at all.

In fact, Sudduth doesn't dispute—let alone defeat—the real substance of any of my arguments. So why this mismatch between what is alleged in the beginning of his post and what one actually finds when one reads it through? It's a lot of fit & fury amounting to nearly nothing at the end. A lot of noisy but empty posturing.

You see, the essence of Sudduth's post is the assertion that Sam Harris never meant to imply what I claim that he implied. As such, my arguments, correct as they may be, are straw-men; or so says Sudduth. "Harris is not proposing any alternative materialistic explanation of Alexander’s experience." (Oh, really?) And neither does Harris "assume, for instance, that a physical trigger cannot lead to a perfectly valid NDE." (Oh, he doesn't?) It's my own delusions that turned Harris into a debunker of transcendence; or so Sudduth's story goes. Leaving aside the obvious naiveté of this position, the problem, of course, is that it ends up completely deflating the main thrust of Harris' very critique of Alexander. Sudduth's "defense" of Harris, if correct, would render Harris' arguments ineffective in rebutting the transcendent nature of Alexander's NDE. In trying to help Harris have it both ways, Sudduth ends up leaving no way for Harris. His 'semantic deconstruction' unintentionally helps further Eben Alexander's claims. With a groupie like this, Harris needs no critics.

Sudduth is so focused on hair-splitting the philosophical minutiae that he seems to completely lose sight of the big picture. To say that debunking the transcendent nature of Alexander's NDE was not Harris' intent seems extraordinarily ingenuous to me, if not outright stupid. But is mere naiveté the explanation here? Or are there other possible motivations for Sudduth's charade? What motivated all the unsubstantiated disparaging in his post? I can only speculate.

In my view, it is entirely legitimate that a new author attempts to raise his visibility by attacking more visible peers, as long as the attack is honestly argued and fairly substantiated. Sudduth's noisy, derogatory allegations in the purely rhetorical opening of his post are neither: they find no justification or substantiation in the body of his text. They seem to me to be aimed squarely at generating polemic and attracting attention. They catch the interest of the casual reader who parses the highly polemicized initial paragraphs but has no appetite for ~10K tortuous words.

The reason I decided to offer this reply was the messages a few of my regular readers sent me immediately after Sudduth posted a link to his essay on Facebook. They'd noticed that he didn't tag me and wanted both to warn me and ask for a prompt rebuttal. I do not consider Sudduth's hair-splitting essay, in and of itself, deserving of any reaction. Therefore, I will limit my comments on this matter to this post. I do not know Michael Sudduth and have no interest in changing this. He's proven to my own satisfaction that interacting with him isn't productive. With this reply, I know I am already giving him some of the attention he seems to crave, but I have no intention to reward attention-seeking behavior any further. Sam Harris does not need an unsolicited interpreter of his meaning or intent, no matter how frantically willing this interpreter may be. Sam can articulate his meaning and intent himself, without a Sancho Panza. Therefore, I remain perfectly willing to continue this debate with Sam, if he chooses to do so.

Overview of More Than Allegory

"The Light of Transcendence" photographic series, by Bernardo Kastrup.
This image is hereby released into the public domain.

"Over the years I have felt that the limitations of mainstream religion increasingly outweigh its potential benefits, but More Than Allegory sees into its heart, enabling us to consider religion with fresh perspective and redeeming it for our generation."
~ Rupert Spira

To mark the online availability of my new book More Than Allegory for pre-order (see links below), I am posting today the Overview chapter of the book. You can now pre-order it here:

Amazon USA
Amazon UK


This book is a three-part journey into the rabbit hole we call the nature of reality. Its ultimate destination is a plausible, living validation of transcendence. Each of its three parts is like a turn of a spiral, exploring recurring ideas through the prisms of religious myth, truth and belief, respectively. With each turn, the book seeks to convey a more nuanced and complete understanding of the many facets of transcendence.

Part I will resonate especially with those who yearn for the richness that religious myths can bring into life, yet cannot get around the fact that these myths aren’t literally true. It tries to reach those whose souls are at war with their intellects. One of its goals is to restore the meaning of human life by helping the intellect give itself permission to accommodate the intuitions of the soul, without sacrificing reason or plausibility. Indeed, Part I puts forward the controversial notion that many religious myths are actually true; and not just allegorically so. It is the transcendent truth uniquely portrayed by these myths that our culture so desperately needs in order to understand the real. This transcendent truth, for not being amenable to words or equations, cannot be communicated through any other means—scientific or philosophical—but religious mythology. To make sense of all this, Part I attempts to articulate the nature of mythical truth in a manner that honors both religion and our skeptical rationality.  
Part II pursues the next turn of the spiral by first taking a step back: while we all seek truth—be it through religion, science or philosophy—we very seldom inquire into the meaning of truth. What does it mean to say that something is true or false? What hidden assumptions do we make about the underlying nature of reality when we talk of truth? Tackling these questions is the journey of Part II. In its search for answers it leverages our direct experience of world and self to inquire into the nature of time and space, the framework where truth is supposedly to be found. It then concludes that our own inner storytelling plays a surprising role in creating the seeming concreteness of things and the tangibility of history. Finally, it points to clear echoes of its conclusions in many of the world’s religious myths.

Part III, as the final turn of spiral, is the pinnacle of this work. It brings all of the book’s core ideas together in the form of a modern, plausible religious myth. In laying out a complete cosmology for making sense of reality and restoring its transcendence, Part III highlights the critical role of belief in everything we take for granted. Indeed, it explains how deeply ingrained belief systems create the world we live in. Its narrative is based on the story of a modern explorer of consciousness who, during his participation in a secret scientific project, has a series of transcendent encounters. The metaphysics he brings back from these encounters integrates the themes of the book in one coherent framework. It also opens whole new horizons for the restoration of meaning and purpose to our daily lives.

Naturally, the optimal sequence to read this book is that in which it is presented: from Part I to Part III. Indeed, the ideas discussed in Parts I and II are meant to enrich the reading of Part III. That said, if one prefers to go straight to the heart of the matter and enjoy a gripping story without analytical preludes, it is entirely possible to jump directly to Part III and then return to Parts I and II afterwards.

In whichever order you choose to read it, you will notice that the three themes of this book—myth, truth and belief—flow into and interpenetrate each other at multiple levels and meta-levels throughout the text. Part I, for instance, examines mythology with a mindset characteristic of a quest for factual truth. Part II explores the nature of truth by appealing to our own felt intuitions, as we do when we pursue our beliefs. Finally, Part III elaborates upon the role of beliefs in the format of a myth. The goal is to illustrate, both explicitly and implicitly, through concepts and style, the intimate relationship that exists between myth, truth and belief.

The three parts of this book are meant to echo and reinforce each other content-wise as well. Its central ideas return in all three, being explored from a different angle each time. This allows me to convey—often indirectly and implicitly—many more nuances than otherwise possible. For instance, the nature and role of myth is explored in Part I, but the contents of certain myths come back in Parts II and III, where they echo what is discussed there about truth and belief.

The ebb and flow of the book’s trinity of themes ultimately circles around one of them: truth, the central motif of this work. All three parts revolve around it: Part I by exploring how myths can deliver truth, Part II by unveiling the nature of truth through dispelling unexamined beliefs, and Part III by appealing to belief in a myth in order to hint at truth.

You will notice that what I mean by the words ‘myth,’ ‘truth’ and ‘belief’ is richer and more nuanced than the flattened denotations of everyday language. This may, and probably will, surprise you at first. Nonetheless, the attempt to push the boundaries of words and reveal a much bigger, deeper reality behind them is an essential aspect of this work. My intent is to help you see beyond the dull, superficial cultural dialogue reigning in society today.

I hope you find many new vistas and avenues of inquiry in this book. I’ve poured much of myself into it; more than I think most authors would consider prudent. Whatever else it may or may not be, this work is most certainly a sincere, openhearted account of my own way to relate to life, the universe, truth and transcendence.

Upcoming book: More Than Allegory

"Over the years I have felt that the limitations of mainstream religion increasingly outweigh its potential benefits, but More Than Allegory sees into its heart, enabling us to consider religion with fresh perspective and redeeming it for our generation."
~ Rupert Spira

Coming out in the spring of 2016, but soon available for pre-order, is my new book More Than Allegory. Here is the book's blurb:
This book is a three-part journey into the rabbit hole we call the nature of reality. Its ultimate destination is a plausible, living validation of transcendence. Each of its three parts is like a turn of a spiral, exploring recurring ideas through the prisms of religious myth, truth and belief, respectively. With each turn, the book seeks to convey a more nuanced and complete understanding of the many facets of transcendence.

Part I puts forward the controversial notion that many religious myths are actually true; and not just allegorically so.
Part II argues that our own inner storytelling plays a surprising role in creating the seeming concreteness of things and the tangibility of history.
Part III suggests, in the form of a myth, how deeply ingrained belief systems create the world we live in.

The three themes, myth, truth and belief, flow into and interpenetrate each other throughout the book.
For a more detailed description of the book, check out the video below from 21:10 to 25:10 min.


Letter to a cancer patient

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the Public Domain.

I wrote the letter below to someone dear to me, who's been battling a serious form of cancer. I struggled with it for weeks, till finally the words came to me in a manner that felt genuine. After sending the letter, I figured that if it could help even just one more person, it would be worth to translate it into English and make it publicly available here. This is precisely what I am now doing, having removed all the more personal material. It is my sincere hope that this text finds its way to whoever may benefit from it, if anyone.
Dear friend,

Since this the most important message I've ever sent you, for weeks I've been waiting for the right mental and emotional conditions to write it. But the ideal conditions never seem to come. So today I've decided to simply write.

I imagine that everyone around you right now is trying to convey optimism regarding your prognosis. They are encouraging you to believe in a cure. "Positive thinking," we call it. "Faith," perhaps. Their views are possibly correct and certainly constructive. I want, however, to try to offer you a different perspective.

Our generalized compulsion to try and "think positively" when faced with mortal danger reflects our profound fear to confront the nature of life, not only of death. He who refuses to think about death cannot reflect upon life, for the same reason that he who has never confronted darkness cannot know light. Through our "positive thinking," we spend our lives running away from life. What is this that we think we will lose at the moment of death? To talk ourselves into the belief that we will be saved by the bell at the end, even if it's true, is our way—and that of most people around us—to avoid facing these uncomfortable but essential questions.

You suffer from a terminal condition called "life." There's no cure: we struggle, suffer, become ill, and ultimately die; 100% mortality rate; everyone; no exceptions. It's all just a matter of time. So why postpone the confrontation? Why even wait for a serious illness?

I've just said that death is a matter of time. But notice how relative time is, both metaphorically and literally speaking (think of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, for instance). Two years can pack a lot more life than twenty. And by this I don't mean just how much you travel, how many love affairs you have, or how many parties you go to. I mean something a lot subtler and more significant.

Since my father died, almost thirty years ago, I have been confronting these questions more intensely, I suppose, than the average human being. It's impossible for me, in a mere letter, to convey to you my own inner reality in this regard, which has evolved continuously over this long period of time. It would remain impossible even with a thousand letters. I simply want to invite you to contemplate a perspective that may have escaped your consideration thus far.

Contemporary culture has two popular narratives about the nature of life and, therefore, that of death. The first narrative is dualist and found mainly in our religions: it's the idea that we have a soul that inhabits our body during life, and then departs to another world upon physical death. The other narrative is materialist and frequently—albeit incorrectly—associated with science: that we're nothing more than our physical bodies and cease to exist upon death. Notice that both narratives make an assumption that is hardly ever examined critically: that the world exists outside and independently of ourselves.

When you dream at night, you also assume that you have—or are—a body inside a universe external to you. Only when you wake up do you realize that, all along, the universe of your dream was inside you; that it was never separate from you. While in the dream, you simply take a localized perspective within your own imagination.

There are ancient traditions in the world—such as Advaita Vedanta in India, Mind-Only Buddhism in China and Japan, Hermeticism in the West, etc.—which maintain that the nature of life is the same as that of a dream, and that physical death is like awakening. The difference is that the dream of life is collective and carries a momentum that renders it continuous and stable. From this ancient perspective, the world is inside your soul, not your soul inside the world. For this reason, nobody can ever find a soul in the world: Could you find your physical body inside a nightly dream?

That which you think you are—your body, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, personality, memories, etc.—are merely images that arose within your own dream. That which you truly are—the center of consciousness you've felt to be you since your earliest childhood, and which has been producing the dream of your life since then—was never born to begin with. Death is not a future event; it's not something that happens to you. You are not going anywhere, because all "where's" exist within your imagination. Death is as present to you right now, at this very moment, as it will ever be. It is the symbol of the return of your sense of identity to the consciousness that dreams the dream of reading this letter now.

It's impossible to put this properly into words. However, if and when you truly realize what I am trying to say, you will burst into laughter for having ever forgotten that this, obviously, is the true nature of life. You knew it instinctively when you were a young child, but "education" has made you forget it.

I do not know whether your cancer will be cured or not. I do not know which direction this aspect of the dream will take. What I do know is this: at the end of the day, it doesn't matter much, for nothing is lost either way. You are alive now and this is all that is truly real. I know it may sound cruel to say this, especially for the loved ones around you who would suffer as terribly with your loss as I suffered with the loss of my father. However, to deny the true nature of life cannot be the best way to deal with life's sufferings.

We spend our lives desperately defending a hallucinated identity that has never truly been real. We cling to our opinions, personal image, values, etc., as if we were those opinions, personal images, values, etc. What reality do these things have in face of death? We're defending a ghost. And in the process of defending it, we put up barriers and close ourselves up to what is truly important around us. Because we don't want to appear vulnerable, we deny love. Because we don't want to appear weak, we dominate and offend. Because we don't want to appear insignificant, we oppress and cause suffering. What is all this for?

The living presence of death dissolves these pernicious illusions. What have you got to lose by allowing yourself to be vulnerable, weak, sentimental, or whatever? Who is this entity that would allegedly be threatened if it were to open itself up, without armor or preconditions, to other people and the world? That which we think we need to defend dies and, as such, never truly existed in the first place; it's just a set of ephemeral thoughts and opinions that vanish the moment we wake up.

The gift cancer gives you, whether it's cured or not, is to force you to live in the presence of death. You can no longer ignore or dismiss it, despite all the "positive thinking" around you. You are now naked before life. All the illusions of control, security, power, status and identity are dissolving and opening space for a truer, more genuine and intense life; a life where you no longer need to waste time defending ghosts, denying love and closing yourself up to an integral experience of reality. Two years or twenty: what matters is how much we open ourselves up to life, like a parachuter in free fall... without a parachute.

With love,


Violence in the name of religion

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.

This post is just a thought: we cannot stop violence committed in the name of religion by attempting to eradicate religion. A relationship with transcendence is a primary, authentic and valid impulse intrinsic to being human. The solution is the very opposite of the annihilation of religion demanded by the opportunistic, populist shallow-thinkers of Neo-atheism: we will stop pseudo-religious violence only by truly coming to terms with religion in a full, genuine manner; by allowing this primordial psychic impulse to express itself in a healthy, harmonious, undistorted manner.

Nondualism and the fallacies of panpsychism and artificial sentience

Promotional photograph of the film EX_MACHINA.

The video below is an extended, enhanced remake of my presentation at the Science and Non-duality Conference last week, in San Jose, California. It's adapted for a broader audience and contains some additional points that I thought were worth adding.

We live in culture dominated by two contrived metaphysical inferences: that the world exists outside consciousness and that particular arrangements of matter in that world somehow generate consciousness. This distorted view of reality feeds the delusory dreams of artificial consciousness so prevalent in the media today, such as in movies like Ex_Machina.

In contrast to science fiction, however, there is the cold science fact of our complete failure to articulate, even in principle, how particular arrangements of matter could possibly generate consciousness. But instead of forcing our culture to revise its mistaken metaphysics, this failure is leading to a new delusion: panpsychism, or the notion that consciousness is in all matter, as opposed to all matter in consciousness. Under panpsychism, consciousness is fundamentally fragmented, just as matter appears to be. Single atoms allegedly have very simple consciousness, while more complex psyches, such as our own, can be built bottom-up by connecting atoms together.

In this video, we will see how both panpsychism and our dreams of artificial consciousness arise from a delusory interpretation of the facts of reality, as available to experience. We will see that consciousness isn’t created, but the framework wherein all creation happens. We will see that consciousness isn’t fundamentally fragmented, but fundamentally one. We will see that individual psyches don’t arise from bottom-up integration, but from top-down dissociation of a single consciousness. Finally, we will see how all this follows directly from true nondualism.

The contents of this video are based on the book Brief Peeks Beyond, which can be purchased here:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Publisher website

Top-down Individuation: Nonduality and the Fallacies of Panpsychism and Artificial Sentience

Promotional poster of the Science and Non-Duality Gathering 2015.

Here is the abstract of my upcoming presentation at the Science and Non-Duality Gathering 2015, in San Jose, California, coming October:

We live in culture dominated by two contrived metaphysical inferences: that the world exists outside consciousness and that particular arrangements of matter in that world somehow generate consciousness. This distorted view of reality feeds the delusory dreams of artificial consciousness so prevalent in the media today, such as in movies like Ex_Machina.

In contrast to science fiction, however, there is the cold science fact of our complete failure to articulate, even in principle, how particular arrangements of matter could possibly generate consciousness. But instead of forcing our culture to revise its mistaken metaphysics, this failure is leading to a new delusion: panpsychism, or the notion that consciousness is in all matter, as opposed to all matter in consciousness. Under panpsychism, consciousness is fundamentally fragmented, just as matter appears to be. Single atoms allegedly have very simple consciousness, while more complex psyches, such as our own, can be built bottom-up by connecting atoms together.

In this talk, we will see how both panpsychism and our dreams of artificial consciousness arise from a delusory interpretation of the facts of reality, as available to experience. We will see that consciousness isn’t created, but the framework wherein all creation happens. We will see that consciousness isn’t fundamentally fragmented, but fundamentally one. We will see that individual psyches don’t arise from bottom-up integration, but from top-down dissociation of a single consciousness. Finally, we will see how all this follows directly from true non-dualism.

The elevator pitch of a world in consciousness

A dangerous web of concepts.
Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.

It strikes me how often discussions about the nature of reality get muddled in misunderstandings arising from concepts. Words like 'mind,' 'consciousness,' 'subjectivity,' and even 'world' can evoke all kinds of unintended meanings, depending on the listener's background, expectations, prejudices and proclivities. 'Isms' like 'idealism' and 'panpsychism' are even worse, since they hopelessly attempt to package, in only a few letters, the meanings of disparate and complex ideas that have taken many books to expound on. As a result of this conceptual pollution, we get caught in a dangerous web of words that make simple, self-evident arguments look tortuous, complex and even implausible.

Ideally, I would love to do away with words and convey meaning directly, through some form of telepathy. But until we figure out a way to do that, I'm afraid we're stuck with words. The best we can then hope to accomplish is to make as few assumptions as possible about the meaning that words will carry to different listeners. This extremely short essay is my effort to summarize my views on the nature of reality in precisely that way. In what follows, what I do not say is just as important as what I do say. So please police yourself to avoid projecting meaning onto what is stated below that actually isn't there. Here we go:

  1. I consider it self-evident that experience exists. The redness of an apple, the sweetness of an orange, the warmth of a hug, the spaciousness of a landscape: they all obviously exist as experiences, illusory or not.
  2. Therefore, I must acknowledge the existence of that which experiences.
  3. I argue that experiences are behaviors of that which experiences, like the dance of a dancer. For the same reason that the dance is nothing but the dancer in action, experiences are nothing but that which experiences in action.
  4. The behavior of that which experiences and the witnessing of such behavior by that which experiences are a single process: experience.
  5. Therefore, there is no reason to infer the existence of objects separate from that which experiences: its behaviors alone account for the entirety of what we call the empirical universe.
  6. I model these behaviors as oscillations, vibrations or excitations of that which experiences, much like a ripple is an oscillatory behavior of water.
  7. Given our linguistic associations, I consider it entirely valid to call that which experiences 'mind' or 'consciousness.'
  8. I also consider it valid to say that that which experiences is a 'subject,' despite the absence of objects. After all, our culture has come to consider experience a phenomenon exclusive of subjects.
  9. I argue that the inner-lives of different living beings are dissociated streams of experience of that which experiences.
  10. Finally, I argue that metabolizing organisms  that is, living bodies – are what these dissociated streams of experience look like from a second-person perspective.

For a book-length elaboration of these ideas, please consider perusing my latest book, Brief Peeks Beyond.

Available online.

Mind and Brain: A skeptical look

Photo of my presentation at the Alzheimer Symposium, Amsterdam, June 2015.

Below is my presentation at the Alzheimer Symposium 2015 last June in Amsterdam, with corresponding blurb. Enjoy!

Perhaps no other disease has a more fundamental bearing on our sense of identity and the nature of mind than Alzheimer’s. It wreaks havoc with the human psyche and one’s sense of self by corrupting the brain. Precisely for this reason, Alzheimer’s raises one of the oldest questions in history, investing it with a renewed sense of urgency: What exactly is the relationship between mind and brain? Surprisingly, in what is called the ‘hard problem of consciousness,’ no one in science or philosophy today has any idea how brain metabolism can lead to conscious experience or our felt sense of self. Yet, we operate under the assumption that it somehow does, for the correlations between brain function and subjective experience are overwhelming. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is a particularly compelling instance of such correlations, wherein destruction of brain tissue fundamentally alters our subjective experience of life. But is this assumption the only rational and empirically honest framework for interpreting the relationship between mind and brain? In this talk, we will critically review the array of reasons we assume that the brain generates the mind. We will inquire if these reasons are indeed sound in view of logic and the available data, and what other alternatives there might be to rationally make sense of observations. The presentation will not offer definitive answers, but rather invite the audience to take a broader look at the issue, in the spirit of skepticism. It is hoped that such a broader perspective into the nature of self and its relationship to brain function will lead to new insights, for both caregivers and patients, on how to relate to Alzheimer’s disease.


The heart of the matter

A few hours ago, I had a lively and productive dialogue with Canadian author and filmmaker Jean-Francois Martel, which is now episode 6 of my Inception Dialogues podcast. See the video below. As my regular readers know, Martel and I exchanged criticisms through our respective blogs in the past couple of months. See, for instance, this article. However, this latest dialogue helped both of us notice more commonalities between our respective positions than we had realized before.

One particular topic, however, deserves further elaboration than what was discussed in the dialogue. Martel considered it the heart of our disagreement: one hour, 2 minutes and 25 seconds into the video, he refers to my four-point argument against materialism, as discussed in my earlier book Why Materialism Is Baloney. The four points consist of increasingly inflationary statements about reality that are entailed by materialism. Here they are:
  1. Your conscious perceptions exist;
  2. The conscious perceptions of other living entities different from your own, also exist;
  3. There are things that exist independently of, and outside, conscious perception;
  4. Things that exist independently of, and outside conscious perception generate conscious perception.
In a nutshell, a materialist must grant all four points. An agnostic realist must grant the first three. An idealist grants only the first two. And finally, a solipsist grants the first point alone. As an idealist, I grant points one and two, but not points three and four. As an agnostic realist, Martel grants points one, two and three. His motivation is the following:
How does statement two not imply statement three? ... Because for there to be other living beings that I can then judge to be conscious or not conscious, I need to believe they exist outside of me.
To believe that they exist outside of you – that is, outside the stream of conscious experiences you call your life – does not require that they exist outside consciousness itself. It only requires that there be other streams of conscious experience different from your own, which is precisely what is stated in point two. By denying point three, I don't deny the inner lives of other people, since their inner lives are in consciousness. I don't deny that you have an inner life – a personal stream of experiences – different from mine and ordinarily inaccessible to me. I don't deny that you have experiences that I don't necessarily have. But your inner life is in consciousness and so is mine. By acknowledging that you have your own inner life I am not forced to acknowledge that this inner life is hosted, generated, modulated, or otherwise couched in anything outside consciousness. I am simply acknowledging a broader variety of experiences than those I ordinarily have access to as an individual. And the inner lives of other living beings appear in my inner life as the subjective images I call other bodies. My subjective inner life appears in your inner life as your subjective perception of my body. Only subjective experience is required.

This is a simple but often misunderstood point. The idealist denies that anything exists outside consciousness, but not outside his own personal stream of mentation. Indeed, the idealist acknowledges that countless other experiences do exist, which happen to not be included in his own inner life. None of this implies that there must exist anything outside experience itself, since I am only talking about different streams of experience. I can grant validity to statements one and two above without any need to grant it to statements three or four.

Addendum of 19 August 2015:

I'd like to summarize some key points that I've had to make in the comments section below:
  1. If one says that the qualities of experience – or qualia in philosophical jargon – like the redness of red or the taste of an orange exist in the world, as opposed to inside our heads, then the world necessarily entails at least one non-personal/trans-personal experiencer. There is no escape from this, since experience by definition entails an experiencer. Redness cannot exist without being experienced as such, since redness is an experience. The only valid point of debate is whether the experiencer is human (or at least human-like) or non-human, embodied or disembodied. I argue that it is disembodied – bodies existing as experiences within the experiencer – and not even human-like.
  2. One cannot explain how different people experience the same world unless one infers something transpersonal, which binds together different streams of personal experience information-wise. Under materialism, a universe of matter outside mind is such an inference. The most parsimonious inference, however, is to simply extend the one thing we know for sure to exist – i.e. mind – beyond its face-value personal boundaries. This is analogous to inferring that the Earth extends beyond the horizon in order to explain the cycle of day and night, instead of postulating a flying spaghetti monster who pulls the sun out of the sky. It is impossible to offer a coherent ontology that isn't solipsist and doesn't infer something beyond ordinary personal experience.
  3. My formulation of idealism differs from Berkeley's subjective idealism in at least two points: (a) I argue for a single subject, explaining the apparent multiplicity of subjects as a top-down dissociative process. Berkeley never addressed this issue directly, implicitly assuming many subjects; and (b) I argue that the cognition of the non-dissociated aspect of mind-at-large ('God' in Berkeley's formulation) is not human-like, so it experiences the world in a manner incommensurable with human perception (details in this essay). In Berkeley's formulation, God perceives the world just as we do.
  4. If one's goal is to offer a viable alternative to materialism as the ontology that grounds our cultural narrative, unarticulated, disconnected intuitions and ambiguities won't do. One needs a coherent, unambiguous and explicit system that (a) explains everything materialism does; (b) preferably explains at least some of what materialism does not explain but which has been empirically verified; and (c) does all this preferably with less ontological categories than materialism. I argue that my formulation of idealism does all three.

What really happens after death?

Why Materialism Is Baloney

This is the final week of the 99-cent promotion valid for my four earlier titles this July on Amazon Kindle stores worldwide. From the 1st of August onwards, the prices will return to their regular level. So I'd like to close my series of four essays celebrating relevant passages of those titles by quoting the most recent of them, which is also my most popular book to date: Why Materialism Is Baloney. Although it hasn't (yet ;) become a full best-seller, Why Materialism Is Baloney continues to be quietly read by highly influential people in many different fields. Its readership, albeit not voluminous, is a high-quality and high-impact one. The book's true impact on our culture is most-likely yet to be seen.

One question that often comes up is whether the views expressed in the book endorse some form of afterlife or not. For instance, the question has been raised in a recent thread in my Discussion Forum. The book itself has a very explicit answer, starting on page 182, which I reproduce below. If this peaks your interest, you can get the full book, in electronic version, for only 99 cents at your Amazon Kindle store, but only for the next few days. All the concepts and ideas referred to in the extract below are fully elaborated upon in the book.
What really happens after death? The simple answer is: nobody alive knows. But we can make educated inferences from the little we know about life. Indeed, the metaphysics discussed in this book can be tentatively extrapolated towards the after-death state.

It is reasonable to assume that the mental process we call physical death ‘makes the unconscious more conscious,’ because it eliminates a source of obfuscation; namely, the egoic loop. After all, physical death is the partial image of the process of unraveling of the egoic loop. As such, it is reasonable to expect that it causes us to remember all that we already know but cannot recall. From the ego’s perspective, this may seem like receiving all kinds of new answers. But it won’t fundamentally add any original insight to mind. The sense of novelty here is merely the illusion of an ego going through dissolution. Once the ego is gone and all is remembered, the sense of novelty will disappear. One way to think of this is what happens when we suddenly awaken from an intense nightly dream: for a few seconds, we are astonished to remember who we really are and what is really going on (‘Oh, it is a dream! My real life is something else!’). While still half in the dream, we register this remembrance as novel knowledge about ourselves and about what is really going on. But the sense of novelty quickly wanes once we settle back into ordinary conscious states. After all, we simply continue to know what we already knew anyway, but had just forgotten while in the dream. The only true novelty was the experiences of the dream, not what was remembered upon awakening. As such, maybe life and death are entirely analogous to dreaming and waking up, respectively.

The question, of course, is whether self-reflective awareness disappears completely upon physical death. This depends on the topographical and topological details of the human psychic structure, which are not known. If the ego is the only loop in the human psychic structure, then physical death indeed eliminates all self-reflectiveness. But it is conceivable that the psychic structure entails an underlying, partial, not-so-tightly-closed loop underneath the egoic loop. I say this because many Near-Death Experiences seem to suggest that a degree of self-reflectiveness and personal identity survive death. In this case, the ego would be a tight loop perched on top of another partial loop. Assuming that physical death entails the dissolution of only the egoic loop on top, then our awareness would ‘fall back’ onto the underlying partial loop, preserving a degree of self-reflectiveness. The result would be more access to the ‘unconscious’ – due to less obfuscation – but we would still maintain a sense of separate identity. This, of course, is highly speculative.

Even if the ego is the only loop in our psychic structure, there is still another interesting avenue of speculation regarding the preservation of a form of identity in the after-death state. Carl Jung, towards the end of his life, compared the physical body to the visible part of a plant as it grows from the ground in the spring. He thought of the core of the individual as the root (rhizome), which remains invisible underground. Jung’s analogy can be mapped very straightforwardly onto the membrane metaphor: the root is the underlying protrusion that corresponds to the ‘personal unconscious.’ This protrusion, we can speculate, remains largely invisible in ordinary consensus reality because its vibratory ‘footprint’ on the broader membrane is largely filtered out by the ego. The physical body we see may correspond to just a small part of the protrusion, the majority of it remaining invisible. The ego is in the visible part of the plant, which rises in spring and dies in winter. Its partial image in ordinary consensus reality is closed-cycle neural processes in the brain.

Physical death, as such, doesn’t necessarily entail the complete dissolution of the underlying protrusion, but perhaps only some peripheral parts of it, along with the egoic loop. Throughout life, egoic experiences could leak – through resonance – into the ‘personal unconscious’ and accumulate there. This way, our personal history – a key element of our identity as individuals – could largely survive death as well. If this is so, then physical death may bring us back to the world of the ‘personal unconscious’: the world of our memories and dreams. But it may eliminate self-reflective awareness, so we become immersed in the dream without being able to think critically about what is going on; without being able to ask questions like “What is happening? How did I end up here?” We may just re-live our memories and traverse our own dreamscape in a way that transcends time, space, and even logic.

Amid all these speculations, I think only one thing can be stated with very high confidence: physical death does not entail the end of consciousness, for consciousness is the fabric of all existence. In addition, it is reasonable to expect that physical death reduces self-reflectiveness and, thereby, increases our access to the contents of the ‘unconscious’ due to less obfuscation. This last point is another clue to the usefulness of ordinary life: it provides us with a heightened ability to self-reflect about existence and our condition within it.

The meaning and purpose of life

Rationalist Spirituality

During the entire month of July 2015, my first four books, including Why Materialism Is Baloney, will be available on Amazon Kindle Stores for only 99 cents. You can purchase them all for under $4. This is an effort to make my work more accessible and widespread. To celebrate this, each week in July I will be publishing selected passages from each of the books.

This time, I'll quote a passage from my 2011 book Rationalist Spirituality. This is probably my least rigorous but most accessible book. It discusses very openly the fundamental questions of life, particularly the meaning and purpose of our existence. It also uses a dualist metaphor throughout, implicitly playing with the allegorical image of a soul separate from the body, which can also be read literally if that's your inclination. The passage below comes from Chapter 2 and pretty much sets the tone for what you can expect to find in the rest of this short and pragmatic book.
What happens but once [...] might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all. So does world-renowned author Milan Kundera capture the apparent futility of existence and its ephemeral character. If, as indicated by the second law of thermodynamics, all dynamic and organized structures in the universe, amongst which galaxies, stars, and living creatures like you and me, will eventually expire without a trace, existence appears devoid of meaning. From the point of view of orthodox materialistic science, all choices we make and experiences we live throughout our lives will, in time, be of no consequence. As such, our lives are “light” in their insignificance. Such “unbearable lightness of being”, captured so powerfully in Kundera’s work, is an agonizing and profoundly counter-intuitive perspective for many of us.

As rich and satisfying as our lives may sometimes be, most of us are marked by past or present experiences of profound pain and suffering. Loss, disappointment, frustration, anxiety, regret are or have been familiar concepts to most of us. Is there anything we suffer for? And even when everything seems to go well in our lives, we sometimes cannot help but wonder whether there is any meaning in that either. What can be the meaning of our success, our material wealth, of our fleeting moments of happiness, and even of our most profound rejoicing when, given enough time, not a trace or even a memory of our existence will be left behind? From a rational perspective, can there be anything that survives our participation in the universe, adding something to its very essence in a way that transcends time? Without it, there can be no true meaning to the dance of existence.

There are no obvious answers to this question. Yes, our children survive us. The work we carry out during our lives often survives us too, be it through material entities like the buildings of an architect, or more abstract entities like the ideas of a philosopher. But notice, the common thread behind all these tentative answers is the same: whatever outcome of our lives survives us only has meaning through the lives of other people like ourselves. The achievement of meaning is merely postponed in a self-similar way. Your children are people like you. The house built by the architect is only meaningful through the people who will live in it. The ideas and concepts left behind by the philosopher are only meaningful through the people who will read his books. But what, then, is the meaning of the lives of those people? If their lives are meaningless, so has the life of the philosopher been, for the meaning of his life seems to be conditional to that of theirs. This is an endless recursion. If the meaning of your life is the lives of your children, and the meaning of their lives are the lives of their children, and so on, where is the final meaning of it all that confers ultimate purpose to the lives of all previous generations of men, and of men’s ancestors, all the way back to the beginning of time? In mathematics, a recursion cannot complete until a base-case, or termination condition, is reached. Recursions without a base-case continue on forever and are pointless, just like a computer program that does nothing but call itself repeatedly, never producing a result.

It could be that meaning is only realized at the base-case of one such a recursive process. In this case, the meaning of our lives would operate solely through the contributions we make to the lives of the people who survive our own existence, up until a point where the existence of a generation of living beings, perhaps in an unimaginably distant future, will serve an ultimate purpose in itself. Alternatively, or complementarily, it could be that our lives, ephemeral as they may be, somehow have meaning in and by themselves, grounded on the present of our existence.

In the coming chapters, we will explore both alternatives. If, at the end of this exploration, we find no sound base-case for a recursive process of meaning, nor any anchor to ground meaning to the present of our existence, we may be left with the possibility that meaning is either merely an illusion or an unknowable truth. If instead, as I hope to show, there are reasonable ideas and lines of reasoning to substantiate the notion that there is indeed meaning to existence, and that such meaning can be at least intuited, then perhaps the lightness of our being is not at all unbearable. Perhaps the existence of the universe, and of our lives within it, is rich in meaning, significance, and purpose. Perhaps it is precisely the perception of futility and inconsequence that has all along been an illusion of our minds. In this latter case, we will also need to suggest logical and rational mechanisms for the emergence of such an illusion in a universe that is, as postulated, rich in meaning. This is the journey of this book.

As a final note in this chapter, it should be clear that, when I talk of meaning, I refer to an ultimate purpose for the very existence of the universe, defined as the collection of all existing aspects of nature, known and unknown. I do not mean to imply an anthropomorphic purpose to particular, local processes taking place within the universe, such as, for instance, evolution by natural selection. This way, the ideas in this book are agnostic of whether the evolution of the species has an intelligent causal agency or is driven by unintelligent, purely algorithmic processes. Even if we assume the latter viewpoint, there is still a valid question regarding the ultimate existential purpose of the underlying vehicles of the evolutionary process. In other words, even if evolution is the result of mechanical, algorithmic processes operating on a bio-molecular medium, why does that medium, and the natural laws operating on it, exist in the first place?

Talking each other into consensus reality

Dreamed up Reality

During the entire month of July 2015, my first four books, including Why Materialism Is Baloney, will be available on Amazon Kindle Stores for only 99 cents. You can purchase them all for under $4. This is an effort to make my work more accessible and widespread. To celebrate this, each week in July I will be publishing selected passages from each of the books.

This time, I discuss my 2011 book Dreamed up Reality. The relevance of this book has grown since last year, when an article published in the renowned science journal Nature argued that reality is mental, its shared aspects emerging out of communication-enabled consensus between observers. In other words, the article suggests that there is no objective world 'out there,' but just inner experiences that we talk each other into agreeing about. As it turns out, this is precisely one of the key lines of discussion in Dreamed up Reality. In the book, I even use computer simulations to explore this idea at the level of first principles, with surprising results.

As my readers know, from my book Meaning in Absurdity onwards I've emphasized a complementary mechanism: that a form of transpersonal consciousness is a reality-synchronizing factor beyond our personal psyches. It still consists purely in subjective mentation, but outside personhood. Such a deeper synchronization mechanism wouldn't require linguistic communication between different people: it would be built right into the fabric of reality as the global, overarching patterns and regularities of nature itself.

I think both mechanisms ultimately play a role, at different levels. But because my three latest books focus on the archetypal unfolding of transpersonal consciousness, which we call the "laws of classical physics," the "we-talk-each-other-into-consensus" possibility argued in Dreamed up Reality has become largely forgotten. May this essay help rectify this situation.

In addition, my latest books are rather sober, rigorous philosophical discourses. They are grounded in reason, logic and empirical science. This way, the more intimate and experiential aspects of my work, present so strongly in Dreamed up Realityhave also become practically forgotten. I, too, have had deep, direct, transcendent experiences, which have significantly contributed to my present philosophical views. Some of these experiences, as well as the background of how I ended up having them, are described at length in Dreamed up Reality. To impress this point upon you, I quote one of them below:
The initial stages of the experience pretty much followed the previously established pattern. Upon crossing the threshold into a non-ordinary state of consciousness, I found myself once more in my own “private” inner theater, with the familiar and evocative mandala patterns and Kandinsky scintillae waiting for me. I stayed centered, carefully avoiding a drift into negative emotions that could set an undesirable tone for the rest of the experience. I visualized the feeling of learning something about the underlying nature of reality. This visualization was strong, for I very sincerely wished for greater understanding. Behind my visualization, perhaps hidden in my subconscious mind, there was a hint of disappointment that I had not yet had an unambiguous insight about reality, like many others had reported as a result of their subjective exploration practices.

From the familiar inner theater, I drifted further into that state of egolessness and non-life that I described earlier. This time, however, I recognized it as it was happening. I welcomed it and continued to actively try and keep my mind centered and disciplined as the experiment unfolded. Thankfully, I did not think about how difficult my previous return from egolessness had been.

My efforts to stay centered and lucid paid off. Shortly after reaching the state of egolessness, I broke through into new and uncharted territory. New, previously unseen images started flashing in my mind, accompanied but strange thoughts. I cannot recall what they were, but I remember wondering about what was going on. Some of the images seemed vaguely to resemble some weird form of visual art, akin to cubism. Whatever it was, it was very peculiar, as if I were tapping into a mind not my own; as if I were witnessing things, events, images, thoughts, and emotions that did not belong to me, or to any normal human being for that matter. It was not scary though: I was relaxed, open-minded and, frankly, very curious.

More than in previous experiments, I find it extraordinarily difficult this time to recall the details of the experience. Like a regular dream that one forgets seconds after waking up, this time the experience began fading fast, even before I was back to more ordinary states of consciousness. Still, I remember that, at some point in the experiment, I was saying repeatedly in thought: “I am trying, but I cannot understand it... I am trying...” Something was being displayed in the screen of my mind; something extraordinarily profound and complex, but I could not make sense of it. It was very, very hard to grasp, whatever it was.

The gestalt of the experience was that of a “better informed” alter ego of mine trying to convey something to his space-time-bound doppelganger. I had a hard time making sense of “his” message. Yet, very slowly, the entire situation started becoming clearer. At some point, I felt as though my supposed alter ego were metaphorically opening the dome of inner theater above my head – like the moving dome of an astronomical observatory – revealing a profound and unprecedented truth operating busily and inconspicuously just behind what had previously been the boundary of my perceptual universe.

What I then “saw” was indescribable. How inadequate words are. This... “thing” that was revealed... froze me to the spot. It was a pattern. Whatever doubt I might have harbored about whether these experiences truly entailed knowledge input from outside my brain evaporated: there was absolutely no way this thing, this unfathomable miracle of a pattern, could have come out of my primate head.

Suddenly it was completely clear. I could understand it! It was an unbelievably complex, yet self-explanatory evolution of concentric patterns growing out of concentric patterns; like self-generating, hyper-dimensional mandalas recursively blossoming, like flowers, out of the centers of previous hyper-dimensional mandalas, ad infinitum, but with a single point of origin from where it all emanated. This point of origin, this Source of it all, however, remained elusive: hidden behind the layers of wonders growing outwards from it. Somehow, the way new patterns unfolded and evolved was already entirely encoded in, and determined by, the very shapes, angles, and proportions entailed by previous patterns, so that no new primary information was ever added to the thing as it evolved. The entire story was already fully contained in it from the very beginning, and it was simply unpacking and manifesting itself in all its indescribable glory. It was a thing of startling power and beauty, yet put together with a level of sophistication and perfection that goes way beyond anything I could compare it to.

I was flabbergasted with how unambiguous this experience was. No fluffy and debatable impressions here; this thing was there. I could hardly believe it. Despite its sheer complexity, and unlike diagrams in a textbook – which require captions for their meaning to be made clear – this thing was entirely self-evident in its perfect harmony. Simply by “looking” at it I understood not only it, but its far-reaching implications as well. This was the answer to the question that haunted me my entire life: this thing, this miraculous, hyper-dimensional, evolving pattern, was the definitive explanation to the underlying structure of reality. There was no doubt. This settled the question entirely. One simply needed to “look” at it with the mind’s eye to know that this is how reality came to being; this is how nature was formed; this is what nature is; this is what is behind everything. There, in that pattern, in its wondrous shapes and features, in the angles, lengths, proportions, and relationships among its components, and in the way it evolved recursively as if re-birthing itself continuously, was the answer to everything. The pattern was the answer. At this point of the experience, there was no other reality to me but this jaw-dropping thing that was unfolding and revealing itself; physical body and life in linear time completely forgotten.

From the moment the metaphorical dome began to open, I felt thoughts in my mind that I did not recognize as my own. These were clearly and very gently articulated statements that popped seemingly out of nowhere: “You wanted to know... so here is how it is, you see? This is how it is...” These words came invested with a sense of calm and benevolence. “This is how it all is, you see?” spoke my supposed alter ego, borrowing my own voice.


My reasoning machinery was operating in overdrive. I could not stop “looking” at that miracle of a thing, trying to somehow articulate its implications in language. But it was impossible. I thought to myself: “this is not meant for human consumption.” The mere attempt at articulating it was exhaustive. I noticed I was – and I cannot avoid the expression – frying my brain to a crisp. It was overwhelming and painful in a non-physical way. I thought I would go insane, and it dawned on me that this is what insanity may feel like. Yet, I felt as though my mysterious alter ego were aware of how dangerous and distressing this kind of knowledge could be, and were somehow controlling the “dose,” if you will. That was a reassuring thought, whether factual or not.

I concluded with certainty then that one must be literally insane in order to comprehend this thing. The magnitude of it, its hyper-dimensional character, and its implications, cannot be apprehended unless one completely abandons all pre-existing mental models, semantic frameworks, assumptions, and paradigms of thought one holds. Losing all this mental infrastructure comes very close to the definition of mental pathology. In fact, I understood then why ego dissolution appeared to be a necessary pre-requisite for exposure to that miraculous pattern: the preconceptions, expectations, and closed thought paradigms of the ego would prevent one from even seeing the pattern for what it is, let alone understanding it. The ego would dress it up and squeeze it into lower-dimensional models that would limit the perception of its true nature. Perhaps the mandalas I saw in inner theater were but such lower-dimensional, fragmentary projections or resonances of that miraculous pattern. Perhaps the mandala drawings used by mystics the world over are even lower-dimensional projections of it. There seems to be a hierarchical progression of states of consciousness leading to the state that made such understanding possible: from consensus reality, to the inner theater of mind, to ego dissolution, to this.


Now, as I write these words, I face the formidable challenge to try and articulate the unfathomable. Whatever I do, I am certain that more than 99% of the meaning, nuances, and richness of what I perceived have been lost upon the precarious imprinting of the impressions onto my brain. But I will do my best. The following paragraphs represent my feeble attempt at articulating some of what was instantaneously obvious to me merely upon “glancing” at the indescribable pattern I referred to earlier. The words capture but a very modest part of the pattern’s self-evident and far-reaching implications. I do not know how an abstract pattern could entail or imply so much concrete information. I will simply record this information here as I recall it, with suspended judgment and critique about its validity. Later we will have occasion for rational analysis.

Transcending logic

Meaning in Absurdity

During the entire month of July 2015, my first four books, including Why Materialism Is Baloney, will be available on Amazon Kindle Stores for only 99 cents. You can purchase them all for under $4. This is an effort to make my work more accessible and widespread. To celebrate this, over the coming four weeks I will be publishing selected passages from each of the books.

We will start with a passage from the final chapter of Meaning In Absurdity (published in 2012), where I recapitulate the book's key messages. It works well as an overview that may encourage you to dish out 99 cents to read the whole thing. Meaning In Absurdity is, for some reason, my least popular book in terms of sales. Yet, I consider it my most profound work so far. It is the only one where I explicitly try to go beyond rationality, beyond the rules of logic itself, to explore the nature of the reality that lies behind it. In no other book do I dare venture so far from the solid ground of reason. And I do so by using reason itself!

So, without further ado, here is a passage from Meaning in Absurdity:
The calls of the absurd – with their simultaneous contradictoriness, symbolism, and physical reality – have led us to review some of the latest, groundbreaking results coming out of experimental physics. These results, among which one finds the experimental confirmation of quantum entanglement and the correlation between global mind states and physical events, have exposed the untenability of realism. As such, the world ‘out there’ is not independent of the thoughts ‘in here.’

In examining the implications of the defeat of realism, we have concluded that we must abandon logical bivalence as well; that is, the idea that things must be either true or false. Indeed, without realism there is no correspondence theory of truth to substantiate bivalence. Things can indeed be true and false, real and imaginary, so long as we construct them to be so. We have thus been led into intuitionistic logic and constructivism as, respectively, a coherent mode of thinking and a worldview that remained consistent with all the latest experimental results, as well as with the calls of the absurd. We discovered that reality is the outcome of a coherent mental construction, whose coherence constraints nonetheless do not leave much room for relativism. The historical review of the evolution of scientific thought, as done by Thomas Kuhn, seemed to confirm all this.

Upon the realization that subjective psyche and objective reality are likely two aspects of a single system, we delved into depth psychology in the hope of finding a less epiphenomenal map of reality than physics. We found it in the rich work of Carl Jung, who discovered the complexities and unfathomable depth of the unconscious layers of our minds. The implication was clear: next to our ordinary consensus meta-reality, we must all partake of other meta-realities, despite not being normally aware of them due to the perennial veil of amnesia. These other meta-realities are intrinsically paradoxical and mythopoetic. The calls of the absurd may be but protrusions of these normally unconscious meta-realities into the ordinary field of awareness. As such, they are both psychological and physical.

The insights acquired from these apparently incommensurable threads of investigation came together in a surprisingly consistent manner: the constructivism apparent in the historical observations of Kuhn can be explained by the defeat of realism coming out of physics laboratories; Jung’s empirical observations of the contradictoriness of the unconscious are consistent with the lack of bivalence underlying the intuitionistic logic we found to be governing reality; the metaphorical language of the unconscious, as expressed in the world’s fairy tales, finds uncanny correspondence with the symbolical character of the calls of the absurd. Indeed, the empirical insights of depth psychology regarding the absurd nature of the unconscious seem to independently confirm the conclusions we derived from physics and analytic philosophy regarding the nature of reality. The consistency and mutual confirmation across all these independent threads is intriguing.

So we are now left with a worldview where logic is itself a construction of the mind, not a strongly-objective truth lying in a platonic realm. Rationality is a thin, limited crust around an unfathomable core of the unformed; the meaningful irrational; the realm of the imagination. Yet the word ‘irrational’ must be read with care: here it does not denote foolishness – that is, the lazy neglect of logic – but the very transcendence of the limits of logic. The irrationality of our worldview exceeds and goes beyond logic.

We all instinctively look for solid references to ground our thoughts, judgments, and decisions. We need neutral and reliable foundations to build our lives on. Some of us find these foundations in ethics and morals; others, in science and rationality; yet others, in religion or mythology. Still, we all seem to, implicitly as it may be, rely on logic as the ultimate glue holding these various foundations together. Hence, when acknowledging that logic is itself a construct of our imagination – a self-created set of limits – we may feel as though the rug were pulled from under our feet. What references are we then left with to tell meaning from foolishness? Will we be condemned to live out our lives in disorder and meaninglessness? What grounds can we find to guide our future views and choices?

That may be the greatest challenge lying in wait in our future. Indeed, it may be the most formidable challenge humanity has yet confronted. And, like many great challenges, it may also represent the greatest opportunity we have ever had to shape our own existence: an opportunity to remold the very fabric of reality and truth.

Plato identified truth with beauty. For him, the true was indeed the beautiful. So here may lie an important clue: if the desacralization of logic pulls the rug of truth from under our feet, we still have beauty to guide our way. Aesthetics transcends logic; it comes from deep within the bowels of the mountain chain. The foundations of our future may be aesthetical: that which inspires and feeds the soul; that which is conducive to happiness and harmony. The basis of our collective judgment as a culture may need to be transmuted from logic to that which guides the hand of an artist. And this does not need to be so difficult: deep inside, we all have an innate, intuitive notion of what is harmonious, beautiful, and fulfilling; if only we can give this innate impulse unfiltered and unbiased expression.

There is no denying that the path to the transcendence of logic can be an arduous one. Multiple deadly mines may lie buried on its roads: relativism, disorder, foolishness, paranoia, and insecurity, to name only a few. Yet, traversing it could also be a fulfilling and fun journey: Have you ever noticed how the amusing element of puns is their ambiguity and double meaning? Puns defy bivalence and literal interpretations, this being the very reason why they are funny. They show beyond doubt that ambiguity is inherently fun, light-hearted, and pleasing. The transcendence of bivalence can be a reason for fun and laughter at least as much as it can be a reason for distress. Ultimately, it may all depend on the inner attitudes we bring to the process.

The death of bivalence comes hand in hand with the death of its twin brother, realism. As we traverse the cosmological individuation path towards the absurd – not the meaningless – we will find ourselves in a reality of mind; in the realm of the imagination. Some surprises may lie on our way: Who is to say that the islands of ego-consciousness representing terrestrial life are not just a local archipelago among many others? How can we be sure that, connected to the same submerged mountain chain but located way over the horizon, there are not countless other peaks forming countless other archipelagos? If so, then these other archipelagos may have their own collective, weakly-objective, consensus meta-realities, entirely different from ours. Indeed, this would give an intriguing new twist to the scientific idea of parallel universes and other dimensions, as well as to the religious idea of inhabited spiritual realms. Moreover, since all these archipelagos are but saliencies of the very same mountain chain of mind, we may all be, deep inside, intrinsically connected to those other consensus meta-realities; just not ‘tuned’ into them ordinarily. As we progress towards cosmological individuation, confronting more and more of the contents of our unconscious minds, it may sometimes not be trivial to distinguish between private meta-realities and occasional access to these other, hypothetical consensus meta-realities from over the horizon. Will we be able to tell a personal reverie from an accidental tuning into alternative meta-realities created and inhabited by beings whose existence currently lies beyond our knowledge?