Brief Peeks Beyond: An Overview

Cover of Brief Peeks Beyond.

To mark the launch of my new book, Brief Peeks Beyond, I am publishing today its editorial reviews, table of contents, complete introduction (Chapter 1), as well as the introductory text of each subsequent chapter. The list of materialist criticisms refuted in the book is also provided. The intent is to offer a complete and representative overview of the book. I consider this my most important published work to-date and hope you find value in it.

What people are saying about Brief Peeks Beyond

Better than any book I’ve come across, Bernardo Kastrup’s collection of essays confronts two mysteries that must be urgently solved. The first is the mystery of reality. ... The second ... is the mystery of knowledge. ... To confront both mysteries at once ... requires courage, tenacity, a willingness to swim upstream, and thick skin. ... But if you have a persistent, acute mind like Bernardo’s, an exciting journey opens up. (From the Foreword)
– Deepak Chopra, M.D., pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine. Author of more than 75 books with 23 New York Times best sellers.
Some words, such as the collection of essays in Brief Peeks Beyond, have the ... power to evoke in the reader not just the concept of infinite Consciousness ... but the experience of it, a taste of its own essential reality. I have been touched by the profundity of these essays and know that they will imprint their healing intelligence in the broader medium of mind, from which humanity draws its knowledge and experience, for many years to come. (From the Afterword)
– Rupert Spira, non-duality teacher and author.
In this pioneering, original and brilliantly written book Bernardo Kastrup is very critical of the still widely accepted materialist approach in science, while making use of many convincing rebuttals to materialist counterarguments. According to him all reality is in consciousness itself, because it is the only carrier of reality anyone ever knows for sure, but it is in a transpersonal mind-at-large, and not limited to our personal waking consciousness. His inevitable conclusion is that consciousness must be fundamental in the universe. This important book is an excellent contribution to the growing awareness that the domination of materialism in science is irrefutably coming to an end, perhaps even in the next decade. Highly recommended.
– Pim van Lommel, cardiologist, author of Consciousness Beyond Life.
Occam’s Razor never cut so deep as in this penetrating critique of science, philosophy and the cultural cocoon we’ve constructed. Kastrup has followed up on his previous assault on dopey scientific materialism with a knockout punch.
– Alex Tsakiris, author of Why Science is Wrong... About Almost Everything and host of the Skeptiko podcast.
Bernardo has the ability to communicate with the readers, through challenging them, in order to help our human consciousness to (re-)merge with the Whole of Consciousness, the ‘Infinite Womb’ of all that expresses Itself in time/space. For the open-minded and openhearted seekers of truth, this is great stuff to read.
– Fred Matser, humanitarian, philanthropist, author of Rediscover Your Heart.


Foreword by Deepak Chopra
1. Introduction
2. On metaphysics and cosmology
   2.1. A more parsimonious, logical, non-materialist worldview
   2.2. Materialist arguments and why they are wrong
   2.3. Finding truth within the dream
   2.4. Survival of consciousness beyond death: an implication of common sense
   2.5. The actual difference between living beings and inanimate objects
   2.6. Finding God in metaphysical parsimony
   2.7. Quantum physics: a parsimonious solution to the measurement problem
3. On consciousness, neuroscience and the media
   3.1. Consciousness: an unsolvable anomaly under materialism
   3.2. The incredible trick of disappearing consciousness
   3.3. What are memories, after all?
   3.4. Misleading journalism and the notion of implanted memories
   3.5. Psychedelics and the mind-body problem
4. On skepticism and science
   4.1. Intellectual fundamentalism
   4.2. Living in a cocoon of mere hypotheses
   4.3. Scientific dogmatism and chance
   4.4. Science and the defacement of reason
   4.5. The taboo against meaning
   4.6. Darwinian evolution: an open door to purposefulness
   4.7. To understand the anomalous we need more skepticism, not less
5. On culture and society
   5.1. The idolatry of a new priesthood
   5.2. Education and the meaning of life
   5.3. Has academic philosophy lost its relevance?
   5.4. Myths in contemporary culture
   5.5. Enchantment: the lost treasure
   5.6. A cultural narrative of projections
   5.7. Direct experience, philosophy and depth-psychology: why we need them all
   5.8. Unfathomable change is on the horizon
6. On the strange and mysterious
   6.1. Near-death experiences and the afterlife
   6.2. Why Sam Harris is wrong about Eben Alexander’s visit to ‘heaven’
   6.3. UFOs: even more mysterious than you’d think
   6.4. Extra-terrestrial life: implications for the materialist paradigm
7. On free will
   7.1. What is free will?
   7.2. Where is free will to be found?
8. On practical applications
   8.1. Pragmatism and the meaning of life
   8.2. What difference does it make if reality is in consciousness?
   8.3. The case for integrative mind-body medicine
   8.4. Can our thoughts directly affect reality at large?
   8.5. It starts and ends with us: what can we do individually?
9. Takeaway message
Afterword by Rupert Spira


This is probably the most important book I’ve written. The original idea for it seemed easy enough: my publisher and I discussed creating an anthology of essays I had previously written for webzines, blogs and magazines. The intent was to update the essays and organize them into a coherent structure. Once I embarked on the project, however, something within me saw an opportunity and I became determined to take it way beyond its original scope. The result, which you now hold in your hands, could no longer be honestly described as just an anthology. It has turned into an experiment in ‘nonlinear philosophy,’ with a new, unifying message of its own. Allow me to elaborate.

As I reviewed my original essays, I noticed for the first time that they were pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle. Only with the benefit of hindsight did I realize this; the overall picture in the puzzle had eluded me up to that moment. It became clear that much of the material consisted in explorations of different angles of a single motif: an idea gestalt – an organized cognitive whole beyond the mere sum of its parts – about the human condition as it is presently manifested. It has various facets related to science, philosophy of mind, the underlying nature of reality, the state of our society and culture, the influence of the mainstream media, etc. Because of this apparent disparity of facets, the gestalt that links them together can’t be conveyed through a linear narrative. There are just too many important nuances to capture that way. It can only be conveyed by tackling each of its facets within its own context so that you, dear reader, can combine the pieces of the puzzle and reconstruct the gestalt in your own mind. This is precisely what this book attempts to achieve. The essay format turns out to have been critical in that it allowed me to approach the target motif through several different angles, helping you build an overall picture of it facet by facet. If the book succeeds in its endeavor, at the end of it you will be looking upon the present nexus of the human story in a very different way.

I’ve attempted to make each essay in this book suggestive of, and conducive to, this global cognitive gestalt. Each contributes an important angle to it. Yet, when putting the original material together, it became clear to me that there were gaps; important pieces of the puzzle were missing. For this reason, many of the essays here are entirely new, having never before been published. They are meant to cover the gaps. All previously published material was also updated and in many ways improved. Several essays were largely rewritten to reflect new, more complete insights I’ve had since I first wrote them, or to make their message crisper and clearer. Most were also adapted so as to complement each other in suggesting the subtleties and nuances of the global motif that is the message of this book. Even among the essays that were least changed in terms of the number of words edited, the importance of the changes is disproportionate to the space they occupy.

Overall, this work is characterized by a new readiness on my part to go all out with my points of view. In my previous works, I’ve held myself back in the interest of striking a more moderate note with broader appeal. It is, however, unclear whether that was effective. What is sure is that it pruned the full expression of my views. Now, having turned 40 and witnessed my life take turns I’d never expected, I feel less motivated to compromise on my discourse. Life is just too short for that. Therefore, this book tackles, head-on, subjects I have hitherto kept out of bounds: God, ‘conspiracies,’ the obvious flaws of science as practiced today, the often insidious role of the media and a number of other polemical topics. You be the judge of whether my uncensored views still hold up to reason and the available evidence.

This book can be read in two ways: in sequence, from beginning to end; or by picking a different essay at each sitting. The essays have been organized in a logical and coherent sequence, optimized for insinuating the subtle bridges and relationships between the various different topics. This way, readers who are willing to read this book from cover to cover will probably develop a better grasp of the ideas in it. That said, I am well aware that many readers will prefer to pick their favorite topic from the table of contents, depending on their mood and disposition of the day, and go straight to it. I confess to often preferring this approach myself, especially when reading in bed before sleep. Therefore, I also made sure that each essay is self-contained and can be read independently of the others. The majority can be read in well under an hour. When appropriate, I refer to other essays where certain topics mentioned are covered in more depth. The price for this modularity, however, is some redundancy: many of the essays contain summaries of my metaphysics, which is necessary to give context to the ideas they express. I’ve endeavored to strike an optimal balance between redundancy and modularity, so readers neither feel bored with repeated content, nor miss essential context for understanding each essay.

Whichever way you prefer to read this book, I do suggest that you always start with essays 2.1 and 2.2. They provide context that underlies what is discussed in most other essays. Although the key contextual points are, as mentioned above, repeated each time, readers will derive more value from the rest of the book if they have more extensive prior grasp of those two initial texts.

A couple of observations should be made at this point. This is largely a critical work: it criticizes today’s science, philosophy, media, culture and society. It is also largely a body of – hopefully well-substantiated – opinions. Yet, the criticisms it contains are not always preceded by a disclaimer asserting that what follows is an expression of opinion. Doing so would be highly detri- mental to flow and readability. Let this be the general disclaimer, thus: unless stated otherwise, you should assume that what you will find in the following pages is an expression of my opinions. The extensive substantiation of my arguments does not change this fact.

Another important observation: I use the words ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness’ interchangeably. The meaning I lend to the word ‘consciousness’ – and thus ‘mind’ – is defined early in essay 2.1. I use the term ‘psyche’ when I mean personal consciousness, or personal mind. This terminology may be confusing to some: in non-duality circles, the word ‘mind’ has come to be associated with ‘thoughts;’ that is, with a particular type of contents of consciousness. Yet, my use of the terms is more consistent with their traditional meaning in Western philosophy.

Finally, this book contains a high concentration of ideas. Very few words are wasted. I go quickly to the point and don’t ramble around. While this will probably feed the enthusiasm of some readers, it may prove a little too intense to others. I apologize to the latter: my approach here reflects my surrender to what comes more naturally to me, rather than a deliberate attempt to favor a particular segment of my readership.

So if you’re ready, buckle up and join me in a multi-faceted, fast-paced, nonlinear exploration of the human condition in the early 21st century. Here we go!

On metaphysics and cosmology

Our culture takes for granted that reality exists ‘out there’ and is fundamentally independent of consciousness. This postulate seems to explain a number of things that we, otherwise, would allegedly be unable to make sense of: the continuity of events while we are asleep, the undeniable correlations between brain states and experience, the fact that we all seem to share the same reality, etc. For this reason, we’ve allowed our values, economic and political systems, ways of relating to nature and each other, psychology, medicine, social dynamics, etc., to be all subtly colored – if not outright determined – by such a postulate. But does it stand to reason and evidence? In this chapter, we will explore the underlying nature of reality and our condition as conscious entities within it.

Essay 2.1 summarizes the metaphysics more extensively described in my earlier book Why Materialism Is Baloney. But beyond a mere summary, it also extends and refines that metaphysics, elaborating on it in a more direct, sharper, explicit, less metaphor-loaded manner. Essay 2.2 then lists and addresses each of the key materialist counter-arguments against the ideas in essay 2.1, refuting them one by one. It is not only the longest essay of this book, but probably one of its most important and original contributions as well. Essay 2.3 takes the form of a short story. It seeks to illustrate a different way of seeing and interpreting the ancient ideas of an immortal soul and an afterlife from the perspective of the metaphysics described in essay 2.1. Essay 2.4 discusses how the survival of consciousness beyond physical death is, in fact, a direct implication of our most basic common sense. Essay 2.5 confronts a distinction that materialism has difficulties with: the obvious difference between living beings and inanimate objects. It also explains why the notion that all reality is in consciousness does not imply that inanimate objects are themselves conscious. Essay 2.6 then bites a big bullet: God. It argues that the existence of a conscious, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent agency is, surprisingly, a direct implication of metaphysical parsimony. This is profoundly counterintuitive from a materialist perspective, which holds precisely that the existence of a deity defies parsimony. The essay further maintains that evidence for God is literally all around us. Finally, essay 2.7 grapples with one of the biggest mysteries in science today: the measurement problem of quantum mechanics. It argues that the explanation for that conundrum is, in fact, the very same phenomenon that explains how our ordinary awareness arises from seemingly unconscious mental activity. In the process of making its case, the essay ends up bringing together the Copenhagen and the Many-Worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics, which materialism deems irreconcilable.


(Essay 2.2 in this chapter lists and refutes the 16 best materialist arguments against idealism; that is, against the notion that all reality is in consciousness, consciousness being fundamental and irreducible. Here, only the 16 criticisms are listed. Check out the book for the respective refutations.)

Criticism 1: Our sense perceptions provide direct evidence for a world outside consciousness.
Rebuttal 1: ...

Criticism 2: Because we cannot change reality by merely wishing it to be different, it’s clear that reality is outside consciousness.
Rebuttal 2: ...

Criticism 3: Because we are separate beings inhabiting the same external world, reality has to be outside consciousness.
Rebuttal 3: ...

Criticism 4: It is untenable to maintain that there is no reality independent of consciousness, for there is plenty of evidence about what was going on in the universe before consciousness evolved.
Rebuttal 4: ...

Criticism 5: It is not parsimonious to say that reality is in consciousness, because that would require postulating an unfathomably complex entity to be imagining reality.
Rebuttal 5: ...

Criticism 6: Reality is clearly not inside our heads, therefore monistic idealism is wrong.
Rebuttal 6: ...

Criticism 7: Monistic idealism is too metaphysical.
Rebuttal 7: ...

Criticism 8: There are strong correlations between brain activity and subjective experience. Clearly, thus, the brain generates consciousness.
Rebuttal 8: ...

Criticism 9: Unconscious brain activity precedes the awareness of certain decisions, showing a clear arrow of causation from purely material processes to experience.
Rebuttal 9: ...

Criticism 10: Because psychoactive drugs and brain trauma can markedly change subjective experience, it’s clear that the brain generates consciousness.
Rebuttal 10: ...

Criticism 11: During dreamless sleep, or under general anesthesia, we are clearly unconscious. Yet, we don’t cease to exist because we become temporarily unconscious. Obviously, then, reality cannot be in consciousness.
Rebuttal 11: ...

Criticism 12: The stability and consistency of the laws of physics show that reality is outside consciousness.
Rebuttal 12: ...

Criticism 13: To postulate a collective and obfuscated part of consciousness as the source of consensus reality is equivalent to postulating a reality outside consciousness.
Rebuttal 13: ...

Criticism 14: Why would consciousness deceive us by simulating a materialist world?
Rebuttal 14: ...

Criticism 15: Monistic idealism is solipsistic and, as such, unfalsifiable.
Rebuttal 15: ...

Criticism 16: One cannot prove that monistic idealism is true.
Rebuttal 16: ...


On consciousness, neuroscience and the media

The most vexing aspect of nature from a materialist perspective happens to also be the only carrier of reality anyone can ever know: consciousness itself. Indeed, materialism would make a lot more sense if consciousness didn’t exist at all; if the entire universe consisted simply in the mechanical unfolding of uncon- scious processes. Clearly, it doesn’t. So how could a metaphysics that fails to explain – even in principle – the one obvious aspect of existence attain, and maintain, the status of reigning worldview? Many indications are provided in the essays of this chapter.

Essays 3.1 and 3.2 discuss how materialists, unable to make sense of consciousness, attempt to deny its very existence. The in-your-face absurdity of this position, and how it is tendentiously spun by many scientists, philosophers and the media alike, is examined. Essays 3.3 and 3.4 address a problem that materialist neuroscience has failed to solve for more than a century: the nature of memories. They expose the public relations charade responsible for the pervasive cultural illusion that neuroscience knows what memories are and where they are located. Finally, essay 3.5 discusses the effects of psychedelics on the human brain, as well as their implications for the materialist axiom that the brain generates all experience. This essay was the most unsettling for me to research and write, for reasons that will become clear to you after you’ve read it. For a while, in the interest of avoiding polemic, I considered not including it in this book. Yet, precisely for the reason it is so upsetting to me, essay 3.5 is probably one of the most illustrative of the overall message of this work.


On skepticism and science

As a culture, we’ve come to believe that skeptical science now understands most of the mysteries of our ordinary world. There may be unanswered questions regarding abstract parallel universes and alternate realities, but we assume that most of the facets of concrete life have been explained by rational scientific theories, from the weather to health, to psychology, to social dynamics. We believe unquestioningly that the Faustian power of rationality, skepticism and the application of the scientific method have answered – or are on the cusp of answering – all questions of any practical relevance to our daily lives. But is that really so? What reasons do we actually have to believe it? Could it be that the apparent runaway success of science – and, more generally, of our rational faculties – is as much illusory as it is factual? Could it be that we live in a world of illusions enabled precisely by a spectacular failure of skepticism?

Essay 4.1 explores – in a metaphorical manner – the insanity of our deification of rational faculties. Essay 4.2 illustrates how the belief that science has explanations for most of the events of our daily lives is nothing more than an illusion. Essay 4.3 discusses the unexamined and tendentious philosophical beliefs adopted by many scientists when it comes to extracting conclu- sions from the available data. Essay 4.4 goes deeper into this subject by exploring how most scientists have come to conflate scientific observations with philosophical interpretations of these observations. Essay 4.5 discusses the one and true taboo that pervades science as practiced today, and which so often corrupts proper scientific assessment of the empirical facts of reality. Essay 4.6 confronts the question that underlies the culture wars: does the scientific evidence in favor of evolution by natural selection imply that life is purposeless? Finally, essay 4.7 argues that the solution to the prejudices of scientific thinking today is not a departure from skepticism but, surprisingly, its revitalization.


On culture and society

Human beings naturally long for wonder, transcendence, mental landscapes beyond the boundaries of ordinary life. Something in the human spirit shouts loudly that there is more to ourselves than the space-time confines of the body. This obfuscated part of our psyche demands lucid recognition of what it knows to be the true breadth and depth of our existence. Throughout much of our history as a species, we’ve given it its due recognition in the form of myths, mostly of a religious nature. Indeed, religious myths encode a form of trans-metaphorical truth that can’t be described or made sense of directly, in literal terms. Yet, it resonates intensely with the deepest obfuscated layer of our psyche, giving it its due voice in our lives.

Since the Enlightenment, however, our culture has come to reject all truths but the ones amenable to literal articulation. In doing so, it has withdrawn the tacit acknowledgement of the obfuscated psyche, creating an inner state of conflict. Our everyday sense of reality and self-identity, as outlined by our culture, is now in direct contradiction with what the deepest layer of the psyche knows to be true. This conflict creates an unstable situation. The gap left by the arbitrary denial of all trans-metaphorical truths demands to be filled in some way. It is this irresistible gravitational pull towards some form of transcendence, artificial and precarious as it may be, that lies at the root of the dangerous cultural and social ailments of our time. These ailments, and the specific dynamics that motivate and underlie them, are examined in this chapter.

Essay 5.1 argues that the spokespeople of contemporary science are attempting to replace priests as intermediaries between people and transcendence. The move is meant to invest them with inauthentic power previously reserved for ecclesiastic authorities. Essay 5.2 argues that our educational system has become almost entirely utilitarian, turning people into controllable tools, as opposed to equipping them to fully express themselves in the world. Essay 5.3 laments the ever-diminishing role of philosophy in laying down reasonable, coherent maps to transcendence, a responsibility many academic philosophers have tragically forfeited. Essay 5.4 discusses the dangerous cultural aberrations that arise out of our odd denial of the validity of myths. Essay 5.5 attempts to rekindle our sensitivity to the notion of enchantment, the loss of which – one of the greatest tragedies of the Enlightenment – has made our world small and claustrophobic. Essay 5.6 relates our current cultural dilemmas to some of our subtle psychological predispositions, attempting to raise awareness of their unexamined but far-reaching and detrimental effects. Essay 5.7 argues that a sane future for our culture and society can only be nurtured through a balanced integration of direct experience, philosophical inquiry and psychological awareness. Finally, essay 5.8 suggests that, because of the desperately unstable state of our culture and society today, significant change at all levels can be expected in the not-so-distant future. It also discusses the shape such changes may take.


On the strange and mysterious

In the previous chapter, we discussed the interplay between contemporary cultural dynamics and the intrinsic human recognition of, and need for, transcendence. It is only natural, thus, that we now look at empirical phenomena that seem to validate our intuitions about transcendence. The essays here, due to the very subjects they address, tend to be more speculative and less rigorous than those in other chapters.

Essay 6.1 discusses the possible validity of the phenomenon of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) from empirical and logical perspectives, exploring its implications as far as the existence of an afterlife. Essay 6.2 delves more specifically into the subject, offering a critical deconstruction of Sam Harris’ attack on a particular, well-known NDE report. Essay 6.3 then switches gears and addresses the phenomenon of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), offering a perhaps unique and startling perspective on what it may represent. Staying close to the theme, essay 6.4 discusses something striking but curiously left untouched by the mainstream media and the spokespeople of science: the implications that the discovery of (microbial) life in our solar system would logically have as far as contradicting key axioms of the materialist paradigm.


On free will

Perhaps no other topics of debate encapsulate the current culture wars as powerfully as the triad encompassing: (a) evolution by natural selection, (b) the afterlife and (c) free will. Evolution was already addressed in Chapter 4 and the afterlife in Chapter 6. This leaves free will to be examined here. Indeed, whilst the mainstream materialist worldview precludes the possibility of any true free will, does a different metaphysics – such as that discussed in Chapter 2 – allow for it?

Essay 7.1 offers a generic definition of free will that does justice to our innate intuition of it. Essay 7.2 then discusses the validity of true free will under monistic idealism.


On practical applications

We’ve turned into a pragmatic bunch. Our cultural value system entails that nothing is really worth anything if it doesn’t have practical applications. A new insight or understanding is allegedly pointless if there’s nothing we can really do with it. This very notion is a symptom of our confusion. Nonetheless, it would be naïve to ignore it as I attempt to communicate alter- native insights and understandings. This chapter, thus, represents not my surrender to a confused value system, but my attempt to work from within it in order to convey a different way to relate to life.

Essay 8.1 confronts the confusion head-on: it deconstructs the cultural notion that all value is derived from applications. Essay 8.2 bites the bullet and elaborates, in a fair level of detail, upon the practical differences that a transition from materialism to a more mature worldview would make in our lives and society as a whole. Essay 8.3 then zooms into one specific area where these differences would be particularly significant: healthcare. Essay 8.4 tackles a question that is often asked in connection with the philosophy of monistic idealism defended in this book: if all reality is in consciousness, can our thoughts and wishes directly influence reality? The correct answer is subtler than a mere ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Essay 8.5 closes the chapter with an unexpected twist on the question that started it.


Review of "Beyond Physicalism"

By Don Salmon

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum and voted for publication by forum members. All opinions expressed are those of the author.)

Cover of Beyond Physicalism.

Beyond Physicalism” – the result of years of work by the same Esalen-based group that produced “Irreducible Mind” – is, I believe, one of the most important signs in recent years of the impending global shift in consciousness predicted by such 20th century luminaries as Jean Gebser, Teillhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo. Previously, I had thought that perhaps Dean Radin’s 1997, “The Conscious Universe” was one of the more pivotal books in terms of pointing toward this imminent shift. However, “Beyond Physicalism” is such a broad, highly intelligent (and highly readable) volume that I think it will come to be seen as the sign of a major turning point for modern science.

For several decades, Michael Murphy has sponsored a variety of seminars at Esalen (the institute he founded) aimed at advancing human potential. “Beyond Physicalism” (like Kelly’s previous edited volume, “Irreducible Mind”) is the product of the longest running seminar in Esalen history, the “Big SUR Seminar,” also known as the SURvival Seminar, or SURsem for short. A diverse array of scholars and practitioners of various meditative and growth disciplines – including neuroscientists, physicists, psychiatrists, historians and philosophers – have had wide-ranging conversations regarding the empirical evidence for human survival of death, as suggested by research on mystical experiences, psychical phenomena, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and children who are able to remember past lives (you can find supplementary material for “Beyond Physicalism” at the website for the “Esalen Institute Center for Theory and Research (CTR).”

As Alan Wallace wrote of “Beyond Physicalism,” it goes a long way toward “blowing away the fog of ignorance and confusion that materialists have imposed on the scientific community and humanity at large.” Lest you think Wallace is going too far in accusing the materialists of creating a “fog of ignorance and confusion,” Ed Kelly writes eloquently in the introduction of the “astonishing hubris [of materialists who] dismiss en masse the collective experience and wisdom of a large proportion of our forebears, including persons widely recognized as pillars of all human civilization.”

Kelly describes the target group for “Beyond Physicalism” as “scientifically-minded, intelligent adults,” fitting generally into the “spiritual but not religious” category. They are skeptical both of scientism (‘fundamaterialism’, as Neal Grossman refers to it) and religious fundamentalism. SURsem made a commendable effort to insure that scholars of both science and the humanities contributed. In the introduction, Kelly has an amusing description of his shock at the extent to which academic religious scholars adhere to an almost dogmatic brand of materialism, allegedly to maintain objectivity (this reminds me of the head of one prestigious religious department which had a number of excellent courses in Buddhism. When asked if he would hire the Buddha as a professor, he said no, because the Buddha could not be objective about Buddhism!).

Whereas “Irreducible Mind” was focused mostly on presenting the research that supports the idea that consciousness is not limited to brain activity, “Beyond Physicalism” goes far beyond, exploring the ways that paranormal and mystical experiences can fit into what the authors repeatedly refer to as an “expanded scientific worldview.” I believe their choice of the evolutionary vision of Frederic Myers and the radical empiricism of William James is excellent, providing a solid grounding in science while pointing toward a dramatic revision of our understanding of the universe. As Alan Wallace puts it (Wallace has referred repeatedly to James’ “radical empiricist” approach), “[‘Beyond Physicalism’ represents a] return to the true spirit of open-minded empiricism that heralded the rise of modern science.”


“Beyond Physicalism” has three parts – Chapters 1 and 2 in PART I, Chapters 3 to 13 in PART II, and chapters 14 and 15 in PART III.

In Chapter I, Ed Kelly (in what I think is his clearest writing to date) reviews the main arguments for various unusual paranormal and mystic phenomena (Kelly’s group commonly refers to them as “rogue” phenomena) presented in “Irreducible Mind.” He quite wisely informs us that SURsem’s aim is to insure that even the most abstruse theorizing is always grounded in careful empirical investigation.

In Chapter 2, Paul Marshall describes various theoretical challenges that mystical experience presents to the physicalist paradigm. His descriptions of such things as expansive knowing (also often referred to as “gnosis;” what Sri Aurobindo calls “knowledge by identity” as compared to our usual “separative” or dualistic knowledge), altered time sense and overwhelming feelings of unity are very well articulated, showing that mystical experience – particularly the “extroverted” type that Marshall is especially interested in – can in fact be described, at least to some extent.

PART II presents several of the theoretical perspectives that the SURsem group thought had the most potential to incorporate the various “rogue” phenomena described in “Irreducible Mind.”

In Chapter 3, Michael Grosso focuses on the filter model of Myers and James, while providing a broader history of relevant thinkers. Eloquently written and quite accessible, his historical overview shows how odd the current focus on physicalist theories is from this greater historical perspective.

Ed Kelly and David Presti follow up in Chapter 4, providing several neurobiological and psycho-physiological details that they believe could shed light on the “permission” metaphor common to the filter theories of both James and Myers. Though somewhat technical, it is still quite accessible. I should mention briefly here that Carpenter’s First Sight theory could add a lot to this – see more on First Sight below.

Chapters 5-7 are written by specialists in the physical sciences. Most notable is that you won’t find here any of the simplistic “quantum physics proves consciousness is the ultimate reality” claims that have made it difficult for many to see the radical implications of contemporary physics. In Chapter 5, Henry Stapp shows that even the most extreme “rogue” phenomena such as after-death experience and rebirth are compatible with current theories in physics. Harald Atmanspacher and Wolfgang Fach present the dual-aspect monist theory of Pauli and Jung in Chapter 6. They do an excellent job of showing how this view provides a much stronger basis for understanding unusual experiences than the prevailing physicalist view. In Chapter 7, physicist and astronomer Bernard Carr presents his hyperspatial theory, drawing on the work of philosopher C. D. Broad and neuroscientist Jon Smithies, among others. As a psychologist with a very limited background in the physical sciences, I can’t say too much about this, but his description of the possibility of multiple dimensions seemed like a very important link with the multi-dimensional view of Taimni, which is unfortunately slighted by Wicher and Kelly in Chapter 9.

In Chapter 8, Greg Shaw presents a lucid overview of the mystical metaphysics of Plotinus, who had an enormous influence on the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, particularly in regard to their mystical aspects. He shows how Plotinus provides a valuable link between Asiatic and European mysticism. He quite wisely suggests that the writings of Plotinus (who also, by the way, presented a multi-dimensional view of the cosmos not that different from the vision of the Upanishads) could be important in developing a basis for dealing with various “rogue” phenomena.

The selection of Ian Whicher to co-author a chapter on Patanjali was a particularly good one. Whicher, almost alone among scholars, suggests that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras may have a much more non-dualistic view than is commonly assumed. This aligns Patanjali with Abhinavagupta (the subject of the next chapter) and Aurobindo, whose integral vision has informed so much of Michael Murphy’s work. Chapter 9 focuses in particular on the third section of the Yoga Sutras, analyzing the various siddhis (powers) in relation to various findings in the parapsychological research. By the way, I found this chapter much more illuminating than Dean Radin’s “Supernormal,” which is also based largely on Part III of the Yoga Sutras.

In Chapter 10, Loriliai Biernacki connects the modern theory of Panentheism with the tantric views of medieval Indian yoga Abhinavagupta (this may be overly simplistic, but as I understand it, the “pan” of panentheism signifies that God and the universe are one, while the “en” denotes that God at the same time transcends the universe, which is seen as being “in” God, as in St. Paul’s declaration that God is “He in whom we live and move and have our being”). This is a very rich and well-written chapter, though it is quite dense and will require a lot of careful study for those not familiar with Indian philosophy. The tattvas or principles of the non-dual school of Kashmir Saivism (which was greatly inspired by Abhinavagupta) are packed with implications for understanding the relationship of consciousness to contemporary theories of modern physics as well as to the graded nature of consciousness, which must be understood for the development of an expanded science (if someone can work on connecting the tattvas with Carpenter’s First Sight theory, this will, I believe, have revolutionary implications for all the sciences – see also physiologist Don DeGracia’s description of the “fractal nature of consciousness” in his online book, “Beyond the Physical).

In Chapter 11, Paul Marshall lays out an essentially idealist theory focusing on the filter theory described in Chapter 4, showing how it’s compatible with modern science in general, and has much power to explain “rogue” phenomena.

In Chapter 12, Adam Crabtree presents what I think may be the most accessible outline of Charles Sanders Peirce’s thought available. It is a very well written chapter, as is all of Crabtree’s work I’ve come across. He suggests that the contemporary development of evolutionary panentheism owes a great deal to Peirce (as does the entire process philosophy and process theology movement).

In Chapter 13, Eric Weiss does for Whitehead what Crabtree did for Peirce – rather remarkably presenting a quite accessible (though of course, brief) overview of Whitehead’s work. He goes one step further, grounding Whitehead’s predominantly theoretical speculations in the yogic experience described by Sri Aurobindo. He quite credibly states that this integration of Whitehead and Sri Aurobindo’s views may be one of the most comprehensive means of understanding rogue phenomena and developing a truly expanded science.

PART III of “Beyond Physicalism” summarizes the overall progress of SURsem, and offers a preliminary assessment of where things stand now as well as possible future directions.

In Chapter 14, Ed Kelly draws on the 14 year history of SURsem to give us a rough draft of a new psychological model. Kelly here draws together the work from “Irreducible Mind” as well as the rich conversations of the ensuing 5 years since the publication of that book. He draws particularly on Frederic Myers’ evolutionary view, and says the group is now moving toward adopting some kind of synthesis of idealism and panentheism, adding that they are “taking into account various historical theisms as well.”

In Chapter 15, (full text available here) Murphy presents the world view of “Evolutionary Panentheism,” which has guided him – at least implicitly – for the past 50 years as the overseer of the Esalen Institute. He traces EP back to its roots in such German idealist philosophers as Fichte and Schelling, and looks back to the world’s mystical traditions, such as those of Vedanta, Buddhism, Tantra, Judaism, Kashmir Saivism, and Neo-Platonism. It’s a very readable and enjoyable chapter and a fitting conclusion to this marvelous work. Murphy concludes that Evolutionary Panentheism can be of major importance in leading to an expanded vision of science, as portrayed both in the two SURsem books and Murphy’s own “The Future of the Body.”

Kelly’s comments at the end of Chapter 14 are a good summary of the potential effects of the kinds of effort this book represents. He states his belief that this vision has “tremendous practical implications … in terms of providing us with an expanded worldview that is fundamentally life affirming and optimistic, profoundly spiritual and ecumenical in character, and defensible in light of our most fundamental traditions including that of leading edge modern science.”


My one major criticism of the book is that Jim Carpenter’s work is too hastily dismissed. Carpenter has developed what many consider to be the best theory of psi phenomena to date. His First Sight theory, as I understand it, suggests that rather than being unusual, paranormal activity is occurring all the time, but at a subliminal level. There is one mention of his work in Beyond Physicalism, which is quickly dismissed as adhering too much to the reigning physicalist paradigm. In my reading of First Sight, and in a brief correspondence with Carpenter, it’s been my sense that he is not at all wedded to a physicalist view.

There are a number of statements in the book that provide excellent links to the First Sight theory. On page 231, Bernard Carr states that the existence of “multiple spaces is necessary for the solution of many problems in parapsychology.” He cites mystic/sage Paul Brunton’s call for us to learn to “mentalize space and spatialize mind.” If we understand that the prior psi perception that Carpenter identifies is indeed in a different “space” from the material space we’re accustomed to, I believe that an integration of Carr’s observation with Carpenter’s theory could yield tremendous insight.

On page 344, Kelly and Whicher rather brusquely dismiss Taimni’s correlation of Patanjali’s stages of Samadhi, stages of the gunas and structural classifications of the koshas (bodies) in the Upanishads as “too simplistic.” Yes, perhaps; but if this correlation were tweaked somewhat, I believe it would have profound implications. Francisco Varela and Jeremy Hayward, integrating observations from neuroscience with the Tibetan Buddhist view of the skandhas, developed a multi-dimensional understanding of the evolution of consciousness that fits perfectly with First Sight theory, and gives cues as to how to connect the stages of the gunas (which Sri Aurobindo translated into modern terminology in his chapter on “The Triple Transformation” in “The Life Divine”) with the various koshas and lokas (planes of consciousness) in the Upanishads.

Even arch-materialist J. Alan Hobson, in his Scientific American book, “Consciousness,” noted that consciousness is “graded” over three times – over the course of billions of years of evolution, over our lifetime, and – mirroring quite closely the work of Varela and Hayward – in each moment. According to what I’ve learned from correspondence with Don Degracia, these various accounts of the unfolding of consciousness are quite close to what he describes as the ‘fractal nature of consciousness.”

On page 366, Loriliai Biernacki gives us another clue, remarking that “consciousness and matter function in a continuum,” which may be related in some way to the notion of continuum as expressed by mathematician Herman Weyl. First Sight theory can, I think, add a great deal of empirical substance as well as theoretical insight to the observations of Weyl, Biernacki, DeGracia, Hobson, Carr, Kelly, Whicher, Aurobindo, Varela, and Hayward.

From a less theoretical and more empirical (albeit “yogically” empirical) perspective, Sri Aurobindo presents a view of how consciousness unfolds in his commentary on the Kena Upanishad. Most of the 400+ page book on integral yoga psychology that my wife and I spent 5 years on is based on this observation: “As our human psychology is constituted, we begin with “samjnana”, the sense of an object in its image; the apprehension of it in knowledge follows. Afterwards we try to arrive at the comprehension of it in knowledge and the possession of it in power. There are secret operations in us, in our subconscient and superconscient selves, which precede this action, but of these we are not aware in our surface being and therefore for us they do not exist. If we knew of them, our whole conscious functioning would be changed.”


Another rather minor note of criticism – actually, more of a suggestion: Since the entire book is written in a very complex manner, it might be nice to consider offering something that is more widely accessible. To that end, I suggest taking a look at Bernardo Kastrup’s model of idealism (quite close, in some ways, to Abhinavagupta’s non-dualism, as well as evolutionary panentheism, though with a less overtly theistic quality). You can watch Bernardo present his ideas at Deepak Chopra’s “Scientists and Sages Conference,” here.

Here’s a very brief summary (in my words) of some of the points he makes:

The claim idealism is making is that all reality is in consciousness, therefore the body/brain are in consciousness too. If reality is in consciousness, then it is reasonable to infer that there is a segment of our psyches – the deepest, most obfuscated level, where our apparently distinct or “separate” psyches are unified – which generates the world of common experience. This avoids having to postulate the existence of an abstract world, a world fundamentally outside conscious experience for which there can never be – by definition – any proof. 
By postulating such an abstract non-conscious world, we create the hard problem of consciousness, which can never be resolved as long as we make such a postulate. By contrast, the assumption that all reality is in consciousness completely resolves the hard problem, by preventing it from arising in the first place.


I’d like to conclude by making two requests, one to the readers of this review and another to the authors.

If you are a graduate student looking for material for a thesis or dissertation, this book, along with “Irreducible Mind,” is filled with possible topics. My sense is that the SURsem group is eager for others to follow up on their work – Ed Kelly’s concluding chapter (14) has some suggestions for next steps in research and theory.

If you are an interested layperson – not directly involved in academia but still wishing to contribute to this extraordinary project – write to the authors, or visit the Esalen CTR site, and ask for ways to contribute.

To the authors, please make it easier for interested folks to contribute. My estimate is that there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are very eager to see the kind of changes you call for. Perhaps you could create some kind of forum at the CTR site, or some other way that more people can participate.

If you are put off by the price of the book, don’t be. This is too important a book to let that get in your way. Buy the book, contact the authors, visit the CTR site, get the conversation started. The world needs this kind of radical revisioning of science and spirituality. Hopefully, “Beyond Physicalism” will play a vital role in this revisioning process.

Copyright © 2015 by Don Salmon. Published with permission.