The linguistic con game of the 'mind/matter duality'

'Parallel Worlds,' by Selene's Art. Copyright by Selene's Art, used with permission.

I have recently been accused of proposing a metaphysics that simply replaces one form of reductionism with another: instead of reducing everything to matter, I allegedly 'reduce' everything to mind, the supposed polar opposite of matter. Underlying this accusation is the notion that 'mind' and 'matter' are dual concepts or polar opposites at the same level of abstraction, so that a reduction to either of them is seen as equally abstract. The suggestion is that there is a higher, truer, more enlightened point-of-view that precedes both mind and matter ontologically, and from which we can contemplate both mind and matter as a lower-level duality or polarity. As such, I allegedly fail to bring us any closer to that 'higher point-of-view,' instead replacing one abstraction with another.

If this is what you think, you've fallen for a linguistic con game; one that, unfortunately, plagues most of our culture. Mind and matter are not a true duality; and they aren't polar opposites. Since the time of Aristotle we've known that we must be careful about identifying true contradictory pairs, lest we incur in major logical errors. A very similar rationale applies here. Mind is not at the same level of abstraction as matter. As a matter of fact, mind is not an abstraction at all. Only matter is.

Before we continue, let me state precisely what I mean by 'mind.' I use the word 'mind' in exactly the same way that I use the word 'consciousness': mind/consciousness is that whose excitations are subjective experiences. Whatever mind/consciousness may intrinsically be, its patterns of excitation are our subjective experiences, which in turn are our entire reality. My use of this definition is not an attempt to be peculiar: it's simply a recognition that there is no universally-accepted definition of mind and consciousness out there, so I have to be precise regarding what I mean. From this point on, I will use only the word 'mind.'

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Since all we can ever know are our subjective experiences, matter – as something that supposedly exists outside all experience – is an abstraction of and in mind. We infer that matter exists outside mind, but even that inference is an experience that arises and exists within mind. Mind is what exists before we start theorizing, abstracting, or conceptualizing anything, including the very notions of reduction, duality and polarity. When one states that mind and matter form a duality, or a polarity, the statement itself arises and exists in one's mind as a subjective experience. One cannot step out of one's own mind and look upon it as a mere abstraction. Where would one be 'looking from' if not from one's own mind? Do you see what I mean?

All of our abstractions arise from and within our mind, the ground of our being. Therefore, it is obviously a fallacy to say that matter and mind are dual concepts or polar opposites. Matter is an abstraction of mind. We can never transcend mind so to see it as a member of a lower-level dual pair, for mind – whatever it may intrinsically be – is what we are before we begin conceptualizing reality. To say that mind and matter form a polarity is like saying that ripples are the polar opposite of the water where they ripple. It makes no sense. Polarities are valid only between different kinds of ripples – say, ripples that flow to the right versus ripples that flow to the left – not between ripples and the medium where they ripple. And since mind is the 'medium' of the experiences we call matter, there cannot be a duality between matter – 'ripples' of mind – and mind either. Matter isn't independent of mind.

The illusion of a duality or a polarity between mind and matter arises purely from language. It's a linguistic con game. In order to speak of the very 'medium' of subjective experience, we must give it a name. We call it 'mind,' or 'consciousness.' Then, in order to speak of certain specific patterns of excitation of this 'medium,' we also give them names, like 'matter.' Finally, we lose ourselves in our own linguistic abstractions and end up thinking of 'mind' and 'matter' as polar opposites. We delude ourselves into believing that we, the agents conceiving of polarities and dualities, are somehow different from 'mind;' that we can look at mind from the outside. We can't. Mind is what we are. It refers to our identity, not to one of our abstractions. It's the 'medium' of experience, not a type of experience.

When people implicitly assume that somehow there is a 'higher point-of-view' from which to contemplate the alleged mind/matter duality or polarity, they are abstracting away from their own nature. You are mind and you can't step away from what you are in order to see a true mind/matter duality/polarity. There is no such 'higher point-of-view,' just linguistic confusion that gets us lost in the forest of our own conceptual abstractions. When I say that all reality is patterns of excitations of mind, I am not 'reducing' the universe to an abstract concept – such as matter – but simply acknowledging the very ground of being.

Closing remark: in non-duality circles, the word 'mind' is usually taken to mean 'thoughts' or 'intellect.' As such, one could say that reducing reality to 'mind,' in this particular sense, amounts to reducing reality to intellectual conceptualizations. This, indeed, is just as bad as reducing reality to matter, which is itself an abstract concept. So please remember that, above, as well as in all my work, I use the word 'mind' as a synonym for what in non-duality circles is called 'consciousness.' This is more consistent with the terminology of Western philosophy.

The threat of panpsychism revisited

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

A few days ago, I published an essay discussing the threat of panpsychism in our culture's journey away from materialism. In essence, my point was this: now that reason and observations are rendering materialism untenable, panpsychism offers a bandaid solution that, in my view, threatens to perpetuate the absurd notion that matter is more primary than mind either in substance or in structure.

Now, Matthew David Segall, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the California Institute of Integral Studies, offered a critique of my essay. In this post, I'd like to briefly comment on his critique.

Segall correctly infers that the version of panpsychism that I sought to refute in my original essay was that articulated by, among others, Galen Strawson and David Chalmers. He then states:
Kastrup defends [monistic idealism], but only against a rather oversimplified, caricatured version of panpsychism.
I have two brief comments on this. First, if the panpsychism I attempted to refute is 'caricatured' and 'oversimplified,' then Segall should perhaps direct the criticism towards Strawson, Chalmers, neuroscientist Christof Koch and others who articulate it. I'd applaud the attempt if he chooses to do so, as my original point was precisely that this articulation of panpsychism is incorrect. Second, 'caricatured' and 'oversimplified' as it may be, it is this articulation of panpsychism that is gaining momentum in academia and elsewhere today. Many people in neuroscience, for instance, will understand by the term 'panpsychism' exactly what I described it to mean in my original essay.

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I will even go further and say that the choice of the term 'panpsychism' to label this ontology is correct. 'Pan-psychism' literally means 'soul everywhere,' which suggests an 'everywhere' outside soul, where soul can be located. This is precisely what monistic idealism rejects: according to it, all 'wheres' are in consciousness/soul, not consciousness/soul somewhere. There is a quote by Henry Corbin that captures this perfectly: 'it is the where, the place, that resides in the soul.' (in Swedenborg And Esoteric Islam, page 14).

Segall continues:
Kastrup’s main concern with panpsychism (so defined) is that it “fragments” consciousness into atomic bits ... But these concerns are, I argue, resolved by the process-relational version [of panpsychism articulated by Alfred North Whitehead]. Although Whitehead’s panpsychism does involve the particulation of psyche, these psychic particles ... are each and all internally related and co-constituting; they are interpenetrating drops of experience, not isolated monads of private mentality. Fragmentation is thereby averted.
Am I alone here in wondering what this means exactly? It comes across to me as a vague, handwaving attempt to have it both ways; to say that Whitehead's panpsychism entails that consciousness is both fragmented (it 'does involve the particulation of the psyche') and non-fragmented ('Fragmentation is thereby averted'). Which is it? If psychic particles are 'interpenetrating,' 'co-constituting' and not isolated, in what way are they still particles? In what way are multiple 'drops' that interpenetrate each other still 'drops,' instead of just one puddle? And if they cease to be particles only once they become integrated with each other by some unexplained magical step, then they were fragmented before they magically joined together. As such, the underlying, original nature of reality is still one of fragmentation and the problem isn't averted at all.

You see, what is in contention here is the fundamental, underlying nature of reality, not its superficial appearances. There is no question that reality appears to be constituted of fragmented building blocks. The question is whether this apparent fragmentation isn't merely the result of human conceptualization, the underlying nature of reality being a holistic unity. When Segall speaks of 'psychic particles [being] each and all ... co-constituting,' he seems to be either incurring in contradiction or suggesting that the 'particulated' aspect is a more superficial appearance, while the underlying reality of these 'particles' is that of unity. But it is this underlying level that is the only point in contention here, not the appearances. Is the underlying level fragmented or unitary? Segall cannot have it both ways.
[Whitehead's] is not a polemical but a diplomatic philosophy, always searching for the middle ground that incorporates the elucidatory aspects of all approaches in search of an adequate compromise.
Personally, I am interested in what is true, not in what avoids conflict through vague, ambiguous, diplomatically-skilled discourse. Ontology is not about seeking compromise; it's not about giving people a warm and fuzzy feeling. Ontology is about getting us closer to truth in a clear and explicit manner. To create an ontology purely for the sake of accommodating disparate and contradictory views is an artificial exercise that can only result in a philosophical Frankenstein monster; a monster that doesn't necessarily bear any link to actual states of affairs.
To my mind, what Kastrup [is] arguing for in this essay is only another form of reductionism–reduction to Unity and Mind instead of to Matter.
Here Segall falls for the false mind-matter polarity: he implicitly frames 'mind' and 'matter' as contradictory concepts at the same level of abstraction, so that a reduction to either of them is seen as equally abstract. But the mind-matter polarity is a linguistic and conceptual illusion; it isn't a true polarity at all. Here is a passage from my book Why Materialism Is Baloney that hopefully makes this clear:
Since I am arguing that everything – absolutely everything – is mind, why bother with the word ‘mind’? The word itself may be said to be useless. In a sense, it may be claimed that my articulation of idealism renders the very category ‘mind’ null and void. ... [But] materialists (in fact, all realists) have themselves invented an abstracted category of things that are not mind. As a matter of fact, they have invented an entire universe of things and phenomena that are, supposedly, not mind. Since I am arguing my case against theirs, it is entirely valid that I use the word ‘mind’ to differentiate my metaphysics from theirs. As such, my insistence in using the word aims at making clear that I deny their invented, abstracted, unprovable universe of things and phenomena outside subjective experience. (Why Materialism Is Baloney, page 200)
Mind is simply what there is, as far as anyone can ever know. It's the ground of knowledge. It's what exists before we start theorizing, conceptualizing and abstracting. Mind isn't an abstraction like 'matter,' but the very ground of all abstractions. Indeed, 'matter' is an abstraction of and in mind. When Segall talks about reduction to 'mind' or 'matter' he is speaking from within mind. Where else? He cannot step out of mind and speak of it as just another abstraction; nobody can.

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Mind is the only carrier of reality we can ever know. To say that mind and matter are a polarity is a mistake of categories. Matter is a conceptual invention of mind. To reduce everything to mind is not at all equivalent to reducing everything to matter: in the latter case we reduce reality to an abstraction, while in the former case we simply acknowledge the ground of all existence we can ever know.
Ontological pluralism seems more true to experience (both common every day experience AND mystical experience), since it doesn’t deny the possibility of unity, it only denies that things are necessarily unified. [The italics are mine]
Before you raise your eyebrows and exclaim 'Wait... is he really saying this?!' let's remain objective. Segall seems to be suggesting that mystical experience allows for the possibility that one day there may be unity through bottom-up integration, but that at present there is no sign in mystical testimonies that this unity is complete.

This is flagrantly incorrect. Testimonials throughout history overwhelmingly indicate precisely the opposite. Moores wrote that 'Mysticism, then, is the perception of the universe and all of its seemingly disparate entities existing in a unified whole.' (Moores, D. J. (2006). Mystical Discourse in Wordsworth and Whitman: A Transatlantic Bridge, Peeters Publishers, p. 34. The italics are my own) Indeed, mystical traditions in both East and West have always insisted that reality is unified at bottom. In India, they called the fundamental unity of all reality Brahman. 'The world [of multiplicity] is illusory; Brahman alone is real; Brahman is the world,' said Sri Ramana Maharshi, echoing Shankara. The notion of 'The One,' the absolute, permeates nearly every world religion, including polytheistic ones. Mystical experience across the ages has revealed the unity underlying all reality, as discussed by Psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke in his famous case-studies book titled Cosmic Consciousness. Aldous Huxley researched and wrote about it in his book The Perennial Philosophy. I could go on and on but I think most readers will immediately recognize what I am trying to say and feel rather surprised at Segall's assertion. That he even capitalized the 'AND' for emphasis makes it only more bewildering.
Necessary unity is politically frightening to me. It is too fascist, too totalitarian.
I feel a little embarrassed to have to point out that we are discussing the nature of reality here, not politics.
I prefer democracy both politically and ontologically. Order, oneness, unity, etc must be freely affirmed, freely achieved. They cannot be metaphysically imposed.
The conflation of categories here is frankly disconcerting. Does anyone seriously think that our (political) views and preferences bear any relevance to what nature is? Personally, I am interested in what is true, not what I'd prefer to be true. This line of argument by Segall is, at best, irrelevant.

I appreciate Segall's feedback and sympathize with many of his personal preferences. But any serious pursuit in ontology is a pursuit of truth, not of personal comfort, peace of mind or political correctness. It must also represent the evidence correctly, whether it comes from 'objective' science or subjective introspection. Finally, it must be articulated explicitly, clearly and unambiguously, if it is to offer any meaningful contribution to the debate. I believe Segall has failed on all three counts.

Favorite quotes from Brief Peeks Beyond

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

My new book Brief Peeks Beyond is being officially released today! This means that, if you've pre-ordered the ebook version, you will be getting it today. And it also means that, if you order it now, you will get it immediately!

To celebrate the occasion, in this post I list my 65 favorite passages from the book. The passages capture and summarize some of the essential points rather sharply and succinctly. I've numbered them for ease of reference, in case you want to cite them in social media. Have fun!
Pages 12-13: Because all knowledge resides in consciousness, we cannot know what is supposedly outside consciousness; we can only infer it through our capacity for abstraction. … It is enough that we find one coherent explanation for reality on the basis of excitations of consciousness alone for a postulated universe outside consciousness to become akin to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Page 14: Inferring that personal psyches share a common root does not entail postulating a new, abstract theoretical entity – namely, a universe outside consciousness – but merely extrapolating consciousness itself beyond its face-value personal limits. As such, to see reality as akin to a shared dream generated by a collective, obfuscated segment of consciousness is much more parsimonious than materialism.
Page 16: Mathematics – quantities and their relationships – is a mental construct. ... By stating that the supposedly objective world consists of pure mathematics, there is an important way in which [physicist Max] Tegmark is at least flirting with [philosophical idealism]. 
Page 18: Mind-at-large suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder; and we are its alters. 
Page 28: No ontology in the history of humankind has been or is more metaphysical than materialism. Unlike all spiritual or religious ontologies ... the strongly objective realm of materialism is, by definition, forever outside experience. It is pure abstraction. ... All the properties we attribute to reality – like solidity, palpability, concreteness – are qualities of experience and, as such, not applicable to the real world of materialism. 
Page 30: There is no actual unconscious. What neuroscience today calls ‘consciousness’ is simply a particular, amplified segment of consciousness. 
Page 31: If all reality is in consciousness, then a pill or a well-placed knock to the head are simply the images of processes in consciousness. … What is a pill but what you see, touch and otherwise feel in your fingers? It has color, flavor and texture. It’s a set of subjective perceptions with the qualities of experience. ... Therefore, that a pill or physical trauma to the head can alter one’s state of consciousness is no more surprising than the fact that your thoughts can change your emotions. 
Page 32: Think of how elusive dreams can be: ... you may remember nothing when you wake up – declaring yourself to have been unconscious all night – and then suddenly recall, hours later, that you actually had a very intense dream. How can you know that you are ever truly unconscious? 
Page 45: For exactly the same reason that there is nothing it is like to be an isolated group of neurons in a person’s brain, there is nothing it is like to be an inanimate object. 
Page 49: Empirical reality consists entirely of outside images of ideas in the mind of God. We cannot know how the world is felt by God simply by looking at the world, for the same reason that a neuroscientist cannot know what love feels like just by looking at brain scans. Yet, when we contemplate the magnificence and incomprehensible magnitude of the stars and galaxies through our telescopes, we are essentially looking at a ‘scan of God’s brain.’ 
Pages 49-50: The mystery of death consists in the shift of our experience of the world from second- to first-person perspective. 
Page 51: What Plato called the ‘world soul’ is simply God’s direct subjective perspective; the reverse side of the measurable universe. The measurable universe, in turn, is the obverse side of God’s soul. The Universe, thus, is God’s body. 
Page 59: To consider consciousness an emergent property of brains is either an appeal to magic or the mere labeling of an unknown. In both cases, precisely nothing is actually explained. 
Page 60: Eliminative materialists [claim that] you just compute that you are conscious, but you really aren’t. The premise behind this is ludicrous. I can create a computer program that ultimately attributes the logical value ‘true’ to a variable labeled ‘conscious,’ but obviously that doesn’t take the computer any closer to having inner life the way you and I have, no matter how complex the program. 
Page 61: For the sake of preserving a minimum degree of empirical honesty in our culture, we must remain grounded in the primary datum of reality: experience itself. Experience is what there is before we start theorizing about the world and ourselves. It takes precedence over everything else. It is the departing point and necessary substrate of all theories. ... We must never forget this, lest we totally lose our connection to reality. 
Page 63: Whichever way one looks at it, consciousness is an unsolvable anomaly under materialism: we can neither explain how it is generated, nor why it evolved. Unfortunately for materialists, this one anomaly is also the very matrix of all knowledge and the carrier of everyone’s reality! 
Page 64: We, as a culture, find ourselves now in the strange position of having to explain how abstractions of consciousness generate consciousness. Such a circular problem, of course, can never be solved! We’re just chasing our own tails at light speed. 
Page 67: [Materialist philosopher Daniel] Dennett suggests that, if enough aspects of experience are found to lack any correspondence with consensus fact, consciousness will be shown to be inexistent. This is wholly illogical: even if we find one day that everything we experience fails to correspond to consensus fact, that will simply show that consciousness is populated with illusions. It will leave consciousness itself intact. We are still conscious of illusions, in exactly the same way that we are conscious of our dreams. 
Pages 67-68: To refute some of the face-value traits ordinarily attributed to consciousness doesn’t render consciousness itself – raw subjective experience – an illusion. To argue otherwise is entirely equivalent to proclaiming that, because the Earth isn’t flat – as it appears to be at face value – then it must be an illusion; and to proclaim this while standing firmly on the Earth! Where is one ‘standing’ when one consciously proclaims consciousness to be an illusion? 
Page 70: The ‘hard problem [of consciousness]’ is merely a linguistic and conceptual construction of human beings. It only arises when you conceptualize a whole universe outside consciousness and then postulate that this conceptual universe somehow generates consciousness. So you end up in the position of having to explain how an abstraction of consciousness can generate consciousness. 
Page 71: Provided that the headlines suggest a confirmation of the materialist hypothesis, it is surprising how much inaccuracy one can get away with. Society is very forgiving when the error is on the side of the reigning metaphysics; a virtuous cycle that tendentiously maintains its ruling status. 
Page 72: The brain is the image of a process of localization in a stream of transpersonal experiences, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localization in a stream of water. The brain doesn’t generate consciousness for exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water. Active neurons are what experiences look like from the outside, this being the reason why brain function correlates tightly with subjective states. 
Page 73: Memories are nothing but ongoing obfuscated experiences in the periphery of the psyche. 
Page 91: The bottom-line is this: when one sees more consciousness consistently accompanied by less brain activity, one is forced to contemplate the possibility that brain function is associated with a localization of consciousness, as opposed to its production. 
Page 102: We just assume that complex phenomena can be reduced to the basic laws of particle physics, because such an assumption is an axiom of the current paradigm. But who is to say that as-of-yet unknown and irreducible causal forces or organizing principles don’t kick in at higher levels of complexity? Who is to say that nature isn’t mostly governed by these higher-complexity principles or agencies, which only come into play when enough subatomic particles interact in a way too complex to simulate or test under controlled conditions? 
Pages 102-103: The widespread cultural notion that science has explained most of the world is scandalously unjustified. For all we know, we’ve explained only very, very little; practically nothing. We just don’t know what kinds of fundamental causal forces and organizing principles may kick in when systems become complex enough to be seen with the naked eye outside a laboratory. Inability to acknowledge this represents a catastrophic failure of skepticism. 
Page 103: Technology is designed to eliminate – by construction – the influence of all but the potentially small set of causal forces that are understood by science. … Because technology is deliberately insulated from the unknown, its effectiveness in the larger world is no evidence that science has a significant understanding of that larger world. 
Page 106: If one’s statistical conclusions are in accordance with the reigning scientific paradigm, it is enough to demonstrate that the odds of a certain effect occurring against chance are very small. However, if the conclusions contradict the reigning paradigm, critics can always dismiss the evidence on the basis that, theoretically, any pattern can be found in the data if random effects can’t be completely ruled out. 
Page 108: Materialism is by no stretch of the imagination a scientific conclusion, but merely a metaphysical opinion that helps some people interpret scientific conclusions. Yet, the emperors with no clothes who promote the materialist belief on TV, in books and what not, present themselves as spokespeople of science itself. When these people promote their flawed logic in the media as an expression of reason, the irony is painful. 
Pages 113-116: Neo-Darwinists conflate the established fact of evolution by natural selection with another hypothesis that is anything but established: that the genetic mutations at the root of the entire process are themselves random or blind. ... We have never run a randomness test on a sufficiently complete set of raw genetic mutations to know the answer either way. 
Page 117: New scientific conclusions arise from the patterns we do find, for these are the footprints of the laws of nature. Neo-Darwinism is an aberration in that one of its key conclusions arises precisely from the alleged absence of pattern, even though no substantial evidence for it exists. 
Pages 121-122: Proper skeptical parsimony is not about declaring things to be impossible, [it] is about making sense of reality with as few postulated theoretical entities as possible. … Precisely by succeeding in explaining reality with less theoretical entities, we realize that what materialism considers anomalous is, in fact, entirely natural. 
Page 126: Because our culture mistakenly takes technological success for evidence of a deep understanding of the underlying nature of reality, we are all guilty, at least by omission, of allowing the neo-priesthood of science to appoint themselves arbiters of truth. This is as insane as appointing a five-year-old kid, who happens to break records playing computer games, chief architect at a major computer company. 
Pages 126-127: We now find ourselves in the position of expecting wisdom and guidance from intellectual specialists who can solve abstract mathematical puzzles but are often largely disconnected from life. No teenager would make this mistake among his or her own circle of friends, as a visit to any schoolyard will show you. 
Page 127: Our progressive abandonment of our relationship with the mysteries of transcendence since the Enlightenment has left a gaping hole in the human psyche. Our culture is desperate to get intellectual permission to believe something else instead, to peek into some new and obscure mystery, so long as it inspires the same amazement and awe previously reserved for transcendence. The neo-priesthood of science sensed an opportunity and rushed to fill the gap. 
Page 129: We’re so focused on living longer, optimizing the performance of necessary tasks, communicating faster and more frequently with one another, accumulating wealth and, most visibly, consuming and entertaining our way to depression that we’ve almost entirely forgotten to ask what this is all about. Why do we live? ... What have philosophers and poets alike been trying to say for the past few thousand years? 
Pages 129-130: The educational system in most modern societies today is almost entirely focused on utilitarian aspects. … A purely utilitarian education tends to turn people into controllable tools; cogs in the machine. Unequipped to even conceive coherently of the higher questions of existence, we’re left with no option but to blindly leverage our utilitarian skills day in and day out, contributing to economic output and wealth generation. 
Page 130: A civilization of stupefied drones going blindly about their practical tasks is constantly flirting with collapse. But the power structures may believe that this can be managed through the right combination of alcohol, tobacco, television, pornography, commoditized shopping culture and, in more severe cases, cognitive behavioral therapy and dependency-creating psychiatric drugs. The mainstream metaphysics of materialism enables this by rendering culturally legitimate the outrageous notion that unhappy people are simply malfunctioning biological robots. 
Pages 132-133: Academic philosophy has [come to] to believe that to ‘prove’ an idea is more important than for the idea to resonate with the innermost selves of people and, thereby, make a true difference. … By denying the affective nature of reality, academic philosophy has alienated itself from a large and significant part of what it means to be a human being alive in the world. In seeking to become more objective and real, it ended up distancing itself from reality. 
Page 134: The cultural indoctrination that deems myths to be inconsequential has left us, as adults, unable to discern meaning and significance in our own imagination the way a child can. The craving that results from such alienation from ourselves has been accumulating in our society for centuries now. 
Page 140: Projection is thus the amazing mental mechanism by which we create ‘the other’ out of ourselves, like Eve from Adam’s rib. It enables the magical rise of a second person from the first person, the ‘you’ from the ‘I.’ Through it, the ‘outside’ world becomes a mirror for the most hidden and unacknowledged aspects of our psyches, so we can, in essence, interact with ourselves by proxy. We get a chance to dance, unwittingly, with that which is repressed within us. 
Page 141: Being conscious is the very essence of what it means to be whatever it is we are. But what does our culture say about this? It says that consciousness arises out of particular arrangements of matter. The projection here is so in-your-face that it may be hard to see: we are projecting ourselves onto matter! 
Page 144: Philosophy gives people intellectual permission to truly embrace what their intuitions and experiences are already telling them to be true. 
Page 145: Without a suitable metaphysics to ground it, depth-psychology is unable to address the real ... How to treat depression without addressing the actual meaning of life? How to treat death anxiety without addressing what death actually is? If depth-psychology avoids these crucial metaphysical questions, its efforts turn into mere academic exercises. 
Page 148: The true strength of materialism is its symbiotic relationship with the economic system and power structures upon which we have all come to depend. 
Page 156: Here is my hypothesis: the afterlife realm comprises a core layer consisting of … intrinsic, essential, invariant properties ... independent of the cultural background of the witness. But surrounding the core layer there is a symbolic layer, which is malleable and acquiescent to one’s particular beliefs and expectations. This symbolic layer is a kind of bridge: it presents the core themes according to whatever imagery is most evocative to each personality. 
Pages 173-174: A choice is either determined by some process – even if the process is yet-unknown, mysterious, unfathomable, ineffable, transcendent, spiritual, ethereal, etc. – or merely random. It seems impossible to find semantic or logical space for libertarian free will if we insist on distinguishing it from both randomness and determinism. … True free will can be the expression of a fully deterministic process, as long as the determining factors of that process are internal to that which the choosing agent identifies itself with. 
Page 175: Metaphysical free will is only valid under models of reality that allow for choices to be made unhindered by factors outside our own subjectivity. 
Page 177: The semantic difference between desire and necessity rests on the corresponding imperatives being external in the latter case. I only say that I have to work because the imperatives of society – which are external to me as a person – require me to do so. If the imperatives that compel me to work were, instead, internal to me – say, an inner imperative to feel useful and productive – I would say that I want to work. Indeed, what is a desire but the direct experience of an inner imperative? 
Page 179: If … we identify not with particular dissociated ideas but with consciousness itself – with that whose excitations give rise to all thoughts and feelings – we attain unfathomable metaphysical free will. This arises not from the power of the ego to control the world, but from the realization that we are the world. How could we feel oppressed by that which we are? 
Page 183: We stopped living the inner life of human beings and began living the ‘outer life’ of things and mechanisms. … All meaning must lie – we’ve come to assume – somewhere without and never within. I even dare to venture an explanation for how this came to pass: because of Western materialism, we believe that we are finite beings who will, unavoidably, eventually cease to exist. Only the ‘outside world’ will endure and have continuity. 
Page 184: Life is a laboratory for exploration along only two paths: feeling and understanding. All else exists only as connotative devices: ‘tricks’ to evoke feeling and understanding. All meaning resides in the emotions and insights unfolding within. 
Page 186: If all reality is in consciousness, then your consciousness is not generated by your body. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that your consciousness will end when your body dies. Your body is simply the outside image of a particular configuration of consciousness that you experience when you are alive. 
Page 186: Your physical health isn’t merely ‘connected’ to your psychic state; it is your obfuscated psychic state! 
Page 187: If love is actually primary – material chemicals suffusing your brain being just an outside image of love, not its cause – wouldn’t that make a difference as far as how you look upon your relationships? … Wouldn’t we, as a culture, have to take another look at current psychiatric best-practices if we acknowledged our feelings to be primary, not merely the outcome of chemical imbalances to be corrected with drugs? 
Pages 189-190: While particular types of brain activity are the outside image of egoic processes in consciousness, the rest of the physical body is an outside image of our personal obfuscated psyche; that is, an image of our repressed, forgotten or otherwise unacknowledged psychic activity. … We can treat all illnesses by influencing obfuscated psychic activity. 
Page 192: The patient must be helped to bring all unhealthy psychic activity into the light of self-reflective awareness, so it doesn’t become somatized. … Once this happens, the patient can be treated through the oldest, simplest and most effective healing method ever devised by humankind: heart-to-heart interaction between patient and healer. 
Pages 192-193: Healers must help patients internalize the treatment, so it drops past the ego and into the deeper layers of the psyche. Here is where the art and skill of the healer comes into play, for this ‘dropping in’ must be accomplished through bypassing egoic barriers and defense mechanisms. A form of benign manipulation is required, which may conflict with present-day notions of ethics. 
Page 196: It is ... conceivable that thoughts and imagination originating in our personal psyche, if they somehow sink into the deepest, most obfuscated, collective levels of consciousness, could indeed affect consensus reality directly. 
Page 201: Cynicism ... is a disguised but extreme form of belief: the often-baseless commitment to the impossibility of something. … Living in the mystery, on the other hand, entails an attitude of openness without commitment. 
Page 202: Show me a person who claims to have no significant anxieties or insecurities and I will show you a liar. The human condition isn’t reassuring and we’re all in the same boat. But because we try to put up this image of strength, we add insult to injury by convincing each other that we are alone in our misery. This only increases our isolation and loneliness. We forget that the only real strength is the courage to present ourselves to the world as we really are, so we can live in authentic community and help each other out. 
Pages 203-204: A quiet and entirely peaceful change in our spending habits is not only impossible to repress, it will also have a much bigger impact than any street revolution. Consumerism – so frantically reinforced by governments, the mainstream media, and validated by the academically-sanctioned delusion of materialism – is what keeps us in the role of cogs in a sick system that benefits only the pathological amongst us. By peacefully refusing to play the role of entranced consumers, we will irremediably undermine the very foundations of this system and enable positive, necessary change. 
Page 206: It is dissociation that creates the experiential ‘outside.’ But this ‘outside’ is not outside consciousness itself; it is simply outside the alter. Our culture has come to mistake the witnessing of mental processes outside our personal alters for the witnessing of material phenomena outside consciousness. 
Pages 208-209: There is vicious, insidious stigmergy in our society today. The agenda of this stigmergy is the maintenance of materialism. It manifests itself as a broad network of subtle local actions, biases and values, each serving powerful interests. These local dynamics build up into a system of global reinforcement; a virtual cabal, so to speak. The stigmergy has turned most of us into entranced drones, serving a mad state of affairs that is slowly but inexorably killing our humanity. 
Page 209: We must summon the courage to acknowledge that some of the most celebrated intellectuals and scientists among us have been no more than arrogant children when it comes to their understanding of the nature of reality and of their own humanity. They do not deserve the wide-ranging reverence we, as a culture, seem to feel we owe them.

The threat of panpsychism: a warning

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

I feel increasingly concerned about what I believe to be a mounting and extremely dangerous cultural threat looming on the horizon: panpsychism, the notion that all matter has consciousness, as opposed to being in consciousness. At a historical nexus when new data and more critical thinking are finally rendering materialism logically and empirically inviable, panpsychism comes in as a tortuous but seductive bandaid. It threatens to extend the delusion of a universe outside consciousness for yet another century. In this essay, I'd like to try and raise the alarm about it.

The meaning of the term panpsychism

Before we begin, let's clarify what I mean by panpsychism. As discussed in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the term 'panpsychism' has so many possible interpretations as to render it at best ambiguous and at worst useless. So more must be said. What I specifically mean here are two particular interpretations of the term that I believe are gaining momentum in both academia and the culture at large:

Panpsychism Interpretation 1: consciousness is just one more irreducible property of matter at a subatomic level, just like mass, charge, spin and momentum are also fundamental properties of subatomic particles. In other words, all matter has consciousness at a fundamental level. Matter, however, remains the broader and more primary matrix of reality.

Panpsychism Interpretation 2: consciousness is the intrinsic nature of matter, not just one more of its properties. However, consciousness is still considered fundamentally fragmented in exactly the same way matter is. In other words, distinct bits of matter – that is, subatomic particles – represent distinct bits of consciousness. According to this view, a single isolated electron has its own very simple form of consciousness: there is something it is like to be an isolated electron. More complex arrangements of matter, like a human brain, allegedly aggregate these bits of consciousness together to give rise to richer, integrated inner lives of the kind you and I experience.

The difference between Interpretations 1 and 2 is subtle. While Interpretation 1 takes consciousness to be just one more irreducible property of matter – the substance of matter still existing outside consciousness – Interpretation 2 takes consciousness to be matter's intrinsic nature. According to interpretation 2, measurable properties like mass and charge are just the extrinsic – external – aspects of this intrinsic nature. That said, Interpretation 2, just like Interpretation 1, also entails that the structure of matter determines the structure of consciousness: the subatomic, fragmented building-blocks of matter still allegedly correspond to fragmented building-blocks of subjectivity.

A more technical discussion of these interpretations can be found in this paper by philosopher David Chalmers.

The motivations for the rise of panpsychism

Our mainstream cultural view is that of philosophical materialism: the notion that the real world consists of matter and energy fields allegedly outside, and independent of, consciousness. Supposedly, it is particular arrangements of matter in this objective world, in the form of biological brains and their respective metabolic activity, that somehow generate consciousness.

A key problem with materialism, however, is that it has been unable to explain, even in principle, how arrangements of matter can possibly generate subjective experience. This is known in neuroscience and philosophy of mind as the 'hard problem of consciousness,' which one of my readers cogently discussed in an earlier essay. The problem is so disconcerting that some materialist philosophers even try to absurdly deny the very existence of consciousness, the sole carrier of reality anyone can ever know. I discussed this appalling philosophical abomination in an earlier essay and, more extensively, in my new book Brief Peeks Beyond.

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Now, as also discussed in Brief Peeks Beyond, the inherent contradictions and in-your-face absurdities of materialism are rendering it untenable in the present historical nexus. In other words, reason and observations are pushing materialism to the breaking point. This is a unique opportunity for our culture to finally recognize and revise its delusional way of looking upon reality and our own nature, the implications of which, as discussed in this essay, could be enormous.

But here is where panpsychism raises its head as the greatest threat on the horizon: it provides an easy escape route for the materialist. It magically 'solves' the hard problem of consciousness simply by declaring consciousness to be either an irreducible property, or the intrinsic nature, of matter. This way, it maintains our present delusion that matter – either in substance (Interpretation 1) or in structure (Interpretation 2) – is the primary aspect of reality. It threatens to usurp from us the unique opportunity we have today to face and correct our delusional worldview. It threatens to deflate all momentum currently building up towards a more truthful ontology. If the interpretations of panpsychism discussed above end up sticking, we will be in for another century of madness. May this essay help raise the alarm against this danger.

Why panpsychism isn't Idealism or Nondualism

The body of my work is a defense of what in the West is called the philosophy of Idealism. In the East, essentially the same view is entailed by the philosophies of Nondualism. According to this view, all reality consists in excitations of consciousness, there being no need to infer a material world fundamentally outside consciousness. As such, reality is akin to vibrations of a 'membrane' of pure consciousness, an idea indirectly corroborated by M-theory. The intricate patterns and regularities of these vibrations are the universe around us. Yet, in the same way that there is nothing to a vibrating membrane but the membrane itself, there is nothing to the universe but consciousness itself. The universe is a behavior of consciousness, not an ontological entity outside and independent of consciousness. I recently summarized this view in a brief essay that can be found here.

However – and to my horror – my ideas sometimes get conflated with the interpretations of panpsychism discussed above. So before I discuss my argument against panpsychism, I want first to make clear how the latter differs from Idealism/Nondualism.

Interpretation 1 of panpsychism squarely frames consciousness as subordinate to matter. Even while granting consciousness the status of an irreducible property, it does so by saying that it is a property of matter. In other words, matter still allegedly exists as a substance outside consciousness, which simply happens to have consciousness. My formulation of Idealism, on the other hand, is very different: it states that matter appears in consciousness as a particular modality of excitations of consciousness. We call these excitations our sense perceptions. Matter does not exist outside or independent of consciousness and, as such, it can't have consciousness. Nothing can have consciousness because consciousness is all there is. Consciousness isn’t a property of matter, but matter an excitation of consciousness. Do you see the gargantuan difference here?

Interpretation 2 of panpsychism imposes onto consciousness the boundaries, divisions and structure we discern in matter. From an Idealist/Nondualist perspective, it's like discerning the different brush strokes that make up a painting and then concluding that the painter is composed of brush strokes! If, as I argue in my formulation of Idealism, reality are the patterns of excitation of consciousness, like ripples are patterns of excitation of water, what Interpretation 2 does is to look for the structure of the ripples and then attribute that to the water itself. Imagine discerning concentric rings of ripples when a stone is dropped in a pond, and then proceeding to say that the water is made up of concentric rings! How logical is that? You see, the pattern of ripples is the structure of the behavior of water, not of water itself. Similarly, the structure we discern in empirical reality – subatomic particles, forces, etc. – is the structure of the behavior of consciousness, not of consciousness itself. It is the structure of the painting painted by consciousness, not of the painter.

Because of this misattribution, Interpretation 2 entails that consciousness is fundamentally fragmented, atomized, and that the complex inner life of human beings is built bottom-up, through an entirely unexplained aggregation of separate bits of consciousness. This is contrary to the key notion of Idealism/Nondualism that consciousness is unitary and essentially undivided. In my work, I call this unitary consciousness 'mind-at-large' (in honor of Aldous Huxley, who first used the term in the 1950's). Many in Nondualism call it 'Infinite Consciousness,' or 'Cosmic Consciousness,' or 'Brahman,' etc. In all cases, the idea is that consciousness is fundamentally one. As I discuss in Brief Peeks Beyond, the appearance of individual, separate psyches arises from a process of dissociation of mind-at-large, analogous to how people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) exhibit multiple, disjoint personalities that are often unaware of each other. This way, separate personal psyches are illusions arising from top-down dissociations of mind-at-large, as opposed to the bottom-up aggregations of 'bits of consciousness' entailed by panpsychism. This difference between panpsychism and Idealism/Nondualism is critical: the former proposes fragmentation as the fundamental reality, while the latter proposes unity, fragmentation being just an illusion arising from dissociative processes.

Both interpretations of panpsychism imply that every inanimate object has its own subjective inner life. In other words, they imply that there is something it is like to be your home thermostat, or a chair, or a rock. This is not implied by Idealism/Nondualism, which state that all objects are in consciousness, not that all objects are conscious. I discussed this difference in this essay and, more extensively, in Brief Peeks Beyond.

Idealism/Nondualism are not panpsychism. Indeed, in many ways these are even opposite worldviews.

Why panpsychism doesn't make sense

As I wrote in my earlier book Why Materialism Is Baloney,
The problem with panpsychism is, of course, that there is precisely zero evidence that any inanimate object is conscious. To resolve an abstract, theoretical problem of the materialist metaphysics one is forced to project onto the whole of nature a property – namely, consciousness – which observation only allows to be inferred for a tiny subset of it – namely, living beings. This is, in a way, an attempt to make nature conform to theory, as opposed to making theory conform to nature.

You may claim that it is impossible to assess whether an inanimate object, like a thermostat, is really conscious or not. This is true: we cannot even know for sure whether other people are really conscious, since it is impossible for us to gain access to the inner life of someone or something else. For all you know, everyone else is just a kind of sophisticated biological robot, completely unconscious, but manifesting all the right conscious-like behaviors out of complex calculations.

Still, the point here is not what can be known for sure, but what inferences can be justified on the basis of observation. That’s all we can hope to accomplish when developing a worldview. And we can infer that other people are conscious. After all, we observe in other people, and even in animals, behaviors that are entirely analogous to our own: they scream in pain, behave illogically when in love, sigh deeply when lost in thoughts, etc. We explain our own manifestations of these behaviors based on the firsthand knowledge that we are conscious: you know that you scream because you actually feel pain. So it is reasonable to infer that other people, who are physically analogous to you in every way, manifest those same behaviors for the same reason that you do – namely, that they are also conscious. Were it not to be so, we would need two different explanations for the same types of behavior in entirely analogous organisms, which is not the simplest alternative.

Therefore, there is indeed good empirical justification for the inference that other people and animals, and perhaps even all life forms, are conscious. But there is no empirical justification to infer that inanimate objects, which manifest no external behaviors that anyone could possibly relate to one’s own inner experience, are conscious in any way or to any degree whatsoever. As such, the only possible reason to believe in panpsychism is to make materialism work. (Pages 19-20)

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The panpsychist implication that all inanimate objects – as well as all combinations and permutations of objects and parts of objects – have their own separate inner life is:
  1. Unsupported by evidence. I can only prove to myself that I, as a living being, have a private inner life. To the extent that other living beings display behavior analogous to mine and share the essential feature of metabolism that characterizes me, I feel comfortable enough inferring that they, too, have private inner lives. But I cannot make the same inference about an inanimate object: it neither displays conscious behavior nor does it have metabolism.
  2. Unfalsifiable. There is no conceivable way to disprove that there is something it is like to be a chair or an isolated neuron, since the only way to check it is to be a chair or an isolated neuron, which I am not.
  3. Unnecessary. It simply isn't needed to make sense of reality. There is no phenomenon that goes without explanation by denying that chairs have an inner life of their own;
  4. Inflationary. It implies an exponential explosion of dissociated streams of inner life in the universe.
Something that is unsupported by evidence, unfalsifiable, unnecessary and inflationary might as well be discarded in an ontology. Therein lies my argument against the two interpretations of panpsychism discussed here.

It is true that Idealism/Nondualism imply that the universe as a whole has subjective inner life; in other words, that there is something it is like to be the whole universe. This is discussed in more detail here. But attributing inner life to parts of the whole – unless one can infer dissociation from the observation of behaviors and metabolic activity – is a mistake of categories. It attributes to a part, without empirical or logical grounding, a holistic characteristic that can only be inferred for the whole.

Panpsychism, according to the two interpretations of the term discussed in this essay, is fundamentally different from Idealism/Nondualism. Moreover, it doesn't stand to logical and empirical scrutiny as Idealism/Nondualism do. It doesn't even stand to subjective introspection: spiritual traditions in both East and West have always insisted that consciousness is, at bottom, one. Indeed, these traditions directly contradict the notion that consciousness is fundamentally fragmented and scattered. That panpsychism today often passes for a more scientifically-consistent form of Idealism/Nondualism is a dangerous confusion that, if left unchecked, threatens to perpetuate our delusion. Most worryingly of all, this confusion seems to be common even in Nondualism circles.

(A follow-up essay has been published here.)

Out-of-body experiences explained... or are they?

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup (hereby released into the public domain)
of the original painting La Gare De Perpignan by Salvador Dali.

In my newly-released book, Brief Peeks Beyond, I dedicate a whole chapter to exploring the mainstream media's bias towards the metaphysics of materialism when reporting on scientific results. I illustrate this with examples from research on consciousness, memory and psychoactive substances. My claim is that the media too easily errs on the side of materialism, with the net result of hyping misinterpretations of scientific observations. Even in cases where these observations contradict materialism, they are spun – sometimes shockingly – so to apparently confirm it. This constitutes a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle that renders the materialist metaphysics virtually immune to cultural criticism.

As it turns out, in the past couple of days another, perhaps less dramatic but nonetheless significant example of this has come to light. The Mail Online has published an article titled 'Brain scans reveal what happens during an out-of-body experience.' The article goes on to say that 'They have been interpreted as evidence of the existence of a soul and even life after death, but now scientists may have unravelled what is going on when people have out-of-body experiences.' It then claims that the scientific finding 'suggests abnormal brain activity may lie behind out-of-body experiences.' So here we have a mainstream media piece claiming that science may have finally explained out-of-body experiences (OBEs) in a reductionist way, consistent with the metaphysics of materialism. Alas, it would appear that the brain is the mind and all those OBEs that seem to show otherwise are perfectly explainable. But is this really a fair interpretation of what the article itself reports, when looked at critically?

First of all, let us recapitulate why OBEs have been considered an anomaly under the materialist metaphysics. During an OBE, a person is said to gain a point-of-view on the world that isn't consistent with the space-time position of her body. In other words, she can allegedly view the world as if she were out of her body. For instance, the person may physically be lying in bed in her house but witness events in another city as if she were present there. The credibility of any OBE report arises from the veridical details it may contain. For instance, if a person can accurately report details of a conversation taking place in another city – and assuming that tricks or lies can be discarded – during a time when the person was lying in her bed, then this is a veridical element that can be independently verified. In this brief essay, I am not interested in arguing for the validity of any specific veridical report – this has been done by many others in the literature – but simply highlight the incontrovertible fact that it is those veridical elements, whatever they may be, that legitimize OBEs. Therefore, any attempt to explain OBEs in a materialist, reductionist manner must either refute all veridical elements reported or explain, under materialism, how a person can correctly report events outside the range of the person's five senses.

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The study reported in the Mail Online does neither. As the article itself explains, what scientists did was to fit volunteers with special video headsets displaying images captured by a remote camera affixed to another person's head. This way, they created the illusion that the volunteer was experiencing the world from another person's point of view. The volunteer was then put inside a brain scanner where his or her brain activity was measured. As it turns out, the areas of the brain correlated with our sense of location in space displayed anomalous activity. Now stop and consider this critically: is there anything really surprising about this? If I am a volunteer and I get fitted with some unnatural headgear that artificially feeds me with the visual field of another person, in another location, of course my sense of location in space will be altered. The whole situation is highly anomalous and unnatural, how could my brain activity remain normal?

Most importantly, does this result explain the veridical aspects of an OBE? I blush to have to explain this: it was the scientists themselves, through the video headset and the remote camera, who gave the volunteers remote sensory access to another location in space. No volunteer had an actual OBE at any point in this study. Obviously, the question that needs to be answered to truly explain a veridical OBE is: how can people witness distant events when they are not fitted with video headsets linked to remote cameras? As such, this study doesn't provide any materialist explanation for OBEs at all. That the headlines suggest so is a rather blatant sign of materialism's virtuous cycle of self-reinforcement so generously enabled by the media; a sign of the materialist stigmergy, or 'bottom-up conspiracy,' discussed in Brief Peeks Beyond. Even the original scientific paper itself is clear regarding the scope of its conclusions. The authors write:
These results extend our understanding of the role of the posterior parietal and medial temporal cortices in spatial cognition by demonstrating that these areas not only are important for ecological behaviors, such as navigation and perspective taking, but also support the perceptual representation of the bodily self in space. (Summary)
In other words, the results simply show the role of certain brain areas in our internal representation of our own body's position in space. It has nothing to do with explaining the veridical aspects of OBEs, or even the origin of non-veridical imagery.

As I write in Brief Peeks Beyond,
the key insight here is how, through lack of rigor and misplaced enthusiasm, an entirely undemonstrated notion can be hyped by the mainstream media to the point of looking fully established. ... I suspect that many journalists feel safe to exaggerate if they’re backed by the clout of the mainstream metaphysics; what could go wrong, right? (Pages 82-83)