Dismantling idols: the current cultural inflection point

As recent events—culminating yesterday with the US election—dramatically show, we are at a major cultural inflection point in Western civilization; one that bears relevance to how we see the world and reality itself. The US election is by no means an isolated event: the European Union has been in upheaval since the Greek debt crisis; last summer's Brexit would have been unthinkable only ten years ago or so; Brazil has impeached and removed from office a just-re-elected president; and Germany continues to wrestle with its national values and identity as it deals with the refugee crisis. These are but a few examples. The important point is that these and other events reflect a deeper dynamics: a profound shift in the ethos of the Western mindset, with significant implications for the future of our mainstream worldview. It is this shift—and the opportunities and risks it carries with it—that I want to explore in this brief essay, for it potentially bears relevance to the deepest philosophical questions of our time.

What follows is neither an expression of political opinion nor an attempt to judge the character or qualifications of any individual. A deeper phenomenon is unraveling here and focusing on individual personalities would detract from it. Moreover, although I still use discernment to exercise my right to vote, over the years I have grown increasingly unable to identify with any particular political position. So any attempt to read a political message into what follows is illegitimate. My invitation to you, instead, is to take a step back and contemplate a deeper pattern that transcends politics.

People have become severely critical of the mainstream. They no longer swallow the consensus narrative—still generously doled out by the media and leading personalities—unthinkingly. Mind you, this is a significant change. Not long ago, media-orchestrated cultural consensus was the norm and anybody breaking ranks with it was liable to be seen as either a crank or a zealot. Nowadays, divergence from the mainstream seems to have become the new mainstream. It has been culturally legitimized. Perhaps the Internet and the rise of social media have enabled this shift in attitude but, explanations aside, what matters is that the shift is here.

If this sounds cliché or trite to you, then I am not managing to express myself clearly enough. Indeed, I remember that during my own youth (not so long ago, after all!), it took a lot of strength of personality and self-confidence for someone to genuinely hold—in their heart of hearts—a view or belief that outright contradicted the mainstream narrative. By and large, people felt insecure about diverging, doubting their own intuitions as unreliable and insignificant in view of the overwhelming weight of the cultural narrative under which they lived. The contrast with today's cultural ethos is remarkable. Take millennials, for instance: their felt reality is the individual's own worldview. They are insensitive to packaged narratives and feel no need to conform. Although the old guard may see this as a dangerous shift towards individualism, authentic community can only arise from the cooperation of individuals who are, first and foremost, aware of and honest to their own individual views. Otherwise, what would pass for cooperation and community would simply reflect the synchronized behavior of programmed drones. What kind of contribution can one make to the community if one is not honest with oneself first?

In my book Brief Peeks Beyond, I made the case that physicalism—a.k.a. materialism in the ontological sense—is kept in place by the strength of the mainstream cultural narrative, as embodied in the media personalities that pooh-pooh any diverging view. Moreover, it is the ubiquitousness of the mainstream that hides sound alternatives to physicalism. As such, by breaking the mainstream idols and questioning their authority, the cultural shift taking place right now may provide the best opportunity we've had in generations for a genuine overhaul of our collective understanding of the nature of reality. The people's ability to question the mainstream is a necessary prerequisite for a transition to a truer worldview. And whether we agree or disagree, like or dislike, rejoice or despair at Donald Trump, the Brexit, the upheaval in the European Union, etc., these events show—beyond any shadow of a doubt—that the mainstream narrative is no longer an overwhelming power in the culture. The system has become vulnerable and can be kicked out of local minima, which creates the conditions for both catastrophe and progress. While the potential for catastrophe needs no elaboration, missing the opportunity for progress would be a pity.

On a more somber note, recent developments also seem to show an increasing disregard for facts in Western culture. If the critical impetus that leads us to doubt the mainstream narrative goes unchecked, we may overshoot and start seeing everything—even facts—as questionable narratives. Naturally, there simply are such things as facts. It is imperative that we, as a culture, preserve our ability to distinguish between story and observable fact, lest we replace reality with our own paranoid fantasies. Whilst it's entirely possible to make choices based on fantasies, the consequences of these choices tend to manifest themselves in the real world, where they actually hurt. For instance, it's one thing to denounce physicalism, a philosophical interpretation of scientific observations; but it is another thing entirely to disregard the scientific observations themselves. It's one thing to question the authority of mouth-pieces who co-opt the clout of science; but it's another thing entirely to disregard science itself as a method for unveiling the factual behavior of nature. The legitimate drive to destroy idols must be limited to dismantling stories, not disregarding facts. Doing the latter is stupid by definition and also a sure path to short-term annihilation.

We have a narrow and dangerous road ahead. It must be traversed if our understanding of reality and ourselves is to come closer to truth. But the same critical impetus required to break away from mainstream delusions can lead to destructive paranoia. Finding the correct balance is the challenge now incumbent upon us.

Realities of academic publishing

Source: Wikipedia.

As some of you know, I have been busy for a few months now writing and revising nine academic papers, which together provide what I believe to be an unprecedentedly complete and rigorous formulation of ontological Idealism. The idea is to sharpen my arguments by exposing them to thorough peer-review. Of the nine papers, three have already been accepted for publication (one of which is already published), one is going through a major revision, and other five are still in initial peer review.

I have had mixed experiences with reviewers so far. On the positive side, one of the three accepted papers has been much improved by critical and extremely thoughtful reviews at SAGE Open, a journal I now consider a prime example of high professionalism in publishing. I also had a rejection by Neuroscience of Consciousness that was worth more than an acceptance: although my submission was considered not to match the journal's focus, its editor nonetheless provided me with extraordinarily detailed and insightful feedback, which has been extremely helpful (thank you Anil Seth!).

There have been less fortunate examples, though. Another paper of mine was rejected by AIMS Neuroscience on the basis of a single reviewer report, whose opening paragraph I quote below (Context: the reviewer is answering the editor's invitation for him to review my submission):
Thank you for your invitation. However, I must decline it due to the lack of time. I am currently much occupied with writing my thesis and conducting research in a rural area. Nevertheless, I would like have some comments only for the abstract itself, although it is definitely not suitable to write as such.
Yes, this is a direct quote from the reviewer report on the basis of which my submission was rejected: it was a comment on my paper's abstract alone. The actual paper wasn't even read after two months of review, which the reviewer openly admitted to. So I guess the whole thing speaks for itself. (Note: a revised form of this very paper has now been accepted by another journal.)

There is one journal, however, whose treatment of my submission has made me feel so disrespected that I want to share details with you. The journal is Metaphysica. Before submitting, I contacted the editors with some questions, in order to decide whether I wanted to submit to them at all. Here are the main parts of the exchange that ensued.

On the 15th of August 2016, I wrote:
Dear editors,
This is just a brief question: I have a manuscript that I hope to publish at the latest by January 2017 under a Gold open access license, so to also include it in a book project scheduled for 2017. ... Therefore, my question: how long do you think it would take you to come to a decision, taking into consideration that we are now in the middle of the summer holidays?
Kind regards, Bernardo.
I got the following reply rather promptly, which was encouraging:
The review process starts immediately but during this holiday time it may need 4-6 weeks (usually 3-4 weeks).
I then proceeded to make my submission in the very same day, i.e. still the 15th of August:
This is excellent! Please find attached my submission, in both .docx and .pdf formats, as per the instructions on the website. Please consider this email a formal submission to Metaphysica.
After more than 7 weeks, I had heard nothing back from them, and sent the following email on 5 October 2016:
This is just a quick message to inquire if the review process is going according to plan. It's been over 6 weeks since my original submission, so I thought I'd ping you.
Finally, today (22 October 2016) I got the following message from another editor of the journal (some young postdoc based out of Miami):
Thank you very much for your submission to Metaphysica. I just forwarded your paper to our referees for review. Please note that this may take up to three weeks.
Surprised and disappointed that my submission had apparently been ignored for 9 weeks, despite my upfront emphasis on timing and their promise to complete the entire process in maximum 6 weeks, I replied as follows:
My initial reaction to your email below was one of disbelief. Allow me to explain. I made my original submission to Metaphysica on Monday, Aug 15, 2016 at 8:09 PM. That is over 9 weeks ago. In my interaction with Editor-in-Chief ..., I had been promised review time of 4 to 6 weeks, which largely motivated my submission to the journal. ... To receive an email from Metaphysica now, after 9 weeks since submission, as if I had just submitted my manuscript ... is, to say the least, disorientating and disappointing to me. As a matter of fact, I consider this outright unacceptable editorial practice that comes at a high price to me in the currency I consider most valuable (time). What on Earth has happened here? I look forward to clarifications.
The reply followed quickly:
Some times things are not that fast, I am afraid. It is so specially when reviewers are on holidays. I hope you understand.
And I do, but the problem is that I submitted the paper to this journal largely because they told me, upfront, something very different. You see, when an author submits a manuscript to a journal, he is required to refrain from submitting to any other journal while the manuscript is under review, without any guarantees that it will ultimately be accepted. So making a submission is a major investment of time. Given Metaphysica's initial encouragement of my submission and promise to review in maximum 6 weeks, I felt either neglected or cheated. So I answered:
Normally I'd certainly understand. I just regret having been told something very different in the beginning. At this sta[g]e, however, sticking to Metaphysica is the fastest option for me ..., so let's proceed. I do count though on the 3-week timeframe for a decision.
The email above was sent at 1:12pm CET today, which works out to 7:12am Miami time. Just 13 minutes later, and about 9 hours (over night, Miami time) after I was told the review process would take 3 weeks, I received this from the young postdoc who co-edits this journal:
With regret, I must inform you that your submission cannot be accepted for publication in METAPHYSICA: International Journal for Ontology and Metaphysics. Please find below the referee’s report.
Reviewer 1
I recommend rejection because the paper does not present sufficient quality for the journal.
The above is the complete reviewer report. I did not edit or shorten it; this is all there was to it.

Apparently, a complete review of a 9000+ word manuscript had somehow been started and completed overnight! What a sudden jump in efficiency for a journal that sat on my manuscript for 9 weeks. I invite you to ask yourself—on the basis of the factual story I just related above—what has actually happened here and to consider the level of professionalism displayed. Whatever the case, the end result is that submitting to Metaphysica has been a costly waste of time and energy for me. It will delay an entire book project.

Having returned to academic publishing after a several-year absence has been a very mixed experience for me. Those nine papers have been ready for a couple of months now, and could already be publicly available in book format had I chosen not to publish them in academic journals first. Yet, experiences like those I had with Neuroscience of Consciousness (which rejected my paper but added so much value to it!) and SAGE Open motivate me to continue. Others, like those with AIMS Neuroscience and Metaphysica, are profoundly discouraging and make me feel highly cynical about the professionalism of today's academic publishing.

My original intent has been to publish all nine papers in academic journals before collecting them in book format, with an added, overarching storyline to tie them all together. I am uncertain whether I will persist with this plan or simply give up on academic publishing. I guess my decision will ultimately depend on my experience with other journals in the coming few weeks.

Upcoming Sages & Scientists event

I’m excited to join Deepak Chopra and 30 other experts in Los Angeles, California for a 3-day symposium where consciousness and science meet. At Sages & Scientists we will explore life’s deepest mysteries and seek answers to its biggest questions in an effort to further understand ourselves, one another, and the universe. Join me as we discover new ways of understanding consciousness and delve deeper into the true meaning of human existence. I hope to see you there!


Key quotes from Part III of More Than Allegory

Dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy.
Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.
And now closing the series, here are the key quotes of Part III of my newly released book More Than Allegory. I hope these quotes can give you a fair taste of the book! Have fun.
‘And there I finally was, comfortably but firmly strapped to a customized recliner made to perfectly accommodate my body shape. … I knew that the complex and rather large rig around my head was about to kick into operation. … I took a deep breath to try to relax and—as instructed—began counting down from ten. At around seven, I already knew that nothing would ever be the same again…’ (The Explorer, p. 146) 
‘The alleged headhunter’s name was Sophie. Disarmingly attractive, … she was the key recruiter of a large, massively well-funded, yet completely stealthy project initiated by an unacknowledged club of (former) corporate leaders and high-net-worth individuals. Some would call this club a secret society, but the conspiracy connotations are totally inapplicable. I will refer to it simply as “the Club.”’ (The Explorer, p. 148) 
‘The Club’s assets thwarted the budget of some small nations. Through third-party investment funds they controlled, the Club financed several external projects. … Their key project, however, wasn’t external: it was supervised directly by the Club’s leaders and carried out mainly in Club-owned premises. Its codename—for reasons I never really understood—was “Trilobite.”’ (The Explorer, p. 149) 
‘Originally inspired by the psychedelic revolution of the 1960’s, the Club had set up Trilobite to find more effective and controllable methods for accessing what was described to me as ‘transcendent realms.’ I once asked the project’s Chief Scientist whether these were actual realities or just otherwise unconscious mental spaces. He replied by asking me, rather rhetorically, what the difference between the two was.’ (The Explorer, p. 150) 
‘Through exhaustive and unbelievably expensive trial and error over many years, project scientists had converged on a … technique that they called ‘the Recipe.’ It entailed three different elements: a carefully coordinated series of intra-venous infusions; … a programmed series of E.M. pulses at specific locations of the subject’s brain; … and brain function measurement technology to monitor the subject’s neural activity during the trance.’ (The Explorer, p. 153) 
‘Your confusion arises from a fundamental inversion: it is your head that is in your mind, not your mind in your head. This realm is indeed entirely within your mind. But so is your ordinary waking reality, your body included. Both realms are mental worlds unfolding within consciousness at all times. The act of focusing your attention on one particular realm obfuscates the others.’ (The Other, pp. 161-162) 
‘When you dream at night, the objects you see in your dreams do not correspond to a world outside your mind. … Yet, dreamed-up water can get you wet and make you experience cold within the dream. … Whether this is the case or not depends merely on the particular rules of cognitive association that govern the dream. … In ordinary waking reality, you call the applicable rules … the “laws of cause and effect.”’ (The Other, pp. 164-165) 
‘It’s true that all reality is in your mind, but the “your” here does not refer to you as an individual person; instead, it refers to your true nature as impersonal mind. … [So] the universe unfolds in your mind. It’s just that your mind is not only yours; it is also my mind, the neighbor’s mind, the co-worker’s mind, the cat’s mind, the ant’s mind, etc., since we all share the same instinctive “I” feeling.’ (The Other, pp. 167-169) 
‘Whatever I have never been asked about by a self-reflective cluster of mind-at-large like yourself, I know only in potentiality. Think of it as the light of a match: until you ignite the match, its light exists only in potentiality. … But when you ignite the match, its light becomes actualized. Only then can it be seen. My knowledge is like the match: it exists complete, but only in potentiality, until you or someone else asks me about it.’ (The Other, p. 172) 
‘Upon coming round in the laboratory, I found Sophie starring me in the face. Her beautiful big eyes, full of anticipation, screamed out the question: ‘So?! What has he told you this time?!’ Behind her, several nurses and technicians pretended to busy themselves with their usual chores, secretly paying attention to what I had to say.’ (The Explorer, p. 175) 
‘The belief system that governs ordinary reality is like a collective instinct: it’s an automatism unreachable by lucid reasoning. … You cannot think about the mental processes that underlie and give rise to your instincts. You can only attain lucidity of the instincts’ effects, not of their source. Likewise, humankind cannot change the rules of cognitive association whose reflection is the laws of nature.’ (The Other, p. 180) 
‘space-time allows you to mentally “spread out” simultaneous [mental contents] … thereby rendering their links … treatable by the intellect. [However,] all associative links are simultaneous, overlapping mental evocations. They do have structure, but this structure doesn’t inherently span time or space. Instead, it is determined simply by which mental contents evoke which other mental contents.’ (The Other, p. 186) 
‘To create a particular realm of mentation—which you might call a “world,” a “universe,” or even a “reality”—two steps are required: … a belief system must congeal in a first group of adjacent layers of cognition; then, in a second group above and conditioned by the first one, this belief system must be experienced from within. One experiences a belief system from within when one forgets that it is a belief system in the first place.’ (The Other, p. 189) 
‘What you call reality is a reflection of the first layer of your cognition that escapes your critical self-reflection. If you were to become lucid of the cognitive layers underlying all your beliefs—that is, if you could “look behind” all your beliefs—reality, as a standalone phenomenon, would dissolve. You would immediately realize, with a laugh, that you are making everything up.’ (The Other, p. 190) 
‘Belief, when experienced from within, generates a reality. Looking behind belief, in turn, gives away the secret and reveals the imaginary nature of this reality. Consensus reality is the belief you humans, as a species, don’t look behind.’ (The Other, p. 190) 
‘Mind-at-large has the innate predisposition to get drawn into its own imaginings. … Ideas expressing symmetry ... are particularly attractive at an intrinsic level. So as mind-at-large began conceiving of purely abstract symmetries—mathematical in essence—it became captivated by them. With the increasing commitment of mental energy that resulted, cognitive associations began to form spontaneously.’ (The Other, p. 192) 
‘It was the emergence of a self-referential loop of cognitive associations that created the first enduring reality, the first universe. In the case of your universe, your science refers to this moment as the “Big Bang.”’ (The Other, p. 193) 
‘The growing seductive power of the universe pulled mind-at-large further into it, like a child is pulled into a rich fairytale. [The] accelerating process could no longer be slowed down. … And so it was that mind-at-large punched through and entered its own imaginings with tremendous momentum. … The first entrance or protrusion of mind-at-large into your universe was what your science calls the origin of life.’ (The Other, pp. 195-197) 
‘There are two singular but analogous moments in the cosmological history of any universe: the first is when surging mental energy circulating in a self-referential loop forces it to blossom out into a tangle. The second is when surging mental energy circulating in the tangle forces it to blossom out into life.’ (The Other, p. 199) 
‘When you perceive the world around you through your five senses, you witness the mental activity of what your mythology calls God from an angle that isn’t accessible to God Himself.’ (The Other, p. 202) 
‘The deeper layers of mind-at-large do not experience the world the way you do. The experience of sense perception—vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch—is unique to the inside-out perspective. As such, God cannot see or hear the sun, the planets, mountains, rainbows, thunderstorms, etc. He does experience something corresponding to the visible sun, the planets, etc., but in a way qualitatively very different from yours.’ (The Other, p. 211) 
‘If the ordinary world around us suggests its reverse side—that is, God’s perspective—then the world is a symbol of something transcendent. It points to what God thinks and feels when conceiving the universe into existence.’ (The Explorer, p. 213) 
‘The sun has rich symbolic meaning. It represents something beyond its perceivable self. It’s a window into transcendence. The same applies to everything else: the planets, moons, thunderstorms, volcanoes, rocks, even specs of dust. They are all symbols of transcendence. The romantics were right!’ (The Explorer, p. 213) 
‘The world around you is a book waiting to be deciphered. Figuring out how to do it—that is, finding a suitable hermeneutics of the universe—has been the quest of poets, artists, shamans, mystics and philosophers since time immemorial. Only modern Western science, plagued by its materialist metaphysics, has chosen to dismiss the universe’s symbolic significance.’ (The Other, pp. 213-214) 
‘The vibrations of mind-at-large are themselves symbols of its own intrinsic—but forever elusive—nature. They reflect that which vibrates, as the notes produced by a guitar string reflect the intrinsic nature of the string.’ (The Explorer, p. 214) 
‘You have never experienced your death—the end of your primary sense of being—have you? And neither have you experienced other people’s deaths from their perspective, which is the only perspective that counts. In the now there is no death. Are you dead or alive right now? This is the only question that matters. Everything else is just stories you tell yourself.’ (The Other, p. 216) 
‘The direct experience of death is akin to waking up from a dream. One realizes that one was making the whole thing up all along. Moreover, one begins to experience the universe from the reverse side: instead of the sun, one feels the corresponding outpouring of love; instead of a thunderstorm, one feels what the thunderstorm had been symbolizing all along; and so on.’ (The Other, p. 217) 
‘Eventually, I could discern a seemingly human figure. He appeared to be dressed like a nineteenth-century stage magician, complete with tailcoat, black top hat, bow tie, magic stick and all. A thin, twisted moustache provided the final touch to his bizarre looks. The grin on his face evoked a mixture of affection and mistrust at the same time: a trickster for sure, but somehow affable.’ (The Explorer, p. 222) 
‘With no warning, the magician shook his stick and turned it into a semitransparent veil. … He then took a step forward, coming within half an arm’s length of me. My apprehension level skyrocketed. … Slowly, as if not to startle me, he reached around my head with both his arms—one on each side of my neck—and stretched out the veil behind my back. His grin became accentuated, as though he were very proud of what he was about to do.’ (The Explorer, p. 223) 
‘For some reason, the experience moved me to tears. Tidal waves of emotion welled up. I felt awe, love and gratitude of an intensity orders of magnitude higher than anything I had ever experienced before. I fell to my knees in a spontaneous, irresistible manifestation of overwhelming gratefulness. I was witnessing what I could only describe as a miracle.’ (The Explorer, p. 228) 
‘At bottom, the laws of classical physics are as whimsical as the regularities of any idiosyncratic dream; as quirky as the rules governing the brick world you visited, which had just as much internal consistency as your ordinary world. The only difference is that you are used to your classical physics.’ (The Other, p. 233) 
‘Your everyday world would also look fantastic and implausible to living beings from another reality. Like theirs, your world arises from a complex tangle of circular cognitive associations. If you could traverse the tangle all the way through, you would find out that there is no essential difference between … primary causes and secondary effects. Instead, you’d find that it’s a closed, self-generating system.’ (The Other, p. 233) 
‘The truth isn’t, and has never been, a secret. It isn’t locked away in libraries of secret societies. It has been told and retold in ten thousand different ways. … The problem is that efforts to disseminate it are often drowned out by the hysterical cacophony of our media. … Or worse: … discredited by an uncritical academic establishment that has come to confuse reason and empirical honesty with the metaphysical conjectures of materialism.’ (The Explorer, pp. 236-237)

Key quotes from Part II of More Than Allegory

Traveling the ocean of space and time (Texel, the Netherlands).
Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.
Continuing on from where we left it in the previous post, here are the key quotes of Part II of my new book More Than Allegory, where, amongst other things, I discuss the illusory nature of the ocean of space and time. I hope these quotes give you some healthy, wholesome food-for-thought for the weekend!
Could there really be such a thing as raw cognition without narratives? Was the mind of a newborn truly story-free, or was it simply in the process of weaving its first stories as it perceived the world for the first time? … Could anything—anything at all—be perceived without being couched in an explanatory narrative? (pp. 87-88) 
‘The intellect is an unstoppable narrative-making machine of unfathomable power. It constructs our entire world, like a cocoon that we end up inhabiting. In my search for the intellectual ideal of an “absolute,” I have only found my own limits.’ (Pollux, p. 88) 
The past is a mental, intellectual construct meant to give context to your present perceptions. There has never been a moment in your entire life in which the past has been anything else; I challenge you to find one. Again, I am not saying that this mental construct is false; I am saying that it is a mental construct. ... [Therefore,] all explanations are myths whose truth-value we assign subjectively. (p. 94-96) 
We imagine a future wherein we remember a past wherein we predicted a future that matches the future we are now imagining. From this tortuous intertwining of imaginings we conclude that the future and the past must exist, well, objectively, even though all the while we’ve never left the present. … What an amazing trick of conditioned cognition this is! Past and future are myths: stories in the mind. (pp. 98-99) 
The present is today, while the past is yesterday and the future is tomorrow. Yesterday is a memory and tomorrow is an expectation, so both exist only in mind. But today is really out there, isn’t it? Well, ... within today there is last hour, this hour and next hour. Last hour and next hour can only exist in mind. Only this hour is really out there. Or is it? Within this hour there is last minute, this minute and next minute… (p. 101) 
The present moment is the cosmic egg described in so many religious myths. … It is a singularity that births all existence into form. It seeds our mind with fleeting consensus images that we then blow up into the voluminous bulk of projected past and future. These projections are like a cognitive ‘big bang’ unfolding in our mind. They stretch out the intangibility of the singularity into the substantiality of events in time. (pp. 102-103) 
The cognitive ‘big bang’ is not a process unfolding in time. Rather, it’s a qualitative pattern of distribution of mental contents across the map of human cognition. This complete pattern exists now and only now. … Each of [its] mental contents is a particular reflection of the central singularity on the mirror of human awareness. (p. 103) 
The past and the future are thus projected images—symbols, icons—of the intrinsic, timeless attributes of the singularity [that we call the present moment]; of the intangible essences contained in the cosmic egg. There is nothing else the past or the future could consist of. Myths are the form taken by these symbolic projections of intangible essences. (p. 103) 
Existence only appears substantial because of our intellectual inferences, assumptions, confabulations and expectations. What is actually in front of our eyes now is incredibly elusive. The volume of our experiences—the bulk of life itself—is generated by our own internal myth-making. We conjure up substance and continuity out of sheer intangibility. (pp. 103-104) 
In reality, nothing ever really happens, for the scope of the present isn’t broad enough for any event to unfold objectively. That we think of life as a series of substantial happenings hanging from a historical timeline is a fantastic cognitive hallucination. (p. 104) 
Even the Christian New Testament hints at [Idealism] when John the Evangelist writes: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... Through [the Word] all things were made.’ ‘Word’ here is a translation of the original Greek Λόγος (Logos), which also means reasoning or thought. So through thought ‘all things were made.’ (p. 110) 
Ponder about this for a moment: just as John’s incarnated Logos makes all things, the cognitive ‘big bang’ resulting from human reasoning (logos) creates the substantiality of the universe across space and time through a trick of self-reference. (p. 110) 
The world we ordinarily experience is a mental creation. Its concrete form arises out of emptiness through cognitive self-reference, a process whose inherent circularity makes you believe that you were born in the world. But it is you, through your human thinking, who is creating the whole of it now; now; now. (p. 111) 
Clearly, our culturally sanctioned notions of truth are meaningless concepts, idols of delusion. We’ve been chasing ghosts, mirages conceived and maintained entirely in the human intellect through circular reasoning and projections. This delusion pervades the way we relate to each other and the world. (p. 112) 
Instead of contemplating our experiences in an open and self-reflective manner, trying to sense their symbolic meaning in a way analogous to how a therapist analyzes dreams, we continuously search for external references in a futile quest to determine their ‘validity.’ In doing so, we close ourselves up to reality and proceed to tirelessly chase our own tails. (p. 112) 
When we had unsettling dreams as children, our parents would try to reassure us with that notorious, fatidic statement: ‘Forget about it, it was just a dream!’ That was a seminal moment in the process of our entrancement. It was then and there that we began to learn that an experience is either bigger than ourselves—the ‘real world out there’—or so insignificant that it should be dismissed without a thought. (p. 113) 
‘It was just a dream’ is probably the most pernicious, damaging thing that good, well-meaning parents say to their children. It inculcates the notion that each and every experience is to be categorized as either nothing or other; that each and every experience must either be killed or exiled. By doing this, we surrender intimacy with our own lives and become estranged from ourselves. (p. 113) 
[We dismiss] the most transcendent moments of our lives and aspects of ourselves; precisely those that could offer us a passage—elusive and brief as it may be—to visit something beyond the ordinary human condition and sooth our existential despair. We have been educated to dismiss the natural paths to transcendence. (p. 115) 
Yes, there is no external, mind-independent reality to religious myths; not to a single one of them. But there is no external, mind-independent reality to anything else either. The only meaningful way to conceive of truth implies that truth is internal, not external. Realizing this is probably one of the most urgent and critical challenges humanity faces at the present historical nexus. (p. 115) 
The experiential bulk of human life is a collection of stories, myths. Whether we live in transcendence or existential despair is simply a matter of which type of myth—religious or deprived—predominantly composes our world. Whichever the case, we always live in a myth that can be neither confirmed nor disproven by reference to states of affairs outside mentation. (p. 117) 
The very essence of what it means to be a human being alive in the world is the linguistic hallucination that creates that world. There is valid information in the hallucination for the same reason that there is valid information in a nightly dream. Although the dream is entirely conjured up in mind, it does reveal—if interpreted properly—something true and significant about the dreamer. (p. 117) 
There are no external, mind-independent states of affairs. … One cannot hope to overcome this inherent subjectivity by crafting ever more refined models of reality, any more than one can hope to fly by crawling in ever more refined ways. No matter how strong one’s conviction is in one’s model of reality, the model is still mental. … One cannot pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. (p. 123-124) 
Explanations and predictions are symbols of the nature of mind. Some of these symbols—like the Big Bang of modern cosmology—are shaped to be consistent with our current, subjective models of reality. Others—like Brahman hatching from the cosmic egg—aren’t. But it is only their symbolic content that carries any significance, not their consistency with circular linguistic models. (p. 124) 
The symbolic similarity between the Big Bang of modern cosmology and Brahman’s hatching from the cosmic egg is striking. [However,] these two myths aren’t pointing at each other but at a third and ineffable element: the structure of human cognition in the present moment. The significance of both myths lies solely in how they symbolically portray what is happening in your mind now; yes, right now. (p. 125) 
Our own nature is clearly transcendent, for that which conjures up time and space through a trick of circular reasoning cannot itself be bound by time or space. (p. 126) 
One might [point] out that many religious myths promote the worship of external agencies: deities, angels, saints, etc. This may seem to contradict the idea that the myths point inward. [But] what seems to be the worship of external agencies is, in fact, a conversation with estranged aspects of ourselves through symbolic proxy. (pp. 127-128) 
Never before have we been in as dire a need of religious symbolism, liturgy and iconography as today. True religious myths negate the implications of delusions—implications that would otherwise obscure transcendence—helping us stay open to the mystery of our own nature and the possibilities it entails. This openness is, in fact, the true meaning of faith. (p. 129) 
True religious myths can help bring transcendence into our lives … in three ways: first, by helping us turn our gaze inwards to realize the truth of our own nature; second, by projecting symbols that cancel out the implications of deprived cultural inferences and abstractions; and third, by lifting us up to the edge of the ‘hole’ of cultural conditioning, from which grace can help us take the final step to freedom. (pp. 130-131) 
My ideal Church would be centered on liturgy. Its sermons would repeatedly tell the Christian myth in as evocative, nuanced and alive a manner as possible, not pass judgments. Confession would be a ritual of self-inquiry lovingly facilitated by sensitive and supportive clergy, not a trial. Churches would be wombs of warmth, safety, tolerance and unconditional love … not chambers of blame, guilt, shame or control. (p. 134) 
An individual mind is formed when a segment of mind-at-large collapses into itself, creating a point of dense, highly localized cognitive activity, [a] singularity. … Each living being thus corresponds to one among countless such singularities. … Traditional religious myths have symbolically described the cognitive collapse of a divinity as the formation of a ‘cosmic egg.’ (p. 135) 
The myths of explanations, predictions, past and future, when properly contemplated as symbols, provide a unique window into something ineffable and otherwise impervious to self-reflection. This may be an important clue to the very meaning of human life. (p. 141)

Key quotes from Part I of More Than Allegory

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.
To give you a taste of the messages in Part I of my newly released book More Than Allegory, I've collected below some key passages lifted right out of the book. I hope you find these insightful and enjoyable!
Never before in history has a civilization been so desperately devoid of context and perspective. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where should we go? What’s the point of it all? We feel lost because we are unable to take seriously the maps that could give us directions. We can no longer take myths seriously because, after all, they are only myths. (p. 14) 
Our mind needs a code to translate consensus images into thoughts and feelings. Without it, there would be no bridge or commerce between outer and inner realms. … The translation code takes the form of a mental narrative we tell ourselves; a story that implies particular correspondences between outer images and inner feelings and ideas. The translation code is thus a myth. (p. 17) 
A deprived myth is not the same as an absence of myth. A deprived myth is one that favors narrow and lame interpretations of consensus reality, [making] life in the world seem futile and claustrophobic. But it is a myth nonetheless, because it entails an interpretation. Today, we don’t live in a mythless society. Our condition is much more tragic: we live in a society dominated by increasingly deprived myths. (pp. 19-20) 
A religious myth … is a story capable of lifting the experience of being from the confines of time, space, randomness and blind automatism. … In a life informed by a religious myth, nothing is ‘just so.’ Everything has a reason for being and a purpose to fulfill. Everything belongs in a bigger and timeless context. (pp. 23-24) 
Religious myths are much disregarded and belittled today. … Perhaps as a desperate, instinctive effort to compensate for this unnatural state of affairs, scientific myth-making is on the rise, as the latest multiverse cosmologies illustrate. But that’s a lame form of mythologizing: science’s blind devotion to the gods of chance and automatism condemns its myths to hollowness. (pp. 24-25) 
Science, as the exclusive domain of men in the nineteenth century, incorporated in its very fabric the adolescent male’s need to look tough. … The result is that contemporary science cannot acknowledge even the possibility of meaning and purpose … for real men and tough chicks face bleak facts. This isn’t skepticism but cynicism: an arbitrary commitment to the impossibility of something. (p. 26) 
Both cynicism and fundamentalism blind us to the full breadth and depth of religious myths. Consequently, we’ve lost our ability to experience the comprehensive way in which transcendence can envelop our entire existence. We now desperately lack context, perspective and purpose. (p. 27) 
The world as the mental activity of a deity that becomes lucid within its own imagination certainly isn’t a view you would expect to arise by mere coincidence all over the world. ... Somehow, peoples separated by half the circumference of the globe and thousands of years have, through their religious myths, arrived at specific, refined, surprisingly similar cosmologies. (p. 33) 
Religious myths are powerless if they aren’t seen as true. But unlike traditional cultures, we subject our mythical intuitions to the scrutiny of reason. Therefore, if our lives are to be colored by religious myths again, it is imperative that we rationally understand how and why they can be true. (p. 34) 
Underlying our contemporary attitude toward religious myths is the hidden but far-reaching assumption that all relevant truths about reality can be directly captured by the intellect in the form of language constructs. In other words, we take it for granted that, if something is true, then it can be said. … Yet, there is no reason to believe that language is sufficient to capture all relevant truths. (pp. 38-40) 
The depth, breadth and flexibility of the ancient obfuscated mind may represent a huge and untapped potential in every human being; a resource anchored much closer to the primordial truths of nature … than the later-evolved intellect. … Could we ease our modern anxieties and rediscover the meaning of life by tapping into this ancient umbilical-chord that keeps us connected to the ground of existence? (pp. 43-44) 
The evocative power and remarkable sophistication of so many traditional religious myths can only be attributed to their origin in the obfuscated mind, which intuits aspects of reality unreachable by the intellect. These myths weren’t thought through deliberately, but sensed. (pp. 44-45) 
To restore meaning to our lives, we must develop a close relationship with the transcendent truths symbolically unveiled by the obfuscated mind in the form of religious myths. … Establishing communication between the self-reflective intellect and our obfuscated mythical cognition can help us ease our modern anxieties. (p. 45) 
Many religious myths reflect a culture’s intuitive apprehension of transcendent aspects of reality. They aren’t merely roundabout ways to refer to something literal, but the most direct and accurate utterance of transcendent truths. A religious myth is symbolic—never literal— because it emerges from the obfuscated mind. (p. 46)
The symbolic religious myths produced by the obfuscated mind aren’t merely roundabout ways to refer to something literal, but the only pointers we have to a form of salvation. They aren’t less precise and redundant alternatives to literal explanations, but the only fair way to capture and communicate the transcendent aspects of reality. (p. 46) 
I thus propose that, if a religious myth resonates deeply with your inner intuitions and survives a reasonably critical assessment of its depth, then you should emotionally—though not intellectually—take it onboard as if it were literally true. … There is no better description of transcendent truths than the religious myth that resonates with your heart. (pp. 46-47) 
Because an intellectual inaccuracy is unavoidable whether we emotionally take the symbolism of religious myths literally or dismiss them, the lesser inaccuracy is the logical way to go. Transcendent truths cannot be grasped directly and explicitly, so rejecting religious myths for the sake of a non-existing literal alternative is simply irrational. (pp. 48-49) 
You will need your intellect to grant itself rational permission to step out of the way and make space for your wiser obfuscated mind to co-direct your relationship with reality. My attempt so far in this book has been to help you grant yourself this permission, allowing religious myths to color your emotional life without excessive intellectual judgment. (p. 49) 
Plausibility is key for the images used in any religious myth. And plausibility changes with the zeitgeist and the views of a culture. For the Uitoto, the idea of trees growing out of divine saliva is entirely plausible. For our culture, obviously it isn’t. Plausibility is important because it allows the intellect to relax in the possibility of truth. (p. 49) 
We need modern formulations of religious myths; formulations that use plausible contemporary images, more amenable to intellectual tolerance. … We need new images, new representations consistent with our contemporary knowledge and intellectual ethos. This is what I will attempt to achieve in Part III of this book. (p. 50) 
It is conceivable that the comparative study of religion … could help us recognize true religious myths by identifying the symbolic patterns typical of genuine intuitive insight. … However, as long as academia—plagued as it is by the deprived myth of materialism—insists on rejecting even the possibility of transcendence, the burden will remain on each of us individually. (p. 54) 
Consensus reality may be a form of symbolic language attempting to point at something else. This ‘something else’ may be trying to reach out to us by appealing to our interpretative capacities. It may be posing the question: ‘Here is consensus reality, the best representation of myself that I can produce. Can you figure out what it really means?’ … We may be nature’s best shot at coming up with the answer. (p. 59) 
Much of what we refer to as ‘the human condition’ is itself a deprived myth that, if abandoned, opens space for a spontaneous reconciliation with timelessness and boundlessness. In this particular sense, the traditions of myth and no-myth ultimately lead to the same destination through different roads. (p. 65) 
Both Advaita Vedanta (no-myth) and Christianity (myth) help ease suffering by enabling one to drop one’s futile struggle against reality. Advaita does this by dis-identification with the ego. Christianity, by surrender to a higher power. Indeed, this parallel goes beyond Advaita and Christianity alone. (p. 68) 
[The] uniquely human capacity [for self-reflection] seems intimately tied to our tendency to think of ourselves as discrete entities. … At the very moment that we become able to ‘stand outside’ our own thoughts and emotions, we also become able to ‘stand outside’ the rest of nature. … Whatever evolutionary pressure pushed [humanity] towards self-reflection also rendered it vulnerable to the myth of separateness. (p. 70) 
A potential pitfall of the no-myth traditions [such as Advaita] is the temptation to throw away the baby with the bath water: to reject, along with the myth of separateness, the value of self-reflection for interpreting the phenomenal world, simply because they seem to come together. (p. 70) 
Because we cannot derive meaning from the outer realm without interpreting it, by rejecting interpretative effort the no-myth traditions [such as Advaita] may also mislead us towards the conclusion that consensus reality is meaningless. (p. 70) 
The transcendent truth may only be able to express itself through the illusions it generates. ... If consensus reality is indeed an illusion, why does the illusion look and feel like this, instead of something else? What does this—in all its details and nuances—say about the fundamental nature of whatever is generating the illusion? (p. 71) 
A potential pitfall of the no-myth traditions [such as Advaita] is the failure to see that not only may illusions carry symbolic truth, they may embody the only possible expression of transcendence. Those who fail to realize this close their eyes to the clues that nature so laboriously makes available to us. (p. 72) 
The true value of self-reflection is not in answering, but in asking. … By progressively refining the way the riddle is posed—that is, the way the questions are asked—the intellect can nudge and guide the obfuscated mind toward increasingly more insightful answers. … The limitation of the obfuscated mind is that, because it lacks self-reflection, it simply doesn’t occur to it to ask the questions. (p. 74) 
Since answers to the ultimate questions of life and reality are always intrinsically transcendent, the only way to reduce their obfuscation is to frame them in the form of a religious myth. … Our myth-making capacity may be our key role in the dance of existence. (p. 76) 
Each time I went to a church and watched the faithful in prayer, I caught myself wondering how the Christian myth could have such a strong hold in the souls of so many otherwise rational people. … To simply dismiss the whole thing by labeling it ‘delusion’ would be—or so I felt—a lazy and unsatisfying way out. It would represent a puerile refusal to acknowledge an undeniable and rather remarkable psychosocial fact. (p. 79) 
My gaze got caught by the large crucifix above the golden shrine of the Three Kings. There was the figure of a man, nailed to a cross, in a dramatic depiction of great human sacrifice. At once something flipped inside me, like a sudden shift of perspective: I had gotten it. …That sudden epiphany confirmed the validity of the Christian myth to me and, simultaneously, shredded it to pieces. (pp. 79-80) 
I could only characterize this experience as serendipitous grace. Other than to say that the religious myth—by pointing—somehow helps create the conditions for the experience, I don’t know how or why it actually happens. I only know that it happens. [And when it does], the religious myth dissolves itself like clouds dissolve as they surrender their rain. (p. 81) 
A religious myth can create the conditions for a direct experience of a transcendent reality. If and when the experience actually happens, the myth dissolves itself. But once the experience is over, the religious myth remains an important link—a reminder—between ordinary life and transcendence. (p. 82) 
The very existence of religious myths reflects humankind’s archetypal quest for liberation. Yet, because of the elusive nature of truth, the successful truth-seeker needs to negotiate his or her way through a vast tangle of subtlety, nuance, self-deception and paradox. (p. 84)

GUEST ESSAY: Interpreting Objects

By Ben Iscatus

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, reviewed, commented on and approved for publication by Forum members. The opinions expressed in the essay are those of its author.)

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup of original artwork.

The publication of More Than Allegory (MTA) gives us new permission to see the objects apparently out there in the World as sacraments, in the sense that Romantic poets understood them — signs of God's inward grace, expressions of ideas in the mind of God, symbols which we might interpret in poetry or art. Mountains, streams, oceans, waterfalls, sunsets... The inner voice of the 'Other' in MTA (p. 215) suggests, for instance, that "the sun represents an outpouring of universal love, the mental energy that moves the world."

Or, to be darker, MTA encourages us to look at things in Jungian terms — that is, as expressions of the personal unconscious or the collective unconscious (which Bernardo calls Mind-at-Large), presented as objects of perception outside ourselves because they cannot be encompassed within our circumscribed minds, or because they are willfully ignored by us.

We should therefore be able to have a stab at interpreting our internally obfuscated issues, including what we are in denial of, by considering which objects in the world are becoming more numerous and then reflecting on them.

Looking around me, one thing I have noticed a huge increase in, is dogs. Dogs, you say? Are you serious? OK, so they're living objects. In the part of the world where I live (the UK), where people used to own one dog, they now own three. What is it, I ask myself, that dogs represent about what we lack in life? It's not hard to interpret, is it? For one thing, DOG is a palindrome of GOD, so for English speakers, there is an immediate clue. Dogs give us unconditional love, so we probably lack love in our lives.

So if dogs worship us, who or what do we worship? Err... cars? Cars are certainly on the increase — there are forecast to be 2 billion in use by the 2030s. We have cars for convenience of travel, to get us to work and to shop. But what else do they say about us, that we don't openly admit to? That we like to insulate ourselves from other humans (less public transport) behind toughened glass and steel, perhaps; that we're not very fond of interacting with strangers? Is all this mobility causing us to lose our sense of community?

It seems the rich surfeit of technological objects entering our lives might well reveal a creeping spiritual impoverishment. The twin camel humps of materialism and consumerism, our modern myths, may be too bloated to pass through the eye of the heavenly needle.

Let us explore this further. Take the increase in plastic waste. There will apparently be more plastic waste in the oceans than fish by 2050.

Now this is also easy to interpret — one of the synonyms for plastic is "trashy," and waste is trash too. So the plastic waste is telling us that our consumerist lifestyle is, doubly, well... you get the idea. The fact that it is hidden from us in the sea like our sewage is obviously meaningful, too.

What about aircraft? They're on the increase: there are constantly airliners flying overhead. Where is everyone going? On holiday? Happy days! But what does that tell us about putting down roots? What does it tell us about why we can't be satisfied with our local environment, where we live?

Television sets are on the increase, too. People often have them in the living room, their kitchen and their bedroom. My mother-in-law watches wildlife programmes on TV, but fails to see the goldfinches and blue tits in the garden; she can't hear the thrush outside in the beech tree. When it's suggested that she turn off the TV and sit in the window seat, her eyes glaze over.

Smartphones, too. Even people in abject poverty seem to be able to get hold of them. What do smartphones do? Ostensibly, they keep us in touch, offer entertainment, ease communication. But what do they reveal about us? As with TVs, we stare into a screen. Imagine a cartoon, where a man is staring at his smartphone, telling a friend that UFOs have been spotted in the area, while UFOs are actually at that very moment passing over his head.

Here is a poem I wrote that explores this issue:

The Funny Bird

‘Wow, look mum, there’s a funny bird!’
he shouted, so she must have heard;
she’s texting someone, head bowed down,
he turns around to see her frown —
and as he does the bird takes off,
its call like laughter seems to scoff
at dissonant and beeping tones
emerging from his mum’s new phone.
He points at it above his head,
displaying yellows greens and reds…
his mum makes one last finger push
and only then tells him to Shush!
The funny bird has jetted west,
where probably it’s got a nest,
perhaps a hole in some dead tree,
a secret curiosity;
but that won’t ever matter now,
the lesson has been learned that Wow!
is not applicable to birds,
they’re not the stuff of lyric words —
from this day forth they’re background noise
and Not! to be admired by boys.

So maybe we don't like the real world as it is now, or expect it to be spiced up and interpreted for us. Maybe we've become intellectually and perceptually lazy, thanks to ever-more glitzy technological manipulation of images.

Carbon dioxide is on the increase — now above 400 parts per million in the air we breathe. This is the insidious, invisible side of fossil fuel use. CO2 is not normally considered an object, it is not available to sense perception, but it is detectable by our technology, and its effects are certainly detectable to our senses: bleaching coral reefs, death on the beaches, and global climate change. But carbon dioxide as an issue is still obfuscated, because most of us either deny it is a problem or, even if we accept it, still continue to act as if it is not. That's a matter for the experts, we think! It's still too big and difficult an object (or objective) for us as individuals to take onboard.

People, of course, are also on the increase. Now why is God (Mind-at-Large) producing so many self-reflective humans, too many for a finite planet? Why is wildlife, the beautiful sacramental expression of God in action, correspondingly decreasing with many species rapidly going extinct? This is much harder to interpret, because we would have to see ourselves as objects rather than subjects. And therein, I think, lies the problem. We can't justifiably see ourselves as objects! We know, as men, that it is unacceptable to see women as sex objects, for instance. And to see others of a different race or culture as if they were objects, not human beings, is always wrong. It's been tried, of course: Hitler's death camps and eugenics policies were monstrous examples of that. All wars are testaments to that: the enemy is objectified as inhuman.

When Mind-at-Large circumscribes itself, self-reflective beings with limited perspectives are born. This is Bernardo's insight. We nevertheless remain very much part of Mind-at-Large, as whirlpools remain part of the river (to use Bernardo's analogy). Mind-at-Large is the Big Subjective, and we are small subjects, not objects. Whenever we attempt to manipulate ourselves as objects in our own drama, there are dire consequences: whirlpools get sucked down the drain.

Having learned this, we find ourselves unable to deal with the issue of overpopulation. The Chinese one-child policy led to unnatural sibling-free children and too many old people for them to support when they came of working age. Contraception is not always culturally acceptable, and in a long, active sex-life, will not always be available. Other policies of population control risk treating people as objects: abortions, letting people die, restricting their rights, withholding medical treatment... and choosing who lives and who dies.

Is this an inherent flaw in Mind-at-Large which cannot be fixed, or is it a consequence of what MTA calls our deprived modern myths?

Our culture now, since the advent of science fiction, has dreamed of traveling to the stars. This, we think, would solve the problem of overpopulation. And stars as objects do, in a sense, seem to be increasing in number: our telescopes reveal more galaxies all the time, getting ever closer to those that first formed after emerging from the 'Big Bang'. But because we only see them as "out there," their vast numbers make us feel smaller and more insignificant inside.

Our culture sees the planets, or wandering stars, as literally dead — not as gods of the Roman pantheon or as astrological principles ruling our lives. We no longer see the fixed stars and constellations as representations of mythical Greek heroes. Stars as objects have no transcendent truth for us: they are literal balls of gas, distant suns. As such, they must remain literally out of our reach. That is what the stars are saying to us now: our bottom-dwelling myths have confined us to a small planet in a vast cosmos. In this context of belief in only literal truths and literal objects, Mind-at-Large is powerless to grant us our wishes of salvation in the heavens.

Copyright © 2016 by Ben Iscatus. Published with permission.

GUEST ESSAY: Metaphysics from Beginning to End - The Perennial View

By Peter Jones

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, reviewed, commented on and approved for publication by Forum members. The opinions expressed in the essay are those of its author.)

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


This metaphysical essay is a summary of the issues it addresses and not an attempt to properly explain or even attract the reader to the philosophy it endorses. Metaphysics is condensed into four short propositions and if the general discussion were omitted to leave just these propositions and their definitions the substance of it would be unchanged. The discussion is explanatory and hopefully lends the propositions plausibility but is not structural.  The idea is to condense and simplify and has more to do with setting the agenda for a discussion than holding one.
The reason for this approach is simply that few people adopt it. A sceptical philosopher approaching these issues from the outside looking for an easy and quick way to grasp what mysticism or ‘Perennialism’ says about the world that might be relevant to them has little chance of success without years of work. The chances of stumbling across a comprehensible summary of the issues is negligible. The summaries are there if we know what to look for but if we know what to look for we probably have no need of them.    
The four propositions presented could hardly be made simpler yet each can stand considerable study, while the fourth takes us beyond study entirely.  The difficulty of the claims they make may seem to be intellectual and to some extent it is, but the real difficulty would be their profundity and the problem of having to work so close to edge of reason.  We do not stray beyond the edge here but stop just short in order that the issues may be judged by logic and reason and any discussion remains within bounds of what these days is commonly called, for reasons that are not clear to me, ‘rational’ philosophy. The best way to read it might be to leave aside any attempt to reach an understanding of the implications and ramifications of what is being said and to address the issues as they are here, briefly and in isolation, not extending the analysis beyond that undertaken in the essay, since the only important issue would be the truth or falsity of the propositions. If they are true then metaphysics is easy to solve and we can make sense of the Buddha’s dismissal of metaphysics as a waste of our time. If we are a monk seeking enlightenment confident of the possibility of ‘salvation’ and knowledge then this would be an efficient approach. If we are a rational philosopher who has no intention whatsoever of believing any such nonsense then a study of metaphysics would be utterly vital. There would be no other way to clarify the philosophical and scientific implications of the teachings of the enlightened masters.   
I believe that any attempt to properly connect Science and Religion and make them relevant to one another must depend on Metaphysics. When Whitehead characterises commonplace Christianity as ‘a religion in search of a metaphysic’ he states a vast problem that renders Religion incomprehensible and irrelevant to Science. It need not be a vast problem but it will remain one for as long as Science goes on believing that Religion means commonplace Christianity and is thus still in search of a metaphysical basis. For this reason I would lay the blame for the war between Science and Religion on Philosophy as practiced in the Academy, which has not done its sums, leaving the combatants with no means of settling their differences but also unable to do each other much damage.  Religion is not in search of a metaphysic even if some forms of it are, but its logical scheme is not often explained in a way that a strictly discursive or ‘scholastic’ philosopher visiting the Land of Woo would be likely to comprehend. There may be a good reason for this and such an explanation may be impossible, but here is another attempt.   
More than anything the essay is intended to counter the astonishing view expressed in the short preface to the Blackwell Guide to Metaphysics, (2002 edition, Ed. Richard M Gale), which includes this remark. 
It is not an accident that none of the included essays attempt to say what metaphysics is, to describe the methods for doing it and the rules or criteria for assessing the success of a metaphysical theory. For all such metaphilosophical attempts have failed miserably.
Poor workmen blame their tools. This essay would not fit into any such guide and rejects point-blank this undemonstrable and pessimistic characterisation of metaphysics.  The guide describes the metaphysics of the Academy and does us a service by making clear just what a mess it is in but it makes no criticism of metaphysics as practiced beyond the Academy. Like commonplace Christianity the Academy is in search of a metaphysic. The Perennial Philosophy is not in search of a metaphysic. It sorted out metaphysics long ago.


Metaphysics is usually considered to be an immensely complex area of study as well as being dull and pointless. Yet it is the study of first principles and these cannot be complicated. It is not even clear that there can be more than one of them. Metaphysics is the study of the world by ‘reduction’ or at the most general level where ‘reduction’ clearly implies a progressive shedding of complexity. Accordingly, we would not expect metaphysics to be complicated, just conceptually and psychologically difficult. Metaphysical questions are usually capable of being understood by anyone over the age of twelve and if the professionals make the subject impossibly complex then this cannot be because they are on the right track.      
The proposal here would be that metaphysics is profoundly simple when examined at the level of first principles, the level at which it must be examined, just as we would expect, and, further, that at this level it can be solved with a single sword-stroke. The problem is only that making sense of the solution would be a very different matter and could take a lifetime or more.  Worse, if it is correct then to understand it fully would be to understand Reality and Existence fully, and this could never be done by studying theories and logical schematics. This difficulty need not be an obstacle to us in formal metaphysics, however, since once we have defined our terms we are concerned only with analysis. Few people understand E=Mcand fewer still the phenomena to which these letters refer but we do not doubt that it is a correct theory and safe prediction. Comprehension and plausibility could ever only follow from an unpacking of the simple global view presented here into a more complex and developed theory capable of addressing the details and of showing itself to be capable of dealing with them.  The details, however, are not where any solution to metaphysics will lie.  A solution must be general, global, resting on principles that can be applied wherever and whenever we meet a metaphysical problem, and it must be very simple.
The approach we are taking here avoids the chaos into which metaphysics usually descends when it begins by examining particular philosophical problems prior to gaining a clear overview of the field.  The biggest mistake that can be made in metaphysics, it seems to me, would be to attempt to solve its problems one at a time.  This would be to miss the whole point of the game. Metaphysics is the board-room of knowledge where total breadth of vision is not optional. To deal with the details of the puzzle we must be able to see the picture on the box and cutting it up into fragments before studying it as a whole would be an odd thing to do. Metaphysics is the search for a general theory or ‘theory of everything’ and for this we must fly high above the landscape of knowledge looking down at the grand picture, always remembering that we are still in it. 
Anyone who has spent half an hour wrestling with a few metaphysical dilemmas will have gone some way towards verifying the situation in which metaphysicians invariably find themselves.  The situation is this. If we were to make a list of metaphysical problems it could be arranged in a binary form as two columns where every theory in the left-hand column would be paired with a counter-theory in the right-hand column.  Note that none of these would be ‘theories’ in the scientific sense of this word, just isolated conjectures on local problems. These contradictory and complementary pairs would include all the famous ‘isms’ such as Materialism-Idealism, Internalism-Externalism, Theism-Atheism, Freewill-Determinism, Dualism-Monism and so forth,  and then One-Many, Mind-Matter and so on, and any other contrasted pairs of metaphysical views such as the view by which space-time must be either a continuum or a series of points, the view by which the space-time world must be real or unreal, the view by which the ‘self’ is either real or unreal, the view by which ethics are either subjective or objective and so forth. These would be the well-known horns of the many ancient and venerable dilemmas that it is the task of metaphysics to resolve.   
This list of paired metaphysical conjectures would be a long one but we would not need to examine it closely for a global solution. It is well-known that that none of these pairs of counterposed conjectures work. This would be the motive for logical positivism, mysterianism, dialethism and various other arguments for abandoning metaphysics as hopeless. It would be the reason why our dogmatically anti-esoteric academic philosophy makes no progress from century to century and why nobody expects it to do so, for the undecidability of all these pairs of selective conclusions is the entire excuse.  Anyone who pursues a metaphysical question with a little perseverance is certain to end up facing an impossible choice between two demonstrably absurd theories.  For many questions this problem arises as soon as we ask it. 
Let us not ignore this well-known fact as is the inexplicable practice in professional philosophy but take it on board.  By doing so we can massively simplify the issues.  Presented here are four propositions which are global, truly metaphysical, and that condense a great many issues and claims into very few words. They take us from the beginning to the end of metaphysics. The end of metaphysics would be mysticism, where analysis and theory must turn to empiricism, experiment and practice, but we need not go beyond formal or speculative metaphysics in order to judge the plausibility and significance of these statements or judge whether they would work as a solution for metaphysics, subject to an investigation of their wider implications.

Proposition 1:  The Universe is reasonable

Definitions: As this is a metaphysical discussion the term ‘Universe’ would mean ‘Reality’, ‘Cosmos’ or ‘Everything’ such that there would be no plural.  The term ‘reasonable’ here would mean that a true explanation of the universe would be consistent with Aristotle’s ‘laws of thought’ and rules for the dialectic, thus with the way human beings usually think.       
Discussion:  This proposition states that a true description of the universe would not require a modification to the laws of the dialectical logic described by Aristotle nor ask us to abandon our usual way of thinking. There would be no true contradictions. The universe would not be paradoxical, logically absurd or terminally incomprehensible. Omniscience, were we ever to achieve it, would not cause us cognitive dissonance. The universe would make sense in principle even if it might be extremely difficult to make sense of it.    
We can read P1 as an axiom or a factual claim. Usually philosophers adopt this ‘reasonableness’ proposition as a necessary starting assumption for analysis and then go on to assume, in addition, that it must forever remain no more than an assumption.  We must start in the same way but we need not go on to make the second assumption.  We can interpret P1 as a theoretical axiom, a basis for a methodology or as a statement of intent, but it is on our list of factual propositions because it can be withdrawn as an axiom and established as an analytical result from a study of the other three propositions. 
One reason for beginning with P1 would be to make it clear that the approach we are taking to metaphysics here is essentially rational and grounded in reason. It leads us to the view of the Upanishads, the Buddha and Lao Tsu, admittedly, this cannot be helped, but it makes no ‘appeal to mysticism’, miracles or necessary ignorance along the way, or to any privileged knowledge. Our four propositions are strictly metaphysical. The common idea that there is some fatal inconsistency between logic and mysticism such that any ‘rational’ philosophy must exclude the possibility that the Perennial Philosophy is true is a hang-over from the past and cannot be justified by any evidence or sound argument. In this internet age, with so many fabulous explanatory texts available on demand, it can reasonably be called a beginner’s mistake.  The correct approach would be to logically prove that a rational thinker must reject this philosophy, and to succeed in this project we would have to falsify one or more of the propositions listed here. There would be no other way to do it. The idea that the Perennial Philosophy, which here would be synonymous with ‘mysticism’ and ‘nondualism’, presents a woolly doctrine that is not a clear target for analysis is sustainable only if we do not do the analysis.      
Proving that Buddhism, Taoism and so forth are a lot of nonsense is just the sort of thing most of us would assume that professional philosophers get paid for doing. After all, they usually express strong views on these matters.  This is naïve. On average it appears that they very rarely think about these issues, preferring to endorse a communal fantasy as to what lies beyond the walls of the Academy. Colin McGinn’s book The Making of a Philosopher, in which he charts his intellectual development from teenager to tenured professor, offers us a useful and entertaining introduction to philosophy and I often recommend it, especially to young people. I do so sincerely here. I envy his communication skills and organised mind. It is also a very good illustration of what happens when we buy into the modern philosophy department’s idea of what constitutes intellectual development.  The tenured professor can no more solve a problem than the teenager, lost in a world where everybody believes that metaphysics is incomprehensible and that mysticism is nonsense. There is no proof of this or any discussion. It is simply assumed, as is the common practice, that the wise men and sages who created the vast literature of mysticism were liars and fools not worth studying or even mentioning.  It does not seem to occur to the inhabitants of the ivory towers that these two beliefs might be causally connected. For the sake of human society and what remains of life on Earth, and hopefully before it is too late, I would challenge professional philosophy to stop relying on entrenched opinions and hearsay and do the sums.  This alone could change the world for the better.  
We come to our second proposition. This would be the big one. It encapsulates the whole of metaphysics. For me it would be the most important statement that can be made in formal metaphysics and the most helpful for any understanding of it.

Proposition 2 - All positive metaphysical positions are logically indefensible

Definitions: The word ‘All’ here makes this a global proposition. It is an unequivocal statement about one entire class of metaphysical positions and takes no prisoners. A ‘positive’ position would be any one of the two extreme position we might take up on any metaphysical question, thus all of the ‘theories’ in the two columns we spoke of earlier. Synonyms would be ‘partial’, ‘extreme’ or ‘selective’.  A metaphysical ‘position’ would be our position on any metaphysical question. ‘Logically indefensible’ would mean capable of being reduced to absurdity in the Aristotelian dialectic by a demonstration that it gives rise to a self-contradiction.  Synonyms would be ‘unreasonable’ and ‘logically absurd’.  In ordinary conversation just ‘absurd’.      
Discussion: Kant states equivalently, with no proviso, ‘All selective conclusions about the world as a whole are undecidable’.  Why is this? It could only be because P2 stands up to analysis and must be true, unfalsifiable or both. There could be no other reason. Kant considers it demonstrably true. It follows that metaphysical dilemmas must always take the form of the question, ‘Would two plus two equal three or five’.  All we can say is ‘no’ and this solves the problem. Francis Bradley states, ‘Metaphysics does not endorse a positive result’ and feels no need to equivocate.  As an Absolute Idealist this would be his solution and explanation for philosophy and not in any sense a problem.  If he is correct then as formulated by the philosophy department metaphysical problems are intractable and will remain so forever.  The only approach it never adopts is that of taking the Buddha and Lao Tsu seriously and so it condemns itself for all eternity to the Sisyphusian task of trying to decide whether 3 or 5 would be the best solution for 2+2.  After two millennia of trying and failing it ought to be obvious that there must be another option and that our questions must embody a category-error. 
P2 was logically proved by the Buddhist philosopher-monk Nagarjuna in the second century CE for his exegesis of the Buddha’s cosmological scheme, placing Buddhist metaphysics on an explicable and unshakeable logical foundation. It is proved less formally by Bradley in his 1897 essay Appearance and Reality The stagnation of philosophy within the Academy would be incontrovertible evidence that whatever the success of their proofs their common conclusion is correct.  
With P2 we have identified the problem of metaphysics and can now solve it.

Proposition 3 - A neutral metaphysical position is logically defensible

Definitions: A ‘neutral’ metaphysical position would be a rejection of all positive positions. It represents a ‘Middle Way’ solution for the countless undecidable questions that arise when we do not reject all such positions. ‘Logically defensible’ would mean irrefutable in the dialectic and in accordance with the ‘laws of thought’. ‘Reasonable’ would be a synonym. It would be important to note that a neutral metaphysical position is defined here as a logical phenomenon and that as such it would belong fully in metaphysics as a testable theory, for this would be the whole point of it.  Although directly associated with the terms ‘Middle Way’, ‘Nondualism’, ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Perennial Philosophy’ these would refer to a doctrine that encompasses a great deal more than formal metaphysics lying largely outside the scope of a metaphysical essay.
Discussion: The idea of calling the metaphysical scheme of nondualism ‘neutral’ may be the only novelty in this discussion. The only other philosophical use of it I have noticed is by Charles Peirce and he uses it to mean something quite different.  Here it indicates that wherever a metaphysical theory or conjecture has a contradictory and complementary counter-theory we would reject both for a neutral position.  It would be a global application of compatibilism, a reconciliation of opposites and an un-breaking of symmetries. We would follow Lao Tsu, for whom the universe cannot be described as this or that in any respect.  
A neutral position has an explanatory reach that extends beyond properties and attributes, divisions and distinctions, describing a world that would extend not just beyond our physical senses but beyond the reach of our intellect.  Kant, exploring this idea in respect of psychology, concludes that that basis for our intellect must be a phenomenon that is ‘not an instance of a category’, thus a unity free of division and distinction. Plotinus calls this a ‘Simplex’. Peirce calls it the ‘First’.  Kant proposes that this phenomena would be the ‘proper subject for a rational psychology’.  Mysticism claims that it would be the proper subject for a rational psychology, ontology, epistemology and theoretical physics.  
P3 is perhaps the most complex on the list because establishing its truth would require a study of Aristotle’s logic, about which there is much confusion in philosophy.  There is insufficient space here to discuss this. The crucial point for now would be that a neutral metaphysical position would state there is no such thing as a true contradiction and no formal contradiction would arise for a true description of the world.  Contradictions would certainly seem to arise, and this would be why metaphysics must look beyond appearances in order to see past them.     
Metaphysics is the attempt to construct a systematic fundamental theory and anyone who examines the foundations of mathematics, psychology, physics, consciousness or indeed anything at all will sooner or later end up facing the same set of metaphysical problems. In the professional academic world, where the solution we are exploring here would normally be off-limits, there is as yet no fundamental theory of anything at all. There never can be one unless it is the one presented here since problems of self-reference will prevent the success of any competing theory.  It would be these ancient and perennial problems of self-reference that a neutral metaphysical position uniquely allows us to overcome.   
A systematic theory requires an initial axiom on which the structure can rest and from which the truth and falsity of the theorems in the system can be derived. The axiom I would choose is Proposition 4.

Proposition 4: The Universe is a Unity  

Definitions:  It would not be possible to define the term ‘unity’ in a positive way since any such definition would have to be a denial of unity.  Such a definition would have to identify attributes and properties that this unity either has or does not have in order to speak of it, while a unity must be defined as having all properties and no properties, a perfect balance of opposites. It would be for this reason that for Lao Tsu the Tao ‘that is eternal’ cannot be spoken.  This would be a definition and not an appeal to ignorance. There would be two ways of conceiving or speaking of this phenomenon in respect of each potential attribute and also globally in respect having or not-having attributes, neither of which would ever be strictly correct.  A ‘Necker cube’ may be a rough sort of analogy, or perhaps an electron, albeit there can be no accurate analogy.  This would be an implication of the Yin-Yang symbol -- the two faces of a mountain, one in light and one in shadow, neither of which is the mountain -- and this implication would extend to all  attributes we might try to assign this unity such as temporality, freewill, extension, personality, existence or being.  This problem emerges in western philosophy as the ‘problem of attributes’, since a phenomenon that ‘has’ attributes obviously does not have them.  This paradox is clearly explained by McGinn, who struggled with it as teenager, in his aforementioned book.  A unity would be a fabulously subtle phenomenon in discursive philosophy, inconceivable and unspeakable. It would not even be correct to call it an undefined term since negatively it can be defined with great precision. It would not be this as opposed to that in any case. It would be the phenomenon that Kant believed to be the proper subject for rational psychology, a phenomenon that is not and cannot be an instance of a category of thought. Here we see that while metaphysics may be simplified beyond a certain point its simplicity becomes its principle difficulty. We are asked to look beyond intellect and analysis to being and identity.  
Discussion: A unity would not be a numerical ‘one’ although it would in a sense be ‘One’. The term advaita (not-two) as used for nondual interpretation of the Upanishads can be seen to deliberately avoid endorsing a numerical property. A unity may be defined negatively by denying it partial properties or divisions but even this approach can lead to misunderstandings. When we are told that a phenomenon is not ‘A’ we might assume that in this case it must be ‘not-A’ instead. This is how our minds work. Yet the assumption that the two horns of a metaphysical dilemma would exhaust the possibilities is a  demonstrable misuse of logic leading to the stagnation of academic philosophy and to the amazing sight of otherwise reasonable and intelligent scientists arguing at length for ex nihilo creation on the grounds that if there was not originally ‘Something’ then…. We have nowhere else to go but chaos and confusion once we reject the unity of the universe and take up extreme positions on this kind of question. Unless we assume that the universe is a unity the problems of metaphysics cannot make sense and must remain intractable. The evidence is there in the writings of every published philosopher. If there is only one truth then there is only way to solve metaphysics.   
A neutral metaphysical position, which denies the ultimate or metaphysical reality of all division, distinction and differentiation at a final level of reduction, would depend on an axiom of unity.  From this axiom we can derive the principle of nonduality, the principle on which rests the philosophical structure of Middle Way Buddhism and the entire philosophical plausibility of the phenomenon we call ‘mysticism’. If the universe is not a unity then the knowledge claimed by the mystics would be demonstrably impossible. How could Lao Tsu learn of the origin of the universe from looking inside himself otherwise? If metaphysics is the study of first principles then it must surely be the study of this one. If, as philosophers, we are not able to falsify this axiom and accompanying principle then we are not able to make a serious objection to the Perennial Philosophy and can have little reason to suppose it is false, for this axiom encapsulates the entire doctrine by implication insofar as it pertains to formal metaphysics.      
We arrived at P4 by a process of inference but we could have started with it.  Such is the coherence and logical integration of a neutral metaphysical theory - the close and ineluctable inter-connectedness of its theorems by logical implication - that many and possibly all of its true theorems can do duty as axioms.  When Heraclitus states, ‘We are and are not’ he unambiguously denies the truth of either of these extreme views and proposes the unity of the universe. When Lao Tsu states, ‘True words seem paradoxical’ he denies the ultimate truth of any positive or partial statement about the world as a whole and endorses its unity. When Nicolas de Cusa writes, ‘He lies beyond the coincidence of contradictories’ he is explaining the Unity of All that he has realised in his vision.  When the Sufi sage Al Halaj tells us that it would not be rigorous to state ‘God is One’ he is endorsing a doctrine of unity for which there can be no testifier set apart from God.  And so on. The authentic literature of mysticism never varies on this point.  It appears that people who follow the Oracles’ advice to know themselves and who persevere consistently discover the same thing, just as we all discover the same thing when we study metaphysics.       
There can be no possibility of making much sense of the term ‘unity’ here but it can be treated as a theoretical term yet to be fleshed out. It can be defined negatively by listing all the things that it is not and so it would work as a logical term for an investigation of its usefulness. G. S. Brown, whose book Laws of Form explains this nondual solution for metaphysics by way of a formal calculus, thus solving Russell’s famous and here immediately relevant set-theoretic ‘paradox’ or problem of self-reference, elsewhere likens this phenomenon to a blank piece of paper before the first ‘mark’ or conceptual distinction is made on it. This is where the world of opposites in which we live would originate, an emanation from, encompassed within or whatever the correct description would be, a phenomenon prior to number and form.


We could add to the list but just these four propositions carry us from scholastic philosophy, which would normally assume P1 and have P2 as a result, to mysticism, which depends on P3 for its external intellectual plausibility and for which P4 would be both an ‘empirical’ or experimental finding as well as a result of logical analysis. These propositions therefore transcend the philosophy of our western universities and enable us to solve problems that baffle professors. Logic and experience would coincide.  
A neutral metaphysical position can be defined so closely, like the state of a pencil balanced on its tip, that there can be no prevarication on metaphysical problems.  The danger of adopting this position, therefore, or the price, would be that one tends to becomes rather dogmatic about what is right and wrong when speaking about fundamental issues. One pulls out the principle of nonduality and this enchanted sword just chops through the problems.  Nobody else will have a competing solution that works since there would not be one.  Yet there would always be two ways to look at this. Neutrality means that no view would be entirely wrong, and so it would usually be possible to half-agree with any opposing view as capturing something of the truth.     
Hang on, I hear you say, this is all much too simple. Not long ago I would have agreed. When I came across this simple solution, at which time I knew approximately nothing about philosophy and truly nothing whatsoever about mysticism and thus thought I had invented my idea, I was immediately amazed that it had not become the orthodox solution for many problems in academia over time and that it is, rather, derided for being nonsense. It seemed so obviously correct. A decade and a half later and I am still amazed. Kant calls Scepticism the ‘scandal of philosophy’ but it is surely just a symptom of a much wider scandal. The problem seems to be a lack of interest. It appears that professional philosophy has given up on metaphysics and thus on the whole of philosophy.  The Blackwell Guide suggests that this is the case. 
A million books have been published yet it is rare to meet a paid-up member of the profession who has properly examined the claims made by the Perennial Philosophy.  How is this possible? It cannot be because it is somehow not part of philosophy.  It is called ‘philosophy’ because it gives an explanation of philosophy. It cannot be because this philosophy has been tested as a formal metaphysical theory and found wanting. It is called ‘perennial’ because it cannot be improved upon or falsified.  It is, after all, supposed to be true. It may be explained in ever renewed ways, as here, and must be, and as an explanatory theory it must be extended in all sorts of directions by examining its ramifications beyond metaphysics, but the metaphysical underpinning never changes. Surely it is about time that the academic community explained to the rest of us what exactly is wrong with this description of the world.  A summary such as this ought to provide a clear enough target for a refutation. 
Can we be sure that a neutral position is, in fact, the correct position to associate with the Perennial Philosophy? It seems to me that this is a question that each person must decide for themselves. Can we be sure it would work? This can be demonstrated so is not be a matter of opinion and need not be doubted. It is unfalsifiable and gives rise to no problems of logic.  Can it shed light on the relationship between Science and Religion? To me it would represent a complete solution for their mutual antipathy, a common position on which they could, if they chose, happily agree to stand, side by side, as two proven and practical methods for understanding the world around us and our place within it, and for realising the world within us and our place outside of it.
Copyright © 2016 by Peter Jones. Published with permission.