GUEST ESSAY: Reading Inside God's Brain
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All Rights Reserved. Reproduced with permission.
And the day has finally come! Today is the official publication date of my latest book, More Than Allegory. This means that if you purchase the eBook/Kindle edition now, you get instant gratification, since it will be downloaded immediately. To celebrate this special occasion, only a special blog post will do. And a very special one this is: here is the full introduction of the book, generously contributed by Prof. Jeffrey J. Kripal.
Reading Inside God’s Brain
By Jeffrey J. Kripal
I was so delighted when I found Bernardo Kastrup’s books. Actually, I didn’t find them. A mutual colleague working in Paris on medieval Christianity, Troy Tice, read us both and encouraged me to read Bernardo. He thought our books somehow spoke to one another, and that I would appreciate Bernardo’s books. Troy could not have been more right. I read all five of Bernardo’s previous books within a few weeks. Just gobbled them up.
I have thought about why I did this. I seldom read this many books by a single author. Indeed, at mid-life, I barely have time or energy to read at all. But this was different. I just dropped everything and read, and read, and read. Why? What did this author’s words awaken in me? What glowing ember did he spark back to life in this exhausted middle-aged professor?
Part of my enthusiasm was a double function of Bernardo’s philosophical precision and contemporary relevance. Obviously, here was a man who could think, but who could also speak to the digital age on its own terms and against its own obsessions and naïve uses of computer metaphors for understanding consciousness (more on that in a moment). Part of my pleasure was also a function of the fact that the author is an unapologetic idealist, that is, someone who is convinced that mind or consciousness is the fundamental nature of reality. I was very familiar with this position, but I had never actually met an idealist. They are terribly rare these days, at least in the academic circles in which I move.
Oh, I had read plenty of idealists within my own historical area of research, and Bernardo sounds a lot like the comparative mystical literature to which I have given my life—except that, unlike my historical sources, he answers my e-mails. There is Meister Eckhart, the great Dominican professor and philosopher whose sermons on the always-happening incarnation of the Word in the individual soul and the Now of eternity read like medieval versions of the books of Bernardo Kastrup (or Eckhart Tolle). But Meister Eckhart died almost seven hundred years ago. There is Ramana Maharshi, the great South Indian Hindu mystic of the immortal Self, or what I like to call the Same in us all. But he left us over sixty years ago. Much closer culturally (and digitally), there is Philip K. Dick, the great American science fiction writer who realized through an encounter with the Logos or Cosmic Mind that “reality is a giant brain” that appears to work like a binary computer code network . But he died over thirty years ago.
Dick is worth dwelling on for a moment here, as his weird thought eerily reflects the more precise and calmer books of Bernardo Kastrup. Both certainly share a digital or computer-based model of intellectual cognition. Both also understand that consciousness is not intellectual cognition. Here is a typical passage from Dick’s Exegesis, the 8,000 page private journal that Dick scrawled in the last eight years of his life after getting energetically zapped in the winter of 1974 by a cosmic Mind that he came to call “VALIS,” for Vast Active Living Intelligence System:
All that I could fathom was that the conventional picture that we normally get—and seem to share—is not in fact what is there; what is there is not even in time or space, nor is causation involved. There seems to be a mind and we are in it . . . . “We are all but cells in a colossal mad brain that both makes and perceives reality”—something like that, the main thrust being that there is some relationship between the creating of reality and perceiving of it . . . the percipient is cosmogenitor [literally, “creator of the universe”], or conversely, the cosmogenitor wound up as unwilling percipient of its own creation .You will see, in due time, just how close Dick’s Valis is to the idealist vision worked out in the following pages. In Bernardo’s system, the conventional picture of material reality that we assume to be the case is simply false. It’s an extremely elaborate hoax. More accurately, this material world can be thought of as a kind of dream in which God incarnates through sexual reproduction and evolutionary biology in order to reflect back on itself and come to know itself inside the dream. We are all living in God’s brain. More on that in a moment, too.
So there was Bernardo’s philosophical precision and contemporary relevance, and there was the uncanny way that his words resonate with the comparative mystical literatures I know and love. But there was also something more that drew me to these books, and to this book in particular: the fact that Bernardo Kastrup emerged from the professional fields of physics, mathematics, and computer science and is a successful computer engineer in the corporate world. I confess that I was so pleased by this because I have long found the pretensions of the Artificial Intelligence world to be patently stupid. That’s a bit inappropriate, and it is certainly crabby, but it is nonetheless honest and, I think, quite accurate.
Here is why. The AI community has long been laboring under what Bernardo calls the deprived myth of materialism. This very practical, very common consensual delusion states that mind or consciousness is an emergent product of material processes, and that, in the end, all there is is matter, that is, little tiny dead things bouncing or waving around in empty space in perfectly random and mechanical ways. If this base axiom were true, of course, one could well expect sufficiently sophisticated computer chips to become conscious. That makes perfect sense. The problem is that such a claim is not an established fact but a metaphysical interpretation of the scientific evidence. Moreover, and most importantly, the same materialistic model continues to fail us, and spectacularly so, when it comes to the “hard problem” of consciousness. This utter failure suggests that the materialist paradigm is not up to the task, is not sufficient to the question. We don’t have the slightest bit of evidence that matter produces consciousness, nor do we even have a clue how this might work. Probably because it doesn’t.
Indeed, if Bernardo Kastrup and the idealist mystical literatures of the world are pointing us in the right direction—and I think they are—the materialist hypothesis is the exact opposite of the truth. It is fantastically wrong. Mind does not emerge as a fragile and temporary product of matter. Matter emerges as a fragile and temporary product of what Aldous Huxley famously called “mind-at-large” and its own mathematical structures and symmetrical beauty. Or, if you prefer, what we so pathetically call “mind” and “matter” emerge from some deeper superstructure or symmetry that is at once mental and material, at once mind and math—a kind of Möbius strip of Material Mind or Mental Matter, then.
We do not need to get into the philosophical arguments here (Bernardo does this for us in his six books, including now this one). It is enough to point out that the AI scene is a perfect example of how materialist assumptions and the computer modeling of mind can lead us astray, and why philosophical training and a profound understanding of comparative mystical literature are both crucial to any real grasp of the nature of consciousness—scientific, philosophical, or otherwise. I will just say it: any future, truly adequate philosophy of mind or science of consciousness will have to go through the study of religion, and in particular the comparative study of mystical literature.
This, of course, is exactly what Bernardo is doing here. He is thinking comparatively through the idealisms and nondualisms of Advaita Vedanta, Mind-Only Buddhism, mystical forms of Christianity, and a select number of creation myths, which he reads not as descriptions of some past creation event but as “icons of the now,” that is, as scripts of consciousness itself. He understands perfectly well that as long as philosophers and scientists do not engage these literatures seriously and respectfully, as full and equal partners in the question, there will be no adequate understanding of mind, which is to say: there will be no adequate understanding of us or the universe in which we find ourselves as intimate and bizarrely successful knowing expressions.
Why do we know so much? Why does math work so well? Because we participate in and are expressions of the deepest structures of reality. Because we are that universe and those mathematical structures.
Bernardo understands all of this. Accordingly, he treats the mystical literatures with a seriousness and a thoughtfulness that is extremely rare in the technological fields. He takes comparative mystical literature as seriously as mathematics. He does not confuse the two realms of human knowing. He does not turn to one to establish the other. But he puts them into deep conversation and emerges on the other side with a most extraordinary story or “myth” of who we are and why we are here.
This is where his idealist mysticism morphs into a contemporary or emergent mythology. This is where mind expresses itself, as in a dream, through a narrative or story. And this is where we, as a culture now, always stumble. Entranced by the technological successes of science and engineering, we have come to think of reality as composed of invisible numbers. Everything real is numerical. Anything worth knowing can be measured. Anything not worth knowing cannot be measured. The only real form of knowledge is mathematical or scientific knowledge. Such is the claim, anyway. It’s more than a claim. As I write this, the education minister of Japan is issuing a decree to “abolish” all of the social science and humanities programs of the Japanese universities. Of the 60 national universities, 26 have agreed to do so in some measure .
What Bernardo shows us, as a computer engineer no less, is that this materialist paradigm that wants to reduce everything to practical numbers is a half-truth and, if taken as the whole truth, a profound mistake with morally and existentially awful consequences. His message is not simply a negative or polemical one, though. He also has a powerfully positive message. He wants to show us that the fundamental nature of reality expresses itself not just through math but also through myth, which is to say: through symbol and story. Reality is not just made of numbers, it turns out. It is also made of words and narratives. We are not just living in a gigantic machine. We are also living in a whirl of stories and dreams.
It’s not “just a story,” either, as the story always tells us something about the story-teller, just as the dream always tells us something about the dreamer. The project then becomes not simply one of measurement, but also one of meaning. The question becomes not “How can we measure or prove the dream?” but “What is the dream trying to tell us?” We are not after explanation here. We are after understanding, wisdom, gnosis.
The same wisdom leads to another question. “Do we like the story we are dreaming in now? Does this dream lead to human flourishing and long-term sustainability? Or to yet more intercultural violence and existential depression? Why are we fighting over our dreams and myths? And why do we deny the dreamer?” These are difficult questions, but there is a shimmering silver lining here. After all, if we are dreaming our own stories, we can always dream others. We can tell new stories. We can develop new myths, perhaps even myths that point back to the myth-maker. We do not have to keep living in stories that have long ago spent their shelf lives. We do not have to be so naïve.
Toward such ends, Bernardo tells us a story. He weaves a modern myth whose message goes something like this. We are embodied forms of cosmic mind, split off “alters” in some vast multiple-personality order. These alters have entered God’s dream through sexual reproduction and evolutionary biology (note that eros becomes the energy and portal of divine incarnation here) in order to wake up within the dream, look around the physical universe as the interior of God’s brain, and reflect on our own cosmic nature within this same neural galactic network. Here is how he summarizes it: “Put in another way, the universe is the scan of God’s brain; except that you don’t need the scanner: you’re already inside God’s brain so all you have to do is to look around. Your perceptions of the sun, rainbows, thunderstorms, etc., are as inaccessible to God as the patterns of firing neurons in your brain—with all their beauty and complexity—are inaccessible to you in any direct way.”
We are the universe becoming self-aware. We know what God does not know. In the symbolic and mythical terms of Bernardo’s Cologne Cathedral realization, we are all Christs, crucified on the cross of space and time: “we are all hanging from the self-conceptualized cross of space, time, confinement and impermanence. His divine nature is our true nature as timeless mind taking particular, seemingly limited perspectives within its own dream. That Christ is both God and the Son of God born into God’s creation is a hardly disguised way to express this symbolically.”
Obviously, the present book is not simply an idealist tract, an abstract philosophical exercise for the curious. It is a piece of profound story-telling based on the author’s own scientific and technical training, his own mystical Aha!, and his own subsequent philosophical conclusions. It is an exploration of how cosmic consciousness projects itself into narrative forms, into story, or what we have come to call “myth,” and then wakes up out of that same story or myth to know itself not as other but as Self.
Myth for Bernardo, of course, is not some falsehood or superstitious embarrassment, something we can easily leave behind. But neither is it some literal truth or map of history. Rather, myth is “symbolic.” It points. It evokes. It reminds and remembers. But it never quite speaks literally, and for a simple reason: that of which and from which it speaks cannot be captured in language, in number, or by any other act of intellectual cognition. It is simply beyond, or before, all of this. Symbols speak of and out of consciousness, but never literally. A myth here is a story that recalls a mystical experience of transcendence. At any point, it may shock, trip or “flip” the listener-reader into a similar awakening through an “involuntary shift in cognitive perspective.” Here is Bernardo: “the full realization of transcendence is a kind of quantum leap: it happens spontaneously, suddenly, in one swift movement without any apparent cause. It’s a kind of grace.” As such, the myth teaches us nothing new. It simply causes us to remember who we really and already are.
Do not kid yourself. This is no ordinary book. It is a tangle or reflexive loop in the brain of God. To invoke an image from Bernardo’s earlier book, Why Materialism Is Baloney, it is a whirlpool in the mercurial Ocean of Mind that, at any point, might suck itself into the same infinite and immortal waters. It is certainly not a book to provide your already overloaded life with yet more information or mere data. It is not about information at all. It is about the knower of any and all information. Read on, then, inside God’s brain, but be careful. You just might wake up God.
Jeffrey J. Kripal
J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion
 Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, eds, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, Erik Davis, annotation editor (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 588.
 Ibid., 717-8.
Copyright © 2015 by Jeffrey J. Kripal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.