Reflections about 2018 and beyond


Main building of the University of Zürich. Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.

As I've confessed in a couple of recent interviews, since last year I have been focusing my efforts on the academic world. The sheer chaos and hysteria of the material that comes through social and alternative media these days mean that, in practice, it has become very difficult to reach the many reasonable, intelligent people I have targeted in previous years. My voice is but one in an endless cacophony of voices, many of which are outright nonsensical. It is difficult, even unfair, to expect from the average person enough investment of time, care and discernment to put everything in perspective. Reason is nearly drowned in this 'post-truth' world. What chance have I got to get my message across without the gravitas of academia?

My original motivation to reach out directly to the average educated person, as opposed to working through academia, was my disillusionment with what I perceive to be the bias of stratified academic views. Yet, facing this challenge may be inevitable if a real change of paradigm, in the Kuhnian sense, is to take place. So this year I am further advancing my efforts to confront this challenge. You may have already seen the many academic papers I have recently published. More are soon to come, including a major paper already accepted by the Journal of Consciousness Studies, a premier academic publication. Another significant paper will be published over the summer in Constructivist Foundations.

I have also been visiting academic institutions to dialogue and exchange ideas with academics. Last year, for instance, I've had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a workshop at New York University in Shanghai, China, organized by David Chalmers. This year, I've had the equally wonderful opportunity to visit and speak at the University of Zürich, where luminaries like Einstein, Jung and Hillman worked.

At NYU Shanghai with David Chalmers, Daniel Stoljar, and several others.

In parallel to all this, I have been busy making contributions to Scientific American magazine, the world's oldest continuously published magazine (in print since 1845!). This, of course, is a major part of my efforts to reach out to academia, and the effect has so far been very rewarding. You can find an overview of my essays here (at the time of this writing, my fourth essay was about to be published). This essay in particular represents a major step forward in getting the ontology of idealism—the notion that all reality is in consciousness—accepted by the mainstream at least as a viable—if not the most likely—hypothesis. Since its publication, I have received surprisingly positive feedback from significant figures in the world of foundations of physics.

Finally, my seventh book, titled The Idea of the World, has also been completed and is currently in production with my publisher. It should become available in the second half of this year. I reproduce below a brief section of the book, wherein I attempt to position it in the context of my earlier work:
Prior to the present volume, I have written six books elaborating on my views regarding the underlying nature of reality. Particularly in Why Materialism Is Baloney and More Than Allegory, in addition to a conceptual exposition I have also made liberal use of metaphors to help readers develop direct intuition for the ideas expressed. My intent was not to win a technical argument in a court of philosophical arbitration, but to evoke in my readers a felt sense of the world I was describing. As such, my work has had a character more akin to continental than analytic philosophy. I have no regrets about it. Yet, I have also come to recognize the inevitable shortcomings of the approach. Some readers have misinterpreted and others over-interpreted my metaphors, extrapolating their applicability beyond their intended scope. Yet others have simply become overwhelmed or confused by the many metaphorical images, losing the thread of my argument. Perhaps most importantly—given my goal of providing a robust alternative to the mainstream physicalist metaphysics—some professional philosophers and scientists felt they needed to see a more conceptually clear and rigorous formulation of my philosophical system before they could consider it.

The present work attempts to address all this. Starting from canonical empirical facts—such as the correlations between subjective experience and brain activity, the fact that we all seem to share the same world, the fact that the known laws of physics operate independently of our personal volition, etc.—it develops an unambiguous ontology based on parsimony, logical consistency and empirical adequacy. It re-articulates my views in a more rigorous and precise manner. It uses metaphors only as secondary aides to direct exposition. I have strived to make every step of my argument explicit and sufficiently substantiated.

This volume thus represents a trade-off: on the one hand, its mostly analytic style prevents it from reaching the depth and nuances that metaphors can convey. Parts II and III of my earlier book More Than Allegory, for instance, use metaphors to hint at philosophical ideas that can hardly be tackled or communicated in an analytic style. As such, the ontology formulated here is not an expansion, but in fact a subset of the ideas I have tried to convey in earlier works. On the other hand, the present volume articulates this subset more thoroughly and clearly than before, which is necessary if it is to offer—as intended—a credible alternative to mainstream physicalism. Incomplete as the subset of ideas presented here may be, I shall argue that it is still more complete than the current mainstream metaphysics. This subset alone—as I elaborate upon in the pages that follow—should be able to explain more of reality, in a more cogent way, than physicalism. By articulating the corresponding ontology precisely, my intent is to deny cynics and militants alike an excuse to portray it as vague and, therefore, dismissible. If the price to achieve this is to write a book as if one were arguing a case in a court of law, then this book represents my case. You be the judge.
Later this year I will be speaking at a couple of important events, which will be announced in due course. These events, plus the major upcoming paper in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, the new book, the Scientific American essays, and then another major publishing announcement I will make in a couple of months, give me a sense of completion. My recent visit to CERN, and the opportunity to see the work of my early adulthood completed and operational, reinforces this feeling that a major cycle has come to an end. There are days I even feel that my life's work is essentially accomplished, only a little refinement and promotion perhaps still left to do. My dœmon no longer clamors for attention; in fact, he's asleep for the first time since I can remember. This extraordinary new psychological reality is both rewarding and frightening. It grants me a form of release, an easing of the weight I carry; but it also creates a void, an abyss, a disorienting lack of clarity regarding the way forward. It forces me to live in the here-and-now, something I have never been good at.


When contemplating these thoughts, a historical figure I feel great sympathy towards, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, comes to mind. At some point in his life, after he had written a number of books, Søren thought that his 'authorship' had been completed. He thought of retiring to the country and living an ordinary life. But none of it was to be. His dæmon would return, and he would write many more books, engage in many more controversies, until the last weeks of his short but extraordinarily productive life. Will this be the case with me? I honestly do not know. I now hover over a void, with only the vaguest intuition that the next phase of my intellectual life will be more inward-oriented than outward-oriented.

Comments

  1. I very much look forward to 'The Idea of the World' and hope your daemon is not finished with you. I've read several of your books and find every one of them thought-provoking and challenging. I agree that in this 'post-truth' world the voices of reason and honest inquiry are very much in danger of being drowned out but it is heartening to see even that bastion of the materialist paradigm, Scientific American, has begun to recognize dissenting and insightful thinkers.

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  2. I want to thank you for your work. I found out about your ideas by chance, reading an article on scientific american. Finally something that makes sense in the research on consciousness

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  3. Your work is necessary in this world. Yes, it will be hard not to be drowned out in this era of the internet filled with "dribble", and metaphors will always be taken too far, but that makes it all the more important for someone like you to keep posting and writing.
    I don't know if i can even place myself in the ranks of the "average educated person", as beyond high school my education took place in the public library system, but I have always been a rabid reader and my biggest challenge has always been to be able to sort the gold from the crap.
    As a student of Nagarjuna and other Buddhist philosophers, I find your ideas refreshing and provoking.
    Thank you for publishing it.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement! As for your education, it's possibly the best there is....

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  4. Thanks for your work, Bernardo! You are inspiring me so much. I'm sure you are part of this world to make many more contributions. I'm an academic and I know how hard it is to push alternative frameworks and paradigms inside this system without completely falling out of it. I have arrived at the same conclusion as you have via mystical and psychedelic experiences and am trying to integrate the insight into my academic work. It's a tightrope walk. You are in a really unique position in the sense that you are capable to introduce these important ideas from "outside" with so much more freedom. "Insiders" like me - who depend on salaries and funding - have to compromise a lot and use a more long-term strategy to stay "in the game" while trying to get the message across. This is why I consider you such an important figure at the moment and in the future!

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    1. I have sensed affinities between your work and that of Rupert Sheldrake and Robert Lanza, who have also faced similar frustrations. Any possibility of pooling efforts here and authoring joint publications? Each of you, of course, have differences in your big pictures, but the gist of them seems of one piece. Please keep plugging away, as you continue to demonstrate the truth of Kierkegaard's much-misunderstood insight that truth is subjectivity, subjectivity truth. Since ethics and morality are matters of inwardness (as Schweitzer and others have also understood), there is no more important topic than the one to which you have dedicated your intellectual life, at least for those of us who long to live in a more beautiful world.

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    2. Thanks Joe. As for joint works, one has to identify synergies to justify the enterprise, and these aren't obvious to me right now. In other words, it is not clear to me right now what the three of us, together, could accomplish beyond we can accomplish by publishing our own books separately.

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  5. You are doing a great work (and a very difficult one) Bernardo!

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  6. Never forget that there are many more than one Daemon out there... (or "in here" perhaps would be a better way of expressing it) I am certainly glad for yours, as you have expressed in such a cogent fashion ideas that I have struggled with myself, and unfortunately most of the books I have read on the subject only hinted a small parts of what you put together (or were denounced as "new age" clap-trap). Frankly, I wonder when your daemon will awaken with suggestions of new experiments for testing and expanding these ideas!

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    1. Time will tell, though I could use some vacations from the dæmon ;-)

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    2. Hi Bernardo. A fascinating post and collection of comments and the new book sounds right up my street. You're doing a fabulous job. If you'd been there you'd have been one the first to fearlessly take a sledgehammer to the Berlin wall. The quantity of misinformation in circulation on these topics makes communication with outsiders almost impossible. Even the SEP is full of nonsense on the relevant and crucial topics. Why do people write so much about philosophy before they have even begun to understand it? It beats me. Modern academia is a strange world in which those who find metaphysics incomprehensible are considered experts and those who do not are seen as outsiders to be viewed with suspicion, and where students are taught by the former and warned-off the latter. A rational species indeed. I look forward to reading the new book.

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  7. Dear Bernard,
    Life has just only one place to be: here and now.
    Better said, there is ONLY here and now.

    Don't worry for the future, your life plan will unfold as you have scheduled

    Have anice day
    Pierluigi

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  8. Bernardo, I am so grateful for your work. I would so love to know more about your personal evolution and, in particular, about when and how you started to become aware of your daemon and it's particular call to awakening. I am a 52 year old woman born in the US. I have known since I was young that I came to witness and be part of a time profound transformation, though the shape of this collective transition and my position within it was not very clear until more recently. As a fellow academic at an elite university I walk a fine line but, like you and one of the commentators above, I still feel called to be present in the halls and classrooms of the most materialist oriented institutions on the planet. I have come to see myself as an observer/recorder -- watching and recording the absolutely fascinating and unique patterns emerging and converging in this time. it is though all I record is being pooled with other recordings and somehow integrated and shared. It is awe inspiring but, at times, extremely anxiety provoking (especially now for those of us who live in the US and anyone in the world affected by the US). Being here and being aware, to the extent that I am, feels like a profound gift. This is especially true now when there are so many more awake bridges, such as yourself, who are so well prepared to articulate the more mystical feeling nature of reality using scientific lexicons, axioms, and evidence-based frameworks (Deepak was my first exciting find since it is rare to find public thinkers who also speak the scientific tongue. I really need and appreciate that so it was a boon to encounter his early books, even though many of my peers totally wrote him off as nutty. I knew he was a gift to us all). Thank you SO much for your courage; I can imagine that challenging long cherished rationalist ideas as an academic has likely made you a target of quite a few finely honed and damaging daggers. That takes a strength I deeply admire. I do long for a more formal living room in which to gather with other intellectuals / academics to chew on ideas and simply experience others of my ilk - there are relatively few in my world. Perhaps your daemon will guide you in creating communities for the many of us looking for each other? I will help if you ever feel pulled this direction. In the meantime, my heartfelt gratitude is all yours. Sincerely, Janis Whitlock

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  9. Sir Bernardo,
    Its been a novice and first Experience of listening to your THOUGHTS for me , specifically the Zurich Lecture......
    I must confess your Ideas and Thoughts are very ORIGINAL AND PATH BREAKING for times to come in the Realistic World......
    However Sir, if i may take this opportunity to put forth...
    That at times some of these thoughts do get Entangled into the very REALISTIC REFLECTIVE WORLD which your talk is trying to Unfold or Uncover ......lets for example How can we draw (even if it is Far fetched or Unconnected ) to the Real World or Realistic Cosmos to prove otherwise.....this Mental Construct at some Dimensional Level does intrude our conscious Thought unless and untill it is Weeded Out by a different DID thought (for we become Blind to its Vibrational Energy Ecosystem)......perhaps thats what we term as EVOLUTION( Independent DID Analysis of our Mental Construct By another DID) which could be a TIME or Space Bound Activity.....
    Secondly i perceive(consciously chosen) that our External World or Being is a Direct Prodigy of our Internal Construct......and that is why perhaps (again perception) each ONES MENTAL WORLD CONSTRUCT is different for the same Real World.......our Five Senses are limiting us to Experience the Ultimate micro changes that happen to the World Around Us once we Conceptualize it to when we Actually Experience it......
    It would be and HONOR AND KINDNESS ....if i could solicit your view on my ABSTRACT knowledge
    thnks

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    1. Hopefully my papers are clear in this regard. See e.g. http://ispcjournal.org/journals/2017-19/Kastrup_19.pdf.
      If you want to discuss it, please use my forum, where others can comment: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/metaphysical-speculations

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  10. Bernardo

    I am a new voice from whom you have never heard before. Although I do no share your philosophies, I was wondering if my comments would be welcomed by you on this forum. It's always reassuring to have a fan base reinforcing one's own beliefs, but it is equally beneficial to entertain different points of view as long the discourse is conducted in a professional manner. I am a noumenalist by nature who adheres to the philosophy of strict monism as articulated by Parmenides over twenty-five hundred years ago. From that point of view, I would like to borrow your acronym (TWE) and re-articulate it in that context: There is only "That Which Expresses". In this context, consciousness is the appearance, not the reality. If this theory is correct, one needs to explore that path. I have much to say about consciousness, but I will restrict those comments until a later date, once I have a yes or no from you.

    Thanks

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    1. Everybody is welcome to post on the forum: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/metaphysical-speculations

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  11. Bernardo,

    I am a strict monist for all of the obvious reasons, namely, that strict monism is the most parsimonious explanation of things. This is in spite of the fact that strict monism is an affront to the identity of self expressed through the philosophies of idealism. A final note: monism is not theism and should not be construed as such. I have been independently and actively engaged in trying to solve the hard problem of consciousness for many years. What fascinates me in this field of speculation, is how quickly and how easily it rolls off everyone’s tongue that consciousness is a subjective experience; "like, yeah; everyone knows that the earth is flat, duh……." Has anyone ever once considered that fundamentally, consciousness might be an objective experience of some “thing” that is radically indeterminate? That singular notion alone completely changes the conversation.

    David Chalmers created the analogue of the Zombie, so I am going to take the liberty to craft my own analogue of silly putty. Intellectual discussions about consciousness remind me of a group of five year olds in a sand box playing with silly putty. I mean, silly putty is some really fascinating material, it does all of this neat stuff, but at the end of the day, silly putty is fundamentally a chemical compound with well defined properties. Now, if one of the children wanted to bring that fact up to the other five year olds in the group, I'm sure he wouldn't be well received because the mesmerizing affect of the silly putty would somehow loose its magical, mystical appeal. I have a nagging suspicion that the phenomenon of consciousness is the same way. At the end of the day, consciousness may prove to be an objective experience of some “thing” that resides at the primordial point of singularity, the ultimate reality and noumenal world. In other words, strict monism. A theory of strict monism implies that consciousness is the appearance and not the reality, and that as appearance, consciousness is the expression of the reality. This notion is very disconcerting to any idealist, but one should not allow the prejudice of idealism to obstruct intellectually honest considerations when seeking an all inclusive theory of consciousness.

    Every scientist and philosopher knows, that the easiest way to determine what something is, is to first establish what it is not. For a starting point, one thing that consciousness is not is a subjective experience, it’s an objective experience of some “thing” that is radically indeterminate. The very phenomenon of "indeterminateness" is the reason consciousness is considered subjective in the first place. Taking that view point into consideration, if the reality of panpsychism is the underlying form of matter, then whatever that “thing" is of objective experience, it is objectively experienced and expressed by every form of consciousness from the most primordial forms of consciousness beginning with inner and outer space, energy and mass; all of which become the fundamental building blocks used to give rise to the zenith of objective experience known as human consciousness. So in that context, yes; objective physical states give rise to the objective state of human consciousness because objective physical states are themselves a form of consciousness.

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    1. If you want to discuss philosophy, please go to my forum.

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