Looking back, looking forward, and the "tyrant in me"

Breathing the air of the heights on the Austrian Alps, summer of 2018.
"It is done." This is the thought that comes to me as I sit on my couch this lazy, warm Sunday afternoon in northern Europe, reviewing in my mind the amazing life and writing journey I have undergone over the past nine years. For nine years now I have been elaborating on and promoting a modern formulation of ontological idealism, the view that reality is mental in essence. I have explored it through a multitude of angles, perspectives, starting points and metaphors, all of which converge to the same destination, the same basic understanding of what is going on. Along the journey, I have touched on ideas as varied as body-mind dualism, religious myths, high-strangeness phenomena, visions and hallucinations, so-called 'conspiracies,' the culture wars, the media, free will, etc., relating all these disparate topics to the basic understanding underlying everything I've written and spoken about so far: at the foundation of it all, there is just mind at work, doing what mind does.

Seven books... Seven books in nine years, all ultimately about idealism. But until just recently, something very important was missing: a rigorous, academic articulation of my ideas, based on a strictly analytic approach to my argument and strictly scientific evidence. After all, as compelling and mind-opening as idealism can be, one can always say that, until the academic acid test is passed, one's ideas hold no water. As someone who came originally from academia and the leading fortresses of hardcore science, I can sympathize with this position.

Therefore, since early 2016 I have been working precisely on a broad, multi-disciplinary academic articulation of my ideas, meant to pass the acid test and close all conceivable holes. It has been a very ambitious project, touching as it does on disciplines as varied as analytic philosophy, foundations of physics, psychology/psychiatry and neuroscience. My goal has been to publish in leading academic journals in all these disparate disciplines, for my overall argument for idealism relates to all of them. Nature, after all, does not recognize the artificial boundaries and divisions we impose on our knowledge.

Ambitious as this plan was, it has now been accomplished, with the last paper having just been published a few days ago. Nobody can claim anymore that my ideas haven't gone through the scrutiny of peer review; they have: thirteen times over. Not only are these thirteen papers published, most of them also form the backbone of my seventh and latest book, The Idea of the World. In it, I attempt to weave an overarching, multi-disciplinary argument for idealism that brings all those disciplines together, so to construct as compelling and rigorous a case as I possibly could. It has been an exhausting effort of scholarship, but one I am hopeful will pay off in terms of bringing down barriers to the mainstream acceptance of idealism.

If anyone now dares to argue that idealism is an old-fashioned and discredited idea, which could not survive modern standards of argument and evidence in academia, I have this to say to this person: you are demonstrably wrong; you literally do not know what you are saying. The Idea of the World demonstrates this (more here). Snippets of the material in it have been picked up by the mainstream science media, as my many contributions to Scientific American attest. Indeed, media outlets from across the world have latched onto the idea, now that it has a solid academic foundation.

The Idea of the World is the book that, I believe, completes my effort to provide a full, solid and compelling articulation of idealism. In this sense, it is my magnum opus; the missing piece of the puzzle. It is the work that should silence any honest critic of idealism, for it rises up to the most rigorous challenges and objections that can be posed against it. The book addresses these challenges with explicit, detailed, almost hair-splitting argumentation, and a vast pool of empirical evidence from disciplines as diverse as quantum mechanics, neuroscience and psychology. If you don't believe it, I challenge you to criticize my case after having read the book.

So this is it. This is my best shot at closing my case as if I were in a court of scientific and philosophical law. Armed with the material in this book, I feel comfortably confident to issue a public, open challenge to any prominent academic who thinks idealism is false: debate me in public in a neutral venue. I would be particularly delighted to debate those who covertly think that anyone who doesn't espouse physicalism is sort of an idiot: come and make a fool of me then.

In a letter to Franz Overbeck, written in Sils Maria in the summer of 1883, Nietzsche wrote:
I have an aim, which compels me to go on living and for the sake of which I must cope with even the most painful matters ... the "tyrant in me," the inexorable tyrant, wills that I conquer this time too.
The "inexorable tyrant," of course, is what Jung, Hillman, Harpur and others have called the dæmon, that impersonal, autonomous driving force within the creative mind, with an agenda of its own and no regard for the circumstances and desires of its victim, which compels us to perform and complete our work. It is the irresistible, brutal natural energy behind what wants to come into the world through us.

Like Nietzsche's dæmon in Sils Maria, mine compelled me to breath "the air of the heights." It forcibly pulled me out of the hole I was in and offered me a "lofty" perspective on the state of human thought today. It was then up to me to descend to the valley and confront our culture with the inherent contradictions and absurdities of its views. The Idea of the World is the result.

Now, after a lifetime of forced labour, my completion of this latest book has finally silenced my dæmon. I am free, though disoriented for lacking the compass that has hitherto guided me. Yet, there's still work to be done: echoes of tasks already completed. I must promote this new work; not out of some twisted desire for personal fame or recognition (goodness knows my deeply introverted character goes counter to all that), but out of an innate desire to make my contribution count.

If you find value in my ideas and feel you can help promote them, I'd surely appreciate your contribution through social media, word of mouth, your own blog, etc. Whatever you can do will help. The intent is noble, the cause just, and the potential impact on the history of human thought certainly positive. All hands, the time is now! As Edward Kelly (lead author of Irreducible Mind and Beyond Physicalism) says in the Afterword of the book, "a major inflection point in modern intellectual history is close at hand!"

Response to Peter Hankins

Illustration from Wikimedia Commons.
In a recent post in his popular and well respected blog, Conscious Entities, author Peter Hankins discussed my recent paper in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (JCS), as well as its companion essay on Scientific American magazine. Peter's assessment is largely fair and positive, though he points out a few problems with my approach that he considers "overwhelming." In this post, I'd like to clarify my position and offer a response to Peter's criticisms.

Peter writes:
Does DID have the metaphysical significance Kastrup would give it, though? One fundamental problem, to get it up front, is this: if we, as physical human beings, are generated by DID in the cosmic consciousness, and that DID is literally the same thing as the DID observed in patients, how come it doesn’t generate a new body for each of the patient’s alters?
The equivalent of "different bodies" in the case of literal DID would be different, measurable, dissociative neural processes in the patient's brain. That said, my claim is not that cosmic consciousness has a literal form of DID. As a matter of fact, DID is defined as a human psychopathology, so it cannot apply literally to nature as a whole.

My appeal to DID is thus analogical: I posit that something like DID occurs at the level of cosmic consciousness and that the different "dissociative processes" in cosmic consciousness correspond to different living organisms in nature. The JCS paper, in fact, elaborates with some precision on what is meant by this analogy: a break or cessation of certain associative links across phenomenal contents (see Section 9, starting at page 140 of the JCS paper, particularly Figure 1). Peter understands this:
I would say that the most reasonable response would be to deny that cosmic and personal DID are exactly the same phenomena and regard them as merely analogous, albeit perhaps strongly so.
Precisely. Although my claim is that what happens in cosmic consciousness is merely like DID, I believe the similarities are strong enough that the occurrence of DID in humans provides an empirical proof-of-principle: there are dissociative processes in nature powerful enough to explain the (apparent) decomposition of a unified consciousness into seemingly separate centers of experience. This is extremely significant, for here is nature showing us the way to solve the decomposition problem.

Peter makes accurate inferences from my material:
In Kastrup’s system we begin with a universal consciousness which consists of a sort of web of connected thoughts and feelings. Later there will be perceptions, but at the outset there’s nothing to perceive; I’m not sure what the thoughts could be about, either – pure maths, perhaps – but they arise from the inherent tendency of the cosmic consciousness to self-excite (just as a normal human mind, left without external stimulus, does not fall silent, but generates thoughts spontaneously).
Indeed, I imagine those "pure thoughts," prior to the rise of perceptions, as having a mathematical nature. I further imagine them to be accompanied by an innate aesthetic feeling related to symmetry. This would be consistent with the laws of nature as we know them today.
I’m not clear whether Kastrup envisages all these thoughts and feelings being active at the same time, or whether new ones can be generated and added in.
Both. I think the phenomenal contents of cosmic consciousness, just like our own, can occur both in parallel (as in when a thought occurs together with the emotion it triggers) and in sequence (as in when a perception is followed by a memory).

That said, as an idealist, I think spacetime itself is a phenomenal quality, not an objective scaffolding within which cosmic consciousness operates. This leads to some difficulties for the idealist, which I address in the closing chapter of my new book, The Idea of the World.

Available on amazon
Peter continues:
I think the natural and parsimonious way to go from there would be solipsism. The cosmic consciousness is all there is, and these ideas about other people and external reality are just part of its random musings.
This is subtle, so please bear with me. I do think cosmic consciousness is all there is. Our individual 'consciousnesses' are just dissociated segments of the one cosmic consciousness, never fundamentally separated from it. But is this what is traditionally meant by solipsism? I don't think so. A solipsist is someone who believes that only his or her personal consciousness exists, and that all other seemingly conscious beings exist only as images on the solipsist's screen of perception. In other words, for a solipsist there is nothing it is like to be you or me; there is only something it is like to be the solipsist. All other beings allegedly have no conscious inner lives of their own.

In this sense, my position is antagonistic to solipsism: by looking upon every living being in nature as a dissociated alter of cosmic consciousness, each with a dissociated conscious inner life of its own, I am precisely contradicting solipsism; I am granting that there is something it is like to be you, your neighbor, the ants crawling on your lawn, the bacteria swimming in your toilet and the trees growing in your garden. In fact, the very idea of positing something like DID at a cosmic level aims precisely at explaining the multiple, concurrent conscious inner lives of living beings. If solipsism were true, none of it would be necessary: there would be only the personal consciousness of the solipsist, which in turn dreams up everything and everyone else within its own personal boundaries.
So instead [Kastrup] takes a different view. Somehow (?), islands of the overall web of cosmic consciousness may get detached. They then become dissociated consciousnesses, and can both perceive and be perceived. Since their associative links with the rest of the cosmos have been broken, I don’t quite know why they don’t lapse into solipsistic beings themselves, unable to follow the pattern of their thoughts beyond its own compass.
The alters do lose their ability to "follow the pattern of their thoughts beyond" their dissociative boundaries. But the external thoughts surrounding the alters impinge on the alters' dissociative boundaries from the outside, leading to the phenomenal category we call sense perception. I've tried to explain this in Section 11, starting at page 146 of the JCS paper, particularly with Figures 2 and 3.
In fact, and this may be the strangest thing in the theory, our actual bodies, complete with metabolism and all the rest, are the appearance of these metaphysical islands: ‘living organisms are the revealed appearance of alters of universal consciousness’. Quite why the alters of universal consciousness should look like evolved animals, I don’t know.
According to the internal logic of my view, alters should look like something, which might as well be what we came to call living organisms. Why not? Peter's very question here seems to be motivated by an intuition whose validity I fail to see. My views do not contradict the laws of nature as we know them, so alters (that is, living organisms) look like what they do because that's how the laws of nature, through evolution by natural selection, shaped them. I introduce no new factor or problem here. I am simply interpreting what life is under a metaphysical scheme: life is what dissociated alters of cosmic consciousness look like from across dissociative boundaries.
How does sex between these alters give rise to a new dissociative island in the form of a new human being?
I also do not solve the problem of abiogenesis nor create any new difficulty in this regard: the origin of life from non-life (abiogenesis) was the formation of the first dissociated alter of cosmic consciousness. This may have been very 'difficult' (in the sense of being improbable) for nature to do, but once it was done, organisms (that is, alters) found ways to facilitate the process through biological reproduction. Why did they do it? Because evolution by natural selection led them to evolve this capability. Again, I introduce no new difficulty or factor here. I am merely providing a metaphysical interpretation of these processes.
It seems that Kastrup really wants to have much of the conventional world back; a place where autonomous individuals with private thoughts are nevertheless able to share ideas about a world which is not just the product of their imaginations. But it’s forbiddingly difficult to get there from his starting position.
What Peter calls the "conventional world" is, to me, a composite of empirical facts and established scientific theory. If I were to contradict those, or make them untenable under my ontology, I believe the latter would simply be demonstrably wrong. So, in this sense, I do want "to have much of the conventional world back." As a matter of fact, I don't want to part with it to begin with!

As for it being "forbiddingly difficult to get there from [my] starting position," I just disagree. I don't see why it should be difficult, given that I've attempted to systematically tackle every criticism of my views in this regard (see e.g. this paper).

Peter does have one point, though:
There is a vast amount of metaphysical work to be done on this kind of aspect of the theory – enough for several generations of philosophers – and it may not be fair to expect Kastrup to have done it all, let alone get it all into this single paper.
I concur, and that's why I've written a 312-page book elaborating much more thoroughly on these ideas. Naturally, even that book won't be enough to address all the metaphysical details that need to be worked out, but it is at least a more complete attempt than the JCS paper alone.

I want to close this response by agreeing with Peter on a crucial point:
These are, of course, radical new ideas; but curiously they seem to me to bear a strong resemblance to the old ones of the Gnostics. ... I don’t make the comparison to discredit Kastrup’s ideas; on the contrary if it were me I should be rather encouraged to have these ancient intellectual forebears.
I am! The Gnostic writings, the Upanishads, many ancient myths and even certain interpretations of catholic and mainstream Christian scripture, all hint at, or outright describe, similar ideas. Indeed, I've even written a book about it.

Although I was not aware of these similarities when I began to develop my ideas (shame on me for my ignorance), I feel very happy to acknowledge them today. To me, they provide a confidence-boosting validation and a solid historical foundation for what I am trying to do. I am content enough with the role of trying to frame these ancient ideas in modern language, using modern metaphors, and defending them with modern evidence. I happily make no claims of originality.

Introducing the Idea of the World

My new book, The Idea of the World, is now available on amazon.comamazon.co.uk, other online retailers and many bookshops as well. To mark the occasion, I am publishing below two of the first sections of the book, which explain what the book is about and the role it plays in the context of the body of my work. I hope you find value in it!

And if you cannot afford the book, remember that the 10 academic papers comprised in it can be freely downloaded from my papers page. You will miss the many additional chapters and the overall argument built around the papers and the added material, but you will get some of the key pieces of the puzzle.

So here we go...

Note to readers of my previous books

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 (Kastrup 2015: 142-146)—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.


The main body of this work brings together ten different articles I published in peer-reviewed academic journals. Unbeknownst to the journals’ editors, the articles were conceived, from the beginning, to eventually be collected in the volume you now have in front of you. Despite being self-contained, each was designed to fit into a broader jigsaw puzzle that, once assembled, should reveal a compelling, holistic picture of the nature of reality. This book presents the completed jigsaw puzzle. The resulting picture depicts an ontology that squarely contradicts our culture’s mainstream physicalist metaphysics.

Indeed, according to the ontology described and defended here, reality is fundamentally experiential. A universal phenomenal consciousness is the sole ontological primitive, whose patterns of excitation constitute existence. We are dissociated mental complexes of this universal consciousness, surrounded like islands by the ocean of its mentation. The inanimate universe we see around us is the extrinsic appearance of a possibly instinctual but certainly elaborate universal thought, much like a living brain is the extrinsic appearance of a person’s conscious inner life. Other living creatures are the extrinsic appearances of other dissociated complexes. If all this sounds implausible to you now, you have yet more reason to peruse the argument carefully laid out in the pages that follow.

Each of the ten original academic articles constitutes a chapter in this volume, organized so as to present an overarching argument step by step. I have added five extra preamble chapters, as well as an overview and extensive closing commentary, to weave the original articles together in a coherent storyline.

The choice to break up my argument into ten self-contained, independently published articles had three motivations. Firstly, I have been criticized for not submitting my earlier work to the scrutiny of peer-review. I take this criticism only partly to heart: peer-review can be a prejudiced process that stifles valid non-mainstream views whilst overlooking significant faults in mainstream arguments (Smith 2006, McCook 2006, Baldwin 2014). As an author whose ideas systematically defy the mainstream, I had doubts about whether my articles would receive an impartial hearing. And indeed, often they didn’t. Nonetheless, peer-review can also be constructive, insofar as it provides penetrating criticisms that help sharpen one’s arguments. This was my hope and, as it turns out, several of my original manuscripts were significantly improved thanks to insightful comments from reviewers. In the end, peer-review has proven to be fruitful.

Secondly, specialized articles can reach more and different people in academia than a more generic book. The articles collected in this volume span fields as diverse as philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry and physics, each with its own academic community. By publishing the articles in journals specifically targeted at their respective communities, I hope to have reached people who will probably never hear of—or be interested in—this book as a whole.

Thirdly, by having each part of my broader argument receive the specialist endorsement that peer approval represents, I hope to deny cynics and militants an excuse to portray the ontology presented here—antagonistic to current mainstream views as it is—as dismissible.

In the interest of achieving the three goals stated above, the articles collected in this volume were originally published in journals that, at the time of manuscript submission, met the following criteria:

  1. Peer-review process;
  2. Open-access policy (so to safeguard my ability to make the articles available to a wider, non-academic readership);
  3. Their publishers were not included in Jeffrey Beall’s list of potentially disreputable open-access publishers* (Beall n.d.), as of its version of 12 January 2017;**
  4. No transfer of copyright required from authors (so to safeguard my ability to republish the articles in this volume).
To the extent possible within these constraints, I have also sought broader geographical exposure for my work by publishing in journals spanning North America, Western, Central and Eastern Europe.

In order to preserve the integrity of the original peer-review process, I am reproducing the ten original articles here without any change of substance. I have only corrected the occasional typo and language inaccuracy, harmonized the terminology and ensured consistency—citation style, section and figure numbering, etc.—across the entire book. I have also consolidated all references in the bibliography at the end of this volume, so to reduce redundancy. Everything else is as it was originally published in the respective journals. Whenever I felt that an update of—or comment on—specific passages was called for, I have done so in the form of added footnotes, so to preserve the original text.

For this reason, and since the original articles had to be self-contained, some repetition of content occurs across chapters. Some readers may consider this annoying, but I think it has a positive side effect: it provides a regular recapitulation of key ideas and context throughout the book, helping the reader keep track of the overarching argument line.

Finally, because the main substance of this work can already be found in ten freely accessible articles, it is important to highlight that the value-add of this book consists in my effort to weave the articles together in a coherent storyline, building up to an overarching ontology. By downloading the original articles one can get the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but by reading this book one gets the overall picture the pieces form when properly connected together.

It is my sincere hope that this picture helps you come to new insights about the nature of reality.

* A study published in Science (Bohannon 2013) concluded, “Beall is good at spotting publishers with poor quality control,” although “al- most one in five [of the journals] on his list did the right thing.” So Beall erred on the side of being overly critical of the journals he evaluated. By contrast, the same study showed that the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which seeks to list only credible publications, includ- ed many journals with poor quality control. Although I understand that the DOAJ has made several improvements to its processes since then, I have nonetheless elected to use Beall’s ‘black list’ instead of the DOAJ’s ‘white list.’
** This was the latest version of Beall’s list available as of the time of this writing. Jeffrey Beall had then just stopped maintaining the list, so this is possibly the last version as well.

GUEST ESSAY: Musings on Idealism, Advaita and Christianity

By Michael Larkin

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

Crypt of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy.
Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.
Discussions at Metaphysical Speculations seem quite often to focus on the relationship between Idealism and Advaita Vedanta. The aim of this essay is to widen the scope to include Christianity, which though nominally declining in the West, still possesses values thoroughly embedded in its culture.

Advaita considers there to be identity between Atman (the individual human soul) and Brahman, the ultimate. Moksha, or liberation, consists in the experiencing such identity in this life. One could take the term MAL (Mind-At-Large) or alternatively TWE (That Which Experiences) to be equivalent to Brahman. The Christian idea of the Trinity isn't that far  from that of Atman ("God the Son") and Brahman ("God the Father"). I suspect the third "person", the Holy Spirit, is added to symbolise the principal of communion between Father and Son, which whilst not explicitly mapping to anything in Advaita, I doubt that Advaitists would deny. After all, how is Atman to achieve Moksha without communion with Brahman? I assume that, for example, Advaitists pray in one direction, and hope to receive guidance in the other.

The Christian language is in its own way careful: there are three persons in the Trinity, not three gods; that is, three different aspects of the one God, just as in Advaita Brahman and Atman are two different aspects of an entity that is essentially one. I wonder if one thing that Brahman "gets out" of its relationship with Atman is a sense of the latter's gradual coming-to-understand its true nature  in Christian terms, like the father's delight at the return of the prodigal son. In a way, Moksha for Atman may also be Moksha for Brahman  or as the bible puts it: "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth".

The difference comes when Christianity not only personifies the Son, but restricts him to one specific human being, namely Jesus Christ. In general, it doesn't see Atman/Brahman as being in all of us, but a special one of us. Not all Christians think this way, however; someone like Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Jesuit priest) in his marvellous sonnet As Kingfishers catch fire, says in its terminal sestet:

I say more: the just man justices;
keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is –
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
to the Father through the features of men's faces.

Here it seems that Hopkins was open to the view that everyone is a Son of God, a Christ, as plays out in imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ as a means of attaining salvation. "Salvation" here could be taken as equivalent to Advaita's Moksha or enlightenment. What is the salvation from? From Maya, illusion, or, in Christian terms (with the usual Christian overtones of guilt), sin.

What is sin? I'd say essentially, some degree or other of ignorance of what Atman, the Son, really is. The greater the ignorance, the greater the subjective experience of separation by Atman from Brahman, Son from Father. The doctrine of original sin is something that has often intrigued me. It's quite easy to take the story of the Garden of Eden and the Fall as being confined to a few actors. In typical fashion, Christianity lays the guilt on Adam: he is responsible for the fall of everyone, and that is his original sin, inherited by all his and Eve's offspring. Christianity claims that that this sin has to be forgiven if man is to be able to achieve salvation. However, it apportions the task of achieving that forgiveness to one special Man/God, Jesus the Christ, who has to sacrifice his life to atone for the sin (I note the hint of pagan influence: actual human sacrifice is required to appease a god). The special man has to die, but all will be well in the end because his Moksha, symbolised by the resurrection, will thereby become available to all.

However, I don't see the garden of Eden myth with its few actors, or the crucifixion narrative with its one principal actor, as discreet , one-off events, so much as ones that play out repeatedly in individual lives. The "life" to be sacrificed for each of us isn't a literal life, but the intentional loss of the perceived difference between Brahman and Atman, Father and Son. In conventional Christian terms, anyone accepting Jesus as their redeemer has the potential to be saved. We still have to act in accordance with the way Jesus acted. i.e. engage in imitatio Christi, to ensure salvation. Most Christians make baptism indispensable to salvation, but in my view that's just the usual special pleading of religion; the often irresistible urge to make of ourselves exclusive groups of people. I'd say it's as much a case of the psychological  need for a feeling of unity and togetherness as it is for identifying with truth.

The doctrine of the redemption enables Christianity to set Jesus up as a special  nay unique  individual, who alone was both God and Man. Whilst I can accept he may have been special to a degree, I don't see Jesus as being unique. We are all both God and Man, though most of us don't realise it, not yet having experienced Mosksha/salvation. Christianity has a tendency to make key figures take the burden of action in its narratives. Take the doctrine of the virgin birth, for example. Begetting babies is in my view quite wonderful enough without positing some kind of intervention by the Holy Spirit; moreover, ordinary reproduction unites us all in common humanity  or atmanity, if I may coin the word.

It seems to me that Christianity, in positing Jesus alone as God, inevitably distances the rest of us from the possibility of enlightenment /salvation. At the same time, it attempts to have its cake and eat it by insisting that through the doctrine of the redemption, salvation is rendered possible for all. This somewhat lessens personal responsibility for achieving it, although one still has to join the club (be baptised) and live a relatively blameless life to achieve salvation. It's no bad thing to do good acts, refrain from harming others, and so on, in fact these are probably necessary for achieving enlightenment. But they aren't sufficient, because behind our acts is our motivation for doing them, and this needs to be more than the essentially selfish desire to attain paradise, or to avoid punishment in hell.

Not all Christians think alike. Some of their interpretations can be subtle, and where they are, they might at least in principle be able to be entertain the concepts of Advaita Vedanta such as Atman and Brahman, where one is essentially the same as the other. Idealism, I suspect, is compatible with both Advaita and the more nuanced interpretations of Christianity. The "thoughts" of MAL/TWE (or the various processes occurring within it), generate illusion/Maya when filtered through human perception. What Bernardo allegorises as "dissociation" is what creates that perception, and restricts our capacity to apprehend the true nature of reality; what creates our illusion of an existence independent and separate from MAL. We aren't, I don't think, in any sense to blame for this. For Atman to be a vehicle for Brahman to experience itself as if from a second-person perspective, it's maybe inevitable, all part of the patterns and regularities of MAL.

What I see as interesting aren't so much what one might term noumena (views from Brahman's perspective), and phenomena (views from Atman's perspective), but the way that the two views interact and, possibly, generate the qualia of mental experience. Qualia, in a way, could be considered the lingua franca  between Atman and Brahman: a language they can both understand, albeit that their native tongues are different, the former's being self-reflective, and the latter's (if Bernardo's suspicion is correct), not.

If MAL were like human beings, then it'd be easy to imagine that it's playing some kind of game: it would supposedly know everything in the same kind of way we do, albeit at an inexpressibly higher level. I'm reminded of Alan Watts' piece about what to tell children about God, where it's all a game of hide and seek, of God hiding from himself through us. While for a time I was enamoured of this view, I'm coming around more to the view that MAL isn't just a grander version of us, with essentially the same kind, albeit incomparably more extensive, level of self-reflectivity.

It may be more that human beings (and maybe to some extent other organisms), could be considered as MAL's "organs" for coming to explore itself in a self-reflective, subjective fashion, which isn't its native way of apprehending itself. Thereby, perhaps it's learning and evolving through the Brahman/Atman schema, and perhaps both aspects are necessary for that to occur. By "evolving" I'm not saying that it's enhancing its capacities, so much as refining its appreciation of itself.

Advaita, whilst intellectually sophisticated in comparison to the average run of Christianity, lacks something of the personal. Which is harder? One can understand Advaita, at least intellectually, integrating it into the everyday life of Atman, or accept Christianity with its greater degree of subjectivity, and integrate that into one's intellectual life. It strikes me that there are pros and cons of both approaches, and that either way may prove effective in discovering the truth of what one really is.

All of the foregoing represents my personal musings on Idealism, Advaita and Christianity. I haven't by any means solidified them into personal doctrine. It represents my current thoughts, and of course, those may in time change. I present them for comment, criticism, call it what you will, and if I learn anything from that, all to the good.

Copyright © 2018 by Michael Larkin. Published with permission.