Various open-ended meditations: storms, hope and renewal


It's not really my style to write a post about multiple subjects that have only tenuous connections with one another. I tend to prefer focused, coherent meditations about a given topic of importance to me, which lead to clear conclusions. Yet, the last time I defied my own instincts and wrote a rather open-ended, 'mixed bag' post, it somehow shot straight to the position of most popular essay in my blog; ever. Clearly, you found value in my spontaneous meditations, so here is another one, for what it's worth.

Essentia Foundation

It's not a secret anymore that I am no longer doing technology strategy for a living. After 24 years of hard work in the high-tech sector, both in government and private organizations, doing both public and highly sensitive projects that you will probably never hear about, my daily life is now an open book focused on philosophy. No more secrets.

Although I was apprehensive about this transition—I still feel very emotionally attached to the world and community I am leaving behind—I have no doubt I've taken the right step. I feel relaxed and reassured about the course of my life in a way I haven't felt since childhood. And for all this I have the persistent efforts of my dear friend Fred Matser (see him in this beautiful, freely available documentary film) to thank, for his consistent encouragement over the years has been the decisive factor in my decision.

Since the beginning of July I have been heading Essentia Foundation, a new philosophy organization and media outlet that will—I have every reason to believe—shake our culture. It will, at least partly, fill the philosophical vacuum left by academia since the latter turned philosophy into a dead conceptual game. For us at Essentia, philosophy is a living mode of being, as Parmenides, Plato, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and others saw it; yet, a conceptually clear, analytically rigorous and empirically adequate mode of being.

Much work still needs to be done before Essentia Foundation has its public launch in a few months time (you won't find it on Google just yet). We don't want to do anything prematurely, for our ambition is to become a major mainstream media outlet, focused on the important things our culture has forgotten or become numb to. So I count on your patience in this regard.

My new role has implications for how I will be carrying out my work from now on. Specifically, I will be making a distinction between the Bernardo who posts in this blog and the Bernardo who runs a major new organization. The former will discuss his personal views here, while the latter will be leading a ship much bigger and more important than himself, with a responsibility that far transcends his own personal interests. Indeed, as the head of Essentia my attitude will be more reconciliatory than you are used to, for this is what is needed.

In the meantime, however, prior to Essentia's public launch, I still have a chance to remain my old combative self. And I will take this last chance in the remainder of this post. As such, this post marks an end... But also a fresh, more important new beginning.

Philip Goff's new, new... new views

You have probably not failed to notice that I've debated Philip Goff yet again, for the third time this year, in Richard Brown's well-regarded philosophy show. Philip insisted on this third installment because he wanted to discuss the question of what corresponds to individual subjectivity: Is it the body as a whole or just particular patterns of brain activity?

My position in this regard is made clear—and, I believe, well substantiated—in the footage of the debate: it is the body as a whole that is the extrinsic appearance of an individual subject. Philip's position, however, is different: for him, only certain neural processes correspond to the individual subject, the rest of the body reflecting impersonal mentation in mind at large. Indeed, for Philip the majority of the body isn't part of the individual subject at all, but merely inhabited by it, in a way analogous to how you can be said to inhabit your car and have a close causal connection to it as you move the steering wheel.

I don't want to repeat our respective arguments here, but instead take a step back and evaluate what—as it seems to me—motivates Philip's new view. Indeed, it strikes me how strongly his intuitions seem to be physicalist (or even dualist) intuitions, even though Philip is—again and at least for the time being—an idealist.

You see, for a physicalist the question of what parts of the body correspond to consciousness is a perfectly intuitive one: if consciousness is generated by something the body does, then one should look for that particular something within the broader context of bodily metabolism. But once you admit that the entire body—and the whole universe, for that matter—is merely an image, in consciousness, of something happening in consciousness, it is counterintuitive to carve out certain parts of the body away from the individual subject. After all, unlike the car we drive, our whole body seems to be intrinsically associated with our individuality, our personhood.

While it is intuitive, under idealism, to think of a thunderstorm or a volcanic eruption as impersonal, I find it quite counterintuitive to regard my liver as equally impersonal. After all, unlike the thunderstorm, both my liver and my brain have arisen from the same original zygote—a fertilized egg—in my mother's womb; they are integral parts of the same wholistic process we call individual life. If the activity of my brain corresponds to something personal, individual, then so does the activity of my liver, for they are both parts of a unitary whole. Not only is this intuitive, it is empirically motivated too: embryology tells us that both brain and liver tissue arise from the same stem cells and are, therefore, differentiated aspects of one single life process; a process which, by its very definition, is individual, personal.

Again, the key point here is that Philip has already conceded that the whole body corresponds to conscious processes, so the physicalist intuition that only brain activity relates to experience is irrelevant from the get-go. The question becomes an entirely different one: Which parts of the body correspond to personal, individual subjectivity on the one hand, and which parts correspond to impersonal conscious processes in mind at large? That all these parts are images of conscious processes has already been granted. Do you see the critical difference in perspective? The intuitions applicable to either case—as well as the understanding of which empirical evidence is relevant—are different.

I submit that Philip is not being consistent with his own theoretical hypothesis and is bound, therefore, to incorrectly select and judge the evidence: for a physicalist, the neural correlates of consciousness are the decisive factor. But for an idealist like Philip, embryology and other disciplines, such as foundations of physics, play an at least equally important role, which he seems to—tendentiously and in contradiction of his own professed position—disregard.

I think Philip's intuitions betray a very fundamental problem: the pernicious ways in which physicalist thinking surreptitiously informs even those who are outwardly rejecting it. He endorses idealism at a conceptual level, but still experiences the world through physicalist lenses. His philosophical position is not one he truly lives, but an abstract process in his head. Even Philip's choice of words during the debate—such as "the necessary and sufficient conditions for consciousness" or "the seat of consciousness"—reflects physicalist language. Under idealism, consciousness has no seat; it is the seat of everything else; consciousness requires no conditions; it is the condition for everything else.

Now consider this: If Philip Goff, a trained philosopher—a teacher of philosophy—can fall prey to these subtle ways of begging the question when appealing to empirical evidence, what chance does the average person have to figure out what's going on?

My answer might surprise you: I now believe the average educated person has a better chance than most academic philosophers, for the latter tend to be all tied up in webs of artificial abstractions and lose sight of reality. Unlike them, I see many non-philosophers just getting it, spontaneously, without conceptual contortions. I don't mean to boast of my readers, but they do seem to be a quite representative bunch in this regard: they are self-selected for their spontaneous, natural ability to see what makes sense and what doesn't; they need no training, they just grok things. If you peruse my discussion forum or the guest essays in this blog you will see what I mean.

My hope for the future lies with them... that is, with you; not with academic philosophy. Although I tried a 'howl' earlier this year to see if I could help shake academic philosophers out of their stupor and irrelevance, observations like the above crush my hopes. As a matter of fact, surveying the technical literature in philosophy these days is soul-crushing for any true philosopher. Many academics seem to have abandoned reality altogether to play games in a private world of utterly pointless conceptual abstractions.

And here is where we arch back to the beginning: my hopes lie with you and the role of Essentia Foundation, an organization that will either help restore true philosophical relevance and sanity to our culture, or die trying.

Slyness embodied: Massimo Pigliucci

It gets worse for academic philosophy. Confused as he may be, I have very little doubt that Philip Goff is honest and passionate about truth. He will always have my respect, even if he changes his mind all over again a few more times before he matures and settles.

I will go further: even some militant physicalists who display an unbelievable lack of understanding of physicalism itself, such as Jerry Coyne, seem at least to be sincere, even if in rather caricatural ways. I am forcefully critical of their cluelessness, but I don't regard them as sly: they aren't deliberately playing malicious games but doing what they can do, according to what they think is right. I even confess that I find Jerry Coyne likable. I wouldn't discount the admittedly far-out possibility that one day I might find myself drinking a Polish beer with him and talking about our cats.

But Massimo Pigliucci is a whole different ballgame. Recently he, once again, tweeted criticisms of my positions after having blocked me from his Twitter feed a while back (if he just didn't want to hear from me anymore, he could have simply muted me... the reason to block me instead seems to be very clear now). See the tweet below, which was sent to me by a reader.


He is unable to hide the fact that he doesn't know the first thing about what he is criticizing (notice the reference to panpsychism in the tweet above, as if I, one of the most vocal critics of panpsychism in recent times, were one). He might think that the distinction between panpsychism and idealism is merely semantic, but that, too, only betrays his rather baffling lack of understanding of—even mere acquaintance with—the views he is willing to publicly criticize.

To put it in simple terms, Massimo doesn't seem to care whether he knows or doesn't know anything about his targets. It is immaterial to him; substance doesn't figure in his motivations. The previous time he criticized a paper of mine, for instance, he conspicuously got the title wrong, betraying the fact that he probably didn't even read the paper.

Why, then, does he proceed with the criticisms anyway? Because, in my opinion, he is playing a deliberately dishonest game of posturing and public image-crafting. It's not about reason, coherence, evidence or truth; it's not about substance at all; it's about pleasing his crowd and cementing his sought-after image of a prominent 'skeptic' who—uniquely—has found a miraculous way to live a meaningful life in the absence of all... well, meaning. Do you want some of that snake oil? Go to Massimo, he's the only one who can dole out that kind of thing. You don't believe it? Just look at how he dismantles the pretentiousness of Kastrup with a mere swipe of his vacuous dismissiveness.

Massimo's style of criticism is also very telling: drive-by shootings conspicuously devoid of specific argumentation, as I once elaborated upon. He hits and runs like a kindergarten child does upon hurling a crumpled paper ball at someone. He hides his inability to actually engage in substantive debate behind a smokescreen of dismissiveness. Yet this must appeal to his captive audience of disaffected former religious fanatics with an axe to grind, who have moved to the other extreme of unreason by unthinkingly subscribing to naive physicalism. By and large, these people are not interested in reason or evidence; they just use these words as slogans, rallying cries for a kind of atavistic pack mentality. What they are interested in is taking revenge by proxy upon their former selves. Fanaticism is all they know, whichever side of the board they happen to be playing on. And Massimo seems to be perfectly aware of it.

Indeed, I submit that Massimo knows precisely how to push the buttons of a significant part of his audience, so as to elevate his public standing in that peculiar corner of society. "Panpsychism? Terminal disease! Idealism? Whatever it is, it is woo-woo!" What does he get back from his crowd upon shouting such empty slogans? "Yesss, oh Holy Stoic Master! We love you! Save us from the Christians! Be merciless and crucify our former selves, we deserve it!" And off he goes. I believe some can even toss him some change via his Patreon page. I'm sure he is thankful. And I am also sure he regards idealism as a threat to his ambitions: good lord, if there is actual meaning to be found in life, who is going to be a Patreon patron of a 21st-century stoic?

It's not only his behavior towards me that strikes me as sly. I once saw a video of a debate between him and Rupert Sheldrake (I wish I could debate Massimo myself, but he already said he won't do it. He seems to be outright afraid of properly confronting me. Please prove me wrong on that, Massimo.). At one point Rupert protested that militant pseudo-skeptics in Massimo's own platform were cluelessly but vociferously ostracizing him—Sheldrake—on totally unscientific and irrational grounds. Massimo then basically agreed with Rupert just to go ahead and elaborate on an unbelievably unscrupulous justification for his supporters' behavior, refusing to condemn it. In other words, nonsense is detestable—a "disease"—when it comes from the opposition, but is perfectly justifiable when his supporters use it to tarnish an honest man's reputation. How about that for hypocrisy and crowd-pleasing? I no longer recall the details of that surreal exchange (if you know that video, please post it in the comments below), but I was aghast.

This is all much, much more harmful to academic philosophy and our culture at large than Philip's sincere confusion or Coyne's sincere cluelessness. This is, in my opinion, deliberate and malicious. If there is any disease here—to use Pigluicci's own choice of words—it's the one he embodies. And although I will debate him anytime, anywhere (as long as it is broadcast live to a wide audience, preferably freely) for the sake of exposing the fraud I believe him to be, I shall never drink a beer with an individual who seems to deliberately misuse philosophy—as well as his position in academia—for the sake of unethical self-aggrandizement.

The tribulations ahead

It is funny how life sometimes conspires to teach us a lesson, to correct our ways when we should know better. My commentary on Massimo Pigliucci above, while clearly provoked, justified, sincere and—in my view—well substantiated, oozes with judgment. And this is what I want to talk about now.

I recently gave a very long interview to a major Indian podcast (more on it soon). And what happened at the very end of that marathon interview gave me pause, for it revealed something important about what's going on deep within me, as well as about my own attitude towards my opponents.

You see, I have always been aware that most of what I write seems to first develop an autonomous life of its own within me, before it is expressed for the first time. It simmers in secrecy below the level of explicit introspection, for a long gestation period, only to suddenly poke out as if it didn't come from me at all. This doesn't bother or spook me, for my own metaphysics accounts for it: my very sense of individual identity is an illusion. So the feeling that an idea that clearly comes through me doesn't come from me makes all kinds of sense, since I don't really exist as a standalone agent.

But at the end of that marathon interview, the interviewer asked me a question that triggered such a strong and crystal clear answer—even though I hadn't explicitly thought about any of it before—that the feeling of not owning what comes out of my own mouth reached a whole new level. It felt like I was in some kind of autopilot, just observing, in amazement, as the words flowed autonomously out of me with absolute clarity. I kid you not; as this was happening, I thought to myself: "Wow, wherever this is coming from, it's good."

No, I am not into 'channeling.' Don't even think of (mis)using the above to try and corroborate that kind of stuff. I find it distasteful. I am not saying that some disembodied individual entity took possession of me. I am saying precisely the opposite: ultimately, there is no individual entity; not even me; it's all a cognitive hallucination.

Nonetheless, the whole thing impressed me; not only for the cognitively-dissonant experience of watching the words flow autonomously out of my mouth as I heard them for the first time, but also—and especially—for what those words said.

By now I have developed a sense of ownership of those ideas. They are about the tribulations that lie ahead of us. Seismic forces seem to have awoken and been set in motion in the deepest, most obfuscated and dissociated layers of our collective human psyche. They demand recognition from us, and so will do whatever it takes to secure that recognition, to be seen and acknowledged, after centuries of repression. Everything in me intuits this conclusion, even though I am keenly aware that some kind of tribulation is always happening; just look at the pandemic. But no, what I actually mean here is something bigger...

This isn't prophecy, but simply the result of careful, attentive and mostly spontaneous contemplation of what is happening all around us. The signs are clear to those with the eyes and presence of mind to see. We are coming to a head. Tribulations not seen in a couple of generations are around the corner. And even those may be but harbingers of something bigger.

The interviewer asked me what message I had for his mostly young audience. This is what set in motion that autonomous monologue. What I told him was this: we're entering a time of destruction and renewal (aren't these the same thing?). And as any tribulation of this sort, it is bound to be painful, perhaps even catastrophic. But whatever it turns out to be, it will be a reflection of ourselves; of what we are and have always been. There is no "they are barbarous"; there is only "we have the potential for barbarity in us." Everything repulsive we see in another is but a reminder of the potentials intrinsic to our own nature as humans.

And so my appeal to the young audience was this: try and refrain from judgment. The times ahead are both an end and a beginning. Something new, fresh and more aware will emerge from the ashes. All we have to do is make sure the destruction is limited, so as to secure the re-start. And the way to secure it is by refraining from judgment.

Judgment is fuel for the fire of tribulations, whether it's justified or not. The point is not whether we are actually right and the others are wrong; the point is that it won't matter, for judgment won't stop what will unfold. The process will only stop once it has burned itself out. This doesn't mean that we should be complacent; we absolutely should take the actions we feel must be taken (I certainly will, and Essentia Foundation is part of it). But action can be taken without the energy of judgment coloring it. Otherwise we risk adding extra fuel to the fire, prolonging it, strengthening it, and risking the viability of our own re-start as a civilization.

Think of it as preparing for a storm. We do take the actions we need to take to ensure our safety and continuation. But we—at least ordinarily—don't judge the storm as evil, don't get angry with it, don't shout at it, don't punch it, don't demand that it be jailed. We know it is just an impersonal natural phenomenon, a movement of forces that are morally neutral and thus simply express themselves. To regard human actions in this same manner, when the tribulations truly start, is the art of riding the storm safely.

We are called to recognize, in the human beings we most despise and detest, a reflection of our own dormant or repressed potentials. The shadow of humanity is shared by all of us, humans, as part of the intrinsic inheritance of our kind. Recognizing it is crucial if we are to emerge as a viable civilization from the other end of what is to come.

Console yourself with the following thought: we have never been better than we are now; we just thought we were, because we repressed the latent potential for darkness within us. The darkness we intuit and anticipate has always been there, hidden, stirring deep within us, craving for recognition. And now it will forcefully attain that recognition from all of us, for it has run out of patience.

So let us recognize it; not agree with it, or give it free rein, or express it; but merely say to it: "I see you, and I acknowledge you as part of me. Even though I won't give you free rein, you, too, are entitled to exist within me." There is no better way than this, for we cannot—try as we might to sublimate what we are into some spiritual vapor—escape our own nature.

My invitation to you is thus this: when the time comes—and it is not far—take a deep breath, park your judgments (you won't need to waste energy that way, and you can always judge again after we are through), and try to go through the tribulations as safely as you can, along with your loved ones. Take the actions you need to take, but free from the energy of judgment. Above all, watch with equanimity what will unfold around you as if you were looking into a mirror reflecting our ways, discovering sobering realities about what we are and have always been. Massimo Pigliucci, your most hated politician, the neighbor you'd rather see move out, the boss you detest: they will all become insignificant—mere pawns—in view of the impersonal forces that will play out.

And yet, all that, too, will eventually come to an end and give birth to a new version of us; one we could, perhaps, even be proud of.
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18 comments:

  1. Wow, Bernardo, your "prophecy" (don't hate me for using that word) just gave me goosebumps. Not because the message was new or shocking to me, but because it was as if you were reading "my" mind (which is not mine, of course).

    I've been feeling, thinking, and occasionally speaking aloud these same messages for a few years now, and have been feeling and doing so much much more forcefully and intentionally during the past year or so. When I speak it aloud it always feels as if something deeper than my everyday ego is using my voice, even though I feel that it is still 100% myself, or even more than 100% if that's possible.

    I was never more sure about anything: what is coming through "your" mouth these days in a form of spontaneous insights (and through many other's who are more attuned to the deep tactonic layers of humanity, I'm sure) is pure truth, speaking through us from the deepest obfuscated layers of our consciousness (through our mouths as words,and through our bodies as weird illnesses, phenomena and sensations).

    A huge Restart is ahead of us, not in the far future. In a few years of time. The challenge is to experience it as an archetypal Death that symbolises also a new fresh beginning, and not as a literal, materialistic death in which no new beginning is possible.

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  2. 'Seismic forces seem to have awoken and been set in motion in the deepest, most obfuscated and dissociated layers of our collective human psyche. They demand recognition from us, and so will do whatever it takes to secure that recognition' - yes Indeed! As I move through 'my own' cycle of this again, I'm seeing it in all the people I research with (including young children) and across the deprived community that I live in. This article made me cry, thank you

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  3. Wait...Philip is a full-on idealist now? Or are we considering his cosmopsychism to be a de facto form of metaphysical idealism?

    Also, if the body is the appearance of a dissociative process in consciousness, what does a missing limb mean mean for this process? Would it mean that the alter's individual consciousness itself is injured (not sure exactly what that would mean), or just changed? And could artificial body parts somehow become parts of the process of dissociation itself?

    I feel like maybe I'm taking an analogy too far...

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    1. Have a look at the footage of the debate (linked above). We discuss all that.

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  4. Is this the one ? https://youtu.be/4hU2JJYXA_k

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  5. THANK YOU for sharing this amazing, profound, mystical, experience.
    Bernardo: It felt like I was in some kind of autopilot, just observing, in amazement, as the words flowed autonomously out of me with absolute clarity. I kid you not; as this was happening, I thought to myself: "Wow, wherever this is coming from, it's good."
    wholehearted wishes for ESSENTIA!ॐ ॐ ❤

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  6. Thank you Bernardo, for your ability to make accessible this knowledge, in particular I am referring to your explanation of idealism. I am very curious about how you came to be so certain of the position you take. I very much appreciate the clear way you express these ideas. You have opened up a new world to me that until now I felt intellectually unable to penetrate. You are able to bridge a chasm. Heartfelt thanks.

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  7. You can find most of Rupert Sheldrake's debates here:
    https://www.sheldrake.org/reactions/debates

    The Essentia Foundation sounds intriguing and a needed voice to offset the disarray materialism and scientism has put our world into.

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  8. Bernardo~I am so grateful for your books, the first of which I read a couple of years ago just as I was beginning my study of "A Course in Miracles". It is incredibly amazing as I read and reread ACIM at the same time following your wonderfully resolute philosophy of truth as I walk this path. Many days some of your writings coincide almost identically to the Course teachings. ie: in the Manual for Teachers on What is the Peace of God?: "Forgive the world, and you will understand that everything that God created cannot have an end, and nothing He did not create is real." In the same Manual for Teachers on What is the Role of Words in Healing?: "Gradually, he (the teacher) learns how to let his words be chosen for him by ceasing to decide for himself what he will say. This process is merely a special case of the lesson in the workbook that says, 'I will step back and let Him lead the way.' The teacher of God accepts the words which are offered him, and gives as he receives. He does not control the direction of his speaking. He listens and hears and speaks." Anyway, I am not attempting to open any sort of debate or suggesting anything at all. I just wish to express my gratitude. I look forward to how Essentia works to bring the truth to light.

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  9. Congratulations Bernardo. You are now in the part of your life where work, play and love cohabitate. Essentia is a great name.

    Great essay too.

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  10. I think most of us feel that a great tribulation is coming. I hope all of you make it to the other side of that tribulation. The world will need idealist thinkers in the future! Cheers.

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  11. Thank you very much for "The Art of Riding the Storm Safely." Others have commented on how closely your words reflect their own understanding. This is how I feel, too. But you have said it in a way I never could, with one very important difference: the emphasis, nay, singular importance, you place on judgment: “Judgment is fuel for the fire of tribulations.” May we all learn the art, may we all ride the storm safely. Thank you.

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  12. Bernardo, does this 1950s lsd trial appear consistent with your experience? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMF-cyHAaSs

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  13. Dear Mr. Kastrup, thank your so much for all your efforts. I have a Master's degree in physics, but will receive one in philosophy during the weeks to come. While I am not ultimately sure if I will subscribe to idealism, I widely do agree with your critique of physicalism and panpsychism as a sort of pseudo-idealism/physicalism-in-disguise. I will have to find a job now, but regardless, I want to contribute to philosophical thought, if possible (I don't believe all our changes have to occur in the public world, the world needs consistent private lifes, too). Just another edacutated philosopher stopping by to give you his full support!

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  14. Sorry I missed this article. I've been busy trying to get a large vegetable garden in.
    From a strategic versus tactical I think the comment about not judging is spot on. The future will prove to be "interesting" indeed. To be able to predict the dynamics will be virtually impossible so one must stay light on their feet in order to survive much lest thrive. "Judgement" anchors you and many times is based on a desired result instead of an unemotional and unbiased analysis of the events as they occur.

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