Reality is nothing and everything at once

Every year, for the past four years or so, I give a four-week-long course on idealism in collaboration with the UK's Psychedelic Society. Today, a short clip extracted from the latest edition of that long course was published. Have a look at it below. 

In the clip, I argue that past and future exist solely in the present, and that the present moment is infinitely small, a singularity. Therefore, there is a fundamental sense in which everything exists in nothing, for the present moment, being infinitely small, is a kind of nothing.

This may seem to contradict my key criticism of Carlo Rovelli's contention that the universe is relational "all the way down": I maintain that such a contention is an obvious instance of the fallacy called 'infinite regress'; you can't have relationships all the way down, without something that relates, for the same reason that you can't have movement all the way down, without something that moves. For details on my criticism, see this essay. For Rovelli's acknowledgment that he is indeed arguing for "turtles all the way down," see this clip.

To justify his stance, Rovelli appeals to Buddhist mystic Nagarjuna's notion that reality is ultimately nothing. By acknowledging, in the clip above, that reality is made of nothing I may seem to be agreeing with this and, therefore, to be contradicting my own criticism of Rovelli. The need to clarify this apparent contradiction is what motivated me to write this brief essay.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the clip above is a very brief extract from a four-week-long course, which provided a lot of context and language to couch my acknowledgment of the nothingness of reality adequately.

The second thing to notice is that the 'nothing' I am talking about is a mental nothing, not an absolute nothing; it is a mental substrate without substance in the exteriorized sense we use the word 'substance,' not an absence of substrate. As such, I am talking about no-thing, rather than nothing, if we understand for 'things' entities that seem to exist outside mind. My no-thing has an ontological essence (namely, mentality) that exists; it's not an ontic vacuum. This is clear throughout the clip even without its full context, as I constantly speak of a (universal) mind trying to make sense of the fact that it creates everything out of no-thing. My position is thus different from Rovelli's absolute nothing, in which the whole universe is like movement but there is nothing that moves. In my case, there is mind 'moving.'

The third thing to notice is that, more rigorously speaking, my point is that reality has no extension, not that it is an ontic vacuum. Indeed, what I am saying is that everything unfolds in an infinitely small period of time. At the limit, this period has no extension. So my no-thing means that there ultimately are no extended entities; that is, entities with size or duration. And since extension is what characterizes 'things,' then in my view reality ultimately has no-thing. Now, can there be structure, complexity, real existing 'somethings' in the absence of extension? As I argued just a few days ago in another essay, the answer is yes.

Finally, the fourth point: as I allude to in both the clip above and my original criticism of Rovelli, we are allowed to play two different games, as long as we remain consistent with the game we choose to play at any one time. The first game is that of the Enlightenment values: Aristotelian logic, conceptual explicitness and unambiguity, empirical adequacy, and so on. The second game is one where we acknowledge that Aristotelian logic is arbitrarily limited (e.g. the law of excluded middle, questioned by Intuitionist logic), our conceptual dictionary is too limited to capture every salient aspect of reality, and a great many important things cannot be tested under controlled laboratory conditions. Instead, we play a more intuitive game, based on first-person insight, where we try to suggest and hint at things. Again, both games are valid, as long as we remain consistent with the rules of the game we choose to play at any one point. In other words, what is not allowed is to begin an argument by implicitly adopting the rules of the first game and, at the crucial point of the argument, switch to the rules of the second game. This is internally contradictory and invalidates one's point from the perspectives of both games.

In the clip above, I explicitly say that most of my work assumes the game of the Enlightenment values, and that the specific argument I am making in the clip belongs in another game: the one I played in my book More Than Allegory. I am thus willing to play according to the rules of both games at different times, but not change the rules midway through the game. The latter is what I believe Rovelli does: the whole of Relational Quantum Mechanics is developed under the Enlightenment values and then, at the crucial point in the argument, Rovelli switches to vague subjective intuition, handwaving, and appeals to Buddhism. I don't think this is valid because it is internally contradictory.

Whenever I am playing the Enlightenment game, I will maintain that reality isn't an ontic vacuum, but a mind. Whenever I play a more intuitive game that acknowledges the obvious limitations of our conceptual reasoning, I will say that reality has no extended entities and, as such, is a no-thing. I play consistently within the rules of both games, and don't cut across them.

I hope this helps clarify the potential appearance of contradiction the video clip above may trigger.



  1. Whilst you are clarifying things: why are you sceptical of verified sensory perceptions during an NDE on the grounds that nature wouldn’t have evolved sensory organs of perception were it possible to perceive without them, and yet you state that the ‘exact same’ perceptions are experienced in dreams.

    1. Can you restate your query? "Sensory perceptions" in a lucid dream are not those in the waking state, are they?

  2. You might have an interesting and productive conversation with Jay L. Garfield about Nagarjuna's views.

  3. I am not going to say that the "Law of the Excluded Middle" was not one of the biggest misunderstandings in the history of Western civilization. And I'm not going to say that because I'm afraid that only a logician would understand why I worded my sentence in that way. :)

  4. Is it nothing or no-thing or just how does the visible exist from the invisible?

  5. Bernardo Kastrup your slicing of time is something Iain McGilchrist addresses in his latest book as a peculiarity of left hemisphere thinking. It generates absurdities like Achilles and the tortoise and Aristotle saying at the moment an object starts to move it is neither in motion nor at rest. McGilchrist says that the right hemisphere, by contrasts experiences the flow, the duration of time that can't be abstracted in this way. What if your slicing and dicing of time a la left hemisphere is a self deception?

  6. Hello Bernardo!

    I'm just commenting to say that you have become one of my favourite thinkers, alongside the novelist Ursula Le Guin!

    The universe as mind correlates with both my lived experience and intuition. The physicalist culture is still strong; as a child, I recognised both its tenets and how it did not lead to happiness for an overwhelming majority.

    May we, together, work towards dispelling this illusion that seems so concrete in the minds of those who believe in it.

    Thank you for providing an intellectual backing that restores beauty and poetry to existence!

    Much love.

  7. I was moved to confront the entire scientific community with a very much critical question as to the omnipotence of an all knowing intelligent creator being the cause of how and why we were ever possible. The question i am to present is this: "At which point, since all things matter is made of atoms, does a intelligent knowing atom gain this ability to communicate with the christ consciousness or creative all knowing mind consciousness. meaning that in fact since all things are atoms but materializing as whatever they are commanded and assigned to become without already having understanding from the creator its intended purpose or position given for its blessing of materialization in reality." I am at the belief that everything is goverened by a creator and even atoms that make up everything we see and touch are still one and the same yet bond elements into formation to be useful to us in our current state of existence. It was revealed to me that we much understand the dimension in which we are living within is driven by magnetism and repulsion. We attract everything into our waking reality by the reaping of our sowing. Cause and effect we must understand that the repulsion is the choice to control or put our action of our beliefs and purpose of being to the enlightenment and transcendent development of our people or community as worthwhile or worthy versus selfish mismanaged efforts (energies) that only solidify the harvest that shall come to pass for each and everyone depending on the amount and polarity of those actions at the moment they happened. So the material dimension is as we are all dependendent of one another and are in fact all one being of purposed existance in hopes of ascending to beyond as an eternal etheric being one day. So rather atom, mind, element, thought, motion, lucid dream, they all are depending on electromagnetism (repulsive attraction) to give us and everything life and ability to be it so, I Am just simply trying to say that we should better understand that intuitive understanding is God for each and every one of us, and that we should turn inward and quit seeking God outside of within except to marvel at the extensive magnitude of perfection that is within the beauty of everything and we in fact are one and the same. Hope i have brought understanding and a path of enlightened salvation for any who may hear the truth as it is for each and every one reading or being told these truths of being.
    God bless and with love for you all, in the mind of christ consciousness, amen

  8. I hope that Bernardo with his ideas will penetrate deep into the community of physicists, and through the Essentia foundation to the general public. I believe that the fundamental paradigm about the true nature of reality will change within fifteen years, and I hope that it will already be quite accepted and expanded among the younger generation of quantum physicists.

    My introspective and analytical insight lasting thirty years was converted according to a fundamental formula that would be valid in the universe.

    0 = 1, which is culturally written, or because of the reversibility 1 = 0

    However, when we remove cultural baggage that formula can be written:

    nothing = something

    Furthermore, if we load the cultural baggage again, it can be written like this:

    mathematics = physics

    infinite = finite

    associative = dissociative

    property in itself = relational property

    Transformation by itself = transformation in relation

    object = subject

    mental = physical,

    mind = matter

    non-duality = duality

    Obviously, the left side is the substrate, and the fundamental reality of the nature, and the right side, which is in time and space, is only virtual. So, those would be formulas that answer the question of what the universe is. The left side is not a derivative, it has a property in itself that is not measurable, it is absolute, it contains all probability, it is abstract from relation.

    However, here we must introduce a term called antinomy, as a double reciprocal illogicality that will combine the two properties into which everything converges and bring it into alignment, so that at the fundamental level the object and the subject are completely reversible. At the highest evolutionary level, at the highest adaptive level, these two properties are coupled, and represent a dual unity. Simultaneously a relational property, and at the same time an absolute property in itself. Relationally transformed is a transformation in itself. The elementary, microscopic world as statics becomes entangled with the dynamics of the macroscopic world, and the universe gives birth to itself. All the fine-tuning of the Universe arises from the processing, perception of subjects and objects that are networked and denetworked, interpenetrating subjects become objects, and then those objects return to interact as subjects.

    Two elementary things cannot be entangled. The elementality of the quantum bit cannot be entangled with another elementary quantum bit, because two elementalities cannot exist.
    A property in itself, mathematics, nothing, mentality, parallelism, universality, singularity, nonlocality need a relational property through physics, something, matter, seriality, particularity, locality to have both properties.

  9. So the two properties are coupled through the metasystem. It is the complete coexistence of non-dual and dual properties that complement each other to alignment, to reversibility and across the spectrum. There is the disappearance of all compensation. It is an oscillation in relation to the other, but it is resonant in itself. The metasystem arises from a double recursive loop that hides us from being particular in universality, and universal through particularity.

    Frequency and mass are aligned, but they have not reached the starting point where self-reference and reference are the dual unity of two properties in egalitarianism, nothing and something that reciprocally converges into each other. It is a target where the cause is equated with the consequence and the consequence with the cause.

    Since there is nothing more universal than nothing and something, because it contains both the observer and the observed, there is no entropy beyond all universality, and all particularity, it is clear that we are both creator and created. The universe is multicentric, the oscillation of locality resonates through nonlocality, and all physicality is deconstructed within mental construction.
    Thus, due to the largest possible spectrum of transformativity that is reversible at the fundamental level, we can write:

    0 = 1, but also 1 = 0

    Matter is just a slower oscillation of the Mind, it is noise within the Mind. The mind oscillates dissociatively as an association, having both properties in the eternal present.

    The basic formula that goes into the equality of mass and energy, frequency and energy, and ultimately frequency and mass, shows us that. The universe is a resonant oscillation, or oscillating resonance.

    Real and virtual entangled with the real or virtual where the whole spectrum itself is reversible through relativity. Every fluctuation is self-organization, and every specificity is a randomness. It remains for us to enjoy the material world as a reality because of the pragmatism that relativity allows us, and because of its adaptability.

    However, the physics of the twenty-first century must quickly self-correct itself, hopefully with as little entropy and resistance from systematized brains as possible, and finally acknowledge that consciousness is fundamental.

    Duality (0 or 1) and non-duality (0 and 1) are entangled and it is perpetuum mobile, eternal self-simulation.

    In conclusion, let us note once again that everything emerges from the double recursive loop of the classical bit and the quantum bit.

  10. The Self or God or the ground of being is referred to as the Cause of Causes, that being said, for the chain of evolution, that process that plays against entropy, effect follows in time, a cause. There must be a first cause. But you me and everyone else are stuck in what we think is the progression of time, becasue we talk, one thought leads to another, we see chemical reactions, oxidation reduction reactions, supernovas that seem to unfold. We are stuck in or flow with time.

    the Buddhist concept of emptiness is more akin to "nothing lasts" as in the infinitesimal of the present moment. That is the nothing, and as you say future and past are just projections or past recursions.

    Eternity is the present empty moment, and everything is created in eternity. And as you say and I agree Mind at Large and the mentality are all that really is and the material world only is generated through experience of that mind (the Self in self)--everything comes from no-thing.

    And I like to use the concept of subjective experience as I speak to my materialist fellow scientists. All we have is subjective experience, Newton noticed gravitation and struggled with action at a distance for years, then his subjective experience was experienced by others that it became OBJECTIVE knowledge---this is how all science works. But for someone who isnt schooled, an apple just falls. Gravity both exists for us AND does not exist for the unschooled 9AT LEAST THE ACCEPTED FICTION OF BENT SPACETIME WE FOOL OURSELVES WITH). thats very important that you say things fall AS IF there was action at a distance or curved spacetime (narratives for physicists, bedtime stories so they can sleep)...and Newtons mother loved him, so her love for him both existed for him but NOT for you and me becasue we didnt experience it.

    I believe as I heard your lecture that synchronicity is the great manifestor of reality (Jungs metaphysics) ---events are acausal and are not dependent on cause, the I Ching is true. All things occur outside of time. Everthing from no-thing.

  11. Bernardo, you are the only one that I've seen that understands how profound the present moment actually is. When I was 18 I asked myself how did I see the world when I was a kid? This journey led me to some amazing experiences and I want to share one with you regarding the present.

    As I started to reduce more and more, stumbling upon patterns and archetypal symbols, the world suddenly became alive, numbers were talking with me and my mind was constantly creating cosmic meanings out of everything that I was encountering. For months I could feel my ego dissolving, sometimes it felt amazing, sometimes I would panic and leave the house in fear. Anyway, there were many things that happened to me that I'm sure you might find interesting. I couldn't really differentiate between the true self, present moment, God, paradox and reality. Is like they were one and the same for me. So many things clicked inside of me and what we call reality became like a dream.

    Now here comes an interesting point regarding the moment that you fall asleep. As I've had those realizations and wanted to get to the present, I've found myself noticing how my body was falling asleep and entering lucid dreams (what is called WILD, wake induced lucid dreaming). I've had hundreds of those that started occuring naturally after this "awakening", an interesting mechanic is that for most of the time I would float out of my body as I was falling asleep, some other times I would fall. However, there were moments when I could just stay centered, very rare moments indeed. The first time this moment happened I didn't even notice that my body fell asleep, as a ball of energy came from the belly and I could move it willingly throughtout my body, I was extremely clear headed compared to the falling or floating situations. The other few times that this happened, I tried to meditate as much as I can, and it seemed like my "spirit" went floating a few cm above, then I would try to balance it out with meditation to recenter it, than it would start falling and so on (there was also a certain amount of spin at times).

    Present moment in a sense is like the mother and father of all points of center. To me it seemed like this was the purpose, it is also what seems that everyone is actually doing, trying to unite different points of center, either through sex, food or making their dreams(as in goals) became reality. If we look at our geometry and ofc other living creatures we can find different points of center, the endocrine system (perhaps as in chakras), central nervous system (perhaps as in kundalini), black holes in the center of galaxies, in a sense they share a meaning to sort of piercie another layer, just like in the womb, what was once our whole world. Anyway is just something to think about.

    I'm not an academic and didn't read that many books, I've stumbled upon this by reflecting a lot and it seems that you are the only one that I resonate deeply.

  12. Hola Bernardo. I just finished Science Ideated and I enjoyed it tremendously. There was a lot I could relate to and I have always believed that you only really grow internally from hardship. That is especially true with empathy I think. I'm about to turn 68. 6 years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The last couple of years it has really gotten bad and chronic severe pain has kind of become my constant companion. One of the things I find interesting is that what I call my observer never seems to change. It doesn't get sad when I am experiencing blinding pain and it doesn't get happy when the pain drugs kick in. It is always there and always the same. If I had never developed this disease I would have never seen that. I have always had great health, been very optimistic and all in all had a wonderful, lucky life and deep down assumed my observer was sort of rooting for me. Now I believe it doesn't care but appears to only be observing the experience. Anyway much of what you write makes me feel knowing this matters some how. Keep writing because it exercises the crap out of my brain.

  13. If I understand you correctly, it sounds like you're saying mentality is the fundamental basis of reality? If so, why is there mentality instead of "nothing". By "nothing", I mean "nothing" itself and not the mind's conception of "nothing".

    I personally agree with Nagarjuna and think you can combine the supposedly ineffable idea of "nothing" with logical thinking to come t o the conclusion that this "nothing" can be thought of in a different way as a "something".

      How can "nothing" be a "something"?  I think it's first important to try and figure out why any “normal” thing (like a book, or a set) can exist and be a “something”. I propose that a thing exists if it is a grouping. A grouping ties stuff together into a unit whole and, in so doing, defines what is contained within that new unit whole.  This grouping together of what is contained within provides a surface, or boundary, that defines what is contained within, that we can see and touch as the surface of the thing and that gives "substance" and existence to the thing as a new unit whole that's a different existent entity than any components contained within considered individually.  This idea of a unit whole or a unity as being related to why things exist isn't new.

    Next, when you get rid of all matter, energy, space/volume, time, abstract concepts, laws or constructs of physics/math/logic, possible worlds/possibilities, properties, consciousness, and finally minds, including the mind of the person trying to imagine this supposed lack of all, we think that this is the lack of all existent entities, or "absolute nothing" But, once everything is gone and the mind is gone, this situation, this "absolute nothing", would, by its very nature, define the situation completely. This "nothing" would be it; it would be the all. It would be the entirety, or whole amount, of all that is present. Is there anything else besides that "absolute nothing"? No. It is "nothing", and it is the all. An entirety/defined completely/whole amount/"the all" is a grouping, which means that the situation we previously considered to be "absolute nothing" is itself an existent entity. It's only once all things, including all minds, are gone does “nothing” become "the all" and a new unit whole that we can then, after the fact, see from the outside as a whole unit. One might object and say that being a grouping is a property so how can it be there in "nothing"? The answer is that the property of being a grouping (e.g., the all grouping) only appears after all else, including all properties and the mind of the person trying to imagine this, is gone. In other words, the very lack of all existent entities is itself what allows this new property of being the all grouping to appear.

    Two important points are:

    1. It's very important to distinguish between the mind's conception of "nothing" and "nothing" itself, in which no minds would be there. These are two different things. I think his is what you were doing in your essay. In visualizing "nothing" one has to try to imagine what it's like when no minds are there.  Of course, this is impossible, but we can try to extrapolate.

    2. Because  the mind's conception of "nothing" and "nothing" itself are two different things, our talking about "nothing" itself (which is derived from the mind's conception of "nothing") doesn't reify "nothing" itself.  Our talking about it has nothing to do with whether or not "nothing" itself exists or not.

    If you're interested, there's more at

  14. Hi Bernardo! I'm kind of a layman, but as a student of Information Systems, I'm very interested in ontologies. I've been following your work for a couple of years now, and heard your opinions on Dualism and Monism, but I'm interested in what do you have to say about philosophies which approach ontology from Multiplicity, Badiou for instance. Best regards from Brazil, i really enjoy your work.

  15. And what if the structure of reality actually is an infinite regress in action? What if solid ground can never be found exept for cheerfully infinitely regressing? Actually this outlook makes me love and lough for the rest of my life... ;-)

  16. You may wish to complete your thinking, Bernardo, by a dip into the deeper waters of yin/yang irony. You don't quite define or even really describe 'mentation' I think. You - as do most overly intelligent and overly well-read thinkers - leave emotion out of cosmos, and thus reiterate materialism as symbolism, or something like that. You will find one simple attempt here:
    I am a simpler thinker than you are, and don't expect but still look forward to contact.


  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. What you say on the episode "Foundational Reality of Minds - Dr. Bernardo Kastrup, Essentia Foundation, DSPod #206" - on "The DemystifySci Podcast"; about the human zygote and that a human is one entity because the zygote was originally one cell, is wrong.

    The zygote was formed by 2 cells, a female and a male cell, so it was "put together", just like the exmples you use about other multi-cell organisms that you consider separate entities that associate to work togheter.

    1. You should study a little more high school-level biology before commenting and making a fool of yourself.

  20. Hi Bernardo, thank you for sharing your critique on Rovelli's use of an infinite regress as well as your overall theories. Are you interested in discussing your theories in more detail? I am sure you are quite busy :)

    Also, I know that you mention a distinction between universal mind and the individual, and I was wondering if you would be willing to share the process therein, if you have not already done so (forgive me if I missed your explanation).

    If you are open to private correspondence (via email or some other form), I would love to see what you have to offer! :)

    Thank you again.