|Bernardo Kastrup, Dutch Philosopher (Veldhoven, NL)|
Esse est percipi. (To be is to be perceived): A thing exists only if it is perceived.
-- George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland
And God-appointed Berkeley that proved all things a dream,
That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its
farrow that so solid seem,
Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme.
—William Butler Yeats, Blood and the Moon
For a time I totally believed that the world is made entirely of Mind.
Then the acid wore off.
-- Nick Herbert
There is only universal consciousness. We, as well as all other living organisms, are but dissociated alters of universal consciousness, surrounded like islands by the ocean of its thoughts. The inanimate universe we see around us is the extrinsic appearance of these thoughts. The living organisms that we share the world with are the extrinsic appearances of other dissociated alters of universal consciousness.
-- Bernardo Kastrup
Recently Dutch philosopher Bernardo Kastrup published a book Why Materialism is Baloney criticizing the dominant "theology" of our time, namely that everything (minds included) is made out of matter. The prime doctrine of the First Church of Materialism was first set down by Democritus of Abdera (around 500 BC):
Nothing exists but atoms and empty space: all else is opinion.
In the following millennia, natural philosophers have immensely expanded Democritus's ontology by getting more specific concerning the nature of "atoms" (we now call them "quarks and "leptons") and the forces that govern their motion and transformation (modern jargon for these forces is "vector bosons"). The immense success of modern physics at every scale from photon to galactic cluster is a powerful argument for the Democritean ontology. The undeniable existence of conscious experience is the only fly in the Democritian ointment. To explain the entire world, does Mind have to be added as an extra ingredient to the list of what exists (mind-matter dualism = Dualism)? Or will physics someday explain Mind as a particularly complex arrangement of atoms (matter monism = Materialism)?
The usual tactic of the antiMaterialist heretic is to argue that Mind can never be explained by mere physical brain processes because consciousness is 1. intrinsically OTHER than matter and 2. can do things (classified broadly as parapsychology) that are impossible for matter to do. Edward and Emily Kelly's book Irreducible Mind is a giant encyclopedia of things supposedly difficult or impossible for matter to accomplish.
AntiMaterialist Bernardo Kastrup takes an radically different, audacious and utterly preposterous approach by 1. denying the existence of Matter entirely and 2. arguing that everything is made of mind.
Kastrup's bold position is called idealism, a philosophy associated with Bishop Berkeley (1685 - 1753) and epitomized by his phrase:
All those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind, that their being is to be perceived.
Kastrup recently published an 18-page paper describing his idealistic ontology which I was tempted to dismiss out of hand on the grounds that mind-only views such as Berkeley's are utterly preposterous. But as I looked further into Kastrup's paper, I realized that he was playing by the rules, lining up his premises and assumptions and attempting to put forth a coherent and persuasive argument for his preposterous model of reality. This is a show worth watching, I thought! How is this guy going to logically demolish "all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world" and how is he going to replace every single one of them with mere thought?
BK's first postulate is that the fundamental reality is "That which experiences" (TWE). That is all there is -- and all that there ever was and will be. We might as well call TWE by the name "God", but this primal reality is immensely larger than any God we mere humans could ever conceive.
Next there exist parts of this unitary reality that have separated themselves off from TWE and are somewhat independent of Big Reality. We can designate these Reality Rebels (which include ourselves and all other conscious beings) as "twe" (lower case). We like God are also "that which experiences" but our experiences are rather small.
|A part of God that has separated from the Whole.|
I'm beginning to like this metaphysics. According to Kastrup, we are all "Shards of God", in the words of Fug/poet Ed Sanders. Shards like us have two modes of perception: inner and outer. We are directly aware of some of our inner thought processes and indirectly aware of the outer world through membrane-mediated external thoughts.
Because we have separated ourselves from the Mind of God, we are mercifully unaware of the Supreme Diety's massively complex thought processes but perceive God dimly and indirectly as "the physical world". In Kastrup's view the physical world appears to us Reality Rebels as "the Body of God". And we perceive our fellow "shards of God" as those parts of the physical world that behave like physical beings with consciousness.
But what does it mean to perceive "the external appearance" of God and the "external appearance" of fellow shards? If we have truly separated ourselves from divinity, why do we perceive anything "external" at all?
And here we come to the most crucial point in Kastrup's philosophy. (We must be constantly aware that this guy is performing a philosophically dangerous high-wire act without a net and try to give him lots of support.) The separated shard is in a desperate position. If he separates completely from Reality, he ends up in a boring prison of solipsism. On the other hand, if he connects fully with Reality, his little personal twe dissolves into the universal sea of Supreme TWE.
Kalstrup's solution: the shard surrounds himself with a protective membrane of Minds That Lie (MTL). The sole function of a Mind That Lies is to take one thought and turn it into another. Once surrounded by this Decepticon Shield, the shard no longer experiences Reality-as-it-is, but merely a particular Representation of Reality. Kastrup calls this necessary shard-protective membrane the "Markov Blanket". And this Blanket's the weakest link in his argument.
|How the world might look, information-wise, from inside a human-size Markov Blanket|
For just as Kastrup points out that the weakest link in materialism is its failure to deliver a materialist model of Mind, the weakest link in Kastrup's philosophy is his failure to produce an idealist model of matter. Kastrup's magical Markov Blanket must manifest a lot of solid marvels out of purely mental material. It must produce, for instance, the very notion of "a simple material object" -- that exists by itself whether anyone is thinking of it or not. (To be fair, quantum theory possesses a similar weak link in its inability to clearly characterize the notion of "a macroscopic measuring instrument".)
Materialists can't explain Mind. Idealists can't explain Matter.
A landmark achievement of Kastrupian philosophy would be to demonstrate from purely mental arguments (presumably including specific Markov Blankets made of Minds That Lie) why we seem to live in a physical space consisting of three spatial and one time dimension with a Minkowski metric.
Kastrup's imaginative philosophy is entertaining and leads one into unconventional ways of thinking about the world. But always the proof is in the pudding. A truly successful model of reality should provide us entirely novel human experiences -- marvelous new experiences that were previously inconceivable. Yes.
Gentleman and ladies, start your engines. May the best reality win.
|God wakes up and realizes the whole thing was a really bad dream.|
Illustration by Sligo, Ireland artist Annie West, famous for her satirical cartoons of Irish poet William Butler Yeats.