The Idea of the World – Review

We are witnessing a shift in worldview that is now slowly but steadily advancing. Three of my favorite writers tackling this much needed transformation are the terrific scientific thinkers Robert Lanza (Biocentrism) and Donald Hoffman (The Case Against Reality) and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup. The Idea of the World is his seventh book about idealism, the philosophical system that proposes that everything is in consciousness.

Firstly, his latest and most rigorous book yet, exposes the fallacies of physicalism (or materialism) that is currently the reigning metaphysics. This position posits that an objective world exists independent of our minds. Then it goes even further by claiming that this world outside experience somehow created our consciousness in the first place! By making the subject into object, materialism creates the insoluble ‘hard problem of consciousness’. Idealism avoids this major error in logic by positing that what we experience IS reality.

But also in idealism, there are objections to overcome which Bernardo does very eloquently in subsequent chapters. Questions such as why there is a relationship between brain activity and reported inner life, why we all seem to experience the same world, and why we are unable to alter the laws of physics with our minds. He also explains why the latest findings in quantum mechanics and neuroscience inexorably point to mind as primary reality.

Because of terminology, it takes some experience in philosophic reading to (fully) comprehend this work. So if this is a new territory for you, then it’s probably better to start with one of Kastrup’s earlier books, such as the excellent Why Materialism is Baloney. However, I found this work much easier to read than other philosophy-of mind-books by for example Nagel or Chalmers. Bernardo’s writing style is very pleasant and his arguments are extremely clear.

The mental model of reality is currently the best way we have for looking at the world. I am convinced that this will be the new common worldview, and that we’ll look back at some of today’s mainstream ideas, such as billions of microscopic robots in our brain forming our integrated minds, and that we’ll be really amazed at the delusions of today’s scientific culture. We’re not there yet, but great thinkers like Bernardo Kastrup are bravely paving the way.

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Idealism Vs. Materialism

Idealism entails that reality is what you experience: it’s the book, or electronic reader in your hands; it’s the room around you, with all its color, textures, and depth; it’s the sounds and smells in the air; it’s the feeling you have of being in your own skin right now. In contrast, the reigning materialist worldview is rather abstract: it postulates that, behind the ‘copy’ of reality you’re experiencing right now, there is the ‘real’ reality, which is not what you are experiencing. The dynamics of objects and living entities in that ‘real’ reality supposedly unfolds according to certain regularities and patterns – the laws of physics – that exist outside mind. As it unfolds, it leaves an imprint on your sense organs – like footprints – which your brain then uses to perform a reconstruction of reality inside your head.

A big part of the motivation for our culture’s current embrace of materialism is the observed regularities according to which reality seems to unfold: it is hard to imagine for most people that it is the unfolding of contents of mind itself – that otherwise voluble and rather unstable medium we associate with the ego – that obeys what we call the ‘laws of physics.’ Moreover, the world ‘outside’ feels very separate from our egoic minds. We don’t seem to have any direct mental influence on reality and often feel entirely at the mercy of impersonal, external forces.

As we discussed above, this impression arises solely because we ordinarily identify ourselves with only a very small part of our minds: our personal egoic awareness. Yet, each one of us has direct experience of the broader aspects of mind: when we dream at night: it is undeniable our minds that construct and project the entire universe of our dreams. It is created by a part of mind that we have no control over.

Imagine mind as the screen of a movie theater. Images on the screen represent the entire set of your subjective experiences. Materialism states that those images have an external source and are captured by ‘cameras’ – our sense organs – used to record the movie you are watching. Under idealism, on the other hand, only the movie theater exists: all images you see are generated in the theater itself, like a computer animation rendered in real-time, and have no external source. We can empirically identify certain patterns and regularities in the unfolding of those images. The so-called laws of physics are simply a model of these observed patterns and regularities according to which the pixels of these images seem to change.

Fragment from: Why Materialism is Baloney, Bernardo Kastrup

Het moeilijke probleem van bewustzijn

In deze TED-talk legt David Chalmers het probleem uit waar hij beroemd mee is geworden: the hard problem of consciousness. Hoe leidt de activiteit van miljoenen fysieke zenuwcellen in de hersenen tot subjectieve ervaringen? Waarom hebben we überhaupt ervaringen en zijn we geen zombies?

Voor een aantal neurowetenschappers bestaat er geen moeilijk probleem. Subjectieve ervaringen ontstaan vanzelf uit hersenactiviteiten (emergentie) en computersimulaties in de toekomst zullen dit aantonen. En dan zijn er filosofen als Daniel Dennett die het bestaan van bewustzijn volledig ontkennen en hier nog trots op lijken te zijn ook.

Chalmers vermoedt dat bewustzijn iets universeels is, zoals zwaartekracht, en dat de wetenschap het ook zo moet behandelen. Hiermee lijkt hij te neigen naar het idealisme, een filosofische stroming die zegt dat alles in bewustzijn plaatsvindt en niks erbuiten. Voor mij is dit de simpelste verklaring voor onze innerlijke wereld.

Sceptici zullen wellicht aanvoeren dat het belachelijk is te stellen dat de wereld verdwijnt wanneer je niet kijkt, maar de echte scepticus zou juist moeten denken: wat voor bewijs is er voor dat de wereld nog bestaat als we niet kijken? Accepteren dat juist het fantaseren van een externe wereld een onnodige aanname is (Ockhams scheermes) en dat wanneer die aanname verdwijnt, we opeens verklaringen hebben voor een heel scala aan moeilijk verklaarbare fenomenen, waaronder bewustzijn.

The Mind-Body Problem (Resolved)

Since the 17th century, the march of science has swept all before it. The route mapped out by Copernicus, Newton, Darwin and Einstein is dotted with numerous significant milestones along the way giving hope that, in time, even the remotest regions of the universe and the innermost secrets of the atom will be exposed by science…

Or will they? There is at least one mystery that has so far resisted the best efforts of scientists and philosophers alike: the human mind. This mind/body problem is arguably the thorniest of all philosophical issues.

We are all immediately conscious of our consciousness. We have thoughts, feelings, desires that are subjective and private to us. In stark contrast, science is triumphantly objective. So how can something as strange as consciousness conceivably exist in the physical world that is being exposed by science?

As in epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge, so in the philosophy of mind, the Frenchmen René Descartes made an impact in the 17th century that has reverberated through Western philosophy till this present day. Descartes’ refuge in the certainty of his own self naturally lead him to give an exalted status to mind in relation to everything in the world outside it. In metaphysical terms he conceived mind as an entirely distinct entity as mental substance whose essential nature is thinking. Everything else is matter or material substance whose defining characteristic is spatial extension a.i. filling physical space. Thus he envisioned two distinct realms; one of immaterial minds with mental properties such as thinking and feeling. Another of material bodies with physical properties such as mass and shape.

Problems for dualism
A desire to drink causes my arm to lift the glass. A drawing pin in my foot causes me pain. Mind and body interact. Mental effects bring about physical ones and vice versa. But the need for such interaction immediately casts doubt on the Cartesian picture. It is a basic scientific principle that a physical effect requires a physical cause. But by making mind and matter essentially different, Descartes appears to have made interaction possible. Descartes himself recognized the problem, and realized it would take God’s intervention to enable the necessary causal relationship. But he did little else to resolve the issue.

Descartes younger contemporary and follower, Nicolas Malebranche, accepted the duality and took it upon himself to tackle the problem. His surprising resolution was to claim that interaction did not in fact occur at all. Instead, on every occasion when a conjunction of mental and physical interaction was required, God acted to make it happen. So creating the appearance of cause and effect. The awkwardness of this doctrine, known as occasionalism, got little support and serves mostly to highlight the seriousness of the problem it was intended to fix.

Idealism & physicalism
The obvious response to the difficulties facing the substance-dualism of Descartes, is to adopt a monistic approach to claim that there is only one kind of stuff in the world, either mental or physical. A few – most notably George Berkeley – have taken the idealist path claiming that reality consists of nothing but minds and their ideas. But the great majority – certainly amongst modern day philosophers have opted for some form of physicalist explanation. Driven on by the undeniable successes by science in other areas, the physicalist insists that the mind too must be brought within the purview of science and since the subject matter of science is exclusively physical, the mind must also be physical. The task then becomes to explain how mind – subjective and private – fits into a purely physical account of the world; objective and publically accessible.

Physicalism has taken a number of different forms. What they have in common is that they are all reductive. They claim to show that mental phenomena can be analyzed, fully and exhaustively, in purely physical terms. Advances in neuroscience have left little doubt that mental states are intimately related to states of the brain. The simplest cause for the physicalist is thus to claim that mental phenomena are actually identical to physical events and phenomena in the brain. The most radical versions of such identity theories are eliminative. They propose that – as out scientific knowledge advances – folk psychology, our ordinary ways of thinking and expressing our mental life in terms of believes, desires, intensions and so on, will disappear. They will be replaced by accurate descriptions and concepts drawn principally from neuroscience.

Physicalist solutions to the mind-body problem brush aside many of the difficulties of dualism at a stroke. Predictably, critics of physicalism complain that its proposers have brushed aside too much. That its successes have been achieved at the heaviest cost: a failing to capture the essence of conscious experience, its subjective nature.

Source: 50 philosophy ideas you really need to know, Ben Dupré

(Resolved)
Fast forward to present day 2017. Quite a few scientists have become frustrated with the failure of science to give an explanation for mind though the general public is not aware of this failure. Also, there is a growing body of evidence for consciousness existing separate from the physical brain and being continually present in the cosmos. This correlates precisely with cutting-edge physics, which posits that things in our time and space are not intrinsically real, but are manifestations of a hidden dimension where they exist in the forms of superstrings, information fields, and energy matrices.

I am personally convinced that the mind-body problem has already been resolved, and the exception amongst Western philosophers – George Berkeley – got it right. It will take a long time before the general paradigm is shifted though. This is a ‘the world is not flat’ type of turnaround that takes time for the science community and general population to digest.

Read also: What Schrödinger’s Cat Tells Us About Reality