Matter is not fundamental to reality, MIND is. And what if that mind had multiple personality disorder? Oh this rabbit hole goes DEEP…
Bernardo Kastrup is the executive director of Essentia Foundation. His work has been leading the modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism, the notion that reality is essentially mental. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy (ontology, philosophy of mind) and another Ph.D. in computer engineering (reconfigurable computing, artificial intelligence). As a scientist, Bernardo has worked for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the ‘Casimir Effect‘ of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). Formulated in detail in many academic papers and books, his ideas have been featured on Scientific American, the Institute of Art and Ideas, the Blog of the American Philosophical Association and Big Think, among others. Bernardo’s most recent book is The Idea of the World: A multi-disciplinary argument for the mental nature of reality. For more information, freely downloadable papers, videos, etc., please visit www.bernardokastrup.com.
And here’s a followup interview with physicist and inventor Federico Faggin.
Full transcript below
Dr. Z: Hey everyone, Dr. Z. Welcome to “The ZDoggMD Show.” Today, I am doing something incredibly self-indulgent that I hope you will love as well. We’re diving into the philosophy of reality. What is reality? And my guest today is Dr. Bernardo Kastrup. He’s a little bit of a gunner, as we say in medicine. He has two PhDs. One is in computer science and is specializing in artificial intelligence and reconfigurable systems and things like that. The second is in philosophy of mind. And it turns out Bernardo’s written a bunch of books. One of them is called, “Why Materialism Is Baloney,” which is probably the greatest title of all time. And we’re gonna dive in why he thinks, and I tend to agree, but I’m gonna challenge him a little bit, why he thinks that our entire paradigm of reality is wrong and why that matters, not just for healthcare, but for everything. Bernardo, welcome to the show, brother.
Dr. Kastrup: Great pleasure to be here. I’m looking forward to this.
Dr. Z: So you’re in the Netherlands right now, right?
Dr. Kastrup: Yeah. South of the country, yeah.
Dr. Z: And you guys are having a bit of a third surge, I understand. Your ICU’s are filling up?
Dr. Kastrup: That’s right, we are still in the lockdown and under curfew after 9:00 PM. Stringent measures are here. I’m not sure we will have a holiday summer this year, again, we will see.
Dr. Z: Well, are you guys still slow in getting the vaccines spun up?
Dr. Kastrup: Very slow, there is no prediction about when people my age will get a vaccine. Right now, they’re just vaccinating people at very high risk and older people. So I don’t know when my turn will come. But we will see.
Dr. Z: Well, I hope it comes soon, because I think that’s our way out of this mess, as you know. But okay, let’s dive into this, because I think I have been following your work and I’m fascinated by it and I’ve been interested in consciousness ever since I was very young when I sort of looked at the world and thought, “Something’s not right.” I was really fascinated by science, really interested in medicine and in people and in relationships, but something always felt a little wrong in our paradigm because even though I didn’t, you know, classically believe in God or anything like that, religion didn’t quite feel right for me, but neither did the materialist paradigm, meaning there’s stuff as the fundamental truth of reality, there’s matter and atoms. And, somehow, awareness and love and the taste of chocolate and a headache and the bitterness of disappointment arise from dead matter in the universe that at one point had no awareness. It never felt right. And, recently, I’ve been more and more disabused of this notion. So help me understand, first of all, how you got interested in this, and then walk us through the materialist paradigm, in other words, our dominant scientific and cultural worldview right now. And then we’ll talk about why it may be wrong.
Dr. Kastrup: Well, I think I was born sort of a philosopher, because since I was a kid, I liked to ask the big questions. my father died when I was 12, which sort of propelled that tendency that was already latent in me, forward big time, you know, asking the big questions. But that journey was interrupted by university. I went to university. I had just turned 17. And then you’re busy, you know, discovering the world and creating a space in the world for yourself. You know how that goes. So this question sort of went to the background until, at some point, I started working a lot, even in my personal life as a hobby, with artificial intelligence. And then you come across the question, you know, if you can build an intelligent machine, do you have any reason to believe that that machine will also be conscious, that it would not only perform calculations but that there would be something it is like to perform those calculations? And then I came back to the old philosophical questions that I always ask myself. And when I looked more deeply into those questions, I realized that although materialism seems to be very intuitive at a superficial level, when you scratch the surface, only a little bit, you don’t need to go deep at all, just ask the next question in the chain of questions you can ask, and you quickly realize that it is rather easy to reduce materialism to absurdity, as we say, in philosophy, which is to disprove it. It seems intuitive because it tells us that there is an objective world out there independent of our individual minds. Now, I agree with that. Of course there is a world out there that doesn’t care about whether I think it’s nice or not, because if it did, it would be different right now. I would have already imagined it to be something other than what it is. For starters, there would be no COVID pandemic if I could change the world by a mere act of volition. So there is an objective world out there. But materialism goes one step further, and it says, in that objective world is fundamentally distinct from mentation, from mind stuff. And by the way, mind stuff somehow is created or generated by specific configurations of that other kind of stuff that we call matter, even though nobody in the history of philosophy or science has had any clue about how this miracle of the creation of consciousness from something non-conscious is actually performed. And then, if you go a little bit more deeper than that, you realize that what most of us understand as materialism is not materialism at all. Most of us thinks that, you know, the colors of the world are really out there. The flavors are really out there. The melodies are really out there. But materialism will tell you that none of these is true. Color, as a quality, is something mental that is created by your brain inside your skull. And so is melody. And so is flavor. And so is aroma. The real world out there has no colors. You can’t visualize it because if you visualize it, you’re bringing mind into the picture. And according to materialism, that world has nothing to do with mind. So it’s a pure abstraction that I think most people would intuitively reject if they actually understood what materialism was.
Dr. Z: So I think what’s interesting is you’re describing a dualism. To this degree, you’re saying that we have our mind stuff, which the materialists would say is created by dead atoms and material that configure themselves in some mysterious way that somehow emerge our internal subjective world, and that the real world out there, according to materialists, is something that has no qualities like that because we create the qualities in our mind. And so our current worldview is this, it’s saying there’s a world out there that’s dead, that is just stuff and energy and vibrating fields and things like that. We turn it in, through our own dead vibrating fields, and somehow magically into the look of a red apple with the glistening water on it ’cause you’ve just washed it. And that, okay, that’s the dominant paradigm. That’s what we think right now, correct?
Dr. Kastrup: That’s correct. Yeah.
Dr. Z: Now when did we start thinking this way? Because I think it helps people understand how mankind has come to this conclusion in violation of what the intuition might be, which is, “Oh, if there’s a green leaf, then that green is the real thing. My experience is the real thing.”
Dr. Kastrup: Yeah, not according to materialism. According to materialism, the world of your experience is entirely within your head. So there is a literal sense in which, according to materialism, the inner surface of your skull is beyond the walls of the room you see around you because the walls as you see them are qualitative, and, therefore, they are are mental. And, therefore, they are somehow created by your brain inside your skull. And your real skull is beyond the walls, beyond the ceiling of the room you’re in. This is what materialism actually says. Now, where did it start? Which was your question. Some would claim it goes back to Democritus over 2 1/2, well, over 2000 years ago, because that was the birth of atomism, the idea that you can divide things into ever smaller pieces until you get to something that cannot be divided anymore. I don’t think that is accurate. I don’t think this dichotomy of mind and un-mind was present in those times. It’s much more accurate, I think, in the Western world at least, to go back to Descartes and the great partition of the world between mind, which was left for the church so scientists wouldn’t be burned at the stake, so they would leave something for the church that the church themselves considered to be all that matters, mind, psyche, soul. You know, mind and soul are two translations of the same Greek word: psyche. So Descartes left the psyche for the church and he invented this other thing called matter, which was supposed to be totally distinct from the psyche, from the soul, from mind. And that was what scientists would then do. And this sort of carving out of the political space allowed scientists to not be burned at the stake, which was a very good thing at the time. But it sort of snowballed. It grew beyond proportion. It became something that is, on the face of it, absurd. And it became the dominant paradigm in the Western world in the second half of the 19th century or so. And what may have propelled it, there are many different opinions about it, but what may have propelled it is that, at some point, scientists begun to reject anything that could smell of putting human beings in the center of the universe, because they’ve tried to do this before and they got disappointed multiple times. They fell flat on their faces. And something in the collective psyche of scientists said, “We are never going to make that mistake again. We are nothing, you know, humanity is nothing. We are irrelevant in this immense universe that is not even of the same nature that we are. Clearly, we are mental beings, and this universe is not even mental.” And so this sort of prejudice became mainstream in the late 19th century. And it has been mainstream ever since. Although, since the turn of the 21st century, science itself is beginning to, I think, irremediably weaken this because it just doesn’t stand up to reason or thorough empirical investigation.
Dr. Z: This is really fascinating, because the origin of this, let’s assume that what you’re gonna say is correct, this delusion, this idea that we are separate from the universe and, you know, mental stuff is different than physical stuff and physical stuff is primal and we are just a rounding error on a dead impersonal universe. We’re nothing near the center, and certainly completely expendable. And it’s a very borderline nihilistic view. Why, what, what’s the meaning, what’s the purpose? But that became mainstream for the reasons that you say. And then you mentioned, which is a perfect segue to this, in the 21st century, science itself is going, “But wait, materialism has some problems.” So maybe tell me what are the posits of materialism that you think are compelling as a case? And then where are the holes emerging, scientifically, in the case that the universe is dead stuff that emerges consciousness?
Dr. Kastrup: Well, I think materialism has played a role in the early days of science because it sort of isolated the investigator from the investigated. And it led to a sort of built-in objectivity in the scientific process because of the assumptions that were made from the get go. But, at some point, it became just a way for the tough people to distinguish themselves from the wishful thinkers, from the gullible populace who wanted good news while the scientists were the tough guys who stare at the facts in the face. And there is some ego building around that notion. Today, materialism is, I would argue it’s untenable unless you adopt absurd hypothesis about what’s going on. I can mention them. One of the key tenants of materialism is that objects have standalone existence. So whether you are looking at an object, perceiving it or not, measuring it or not, that object exists and has its properties. So it has a certain mass, a certain size, is moving in a certain direction, regardless of whether anybody’s measuring it or not. And what the latest experimental results in quantum mechanics are telling us is that this is a false assumption. What quantum mechanics calls observables, things that can be measured, such as weight, mass, charge, momentum, speed, frequency, amplitude, all these things only come into existence by virtue of the act of measurement. The only exist when they are measured. Before they are measured, they are just potentials. The best you can say is to abstract, whatever there is out there when nobody’s measuring, to abstract it and say, “Well, it’s a wave of probabilities,” or something like that. And smart experiments have shown us that before measurements, the things you measure don’t really exist. They cannot exist. They are not defined before measurement. And, well, if matter as we understand it is not there until a mind sort of apprehends its properties, then materialism cannot be right, unless, and this is the way out that many scientists are peddling, unless you grant that there are kazillions, countless new material universes popping into existence every fraction of a femtosecond, and for which we have precisely zero empirical evidence. So either you choose that or you admit that, okay, what we call matter is not a standalone reality, it is a representation. It is an image of something else deeper, something that is really out there that’s not part of my mind or your mind or my cat’s mind. It’s something that is really out there but it isn’t material. It is likely mental, because mentality is all we know for sure. It’s what nature grants us as a given of existence. So matter may be just a sort of a superficial appearance of a deeper, transpersonal, extended mentality that isn’t your mind, isn’t my mind, but it is mental in nature.
Dr. Z: And, okay, so we’re gonna dive into all the things you just said in more detail. But I think going back to this idea that physicalism, materialism has a huge problem, which is quantum mechanics and the idea that, experiment after experiment, like you said, very clever experiments imply that time is not maybe what we think, that space maybe isn’t even what we think, and that things don’t seem to settle into a real position, spin, whatever it is, until they are apprehended or measured. And then they all try to squirrel out of that and say, “Well, no, it’s really a measurement issue. You know, it’s a question of.” Or there’s multiple universes, like you said, where, “So we can explain that, because everything that could have happened actually happened in some universe,” which, again, we have no evidence for. So you’re making these very complex theories out of something that could be solved quite parsimoniously and simply by saying, “Well, maybe then there isn’t matter,” because we’ve never found matter. The more we look, the more weird stuff we find. It’s kind of like looking at your computer screen and going, “Oh, the image of Bernardo there, he’s got cool glasses. He’s in a cool room with a lot of books. He used to work for CERN, which is the the European sort of big physics thing. He’s worked in quantum mechanics. He’s worked in computer science. So he’s kind of been in this world.” But then, I look at that computer and I go, “What is Bernardo? Let me look closer.” I look closer and I see a colored pixel vibrating, and I go, “Well, he’s made of colored pixels that vibrate.” I look even closer, oh, there’s little even smaller pixels in there. And then I get to the limit of my instrument’s ability to look. And I assume that everything is made out of those colored pixels, whereas in reality, you exist in a space and a time completely different than my ability to apprehend it based on my interface with reality. Is it something like that that’s going on here?
Dr. Kastrup: It’s precisely like that, precisely like that. I think you just nailed it. We got used to think of images as the thing in itself, although Kant already warned us 250 years ago, more or less, and Schopenhauer after him 200 years ago, they already warned us that the phenomenon, you know, what appears on the screen of our perception, whether it’s aided by instrumentation or not, the things we call matter, extended matter in space and time, these are representations. These are how the world as it is in itself present itself to us upon being observed. And of course these representations are not there if you’re not looking, because the world as it is in itself is not the representation. It is the thing that projects the representation. And it is the only thing that has standalone existence. So matter is representation as the image and appearance. And the more we zoom into matter, the more we realize that it’s just pixels. There is nothing else that has standalone existence. Actually, if you look close enough, even the pixels disappear, and then you start having to talk in terms of pure abstraction, like quantum fields, which are just mathematical tools. So we have no reason to think of quantum fields as existent, if you know what I mean. And it’s not only physics. It’s a neuroscience of consciousness. It’s hitting some walls that outright contradict materialism. And people are desperate to find a way out of it, just like physicists have been desperate to find a way out of these contradictions from quantum physics. And analytic philosophy itself shows that, you know, even if you don’t look at the empirical data, even if you just reason things out with discipline, applying logic consistently, you are probably not going to choose materialism because it leads to insoluble problems, like the hard problem of consciousness. There are better options on the table.
Dr. Z: And I’m glad you brought up hard problem of consciousness, because, to me, this was the thorn in my mind, as Morpheus said, that is constantly digging there. I mean, I consider “The Matrix” a documentary. So it was this discomfort, like how is it that these three pounds of wet goo are generating my rich inner life and my imagination and my appreciation for music and comedy and whatever it is that I’m into? How on Earth? Yes, the brain is the most complex entity that we know of in the known universe. It has more connections between synapses than, you know, the stars in the universe or whatever it is. It’s mysterious in many ways and very simple in others. we can cut it open and we can measure it. We can measure ion gates. We can measure EEG. We have fMRI. We can look at correlations between my internal experience and what lights up in parts of the brain. And we can do all of that, and yet are nowhere even close to understanding how that generates a headache, the sensation of a headache. I mean, it’s, to me, and this got me so crazy, I was like, there’s gotta be a way. And the thing is, you can go in college, and I’m just gonna rant for a second, in college, maybe you do some LSD or do some psilocybin and you have these experiences where what is shown to you feels like revealed truth. You go, “Oh, oh, wait a minute. This is all one consciousness. What?” And you feel that, and then you bring it back when you sober up and run it through the materialist paradigm you were taught and you go, “Well, boy, isn’t that crazy when you mess with the gates in your ion channels and how it messes with your experience.” And it never felt right. But, yet, that’s the best we could do.
Dr. Kastrup: And, you know, the interesting thing that we’ve discovered since 2012 and now has been repeated multiple times over, so this is established fact now, is that psychedelics only reduce brain activity. They do not increase brain activity anywhere. So as you’re having the richest and most intense experience of your life, your brain is effectively going to sleep. And materialist neuroscientists are scrambling now to find any even seemingly absurd hypothesis to try to make sense of this. So they’re talking now about the anthropic brain. So the hypothesis is that the level of entropy, the level of disorganization in your brain may explain the richer and intenser experience, even though, statistically, that increasing disorganization is minimal and no tripper who has had a psychedelic trip would accept that the coherence of the trip is somehow created by an increase in noise. A trip is not noisy. I mean, it’s noise in the sense that you cannot extract hard conclusions about what’s going on. But it’s not noise in the sense that it’s not incoherent. It’s not white noise. Those are very coherent experiences. So, yeah, there’s a desperate hunt for a way out for materialism. But I think the results of that desperate hunt, if anything, they make materialism look absolutely silly because the hypothesis that are being proposed are ridiculous. Look, none of this is to deny fact. And it is a fact that if a neurosurgeon cracks my skull open and start poking around in my brain with an electrical probe, he will induce experiences in me. Obviously, there are very tight correlations between brain activity and the inner experience, but correlation doesn’t imply a specific direction of causation. If the brain is just what my conscious inner life looks like when observed from the outside, if the brain is a representation, an image, of course the image will correlate with the phenomenon that it is an image of, because it’s the image of that phenomenon. And of course, you know, if you’re consistent in your world view and you are an idealist and you think everything is fundamentally mental, not in your mind alone, not in my mind alone, but fundamentally mental, then that surgeon with an electric probe poking around your brain, that too is the appearance, the image of a mental process. And it is that mental process, beyond the boundaries of your individual self, that interfere with your own mental inner life. And that one mental process interferes with another is trivial. It happens every day. My thoughts affect my emotions and the other way around.
Dr. Z: So, all right, basically, what we’re doing is, let’s use Don Hoffman’s metaphor, which is what we see is like a desktop interface, like a graphical user interface, and brain is an icon. So brain is an icon on your desktop. You take your icons seriously, because they point to something, they point to, in this case, a rich inner life, a discrete experience viewpoint. And so you can mess with that icon and things will happen to the rich inner experience. But you don’t take the icon literally. You don’t go, “That’s a brain.” And it’s the same when the neurosurgeon, who is another icon who’s exchanging experience with your icon of brain, things change. And they correlate quite directly because, just as the trash icon on your desktop correlates directly to your ability to delete files permanently, the brain icon correlates directly to your discreet, conscious field of experience. And you can mess with it in probably predictable ways. And so much of neuroscience, as a doctor I’ll tell you, so much of neuroscience is trying to establish the easy problem of consciousness, what are the correlates, and completely sweeps under the rug the hard problem, which is why are we, wait, how can stuff lead to this? And medicine even reduces it further and go, “You’re either conscious or you’re not.” And we question vegetative states and what’s going on in that. And I think we’re, even anesthesia, like, are we aware during? All these questions arise from a materialist standpoint, they become intractable and very simplified and dangerously wrong in that, well, now we potentially induce suffering in living creatures. We reduce mental illness to gates in serotonin, to the correlates, instead of what’s the fundamental root experience that’s going on. And so I’ll let you comment on that, and then I want to start to explore, okay, if physicalism has failed, what’s your proposal that replaces it?
Dr. Kastrup: Yeah, look, I have compassion for sincere materialists because it is not easy to evaluate the situation objectively once you have grown up in an ecosystem, in a culture, in a society that peddles materialism to you from the get go, from the time you learn language. So it’s very difficult to think and evaluate things in neutral terms. You’re always embedding hidden materialist assumptions in your process of thinking, and, therefore, materialism becomes sort of a self-fulfilling promise. I can give you a couple of examples. A materialist will say that, for an idealist, somebody who thinks everything is mental, that they think the whole world is in their heads. Well, no, it’s precisely the opposite. It’s materialism that says that the world you experience is entirely inside your head because it’s generated by your brain and what is really out there, you have no direct access to. An idealist would say precisely the opposite. An idealist would say your head is in mind, because your head is that thing that is perceived. And if it is perceived, it’s in mind. Therefore, your mind is not in your head, it’s the other way around. But a materialist will pooh-pooh an idealist by projecting materialism, the absurdity of materialism, onto that other hypothesis. And people do that very easily. Sincere, intelligent people do that very easily. Or, they projected dualism. Like they say, “Well, of course matter precedes mind, because if I go cutting around your brain, I will alter your inner life.” Well, we don’t even need to go that far. Drink beer and something will alter your inner life because you ingest the substance. But they are thinking in dualistic terms. They are thinking of matter and mind as separate, therefore, the material process causally influences the mind. But they forget that when you say that everything is mental, then the beer and the scalpel are also the images of mental processes. There is nothing physical in an ontological sense. And look, as I say all this, I’m not denying that thing we call matter. That thing we call matter is obviously out there. I can hold a bottle of water right now and it feels very solid. But the color, the solidity, the feel of it in my hands are mental things. They are qualitative things. So we are denying the interpretation of what we call matter. We are not denying that which we call matter.
Dr. Z: So, okay, this is very important. We need to dive into something that you said, which is a lot of materialists will, and, again, I think, like you said, they’re well-meaning and they’re actually conditioned that way and I was in that camp for many years, but unhappily, and I would even go further and say they’re ego-defended. So, in other words, so much of personal identity and reality is invested in this idea that we’re “stuff” that emerges reality that if you challenge that idea, not only do they shut down, they become violently opposed to the idea. And I’ve had people scream at me for my interview with Don Hoffman, which they found very destabilizing because he’s basically saying a version of what you’re saying. The other thing I wanna say about that is they’ll then accuse the proposer of the theory of either being a new-age, woo-woo cuckoo, or they’ll say you’re a solipsist, meaning what you’re saying, you think you create the universe, that you can manipulate the universe, and that it’s only you and everybody else is an illusion. That is not what you’re saying. And it’s not what I’m saying, right?
Dr. Kastrup: Absolutely correct. Nobody is denying that there is something out there beyond my personal mind. What we deny is the need to postulate something other than mentality to explain whatever is out there. To have a metaphor to make sense of this, suppose that you’re standing on the Earth and you’re looking to the horizon. And because of the curvature of the Earth, there is only so far you can see because, you know, the rest goes below the horizon. So you can’t see the rest. So you can only infer the rest. And idealist would say, up until the horizon, what I can see directly, what I can experience and become acquainted directly with, it’s all mentality. It’s all I have. It’s my mind. It’s my conscious experiences. Whatever is not within this sphere of my conscious experiences is only a hypothesis. It’s an inference. So up until the horizon, it’s mental. Now, if I have to grant that there is something beyond the horizon to make sense of the fact that we all seem to share the same world and to acknowledge that other people also have their own minds, so I have to postulate or infer something beyond the horizon, an idealist would say, “Well, if up until the horizon it’s mental, then beyond the horizon, we infer that whatever is out there is also mental.” A materialist would say, “Up until the horizon is mental, but beyond the horizon, it’s something totally else, completely abstract called matter. And by the way, in ways I cannot begin to explain that abstract thing, it also create the mentality that goes until the horizon.” I don’t think this is the most reasonable, conceptually parsimonious way to go about things.
Dr. Z: It’s not, it violates Occam’s razor, which is, a lot of times, the simplest solution is correct. There’s no reason the universe has to be simple. There’s no reason it has to be parsimonious to be correct, but materialism introduces dualism, it introduces these contradictions that it fails to solve, and by generating the hard problem of consciousness. Actually-
Dr. Kastrup: Absolutely.
Dr. Z: Right? It generates that. It’s not like this is an extant problem in the world, like, “How do we generate consciousness from brain?” No, materialists have a theory that then generates the problem, like, well then, why are we awake?
Dr. Kastrup: Absolutely. The hard problem of consciousness is the absurd implication of the materialists hypothesis. If I can formulate it accurately, I would say there is nothing about material or physical parameters in terms of which we could deduce any of the qualities of experience. There is nothing about a particular pattern of brain activity in terms of which I could deduce how it feels like to have a bellyache or to fall in love or to taste a strawberry. We know that there are empirical correlations. And we can catalog the correlations, but there is nothing in principle about physicality in terms of which you can deduce mentality, so you are left with an impassable gap. Now, under any other circumstances, that would just be the point when you say, “This hypothesis has no future, let’s backtrack. We took a wrong turn somewhere in our line of thinking, because it has been reduced to an absurdity now. Let’s try something else.” But because we are culturally so committed to it, instead of acknowledging the absurd implication, we label it a problem. And we say, “One day we might solve it.” Well, good luck with that. Pull a chair out while you’re waiting.
Dr. Z: Okay, so basically, and we’re gonna get into your theory in detail, but I wanna dwell a little bit more on the absurdity of the current paradigm, because I want people to start to instinctually feel the same discomfort that we feel with the absurdity of materialism. And, again, because people are resistant to this, I think building that case first before you go, “Now, here’s a different idea of what reality might be.” And it isn’t solipsism. It isn’t saying that it’s just my mind and nobody else’s mind. Your proposal is different. It’s very remarkable, actually. And I think people are gonna wanna hear it. But it seems to me like physics and science, whether it’s astrophysics, et cetera, we’re pushing, so for the last three, 400 years, we’ve really nailed it. I mean, quantum mechanics allowed us to make the electronics that we’re communicating with, medicine has advanced dramatically, mostly through vaccines and public health. The rest of it’s mostly garbage except for some surgical stuff. I firmly believe most of what we do doesn’t work, but it has a mental component to it, which we’ll talk about. It implies a therapeutic alliance and a healing effect and a placebo effect that we discount in our materialist paradigm, and yet is probably the majority of healing for a lot of people. But all this stuff has worked to a degree that it’s worked. But now, we start to run into some problems. Quantum mechanics, like the more we look down with our Large Hadron Collider and we find the Higgs boson and this and that and then more contradictions appear, well, why isn’t it reconcilable with relativity? And how come when we keep looking down, then we propose strings which are more abstractions that are mathematical abstraction? We seem to be running up against a wall, particularly in physics where things really haven’t advanced in a while. Is that because we’re hitting the pixel density of our interface, rather than actually looking at reality?
Dr. Kastrup: I think when you talk about foundations of physics, I think we are most definitely reaching the resolution of the interface itself. So if you look closer, you only see bigger pixels or things would disappear altogether, because you start looking in between the pixels. Look, science is the study of nature’s behavior, not of what nature is. So it is a misunderstanding to attribute scientific and technological developments to materialism. Materialism is just a way of thinking about that behavior. But what empirical experimentation gives you is information about the behavior, not about the nature of the thing that behaves. And this is a very important distinction, because it bears on the scientific method itself. What questions can it answer fundamentally? And the scientific method is based on experimentation. And what experiments tell you is how nature behaves, how nature reacts to an initial set of circumstances and an action imprinted on nature. So, fundamentally, it only tells you how nature behaves. But that’s enough for you to develop technology. If you have behavioral models of nature, predictive models, and you know how nature will respond if you do this and that, that’s all you need to create mobile phones and medicine and cars and spaceships. It is irrelevant what nature essentially is. That’s why is-ness, or being, is the subject of metaphysics. And metaphysics means literally the study of what is. Only, in the popular culture, it has come to mean some spiritual woo-woo.
Dr. Z: Woo-woo.
Dr. Kastrup: Well, that’s not what the word actually means, technically, metaphysics, the study of being, science is the study of behavior. I can explain this with a metaphor. Imagine, I don’t know whether you have kids, but imagine a seven-year-old kid playing a computer game. The kid will inventorize the behavior of that game. He or she will know exactly what the game will do if he or she acts in this or that way, so much so, that kid can become the world champion in that computer game. The kid understands the behavior of that game and has turned it into an art, a fine art. He knows exactly what to do to get the results he wants to get. But to do that, he doesn’t need to understand the first thing about what the game actually is, all the software, all the hardware, the processors, the memory, the bus conflicts. And all that stuff is irrelevant for the kids to learn the game and win, because it’s all about behavior. Science, and I don’t wanna put science down, I mean, science is the major thing in my life-
Dr. Z: Me too.
Dr. Kastrup: But I think it’s healthy for scientists to recognize what the scientific method can tell you and what it cannot so you can do good science instead of bad philosophy. And what science does is to learn how to play the game. It does not settle questions of being, even though it can inform questions of being and it can take some alternatives off the table, like, arguably, quantum mechanics is doing now. It’s taking materialism off the table, but it doesn’t tell you what is. It can only tell you what cannot be because of some contradictions.
Dr. Z: So, basically, science, in our current worldview, in our estimation when we talk about your theory, is the behavior of the interface we’re able to perceive with whatever underlying reality there is. So the metaphysics of is-ness, of being, of awakeness, of awareness or whatever we wanna call it, that’s one thing, but we can still play the video game of life and win by manipulating icons in this thing. Like our child would play “Grand Theft Auto,” or my kids play “Crossy Castle.” Like you said, they’re really good at it, but they don’t have the first clue about the quantum mechanics involved that generated the microprocessor. By the way, I’m having Federico Faggin on the show in a couple of weeks, and he’s gonna talk about this stuff too. Kind of the father the microprocessor. And the idea that that’s science and it’s important and nothing that we are gonna say now moving forward impacts that in a way that lessens its brilliance or the fact that it’s crucially important. What it what it will do is add a deeper layer of truth to what science is, and that will empower it for the next phase of our understanding. That that’s the way I look at it anyway.
Dr. Kastrup: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Dr. Z: Yeah, yeah. So now, okay, it’s not this stuff. This is just icon, it’s all mental. That makes no sense to me. What do you mean? What’s the universe made of, and what’s it doing? And how come I can access your conscience? You know, there’s a million questions here. So hit me up with your idealism theory.
Dr. Kastrup: Okay. Okay. Let’s start easy with a thought experiment. Imagine that you are very sad, even despairing, a feeling we all are well acquainted with, I believe. If you aren’t, you haven’t lived long enough and you are going to be. And then we go to the mirror in the bathroom and we see that contorted face, that image on the mirror and tears flowing down the eyes. Do we think that that face, contorted, the contorted muscles and the tears flowing down the eyes, do do we think that that’s all of the story, that that’s all there is to say about sadness? We don’t, we know that that’s just a image, a representation of what is actually the thing in itself, the sadness we feel from within. My contorted face and the tears in my eyes are just what my sadness looks like when it’s observed from a certain viewpoint, like in the mirror or when somebody else is looking at me. From within, there are no tears, there are no contorted muscles. From within, there is only the thing in itself, which is the sadness. Now, we all understand this. We understand this distinction between the external representation and the thing in itself, which is the only standalone reality, the thing that projects the external representation. But we forget about it when it comes to the rest of the world. We think that the rocks and the moons and the volcanoes, we think they are the thing in itself. We think that they are the whole story about the external world, which sort of requires an arbitrary discontinuity in our story about nature. When it comes to us, we know we have inner life and that our bodies is just the external appearance of our inner life, a problem we try to solve by saying, “Well, inner life doesn’t actually exist, it’s just the material stuff. It’s just the image.” And that’s a hard problem.
Dr. Z: It’s an illusion, as Dan Dennett would say.
Dr. Kastrup: It’s an illusion.
Dr. Z: Right? It’s just an illusion.
Dr. Kastrup: Yeah, yeah. And nevermind the fact that an illusion is already a conscious phenomenon.
Dr. Z: An experience! Yeah, right. Right, right.
Dr. Kastrup: It’s already the thing you’re trying to deny. So we understand that when it comes to us, but our intuition fails us when it comes to the rest of the world. So my point is the following: matter, all matter, including the tears in your eyes and including the galaxies out there, matter is the name we give to the extrinsic appearance of extended mental processes that may be out there or may be within here, in us, but either way, matter is how these mental processes look like when observed from a certain perspective. And to be more technical, that perspective means when they are observed from across a dissociative boundary. So for me, there is no arbitrary discontinuity in nature. Matter, all matter, is always what inner mentation looks like when observed from across a dissociative boundary. And then the question is, “Okay, where are these dissociative boundaries?” We can talk about that as well. But that is, in essence, what I’m putting forward. We can explain and make sense of everything by sticking to the one sole given of nature, which is mentation. We know mentation exists. That’s where it starts from for us. Anything else we come up with is a result of theoretical reflection. The given is mentation. And my point is we can explain everything in terms of mentation, not my mentation alone, not your mentation alone, there has to be extended mentation out there, but in all cases, the thing in itself is mentation. And matter is just a representation, the phenomena, or what Don calls the virtual reality headset. We have evolved to gather information about the world surrounding us in the form that we call matter because if we would just mirror the states of the external world within ourselves, we would dissolve into an entropic soup. We would not be able to resist the second law of thermodynamics. And this is a theorem that has been proven by a group of neuroscientists, by the way. We have to encode the information we get about the outside world in order to have a sort of at-a-glance view. So instead of feeling bits of what is actually happening in the mentation within which you are enveloped and surrounded, instead of feeling those directly by bits and pieces, you’ll get a dashboard. Evolution has given you a dashboard that conveys the relevant information in a very neat, compact way that provides an overview at a glance, which allows you to maintain your structural and dynamic integrity despite the second law of thermodynamics, and which optimizes your chances of survival. Matter is that dashboard. The problem is we tend to think about the dashboard as a transparent wind screen. Now, this is what we have to drop. There is no transparent windscreen. Evolution would have never done that. We wouldn’t be driven swiftly to extinction. That’s what Don has proven. And that’s what other neuroscientists have shown as well. We would dissolve in an entropic soup. There is no reason at all to think that the screen of our perception is a transparent windshield. It is most definitely not. It’s a set of dials on a dashboard. So are those dials the thing in itself, the world as it is in itself? Is a pilot flying in the middle of a storm, flying by instruments, when he looks down to his instrument panel, is what he sees the storm outside, the real sky, the clouds and the winds and lightening outside? Of course not. The dashboard provides critical, important information to the pilot that allows the pilot to fly safely and land safely. But the dashboard is not the world. When we say that the world is material, we are basically saying, “Well, the dashboard is the world.” Good luck trying to prove that or trying to make sense of that. It isn’t. And we will make more progress understanding life, the universe, and everything, understanding who we are and what the meaning of life is if we drop this rather, I think today we can say infantile idea which had a place in history, but we are not there anymore. There is no reason to stick to this infantile idea anymore. We know better today.
Dr. Z: As Don says, we’re making a rookie mistake of confusing our interface with the real world. We’re making a rookie mistake of confusing the video game with reality. And I’m gonna dig even deeper into what you’re saying. When you say everything is mental or mentation, another way to frame that is the universe is nothing, fundamentally, but mind stuff, consciousness, awareness. That is all that is. And it manifests through experiences that, as you say, are the thing in themselves. So the taste of chocolate is real. That’s the experience in and of itself. And the look of a chocolate bar is the experience that you’re having in and of itself. But the bar itself is not reality. In other words, there is no physical bar there that you’re manipulating. And if everything fundamentally is awareness, mind stuff, in order for it to behave the way we’re seeing it, in other words, and I want you to correct me when I’m wrong here, so, okay, and remember that spiritualists and mystics have been saying that everything is consciousness forever, but then the questions arise. Well, then why is it that I can’t read your mind? Why is it that if everything’s mind created, why is there so much consistency in the laws of nature, in the fact that you and I both looking at a car see the same car? The fact that, you know, we’re so afraid of death, it must mean that our consciousness completely ends. Where are these borders and distinctions? Why is there only one consciousness? All these questions arise, and you actually have thought through all of this. And I loved you to start to respond to the mess that I just threw at you.
Dr. Kastrup: It’s curious how in these kind of discussions we become blind to things that we know. And let me highlight that by just pointing them out to you. A lot of people who are not idealists would say, “Well, the world cannot be mental, because I cannot control the world at will. I can not just wish it to be different.” But let’s remember, you don’t control your dreams. You don’t control your nightmares, otherwise, you would not have them. You don’t control your obsessions, otherwise, nobody would be really obese. You don’t control your anxieties. Gosh, you don’t control your next thought. Where does your next thought come from? And now, it’s amazing how little of our own individual mentation we have under control. It’s amazing how little we understand about the internal consistency of our own dreams. So when we say that idealism can not be right because the world is out of control, it’s like, “Hey, where are you coming from when you make that statement?” So my argument is the following: since the advent of neuroimaging in the 21st century, we are in a position now to know that a certain phenomenon that has been in the annals of of psychiatry for at least over 100 years, we know that that phenomenon is real. Now we know that. And that phenomenon is dissociation. And there are many levels of dissociation. Some types of forgetfulness can be considered dissociative. But dissociative identity disorder is the big one. It is when a person claims to be many. And each of these dissociated personalities called alters, each of these alters sometimes even denies the existence of the other or denies being the other and claims to be a entity in its own right with its own dispositions, its own memories. And we know that that’s not fake. Now we know that, because neuroimaging experiments have shown that the dissociative processes can be distinguished from controls, you know, measurements made on actors pretending to be dissociated, pretending to themselves to be dissociated. Actual dissociation can be distinguished on the base of neuroimaging. And we know that disassociation is even blinding. There was this case of this woman in Germany in a study published in 2015, a woman who had several alters. And what was peculiar about that woman’s DID, or dissociative identity disorder, is that some of the alters claimed to be blind even though there was nothing wrong with the woman’s eyes. And other alters could see perfectly well. So, organically, there was nothing wrong with her. And the scientists had a brilliant idea. And the idea was, let’s hook her up to an EEG or an MEG, I don’t remember what it was, I think it was an EEG, and measure the visual cortex activity while the blind alter is in control. And guess what? With the blind alter in control, even though the woman’s eyes were wide open and things were happening in front of her, there was no activity in the visual cortex. Now you cannot fake that. And when another alter would assume control, then visual activity would come back in the visual cortex. This was published. So we know that the dissociation exists, and it’s strong enough to make you blind, literally, even though organically, there’s nothing wrong with you. Now, here is nature telling us that there is something in nature that does exactly what an idealist needs to happen in order to explain the nature of everything, explain why I can’t read your thoughts, and, presumably, you can’t read mine. We are dissociated from each other and from the rest of the mental universe within which we are inserted. There is a dissociative boundary between our inner mentation and the mentation that’s going on on the other side of that boundary. And this dissociation has an appearance. There is some thing it looks like, just like the dissociative processes in the mind of a DID patient look like something in an fMRI. There is an image that can be used for diagnosis purposes. Within the universe, there is something dissociative processes in nature look like, and I would say we call it biology, biology, life, metabolism, is what dissociation, in a sort of extended mind, is what the dissociation there looks like. When that dissociation happens, we say our living being was born. And the boundary of that dissociative process, the dissociative boundary, is our skin, our eyes, our ears, our sense organs, the surfaces through which we interface with the world around us. And what is neat about this is that it makes sense of everything without postulating anything but the given, which is mind itself. And it doesn’t incur an impossible problem of trying to wish mind out of existence, which is what materialists have to somehow do. And they are even taken seriously in this attempt in academia, which reflects how deep the paradigm goes, wishing the given out of existence. But anyway, disassociation is something in nature. We know it exists. We know it’s there. We may not understand all the mechanisms conceptually, in all precision. There are gaps to be covered there in our conceptual understanding of dissociation. But whether we understand it conceptually or not, we know it happens, because it happens within us as well. There is abundant empirical evidence to settle the question of existence. And that’s all you need to explain everything in terms of one natural, underlying, extended mind of which we are just alters.
Dr. Z: The whole time you were talking, I was just like, “Uh.” Let me reframe what you just said. Reality is one mind, one consciousness, that has spun off dissociated, little alter mini egos. And there are a bunch of those. And they each don’t access, directly or consciously, either little alter egos maybe they’re made of, or bigger things that they’re a part of, the universal mind. And when they experience the only thing that’s real, which is more mind, other alters manifest as other organisms, animals, humans, living organisms. That’s what an alter mind of the universal looks like to itself from an alter vantage point. So you and I are both, the universe is one mind that has multiple personality disorder. And we won’t even call it a disorder, we’ll say it’s just multiple personalities. And that’s explains all of this.
Dr. Kastrup: Yeah, it’s a disorder just for us. We passed the value judgment and we called it a disorder, but I don’t want to imply that nature is sick. No, nature’s just nature. The value of judgments are things we pass on it.
Dr. Z: That’s right.
Dr. Kastrup: It itself is just what it is. Yes, and look, the idea of unity, of oneness is an important one in analytic philosophy, because it avoids all kinds of trouble. If you postulate more than one, what philosophers call ontological primitive, more than one standalone thing that exists, if you postulate more than one of them, you run into the interaction problem, you run into questions like, “Well, why are there then two, if they are completely unrelated?” It’s like it’s two miracles, right? And how do they interact if they are completely distinct, logically?
Dr. Z: What’s the space between them? What are their borders look like?
Dr. Kastrup: Exactly, exactly. So when you postulate multiplicity, you run into very hard problems. And that’s why physics itself is also trying to drive to oneness. And we call it unified field theories. M-theory is the latest unified field theory. It’s not worked out yet, but science itself drives to that because it avoids all kinds of problems that seem to be insoluble. So it’s no surprise that I’m driving to that as well, because it avoids, for instance, the combination problem in philosophy. Like if I postulate that my neurons are conscious, how do I explain my unitary consciousness? Now, then the consciousnesses of my neurons would have to combine in some way, but it has been shown already analytically that combination is incoherent, that you cannot coherently postulate a theory of combination. Not to mention the fact that there is no empirical evidence for it either. So we avoid the hard problem of consciousness, we avoid the combination problem by starting from oneness and then explaining diversity through a process that we know empirically to exist, which is disassociation. So the answers, I think, have been staring us in the face for quite a while. We just have to have the eyes to see.
Dr. Z: So start with one consciousness to avoid all those ontologic, primitive interactions that we don’t like. Everything is one thing, then solve the problem of why I don’t know your mind and you don’t know mine by saying there’s a dissociation, which we have evidence for already. Every time we dream, we create an alter that lives in a world that is bigger than us that we create. And then when we wake up, we come back to the universal mind that is there.
Dr. Kastrup: Exactly.
Dr. Z: So there’s a mini version of that. And then you have the dissociative personality disorder, which we have examples that you can actually measure real blindness correlates in a brain when the alter is blind. So then you can say, “Okay, there’s a precedent for this in the world.” So one thing alters. Then answer this question, why do us alters see the same general universe with the same laws and the same physics and the same interface? At least let us stick with our species. Why is that the same? If everything’s mind, wouldn’t it just be shifting like a dream all the time as the mind changes? What’s going on?
Dr. Kastrup: Because we, as alters, are immersed in the same mental content. And the way this external mental content looks like to us, the way we gather information about it through our dissociative boundary as given by evolution, presents this common outside mental environment as the inanimate world, as the stars and galaxies and moons and planets. It’s what our common environment of mentation looks like when observed given the sensory organs that evolution has equipped us with. So yes, there is an objective world out there, but it’s not, essentially, material. Matter is just what it looks like when observed from across our dissociative boundary. What it is in itself, it’s mentation. but we are all inserted, immersed in these mental processes. And that’s why we agree with each other that we are in the same world. We are in this same world, indeed. It’s a mental world, but we share it.
Dr. Z: So we’re living in the same dream of a dreamer that is vastly us and also bigger than us that we’ve forgotten we’re a part of.
Dr. Kastrup: And this is a metaphor, of course, but the metaphor is closer to reality than I dared imagine in the beginning. The research on dissociation is fascinating. I would encourage everybody to have a look at that. There is research done, I believe it was at Harvard, back in the ’90s, I think. They’ve done research with patients of DID. I mean, again, we call it a disease. I don’t mean to imply that it’s a disease at a universal level, which is nature. Dissociation happens in nature. But they studied people suffering enough from the condition to be treated. And there was clinical research done in a large group of patients with DID, clinical research done about their dreams, how do disassociated people dream? And a fascinating thing was that about one-quarter of the subjects, for one-quarter of the subjects, different ones of their alters would experience and report on the exact same dream from different points of view within the dream, and alters could see each other as different characters within the dream.
Dr. Z: Wow!
Dr. Kastrup: So the dream was the common dream of that one person, one mind, but the different dissociative personalities would experience the dreams from different points of view and see each other as different people within the dream. And this is fascinating, because it’s so close to what might be going on right now. You just have to take the subject as the cosmos, the universe, and we as it’s dissociated alters partaking in the same dream and experiencing the same dream from different points of view. And the analogy is surprisingly deep.
Dr. Z: Oh, my god.
Dr. Kastrup: I don’t think it will need to be that deep to settle the questions, but that it goes that deep is only nice, right? It’s quite remarkable.
Dr. Z: I mean, it makes you think of the fractal nature of reality. If there’s one mind that dissociates into us, why can’t we dissociate into sub-minds that can interact with each other in a dream that we create and then onwards and down with no end? We have no idea, because you can’t really explore it that well. And it makes me think of something, and this is gonna sound crazy, but, you know, when you look at a human brain and you look at neurons, they have this stellar appearance. They even call it the stellate ganglion. And the Latin root, they look like stars and they have certain things. When you look now, increasingly, at the universe through Hubble imagery and even new imagery that shows billions of galaxies, they are bound together by filaments of energy that you can now perceive with new technology and science. So they’re saying that there’s these super-heated gases in between galaxies. When you zoom out and look at that, it looks like an effing brain. It looks like neurons connect to each other. And it makes me wonder, when we look at a human brain, we see a dissociated alter and that’s what it looks like to us from this vantage point. When we look out there, are we seeing a bigger mind that we are just a part of? And it sounds crazy, but, I mean.
Dr. Kastrup: Yeah, look, when this was sort of reviewed for the first time back in 2006, I think there was a “New York Times” article on this showing two pictures, the brain of a mouse and the the superstructure of the universe as had just been inferred through simulations. Because, of course, we don’t have a telescope that allows us to get an empirical photograph of the universe at that level. But our computational models can give us a structure of the universe at its larger scales. And in that photograph comparison, there was a lot of similarity. But, of course, you always have to be very careful with image comparisons because, you know, you can always cut and stretch and crop and recolor an image in order to make any two things look alike. But what is significant about this, there have been two studies now, one at the University of California and one done by an Italian physicist and an Italian neuroscientist who have been collaborating on this. The latest paper I think was published last year at “Frontiers in Neuroscience,” if I remember correctly. But they have done an information theoretical comparison. So here, they’re not looking at images, they’re looking at the topology of those structures. And there are very objective parameters that can serve as a basis for comparison. And, indeed, the topological structure of a nervous system, of a mammalian nervous system, is surprisingly and unjustifiably similar to the superstructure of the universe at its largest scales, especially when you bring the distribution of dark matter into the picture, which we know is there even though we don’t know what it is. So you cannot, one cannot dismiss that. We cannot say that, “Well, it’s just one of those things.” No, no, no. The similarities is too great for us to just dismiss it as a coincidence. And this is leading some scholars now to suggest that even our cosmological theories, the models we postulate, should be judged on the basis of whether they are consistent with the topological structure of a brain as a sort of litmus test to see whether they’re, you know. So this is going far. And what’s remarkable is that we are growing used to these ideas since 2006. We are sort of getting settled into this fact that, “Okay, there is this similarity,” even though nobody has a reasonable hypothesis to account for this similarity on materialistic terms. And there’s just completely different laws coming into play at completely different scales, many, many, many orders of magnitude apart. You know, why does the center of a galaxy look more like, well, nevermind that, it would take too long to make the argument I was about to try and make.
Dr. Z: Hey, we’ve got all the time in the world.
Dr. Kastrup: But the crucial point is, at an information theoretical level, the similarities are striking. And the way I would go about it, you know, modestly, is to say, “Look, if our inner mentation when observed from the outside, from across our dissociative boundary, for instance, with a brain scanner, if it looks like what we call a brain, the core of our inner mentation, you could consider the body, you know, just equipment we acquired in order to maintain the disassociation within our ecosystem, but the core of our inner mentation is our nervous system. If our nervous system has a certain topology because that topology is what inner mentation looks like and if the rest of the universe is also mental in nature, then I think it’s pretty reasonable that the rest of the universe at its largest scales would have very similar topology. I don’t think this is surprising at all. Both are representations or images of inner mentation, so why should they be different? That’s how nature behaves when it produces these representations. And these representations are images of the same kind of thing, so of course they look alike from an information theoretical level.
Dr. Z: So, basically, that was a beautiful way of saying, “No, you’re not crazy Zubin. That that may actually be a thing.” So I hope the audience is starting to feel this understanding that the invoking idealism, which you’ve referenced several times, this idea that the universe is primarily mental, is very much simpler and more parsimonious and more consistent with what we observe than the materialist paradigm which generates tons of errors and problems, tons of problems like the hard problem of consciousness, what’s going on with quantum mechanics, et cetera. And, actually, let’s find an intermediate point, because then the materialists will come back and say, “Well, okay, no, no, no, we’ll grant you that consciousness is unexplainable and it’s in the pure material paradigm. But what about the panpsychist’s paradigm, which says material exists, but it has a property, like spin, charge, mass, which are also abstractions, by the way, it has a property of consciousness? So an electron, there’s something that it’s like to be an electron. And somehow these things combine to form higher consciousness that then can do math and play video games.” How do you think about this?
Dr. Kastrup: I have two main points of criticism about it. One is that nobody can give a coherent account of how this combination might happen. Actually, there are several papers published now which provide a rationale for why any idea of combination is fundamentally incoherent. For instance, if one of your neurons is seeing blue and the other is seeing red and then you say, “Well, the combination sees purple,” but how can that be? Because one sees blue and the other sees red. So unless these two things that have been combined cease to exist and become a third, which is a magical step, you can’t account for the combination. So there are all kinds of thought experiments that indicate that a combination of fundamentally different fields of subjectivity is always an incoherent idea. And let’s not even get into empirical evidence, because there is none for this kind of stuff happening in nature, unlike disassociation, for which there is plenty of empirical evidence-
Dr. Z: Plenty of evidence. That it does happen in nature. My other point against panpsychism is that it doesn’t solve anything, it just avoids the need for a solution. Because, I am a naturalist and a reductionist. And then you may say, “Well, these are prejudices.” Maybe, but that’s how I think. I want to drive to reduction as much as I can. I think the best theory of nature is that which explains everything in terms of only one thing, and not a whole series of things. When a panpsychist says that matter really exists as matter with the boundaries we attribute to matter, so subatomic particles are the building blocks of nature, elementary subatomic particles, and then they say, “Well, but next to having mass, charge, spin and so on, they also have this property that we call phenomenality. There is also something it is like to be that particle. So it’s material, but it’s also fundamentally mental. And that solves the problem, because then mentality is fundamental. It doesn’t need to be explained. Well, I think this is a cheat. It’s just throwing in what you can’t explain into your reduction base and saying, “Well, I accounted for it by saying that I don’t need to explain it.” I think it’s a cheat. I don’t like this at all. I think it’s not promising. I don’t think it will lead anywhere.
Dr. Z: It’s what Don Hoffman says is invoking a miracle late in your theory, or invoking more than one miracle, right? The miracle in idealism is, consciousness is. That’s the only miracle you need to invoke. It starts right at the beginning of the.
Dr. Kastrup: Indeed, and any theory of nature has to invoke one, quote, miracle, because, you see, explanation is a reduction. So when you explain one complex thing in terms of simpler things, you’re reducing one to the other. So we explain our organism in terms of organ systems, organ systems in terms of tissues, tissues in terms of cells, those in terms of molecules, atoms, subatomic particles. At some point, you hit rock bottom because you can’t keep on explaining one thing in terms of another forever. Unless you adopt circularity and infinite regress, which is a logical cheat, a logical fallacy, you have to stop somewhere. So the game is not to avoid all miracles, the game is to find that one miracle in terms of which you can explain everything else. Now, that one miracle is not the whole menu of elementary subatomic particles, because if we choose those, we cannot explain experience in terms of those. But if we say, “Well, there is one consciousness,” everything else are just patterns of excitation of this one consciousness, which is how you’ll get the multiplicity out of unity, how you get variety out of unity. It’s just like the surface of a lake. There’s only one lake, but depending on the wind, that lake can produce ripples and vortices of different shapes. And you can have endless variety without having anything else other than the lake, because those patterns of excitation are just the lake in movement. There’s nothing to a ripple but the water that ripples. And the same thing for this one consciousness. The variety of empirical experience can be explained in terms of the patterns of excitation of that one field. If you want to speak, you know, abstract scientific theory, say, “Well, consciousness is the unified view,” and you can account for the variety of natural phenomenon in terms of one, dissociation, and two, patterns of excitation of that one field. So if you do that, then you can explain everything in terms of one thing, which is the best you can hope to have. You cannot eliminate the last miracle. You cannot eliminate that last thing that you have to say, “Well, this simply exists. It’s simply what nature is.” And we cannot go beyond that.
Dr. Z: And that makes perfect sense. You need one primitive truth. And if you can get to that rock basement and build an entire world, as Don says, if you can spin up quantum mechanics and relativity and all our science from that one truth using a theory that incorporates that as the base theory, then you’ve found an answer and you can test it and you can go on. And so let’s play a game then, Bernardo. Using this theory of idealism that everything is fundamentally one consciousness that has dissociated and that every phenomenon is a vibration of that consciousness, it’s made of consciousness. It’s like you and I are both waves in an ocean. We’re both the ocean and the wave and this wave doesn’t experience what that wave experiences. But when we dissolve, we might, and we’ll talk about death, because I think that’s gonna be important. But so then answer me this, what the hell is a rock and how is it different than a dog?
Dr. Kastrup: I think a dog is the appearance of an actual dissociative process in this extended field of mentation, if you will. So there is something it is like to be a dog in and of itself. It has a private inner life of its own, because it’s the appearance of a dissociative process that creates a dissociative boundary and, therefore, leads to this private character of inner experience. A rock, I don’t think a rock or any inanimate object exists as a separate object at an ontological level. Let me try to unpack this for you. We divide, or we carve out the inanimate world into separate objects for convenience, because I want to buy a car and not a house. So I need to be able to identify what particular pattern of excitation of this extended mind I am interested in. So I nominally delineate a boundary around it and I put a label on it so we can talk to each other. But I don’t think ontologically there are such things as separate objects, in the same way that if I show you a picture and I say, “Well, those pixels here, I will group them together because I like their shade of blue. And I’ll call that an object.” You would say, “Well you can do that if you want, but it’s only nominal.” It’s an arbitrary carving out of the one photo. The only thing that exists is the photo. Your pixel grouping, something you did for some convenience, well, I think we are doing this all the time when we talk in terms of separate objects. I don’t think there is a car. Even if you say, “No, a car is that which you need in order to perform a certain function, like to move,” well, you quickly realize that there is no car if you define an object in this way because the car will not move without a road that the tires can grip. It will not move if there is no air that allows for combustion and cools the engine. It will not move if there is no gravity to pull the tires towards the road in order for there to be grip. There is no car. We arbitrarily carve out boundaries in the one thing that’s going on, which is the inanimate universe, merely for convenience. It’s a nominal division. So if you ask me, “Is a rock conscious?” I would say there is even no such a thing as a rock. So the question doesn’t make sense. I don’t think a rock is conscious in the same sense that I don’t think one neuron in my brain is conscious in an of itself. I think the image of my inner life is my nervous system as a whole. Carving it out in terms of neurons is something we do for convenience. A very important convenience, we should keep on doing that, but it’s not something that reflects a fundamental partition of reality. And neuron is just a set of pixels in that image of my dissociated inner life and a subset of pixels that I carve out for convenience. In the same way, I think my mobile phone is something that we carve out for convenience. There’s nothing it’s like to be my mobile phone. There’s nothing it’s like to be a rock. There is only something it is like to be the inanimate universe as a whole. Everything else are nominal, arbitrary partitions of the image, the appearance of that universal conscious inner life.
Dr. Z: That is a lot to understand. And I think I get at it. It’s gonna take, I mean, you could go for hours trying to drill into what you’re saying there, because I think it answers a fundamental question when people say, “Well, if everything is conscious, then why isn’t a rock? What’s it like to be a rock?” And when you say there is no rock, really, the way I interpret this, and I’m probably wrong, is that the rock is some experiential reality that we experience as rock. But that’s not really how you think about it. Yeah, go ahead.
Dr. Kastrup: Even if you’ve never experienced the rock in and of itself, there’s always a context, and you arbitrarily carve out the rock from that context. Look, we can make it very intuitive, Zubin Think of a table, suppose there’s a panpsychist who says, “Everything is conscious.” That’s not what an idealist says. What an idealist says is everything is in consciousness, not that everything is conscious in and of itself, because the idealist would even reject the concept of thing as separate entities. So for the idealist, everything is in consciousness and exists by virtue of being a pattern of excitation of consciousness, not your consciousness alone, not mine alone, but an extended field of mentality. Now, the panpsychist who says every object is conscious faces immediate problems, like, okay, you’re saying the table is conscious, right? So what if I take one of the four legs of the table out?
Dr. Z: Does it hurt the table?
Dr. Kastrup: Is that leg now conscious in and of itself separate from the table? And then a panpsychist might think and say, “Well, yeah.” So, okay, what if I glue the leg back? And then you run into these arbitrary things. Is the river conscious? So where does the consciousness of the river ends and that of the ocean begins? If the mountain is conscious and then a rock sort of gets shaken off by an earthquake and tumbles down the mountain, does that rock now become separate in consciousness from the mountain? Does the mountain have one private inner life and the rock another? And if the rock settles at the bottom and still touches the mountain, are they now only one consciousness? You see, you run into all kinds of nonsense if you start from this premise that things are conscious, fundamentally, in and of themselves, because our very notion of thingyness is nominal. It’s arbitrary.
Dr. Z: So but you could, you are making the assertation that living organisms, say a dog, is a sign to us, It’s an experiential sign that there’s a dissociative aspect of the one mind there that’s looking out and has an inner experience. So where do you end with that? Do you end with a virus? Do you end with a cell? Do you end with a paramecium? How do you think about that?
Dr. Kastrup: I think there is a gray boundary in between cells and viruses, personally. That’s my my own prejudice, my own intellectual disposition. For me, what defines life or defines dissociation, life is just the appearance of dissociation, what defines it is what we call metabolism, so protein folding, ATP burning, all that good stuff that happens in all life and is common to all life regardless of the extreme distinctions between different organisms. I mean, I don’t look like a mushroom, but we can drill down into a level where the mushroom and I are the same. We are both metabolizing, and that metabolism is surprisingly, I mean, you know better than I do, at the level of molecular biology, metabolism is the same across all living beings. And a virus doesn’t metabolize by itself. So my personal disposition is to put the boundary just above virus particles. So, for me, crystals are not the image of dissociative processes. In other words, they are not alive. Viruses are not alive. But, of course, nature is a continuum. We try to establish these sharp boundaries because dissociation has to have a sharp boundary. I mean, if I pinch my skin, I feel it. If I pinch the leather of the chair where I’m sitting, I don’t feel it. So, ontologically, dissociation has a sharp boundary. But it can only be precisely pinned down from the inside. What do I feel? And what do I not feel? I don’t see a photon hitting on the wall, but if it hits my retina, I see it. From the outside, it’s much more tricky. Why? Because we didn’t evolve to capture everything that is salient about reality. We evolved to capture what is relevant to our survival, not capture everything that is salient to understanding the nature of reality. We didn’t evolve for that. So through perceptions, through what we can see and measure, it’s difficult to pin down a precise boundary in nature, because the images are not that sharp. There is a limiting resolution there. But my personal disposition, to finally answer your question, is to say it ends with metabolizing simple organisms. If you go down enough that you can no longer speak of stand-alone metabolism, then I don’t think that reflects a dissociative process in nature anymore.
Dr. Z: So the evolutionarily-conserved act of metabolism that goes all the way back to the, you know, the simplest cells, and you know what? At first I was skeptical of that distinction, and now it actually is starting to feel like it makes sense. You know, in the old days, they didn’t understand cells at all. And they said there was some elan vital, some life force that makes life. And maybe it’s as simple as that, and yet, as complex because even that we don’t fully understand. But so that distinction now. The other thing, since we brought evolution into this, why the hell does this one mind seem to manifest a world with very specific rules that is resource constrained enough that we are forced to compete in a way that we evolve? What aspect of your theory would explain that? Because all our natural constants are perfectly tuned for life and all of that, but why do they even exist? Why are their rules? If this is a mind, why isn’t there just magic everywhere?
Dr. Kastrup: I completely understand the intuition underlying that question, but I would invite you to explore it from a different angle. It’s very tempting for people who are confronted with idealism, not only analytic idealism, but idealism for the first time, to ask the question why, because we are mental beings and we are always asking for the reason, the motivation that underlies everything since that’s what drives our behavior. And we then sort of anthropocentrically transport that to the whole of the universe. But I would invite you to consider that, for most living organisms on this planet, there is no why. That’s not how they operate. The question of why arose with metacognition. And, arguably, we may be the only metacognitive animals around that think symbolically, that are able to objectify their own thoughts and experiences and have the thought, “I am having this experience.” I don’t think my cat walks around going, “I am having this experience now.” I don’t think my cat metacognizes. My cat experiences, and my cat react instinctively. You see instinct always provides a clear, unique, and immediate answer to every natural circumstance. Animals who behave instinctively have predictable behavior. Crocodiles are very predictable. We are not, because we have evolved this ability to objectify our own subjectivity and to think about our own thoughts, to think about our emotions, and then ponder and deliberate. This is a very human thing that has evolved after 3 1/2 billion years of suffering and pain on this planet. It’s not something that was there in the fabric of nature from the beginning. And, therefore, I don’t think it’s something we can attribute to the field of mentation that is out there, because that field, at that broad level, didn’t undergo the pressures of evolution in a planetary ecosystem. So I don’t see a reason to think that the field of mentation underlying nature at large would have metacognition or premeditation or plan things out or ponder what’s the best way to go about things. And I think there is evidence that it’s exactly not that. And I think there’s plenty of evidence that it’s instinctive, because the laws of nature seem to be very stable, very predictable. We can model them, and they reliably unfold according to the same regularities since we’ve begun taking records. So nature at large seems to behave instinctively in the sense that it always has one immediate and precise answer to any set of circumstances. And that answer has regularities. And we call those regularities the laws of nature, which is of course a metaphor. It’s not the law of decreed by a god, it’s just a reflection of what nature is. Nature can’t help but being what it is and, therefore, behaving the way it behaves. And I think that behavior is instinctive. I don’t see good reasons to project onto the rest of nature a cognitive, a higher cognitive capacity that we have evolved at great cost after 3 1/2 billion years on this planet.
Dr. Z: So the one mind doesn’t necessarily think like a human. It doesn’t necessarily have this metacognition where we’re thinking about thinking, where we’re aware of being aware, where we have a why that we impute as part of our instantiation, more like our cat, maybe. Or I’m probably simplifying this, but it’s more that it just is what it is. It has a certain way of being. And why are we here? Because we’re here. And that manifests to us as these laws of nature. But it’s a regularity of predictability, et cetera. So correct me on that, but then, also, where is the space in that for free will in this model? Do humans actually have any component of that? And I know that’s a two-hour talk in itself.
Dr. Kastrup: I’ll started from the conclusion, just to be provocative. I think the whole thing about free will is a red herring. And the reason it’s a red herring is that our intuition about free will requires us to find some space in between determinism, things are just determined, and randomness, things are just random. They happen for no reason. So free will seems to require something in between randomness and determinism, but that space is semantically empty. There is nothing there. Things are either determined or they are random. And by the way, randomness is just the name we give when we don’t understand the mechanisms of determination, because you could argue, “Well, they are determined, it’s just that we don’t have the cognitive capacity to figure out what’s going on.” When you throw a coin up to randomly see whether you get faces, or how is it in English? One side is face and the other-
Dr. Z: Heads. Heads and tails.
Dr. Kastrup: Yeah, yeah. Heads and tails. So it’s random, because we cannot compute the deterministic parameters that will necessarily tell the coin which face will be up. At the same time, if you go down deep enough in nature and you go to the quantum level, and then, there nothing is determined. Things are determined only at a statistical level, but individual events are random. They are fully indetermined. So I think this idea of the notion of free will to try and to find semantic space that isn’t randomness and isn’t determinism is futile. I’ll give you an alternative view. What we actually mean by free will is when things are determined, but they are determined by that which I identify myself with, as opposed to an external force. So if my going to work tomorrow is determined by the rules of my society and not by what I identify with, namely my will, then I am forced to work as opposed to willing to work. So the notion of free will and determinism depends on the idea of what is in, in other words, what I identify myself with, and what is out, the external forces. But at the level of universal mentation, there is no in or out, because there is nothing outside of it. So the universal mind will do what it does, both because it needs to do it. By virtue of being what it is, it does what it does, its actions are determined by its nature, by what it is, and the following is equally true, it does what it does because it wishes to do so. The wish is the need, is the necessity. There is no distinction between the two if there is nothing outside to impose something from the outside. And Schopenhauer said, you know, we are free to act according to our will, but we are not free to will what we will.
Dr. Z: That’s right.
Dr. Kastrup: So in that sense, you know, what you think you want, you want it because of what you are. So your will, in a sense, conflates with determinism because, you know, you’re not free to will anything. You will what you do because you are what you are. And at the level of the universe, the necessity is the will. So if you ask me is there free will in nature? I would say yes, in all of nature, and that free will is the necessity. It is determined. There is no distinction between these two concepts. There is no semantic space within which you could carve them out from one another. It’s a red herring, the whole idea of free will.
Dr. Z: Oh man, that’s great. We will do another show on this, because I wanna talk about objective chance and so on. But, wow, okay. So now, because I will run out of recording card at some point, I wanna get to, and we’ll just have to do another show to get more into the weeds on some of this stuff, ’cause this is fascinating, so death, death of a human being, birth of a human being, how do you conceptualize that? And I know sometimes it can be beyond concept, but how do you conceptualize that in an idealistic framework such as you’re proposing?
Dr. Kastrup: If life is what dissociation looks like when observed from across its dissociative boundary, then death is necessarily the end of the dissociation. What we call death is what the end of that dissociation looks like. What should it feel like from within? Well, if disassociation constrains your field of subjectivity, your field of experiences, then the end of dissociation just enlarges it. So to put it in an maybe a poetic way, who am I to put it poetically? But I know it will sound a little bit poetic, which I tend to guard against, but I have no better descriptive way to put it: life is when you observe the world. Death is when you become the world. What is accessible to you only through representation becomes accessible now to you directly. So now you’re not knowing the world by looking at it. Now you’re knowing the world by being in it, because you can only access the thing in itself by being in it. So if the dissociation ends, you’d no longer have the dissociative boundary or the screen of perception to become acquainted with the world indirectly through representation. Now you become the world. So I think when we die, we become the universe. And I think, although our individual self will cease to exist because individuality is directly tied to dissociation, so our individual self will probably cease to exist, I don’t think we will regret it any more than we regret and mourn the death of our dream avatar when we wake up. It’s only from the perspective of those in the dream, those that are still in the dream that there is a great loss. I think from the first-person perspective, I don’t think you will register that as a loss at all, on the contrary.
Dr. Z: So I’ve thought about this a fair bit, and, you know, psychedelics will simulate this for you too, ego death, and ego, so when we think about ego, I like to think of it, you know, and meditation is a part of my life and this sort of path has been. But when I think about ego, I think about, in your model, I think about a dissociative internal process of discursive thought that creates a sense of I that reifies the boundaries between I and the rest of the world, that is defended, that has its own personality and habit energy and habit pattern. And that meditation is a way to look at it, to watch it, and to realize it’s in you. It is not necessarily you, right? You’re the awareness in which it arises, but the ego exists for a reason in this resource constrained world, which we don’t know why it’s resource constrained. And as you say, the question may not even be relevant, because only humans ask the question. The ego is designed to keep us safe, to protect us, and to reify this organism as all there is. So when it is threatened, it generates a kind of defense and a suffering that is legendary. So ego death during psychedelics feels like you’re dying over an eternal timeframe. And when you’re released from the ego and join in this sense of unitary consciousness, which mystics report it, psychedelic users report it, people have had peak experiences where they were report it randomly, it’s a deep bliss and release. And I wonder whether physical death is very similar in how it’s experienced.
Dr. Kastrup: Well, physiologically, the best model of death we have is the psychedelic experience, because we know that it significantly reduces brain activity, particularly in the default mode network, which is associated with the narrative of personal self, within the ego that you were describing, activity in that network is significantly reduced. So activity is reduced everywhere and it doesn’t increase anywhere, but particularly in the default mode network, which is the network that gives us our sense of individual self. So, physiologically, psychedelics are the best model of death we have, because it seems to reduce the dissociation. You see, if normal brain activity is what dissociation looks like, then some forms of reduction of brain activity should correlate with the reduction of the dissociation, right? The logic is pretty clear. Again, it’s not only your anatomy, but it’s also the ordinary patterns of brain activity we have that are the appearance, the image of a dissociative process. So it stands to reason that a reduction, certain reductions of brain activity, not necessarily all, some of them can just reduce the contents within the dissociation, the experiences within, but some patterns of brain activity reduction should be what a reduction in the dissociation process itself looks like. So some reductions in brain activity should impair the dissociative process itself. It should make the dissociative boundary more porous, more permeable. And I think that’s exactly what psychedelics do. They impair the dissociative mechanisms. So you become less dissociated. And that’s why there is ego death. I think it stands to reason that that’s a very good model of actual death, because in actual death, that’s precisely what’s going to happen. Your default mode network goes dark and activity ceases and disassociation reduces. So I think, very seriously, ego dissolution is the best guess we can have to what death will feel like. And from that perspective, I think it’s a great rehearsal, because psychonauts know that, if you don’t resist ego dissolution, if you just let go.
Dr. Z: Very easy to say.
Dr. Kastrup: Which is very easy to say and very hard to do-
Dr. Z: And very hard to do, yeah. Very hard to do.
Dr. Kastrup: But you can get to a point where that’s natural. You know, I considered psychedelic experiences as part of my research. I think I wouldn’t be serious if I would go talk about these things without undergoing those experiences myself. So I’ve done that. Based a lot of study, I went to my doctor. I was checked out before I did it. I live in a country in which it’s legal. So I had all these benefits. So I did it very thoroughly. And you do get to a point where ego dissolution now, you ride it out with pleasure, because if you’ve gone through the path enough times that you know that what is waiting on the other side is pretty good if only you let go, what is hard is to come back, which I call re-entry, when the dissociative mechanism reasserts itself and the entire concept of space and time come back, because space and time is cognitive modalities that we evolved to survive. They are not out there. Now, even neuroscientist and physics itself is telling us today, space and time are not absolute.
Dr. Z: Not fundamental, yeah.
Dr. Kastrup: When they reassert themselves and the idea of restriction comes back, that’s massively unpleasant. And it is the reason I don’t trip anymore, to be very honest with you, Zubin because, ego dissolution, I ride that wave now, you know, doing a hang loose. But re-entry, coming back, oh man. And I feel so bad about life afterwards for 48 hours that I don’t do it anymore.
Dr. Z: I believe you. And I’ll say, so they’ve looked at fMRIs of monks, you know, meditating, and it’s the same thing, a quieting of the brain, quieting of brain activity. And they will report a sense of loving compassion for everything, because they are everything. And what is love? Love is a deep connection to something else. There is no deeper connection than being something else, which I think you can get through psychedelics, you can get through meditation, you can get through prayer, whatever it is, whatever your modality is, I think it points to the truth that you’re saying, if we’re getting just more philosophical and less scientific about it. But I think this idea of ego dissolution being painful, but then getting used to it but then ego re-entry never feeling good is fascinating, because it implies something very positive which is the all, the universal mind being back in that is blissful, it’s peaceful. It is a different experience. And that should, in many who have experience with psychedelics, experience with meditation, they don’t fear death in the way that the contracted ego mind does where it’s like, “This is it, annihilation. I’m done. I’m terrified.” It’s more like, “Yeah, it’s gonna suck, the process of it, but then it’s gonna be awesome. And there’s really no fear.” Yeah.
Dr. Kastrup: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dismiss the value of life, on the contrary. And let me tell you why, but it’s also an implication of the ideas I put forward, that we are the only metacognitive part of nature. So we are the only way nature has to take explicit account of itself and to recognize itself. And 3 1/2 billion years of suffering, we’re invested into coming to this point. Whether it was planned or not is a moot point. It’s immaterial. The fact is we’ve developed this higher level of cognitive ability. And I think we are the only game in town. As far as we know, we are the only game in town. We are the only part of the universe that can look around and say, “This is happening, and we are part of it.” And I think this is huge. We pay an enormous price for it. We call it suffering, because non-metacognitive beings have physical pain, but they don’t suffer. They don’t walk around regretting the past and being anxious about the future. They are always in the present. So we suffer because we are metacognitive beings that can identify themselves as individual subjects separate from the rest. But it is also by virtue of this that there is self-awareness anywhere in nature. And there ought to be value in that explicit recognition, that explicit taking into account of existence. There is a sense in which existence only really exists when it’s explicitly recognized as such at a metacognitive level. So from that perspective, to speak in religious metaphors, I think we are God’s spies. God does not know what we know. At least not in the way we do know it, at a metacognitive sense. And amazing energy, time, and suffering have been spent into this. I don’t dismiss it. So I don’t wanna get across as saying that, “You know what? It’s much better when we are dead so let’s all pull the plug now.”
Dr. Z: Right? No.
Dr. Kastrup: No, no.
Dr. Z: Quite the opposite.
Dr. Kastrup: There is tremendous suffering involved, but there is tremendous value too, for all we know.
Dr. Z: That was beautifully put. I really wanna emphasize what you just said, because, you know, the Buddhists have a saying that like being born as a human is the greatest of the gifts because you have this ability of consciousness to know itself in a metacognitive, meta-aware way. And, again, we’ll put a value on it and go, “Well, consciousness did all this so it could know itself,” because that’s what humans do. They’ll put their humanized anthropomorphized spin on it. You were gonna say something?
Dr. Kastrup: Well, you know, there there is room for telos, for a goal, even without metacognition because, you see, a metacognitive goal is a pull from the front. You already know where you want to be, so you pull from the front. But there is a push from behind as well. You are going somewhere, not because you know where you want to go, but because at every point on the way, you know whether you’re getting colder or warmer, you know whether you’re feeling better or worse. So there can still be a telos. They can still be an attractor that doesn’t attract. Actually, it’s just push from behind and things look as though they were an attractor from the front, but everything is pushed from behind. It’s still progressing towards a goal, like the game of we are getting warmer or you’re getting colder. You can still steer from behind. This might be going on.
Dr. Z: I love that. I love it. I mean, the telos, so define telos for folks, because there may be-
Dr. Kastrup: Telos would be the final cause, you know, the thing you live for, the thing nature is unfolding towards, that ultimate end goal, the end game. What are we trying to get from all this? What do we need to do in order to get there? That would be the telos. And nature is teleological if it is moving towards the telos, but that can happen by a push from behind. In other words, we are instinctively feeling our way towards the telos, but there is no part of nature that knows exactly where it is. We are just feeling our way towards that. Or it can be a pull from the front. There is some god sitting on a throne in the sky that knows exactly where we want to go and will sort of massage us towards there. I don’t think the latter is what’s going on, but I think nature, through us, is feeling its way towards the telos, yeah.
Dr. Z: So this is fascinating to me because, again, the meaning of the universe, the reason we’re all here, da, da, da, da, da, da, all the big questions, you can just say, Well, consciousness is, or the universal mind is, and it is the way it is. And as a result of how it is, it is unfolding in a way that finds its way towards an end that is the result of what it is, not that there’s somebody there going, “We wanna go here!” It’s just, this is who I am. And this is me in the world, which is how I like to think about human authenticity. If we’re looking at the fractal nature of reality, humans are a little mini versions of the all. When we’re authentic to who we are, when we wake up, when we stop trying to be someone we’re not, when we stop listening to the discursive voice that is negative self-talk and all that, we show up in the world in a way that feels right. And almost invariably, we’re more successful. We’re happier. It doesn’t have to be money. We’re happier and we’re more connected. And I think that that is a nice push from behind instead of trying to set these arbitrary, “Oh, I wanna be rich. And I wanna do that. And who am I? How do I show up in the world?” And it just unfolds. So I think that’s a-
Dr. Kastrup: Yeah, it’s the distinction between your adaptive self that follows the recipes of society and your natural self that knows whether you are getting happier or not.
Dr. Z: Ah, and I’ll tell you, in healthcare, there are many people trapped in a world where they are living somebody else’s societal adaptive story and they’re not living their own story. And in that tension, I think there’s a lot of what we call burnout, which is really kind of a victim shaming thing. Like, you know, you’re not resilient enough. Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Kastrup: Most people don’t even know there is a natural self. They are completely identified with their adaptive self. The problem is that the adapt self, although it’s important in the first half of your life until you carve out a space in the world for yourself, after that, it’s not adaptive anymore. It becomes maladaptive because it starts convincing you that everything is for no reason, everything is meaningless and nothing makes you happy and there’s nowhere to go. And that’s the point where you have to jump back to your natural self, but most people don’t even know it exists, and so-
Dr. Z: Ah, you know, you’re describing the middle-aged crisis. You’re describing the Maslow’s hierarchy. You’re describing this fact that you do have to go through that adaptive phase. You go to medical school, you go to computer science, get your PhD, get your PhD in philosophy. You argue, you’re a firebrand in the world, me versus the world. What’s my place? What do I mean? Then you accomplish what you think you wanted. And then you start to feel this weird emptiness. That, “Wait, what? Why am I not happy?” And then-
Dr. Kastrup: Exactly. The game has to change, but we don’t know how to play the game differently. So we get stuck, and that’s trouble. That’s trouble. You see, the natural self is more or less your instinctive self. It’s not busy creating narratives. It just knows what feels right and what doesn’t feel right. But the adaptive self with its narratives has become so dominant that we don’t fall back to our natural instinctive selves. I mean, we are parts of nature, right? And nature is going somewhere. Deliberately or not, it’s going somewhere. And it’s going somewhere through us, partly. So there is something that wants to come into the world naturally through us, or something that needs to be absorbed from the world by us. And that’s all nature. That’s all instinctive. It doesn’t come as a result of a narrative or an argument line. But we don’t listen to nature anymore, even though we are it.
Dr. Z: We are nature.
Dr. Kastrup: We are lost in abstractions. We are lost in abstractions in our psychology, in our view of the meaning of life, in our science, in our philosophy, are completely lost in abstractions. And I think that will be the theme of the 21st century, our thankful emergence from the cocoon of abstraction.
Dr. Z: Ah, that is the perfect way to wrap up this in a nice package, materialism as a vestige of that sort of failure, and awakening from that to the new paradigm and then looking at coming back to that natural state. And, again, there’s none of this is woo-woo. This is exactly as we’ve built the case over two hours. And I’ll say this, you know, one thing about that authenticity and getting out of the narrative mind, that’s why I love doing live video on Facebook or whatever. When I’m talking about a topic, it comes from what I feel is a hole. I open a hole in the universe, and stuff comes out. Sometimes it’s not perfect, but it’s always as authentic to that moment as I can be. And, for me, that’s been a journey to get to that point where I’m comfortable doing that. And I think I encourage people to try to explore more natural expressions of who they are. And it sounds like, no, that’s a little soft and I don’t get it. It’s gonna sound like that to someone who’s deep in the adaptive game. But as you wake up, you’ll find joy in it.
Dr. Kastrup: But most people, when they suffer enough, they see through it. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of suffering for most people to let go of the narratives.
Dr. Z: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Man, Bernardo, what a joy it was talking to you. I learned so much, and this is stuff-
Dr. Kastrup: So did I, man.
Dr. Z: Ah, I’m like a country doc, man. This is, okay, will you, this is gonna get five views because there’s like five people in the world who love this stuff as much as as you and I do, but I suspect it’ll be more than that, will you come back and go deeper on some of these things sometime soon?
Dr. Kastrup: Sure, sure. It’s my natural self to do this.
Dr. Z: Exactly. Exactly. You always have my forum, because I bet we’re gonna get a ton of questions in the comments and objections and things. And I’d love to just go through comments and say, “Let’s talk about this,” because I’ll learn a lot.
Dr. Kastrup: Let’s do it again.
Dr. Z: Man, what a joy. Let me tell the gang here, guys, I mean. I hope you are thinking about stuff in a metacognitive way, but also relaxing into what is and feeling what we’re trying to say here. If you liked this show, share it, leave a comment. Tell us what bothers you about this, what you agree with, what your own experience is. And then we’ll do a follow-up where we take some of those comments and respond to them. If you really like what we do, become a supporter. Join our Supporter Tribe, just go to zdoggmd.com/supporters. And we go deep on these things like every night in a live authentic show where we are our natural selves. Ask the supporters, they’ll tell you. All right, guys, I love you. Bernardo, thanks a million man.
Dr. Kastrup: Thanks for having me. It was a great pleasure.
Dr. Z: And we are out. Peace.