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Rasmus Enbom is a self-educated philosophy nerd and thought addict who lives in Stockholm. I'm primarily driven by a search for the true and the good. This search has inspired my public engagement which hopefully contributes to our collective path in this search. It primarily manifests as challenging existing paradigms as well as an enactment to correct misapprehensions.
David Long's Anti-idealist Arguments are Weak
The thoughts of a person, including those written down never arise independently of other people in a vacuum. Indeed I’m grateful of many people without whom this article would, as cliché as it may sound, not be possible. I happen to be fairly smart, but not that smart. Most noteworthily, my gratitude extends to writer and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup whose arguments for Idealism provides the prerequisite understanding for having written this article.
There's no extra stuff of things outside consciousness. It's just Universal consciousness. We don't need to postulate extra things in terms of explanatory power.
I’m of the impression that within integral communities the question of ontological primacy and the related question of the relationship between mind and matter are questions of major controversy and has been a central topic of debate for a relatively long time. In this post I’ll address the arguments youtuber David Long has provided who’s firmly on the Emergentist side of things, and critiques an Idealist world view and ontology, and does this with a mile high of pseudologic. You might have seen it deployed. ‘there’s a long history of the universe before life evolved on the planet’ ‘there’s no or insufficient evidence for Idealism’, ‘there’s correlation between functions and equipment’, etc. What we’re seeing here is a common and dense cluster of pathetically weak argumentation, presumably driven by paradigmatic thinking and subject object experiential dualism, and are in dire need of shattering.
Before getting to carried away with this unfiltered tone which I was concidering as they were typed not to release in fear of being guilty of being over the top and bad mannered I shall clarify that I appreciate David Long and his content, as well as by taking the time to commend him. I have, for example personally deeply appreciated the following linked video by him: "Christianity: Literal vs. Metaphorical".
I regard him as an excellent voice regarding Integral theory and I’m very impressed and appreciative of the extent of what he understands as well his ability to present an otherwise relatively complex topic in a digestible form, while still maintaining the depth and nuance of the points and messages intended to be communicated and by providing examples and analogies which bring home the intended points really well, and to manage to do all of this with quality, humor and general entertainment value.
I also appreciate his passion and vision for the future of integral theory and to get it right. My appreciation of him also extends to him being critical of central figures and common phenomenon within the community. Such criticism is of vital importance for any community, organisation or institution, functioning as a vitally necessary self-correcting mechanism and BS-filtration apparatus. As he says, ‘getting it right really matters’ and his pursuit in getting it right has earned my respect and appreciation and it’s also why I’m happy to talk about what I’m going to talk about here in this article.
While I think David is doing some great work I do also think that he’s backwards on this topic, namely Metaphysics and Ontology, as I am of the impression that mainstream Physicalism and Emergentism are collapsing world-views. This may or may not relate to a lack of exposure to and carefully thinking through these matters. My attempts with this post isn’t necessarily to provide such exposure in order to convince David, but rather in addition to David’s proposal a while back that I’d write a ‘well-thought-out note’ to deal with his points, also for one or a variety of reasons which at the moment I may not have self-reflective access to. Whatever those reasons may be I do also feel as though it at least partly relates to thoroughly and relatively extensively demonstrating to other readers that the arguments as of yet presented by David as the title says, are weak, and also to highlight the genaral reasons that an emergentist view is untenable and that an alternative consciousness-only ontology, a form of Idealism is a promising, new, and paradigm-shattering Metaphysics of the future.
Before proceeding however, some definitions of terms and clarification of my usage of them might be helpful. Physical realism or in this context we might simply say, Realism, is the view according to which there’s a reality external to mind. In an emergentist view of consciousness, or simply, Emergentism, stands the thesis that consciousness is an emergent property of neurobiological physical processes, while Idealism refers to a variety of views in philosophy according to which reality is in some way indistinguishable or inseparable from a subject’s understanding and/or perception, that it is in some sense mentally constituted or otherwise closely connected to ideas. The form of Idealism I’m going to defend is one according to which reality is mentally constituted such that the observable external universe is ontologically inseparable from and homogeneous with consciousness or mind (I use the words ’consciousness’ and ’mind’ interchangeably). Thus, in the remainder of this article I use the word ‘Idealism’ strictly to refer to this latter version.
It should also be clarified that the position I’m defending in this article is not one according to which everything at the smallest scales are conscious. Panpsychism as commonly conceived. In other words, I won’t defend the view that consciousness is in everything, but rather I will defend the view that everything is in consciousness, as part of and as excitations of consciousness.
Continuing in this spirit of clarity and unambiguousness I’ll explain my use of the word consciousness or mind, as well as define it, and share some general thoughts about our understanding of these words.
There’s no way to linguistically represent the way in which I use the word consciousness or mind in such a way so that one can apprehend it. At least from a subjective perspective consciousness is everything within the field of awareness and thus can’t be referred to as an object of perceptions, nor the behavior of some objects of perception, because it is neither one of these. It is rather, as priorly stated, everything within one’s field of awareness, which consequently leads to problems of finding precise definitions. Comparetively, we can imagine a fish who’s told that he is situated within water, which the fish may struggle to understand at first. He may even object to and question the alleged existence of this so called ‘water’. However, until the fish can directly apprehend the reality in which he finds himself, any linguistic explanation won’t suffice.
I’m not even talking about some spiritual awakening experience in which the ego is tanscended, but rather a mere direct apprehension of one’s own consciousness. Until this is apprehended, misunderstanding is seemingly unavoidable.
Nonetheless I’m going to attempt to communicate what I mean by the word consciousness or mind. Following the way in which philosopher Thomas Nagel uses the word consciousness, I propose that an entity is conscious if and only if there is anything that it is like to be that entity, something that it is like for the entity, i.e., some subjective way the world or anything else seems or appears to the entities mental or experiential point of view. In this sense consciousness is distinct from self-awareness, awareness of one’s environment or/and world, and metacognition-that is, the knowledge of one’s knowledge. Rather, in this sense, consciousness only entails the presence of phenomenal or experiential properties.
This hopefully provides more clarity with regard to my usage of the word ‘consciousness’ regardless if what I’ve provided above qualifies as a definition, and insofar as it doesn’t we are left with few alternative attempted definitions, the only one of which I can think of is one in which it’s defined opirationally, i.e, in terms of it’s behavior. Thanks to writer Bernardo Kastrup we then have two definitions which then follow. According to Kastrup, consciousness is ‘that which experiences’, or alternatively he states that ‘consciousness is that whose excitations are subjective experiences’.
It should be clarified that these definitions do however not imply a subject-object distinction. This is analogous to the way that the distinction between water and ripples do not imply an ontological distinction, as ripples are excitations of water. Analagously consciousness or that which experiences, in terms of subjective experience, is ontologically inseparable from it’s excitations or its contents. In other words, just like there’s nothing to ripples but water, there is nothing to experience but consciousness. To use another example, just like there’s nothing to a dance but the dancer who dances, there’s nothing to experience but that which experiences, or consciousness.
In order to avoid any potential confusion, I’d like to clarify that I’m not proposing that this in and of itself supports an Idealist view. Nothing in what I’ve written precludes a Realist and Emergentist view. Rather, the definition and its implications are metaphysically and ontologically neutral.
The appeal to explanatory power and anthropomorphism
We now get into the crux of this post where I’ll address all the salient arguments of which I’m aware that David has made in critique of an Idealist view. All of which are from the two following linked videos.
The first part of this post/article addresses the first video and the second part addresses the second video, and the third part provides a substantiation for what I like to call a form of Anti-realist monist idealism, but shall simply call Idealism.
I begin with addressing the following criticism.
“But emergentism does show us that there’s no need in terms of explanatory power to postulate Idealism as a source for life, and it gets into all kinds of problems of its own. Especially anhroporphism and infinite regress.”
While I write this with some hesitation in fear of committing the sin of addressing a strawman, presumably, the implicit assumption is that Emergentism makes fewer postulates than Idealism. In which case that is innacurate. Emergentism postulates a reality outside and independent of consciousness from which consciousness emerges, which entails three assumptions in addition to a non-solipsist assumption.
Emergentism entails the following postulates.
Idealism on the other hand entails only the following postulates in addition to a non-solipsist assumption.
Therefore Idealism entails fewer postuletes. Consequently, it is more parsimonious to explain everything without inferring the assumption of a reality outside consciousness or a reality that is not consciousness. Aditionally, it is epistemologically more reliable to account for everything in terms of what we know, which is consciousness in this case, as opposed to in terms of a theoretical inference and an abstraction of consciousness that there is a reality outside and independent of consciousness. So a consciousness-only ontology, a form of Idealism is favored by occam’s razor and by epistemological reliability. The challange for the idealist thus reduces to sufficiently explaining what can be observed of the universe in terms of consciousness alone. This challange will be met in later parts of this article.
In simpler words, all else being equal it’s preferable to explain things in terms of what we know (consciousness), rather than in terms of what we don’t know with equal amount of confidence (a reality outside and independent of consciousness).
It is also preferable to explain everything in terms of the view with fewer postulates or assumptions, all else being equal, given a choice between different views.
With regards to the propasition that Idealism is problematic, in part by virtue of anthropomorphism is problematic in at least two ways.
Firstly it makes sense to view idealism as anthropomorphic only if it is assumed that consciousness only is an attribute of humans or certain or all biological organisms, which of course is the very notion in question. As such this point is at best trivial and at worst question begging.
The point about infinite regress will be addressed in later parts of this article.
“Science seems to show a more Emergentist perspective where consciousness is the outgrowth of life on a particular planet. That it doesn’t go all the way down and back. And that in the way that the integral quadrant map shows, we can pretty easily map functions of consciousness correlated to hardware, so software to hardware. We are biological machines. We are the universe becoming conscious of itself. There’s no extra stuff put in from a trancendant source. It’s just the universe. We don’t need to postulate extra things in terms of explanatory power. “
This objection is inaccurate in at least two ways. As implied, because the implicit emergentist notion of matter external to mind is an unobservable or theoretical entity purely empirical observations are not epistemologically sufficient for theoretical inferences of mind-emergence. Thus related reasons for theoretically inferring matter external to mind are needed in addition to empirical observations. Such reasons are however not provided by David. Rather what is provided is a description of empirical observations. As stated, that this description is accurate is however not in dispute. What is in dispute is how to ontologically interpret the empirical observation described above. My contention is that this observation is insufficient with regards to drawing inferences of emergence. While it informs us of the expression, or the qualitatively different character of mind in relationship to the set of perceptions or appearance we call the body-brain system it does not however, logically follow from this that consciousness emerges from material processes in the body-brain system. That implication is simply not there. As such this argument is at best incomplete, or at worst a complete non-sequitur.
Futhermore, as we have seen the proposed consciousness-only idealist ontology makes less postulates than Emergentism. Therefore, David has got it precisely backwards. As such a similar thing can be said more appropriately and fittingly, but in reverse. There’s no extra shadow universe outside consciousness. It’s just consciousness. We don’t need to postulate extra things such as mind-external realities in terms of explanatory power.
David appeals to a different objection which i call ’Infinite regress though’ He states:
“These are human-centric, anthropocentric projections that don’t really solve anything, they just get caught up in this infite regress where, ‘what’s the source of reality?’ ‘Ow it must be some human somewhere that does things for a reason or awakes as the universe.’ So people have tried to solve this problem of origins, but they just wind up right back where they started again, not understanding, well where did God come from?, or whatever. They talk about this transcendent thing that is infinite, but why not save a step?, as Carl Sagan would say, and just say that our universe is infinite? “
This objection is mistaken in at least two ways. Firstly, every metaphysics has to have an ontological primitive, meaning something, in terms of which everything else can be explained. Postulating Universal consciousness as ontologically primary is no more a problem then postulating anything else as ontologically primary, which, as stated is inescapable to every metaphysics, including the Physical realism of Emergentism, whose postulated ontological primitive, depending on the specific formulation range from the quantum field, subatomic particles, branes, superstrings, etc., all of which are also unexplainable. Regardless of what one postulates as ontologically primary, the same question can always be asked, ‘where did it come from?’ This is not something unique to idealism.
Secondly, Idealism does not postulate some ontological entity in addition to the universe. Rather it is a form of ontological monism, in which the universe is an ontologically inseparable exitation of consciousness. The universe is simply what Universal consciousness is doing as an ontologically homogeneous and unitary self-generating and self-regenerating dynamic process, or so I argue. Consequently there is no additional step made in Idealism, but there is in Emergentism that postulates an entire shadow universe outside consciousness. This is the truly inflationary additional step that is made. As such, we must ask the question: why not save a step and conclude that Universal consciousness is infinite?
Qualifying the unqualifyable
I shall now begin to address the arguments and criticisms of Idealism from the first video linked earlier.
According to David, to claim that consciousness is fundemental and ontologically primary errors in that it violates the principles that one cannot legitimately qualify the unqualifyable.
Take the following quote as an example.
“He’s making claims beyond that which is beyond anyone’s ability to know. He’s making absolute truth claims. You’re not supposed to be able to do that.”
This line of criticism entails errors in three ways. Firstly, something which supposedly is beyond the ability to know is not the same as an absolute truth or the absolute truth. An absolute truth is defined as something that is true at all times and in all places no matter what the circumstances. Clearly these are not the same notions. However, this point aside, it is merely asserted more or less by implication that claiming consciousness to be primary and fundemendal is beyond the ability to know. However, this is an unsubstantiated epistemological claim and a throw-away statement.
Morover, whether that which is proposed to be beyond the ability to know is beyond the ability to know or not is actually orthogonal to the question of which ontology ought be accepted as most plausible or tenable. These are different questions. One can be an Idealist or not and with perfect consistency hold that it is possible to know whether it is true or not.
He goes on to later suggest that this principle is common in many traditions around the world. He says:
“And it’s actually a common theme in traditions both east and west, that we can’t make claims about the absolute truth of reality (he goes on to make this point with quoting a Daoist saying), The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. Or in Gnosticism, the idea of gnosis is this experience that can’t be spoken about or can’t be put into words. That’s why the original Gnostics don’t have a dogma…”
My personal understanding of this Daoist saying and this gnostic conception is that the absolute truth of reality cannot be appropriately denoted or/and captured linguistically or conceptually. I actually agree with this idea, and I like the following quote by Rumi presumably hinting at the same notion.
“Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.”
However the implication presumibly made by David is that to simultaneously adhere to this principle while also making claims about the primacy of conciousness is in some way contradictory. Although this implicitly assumes that to claim that consciousness is primary, fundamental, or God forbid, the ground of all being, is an attempt to linguistically denote the absolute truth of reality, but insofar as an absolute truth claim means that it is an inviolable and unalterable claim, true under all circumstances such that its truth is inascapable, then it is not the case that a claim about the primacy of conciousness necessarily is an absolute truth claim. Neither is the Emergentist position promoted by David according to which a physical reality outside and independent of consciousness is ontologically and cosmologically primary, and which generates consciousness such a claim about the absolute nature of reality, and nor is the Idealist claim of that nature. The propasition that it is, is merely an empty unsubstantiated assertion and a throw-away statement. Rather, the Idealist claim is one capable of being true or false, and it is a claim about metaphysics, but that does not imply that it is an absolute truth claim. As such an idealist view is perfectly consistent with the view that the absolute truth of reality cannot be spoken about or captured syntactically or conceptually.
Looking in the wrong quadrant for data
In this context a quadrant is terminology in Integral theory for categorising the subjective, inter subjective, objective and inter objective domain. Presumably, the sentiment with respect to this criticism is that concluding consciousness to be primary in virtue of some subjective experience that supposedly confirms the truth of the conclusion is the wrong method by which we can make warranted claims of ontological primacy, and that the correct method is rather to turn to the relevant scientific data. In other words, it is a rejection of the validity of appealing to personal experience to justify an Idealist claim and a propasition that science is the ultimate authority on the question of ontological primacy.
While appealing to personal experience to warrent such a claim certainly isn’t valid in terms of rational argumentation, neither is turning to scientific data for answers the only appropriate method by which we can say anything conclusive about the primacy of conciousness. This is because the question of ontological primacy, by definition, is not a scientific one, but rather an ontological one. Science is ontologically neutral, and as such it doesn’t in and of itself inform us of any specific ontology. Any such ontological conclusion informed by science would not be scientific data or observation, but rather ontological interpretation of observation. And make no mistake about it: metaphysical and ontological beliefs distort science, for any kind of metaphysical and ontological lense through which a given scientist looks at observation is, if he is not careful, going to potentially corrupt conclusions. Of course, that does not mean that scientists cannot have a metaphysical belief, but that belief for a given scientist ought not distort interpretation of observation. Lest we conflated science with philosophy, we must never lose sight of the difference between an observation and an ontological interpretation of observation. We must never loose sight of our models of nature and what nature is in and of itself. Of course this does not mean that science is never relevant or that it can never be informative in ontology. It certainly can be. However, the implications by David that science is the correct method with regards to this question is left epistemologically unsubstantiated. He nevertheless went on to claim the following in the same video, appealing to the cosmological history.
“We have about 9 billion years in the universe’s history before there was a planet with an ecosystem with an environment that life evolved on. So to think that consciousness is primary is wrong, as we talked about in the last video. Most scientists have an emergentist perspective. We don’t think consciousness goes all the way down and back.”
The implicit assumption in the above quote is that consiousness is only coupled with or only arises with biological life. For this reason the argument is question begging, as this is precisely the point in contention.
The question begging nature of ‘the cosmological history objection’ argument should be obvious enough. Yet it is one of the most common objections to Idealism currently.
It may nonetheless be objected: ‘There is no good reason to believe consciousness can exist in a non-biological context, and therefore we can assume or conclude that consciousness is coupled with and arises only with biology and thus, not primary.’
This objection would be a form of argument from ignorance. If for the sake of argument it was accepted that there’s no good reason to believe consciousness can exist in a non-biological context, that does not however, in and of itself imply that consciousness is not primary. To propose that something does not exist in virtue of the absence of evidence of that thing, would be an example of an argument from ignorance fallacy.
Of course there is also a burden to be met by the Idealist and this will be tackled in later parts of this post.
Moreover, there was also an appeal to authority in the above quote. Although the intended implication may not be that consciousness is not primary in virtue of what the alleged scientific authority thinks about that. In which case it is not fallacious. Nevertheless while it arguably may be interesting what certain scientists think about this question, it does not have any barring on the point in dispute. Furthermore, scientists are not the primary relevant authority on this issue, since this is a philosophical and ontological issue as elaborated on earlier. As such, as stated, while it arguably is interesting what scientists think about this question, it is nonetheless orthogonal to the issue in dispute, and thus a red herring. After all, scientists are trained in their very-highly-specialised-and-narrow fields. To ask a scientist about ontology is like asking a chess player about quantum physics. While the chess player is probably very clever, that cognitive ability and mental skill does not in and of itself apply to quantum physics, or any other field or scientific and intellectual domain. Analogously, the skill possessed by the scientists does not necessarily apply to ontological questions such ontological primacy and the relationship between mind and matter. That simply does not follow. They are different fields requirring different training and skill set. While of tremendous value, we must resist the temptation to project general wisdom, knowledge and understandings onto scientists. And we must not confuse science with ontology. I declare thus, the emperor has no clothes.
The salient question is: how can we choose between Emergentism and Idealism respectively given that there is no evidence for either positions?
He goes on talk about integral methodological pluralism and the varying degrees of strength the respective quadrants have for validating various propositions. As well as how phenomenology and personal experience is not a reliable source for validating claims about the exterior objective quadrant.
Take the following quotes for example.
“But on the other hand, you don’t also get to say that just because you had an experience that you know that it’s true about reality. You have to test that to see if it actually stands up with the facts. Because it turns out that just being in touch with the ground of all being doesn’t reveal the deepest secrets of the universe.”
“ These extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
“So you’re personal experience can tell you what you felt. That’s for sure, but it doesn’t get to make claims about objective reality, let alone the absolute truth of reality.”
While the commonly cited Sagan standard might have utility in certain domains of science it is also used as a commonly cited throwaway statement and as a general self evident principle almost ubiquitously applicable to any and all propasitions. It is however an epistemological claim which in our case is left unsubstantiated. It doesn’t appear obvious why different standards of evidence would apply to claims of different nature, unless that claim directly contradicts what is supported by a large amount of existing evidence, which is not the case with idealism.
It is also worth noting that what is regarded as an extraordinary claim is entirely subjective. What is thus being appealed to by David is his own subjective sense of plausibility, which in this context seems rather paradigmatic. After all, it has also historically seemed implausible and extraordinary to claim that the earth was round rather than flat, that the earth was not the center of the solar system and actually along with other planets orbits around the sun, and that there was not a literally existing sky-daddy otherwise known as God the Father. Ideas change, and paradigms shift. This sort of taken for granted prima facie implausibility commonly ascribes to Idealism is seemingly a manifestation of potentially crippling paradigmatic thinking, which Thomas Kuhn has already warned us about, and which I continue to warn about here. We need to be cautious that the Materialist and Emergentist paradigm does not do what the Church did in the fifteenth century: forcing theory to fit a predetermined metaphysics. But I digress.
Furthermore, the notion of evidence belongs to Science and not necessarily to Ontology. Ontological claims do not necessarily require scientific evidence. In this context, the point in dispute with regards to evidence concerns how to ontologically interpret evidence, not primarily about evidence for any of the entailed postulates for either position.
Morover, the appeal to an alleged absense of evidence or unpresented evidence for Idealism misses the point entirely. While we for the sake of argument might grant that there is no evidence for the primacy of conciousness, neither is there for the emergentist postulate of the brain as an entity outside mind. The either implicit or explicit emergentist assumption of a mind-external reality, and the notion of ontologically primary trans-personal mentation are both theoretical inferences for which there is no evidence. Therefore, to appeal to a lack of evidence for the idealist notion of trans-personal mentation is actually tangential to the salient point, and thus a red herring. The salient question is: how can we choose between Emergentism and Idealism respectively given that there is no evidence for either positions? This question will be addressed in later parts of this article.
With regards to appeals to personal experience, it is indeed true that they do not constitute a sound argument for any ontological claim such as about the primacy of conciousness. This bears repeating as a disclaimer that I’m not suggesting this constitutes a sound argument for any belief and I would not propose that a person appealing to personal experience should be believed by others in virtue of that person having had a personally convincing experience. Blind belief in other people is indeed problematic.
On the other hand, such transcendent nondual experiences might be the most effective means of disabusing oneself of Materialist and Emergentist Metaphysics, providing rather legitimate personal confirmation, and constitutes legitimately convincing personal evidence for the psychonaut or spiritual aspirant in question. Here me out on this one.
Consider a relatively fundamentalist religious person who one day as a result of a series of events embarks on a journey to travel around the world. He gets exposed to new cultures, customs and religious views. After a long journey having been in many places around the world and having been exposed to various religions it dawns on him , ‘what if I’m wrong?’ After some period of time he arrives at the conclusion, ‘if there are so many varied perspectives on religion, it doesn’t seem very likely that mine is the correct one’. And soon there after, he thought to himself, ‘There probably isn’t a God to begin with who supposedly created all of this and who can hear my prayers.’
Having returned back home, he gets challenged by his fellow people back at home on his change of perspective, he struggled to articulate why it is more reasonable to think that there is not a God of that kind, and that the existence of our world and universe seemingly has a more scientific explanation, but it was nevertheless what dawned on him as a result of the experience during the travels.
What this experience did for this hypothetical person is not necessarily cause a series of logical arguments to be thought of by which he arrived at his final conclusion, but rather it was an experience that shifted his mode of thinking and viewing the world such that he let go of certain beliefs and opened himself up to other ones.
I’m suggesting that there might be something similar with respect to experiences that allegedly validates claims about the primacy of consciousness and its ontological relationship to the universe. Somewhat analogously to the example provided above, beliefs in matter outside and independent of consciousness are more easily let go of in certain experiences, and thus it might be easier to open oneself up to other metaphysical views, in a way like the experience of the person traveling the world made it easier for him to let go of certain religious beliefs and open himself up to other views.
As if this post wasn’t radical and heretic enough, let’s take a look at another example.
Imagine that it is an early morning while you are still undergoing the rapid eye movement stage of sleep in which you are dreaming. You are fully entranced in the dream, except that there’s a nagging feeling back in your mind or gut, an intuition that you are not really of this world in which you find yourself currently. For some reason you hone in on that feeling. It makes you stop whatever you are doing within the dream. ‘Something feels strange’ you tell yourself, and you start looking around, and then it hits you, ‘I am dreaming!,’ you tell yourself. You have temporarily become lucid within the dream. You start running around and telling people that ‘this is but a dream, you are in a dream and we can do whatever we want’. Although most of them insist, that it is not a dream, but that it is very real indeed, and many of them even become angry with you for suggesting that it is not, but rather a dream. You soon begin to realise ‘what am I doing?’ These are merely dream characters, mere figments of my imagination and you then go on with your nightly adventures by yourself. However, surely the lucid awareness starts to fade. And soon enough you have forgotten that it is a dream. Yet, this nagging feeling remains in the back of your mind and gut. A non-self reflective intuition that you are not from the place you find yourself in now. It’s a diffuse and slippery feeling. You can’t put your finger on what it quite means, but…you move on.
Finding yourself at a beach and with a person you get get asked by her a question. You don’t quite remember who she is but for some reason feel that she belongs with you at this beach at this moment.
She asks you: ‘What do you think will happen when you die?’ A bit flustered by the question and not quite sure what to answer, you start speaking and trust the appropriate words to come, you say: ‘Well I come from another world, and when I die my soul will simply return to the world that it came from.’
A little bit surprised with your answer, you realise that not even yourself quite understands what you exactly meant.
Your friend next to you continues:
‘How do you know there are such things as souls, and another world to which they can go?’
‘Well I just know. I have faith in it. I can’t really explain it to you in a logical step by step manner.’
‘Well that’s just a cop out. Are you sure you’re not just engaging in wishful thinking so that you can comfortably believe that it doesn’t end after this life? I on the other hand, face reality, and accept there’s probably no such thing as souls and an after life, which is basically what you’re eluding to. After all, where is this after life? Why haven’t science discovered it? And where is your soul? It doesn’t appear to be in there anywhere’.
She’s, pointing to your body.
‘Well you are asking the wrong questions. The other world is totally beyond this one and so is my soul. It is not something that can be tangibly found and pointed to so that we can say ‘Aha, there it is’. They are in no places to be found or observed. They aren’t anywhere. They aren’t even two things, but they are actually only one thing. It’s only language that gets us into these sorts of linguistic problems’.
‘This sounds like a bunch of ‘woo’. Are you sure you’re not just engaging in wishful thinking or defending some religious or new age beliefs of yours? Let’s just face reality. There is no evidence for either a soul, nor an after life’.
You begin to start loosing your patience with this person who insists on looking at the finger instead of the moon to which the finger is pointing. But you take a breath and manage to carry on.
‘You’re assuming that my soul is inside my body, but it is this beach, those buildings and those mountains over there that are in my soul.’
She keeps harping on something to do with evidence and science.
At this point you grow tired and give up. And the conversation ends. And both of you sit quietly and peacefully, and continue to watch the waves of the ocean hit the shore. You start to notice some ripples form into some rather noticeably interesting patterns in the water before they dissolve, and you continue to watch the ocean. And you start thinking to yourself, ’what was it exactly that I was trying to explain to my friend next to me?’ Then you hear your friend say abruptly, in a firm but benevolent voice:
‘Here, let me help you understand what you’ve been trying to say.’
As you turn to face her, you freeze: she is pointing a gun straight at your face. Before you’ve even had time to begin to feel scared, she looks you straight in your eyes with a grin on her face, smiles, and blinks at you, and BANG!!!
Your whole body propels itself upward. Startled you find yourself safely in your bed.
Appeal to the Pre/trans fallacy
The Pre/trans fallacy is in Integral theory a fallacy of mistakenly interpreting metaphor and symbology as literal as opposed to metaphorical or symbolic. David goes on to talk about the problem we run into regarding people making different claims regarding spiritual experiences. He says:
“And to them it also proves the truth of their tradition, but it doesn’t. There’s nothing about that experience that proves Jesus was a historical figure who was raised from the dead and flew up into the sky… It’s inside the box, inside the tradition kind of suggestion and the experience doesn’t prove the religion true. This is one of the main things any religious person has to grapple with is what do you do about the fact that there are other people in other traditions who also will claim that they know that their God is true because of some kind of spiritual experience. You’re both using the same methodology of personal experience and faith and yet you’re coming up with different conclusions so how does that work? “
While Idealism is not necessarily connected to any particular religion, this objection has some force. It undeniably seems like a perfectly legitimate question and objection. Nevertheless, my suggestion is that it is disanalogous. Although it may not be obvious until it is pointed out, the disanalogy is that most religious beliefs supposedly validated by a spiritual or religious experience add on entities to reality that allegedly exist, while Idealism does away with such an entity. One gets partly disenchanted with the powerful hypnotic trans of Maya, or the story. Or we might say that one is no longer under the spell of the Devil as the trickster that he is, to use western symbology. That spell or illusion of a multiplied entity is an entire universe outside consciousness, entailing an inflationary doubling of reality. And of course if one stops believing in a universe outside consciousness that means that consciousness is ontologically primary, in that person’s view.
He continues to talk about the Pre/trans fallacy. This particular line of criticism is not so much about the plausibility of any particular ontological view, but rather a meta-point as it relates to integral theory. As such it is beyond the scope of this post/article to address it extensively.
Explanatory power and substantiating Idealism
Mind and matter are epistemologically asymmetrical, whereby mind is epistemologically more reliable than the notion of a mind-external reality.
I anticipate an appeal to a different objection. It might be stated: inferring the existence of a mind-external reality, ei. Physical realism is necessary in serving as an explanation for this empirically observed relationship. This is a comparatively excellent objection. Surely the proper way to critique Idealism is neither to appeal to the lack of sufficient evidence for Idealism, nor is it to point out that there was a cosmological history prior to biological life, rather it is to show that it cannot satisfactorily explain what physical realism purportedly explains. In other words, the focus of those critical of Idealism should be on addressing the explanatory power of idealism, in which case a Physicalist or Emergentist might appeal to two other observations in addition to the one regarding the relationship between mind and brain, for all three of which inferring a mind-external reality supposedly is necessary as an explanatory model. She/he might state that not only are there strong correlations between reported subjective experience and observable physical states, but we can also observe that we seemingly share the same reality, and also that the observable universe operates independently of our volition.
This objection has some force, although it is innacurate. To address this objection, two things needs to be pointed out. Firstly, as implied, the implicit emergentist notion of matter external to mind, is an unobservable or so called theoretical entity as opposed to a directly observable empirical fact. In other words, emergentism is an explanatory model and a theoretical inference arising from the interpretation of sense perception within a framework of conceptualisation, not an observable empirical fact. To state otherwise would be to contradict the mainstream physicalist or emergentist view of consciousness according to which our perceptions of the physical universe are constituted or generated by neurobiological physical processes. In yet other words, according to mainstream Physicalism or Emergentism the objective mind-external reality purported to exist is not directly accessible, but rather indirectly so. To state otherwise would be to appeal to a form of naive realism. If this isn’t obvious enough already, I would further substantiate this claims by stating that, it is a fact that reality is known to us only through perception and apprehension of it, both of which are strictly mental processes.
Physical reality thus, is a theoretical inference, and not in and of itself an observation. Mind, on the other hand, is a directly observeble a priori certainty. Even if every mental content is illusory or hallucinatory, the mental contents themselves prove the reality of mentation. In short, a mind-external reality is an inference and mind is a given.
Consequently, mind and matter are epistemologically asymmetrical, whereby mind is epistemologically more reliable than the notion of a mind-external reality. Secondly while, I would argue that inferring something external to our personal minds is necessary, inferring something external to mind itself is not. Given a choice then between inferring either a mind external reality or a purely mental reality to explain observation, to infer the former is epistemologically more costly than inferring the latter, as it is epistemologically more reliable to explain observations in terms of what is known to exist, which in this case is mentation as opposed to explaining those observations in terms of what cannot be known to exist with the same degree of epistemological confidence.
As stated, I contend that while inferring something external to our personal minds is necessary, inferring a mind-external reality is not. After all, the necessity to infer something external to our personal minds does not imply something external to mind itself. In fact as I will argue doing so is unparsimonious, inflationary and in violation of the principle of occam’s razor according to which more assumptions than the minimum necessary ought not be made in order to explain something, or entities should not be multiplies without necessity. The utility of these principles is perhaps best illustrated by the parody of the flying Spaghetti monster. While we cannot show or prove that the monster does not exists, we do not need to postulate it in order to make sense of the world. Analogously, while it may be the case that we cannot prove or show that a mind-external reality does not exist, we do not need to postulate it in order to make sense of certain observations. In fact, as I will argue, such a postulate is rendered redundant and unnecessary if such observations can be sufficiently explained in terms of only mind.
To briefly summarise this, I contend that mind is epistemologically primary, meaning we know that mind exists prior to and with more epistemological confidence relative to anything else conceivable. To then infer a mind-external reality from which mind allegedly emerges or/and to which it reduces is epistemologically less reliable relative to explaining everything in terms of only mind as epistemologically primary. It is also less parsimonious relative to not postulating a mind-external reality. In other words, the proposed Monist and Idealist ontology is favored by occam’s razor relative to Emergentism. The challenge for the idealist thus, as implied earlier, reduces to sufficiently explaining what can be observed of the universe, such as the following observations in terms of only mind.
What follows is an attempt to provide such an explanation.
To explain the observations in question what is proposed in this article is an alternative to the mainstream physicalist or/and emergentist ontology according to which what is ontologically primary is something physical, such as branes, superstrings or the quantum vacuum. In this alternative mind-only ontology consciousness or mind itself is the ontological primitive of reality in terms of which everything in reality can be explained. Mind as the sole ontological primitive of reality is one ontologically homogeneous, identical, numerical subject of experience as opposed to various distinct subjects of experience.
What explains our various seemingly numerically distinct centers of conciousness is the apparent fragmentation of mind into seemingly distinct minded entities through a process of dissociation.
In normally integrated and unitary minds there are cognitive associations between contents of consciousness or mental contents. For example, a thought may evoke a memory, which may evoke an emotion, which may evoke another thought, etc. All such mental contents are usually accessibly integrated. However, there is an empirically well known phenomenon in Psychiatry called dissociation, in which some of the interrelated cognitive associations in a unitary mind cease to exist, and thus become dissociated, resulting in distinct, simultaneously conscious centers of awareness. This phenomenon is called Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple personality disorder, which empirically bases the the postulation that seeming distinct centers of consciousness is a result of dissociation of mind as the ontological primitive of reality, which I will call, as writer Bernardo Kastrup does, Universal consciousness. According to this mind-only ontology Universal consciousness as the ontological primitive of reality dissociates into various alters in universal consciousness, outside of which is what I call trans-personal mind or Mind at large, to use a Huxleyan term.
The trans-personal mentation in Mind at large impinges on the dissociative boundary of alters resulting in perception corresponding to the trans-personal mental states from which the perceptions are impinged. What we call perception of the universe that is not perception of other sentient beings is thus phenomenal representation of trans-personal mentation in Mind at large, and perception of other sentient beings the phenomenal representation of other dissociated alters within Universal consciousness. As such, the capacity of various biological entities to percieve each other is a function of impingement of mental activity in Universal consciousness. The dissociated mentation in any given alter will impinge on trans-personal mind, affecting its mental states which will in turn impinge on another alter sharing the same trans-personal mental environment, resulting in the perception of a biological body. In other words, some of the mental contents in trans-personal mind can get impinged by mental contents of an organism which in turn impinges on the mental contents of an another organism for whom those mental contents is the appearance of another organism in the form of its body.
This explains our first observation that there are strong correlations between brain-activity and reported subjective experience.
Brain activity and mental states correlate tightly with one another because the mental states of an alter causes in another alter, through impingement the extrinsic appearance of the first alters biological body of which the brain is an integral part. As such the body-brain system is the image or extrinsic appearance of a process of localisation in universal consciousness. Brain activity then, is simply part of a phenomenal representation of the mental activity or phenomenal experiences of another dissociated alter in universal consciousness appearing as a certain representation through a process of impingement across the dissociated boundaries of the respective alters. And of course, brain activity then, as a phenomenal representation necessarily correlates with the phenomenal experiences it is a representation of. As such brain activity is simply a part of what the phenomenal experiences of an alter look like from across respective dissociative boundaries.
This also explains our observation that we seemingly share the same reality.
What is being commonly percieved by organisms is not a mind-external reality. It is rather a mental reality, corresponding to the set of perceptions or appearance we call the inanimate universe as a whole. In other words it is mental contents in trans-personal mind, or the same part of trans-personal mind, corresponding to phenomenal experiences or mental contents of various organisms in terms of which each of them apprehend and recognise a shared environment.
From the proposed ontology we can also explain why the dynamics of the observable universe unfolds independently of volition.
The volition of any given dissociated alter in Universal consciousness is part of the mental activity of the given alter and as such it is also dissociated from the rest of Universal consciousness and thus, it has limited control over how the universe unfolds.
We have now explained some central observations which in Idealism is necessary to make sense of and explain for sufficient explanatory power. In light of this it is untenable to maintain an emergentist view of mind given the epistemological assymetry between mind and matter external to mind from which mind supposedly emerges.
Additionally, given that the proposed mind-only ontology, as have been argued, is more parsimonious it follows that Emergentism is untenable given that we have explained the necessary basic facts of reality in terms of a mind-only idealist ontology.
In order to really appreciate the point that is being argued here consider the following analogy.
When looking at the the horizon you don’t say that there’s another shadow earth, but rather just more earth. Analagously, when considering Metaphysics and Ontology, because mind or consciousness is the only carrier of reality one can ever know for sure, the salient difference between Monist idealism and Emergentism is extrapolating an ontological category that we already know to exist and inferring an entirely different ontological category. Comparatively, that’s a very big and costly step indeed.
Additionally, I conclude this article by sharing a quote by writer and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup, as well as some final thoughts of my own.
“According to this more parsimonious view, the ground of all reality is a trans-personal flow of subjective experiences that I metaphorically describe as a stream. Our personal awareness is simply a localisation of this flow: a whirlpool in the stream. It is this localisation that leads to the illusion of personal identity and separateness. The body-brain system is the image of the process of localisation in the stream of consciousness, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localisation in a stream of water. Yet, we can point at it and say: there’s a whirlpool! Analogously there’s nothing to a body but consciousness. Yet, we can point at it and say: there’s a body!
I would argue, as I have done, that the relationship between mind and matter cannot appropriately be viewed as causal, and that consciousness can simply be explained in terms of consciousness, without inferring matter as a mind-independent entity as a causal relational explanation. Or along the lines of how David Long would put it:
There’s no extra stuff of things outside consciousness. It’s just Universal consciousness. We don’t need to postulate extra things in terms of explanatory power.
The emperor has no clothes.
“What is it like to be a bat?” Philosophical Review, 83: 435-450.
Kastrup, B.K. 2015, Brief peeks beyond, Iff Books, John Hunt.
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