Is consciousness emergent from our bodies? Or is it a fundamental field of the universe? It’s possible that various quantum entanglement anomalies from Quantum Mechanics experiments could eventually provide some answers, but there isn’t yet a singular story that scientists all agree tells the consistent and coherent story of all of quantum mechanics. The mathematics of behavior is pretty consistent, but it’s the deeper questions of what it reveals about the story about the fundamental nature of reality that is still unresolved as there are many different interpretations of those mathematical structures.
Bernardo Kastrup is a philosopher who co-wrote on a Scientific America blog post with theoretical physicist Henry Stapp & Menas Kafatos on May 29, 2018 titled “Coming to Grips with the Implications of Quantum Mechanics: The question is no longer whether quantum theory is correct, but what it means.”
They argue that the some of the retrocausal quantum entanglement anomalies seen in the delayed-choice quantum erasure can be explained with a non-local conscious Observer. In other words, human consciousness is quantumly entangled quantum systems to the point where human observations in the future can impact the outcomes of the present, and one way that this could be possible is that if the Universe is essentially mental and that human consciousness exists outside of the boundaries of space and time.
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John von Neumann’s mathematical formalization of quantum mechanics left it as an open question as what exactly the mathematical boundary between the observer and the system was within a quantum mechanical system. Henry Stapp expanded upon this view in his book “Quantum Theory and the Role of Mind in Nature” where he says, “John von Neumann reformulated quantum theory as a theory of an evolving objective universe interacting with human consciousness. This interaction is associated both in Copenhagen quantum theory and in von Neumann quantum theory with a sudden change that brings the objective physical state of a system in line with a subjectively felt psychical reality.” There are many different interpretations of quantum mechanics that make different assumptions as to what this boundary is and the ultimate role of an observer.
Bernardo Kastrup has expanded upon this argument in a forthcoming book being released on April 2019 titled Idea of the World where he expands upon this Mental Universe hypothesis that comes from Philosophical Idealism. Kastrup is building off of Carlo Rovelli’s Relational Quantum Mechanics framework, which argues that an observer-independent state of a quantum system is an incorrect notion just Einstein showed that an observer-independent time is an incorrect notion.
But while Rovelli introduces the scientific foundation for post-modern philosophy, he doesn’t expand upon these philosophical implications. He explains in his paper,
With a large number of exceptions, most physicists hold some version of naive realism, or some version of naive empiricism. I am aware of the “philosophical qualm” that the ideas presented here may then generate. The conventional reply, which I reiterate, is that Galileo’s relational notion of velocity used to produce analogous qualms, and that physics seems to have the remarkable capacity of challenging even its own conceptual premises, in the course of its evolution. Historically, the discovery of quantum mechanics has had a strong impact on the philosophical credo of many physicists, as well as on part of contemporary philosophy. It is possible that this process is not concluded. But I certainly do not want to venture into philosophical terrains, and I leave this aspect of the discussion to competent thinkers.
So Rovelli doesn’t want to venture into philosophical terrain, but this is something that Kastrup is more than willing to do. Kastrup’s work is unpacking the philosophical implications of Rovelli’s Relational Quantum Mechanics.
I reached out to Kastrup to talk about his The Ideal World book, the philosophy of Idealism as applied to the foundations of physics, how neuroscience research into Disassociative Identity Disorder provides a metaphor for individual consciousness disassociated from a universal mind, his philosophical ideas our perception of reality being a “Markov Blanket” from a universal consciousness, and what the philosophy of Idealism means in the context of human experiences in real reality versus a human-constructed virtual reality.
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[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So one of the things that happens when someone goes into virtual reality for the first time is that they have this experience of it feeling just as real as what real reality is. And it brings up all of these deep questions like what is the nature of reality and what is the nature of consciousness? And these are questions that are actually huge open questions when it comes to what we can tell from science. philosophers have been debating this issue of the ultimate nature of reality for the last 2,500 years. And this is the branch of philosophy called ontology, like what is the model of reality? What is real? And then the epistemology is how we interact with that reality. And then the philosophy of mind is talking about the relationship of the mind body relationship, which is also a bit of a mystery. And when it comes to the philosophy of science, the foundation of what we base our ontological reality on is physics. And quantum physics is something that has a lot of mathematical formalism to it, but yet there isn't a single consistent story to be able to describe the nature of reality, the fundamental nature of reality. I mean, the math is there, but there's so many different ways to interpret it based upon whatever your metaphysical assumptions are, whatever story you're telling to be able to try to weave these concepts together because they're talking about these mathematical structures that are beyond our direct experience. And so we don't have a direct intuition as to what it means. And so there's these open questions within quantum mechanics, specifically the quantum measurement problem, which is at the core, trying to figure out what is the collapse of the wave function? Why does it collapse? And this other mathematical formalism that is trying to draw a line between the observer who's perceiving the environment and the system. So the difference between the subjective perception and the observed state, how are those connected? And there's been a number of different experiments that are looking at what Einstein called this spooky action at a distance. It's essentially like this quantum entanglement that is, you can think of it as like this non-local field of connectivity that communicates faster than the speed of light. They've been able to show that quantum entanglement happens at these distances that would have to require some sort of non-local field of connectivity. So there's a lot of anomalies that are coming from the realm of quantum physics. And there's actually an article in Scientific America on May 29, 2018. It was called, Coming to Grips with the Implications of Quantum Mechanics. The question is no longer whether quantum theory is correct, but what it means. And it was by Bernardo Kostrup, Henry Stapp, and Minis Confastos. And in this article, they're essentially arguing for this concept of idealism or this universal mind and that it's actually a mental process by which some of this quantum entanglement is happening and that requires the consciousness of a perceiver in order to collapse away function and that maybe consciousness is this fundamental property of reality rather than being an epiphenomena or an emergent property from our neurology. And so this is a huge open question in the philosophy of mind. It's an open question of the nature of consciousness. It's open questions and comes to the quantum measurement problem. And I actually had a chance to sit down and talk with Bernardo Kostrup. He's a philosopher as well as a PhD in computer engineering. He was specializing in artificial intelligence and working at CERN for a while, but it was through looking at AI where he started to doubt whether or not we're able to eventually be able to create these conscious machines. So, Bernardo is arguing for this form of idealism and I will just take a step back and to say that there's been these debates between Plato and Aristotle. Plato believing in these transcendent realms of non-spatial temporal, non-falsifiable metaphysical realms. versus like Aristotle who is really wanting to see empirical direct evidence of something and before it's actually able to believe it. For me, some of the most compelling evidence for these types of debates has come from the philosophy of math, like what is the nature of mathematical objects? What is the relationship to reality? And Bernardo is taking an approach of looking at the foundations of physics with quantum mechanics. And with that, Physics is kind of like the linchpin of our rest of our philosophy of science. And so there's going to be a lot of resistance to this type of idea, mostly because there's a lot of people who want to have like falsifiable evidence. And the realm in which you have the most falsifiable evidence when it comes to this types of issues is in the realm of quantum mechanics. And there's so much weirdness that is involved with it. that there's many different ways to interpret it. And so it's actually difficult to look at one of these different tests and say that it's absolutely proving one of these different interpretations or not. And I do think that there are interpretations. And for me, I'm sort of keeping them all available until there's further evidence and proof to show one way or another that we're leading down to these completely different paradigms. But Bernardo is arguing for almost like this antithesis to the existing mainstream paradigm. And in the spirit of that, I think that there's this thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, and that it's going to take time to try to synthesize something like this form of idealism. I think that it is going to have to interface with the rest of our models of reality. And there's some interesting concepts and ideas. And especially listening to Bernardo talk about virtual reality in the context from an idealist perspective, what are the implications of living in a participatory universe where your observation is actually helping co-construct your nature of reality? And what does it mean to go into a virtual world where someone else has used a computer program to be able to construct that reality? And what are the differences between your existence in reality and your existence within a virtual reality? So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Bernardo happened over Skype on Monday, August 6th, 2018. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:06:08.283] Bernardo Kastrup: I am Bernardo Kastrup. I have a PhD in computer engineering and I've written several philosophy books and papers in technical philosophy journals, some other papers related to neuroscience and psychology and foundations of physics. And my big interest is the nature of reality and the nature of mind as part of this reality we live in. My background is computer engineering. I've worked with AI for several years back in the mid to late 90s. I worked at CERN with high energy physics as well, applying concepts of expert systems, AI, some more traditional systems to data acquisition at the CERN colliders. Afterwards, I moved on to other things, to more hardware-oriented computer architecture, reconfigurable computing, stuff like that. But AI stayed with me also as a hobby. I kept reading about it and doing some hobby projects at home. And that's what got me started thinking about mind, the nature of mind, and by implication, then the nature of reality, because mind seems to be inserted in reality. And that's how I started developing these ideas, by self-questioning and doubting the positions that I had held by default. Things like the idea that consciousness could be artificially created, I started questioning that and questioning my own assumptions. And eventually, just to make a very complex story seem to be very simple, eventually that led to the philosophy I write about today.
[00:07:39.247] Kent Bye: Great. So I know that I had some listeners to my podcast actually recommend that I check out your work. And then I saw that you had published a series of different articles within Scientific American, basically looking at open questions in quantum mechanics and trying to come up with a cohesive story and philosophy that is telling a larger story. So my sense is that quantum physics and quantum mechanics is something that has a lot of mathematical formalism, but there's still a lot of open questions as to what is the underlying coherent story to tie it all together. And so maybe you could tell me a little bit about some of these articles that you're writing that was trying to, I guess, take a little bit more philosophical approach of trying to tie together some of these open questions within quantum mechanics.
[00:08:25.518] Bernardo Kastrup: Yeah, I wrote several articles now for Scientific American. Only some of them are related to quantum mechanics. Others are related to neuroscience and other things. But the ones about QM, what they try to get into is what's technically called foundations of physics. QM is an established theory in the sense that there are the mathematical equations you refer to, and they predict things correctly. But what does that mean? It means that the equations, the models of quantum mechanics, can predict correctly the behavior of nature. What will happen if I do A? What will happen if I do B? And so on and so forth. These are questions of behavior not questions of what nature essentially is. Behavior is different than being, than essential existence. So what we've been trying to do in this series of articles is to look at the behaviors predicted by quantum theory and confirmed by experiment, and then looking at those behaviors, try to sort of figure out what they tell us about what nature is, or at least about what we can discard regarding the essence of nature. And we think that quantum mechanical theory and experiments discard the idea that physical reality exists in and of itself, independent of observation, whatever properties they have, mass, charge, spin, momentum, position, geometrical relationships, whatever, independently of if or how they are observed. We think that this has now been refuted by quantum mechanics, which then leaves the question What is reality then? What is it that is out there and that behaves the way it does? And we offer as a solution to that the idea that reality is essentially mental. Although there is an obvious boundary between your personal individual mentation, your personal individual mind or psyche, and the world out there, we don't deny that boundary. But we don't think that that boundary is a matter of essence. We think that the world out there is also mental. It's not your personal mentation. It arises from an interference pattern between your personal mentation and mentation at large, if you will, mentation up there, but it is essentially mental.
[00:10:45.789] Kent Bye: So in looking at the quantum measurement problem within quantum mechanics, there's a number of different interpretations. And some of them allow for the quantum wave function to collapse and others don't. So there's different theories like the Copenhagen interpretation and consciousness collapsing the wave function, which is like von Neumann and Wigner talking about how there could be some mechanism by which the actual act of perception is collapsing that wave function. I know that Rovelli has his relational quantum mechanics. And then there's other interpretations that just say, well, there is no collapse of this quantum wave function, that rather than having one discrete reality, there's a many worlds interpretation where the quantum wave function doesn't actually collapse, and that you have these parallel worlds that are kind of mathematically described, and universes that are parallel to ours that we can't necessarily observe or falsify, but are described mathematically. So given that, I'm just wondering which specific interpretation of quantum mechanics that you're looking at, and why do you suspect that that interpretation of quantum mechanics is the most convincing?
[00:11:50.129] Bernardo Kastrup: I'm an adherent of parsimony, the idea that we should not complicate things unnecessarily, that we should not make more postulates than are necessary to make sense of observation. You alluded to the Ravelli relational quantum mechanics interpretation. It is indeed popularly called an interpretation. Although I would question that, because what Ravelli did, he basically acknowledged what the core implications of quantum mechanics are. And a core implication of quantum mechanics is that the world we perceive around ourselves is relative to the observer. That there is no absolute physical world out there that is the same for all observers inserted in it, that it is the very act of observation that brings the physical world into existence as a physical world. And the implication of that is that the physical world is relational. It is relative to each observer. You live in your own, I live in my own. There are similarities between your physical world and mine. We have to account for how these similarities can occur because you report a physical world probably very similar and consistent to the one I perceive. But this similarity and this consistency does not mean that they are necessarily the same, strictly speaking. So is that an interpretation, or is that just an acknowledgment of quantum mechanics? I would say it's an acknowledgment. And as such, I am an adherent of the Ravel interpretation, which then brings up all kinds of philosophical qualms, philosophical issues. For instance, if the physical world is relational, it's relative to an observer, then what is that observer? Because you see, if the observer itself is just a physical entity, then the observer is also relative. So you end up with an infinite recursion of relativity, so to say, and you never resolve it. So you have to address that. And Revelli also appeals to information, the idea of information in the traditional sense, when he says that a description of a quantum system is exhausted by the information that one has about that system. So where is this information then? Because if the physical world doesn't come into being until an observation, what is the ground of that information? After all, information is a measure of the discernible states of a system. What is that system if it cannot be a physical system? So these philosophical qualms that are raised by the Ravelli acknowledgment of the implications of QM, those are the ones that I try to resolve within the context of an idealist ontology. In other words, within the context of a view of the essential nature of reality that postulates that all there is is mentation. Not your personal mentation alone, not my personal mentation alone, but only mentation as an ontological class.
[00:14:34.393] Kent Bye: Well, it seems like Ravelli himself was resistant to diving in too far into the philosophical implications of the mathematical formalism of his work. He seemed to leave it to other people to kind of tie together those coherent stories. Can you give me a little bit more context as to, like, Rai Ravelli isn't going as far as you are going in terms of extrapolating the philosophical implications of his work?
[00:14:59.232] Bernardo Kastrup: Well, he's a physicist, and I think it's honorable that he tries to stick to the area where he is an authority. I think the philosophical implications are unavoidable, but he left it for others to make that observation and not he himself. He says that explicitly in his paper that he is leaving it to others. I think this is good. It brings credibility to the work he did. He simply analyzed the physics of the situation, the implication of the mathematical predictions and modeling that is now confirmed in quantum mechanics. And he just put out there, okay, guys, these are the implications, not somebody else should address the philosophical problems that these implications raise. It's not his area of expertise.
[00:15:39.823] Kent Bye: In my sense is that von Neumann went through and tried to give a certain amount of mathematical formalism to quantum mechanics, and that in that mathematical formalism, it kind of had this open question as to what the boundary was between the system being observed and the observer. And that seems to be, from what I gather, an open question in terms of what precisely that boundary is and some of the reason why there's been a little bit of these open questions for how to actually define that boundary. And it looks like Henry Stapp has kind of picked up some of the work of von Neumann and tried to give a little bit more additional mathematical formalism to that question. But there seems to be other people within the physics community who I guess have, is it that they have different interpretations of that boundary of what the line is between the observer and the system?
[00:16:25.285] Bernardo Kastrup: Yes, there's all kinds of things. Last time I looked, there were, I think, 14 different families of interpretation. And within each, there were all kinds of variations. It's not a question that you can settle by simple experimentation. Experimentation can help guide the hypothesis, but you can't really settle it. You can't bring up one hypothesis that you can say, this is the one and everything else is wrong. At least we haven't figured out an experiment to do that yet. The problem is that in the theory of quantum mechanics, when two physical objects interact, Two things can happen. One, a measurement can be performed. In other words, what you refer to as the collapse of the wave function. I don't want to use this word collapse because under my own view, there is no such a thing as collapse in the traditional sense. What we call collapse is when an envelope of possibilities collapse into a single defined possibility for all observers. And since I deny that the physical world is shared by the observers, I am saying that the physical world is actually relational. then this collapse doesn't happen for all observers involved, at least not theoretically. But anyway, I will surrender to the popularity of the word and refer to it under advice and cautiously. When two physical systems interact, a measurement can be performed. In other words, one system can collapse the wave function of the other, or they can become quantum mechanically correlated or entangled, as they say. Now, which is the possibility that actually happens? Is it a measurement or is it an entanglement? There is nothing quantum theory that allows you to make that distinction, to make that choice. The only thing we know is that when we interact with the physical system, then collapse does happen because the world we experience around ourselves is not a cloud of overlapping possibilities. It is a definite world in which physical systems have definite properties. So at least when we observe, we know that, quote, collapse happens. Now, is it the same when a measurement device observes, or does the measurement device simply become quantum mechanically correlated or entangled with the system that it is trying to measure? That's an open question. The position that I and Henry Stapp and Menasca, Fatos, and others have is that it is the consciousness of an individual observer that leads to the experience of definite properties, that when to inanimate physical systems interact, they simply become entangled. There is no measurement in the technical sense. Only when the consciousness of a living observer comes into the picture, then, quote, collapse happens.
[00:19:02.638] Kent Bye: Well, it seems like the delayed choice quantum erasure experiment is one of the most convincing evidences in terms of pointing to some sort of non-local consciousness that could account for what's perceived to be paradoxical or anomalous retro-causal behavior of something that is happening in the future somehow impacting what happens in the past with whether or not there is an observation of the collapse of the wave function or not the collapse of the wave function in the sense of looking at the distribution patterns of seeing if you have just two slits or kind of like a waveform pattern of that. So do you agree that that's kind of like one of the most convincing experiments to point to, to maybe indicate that maybe there is some sort of non-local consciousness that is participating in this effect of what we perceive in this space-time reality as a retrocausal behavior?
[00:19:54.237] Bernardo Kastrup: Yes, but I don't want to restrict it to that. I don't think delayed choice experiments are the clinching factor here. I think there is a combination of things that, taken together, are quite decisive. There are simpler experiments of simple entanglement in which people have analysed the statistical properties of the measurements that you would expect in case realism were true. In other words, in case the stuff being measured really had an independent reality prior to observation. And what statistical properties you would get if quantum mechanics is true. In other words, if things don't really exist in a physical sense, they don't have defined properties until they are measured. And I think those experiments have also reliably led to the conclusion that realism is false, at least realism in its intuitive formulations. And then whatever possibility is left for realism, I would question whether you could still call that realism because it becomes something so tortuous counterintuitive that it's difficult to fathom. So, to answer your question, yes, I think delayed choice quantum eraser experiments are very important, but I think they should be taken as part of a whole pattern of evidence from a multitude of different experiments that lead to the conclusion that the reality out there, although it's really out there, it is also essentially mental. An observation is just an interference pattern, an interaction between the mentality underlying the world at large and your own mentality. What we call the physical world is this interference pattern when these two realms of mentality interact.
[00:21:33.123] Kent Bye: I think there's a open question in terms of whether or not consciousness is emergent from our physical neurology or if it's some sort of foundation or fundamental field. And it sounds like that you're on the side of that it's not emergent, that it's much more fundamental or foundational. And I think that looking at some of the quantum mechanics is one place you could look for evidence, but it seems like there's other places like this whole dissociative identity disorder. Maybe you could describe this metaphor of the dissociative identity disorder and why that leads you to this hypothesis of the universal mind.
[00:22:06.484] Bernardo Kastrup: Yeah, okay. There's a lot in what you touched on. Now let's try to unpack this step-by-step. The first question you asked was, okay, what about this idea that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of certain physical configurations in the form of a brain, a biological brain, and whether consciousness instead is fundamental? I think consciousness is fundamental and the reason is that there is nothing about abstract relational physical quantities like mass, spin, charge, momentum, the geometrical relationships between particles and so on. There is nothing about that in terms of which we could deduce the qualities of experience. There is nothing about physical quantities from which you could derive through a consistent logical step qualities, like what it is like to have a bellyache, what it is like to fall in love, what it is like to taste strawberries or to see an apple. There is an enormous gap, even a conceptual gap, between these two domains. The link between them seems to be arbitrary. So I don't think it is promising to look upon consciousness as an emergent phenomenon of brains. Even the very idea of emergency, you know, there are two types of emergency, according to David Chalmers, a philosopher, He talks in terms of weak emergency and strong emergency. Weak emergency is something that we know exists, like the shape of snowflakes are an emergent phenomenon of the properties of water molecules under certain conditions of temperature and pressure. Or the shape of sand dunes is an emergent phenomenon of the properties of winds and the properties of sand grains. Now, does that say much? Does that mean much? No. We know exactly how sand dunes form. We know exactly how snowflakes form, we can model all that in a computer and simulate sand dunes and snowflakes. It's nothing mysterious. There is a well-known direct causal chain leading from the low-level components of the system, like sand grains and water molecules, and the high-level properties, like the shape of sand dunes and the crystals of snowflakes. So what we are left with is the so-called strong emergency, when you cannot deduce the high-level properties from the low-level components. Well, what does that mean? It's just an appeal to magic or to an unknown. Strong emergency is not an explanation. It's just a label that hides the need for the explanation and it makes people feel comfortable when they say, well, consciousness is an emergent property of brains. When enough neurons are put together, well, how many neurons are enough? In what configuration? If I start with the one neuron, it's not conscious. Two, it's not conscious. 2,000, it's not conscious. But to one trillion, it's conscious. What is the difference? I'm just adding neurons. So an appeal to strong emergency is an appeal to magic. It's an appeal to an unknown. It has zero explanatory power. So that's why I think it's much easier and more parsimonious to say, okay, consciousness is there from the beginning. And what we call a brain is simply the extrinsic appearance of a dissociated complex in universal consciousness, a dissociated alter. In other words, my brain and its activity is what my dissociated conscious inner life looks like from the perspective of a neuroscientist. And that's all there is to it. That's what biology is. Biology is what dissociation in universal consciousness looks like from a second person perspective. In other words, from across a dissociative boundary. And that would then preserve these correlations between conscious inner life and brain activity. because if brain activity is simply the external appearance of consciousness in their life, of course they will be correlated. One is the image of the other, but there is no causal link from physicality to mentality. There is only mentality, different modes of mentality, in which certain modes of mentality are the appearance of other modes of mentality. So they correlate, but there is only mentality at play here.
[00:26:15.147] Kent Bye: Great. And maybe you could talk a little bit more about the specific disorder of the dissociative identity disorder and how that is the metaphor for universal mind.
[00:26:25.471] Bernardo Kastrup: Right. It's an important point. It's an analogy or a metaphor because dissociative identity disorder is defined as a pathology in humans. So by definition, we cannot apply that to the universal level, but it does provide proof that there is something in nature with the power to lead to the appearance that one unified consciousness has broken up into multiple independent centers of awareness that don't even recognize one another. There is proof of principle in a very small scale that something in nature has the power to do that, to apparently break up consciousness into multiple centers of awareness. And we know that because we have these people out there with dissociative identity disorder, which used to be called multiple personality disorder, in which multiple centers of awareness, each one with its own memories, sense of identity, name, they all inhabit the same individual psyche, the psyche of one person. And they sometimes take turns in control of the body. But there is evidence that even when they are not in control of the body, they remain co-conscious with the others. They remain conscious in the background, so to say, having a dissociated life of their own. And we know that people who have this condition are not faking because there has been a series of recent experiments in neuroscience that shows that this is for real. There was one study done in 2014 in the Netherlands, in which they took a set of people that had dissociative identity disorder, or DID, and another set of people who were actors who were asked to simulate DID, even on the inside, to pretend that they had multiple personalities. And both groups were put in a brain scanner and their brain activity was imaged. And it turns out that these real dissociative processes can be discerned, can be identified by measurement from the brain activity of actors simulating DID. So that's powerful evidence. There was also a case, I think reported in 2015, of a woman in Germany who claimed to have multiple alters, some of which claimed to be blind, and other alters could see normally. And they hooked her up to an EEG, and it turns out that when a blind alter was in control of the woman's body, the brain activity associated with sight would disappear. It wouldn't be there, even though her eyes would be open and she'd be talking to the doctors. But when normally sighted alter would assume control, the normal brain activity that is associated with sight would return. So dissociation has the power to blind you, literally, which provides compelling substantiation to this idea that if all there is universal consciousness and we are alters of universal consciousness, then that universal level dissociation has the power to blind us to everything else that's going on in the universe beyond the boundaries of our own individual personal mentation, except, of course, for our senses.
[00:29:39.678] Kent Bye: Now in looking at this kind of universal mind hypothesis and that we are in some ways a receiver of that universal mind and that the picture that you drew was kind of like this circle with individual circles of what you call I guess dissociative identities or alters of the universal mind and that each person has like a Markov blanket that is surrounding them and that within the context of that Markov blanket is what I guess would be the collapse of that wave function and the construction of material reality, but that somehow those different individuated alters are communicating to each other such that you are able to have a consistent perception of a shared consensus reality. I guess that's the hardest part that I have with this theory is how that happens between what I perceive to be my consensual reality, how does that interface with other realities within the context of this Markov blanket slash alter of a universal mind, like how those are actually interfacing with each other.
[00:30:39.865] Bernardo Kastrup: Yeah, well I don't deny that there is a shared world out there that we are all inserted in. We are all altars of universal consciousness like islands in the ocean of universal mentation or dissociated complexes surrounded by mentation at large. And that mentation at large is shared by us all. So we do share a common world. My only point is that the common world we share is not physical. What we call the physical world arises from an interaction between the thoughts of the altar, and I'm using the word thoughts here in a very, very, very broad sense to denote all possible kinds of mentation except perceptions, okay? So the thoughts of the altar, this dissociated complex inserted in this ocean of mentation at large, interact with the ocean within its Markov blanket and Through that interaction, the physical world you perceive around you arises. The wave function collapses, so to say, between quotes. Now, another dissociated alter, your friend down the street, is inserted in the same ocean of mentation at large, in the same ocean of overlapping thoughts, overlapping possibilities, thoughts in a superposition, so to say. And his alter, in his Markov blanket, will interact with that same surrounding ocean of mentality and will create his physical world, which will be a different physical world than yours, but of course it will be consistent and similar to yours, because you and him are similar, you are both human alters, so to say, and the surrounding ocean of superposed mentation is also the same. His physical world in his Markov Blanket will be similar to your physical world in your Markov Blanket because you're both surrounded by the same ocean of mentation and you're both similar altars.
[00:32:45.770] Kent Bye: Yeah, and David Chalmers gave a TED talk where he was really advocating for some radical ideas in terms of philosophy of mind. He was basically saying that, like, we're in this intractable place in terms of materialism, not able to fully describe all of the neurological correlates of consciousness, and that Either you have to do something as extreme like Daniel Dennett saying that consciousness is merely just an illusion and it's an emergent property that is kind of somehow combining in a way that we have the perception and the feeling of consciousness, but it's sort of all just at the base level physical neurons firing and that those are what is actually combining in some sort of mysterious way at this point into our consciousness. Chalmers at that TED talk was talking about a lot of stuff around panpsychism, this idea that perhaps consciousness is embedded into a fundamental or foundational part of the world, but that consciousness is kind of embedded into every single photon and electron, and this table could have some level of consciousness. There's also Tononi who points to the information integration theory that anything that is able to integrate information at a certain level of complexity could be considered conscious. But there seems to be also this movement towards either panpsychism, cosmopsychism, pan-experientialism, or it sounds like both what you're talking about and Chalmers with the forthcoming book is leaning more towards this idealism perspective. So maybe you could give an overview of this landscape of why is it that you feel like idealism is the most compelling argument compared to the materialistic emergence and consciousness of illusion versus the panpsychism and cosmopsychism and panexperientialism.
[00:34:23.125] Bernardo Kastrup: Sure. Let's start with Dennett's position. He's not alone there, but he's one of the main exponents of that position called eliminativism, which is the idea, absurd on the face of it, that conscious experience, the qualities of experience, don't actually exist, that they are an illusion of the firings of neurons in our brains, that all that exists are physical quantities, and that our idea of qualities is just an illusion. The problem with that is that even if it is true, then the illusion is itself an instance of the thing it is supposed to be an illusion of. In other words, even if consciousness is an illusion, The illusion itself is in consciousness. Where do you have an illusion if not in consciousness? We are experiencing an illusion here, if consciousness is an illusion. Therefore, consciousness exists at some level. It is not an illusion because it is that that has the illusion. So it is absurd. The eliminativist position is absurd. Conscious experience is a given of existence. It is the sole given of existence. It is all we have. before this phantasmagoria of theory and concepts swamps us with education and language. The qualities of experience are a given. It is where it all starts. To say that it is an illusion reinforces the qualities of experience are a given because you need them in order to have the illusion to begin with. So I find it extraordinary that people like Dennett, who hold positions in academia, can get away with saying this kind of absolute nonsense for decades. I think that is itself a symptom of the ailments that afflict our society and our culture today and have been afflicting for a while, at least for half a century. Now, people who don't fall for this absurdity, they are left with the problem that they can't reduce the qualities of experience, even in principle, to physical quantities. There is no way to link one to the other, to explain experience in terms of physical quantities, not even in principle. So what do they do? They just add it to their reduction base. They just say, well, there are physical quantities, all right, there are physical properties, but there are also phenomenal properties. So an electron has not only charge, spin, momentum, it also has phenomenal properties. There is also something it is like to be an electron and the other fundamental subatomic particles. And this something it is like to be a subatomic particle somehow combines when subatomic particles come together, their subjective points of view combine somehow to form your subjective point of view as Kent. So Kent somehow arises from a combination of these gazillions of little subjective points of view. This is called constitutive panpsychism. The problem of that is that there is no coherent way to explain how this combination of subjective points of view could work. By their very metaphysical nature, by their very essential nature, by the very essence of what it means to have a point of view, point of views cannot combine. There is an elaborate argument we can do about it, but the intuition is very simple. If you touch me, our subjective points of view will not combine. You'll still be Kent, I will still be Bernardo. So why do subatomic particles, when they come in the proximity of each other, why would their points of view combine? And even if it would be physically possible, what would that mean for subjective points of view to combine? There is an argument that this is an incoherent idea. There's another criticism I would like to make of this constitutive panpsychism approach. It assumes that the structure of consciousness is the structure of matter. We are saying that consciousness is as fragmented as matter. insofar as we say that every little fragment of matter has a little bit of consciousness in and of itself, or of itself. I see no reason to attribute the structure of matter to the structure of consciousness. Because what is matter? Matter is something that appears on the screen of our perception. Matter, insofar as we can know it, is a content of consciousness. It's the stuff we see, touch, taste, smell. And the images, broadly speaking, the images on the screen of perception have a certain structure and a certain granularity. Doesn't mean that the perceiver of the images has the same structure and the same granularity. And then you may say, well, Bernardo, I can break down your body into subatomic particles. That is true, but you're still talking about an image. You see, if I see you on an old CRT television screen, the image on that screen of you will be pixelated. I will be able to discern the pixels. Even on my big LCD 4K screen, if I come close enough, I can see the little pictures of a human image on the screen. Does that mean that the human whose image is on the screen is itself made up of pixels? It doesn't mean that. It's just the image that is pixelated. So you think that my body is made of atoms and therefore that me as an experiencer is made of little bits of consciousness just because the body or the image is pixelated, but attributing that same structure to the experiencer is an extra step for which one we would need extra arguments. And these extra arguments are not there in my view. So that's another reason why I think constitutive and psychism doesn't work, which leaves us with the opposite view, which is, it's not like consciousness is fragmented and it combines to form higher level subjects like you and me. Let's start from the highest level possible. There is only one universal consciousness. But then we have to explain why I seem to have restricted in their life. I mean, I'm not aware of what's going on across the universe. I can't even read your thoughts and presumably you can't read mine. So somehow this one consciousness fragmented itself and this is called the decombination or the decomposition problem in philosophy. And the solution I would offer for this problem is dissociation for which we have an empirical proof of principle in the form of patients with DID, dissociative identity disorder. So I think there is only one universal consciousness which undergoes something analogous, something like DID, undergoes some form of dissociation, forms alters, and the way alters look like within universal consciousness is human beings. Just in an analogous manner, the alters of a person with DID look under a functional brain scanner like certain patterns of brain activity. Except that in the universe at large we don't need a brain scanner, we are already inside it. So the way dissociative processes in universal consciousness look like is living organisms with metabolism. Metabolism is the image of dissociation in universal consciousness. I think this is the most parsimonious, cleanest, most empirically sound way to make sense of life, the universe and everything.
[00:41:34.207] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it seems like that with the philosophy of science of reductive materialism, that to a certain extent, there's been an offloading of metaphysics. Reductive materialism doesn't really believe in anything that's beyond spacetime and what can be observed and falsified. And so it seems like some of these theories, like even idealism and panpsychism, starts to get into the realm that is essentially non-falsifiable and the realm of metaphysics. And so I guess a question that I have is, It basically requires people to make assertions about a story of how the nature of reality is structured, but they're not able to necessarily prove that it is true or not because you're essentially talking about what is in the realm of a non-spatial temporal realm that we can't directly interface with. And so how do you resolve that in terms of this difference between the philosophy of science and what can be falsified through science versus what is a realm of metaphysics and philosophy?
[00:42:28.813] Bernardo Kastrup: Science is about modeling and predicting the behavior of nature, not what nature essentially is. There is nothing in the scientific method that would allow you to extract a direct conclusion from observation about what nature is essentially. It only tells you about how nature behaves, and it allows you to make predictions, and it allows you to erect the whole edifice of technology that characterizes modern civilization. And it is very important, it is very good, but it is not limitless. It's a method that can be applied only for predictions and modeling of behavior. Now, physicalism itself or materialism, ontological materialism, is also a metaphysics because it's making an assertion about essential nature. It's saying that all there is, is matter outside and independent of mind, and that mind itself somehow emerges out of certain specific arrangements of matter. Now, this is a metaphysical assertion. It's not something that you can confirm or falsify through scientific experimentation in any direct way, because you're making an inference about what things are, not only about how things behave. Now, of course, from observation of behavior, you can dismiss certain crazy hypotheses about what things are. For instance, we have every reason to believe that the inanimate physical world is causally closed. So there is no need to infer a metaphysical entity called the flying spaghetti monster that makes things happen the way they do. At least on an earthly sphere, the physical world seems to be causally closed. On a cosmic scale, there are some open questions. We are postulating things like dark energy, which is just a label for something we don't know because we cannot make sense of the behavior of nature at that cosmic scale. So forget that. Let's stick to the earthly realm. Nature seems to be physically causally closed. So we can discard certain metaphysical hypotheses. But we cannot do away with metaphysics, because metaphysics, or ontology within metaphysics, is the study of the nature of being, is the study of what exists, of what is. And for something to behave, first it needs to be. First it needs to exist. So if one says, oh, I'm only interested in behavior, well, very well, very fine, but you're ignoring what is, what exists. I am interested in what is, in what exists. So I am interested in, being informed by science, because I think behavior allows us to hone in and tune our metaphysical hypothesis. But ultimately, I want to know what is. To conclude this, let me repeat one thing. Materialism, ontological materialism, or mainstream physicalism, is too a metaphysics. It is not invulnerable to the critique of metaphysics that you made. You also cannot prove physicalism, materialism. You can find as many correlations as you want between brain activity and inner experience. Those correlations would just be as confirming of, for instance, my version of idealism or certain versions of constitutive panpsychism as they are of physicalism, with the difference that physicalism is more inflationary. It is less parsimonious than idealism. Why? Because physicalists start with a whole ontological class outside and independent of experience. In other words, inanimate matter. And then after they postulate that entire class beyond the given of reality, which is experience, it's all we have, it's all we can have directly, matter in that sense, physical matter outside experience is an abstraction, is an inference. So they postulate that. And then they also cannot deny experience, unless you are a denet, but let's ignore that class of absurdity for now, just to keep this shorter. They cannot deny experience, which is a given, So they end up with two classes that they have to link somehow and they don't know how. Idealists don't have that problem. They stay with one class. There is only experience. And what we call the physical world is simply a type of experience, namely perception, the experiences we have through our senses. And there are other types of experience, thoughts, fantasy, imagination, all kinds of other things. which are not directly amenable to the scientific method because science concerns itself only with perception. Science is the modeling of the patterns and regularities of what appears on the screen of perception. This is acknowledged by many scientists, famous scientists like Andre Linde to mention one from Stanford, the famous physicist behind the cosmological inflation from Stanford University. Physics is about perception, modeling and predicting what appears on the screen of perception. If you restrict yourself to that alone, of course, you will be discarding enormous swaths of reality, thoughts, feeling, emotion, imagination, all the kinds of experiences that do not appear on the screen of perception. I refuse to do that because I think this is just silly. It denies an obvious part of nature.
[00:47:37.782] Kent Bye: When I listened to Chalmers give his TED talk, I started to look into panpsychism and other philosophies from the tradition of Plato talking about these non-spatial temporal realms beyond that we can directly perceive. And what I found was really interesting was that there's this interface between mathematics and science that is kind of not completely figured out what the exact relationship is. If you look at what philosophers since Plato have been talking about, the nature of a mathematical object has been a bit of an open question as to what a mathematical object is. Is it invented? Is it discovered? Is it something that is existent in its own right in a non-spatial temporal realm? Or is it something that is merely a semantic description of reality, something that is describing the patterns of reality but doesn't have any ontological reality within itself? And so it's an open question within the philosophy of mathematics as to what the exact nature of a mathematical object is. And part of the reason why I went to the joint mathematics meeting in the beginning of 2018 to do interviews with like 37 different mathematicians talking about the philosophy of math And what I found was that mathematicians actually are much more from either mathematical Platonism or mathematical realism, which is much more of an idealistic philosophy in the sense that they have this experience that they are discovering something that is already there. And you have in your book, you mentioned Wigner's article about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, which led to Quine and Putnam making the indispensability argument, which is that If you're going to say that science is what we're describing as ontologically real, then you have to give ontological reality to everything that is indispensable to that venture of science. Mathematical objects are indispensable to science, so they should be considered to be real. And so you have two different philosophies here. The philosophy of science, which is ruled by something like Popper saying that it has to be falsifiable. So you're kind of like conditionally believing something is true until it's falsified. Whereas math is kind of the more axiomatic method which is like we're going to start with a set of axioms that we know are true and we're going to then extrapolate from that a whole set of what truth is until we prove one of the axioms to be false or find some sort of inconsistency that causes a contradiction of the whole system. You have different ways of saying what truth is between math and science, but yet there's this unexplainable relationship between math and science. And I'm just curious from your own perspective, like, how do you resolve this age-old philosophy of math question as to the nature of mathematical objects and what the relationship between math and reality is?
[00:50:07.323] Bernardo Kastrup: Yeah. Okay. Let's see how we can unpack this in the easiest way possible. I acknowledge that there are such things as the laws of physics, right? I would be an idiot if I didn't acknowledge them. So as far as things comport themselves on the screen of perception, they clearly obey certain patterns and regularities of behavior that we can abstract in the form of what we call the laws of nature, the laws of physics, right? I don't deny that. What I'm saying is that because this is all derived from the screen of perception, these underlying laws of patterns and regularities are laws of mind, not of your personal mind alone, but are patterns and regularities intrinsic, inherent to universal minds, to universal consciousness. They are the patterns according to which consciousness becomes excited or manifests itself. And I use the term excitation in a technical sense here. But then I just said that I don't think we should restrict ourselves to the screen of perception. There are also emotions, there are also thoughts, there's also imagination. but it's all part of a mind as well. So shouldn't the rest of mentation also unfold according to certain patterns and regularities, some laws? Well, it turns out that they do. That psychology has come up with the archetypes of the so-called unconscious psyche. I don't think it's unconscious at all. I think it's just not accessible through metacognitive introspection. So subjects cannot report those experiences, but the experiences themselves are conscious. even if the subjects cannot report them to themselves. They don't know that they are having the experiences, but the experiences are still conscious. I think those deeper experiences still unfold according to certain patterns and regularities that I will call now archetypes. I'll simply call them archetypes. And I think the laws of logic and math are archetypal manifestations. That's why they feel so self-evident. That's why we believe them in the absence of any external evidence, because that's just the way things are. We are mentality ourselves. So we are simply recognizing our own nature when we say that the laws of logic are self-evident. Now I have to be careful here, because there are different variations of logic, and there is Aristotelian logic, there is intuitionistic logic, and their sets of axioms can vary a little bit, like intuitionists will reject the law of excluded middle, for instance, which I would like to reject too. I think that's something that comes through education, it's not there from the beginning. But there is a core of axioms that we all seem to agree with. I mean, it takes precedence of the validity of the laws of nature. The laws of physics, maybe we update them every now and then. We came from Newtonian mechanics to relativity and quantum theory, and we know now that we were wrong before. But when it comes to the core axiomatic basis of the laws of logic and math, it's impossible for us to question that. It's self-evidently true. And I say it feels like that because they are archetypal manifestations of what we are. They are the essence, the patterns and regularities of our very nature. The problem for the physicalist is that these archetypes of mentation apply to the world at large. They apply to galaxy clusters, to planets and stars. They are all out there. They are not only in us. And that's what Wigner questioned in his paper called the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences. Why do our own axioms of mentation apply to the world at large if mind exists only inside your skull and the world at large is just physics? Why is there this continuity between one and the other? And my answer to that is because these two worlds are continuous. mind in here and mind out there are all one mind, with a dissociative boundary in between that leads to this illusion in consciousness that you are separate from the world out there. That's an artifact of the dissociative process. But the axioms of logic and math applied to the world out there is clear evidence, in my view, that your mind and the physical world out there are continuous with one another and therefore the same archetypes, the same patterns and regularities apply.
[00:54:37.229] Kent Bye: And I know that David Chalmers has written about virtual reality and I wanted to focus a bit on that because I feel like one of the arguments that Chalmers makes is depending on your metaphysical assumptions, if you have a virtual experience, you could think of that as not real. But if you think of consciousness as something that is fundamental or primary, then any sort of mediation of consciousness is just as real and is coded in your mind is just as real as any other experience that's happening in sort of your local reality of your geographic space. And so that leads to various different issues around implications around harassment and trolling. I think an open question in terms of how do you think of ontologically, these experiences that are mediated through digital technologies. And so I'm curious to hear your perspective on virtual reality and how it mediates consciousness, perhaps in new ways, and what this kind of philosophical worldview could provide insight into when it comes to virtual experiences.
[00:55:39.417] Bernardo Kastrup: As an idealist, I think reality is experience. And as such, every experience is real. But of course, I'm not equating fantasy or imagination with what we came to call the real world. Both are experiences, both are real as such, as experiences, but they don't need to be the same. I think the criteria for defining the difference between, for instance, hallucination or personal imagination and the world out there is whether these experiences are shared. If I'm sitting in a room and I describe this room and you're sitting next to me and you describe the same room, That's probably the world out there and not a personal hallucination of mine. But my personal hallucination is as real as the real world out there insofar as both are experiences. So they are real as experiences. A hallucinated experience is not nothing. It's still experienced. And as such, it is real. It may not be shared. Now, going to virtual reality, I think the difference would be, is it an experience programmed by humans? Or is it an experience inherent to mind at large, to the mind out there that is just unfolding according to its own archetype, to its own patterns and regularities of excitation? That's the difference. Both real as experiences, but they do not necessarily need to be the same. What a human has programmed is real as an experience programmed by a human. And the world out there is real as an experience that corresponds to the unfolding, the natural unfolding of mind at large.
[00:57:14.292] Kent Bye: So one of the things I've found really fascinating in your book, The Idea of the World, which was a series of like 10 different articles that you published in different academic journals. And one of the articles that you wrote about was taking a look at, I guess, the resistance to new paradigms from what you talk about is the meaning maintenance model, where there's self-esteem, closure, belonging, and symbolic immortality, where there's these primary motivating factors were as humans, we're meaning making machines, and we're trying to find deep meaning and purpose in our lives. And if there is something that is contradicting our worldview, that that is somehow bringing in some level of paradox or inconsistency to our desire for closure or our sense of self-esteem, or if we're scientists contributing to the larger scientific effort, this could potentially kind of undermine the foundations of what people see as an effort of what they're doing to contribute to their own immortality. And so you have these different motivations that are driving people, either consciously or unconsciously, to be able to maintain their perspective or worldview. I guess some of the things that we're talking about here are challenging to the mainstream paradigm. And so you're in some ways taking a look at some of these psychological principles and kind of applying it to the level of this cultural scale. So I'm just wondering if you can kind of elaborate on that in terms of the resistance that you may find in discussing some of these issues and if there's a kind of a fundamental psychological explanation for some of those.
[00:58:41.975] Bernardo Kastrup: Yeah, I think the motivation for what I wrote there is that there is this sense people have that Ontological materialism, I'll just refer to it as materialism now. Materialism in the sense of physicalism, what is the essential nature of reality as unconscious matter. People tend to think that materialism is such a negative worldview that it seems to remove all meaning from reality because the world and we ourselves now become sort of mechanisms driven by blind laws and mere chance at the quantum level. and it's not going anywhere, there is no meaning to it, it's just happening. People think this is so pessimistic, so demeaning, that for anybody to embrace this, it has to be a sort of tough acknowledgement of the hard facts, that it must be a surrender to objective evidence, that there would be no wish fulfillment involved in adopting and promoting materialism, that it's a very brave thing to do, a brave acknowledgement of what nature is showing us. I think this is baloney. I think this is total nonsense. I think what happened is that at some point in the 19th century, we did away with God. Nietzsche already announced that to us, right? In the 1870s and 1880s, the death of God. And I think for most people, including academics at the time, this was a tough pill to swallow because it threatened their meaning system. It threatened their very reason to exist. And we also did away with the soul, because if God is not there, if the scriptures are not reliable, then we have no reason to believe in an immortal soul either. And then now suddenly everybody had to confront their own mortality. And it was an enormous threat to their meaning system. In psychology, this is called mortality salience, this feeling that you are mortal and you are going to die, and it's more or less imminent. And it leads to a search for palliative worldviews. This is known in psychology. I'm not speculating here. You look for another worldview to soothe you, to give you a compensation for that loss of meaning. And I think what happened is that the academic elites, the intellectual elites, they found through fluid compensation, which you alluded to in the beginning of your question, different sources of meaning. They found more closure. they found more self-validation because they were now part of an elite that had an ability to comprehend facts that were way beyond what the masses could comprehend. And they even found symbolic immortality in the form of their scientific work, even at a cosmological scale. They found a source of meaning in the sense that they could survive through their scientific output, through their work. which of course wouldn't apply to the masses either, because the masses were not producing scientific theories at a cosmological scale. And that led to this rift that we still see today, in which the intellectual and academic elites can be very vigorous, to put it kindly, in their defense of materialism, while everybody else is desperately seeking and wanting to believe in an alternative, because the fluid compensation that gives the elite meaning doesn't apply to the masses. If somebody now comes and says, well, materialism is full of it, materialism is nonsensical, it's not parsimonious, it fails to explain the one thing we know for sure, which is the qualities of experience. We know those exist, and materialism fails to explain those. Materialism is a mess. If you say that, that's an enormous threat now to the new meaning system of the elite. Because now they've settled for a new meaning system since what happened in the late 19th century. They have their sources of meaning now, you know, belonging to something bigger than themselves, science, symbolic immortality through their scientific output, their differentiation from the masses. So some self-affirmation there, which is also a source of meaning. Now you're going in and saying they are wrong. They will lose all that. Not necessarily, but that's how they will perceive it emotionally. at first. That's how they will emotionally resist it. Even if it is not the case, which I think it is not the case, I don't think a new ontology will invalidate any of science, none of it whatsoever. It will all remain intact because it's about behavior and ontology is about essence. These are different things, although they of course are related to one another intimately. But I think this threat to their meaning system, to the meaning system of the academic elites, is considerable and we can very well expect a vigorous reaction, especially from self-proclaimed skeptics who derive their entire sense of meaning and sense of personal value from putting down people who are not materialists. Their entire meaning system would be disrupted and they would react violently to it. And they do. I experience this all the time.
[01:03:43.474] Kent Bye: Yeah, and one of the points that you're making was that because the scientific establishment is able to contribute to this venture of science, it gives them that symbolic immortality. But if that's a fundamental need for each of us to have symbolic immortality, then if you don't have access to either the academic background to be able to participate in the venture of science, then people find other ways that they could participate in their own sense of belonging and sense of community and to contribute to something that's larger than themselves. And so you kind of have this split and debate between the neo-atheist movement and the more religious movements. And I think that we kind of see this kind of playing out on all sorts of scales of society of this people that are contributing in their own ways to their own symbolic immortality, and then other people who were contributing to participation in these communities, and you have this existential battle between those two.
[01:04:32.171] Bernardo Kastrup: Yeah, if I may comment a little bit further on that, Kent, I'll make a comparison here that I'm not sure is entirely valid, but at least it will convey a valid notion Hundreds of years ago, during the Middle Ages, there was concentration of what the currency that mattered at the time, money or food or weapons, whatever. These were highly concentrated in the hands of the feudal masters, the owners of land and the church, ecclesiastic authorities. And the masses or the peasants, they had very little to go and they were dependent on those elites that concentrated the currency of value at the time. precious metals, weapons, the currency of the time. I think the currency today is meaning. That's what we all need. We've largely satisfied the basic material needs in the Western world. We all still want money. But why do we want money? Because we think that money will give us meaning. Even if this thought is mistaken, it drives us. The real currency today is meaning. And just like in the Middle Ages, it is concentrated in the hands of a few. Those are the academic and intellectual elites. And I'm not saying that they do that maliciously. I don't think they are aware, really, of what's going on. I think only some psychologists have an inkling of what's going on. But they are concentrating the currency of the day. And the currency of the day is meaning. And they retain it for their own benefits, even at the cost of a lack of meaning for the masses. The balance of their meaning system, the fluid compensation that applies to them, doesn't apply to the masses. So the masses lack meaning. Some of the masses would then just ignore the intellectual and academic elites, and they would just follow religion. And they will be combated by neo-atheism, by the likes of Richard Dawkins. They don't want that to happen. This currency must be concentrated. That's the sort of, quote, unconscious psychological dynamics going on here. But there are large parts of the masses that are vulnerable, and those are the intelligent, rational ones. Those are the ones that suffer the most, because they will still be looking up to the elites, just like people in the Middle Ages looked up to ecclesiastic authorities and royalty. They are still looking up to them to get their little crumbs of meaning, but they are getting very, very little crumbs of meaning, if you know what I mean. Very little gets thrown out, and those are the ones who suffer the most, and that's basically the middle class of intellectual development, which I'm a part of. I think I've broken through, but that's where I come from. It's the position I was in.
[01:07:19.268] Kent Bye: Great, and just to kind of wrap up here, your final chapter that you have, casting the difference between seeing the world as embedded with meaning and being, to some extent, enchanted and imbued with deeper meaning to be deciphered and encoded versus, I guess, the mainstream disenchanted worldview, which is saying that the world has no inherent meaning. I usually ask people what they think the ultimate potential of virtual reality is, but I'm curious if you could sort of elaborate on what you see the kind of the ultimate potential of us as humanity and talking about some of these different worldviews and the differences between seeing the world as an enchanted world that has meaning and one that is disenchanted and doesn't have any inherent meaning.
[01:08:03.095] Bernardo Kastrup: The answer is different whether we are considering the so-called real world out there or a virtual world that has been programmed. I think both have meaning, but in a different way. Let me start with the inanimate physical world out there. You know, when you have a dream at night and you wake up and you had a very intense dream, you never tell yourself, well, that happened literally, right? That was literally true. You don't come to that thought. You know the dream didn't happen literally. It was a product of mentation. But you still ask yourself, what did that mean? Or you at least ask yourself, why did I have such a dream? Which is another way of asking the same question, what did that mean? When you ask, why did I have that dream? You're asking, what did that mean in a certain way, in a certain sense? We don't ask the same questions, what does it mean? When it comes to the real world, because we assume that it's not the product of mentation. You see, for something to have meaning, it has to point at something other than itself. Your dreams, if they have meaning, They are pointing at something beyond their own images. They signify something in the sense that a word signifies something because it points at something other than the little squiggles of ink on paper. A word, as it's written, or the sounds associated with a word, are not their own meaning because they are pointing at something beyond themselves, beyond the sounds, beyond the squiggles of ink on paper. If the physical world is not mental, then it doesn't point at anything. It doesn't mean anything. So we don't ask ourselves the question, what does it mean? Well, it's just what it is. But if under idealism, the world out there is the resulting interaction of mental activity at large and associated mental activity, then the world out there, the physical world out there, is also the product of interacting mentation. It is also the product of mind at work. just like a dream is the product of mentation, the product of a sleeping mind at work. Therefore, under idealism, you can ask the same question of the world out there as you ask of a dream. What does it mean? What is it pointing to beyond the images that I discern on the screen of perception? What does it signify? That question is now metaphysically validated under idealism. It's a valid question to ask. And then what is the meaning of life in the world? Well, to discern the meaning of the world, to discern what it is pointing to, what it is indirectly saying about reality beyond the mere images on the screen of perception. So that's the meaning of the world out there. Now, what's the meaning of a virtual reality? A virtual reality has been programmed. I don't think people would be very enthusiastic about inhabiting a virtual world to find out what the programmer was thinking. It's kind of trivial and pedestrian. However, we project meaning on a virtual reality much more than we could ever project on the physical world. And the reason is we can choose our virtual realities according to what is more evocative to us. To some people, virtual realities akin to some fairy tales would be highly evocative. To others, going to war in, say, mid-20th century in Korea or in the Second World War, that would be a very evocative virtual reality. The fact that we can choose the most evocative virtual reality for us, the one that resonates most with our emotional core, emotional life, facilitates enormously this projection of our own meaning onto the virtual reality we are experiencing in such a way that the virtual reality we are experiencing now becomes a mirror to the hidden parts of ourselves. And living in that virtual reality now becomes an adventure of self-discovery, because you are interacting by proxy with the hidden, unacknowledged parts of yourself. And that, I think, is then the profound meaning of virtual reality. It's the adventure of self-discovery.
[01:12:12.985] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Yeah, I sense a lot of Jungian depth psychological interpretations there. I love it.
[01:12:18.745] Bernardo Kastrup: Absolutely. Yeah.
[01:12:20.227] Kent Bye: Great. Awesome. Well, Bernardo, I just wanted to thank you for joining me today on the podcast. So thank you.
[01:12:25.312] Bernardo Kastrup: Thanks a lot. It was a lot of fun.
[01:12:27.443] Kent Bye: So that was Bernardo Kostrup. He's got a PhD in computer engineering, specializing in artificial intelligence, and he's a philosopher of ontology and the philosophy of mind. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, this I think is bringing up a bit of an age old battle in philosophy, which is the battle between like Plato and Aristotle when it comes to Plato believing in these transcendent realms of non-spatial temporal, non-falsifiable metaphysical realms. versus like Aristotle who is really wanting to see empirical direct evidence of something and before it's actually able to believe it. I think that the nature of mathematical objects actually is kind of the most compelling argument here rather than something like quantum physics. I think actually quantum physics is perhaps just a manifestation of this deeper issue. What is the actual nature of mathematical knowledge? And how is it that we're able to create something from our mind from this axiomatic system that follows these sets of rules? And how is it that those sets of rules actually interface with reality in some sort of way that feels like what Aristotle will call a form of formal causation or this blueprint of reality? So what is going on there? Why are these mathematical structures interfacing in a reality to be able to predict the behavior? And that's a lot of what Bernardo was saying, is that science is a model of reality, but the map is not the territory. And I think a lot of people say the map of these models that we have is the same as that territory. and they want to have this purely naturalistic approach of saying that anything that we can't directly observe isn't real. And so these metaphysical realms, I think a lot of people who are a little bit more of a pragmatist or reductive materialism are saying, you know, we don't need these metaphysical realms and those metaphysical realms don't even exist. And I think some of these issues within quantum mechanics, specifically the quantum entanglement and the spooky action at a distance, but also these retrocausal behaviors in experiments like the quantum erasure, there's these different anomalies that we'll see that kind of challenge our conceptualization of what is even the nature of space-time. What is the boundary between the observer who's perceiving the environment and the system? So the difference between the subjective perception and the observed state starts to get very blurred when it comes to looking at the heart of some of these quantum mechanics issues. Carlo Rovelli is somebody who I think is super interesting to dive into and it seems like that a lot of what Bernardo is basing a lot of his ideas of idealism on is building upon a lot of Carlo Rovelli's interpretation of quantum mechanics of the relational quantum mechanics. Now, I would say that it is an interpretation because it's a mathematical structure but there's an interpretive layer of story that you have to put on top of that that goes into the dimensions of metaphysics and your own beliefs. And that interpretive layer is basically your worldview and your metaphysical assumptions. And I do think that the reductive materialists do have their own story and that there are competing stories that are trying to figure out what the fundamental fabric underlying a reality is. I mean we can have a phenomenological experience within virtual reality and we can have this sense that it feels just as real as any other experience and this is something that makes idealism appealing is because it's saying yeah because we have this universal mind and that all experience is the basis of reality so if you have an experience then it's real and you don't have to prove it to anybody else it's happening within your first person perspective and it's not something that somebody else can, from a third-person perspective, be able to validate or verify or to come up with any neurological correlates that will be able to replicate your internal experience. And so there's this tension between phenomenology and what can be falsified within the context of neuroscience or other reductive sciences that are only looking at you from the outside. So I do think these ideas are compelling, but I see it as a polarity point. It's going to cause a dialogue and a dialectic in that we have been on this Aristotelian reductive science perspective for so long that I do think it's worth taking the extreme opposite polarity point and seeing what kind of dialectic comes from that. And I think that's what David Chalmers was arguing for in his TED talk about the nature of consciousness Is that we do need people like Daniel Dennett who are saying there's a limit of materialism that consciousness is a complete illusion I disagree with Bernardo to say that's an absurd idea I actually think that's completely justifiable given the certain amount of philosophical assumptions And then it serves as an extreme polarity point to be able to go to the other extreme which is what Bernardo is arguing for which is this form of idealism which is to say, no, no, no, there's just a universal mind. And from Carlo Rovelli's Quantum Mechanics, he's saying that everything's in relationship to each other, that there are no actual physical objects, that we just have these connections of relationships and stories of processes that are related to each other. And just as an example, in The Order of Time and Carlo Rovelli, he's talking about how if you look at your head versus your feet, your feet are closer to the ground, and even that difference time is different because there's different amounts of gravity at that level. And so this tends to play out more in extremes, but he's making the point that there is no universal flow of time, kind of like Newton was saying, that it's much more like what Aristotle was saying, that time, it's just like this measurement of change. And with that, Ravelli is looking at all different laws of mechanics, the laws of electromagnetism, the standard model of particle physics, general relativity, quantum field theory, and all of these theories don't have a time variable. And as he's looking at something like quantum loop gravity, which is his specialty, he's also realizing that even at those equations they have no time variable. So Ravelli is trying to figure out what does the world look like when you don't have time. And what it looks like is a series of processes of relationships and stories of how things are connected to each other. And so Ravelli took a look at all of the different interpretations of quantum mechanics, and he's trying to create a framework that would be able to make them compatible in different ways. And this underlying philosophical foundation is what he is using with the relational quantum mechanics. It seemed to be that in his original paper talking about relational quantum mechanics, that he does indeed say that But I certainly do not want to venture into philosophical terrains, and I leave this aspect of the discussion to competent thinkers. And so, in some ways, Ravelli is providing this quantum mechanical foundation for concepts of postmodernism, which is to say that every individual is kind of having their own unique perspective on the world, but He's looking at the evidence from quantum mechanics and he's seeing that there's enough experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that forces us to accept that distinct observers give different descriptions of the same events. From this, Ravelli argues that the notion of observer-independent state of a system is inadequate to describe the physical world beyond moving down to the limit of the Planck scale. in the same way that the notion of observer-independent time is inadequate to describe the physical world beyond the speed of light going to infinity limit. And so, Bernardo Costa is taking this postmodern concept and saying, well, what if, like, reality at the base is just mentation, it's like a consistent fabric of the mental universe, and that each of us have this Markov blanket, which is in some ways a dissociative identity disorder that is separating us from the universal mind, so we're born into this reality where we're separated from this unity consciousness, and that Markov blanket is where that quantum collapse happens, and that everybody has their own sort of Markov blanket that's separating them from this connection to the universal consciousness, but that, you know, in some ways those Markov blankets are interfacing and communicating with each other so that we have this consensus reality. It's a difficult concept, I think, to really put into your body and to say, oh, yeah, that makes total intuitive sense. But whenever you're starting to talk about these deep down into the levels of quantum mechanics, nothing really intuitively makes sense. There's some different dimensions where there are these different Paradoxes where you really have to project your mind out beyond what it can, you know directly experience saying that there's different people who have these direct experiences either through LSD or psychedelics or ayahuasca where they have this experience of that unity consciousness and and One of the things that Bernardo argues about that I don't cover in this interview is that if a reductive materialist is saying that our consciousness is just a reflection of our neurological firing, well, when we have these altered states of consciousness within psychedelics, sometimes we have these super transcendent unity consciousness experiences, but yet neurologically, our neurons are actually firing less, which is kind of the opposite of what we might expect. But Ravelli actually has talked about how he's done these different LSD trips and some of that LSD has allowed him to get in touch to this deeper nature of time and how there is this feeling of being in that internal moment that makes you break down your conceptualization of time. And so people may have had some sort of direct experience where they have some embodied experience of what it means to have maybe a spiritual or mystical experience. And I think that makes them a little bit more open to this concept that there is this universal mind. And that, you know, the nature of reality is something that is paradoxical, and it's something that there's not a consistent viewpoint on. And so from that perspective, we do have to sort of figure out how to best empathize and to see other people from other perspectives and to give the experiences that people need to be able to subscribe to some of these different philosophies. And some of these philosophies that are on the extreme edges like that serve a purpose to try to point out the different blind spots of these other perspectives. And I think that's what I find really interesting. As somebody who's just super curious about the nature of reality, I'm trying to hold in my mind all the different possibilities And then it was really fascinating to hear Bernardo talk about how, from an idealistic perspective, that these computer-generated experiences are different than your relationship to reality. Because if it is true that there's this participatory process by your observation helping to actually construct and create the universe around you, then it's a participatory process where it's almost like you're in dialogue with the universe in that way. and when you go into a computer mediated environment that it's someone else's has created this world that is the expression of their beliefs or world views or consciousness and that for the first time we're able to actually choose and decide what types of virtual reality experiences that we want to go into because it is going to allow us to do this form of shadow projection or it's able to allow us to work through different things and to really fine-tune what Ken Wilber talks about is this witnessing consciousness to see what is consistent amongst your living in the real world and you living into this experience of virtual reality. What is the consistent dimension of your consciousness and your being across those two different real and virtual and you're able to maybe hone into something that is deeper and true of yourself and the nature of your consciousness between those two. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member to the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.