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An in-depth review of the book Why Materialism Is Baloney by Bernardo Kastrup. The book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, with its release slated for April 2014.

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Cover 72ppiThe “problem” with this marvelous book is that those among us who most need to confront its wisdom won’t have the openness to do so. And those with the openness to do so may not really require these explanations.

Kastrup goes about as far as one can go to use language, concepts and metaphors to “prove” that the world cannot possibly be understood merely through the mind as something separately knowable and immanently material.

Those who read Collective Evolution already probably resonate with Eckhart Tolle’s famous lines, “life is not the opposite of death; birth is the opposite of death; Life has no opposite” or “the mind cannot know the mind.”

To those who run our planet and form the backbone of our “science” this makes no sense. But they’re the ones who need to read this book and better yet, let them argue against Kastrup who uses their own scientific method to thoroughly discredit the arrogant assumptions of much of science.

For this reason he had me on board on page 14:

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“The true underlying nature of reality – the inner workings of the computer running the game – is an issue of metaphysics; an issue of philosophy. It requires different methods to be properly assessed and understood. For as long as scientists like Stephen Hawking are allowed to make preposterous pseudo-philosophical pronouncements and not be either ignored or thoroughly ridiculed by the mainstream media – in exactly the same way that, say, a famous artist would be ridiculed or ignored for making pseudo-scientific statements – our culture will fail to understand the nature of our predicament.”

Kastrup would make a wonderful attorney or debater in a “courtroom of reality” by stating his case against the current scientific assumption:

“Materialism asserts that reality exists outside your mind in the form of assemblies of material particles occupying the framework of space-time. Even energy fields are imagined, in current physics, to be force-carrying material particles.  The existence of this material reality is supposed to be completely independent of your, or anyone else’s, subjective perception of it. Thus, even if there were no conscious beings observing reality, it would supposedly still go merrily on: the planets would still orbit the sun, the continents would still drift, volcanoes would still erupt, crystals would still form in the bowels of the Earth and so on. That there is such a thing as consciousness is, according to materialism, a product of chance configurations of matter, driven mechanically by the pressures of natural selection. We are supposedly an accident of probabilities.” (15)

The 800 lb. gorilla for science:

But when it comes to consciousness, nothing allows us to deduce the properties of subjective experience – the redness of red, the bitterness of regret, the warmth of fire – from the mass, momentum, spin, charge, or any other property of subatomic particles bouncing around in the brain. This is the hard problem of consciousness.  As a matter of fact, consciousness is a sore on the foot of materialism. The materialist understanding of the world would seem a lot more solid if there were no such a thing as subjective experience at all.”(17)

Here the author is echoing the concept that Deepak Chopra often puts forth as “qualia” –the subjective aspect of our experience that is not scientifically definable and yet we know it; a great example of this is when Peter Francis Dziubian says that you can read everything that has ever been written about wine and never know how wine tastes.

Eventually Kastrup builds a powerful case for non-locality of consciousness; again resonating with comments made by Dr.Daniel Siegel at the Wisdom 2.0 conference when he suggested (as a neuroscientist) that his studies in the brain and the apparent “nonexistence” of a coherent self has led him to the realization that there is “no reason the self should be bounded by our skin.  We are ‘not the body.’  The self is both me and we and ultimately a new, and perhaps third entity, a MWE.”

A blistering critique of scientist like Hawking:

“If it serves as consolation, notice that all worldviews, including materialism, entail analogous paradoxes when it comes to the ultimate origin of everything. Big Bang theory, for instance, carries this contradiction in another form: how did everything, in the form of a bang, come out of an absolute void? What was there to bang?  One is immediately confronted with the contradiction that, while there was nothing in the beginning, there had to be at least a potential, with certain properties and attributes, which could have led to a bang.”  (153)

One might snarkly add –“who was there to bang?” because a “what” and a “who” are both mental concepts and what Kastrup is pointing to here is the poverty of such linguistic attempts at understanding what is. Indeed the word “potential” is another tip-off because it harkens directly to Heisenberg’s revolutionary Uncertainty Principle but “where” can potential “exist” except as a mental property. Where is potential in nature aside from inside a sentient being’s intelligence?

When Kastrup starts to build his own theory, or speculates on aspects of “freewill” he may get on shaky ground, because now he is describing consciousness (or the “membrane”) in quasi-physical terms that may hold some value or truth but cannot be “proven.” Freewill, for example, flies in the face of recent neuroscience experiments and yet we can and have the feeling or experience of choice; even Eckhart Tolle talks about aspects of choice in his work –we can “choose” whether to accept a situation, try to change it, or leave the locale. But essentially freewill is just another concept that can only be experienced by trying to DO and whether there is a ME that is “free” can never fully be known outside of a loop or paradox.

Where I think Kastrup shines, however, is in pointing out the limitations of scientism from a scientific perspective –unmasking it as the emperor with no (empirical) clothes and opening the reader up to alternative concepts of the reality of nonlocalized intelligence and consciousness. To his credit, Kastrup (as a scientist) deals well with paradox –he doesn’t attempt to fight or explain it; he points it out as a necessary byproduct of our own mental limitations or a function of what is (we are not in a position to know which).

“A core idea of this book is the notion that localized segments of mind at large can become immersed in the illusion of being separate from the rest of the broader membrane. The illusion originates from the self-reflective amplification of certain mental contents to the detriment of others. The ego becomes blind to the broader membrane of mind, identifying itself solely.”  (191)

Here he again resonates with the premise of much of Eckhart Tolle’s work—the fact that there is a functioning logical entity within us with which we identify but that is not what we truly are by nature. Ego is known by consciousness when we awaken to our nature, but we are not our Ego, and if we seek to identify “what” or “who” is consciousness we miss –because it is nonmaterial – an “empty” loop of subjectivity.

Kastrup also makes his points mainly with metaphors and analogies. One of the most evocative is that of the body as a partial “echo” of consciousness (vibration) like a tuning fork.

Here he has a striking insight relative to the sacred science of Egypt –or mummification –when he writes:

“The living body is not a mere habitation of the soul, but a true – albeit partial – image of the conscious entity. It is not an artificial shell, or a distorting barrier concealing and cloaking an inner entity, but the authentic way in which the conscious entity manifests in consensus reality. As such, it is not invalid to think of a person according to her body image: the body image is as honest to the conscious entity as flames are honest to combustion. However, it is ludicrous to think of the body image as the complete story about a person, in the same way that is incorrect to think that flames are all there is to combustion.”  (178)

Another powerful image that Kastrup uses is the whirlpool with respect to the “relationship” between the “individual” and consciousness –similar to the wave as part of the ocean; but in the case of a whirlpool you have the added dimensions of depth and continuity and perhaps most interesting to me –the whirlpool on a massive scale actually exists as the center of our galaxy as a black hole –literally annihilating all matter and time into a vortex of –what? Mind?

Kastrup says:

“The body image, of course, compounds the illusion. The body is simply an image in mind of a process of localization of mind, just like a whirlpool is an image in water of a process of localization of water. The body doesn’t  imply anything other than mind and its movements, in exactly the same way that a whirlpool doesn’t  imply anything other than water and its movements.”

When you then consider the image of a tuning fork, and the faint residue or “partial image” of the original vibration and how it seems to continue well beyond our capacity to sense or “hear” it, it speaks to an entirely different concept of energy and nature itself.  When one considers also that even astrophysicists have discovered the cosmic “background” static of the Big Bang itself as “evidence” –the implications are staggering.

spectrum

From Dr. Jay Kumar’s presentation at SAND.

Kastrup makes the point made by Aldous Huxley in Doors of Perception that essentially our brains are “filters” of consciousness, so that if everything (all vibration in the universe) were known we would be overwhelmed; hence our filtered view of reality (by consensus) is extremely limited.  This filtering mechanism is actually the Ego, which connects to Kastrup’s suggestion about death; while he admits with the usual humility that obviously no one knows –he says:

“The mental process we call physical death ‘makes the unconscious more conscious’  because it eliminates a source of obfuscation; namely, the egoic loop.” (182) In other words it “literally” removes the filter that temporarily (while “alive”) allowed the ego to think it was a “Self.”

Kastrup goes on to describe the many ways this view of the ego and consciousness “explains” much of what we know about “primitive” cultures and their nonfiltered awareness of nature.

And here is his elegant explanation of “freewill”:

“Freewill is a property of mind at large. It is distributed uniformly throughout the membrane [Kastrup’s metaphor for One Consciousness]. However, because of self-reflective amplification [Ego loop], we identify ourselves only with a very small part of mind. Only the freewill at work within this small field of amplification is recognized by the ego as its own will. The force – the primary cause – that puts the rest of the membrane of mind in motion is seen by the ego as foreign and utterly outside its control.”

This realization and its impending death (of the Ego) is likely what Gurdjieff called “the terror of the situation” and we often call the “void” – which can be both a source of anxiety or, upon “awakening,” the beginning of exhilaration.

What is so appealing is that for all of the difficult reasoning and language, the author is very humble. He concludes:

“Do I believe that the way of thinking laid out in this book nails down the truth? Do I believe that my metaphysics is complete? Of course not. Such a belief would be of exceptional hubris and naïveté. What I do believe is that the worldview discussed here is a concrete and sound step forward when compared to the reigning paradigm. As I hope to have demonstrated, it explains all aspects of reality that materialism claims to explain, and then many more. As such, I’m absolutely convinced that my formulation of idealism is significantly closer to the truth than the madness of materialism.”

For all of his humility Kastrup is a brilliant writer; while some of his paragraphs are long and arduous they make for a compelling organic unity. Here is a sample summation:

“…when you close your garage door behind you in the evening, it’s clear that some process holds the pattern of things you leave behind in the garage – including your car – while you are asleep, since you can come back to that same pattern in the next morning. There is no denying this. But, because of the assumption of realism, materialists must then associate the pattern with a universe outside mind itself. Drop the assumption of realism and the original deduction leads to a completely different, and much more parsimonious, conclusion: the process that holds the pattern is a mental process that happens to transcend egoic awareness, in the same way that the mental processes responsible for generating dreams or schizophrenic visions also transcend the ego. That a pattern can be held – and even develop – independently of the ego does not mean that such pattern isn’t still purely mental. A whole phenomenological universe indeed unfolds outside the ego, but not outside mind. Such a trans-egoic universe is still an experience, but the experience of a broad, non-personal, non-self-reflective segment of mind.”

Paragraphs like this are not always easy to follow but if you do the work, they elegantly lay out a very comprehensive and viable notion of reality. Kastrup has laid out his case in a very compelling scientific style. For those who would like to follow this line, and for perhaps an equally deep discussion of scientism I would recommend Jacob Needleman’s “A Sense of the Cosmos.”

At this talk at SAND (Science and Nonduality) Kastrup defined himself (to the extent that he ever would) as a “skeptic” –which has a long tradition in philosophy but ultimately is another name for accepting not knowing.  That attitude alone makes this a book worth investigating.