Dr. Bernardo Kastrup has a new take on who we are… and his conclusions don’t still sit well with mainstream science types.
The links between philosophy and science.
Alex Tsakiris of Skeptiko interviews Dr. Bernardo Kastrup, author of Brief Peeks Beyond about the shortcomings of science’s reigning paradigm of materialism.
Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Bernardo Kastrup to discuss his work on the nature of consciousness and the widespread influence of materialism:
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: You see we always start from the fact that we are conscious. Consciousness is the only carrier of reality and existence that we can know. Everything else is abstraction; [they] are inferences we make from consciousness. But our culture is driven by this notion that the real reality is outside consciousness. It’s a material universe fundamentally independent of consciousness, and that our inner lives, our subjective experiences arise from specific arrangements of material in this abstract world outside mind. That’s the philosophy of materialism that underlies most academic work and underlies most of science as you know it today. But it also underlies the value system of our culture, our economic system…For instance, if matter is the only real reality, consciousness being just a transient, temporary side effect, then what meaning can there be to life but to accumulate material goods? That feeds right into the economic system and feeds right into loops of reinforcement of existing power structures.
So this metaphysical view of the world entailed by the philosophy of materialism determines not only what happens in academia, and what your kids learn in school, but largely determines everything: The culture around your relationships at work; the way we deal with the environment; the meaning of our lives or at least how we see the meaning of our lives; how we spend our time; how we spend our money; how we see our relationships; and who we maintain in power.
Read Excerpts From The Interview:
Dr. Kastrup delineates his theory about consciousness with biologist Dr. Jerry Coyne’s perspective who openly chastised Kastrup–[10min.22sec-13min.08sec]
Alex Tsakiris: I want to talk about some of these responses you have to the materialist position. And a lot of these we should say have come about through your dialogues with some folks. I’ll start out with the first one: well-known biologist Dr. Jerry Coyne who for some reason is really highly regarded in the evolutionary biology circles. He’s really not that smart of a guy I think. But here’s an example of the criticism that Coyne lays out and then we’ll hear what Bernardo has to say about it. Here is the quote from Coyne: “It’s untenable to maintain that there is no reality independent of consciousness for there is plenty of evidence about what was going on in the universe before consciousness evolved.”
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: He actually wrote this in a very disparaging tone while criticizing something I had written. And he wrote it as if it was so obvious and I was so stupid for not seeing this. How dare I write these things without noticing that it can be so easily debunked. That was quite fun when I saw that.
Alex Tsakiris: Explain what’s false about “the miracle of the evolution of consciousness.”
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: It begs the question very clearly–it’s a form of circular reasoning. You see the very point in contention is whether consciousness is generated by material arrangements in the form of biology, or whether consciousness is fundamental material arrangements arising within consciousness which is the point that I make. When Coyne says “oh, there has been plenty of evidence for the dynamics of the universe before consciousness arose,” he’s begging the question by assuming that consciousness arose with life within the context of an inanimate material universe outside consciousness. In other words, he’s assuming his conclusion in order to argue for that conclusion. The position of idealism is consciousness always existed because it is the medium of existence. Everything arises as excitations of consciousness. Even life–life being dissociated aspects of this one medium of consciousness. So there was a universe before life arose and that universe unfolded as the dynamics of consciousness as well. Before life, a specific type of consciousness dynamics arose within it. There is no problem in the idealist position about it and there is all kinds of trouble in the way Coyne argued because he just begs the question very clearly.
Citing another example from the book, Dr. Kastrup illuminates the simple-minded approach of materialists in tackling the big philosophical questions–[21min.25sec-23min.37sec]
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, Bernardo. Let me move on to another couple of criticisms and here’s one of my favorites because it really captures the lack of deep thinking that always seems to accompany this goofy materialism. I hate to say it so conclusively but we’ve both been doing this for a long time, and you go down these rutted roads that have been so well worn that after a while you see it coming. But you label this as criticism #14: Why would consciousness deceive us by simulating a materialist world?
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: It is a precious one, isn’t it?
Alex Tsakiris: It is precious in the same way that a child says something, and it’s just precious. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you just have to marvel at it.
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: There is so much prejudice imbedded in it in a way that people are not self-reflectively aware of it. It’s amazing. As I write in the book, why did the sun deceive us for so many centuries by pretending to go around the Earth? Why did the Earth itself deceive us for so long by pretending to be flat? It’s the same kind of question as asking why is the universe deceiving us by pretending materialism to be correct? It’s not the universe. The universe it what it is. The sun has always been doing what it always did. The Earth has always been spheroid since it’s formation. Nothing is deceiving anything. The only thing that’s deceiving is ourselves. Materialists are deceiving themselves by interpreting the world according to a certain perspective, certain implicit, hidden assumptions. And they are so committed to that, thinking so much within the box, when they are pushed out of the box they ask this kind of question. Why is the world deceiving me by pretending materialism to be true? Yeah, ask the sun why it deceived us by pretending to go around the Earth. It’s the same kind of question.
Later Dr. Kastrup talks about studies on memory and how science has reached premature conclusions about what creates memory in the brain–[25min.33sec-28min]
Alex Tsakiris: It’s interesting what you say because I want to use it as a bridge to talking about something you cover in the book and that’s some of the latest research on memory–and how that fits into this whole picture of materialism, and whether or not it supports materialism. Can you tell us a little bit about what you discovered and what you talk about in the book?
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: If you look at the latest research, the reports that are coming out, the first thing you notice is that everybody seems to assume the materialist idea that memories are physical traces in the brain. Little files stored somewhere, either concentrated in a place or distributed.
Alex Tsakiris: And this is not only an implied assumption but it’s actually been asserted that–it’s been the Holy Grail for a lot of years–we’re just going to find it. We keep digging in that brain more and more. We’re going to find the file drawers inside your head because they have to be in there right?
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: Yes, this hypothesis is taken for granted. People are looking for the material traces instead of stepping back and asking themselves, what is memory? What should we look for? Instead, they assume what they should look for, what they expect to find and they go after it. And what you see is a plethora of different research results coming out, all of them claiming to have made huge steps towards explaining memory along the materialist assumptions. But if you compare them, they contradict each other. Some postulate mechanisms that are intraneural, within the neuron. Some postulate these mechanisms to be around the membrane; others in the nucleus. Some postulate interneural mechanisms along the synapses, the synaptical weights. All of them celebrate victory and if you just go with the headlines and the scientific digests that the media provides, you would be certain that we have found memory traces. The headlines say, “Memory has been found. The specific place where memory is stored has been found.” And then you dig into the paper and you realize what they actually found is that the same neurons light up when you’re experiencing the event, and when you’re recalling the event. That’s not the question. Of course they both light up because the experience of a memory and the original experience correlate. They are more or less the same experience. The same neurons should light up. The question is, how the hell does the brain know during a recall which neurons to light up?
Turning to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Dr. Kastrup makes a poignant argument against the presumption of random mutations and their function in the development of species–[30min.54sec-34min.09sec]
Alex Tsakiris: One other topic to touch on because it’s always interesting to me and that’s Darwinian Evolution. And I think you make a great point about random mutation but tell us about what you think is one of the missing points there in neo-Darwinism.
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: I probably will make some of your listeners not too happy with what I’m about to say but bear with me because it gets better later on. I personally grant validity to Darwinian Evolution. I think it makes sense. I think the evidence supports it. And there is sufficient evidence out there, not only in the fossil record but in genetic studies, even laboratory experiments that manage to reproduce some small aspects of the process. So until I see more evidence coming up, or a good argumentation against it, I grant validity to evolution by natural selection. In other words, the idea that species evolved from other species by the accrual of genetic mutations that lead to competitive advantage in their environment. Maybe the word competitive is not the right one, to survival advantage in the environment. The problem is that many materialists and neo-atheists conflate this notion I just described and for which I believe there is overwhelming evidence. They conflate that with another notion for which there is exactly zero evidence. And that is the notion that the mutations at the root of the entire process, the genetic mutations which are quantum events, that they too are random in the sense that they do not have any pattern. They do not reflect any trend, any goal, any telos. We do not know that. To know that we would have to have a fairly complete set of raw genetic mutations before natural selection kicks in to discard or reinforce some of them thereby creating a pattern. We would need a complete set of raw genetic mutations and run a randomness test on that set to see if there are any trends; if there are any patterns; if the raw mutations themselves didn’t favor certain physiological and anatomical trends in different points in the evolution of life. We do not know that that is not the case but the orthodoxy will say, hey, the raw mutations have no pattern; reflect no trend; reflect no intent. All the patterns that we see in nature today have been created by selection–by natural selection — and they were not there in the raw mutations themselves. I would question that. I’m not saying that there were these trends; I do not know because we don’t have the data to say it either way. All I’m saying is the certainty with which the orthodoxy conflates randomness of mutations; with evolution by natural selection, for which there is evidence, that conflation–the certainty of that conflation — is based solely on a subjective belief system.
Dr. Kastrup examines the stark end game materialism presents from a philosophical standpoint and its implications about the ultimate meaning of existence–[35min.25sec- 37min.36sec]
Alex Tsakiris: [In the book] you really talk about some of the cultural aspects to this–cultural, political, educational… you really try and tie this together and draw the line between scientific materialism, and the consumerist, materialistic society that we’ve built around it. Tell us what your thoughts are on that in a nutshell. And then I want to really dialogue with you on that because this is something I’ve thought a lot about and I think we can have some interesting discussion about it.
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: If I look at the alternatives for a ontology, a way to make sense of the fundamental nature of reality, it’s striking to me how weak and precarious materialism is from a philosophical point of view. It’s inflationary and it doesn’t have sufficient explanatory power. Not only does it postulate a universe outside consciousness that is fundamentally beyond knowledge and proof, it also leaves the question of how consciousness emerges completely unanswered. And guess what? For all we know consciousness is all there is so it leaves it all unanswered in a way. So how did it come to dominate our value systems, our culture and our civilization in general–even the economic system? I think the key strength of materialism is not philosophical. It’s not that for anyone who really looks carefully into it. The key strength of materialism is its synergistic value. The synergy it has with the economic system and the power structures. Materialism will legitimize many things that are, I would claim, not human, not natural from the perspective of the human condition. And yet which are done all the time and are conducive to the accumulation of power, the accumulation of capital in a way that has now spread throughout the world, not only in the West. I think that is the key strength of materialism: the synergy it has with existing power structures, with the existing economic system, and with the existing cultural milieu as well.
Debating the fundamental value of materialism in human development, Dr. Kastrup discusses where materialism established its roots: the bleak mindset of the 19th century– [40min.40sec-44min.34sec]
Alex Tsakiris: Maybe there’s this idea that materialism is a necessary first step, a necessary starting point for all of us individually, and maybe culturally as well. Because until we can manifest things, until we have force and power to do things then we can’t really transcend that. So if we’re just these hunter-gatherers that can’t get our stuff together, we’re always going to be victims of the next horde of hums that are rolling over the hills that are just going to destroy us because that’s out there, too. So are we seeing maybe another necessary step in this process and maybe we should kind of look at materialism for what it brings to the table. You know what I always think about as a corollary is the quantum physics world, and the shut-up and calculate model. I think we live in a shut-up and calculate world. So these quantum physicists who are stunned by these discoveries they’re making that didn’t make sense; that didn’t fit into their science and view of the world; but they said forget about that. Shut-up and calculate. And with shut-up and calculate they built these amazing things that we now use and call our industrial and our technological infrastructure. So I’m sure you can relate to this: nothing worse than a spiritual seeker who can’t pay their bills. What do you think about all that?
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: I think what may be implicit in your question is materialism is a necessary metaphysics for the development of technology and for a pragmatic, effective way of living in the world
Alex Tsakiris: If not necessary as you said, highly synergistic.
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: I think materialism is highly synergistic with the economic system and the power structures that are in place today but not necessarily with the effective development of technology and pragmatic, effective living; and a certain degree of harmony with nature that allows us to have a good, long, comfortable life. I don’t think that materialism is necessary for any of that. Even with the example that you mentioned, shut-up and calculate, means basically that you are ignoring any metaphysics, any ontology. And materialism is an ontology, it’s a metaphysics. When you say shut-up and calculate, you’re also denying not only the quantum-spiritual stuff, you’re also denying materialism. You’re just saying, shut-up and calculate. We know what the patterns and regularities are; we know how they unfold; we can do technology based on the predictions we can make accurately about how they will unfold. And we do not need any interpretation about what the essential nature of these patterns and these regularities will be in order to do technology and live pragmatic, comfortable lives. So I would answer your question in the negative. I would say no I don’t think materialism is necessary for all of that. I don’t think it’s a necessary step in anybody’s spiritual development. I think it’s an understandable and natural mistake that got reinforced for two reasons: initially because the 19th Century cultural ethos was that you would have to have a theory of the universe that as bleak as possible because only tough guys and girls would face that bleak reality; and of course materialism is fairly bleak. So it got reinforced like that and eventually it got reinforced by existing power structures and the economic system. I think that is all it has going for it. I don’t think it’s a necessary step.
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