Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

As a favor to my friend, Elfin, I am listening to a four-hour video of a conversation with Bernardo Kastrup, described as "leading the modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism, the notion that reality is essentially mental."

I have to admit that I'm only 13 minutes into it, having just heard his boilerplate explanation of what is wrong with materialism and any person who looks at the world through a materialist lens.

I'll get back to this characterization in a moment, but I have been thinking that it's really not helpful to speak about "materialism" as if it were a unitary belief system that someone "holds."

I consider myself a materialist because I can't see that there is anything other than the material out of which we and the universe are made that makes use up – for instance, no divine realm that runs on its own physics that can contravene the physics that make up my world. (By "physics" I mean the forces, stresses, engineering and so on that create and drive the matter/energy combo that passes for reality, both the inner me and the outer me, "inner" and "outer" used only as convenient terms to describe location; in reality, the inner and outer have constant commerce with one another as the organism goes about its business of surviving.)

But, again, more on this later.

Kastrup likens the universe where he grounds his understanding of being and consciousness to people with dissociative identity disorder, who house "alters" that are different points of view of a single mind: "We are all alters of one mind."

He goes on to say: "When the universe undergoes dissociative identity disorder, or something metaphorically related to dissociative identity disorder, those natural dissociative processes in the universe also look like something, there must be something it looks like, everything [word unknown] in nature looks like something when observed from a given perspective...and what it looks like is what we call biology. Life is the image of that dissociation."

He muses upon how the first dissociation happened in the universe that was survived itself, but when he speaks about "how the mind of nature dissociated for the first time," all I could think of was this: Is this not just another way of saying, "1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light 'day,' and the darkness he called 'night.' And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day."

In other words, God [i.e., Kastrup's universe] dissociates the formless void.

Which, to me, all sounds like theology recast as something science-like to make it more palatable.

I will probably go back to the video, just as a kindness to Elfin, but at this point, I don't want to be drawn into an argument that simply sucks out my energy.

And what is that argument? Actually, I think "argument" is the wrong term—it is "yearning" or "longing." Kastrup, at least for the little I've watched the video, and Elfin and the people Elfin turns to for his research into the senses seem to have a root yearning for life to be more, and mean more, than just accident, evolution and chance.

Why? When people get all TED about the human race, they refer to innate human capacities for wonder, curiosity, adventurousness and so on, implying, if not outright saying, that the urge to know the origins of our being is an implacable drive of our biology, which must then reflect some elemental creative power of the universe working its way through us. The universe created us in order to know itself.

But why are those not equally lauded who want no truck with such mythmaking and instead are willing to accept that we are all products of soulless, spiritless processes, chances and probabilities, that, if looked at properly, are just as miraculous and wondermaking as just-so tales about creators and cosmic consciousnesses.

The only difference is, they don't offer the comfort of a home, a garden of Eden to return to, a purpose that makes our brief lives have value. They say: you are on your own and have to figure it out, even if the species isn't really equipped at this point in its evolution to make that happen (though it is equipped with knowledge—what it doesn't know how to do is make workable arrangements to share power, and it still doesn't have a good grasp on its own psychology.)

I understand the yearning as an antidote to the possibility that the existentialists are right—and who knows, maybe the TED people and Kastrup are right and we are all laved by mysterious energies that, if rightly understood and accepted, will dissolve our loneliness and bring us home. I just don't feel what they feel, see what they see.

And perhaps both are true—for those like me, who cannot find the resonances, then the universe is a dice game and when entropy is done, all is done. For Elfin and Kastrup, who think they are on the wavelength, then they get to move into the light. A universe for the grim and a universe for the great-spirited. Perhaps, then, we don't have to spend so much time wording each other to death.


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2022 Michael Bettencourt
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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