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
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.