‘Lake George’ – Georgia O’Keeffe, 1922 – WikiArt
Bernardo Kastrup is my newly invited guest on ‘The Dawn Within’. Bernardo is a Dutch philosopher and computer scientist who is reflecting on the questions related to mind and matter. His field of study is the nature of empirical reality — of the world we see — which our culture has defined to be fundamentally outside consciousness and made out of matter, with consciousness or mind being a product of that matter. Bernardo Kastrup is tirelessly challenging that idea through his proposition that ”reality is essentially mental” and that “matter is nothing more than the extrinsic appearance of inner experience.”
Bernardo has worked for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the ‘Casimir Effect’ of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). His writings and essays have been shared in his website ‘Metaphysical Speculations’, in his ‘numerous books’, and in many ‘thought provoking videos on YouTube’. His ideas have also been featured in scientific or philosophical magazines.
As an invitation to discover Bernardo Kastrup’s work and ideas, I have selected here a short essay, a few excerpts, and a poem that I hope will unravel this great mystery that lies beyond the nature of our every day reality and world. I hope you will enjoy…
“When you see the world you see God.
There is no seeing God apart from the world.
Beyond the world to see God is to be God.”
~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (I Am That)
A short essay from Bernardo Kastrup’s website: What Am I?
I was in a train the other day, on my way to the airport for a week-long trip to Asia. Sitting quietly and listening to music, I was completely lost in my thoughts as the train stopped at a major railway station to let some passengers off and take some more in. It was not my destination, so I just lazily contemplated the movement of people going busily about their business on the platform; a veritable sea of hundreds of individuals, each locked, like myself, inside their own thoughts, worries, dreams, and disappointments; each immersed in a mass of other people, rubbing shoulders with others like themselves, and yet each profoundly alone in his or her unique perspective of this show we call existence. How many unfathomable life stories were represented by each of those tiny, insignificant bodies going busily about the station, like bees in a hive? How many novels could be written about their individual dramas? Each of those lives was equivalent, in complexity, richness, nuance, and significance, to my own. Although we were all immersed in the same reality, each one of us was experiencing that reality from a unique point-of-view. It then dawned on me, as my thoughts continued to wander without much systematic discipline, that the collection of experiences entailed by all those different perspectives, taken together, was the apotheosis of knowledge of what reality is all about.
My thoughts still drifting, I remembered a well-known meditation exercise about our sense of a unique identity. It consists of asking yourself who you are and then systematically eliminating every answer you can possibly come up with: Am I my name? No, I could legally change my name tomorrow and still have the same sense of identity. Am I my profession? No, I could have studied something else, or get another job, and still be me. Am I my body? Well, if I lost a limb or had a heart transplant tomorrow I would still have the same sense of identity, so that can’t be it either. Am I my genetic code? No, for I could have an identical twin with the same genetic code. Am I my particular life history, as recorded in my brain? Well, wouldn’t I still have the same sense of identity if I had made different choices in the past? And so on. The conclusion of this exercise, which I had thoroughly done before, is that our inner sense of self is fundamentally independent of any story we can come up with to dress it up like a mask. As such, it is entirely undifferentiated and identical in every person. Thus, each one of us ultimately has the same exact inner sense of an “I.”
All these thoughts came back to me in an instant, as I watched that moving sea of people on the station’s platform. And I realized that, ultimately, despite the uniqueness of their life stories, they were all different points-of-view of that one sense of “I.” It was as though the same “I” was taking, concurrently, multiple perspectives from within the game of existence, to accumulate as complete a view as possible of it. Each of those little pairs of eyes was like a unique camera connected to the same mainframe computer, the latter trying to derive an integrated answer to the question: What’s going on?
In our ordinary lives, we answer questions like “What is going on?” or “What is it?” through observing the system in question from the outside. What is an ant colony? We set up cameras in and around it and observe it from the outside. What is a person? We scan a person’s body and take further measurements from the outside. And so on. But when it comes to “What is reality?” there is no outside perspective.
As I have discussed in an earlier article, I subscribe to the idealist view, recently all but confirmed by physics, that reality and mind are one and the same thing. As such, that single “I” behind the perspectives taken by each of us is Itself reality. So the question “What is reality?” boils down to the much more personal and urgent: What am I? If the one “I” of nature, the wellspring of consciousness within us all, desires to know what It is, It cannot take any perspective outside of Itself in other (order?) to find out. It cannot stand outside of Itself and “have a look” any more than you can bite your own teeth, as Alan Watts once brilliantly commented. It has no mirror to look at either, since It is all that exists. It cannot ask someone else, since no one else exists. What can It possibly do to figure out what It is? Only one possibility is left open: To take the perspective of a subset of Itself so It can observe the rest of Itself as if from the “outside;” in other words, to pretend that It is less than Itself. There is really no other way around it; think of it for a moment before you read on.
And so the myriad dramas of human existence are born; each one a unique, amnesia-suffering perspective of the “I” looking at other parts of Itself in order to somehow try and figure out what It is. Though these are theoretical, philosophical considerations, they came to life at that railway station; not as mere theory, but as a felt experience that made sense and gave meaning to existence.
‘Spring Tree No. II’ – Georgia O’Keeffe – WikiArt
From Bernardo’s article ‘My philosophy and quantum physics’:
“I argue that we do not need to postulate a whole universe outside consciousness – outside subjective experience – in order to make sense of empirical reality. The implication is that all reality, including our bodies and brains, are in consciousness, not consciousness in our bodies and brains.”
A beautiful and eloquent analogy:
“Consciousness is the only carrier of reality anyone can ever know for sure; it is the one undeniable, empirical fact of existence. My view is that we do not need more than this one undeniable fact to explain reality: all things and phenomena can be explained as excitations of consciousness itself. As such, underlying all reality is a stream of subjectivity that I metaphorically describe as a stream of water (water being analogous to consciousness). Inanimate objects are ripples in the stream, experienced subjectively by the mind-at-large that is the stream itself. Living creatures are localizations of the flow of water in the stream: whirlpools. The body-brain system is, as such, the image of a process of localization in the stream of subjective experiences of mind-at-large. The body-brain system doesn’t generate consciousness for exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water. And since there is nothing to a stream full of ripples and whirlpools but water in movement, all reality is simply consciousness in movement. The movement of consciousness/water is what we call subjective experience.”
Excerpted from Bernardo’s essay ‘The strangest possibility: The physical world may be exactly what it seems to be’:
”The physical world is exactly what it seems to be, in the sense that it consists solely of the concrete qualities we experience as physicality—namely, the colors we see, the smells we feel, etc. Therefore, the physical world exists entirely within our mind… But not within our head! Our body is itself part of the physical world, so it is our body that is in our mind, not the other way around.
Does this mean that all reality is our private dream? That would follow only if the physical world were all there is. But we know that, in addition to the qualities of perception—that is, color, taste, smell, etc.—there are other mental categories, such as thoughts and feelings. So even if all perceptions are fundamentally private, we may still be immersed in a shared environment constituted by transpersonal thoughts and feelings.
In other words, the physical world is private, all right, but there is still a non-physical world of transpersonal thoughts and feelings—to which we have no direct access—surrounding us and which we all inhabit. What we experience as our perceptions of the world ‘out there’ is merely the outer appearance of these transpersonal thoughts and feelings; just as our brain and its neural activity is the outer appearance of our own private experiences. The whole physical universe is akin to a brain scan image of the mental activity of a mind at large, in which we are immersed.
So there is indeed a great mystery behind the appearances: What are these transpersonal thoughts and feelings that present themselves to us as the physical world? Although the latter is nothing more than our perceptual experiences—which we merely describe by means of abstract mathematical relationships—it points to something non-physical, ineffable, concurrently immanent and transcendent. While being exactly what it seems to be, the physical world still hints at something beyond itself. Therein lies the mystery.”
‘Spring’ – Georgia O’Keeffe – WikiArt
A poem by Bernardo Kastrup: The Legacy of a Truth-Seeker
Having trodden the path for cycles uncountable,
Having crossed the ocean of mind from end to end,
Through all veils, its fountainhead have I finally seen.
To you, honest truth-seeker treading the path behind me,
I grant the gift of my legacy.
I have learned thus:
Only untruths can be experienced.
Hence, only untruths can exist.
Truth is fundamentally incompatible with existence
For it is that which gives rise to existence,
Like a loudspeaker gives rise to sound.
Experiences are self-referential tricks:
They arise from nothing and are made of nothing.
If you dig deep enough within yourself,
You shall always find the layer of self-deception
Upon which any one of your convictions ultimately rests.
One’s reality sprouts from the first layer of self-deception
That escapes one’s field of critical awareness.
The deeper this field, the more subtle the self-deception.
Those with little critical awareness thus live more colorful lives:
Their fiction is fancier.
The honest search for truth annihilates its own subject
Slowly, recursively, from within.
Having peeled away every layer of self-deception within me,
I have found myself to be like an onion:
Nothing is left.
Only nothing is true.
No external references exist, no outside arbiters.
We are self-created fictions and so is the cosmos.
Truth-seeking is the path to self-annihilation
And thus to liberation.
Rejoice, for your pains, fears, frustrations and regrets
Are all untrue.
There is nothing to fear, nothing to strive for, nothing to regret.
You have no soul; that’s just self-deception.
And you won’t die; that’s just self-deception.
As a dream allegorically portrays the inner state of the dreamer,
As a novel insinuates the aspirations of the writer,
As a lie betrays the insecurities of the liar,
So the fiction you call reality reveals something about truth.
Thus pay attention to life,
For truth expresses itself only through its own fictions.
To discern truth in fiction: here is the cosmic conundrum!
To engage wholeheartedly without being taken in: here is the ultimate challenge!
To find meaning in nothingness: here is the epic demand of nature!
Watch reality as you watch a theatrical play:
With inquisitiveness and curiosity.
But watch it as audience, never as character.
Characters spend their lives chasing their own shadows,
Whereas audiences attain subtle insight.
May my legacy serve you as a warning, but also as encouragement.
The prize at the end of the path is handsome:
The freedom to make the deliberate, guiltless choice
Of which untruth to live.
Exercising this choice wisely is the art of life.
‘Nature Forms Gasp’ – Georgia O’Keeffe – WikiArt
Essay, excerpts, and poem by Bernardo Kastrup
Paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
– ‘The Idea of the World: A multi-disciplinary argument for the mental nature of reality’ – by Bernardo Kastrup – (John Hunt Publishing)
– ‘Why Materialism Is Baloney: How True Skeptics Know There Is No Death and Fathom Answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything’ – by Bernardo Kastrup – (John Hunt Publishing)
– ‘Dreamed Up Reality: Diving into the Mind to Uncover the Astonishing Hidden Tale of Nature’ – by Bernardo Kastrup – (John Hunt Publishing)
– ‘Decoding Jung’s Metaphysics: The Archetypal Semantics of an Experiential Universe’ – by Bernardo Kastrup – (Iff Books)
– ‘Rationalist Spirituality: An Exploration of the Meaning of Life and Existence Informed by Logic and Science’ – by Bernardo Kastrup – (John Hunt Publishing)
– Metaphysical Speculations (Bernardo Kastrup’s meditations on life and the universe)
– Bernardo Kastrup’s YouTube Channel
– Georgia O’Keeffe (Wikipedia)
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5 thoughts on “The Great Mystery”
What a beautifully eloquent poem
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Beautiful and Brilliant. ‘ Only untruths can be experienced’ haha, love that sentence, thanks Alain, thanks Bernardo!
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Indeed. That line jumped out for me too
Thank you for your comment Annelied! It’s a wonderful poem indeed.🙏
Yes indeed Ananda! Thank you for your comment.🙏