An introduction to Bernardo Kastrup, the scientist and philosopher whose writings on the nature of reality are presenting a major challenge to the materialism and realism that dominate western thought.
Philosophical idealism, the claim that all phenomena are mental rather than physical, is not a particularly popular ideology in the west. Except for a handful of German and British philosophers from a few centuries ago, this system of thought is generally regarded as eastern, and thus couched in language to difficult for westerners to understand. In Asia idealism has been regarded seriously by a segment of the population for thousands of years, but even there it has stumbled and stagnated, due to the difficulty in understanding it. While quantum physicists began flirting with it almost a century ago, the challenge has been in presenting it in a way that appeals to scientists, philosophers and regular people alike. That has been a difficult obstacle, but one in which Bernardo Kastrup has made significant progress in the last few years.
“Materialism represents an astonishing failure of the human intellect to see what’s right under its nose.
It hides nature’s marvelous simplicity behind a veil of contrivance. Its continuing survival in face of the mounting odds of reason, evidence and direct experience requires constant and deliberate maintenance.
Indeed, materialism serves powerful economic and political interests.”
Kastrup has written several books detailing his philosophy. He also presents these ideas at conferences for multiple disciplines, as well as regularly blogging and making videos. Recently he has even been a contributor at Scientific American, where his ideas are given as solutions to some of quantum physics most enduring questions.
“The problem is that quantum theory contradicts our intuitive understanding of what “real” means. According to the theory, if two real particles A and B are prepared in a special way, what Alice sees when she observes particle A depends on how Bob concurrently observes particle B, even if the particles—as well as Alice and Bob—are separated by an arbitrary distance. This “spooky action at a distance,” as Einstein called it, contradicts either local causation or the very notion that particles A and B are “real,” in the sense of existing independently of observation. As it turns out, certain statistical properties of the observations, which have been experimentally confirmed, indicate the latter: that the particles do not exist independently of observation. And since observation ultimately consists of what is apprehended on the mental screen of perception, the implication may be that “the Universe is entirely mental,” as put by Richard Conn Henry in his 2005 Nature essay.
The problem, of course, is that the hypothesis of a universe whose very existence depends on our minds contradicts mainstream scientific intuitions. So physicists scramble to interpret quantum theory in a way that makes room for a mind-independent reality. A popular way to do this entails postulating imagined, empirically unverifiable, theoretical entities defined as observer-independent. Naturally, this goes beyond mere interpretation; it adds redundant baggage to quantum theory, in the sense that the theory needs none of this stuff to successfully predict what it predicts.”
“Every generation tends to believe that its views on the nature of reality are either true or quite close to the truth. We are no exception to this: although we know that the ideas of earlier generations were each time supplanted by those of a later one, we still believe that this time we got it right. Our ancestors were naïve and superstitious, but we are objective—or so we tell ourselves. We know that matter/energy, outside and independent of mind, is the fundamental stuff of nature, everything else being derived from it—or do we?
In fact, studies have shown that there is an intimate relationship between the world we perceive and the conceptual categories encoded in the language we speak. We don’t perceive a purely objective world out there, but one subliminally pre-partitioned and pre-interpreted according to culture-bound categories. For instance, “color words in a given language shape human perception of color.” A brain imaging study suggests that language processing areas are directly involved even in the simplest discriminations of basic colors. Moreover, this kind of “categorical perception is a phenomenon that has been reported not only for color, but for other perceptual continua, such as phonemes, musical tones and facial expressions.” In an important sense, we see what our unexamined cultural categories teach us to see, which may help explain why every generation is so confident in their own worldview. Allow me to elaborate.”
Even if you have trouble swallowing Kastrup’s philosophy, you cannot deny that the challenge he presents to the dominant ideology of materialism is very real.
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