Purple Magazine
— The Revolutions Issue #40 F/W 2023

bernardo kastrup



artworks by MARIKA THUNDER


If  this  quantum  scientist, philosopher,  and computer engineer is right,  materialism  is  becoming  irrelevant.  His  work  is  nothing  short  of  a  philosophical  revolution:  called  “objective  idealism,”  it  is  Radically  reshaping  our  understanding  of  ourselves  and  our universe.


It takes time to assimilate Bernardo Kastrup’s philosophy — presented in The Idea of the World; More than Allegory: On Religious Myth, Truth, and Belief; and Why Materialism Is Baloney, among other works — but it is well worth the effort. As an analytic idealist, Kastrup proposes that consciousness is the ontological primitive, the foundation of reality. The entire universe is actually a projection of an indivisible, instinctive consciousness, in the same way dreams are projections of our sleeping minds. Kastrup argues for philosophical idealism in a more comprehensive and logically satisfying way than anyone has recently done before him.

As a scientist who worked at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), he is well equipped to show how quantum physics meshes with the idealist model. Taking the debate between materialism and idealism to the next level, he proposes, based on the evidence, that “the seemingly objective world we live in is akin to a transpersonal dream: the tables, chairs, stars, and galaxies we perceive within it do not have an existence independent of our minds.” If Kastrup is correct, then the materialist hypothesis is obsolete. His work offers nothing less than a Copernican revolution — a complete overturning — in how we think about ourselves and our world.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Let’s jump in and tell people a little bit about your history.

BERNARDO KASTRUP — I grew up in the world of science, basically. I went to university at 17. At 22,
I had just graduated, and I landed my first job at CERN in Switzerland, in the ATLAS experiment, which has now been running for 10 years, but we were the ones who built it. From there, I went into the high-tech world, doing AI and reconfigurable processors. I have a PhD in computer engineering, but doing work in AI confronts you with the question of what the mind is. Because you build a system that is as clever as a physicist in identifying the detritus that arises from a nuclear explosion or a collision between particles and a detector. So, if it’s intelligent, what is missing to make it conscious, to make its intelligence be accompanied by experience? And I thought about this for a couple of years. I was facing a wall because it becomes clear rather soon that, whatever you do, you’re only changing function and structure, none of which has a bearing on experience. That’s when I realized I was taking a wrong turn somewhere in my line of thinking. I had
to trace my steps back and find the point where I was making an unjustified assumption.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — What was this wrong assumption?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — The unjustified assumption, sure enough, was the notion that consciousness is something that is created, as opposed to the field where everything is actually created, where everything actually happens. Once I arrived at this conclusion, there was a journey of a few years to try to reform my worldview in a way that was coherent, internally consistent, and compatible with the empirical evidence, so I would have another narrative in my own mind in terms of which to relate to the world and other people. And the result of that is the philosophy I‘ve been promoting now for almost 15 years.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — I’m curious — in relationship to AI, there was a recent kerfuffle when a Google guy said that his AI had become sentient. You say that if everything is an expression of this unified field of consciousness, then AI is also an expression of that unified field. But I guess the question is whether a part of that structure can become self-aware — and become aware that it has agency and almost has a soul or spirit. Do you think something like that is possible with AI?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — No. I think to maintain that everything is in consciousness does not imply that everything is conscious from its own private point of view. [Holds up bottle] I don’t think this bottle of water is conscious at all. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is a bottle of water as a proper part of the universe. This is a nominal carving out of the inanimate universe that we call “a bottle” for convenience, but where does the bottle end and the atmosphere begin? Where does the river end and the ocean begin? I don’t think a silicon computer is conscious in the sense of having its own private, conscious point of view, but a computer exists in a field of subjectivity that underlies its own nature. It is an aspect of that field of subjectivity, but it doesn’t have its own private, subjective point of view. I think only living beings have that. I think living beings are dissociated aspects of that broad field of subjectivity, and by virtue of that dissociation, we’ve developed private, conscious points of view.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — So, for you, there’s a firm distinction between living beings and inorganic beings?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — It’s an obvious distinction. It’s because we live in a mechanistic culture that we try to explain everything in terms of mechanistic metaphors, that we fail to see the glaring, obvious difference between inorganic beings and living organisms that metabolize. Metabolism is a very specific, unique process in nature. Protein folding, transcription, ATP [adenosine triphosphate] burning, mitosis — all this is unique to life. And a silicon computer is completely different. It doesn’t metabolize. It’s essentially a glorified calculator. This whole hysteria about AI becoming conscious and uploading your consciousness so you live forever like in Westworld or Ex Machina or Black Mirror — these media products are artificially creating a sense of plausibility for what is essentially absurd. I can run a simulation of kidney function on this Apple iMac in front of me, down to the molecular level. But the simulation is not the thing simulated. When it comes to consciousness, people think that if we simply simulate the patterns of information transfer in a human brain, then the thing will be conscious. That’s akin to thinking that your computer will pee on your desk because you simulated kidney function.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — A feeling that many people have is that AI is continually extending into the domain of activities that we thought were essentially human domains. Many years ago, I interviewed Garry Kasparov, when he was the world chess champion. He was still better than any computer at that time, but he kept looking at the 80-move endgame that the computer had solved, and
I think he was suddenly aware that his time was running out. Now you’re seeing, with Midjourney and OpenAI, this sense that even journalism is going to be easily reproducible, potentially, by AI. All sorts of creative activities, music and so on… It feels like there’s this sort of AI shadow hanging over the world.

BERNARDO KASTRUP — I think we make a fundamental conflation. There are two things involved here. One is artificial consciousness; the other one is artificial intelligence. Intelligence is a property measurable from the outside. Intelligence is about clever processing of data and clever decisions about actions to be taken, a way to cleverly react to environmental conditions and environmental challenges. That has nothing to do with consciousness. In our case, consciousness and intelligence come together. If you look at the actual definitions of what we mean when we talk about intelligence, you can have a strong AI, much more intelligent than a human.
I think it’s inevitable. It’s already happening, but that doesn’t mean that such an intelligent computer will also be a conscious computer in the sense of having its own private, subjective inner life. There will be strong AI. What there will not be is artificially created private subjectivity in silicon computers. Consciousness is not something that you can measure from the outside. Consciousness is a type of existent subjectivity per se that I think underlies all nature, animate or inanimate. But private, conscious, inner lives, we have every reason to believe, correlate with metabolism. And nothing else is similar to metabolism, certainly not electronic micro switches opening and closing depending on electron

DANIEL PINCHBECK — I enjoyed your book The Idea of the World, where you talked about allegory — this view of consciousness as the underlying foundational reality, which understands reality itself as kind of a collective woven dream, in the way poets and mystics have understood it.

BERNARDO KASTRUP — We have this naive view that the world as we perceive it is the world as it actually is in itself. In other words, we think of perception as a transparent window onto the world. We have definitive reasons to know that that cannot be the case. If our inner cognitive state or perceptual states mirrored the states of the world, there would be no upper bounds to our internal entropy, and we would just dissolve into hot soup. Evolution doesn’t favor seeing the world as it is — seeing the truth. Evolution favors survival, so we will see the world in whatever encoded version will distill what is salient for our survival and preserves our inner structure. To put it metaphorically, we are pilots of an airplane that has no transparent windshield. We only have the instrument panel — we are flying by instruments. What we call the physical world is what is displayed on the dashboard of the instruments. We have sensors, like the airplane, that measure the real world out there. In the case of the airplane, it’s an air-pressure sensor, air-speed sensor, and so on. And we have retinas, eardrums, the surface of the skin, the tongue, and the lining of the nose. The results of these measurements on the world as it actually is are presented to us, just like in the airplane, in the form of an internal dashboard that allows us to navigate the world successfully but doesn’t display the world as it actually is. Just like the dashboard isn’t the world outside, the physical world in perception isn’t the world as it is — it’s a representation thereof. And if you accept this, then every facet of the physical world is a symbol on a dashboard; everything is telling you something behind and beyond it. The physical world now denotes and connotes something that transcends the physical world itself, in the same sense that the sky outside transcends the dashboard.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — What’s fascinating about The Idea of the World is that it almost felt like you were proposing a philosophical and scientifically grounded way to reexplore the poetic, symbolic, shamanic imagination.

BERNARDO KASTRUP — Yeah. There are many theories that go under the label of idealism. The only unifying aspect is that all of them state that reality is fundamentally mental. One of the variations that was popular a couple of hundred years ago was Berkeley’s subjective idealism, which can be summarized in the statement, “to be is to be perceived.” And that sort of refines the contents of perception as the thing in itself, and it violates the Kantian dichotomy between phenomena and noumena by basically saying that the phenomena are the noumena. That the world exists only so far as the contents of perception. That perceptions don’t represent a natural objective world outside, that perceptions are the thing in itself. In other words, reality is a kind of a dream, and somehow our dreams are synchronized and coordinated, but there is nothing beyond the images of our own dreams.
I don’t think that is plausible because if you’re sitting next to me, you would describe my study in a way totally consistent with my own description of it. It seems unavoidable that there is a world out there beyond our individual minds. The question is: is that world not mental in essence? Mental processes are out there. The hypothesis of objective idealism is that there is an objective thing out there from our point of view. Just like your thoughts are objective from my point of view, there are the “thoughts of nature” that appear to us upon observation as the physical world of objects and fields and particles, and so on. But from its own point of view, the inanimate world is subjective in essence. In other words, there is a world that doesn’t care what you think about it.
There is a world out there that would still be out there, even if nobody were around to look at it, but it is not physical. Physicality emerges only uponmeasurement, upon an interaction of a dissociated private mind with these transpersonal mental processes out there. That’s when sensors measure these transpersonal mental processes and display them to an individual mind, on a dashboard in the form that we call the physical world. We preserve the notion of an independent objective world out there that would still be out there, even if there were no private minds to observe it.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — What do you mean when you say that there is no reality and that everything is all mental?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — We know that our mental processes, as they can be measured objectively, the ones that correlate with conscious experience, are not in one location in the brain — they are everywhere. In the same sense, the mental inner life of the universe at large, the inanimate universe, corresponds to a body, a representation on the dashboard of diodes we call the screen of perception.
And that is the galaxies, and the galaxy clusters, and the distribution of black matter, and the dark matter and dark energy in the universe, which, curiously enough, if you run computer simulations, and you simulate the grand structure of the universe at the largest scales, is confoundingly similar, from a topology perspective, to mammalian brains. And nobody has an explanation for that. When you look up at the sky, and you see the stars and galaxy clusters and the things you don’t see, like the distributions of the dark matter, you are looking at the brain of the mind of nature. All I’m saying is the following: up to the horizon of my personal experience, everything I can
know by direct experience — it’s all mental. Up to the horizon of our individual minds, it’s mental stuff, and beyond, it’s more mental stuff too. And that mental stuff, when observed from the outside, will look like matter, just like my personal mental stuff looks like matter when observed from the outside, the neuric correlates of my consciousness.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Can you give us an example of an act of perception?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — To give you a more mundane example, if I am sad and I’m crying, when I look at the mirror, the material tears running down my face and the physical configuration of my contorted facial muscles are what my sadness looks like from the outside. The matter of my tears, the matter of my contorted facial muscles is the appearance across a dissociative boundary of my conscience in other people’s life. In other words, it’s a representation of my conscience in their life, on somebody else’s dashboard or my own dashboard, if I have a mirror to reflect them back at me.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Same for the perception of the universe?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — In exactly the same way, the physical universe, the galaxies, the galaxy clusters, the quasars, the black holes, the black matter, the dark matter distribution are what the mentation of mind at large looks like when represented on our dashboard upon measurement. So, matter is always, under all circumstances, what conscious processes look like from across a dissociative boundary. And then you make sense of everything just by postulating nature’s sole given, which is mental stuff — that’s all we have before we begin to theorize. So, if you can account for our observations based on mental stuff alone, then you have this simplest, most intuitive, most parsimonious account of what’s going on.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — I was looking at one of your recent books, Dreamed Up Reality, where you make a case for religious mythos as a useful way of thinking about the world from a human-centered perspective.

BERNARDO KASTRUP — It’s not surprising at all that, throughout our history, different peoples and different cultures in different geographies have stumbled upon the same intuitions. They only look different because of the metaphors used, but if you can read through that outer layer of metaphors and value structures and cultural references and go into the core of the matter, it is surprising how similar they are. How similar the mythology of Australian Aboriginals is to mythology of the Witoto in the Amazon jungle. Culture separated not only by half a planet, but by thousands of years as well. I don’t think this is by chance. We’ve had an intellect since, what, 30,000 years, maybe 50,000 [cave paintings, sculptures, tool making]. That’s when symbolic reasoning arose in the human species, which curiously enough had existed already 200,000 years ago [such as in burial practices], so it’s a great mystery how suddenly symbolic thinking emerged in our species. The intellect is very young — it was born yesterday. And human beings have had other mental faculties that are not for conceptual reasoning for two million years at least, probably three, depending on the latest discoveries in paleoanthropology. Because we are natural beings, we are rooted in nature through intuitive roots that have preceded the intellect by a couple of million years, at least. You could say those intuitions are not reliable. But they are reliable in the sense that they represent our root-level connection to nature, which is closer to the warm, moist facts of life than the airy conceptual clouds up here that are often detached from reality, detached from our more basic intuitive faculties. And, to me, it’s no surprise that, because we are rooted in nature through millions-of-years-old intuitive roots, we figured things out much earlier than we are comfortable to admit with the modern mind. We just didn’t have the language for it.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — What can we learn from the myths and religions in relation to your hypothesis about reality as a mental perception?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — In aboriginal cultures, there are many different myths, but one of them is that the deity dreams the world and then suddenly wakes up in the dream after the animals have come out of his armpits. And after he wakes up in his own dream, he’s subject to the rules of the dream so he has to kill and eat the animal in order to survive. If you go to the Witoto on the other side of the world, in the Amazon jungle, their deity dreams a very ephemeral dream; it just slips through your fingers and escapes. The deity has the idea to tie up the dream with a cord in order to prevent it from escaping and wrestling that tenuous dream down and then stamping on it with his foot. And by stamping on it — boom! — he enters the dream, and from within the dream, he creates the jungle by spitting on the ground. It’s impossible not to see the glaring similarity between these two dreams. Is this in Christianity? Look at the Gospel of John. The Word is a translation of the Greek logos, which also means reasoning. So, the Word creates the world; thinking creates the world. And the word logos is God. And then Christ is born into the world as the son of God who is also God and becomes subject to the rules of the world, to the point that he  is crucified and bleeds and dies. In the early myths of Hinduism, God dreams the primordial waters then drops his seed into the primordial waters that he dreamed up and gives birth to himself in those waters, inside of what he dreamed. This insight — that it’s all consciousness — began as an impersonal dream, and then the dreamer enters their own dream and becomes subject to the rules of the dream as localized expressions of consciousness within it. It’s everywhere.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — I’m curious if this line of thinking has led you to any religious practice?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — Not really, not a structured religious practice. But I take religion seriously as an adult. I do pray. I try to pray in a way that’s not the same as I saw others pray when I was a kid.
I don’t tell God what to do. My form of prayer is a sort of surrendering of my own personal agenda. I’m a monkey walking around a rock, darting through the universe. What hope do I have of understanding what’s going on? To me, faith is:
I put myself in the hands of nature, and I try to be the best expression of nature
I can possibly be, accepting that there is no way I am going to understand.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Do you believe in any form of consciousness or soul after death?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — I don’t think there is enough empirical reason to postulate that consciousness continues in a personal form after the body is no longer around. I think the body is a sort of dissociation in the field of awareness that underlies what all nature looks like. The body is what personhood looks like. So, if the body is no longer there, then to me that’s the empirical clue that localized consciousness is no longer there. Am I worried about that? Not in the least. You don’t mourn the death of your personalized dream avatar when you wake up in the morning. When you wake up in the morning, your dream avatar is dead. That was a personalization of your mind within your mind. I’m not closed to the possibility that some form of personality structure survives physical death. The question is: do we have good enough empirical reasons to pursue this hypothesis? At this stage, I don’t think we have. Now my prejudices are the following. I hope my consciousness won’t survive death in the form of a person because personhood is a state of consciousness that is clearly very prone to suffering. It’s no secret I’ve done high-dose psychedelic trips in the past. I thought it was my intellectual responsibility as somebody writing about consciousness to investigate that from a first-person perspective…

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Which psychedelics?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — Mostly psilocybin. I have done salvia divinorum as well, but the salvia trip is never as insightful because it’s too short and too crazy. It didn’t serve my purposes as did a high-dose psilocybin trip — I’ve done eight dried grams of psilocybin. In the beginning, ego dissolution is very hard because you’re sure you’re dying. But after a while, you just surf through. But then what started happening to me is that the return from a delocalized state of consciousness, in which you are not subject to constraints in time and space, became supremely painful. I call it the reentry, and it crushed me every single time. It took a week for me to accept this state of consciousness.
I had this vision in a reentry once, my little self inside a black metal box, having to use the metal box to go from one place to another. That’s a car. Or a table representing the days of the week. That those seven little divisions on a table govern your whole life, that was so claustrophobic, so crushing to me every single time. I haven’t done a psychedelic trip in a few years now. I don’t fancy this state.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — A lot of mystical traditions talk about subtler planes or dimensions of consciousness, like astral planes or etheric planes. Do you think there’s the possibility that different forms of consciousness exist in those other layers? For instance, many people have the experience with ayahuasca or iboga that it almost feels like there’s a personality that exists in a separate realm, that it creates an interactive field and offers you particular teachings and guidance.

BERNARDO KASTRUP — It’s entirely coherent to think that can be the case for a simple reason: the physical world is our internal dashboard representation of what is salient about the environment we are immersed in. We have to be given salient information about what’s going on so we can navigate life and survive and reproduce. But that doesn’t mean that things that aren’t salient or relevant are not there. I would say it’s a virtual certainty that there is a lot more going on in our cognitive neighborhood than we have the ability to perceive, conceive, or even have language for.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — I was just reading a little Benjamin Lee Whorf, who was a linguist, about the Hopi language, and how indigenous languages like Hopi have very different phenomenological approaches to the nature of reality that are not necessarily less precise than ours. They might actually be more precise. Apparently, the Hopi don’t really talk about the past, present, and future — they talk about the subject of the objective or the unmanifest of the manifest. So, you have things that have not come into manifestation yet, the shared reality. It feels like it might be important to fine-tune this idealist worldview. In the future, we might have to reexamine indigenous knowledge systems and language in a very profound way.

BERNARDO KASTRUP — I completely agree with you, but I think a necessary step for us to be able to do that productively is to recognize that we ourselves do the same as they do. If you think that the mythology of the Hopi cannot be literally true, then you may be right. But what you have to understand is that our science, our models of reality — they, too, are just convenient fictions that are changing all the time throughout the history of science. And you understand that we, too, our models, are convenient fictions, metaphors, and nature behaves as if those stories were true. And it’s the humility of understanding that we, too, only have convenient fictions that will allow us to see these other cultures, and the value of what they put forward, correctly. Otherwise, we will always have the prejudice that, “Oh, we know better because our models are the truth.” Most people don’t understand that the history of science is the history of bad convenient fictions that have been discarded. And that there is no reason to think that the current convenient fiction will last forever.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Reductive materialism is still the mainstream belief paradigm, and the sense is that idealism is a more logical paradigm that corresponds more with the actuality of the world that we’re learning about. We’re also seeing a world that’s increasingly in peril, with the environmental megacrisis. Do you think that this shift toward idealism could have some impact on the world in some positive sense?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — I think a shift to idealism is inevitable because reason and evidence are not something you can misrepresent forever. At some point, you have to face the facts, and the facts speak very loudly in foundations of physics and analytic philosophy and the neuroscience of consciousness. Idealism is the only story we have today that is still tenable.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — What could be the effect of the idealist hypothesis on our mental inner life?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — We will stop thinking that our traumas, our emotions, our depressions are just a useless mechanistic byproduct of brain activity, and therefore you are perfectly fine to repress your traumas, to repress the bad feelings in you because, you know, it’s all for nothing anyway. You don’t need to do any work on integrating and maturing and becoming an adult — just pop a pill to feel better, and let’s go about life as a tool for the power structures currently with their hands on the levers of society. That would change. Now, our mental inner life is the thing in itself. It’s not a byproduct — it’s what really matters. And if that’s the case, then life is not about collecting shoes or cars or houses or clothes. Life is about collecting insights. Suffering acquires meaning. Your suffering will be the carrier of a new perspective, a new insight, a new relationship with yourself, with the rest of nature, with other people. And when you die, you seed those insights into a broader cognitive context. It’s not for nothing that the reaper is portrayed as a character carrying a harvesting instrument. If we are the associated processes of the mind of nature, and we develop metacognitive insights throughout life, if life is what dissociation looks like, then death is the end of the dissociation and the making available of those insights to a broader context in the field of subjectivity that underlies nature. It is literally harvesting in the most positive way that one can imagine. And if life becomes about collecting insights, then everything changes.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Does this have  political and economical consequences as well?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — Capitalism as it’s carried out today will lose its fuel. You will no longer need to collect stuff; you will no longer need to buy stuff to repress whatever uncomfortable feeling or trauma or unresolved issue is within you. You’ll probably face them, and we will finally become adults. Because today we are a society of eight-year-old adolescents running countries. That will change.

DANIEL PINCHBECK — Are you an optimist?

BERNARDO KASTRUP — I’m not optimist! I’m not certain we will make it as a civilization. As a species, we will. There are always the Australian Aboriginals, the African bushmen, the northern Inuits who have the skills to survive without the civilization. It’s just you and me —

Marika Thunder, Anouk, 2023, Oil on canvas, 50 x 60 inches<br />copyright and courtesy of the artist Marika Thunder, Clyve, 2023, Oil on canvas, 50 x 60 inches<br />copyright and courtesy of the artist

we will not.


[Table of contents]

The Revolutions Issue #40 F/W 2023

Table of contents

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