Discover more from Beyond Belief
The Final, Deepest, Ultimate Reality
At the bottom of all things, there is only Mind.
Bernardo Kastrup is the executive director of Essentia Foundation. His work has been leading the modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism, the notion that reality is essentially mental. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy (ontology, philosophy of mind) and another Ph.D. in computer engineering (reconfigurable computing, artificial intelligence). As a scientist, 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). Formulated in detail in many academic papers and books, his ideas have been featured in 'Scientific American,' the 'Institute of Art and Ideas,' the 'Blog of the American Philosophical Association' and 'Big Think,' among others.
Beyond Belief is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Adam Jacobs: Hi, Bernardo. Thank you so much for being here on Beyond Belief and taking the time to speak with me today. How are things with you?
Bernardo Kastrup: I'm doing okay despite the situation in the world today. I almost feel guilty that I'm doing okay, but I'm doing okay, and I'm looking forward to it.
Adam Jacobs: Me too, me too. And I agree with you about the world situation, and maybe that'll come up in the course of our discussion about very lofty ideals and how they could be implemented in the world. Maybe there's a connection between these two things. But I wanted to open up by asking you; there's a fantastic book called Consciousness Unbound in which you have an essay, and you open up your essay by saying the following thing you say, as cracks now begin to appear in the physicalist armor and more plausible metaphysics are openly discussed in mainstream scholarly publications, the stigma of Psi may beginning to ease. So I have a couple of questions for you; this is sort of general, but what is Physicalism, what is Psi, and why is this whole discussion important?
Bernardo Kastrup: It’s the notion that the world out there as it is in itself is fundamentally different from mind stuff. It is not mental. It's supposed to be physical in the sense that it is describable through quantities and numbers alone, and it doesn't have any inherent qualitative aspect. And according to physicalism, our minds, the qualitative aspect of our direct experience is somehow generated by the brain. Nobody knows exactly how. It's an open question under physicalism Psi or psychic phenomena; although I'm not an in-depth student of it, it's not my field, but I understand it as mental effects like precognition, for instance, or telepathy that are considered under the premises of physicalism impossible.
And yet they are almost banal in their occurrence. And I think it happens to everyone, or at least it happens to someone in the vicinity of everyone. And Psi is declared impossible by physicalism because of physicalist assumptions. It's the product of a set of assumptions. It's not the product of a rigorous analytic philosophy that has a closed account for nature, accounts for experience, which is all we ultimately have. It's basically just the implication of a set of assumptions. In other words, it's arbitrary.
Adam Jacobs: Okay. And you see cracks forming in the, let's call it, the wall of physicalism, which has dominated scientific thoughts and certainly influenced philosophical thought for many decades at this point. Why are these cracks emerging, and where do you see them?
Bernardo Kastrup: Well, you see them in academia, you see them in publications, you see them even in private discussions between academics. I see myself involved in some of those discussions. You see them in the world at large in the psyche of our culture that clearly, people are contemplating these issues.
Now, why it's happening? Well, it's happening because ultimately, despite our prejudices, despite our biases ultimately reason and evidence tend to prevail. It may take a while, cultural momentum may continue to pedal nonsense for quite a while, creating or manufacturing this aura of plausibility for things that just do not add up. Physicalism, which is internally contradictory, it's empirically inadequate and it doesn't have explanatory power. It leaves all the big questions open, what is the nature of mind, but ultimately, reason and evidence prevail.
Ultimately we are confronted with the contradictions of our prejudices of our biases, of our mere opinions that had a political origin. Physicalism had a political origin in the enlightenment 400 years ago, and we have to bite that bullet and rethink our worldviews. And this is happening, and it has been happening big time since the turn of the century.
Adam Jacobs: Okay. That's both fascinating and encouraging to me. You run a foundation that essentially deals with this issue and which I've spent a lot of time on in the last few months, and I really, really love your writers and your whole approach, and it's very well done. So kudos to you for that.
Bernardo Kastrup: Thank you, sir.
Adam Jacobs: And you are promoting a concept known as idealism in philosophy, and I'm going to ask you about that in a second, but the way I want to, I'd like to do that, is to set it up by a quote. I actually came across late last night by Nietzsche's sister Elizabeth Forster Nietzche, who, in talking about her brother, said the following thing. She said, “in his teaching alone, do we meet with truthfulness upheld as the highest virtue ie the reverse of the cowardice of the idealists who flees from reality.” So why do some people like Nietzche's sister regard idealism as a fleeing from reality when you're, you would present it exactly the opposite as an embrace of reality. Where is this dichotomy coming from, and also, more generally, what is idealism?
Bernardo Kastrup: Well, Nietzche used the word idealism in two completely different senses. One ethical idealism in the sense of a person who holds ideals, and that could be a politician who holds high ideals. So he's an idealist, and that has nothing to do with metaphysics or the nature of reality. It's a sort of character trait or a guideline for living one's life. So need to use that word in that sense as well. I dunno whether Elizabeth was thinking of that or of the metaphysical idealists, which hold that the world is mental. There is a world; it is out there, it's beyond our individual minds, but it is of the same kind as our minds. In other words, it's made of mental stuff, and nobody would have difficulty with that if this is properly understood. You believe that I have thoughts, my thoughts are mental, but they are beyond your individual minds.
They are outside your mind, but they are mental in exactly the same way. An idealist would say the world is outside and beyond my individual mind, but it too, just like my mind is mental in nature. Now the ethical idealist, of course, is characterized in popular culture as a person trying to evade the hard facts of reality. Reality is not ideal; reality is messy, reality is unfair and unjust. So that could be one way to answer Elizabeth's critique, but let's bite the bullet and let's assume that she meant a metaphysical. The idea that a metaphysical idealist is running from reality can only be justified by an utter and complete misunderstanding of what idealism entails. Metaphysical idealism for the idealist is precisely trying to confront reality for what it actually is as opposed to running away from it.
Adam Jacobs: So essentially, the universe is mental, or consciousness is fundamental, as they say. That's the idea that is basically believed. It's the opposite of physicalism. Physical stuff is not the basis of the universe, but mental stuff. Is that a good summation of it?
Bernardo Kastrup: That's fair enough.
Adam Jacobs: Okay. So you also have a degree in computer science, and you write about artificial intelligence, which of course, seems like it's this key matter that helps us to explore the notion of consciousness. And so people are struggling with it at present, especially when with things like ChatGPT coming out that seemingly offer the possibility of this consciousness in computers. But you certainly seem to rail against that notion.
And I have another quote that I really like <laugh> that you said, which is “entertaining conscious AI seriously is counterproductive. It legitimizes the expenditure of scarce human resources, including taxpayer money on problems that do not exist, such as the ethics and rights of AI entities. It contaminates our culture by distorting our natural sense of plausibility and conflating reality with bad fiction.”
So that's very direct, and I think is running counter to what a lot of people are starting to believe, which is it's just a matter of time before we hit the singularity, before the moment of birth of the computer come comes to the world. So is it fair to say that you do not believe that we are going to be communicating directly with Chat GPT and having relationships with Hal and having relationships with girlfriends and boyfriends who are based on AI? That is never going to happen in your conception, or am I misunderstanding?
Bernardo Kastrup: I think there is some degree of misunderstanding. There are people in Japan today marrying AI characters from video games, and if you ask them, they will say, it's a fact. I have a relationship with that AI. It's a relationship, of course, that operates entirely through projection. In other words, one is having a relationship with oneself through an intermediary receptacle of mental projections, but it's a relationship of some form.
The operative word in the quote you just referenced is conscious AI, conscious is the operative word. AI is a fact. Artificial intelligence not only is possible, it is happening, and it will progress. We may even have a Kurtzweil Singularity. The singularity’s near in the sense that we may produce an AI at some point that is better at creating the next generation of AI than we are, and then that next generation will be even better at creating the generation after that than the previous generation of AI was.
And the whole thing can accelerate exponentially, but artificial intelligence does not entail or imply consciousness of its own. In other words, an artificially intelligent computer does not necessarily have private consciousness in its life accompanying its data processing in the way you and I have. And to think that one implies the other is just bad thinking that there is no logical breach there. These are completely different things. Intelligence is an objectively measurable property, and being conscious is not.
It's something that you can only know by being the entity that we are asking. Is it conscious or not? Ideally, I think consciousness is fundamental, and many people misinterpret that to mean that everything is conscious. No, that's not idealism. What idealism says is that everything is in consciousness is made of consciousness. Not that everything is conscious in the sense of having a private consciousness in their life of its own.
As far as we can tell, that's a feature of life, of metabolism, of biology, not of silicon computers. Silicon computers are mechanisms. The fact that they look like conscious beings like us is merely because they were made to look like us. I mean, shop window mannequins were made to look like humans. Yes, but that's no ground to say that shop mannequins, therefore, are conscious. Chat GPT was made to interact more or less like a human. If you understand the engineering behind that, you will see that it's engineered to imitate human conversation. Well, that doesn't entail or imply or give us any reason whatsoever to think that the thing is conscious to think that is just to fall for one of the most self-evident traps in logic there is if you made something to look like another, that's no reason to think that it is the other.
No, because it was made limit imitated, and that's all there is to it. If you allow me to rant just a little bit longer, please. There are many computer scientists who take AI seriously, and the problem is that, and most people don't understand this, computer scientists are no computer experts. Computer scientists are computer users, power users, computer science is a branch of mathematical logic. It has nothing to do with engineering. Computer scientists look at a computer, we look at a car, we don't know what's under the hood, and they only have a quite vague idea about what a processor is. All the transistors, the logic, how the whole thing works. Computer engineers know what they're building, and they know that they're building a computer out of electronic components because they are cheaper and is smaller than the alternatives. But they could build a computer made of pressure valves, pipes, and water, and it would be functionally identical to an AI computer. But everything that's happening is just water flowing and pressure valves opening and closing, and it would be the size of the moon. But in principle, it computes, too, in exactly the same way as silicone and electrons. So computers and mechanisms.
Adam Jacobs: So there’s something that’s bothersome about the substitution of pipes and water for silicon that once you phrase it that way, it no longer seems like it's going to be conscious. I don't know exactly why that is, but obviously, it's a very compelling point that there's no reason it has to be one versus the other. So it almost seems like it's a psychological association because it's so fancy and advanced it must be alive. But I think, tell me if I'm wrong, but a thousand years from now, when AI has made the next AI has made the next AI, it still is not going to have an inner life based on the principle that you've just enumerated, which is just because it becomes more and more fancy, doesn't change the basic parameters of how it's set up. Is that correct? There's no reason to expect that suddenly because it's so advanced technologically that it's all of a sudden going to have an inner experience.
Bernardo Kastrup: Yeah, I mean, I cannot categorically prove or state that silicon computer will never be conscious. It's not logically incoherent to say that it could be, but we have no reason to believe that it is. Let me give you another example. I cannot categorically refute the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is a logically acceptable hypothesis. I cannot exclude it a priori, but we have no reason to think that there is a Flying Spaghetti Monster in an invisible hyper dimension rotating the planets around the orbit of the sun. We just have no reason to entertain the hypothesis. I would categorize conscious silicon computers in the exact same way. I can't categorically refute it, but we have absolutely no reason to entertain the hypothesis because the attraction of it is precisely the lack of understanding. When we do not understand what happens under that layer of black epoxy that constitutes silicon chips, we project ourselves into it.
And what are we? Well, we are spiritual beings, we are conscious beings, and we project that consciousness onto the mystery. But trust me, there are a few thousand people around the world who know exactly what is under that thing because we design and make it, and there is nothing that we don't understand about it. It's a mechanism that we understand fully. That's why it works because we build something that we understand. So there is no vacuum of understanding to project any supernatural possibility like silicone becoming conscious, having a private conscious life of its own. Some people around do understand it even though most of them are not computer scientists; they're computer engineers. I mean, I'm a computer engineer. People call me a computer scientist because they like the word scientist right?
Adam Jacobs: Right.
Bernardo Kastrup: But I was educated to build computers, not to use them only.
Adam Jacobs: Right. Well, that seems like an advantage in this case. Last question on AI because, and you posed this in one of your essays, which I think is such a fascinating question, which is it murder to turn off your computer assuming that it is sufficiently advanced, I guess that would become an area of consideration. I know your answer to it. I just wanted to put it out there that for those folks who do believe that it's conscious, it does open this whole Pandora's box of like, well gosh, we should be treating these things very, very carefully, I would think.
But okay, I wanted to ask you about evolution and specifically the concept of randomness, which you've also written about by the, you've written about so many interesting things and so many fascinating books. I just want to take a moment and encourage all who are watching this to really go check out the Essentia Foundation
Such a great website full chock, full of fascinating essays. Really. You should check them out, and you have very digestible books, a whole series of them on many, many fascinating topics. So please take a moment and check those out. We're going to post it on the screen so people will be able to familiarize themselves.
But on the topic of evolution and specifically the topic of randomness, you say the following. “Moreover, although physicists contest individual quantum events in the laboratory and verify that they are random, it is impossible to discern a global pattern within the complexity of the physical world at large. There are just too many dice to keep track of under controlled conditions. So for all we know and even can know, genetic mutations may follow yet unrecognized phenotypic trends operating non locally across mutation events.” So that's a mouthful, but could you explain what you mean and how that might challenge the dominant paradigm of evolution?
Bernardo Kastrup: I think evolution by natural selection is an established fact. I mean a hundred percent proof we don't have in science; nothing is 100% proven. It can be 100% disproven, but that's something else. But despite that, we have just overwhelming evidence for the notion that species can become other species through the accrual of genetic mutations that increase fitness, that increase the chances of surviving and reproducing. So that's a fact. The problem is that under Neo-Darwinism, they embed something else into that fact, which is that the mutations that the origin of the process at the ground level of the process are random. In other words, that they have no discernible pattern, that they exhibit no trend. And that is just an assumption because we don't know that we do not have in the fossil record enough genetic information over the yon to run a randomness test and check that there are no trends.
As a matter of fact, research done a couple of years ago in Israel has shown that there actually are trends that are very difficult to explain, but there are trends in the mutations themselves. They are not purely random. Now the possibility that this opens up is something that is both the key strength and the key Achilles heel of the scientific method, which is we need to do empirical testing under controlled conditions to eliminate unknown variables that may play a role in the results in the process of doing that which is necessary. And it's the key strength of science testing under controlled conditions. In the process of doing that, we exclude all possibly global or higher range organizing principles in nature, and we focus only on cause effects at the microscopic level because those we can isolate within the confines of a lab. But suppose there are organizing principles in nature that only kick in at the level of entire brains or populations or galaxies.
And those may be hypothetically also fundamental organizing principles just as much as the four forces that we recognize today at the microscopic level, but they only kick in at a higher level or a higher range and higher level of complexity if those are out there. And if those have effects on the genetic mutations at the root of evolution, we will never know it by running laboratory experiments because by controlling the conditions in the lab, we will be precisely excluding this higher complexity, higher level organizing principles in nature that might be up there. So for all we know, evolution is driven, and it is driven by organizing principles that we are ignorant of because our methodologies do not allow us to test for them.
Adam Jacobs: Will we ever have a methodology that allows that
Bernardo Kastrup: It would require a degree of technology and resources and sophistication and computing power that today is unimaginable and may be unimaginable forever because the complexities that we are talking about here grow exponentially, and they are literally mind-boggling. So it's questionable. I don't know. I hope we will be able to pin that down at some point, but right now, I don't know.
Adam Jacobs: So is it fair to say then that those who are partial to randomness or those who are partial to teleology, the idea that there's a purposefulness, a direction that life is headed towards, that those are ontological assumptions, and basically they're articles of faith, whether you want to believe one way or another because we simply lack the proof to know either way.
Bernardo Kastrup: I think that's literally correct that they're both jumps of faith because randomness is another word for human ignorance. When we say a process is random, what we are saying is that we cannot identify a pattern in the process, which doesn't mean that there is no pattern. It only means that we do not have the technology or the cognitive capacity to recognize those patterns. They may be taking place that ranges that are way beyond our ability to, and the theology in the sense of a deliberate thought-through plan for evolution, I think it's equally a leap of faith. There is no explicit evidence to entertain that.
Adam Jacobs: So the folks at the Discovery Institute, for instance, and I'm not sure if you're partial or not to the intelligent design concept, they would say, I think that, of course, it's not a hundred percent proven like you were saying before, but we think that we've got plenty of evidence to suggest that there is teleology, there's design all over the place, look at this organism, look at this organism, look how this part of the body functions and you add it all up. And how are you supposed to explain that through randomness, especially as you're saying randomness itself can be questioned. How do you feel about what they do, and do you think that they're adding anything to this discussion?
Bernardo Kastrup: I'm not too familiar with that particular institute. I know that the whole discussion around intelligent design in the US is sort of has become kind of toxic. I'll try to remain objective. The complexity of life and nature does pose a challenge to science. To say that it doesn't to say that, oh, we have explained it all through pure randomness is beyond naive. It's irresponsible, and it betrays a lack of understanding of the difficulty of the topics involved. So it's not an issue that can be just shrugged under the carpet and say, oh, we already made sense of all the complexity, all the sophistication of life in nature. No, this is still a big challenge.
Another point I wanted to raise is that teleology can have multiple senses. Teleology, in the sense of deliberate planning by some kind of cosmic entity, is one sense. And I don't think we have reason to entertain that hypothesis, but you could have teleology in the sense that there is a high complexity, high range organizing principle in nature still unknown to us, which entails a preferential direction, a sort of a bias in nature. And that does not require deliberation, that does not require advanced planning. It could be just a spontaneous organizing principle in nature, just like all other laws of nature, like gravity tends to put pool objects together, not away from each other.
Is that a teleology? Well, there is a sense in which it has a preferential direction. It attracts as opposed to repelling. Yes. So there could be something like this, but more complex, more nuanced, more sophisticated in nature that we have no idea of because we can't isolate it under experimental conditions, which implies a preferential direction in the arrow of evolution. And that may even have a mental quality to it. And if there is such a thing, I would say it certainly has a mental quality because all there is mentation, and then the use of the word theology is fair, but it would still not imply deliberate advanced planning. It would still be a natural spontaneous process in nature.
Adam Jacobs: Could it imply that, or you're saying it can't imply that?
Bernardo Kastrup: Well, for all I know, it could, but I don't see reasons to immediately jump to that more demanding hypothesis instead of staying with the last demanding hypothesis, the less inflationary hypothesis that whatever principle there is underlying the ideology of nature, it's a spontaneous organizational principle, not necessarily a planned or deliberate or self self-reflective one.
Adam Jacobs: But isn't it very weird when we speak about the constants of nature, for instance, and the rate of gravitation and the strength of the strong and the weak nuclear forces. And we all know this concept that it almost seems set up, and it seems to bother a lot of thinkers, like everything just thread the needle perfectly. And isn't it wild that our universe is that way? And it seems to me that even though it's an ancient concept that the multiverse hypothesis is a response to that problem where if we can't explain this universe, let's just posit an infinite number, and then it's not so hard to understand. Doesn't anything in the complexity and the unlikeliness of the way our universe is strike you as just weird and very hard to explain.
Bernardo Kastrup: It's the most vexing problem for the whole of science. I think for analytic philosophy, certainly from my own position, the fine-tuning of the universal constants is the most vexing problem, but there are at least avenues that we can pursue in our investigation to make sense of it in the same way that we make sense of the rest of nature. In other words, as spontaneous organizing principles, not deliberate or thought-through ones. And the reason I say this is that all other laws of nature that we have uncovered so far have this spontaneous characteristic. They are not arbitrary, they are not capricious, and they don't change from day to day. They don't seem to be based on opinions or biases, or prejudices. They apply equally like justice, like blind justice. They apply equally everywhere, and they're spontaneous, almost automatic in a sense, given the circumstances.
So we never found something organizing principle in nature that wasn't spontaneous. To think that there is one that is for now is, I think, still an inflationary hypothesis. So how could we pursue an explanatory avenue for the fine tuning? There are at least two avenues I know of. One is the notion of an evolutionary multiverse, which is that at the other end of every black hole, there is a universe in which the universal constants have been slightly scrambled. Just like your genetic code when you give birth to another human being, that genetic code is slightly scrambled. There are mutations, the same thing would happen to the universal constants. They would be the genes of the universe, and they get scrambled every time a black hole forms and gives birth to a new universe.
And then, of course, that would favor universes in which black holes can happen, and universe universes in which black holes can happen are fine-tuned universes, and that could account for how we are here. Now I admit this is a very inflationary hypothesis too, <laugh> because it requires an infinity of universes for which we have absolutely zero empirical evidence. Is there a better way? I think there is work being done now in Austria by Marcus Miller and his team and collaborators, which suggests the following. The physical universe is a cognitive construct of ours.
We interact with, you could say, a real universe, but the way that universe presents itself to us is the physical universe that we perceive, and that is a cognitive construct. The physical universe is not the final universe. It's a representation thereof. It's an appearance thereof. The real states of the world out there are not physical states arise from the interaction between us and those real states. In other words, physical states are representations, and because we construct them, of course, we would construct them in such a way that accounts for our own existence in it, and therefore it's fine-tuned by us because we would necessarily have to account for our own existence in the structure we construct.
Adam Jacobs: That's pretty wild and pretty cool. But I have to look into that, and I know that there is a lot that's getting said about our cognition and how it affects what we perceive as the physical universe, and it's so interesting.
But I want to press forward because I want to get to three more questions, possibly in the 12 minutes that we have left. And also, I promised a couple of fans of yours who actually got in touch with me about asking you a question or two. I'm going to try to get to that. So let's talk about subatomic particles for a second. So we're already talking about the most far-out things in the universe.
I'm not going to read you the whole quote just to save time, but you basically say elementary subatomic particles don't exist. And you give an analogy of a ripple on water and how it excites the water, but the water is just moving up and down essentially, so too you're saying that the particles aren't real, they just, they're an excitation of a quantum field. Okay, first of all, and I've been wanting to understand this for forever, so forgive me if this is just such a basic question, but just what exactly is a quantum field, and why do we call them particles at this point? If so many people have bashed the concept of particles, which for like a hundred years, why are we still talking about that in that way? <laugh>
Bernardo Kastrup: Quantum field is defined as that whose excitations are what we call elementary subatomic particles. In other words, we define the quantum field as per its effect. And its effects are the clickings of instrumentation in a physics lab or the energy footprint we measure in the colorimeter of the atlas detector at CERN, something like this. So these are theoretical entities, but they are not arbitrary in the sense that it may have sounded right now because to understand particles as ripples of a field and not as things in themselves allow us to make sense of a great many observations of nature that we cannot make sense otherwise. For instance, the fact that in a perfect vacuum particles come in and out of existence, that would be magic if particles were things. But if the vacuum is permeated by quantum fields, those fields can get excited just like the surface of a lake gets spontaneously excited, and ripples form and disappear.
And that's what we call particles popping in and out of existence or the fact that certain particles decay into other particles that are not themselves part of the original particle, like a Higgs Boson. The famous Higgs Boson can decay into two bottom quarks. It can decay into two muons. Now the Higgs Boson does not have two bottom quarks. It does not have two muons. So it's magic that it can disappear, and two muons can appear unless you understand the Higgs boon as a ripple of the Higgs field. And ripples can decay; they can become wider, less tall, they can travel less fast depending on the circumstances of the medium in which they ripple. And that's what we call particle decay. And I could go on and on and on and on. We have known since at least the 1940s with Richard Feynman and quantum electrodynamics that there are no particles.
There are only fused particles in the fields. Actually, the genesis of this idea in western science go back to Maxwell in the early 19th century when he accounted for electromagnetism in terms of fields. So this is no news at all. This is 200 years old by now. We continue to use the word particles, and we did that CERN. At CERN, I worked at CERN, and we always use the word particle, but that's a metaphor; that's an operational metaphor because a particle is more consistent with the patterns of clickings in our detectors than a field.
But anybody who has a theoretical understanding of, I'll call modern physics, but it's a hundred-year-old physics, knows that particles are just figures of speech. There are no such things; there are no discreet bodies with defined spatial boundaries, ontologically distinct from one another. There are all ripples of fields, and there are 17 quantum fields. We hope to theoretically reduce that to one field that's what we call grand unification theory. We don't have a viable one yet, but hopefully, in a hundred years, we'll get there <laugh>.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, and I'm not going to belabor it. I understand what water is, and I understand what a ripple in water is. I still have trouble wrapping my head around what a quantum field is and how it becomes excited or in what state it exists. It's like it's so abstract to me, and the word quantum is thrown away, and it almost sounds to the layperson like me, it sounds like you're just saying magic. Exactly like you're saying, okay, this becomes a bottom quark; this pops in and out of existence like because of quantum fluctuations. But that word doesn't mean anything to me. I appreciate it, and I'm trying to grasp it, but it's really tough as a non…
Bernardo Kastrup: No rabbi. You are completely correct. It is abstraction, and it is magic at some point. Look, we cannot escape magic in science. The big bang is magic. Quantum fields, what are they? They're not things. If quantum fields are not excited, then they are a vacuum. In other words, they are no thing; they are nothing. Literally, because things are excitations of the quantum field. Science is not in the business of telling us what is or isn't. Science is in the field of modeling nature's behavior, not nature's being. And it turns out that if we use the tool of fields in our modeling of nature's behavior at the subatomic level, everything falls into place, and we can predict what nature will do next with exquisite accuracy. I think we are now at 12 positions after the decimal point in accuracy, something like this with field quantum theory; it's the most precise and accurate physical theory ever devised by mankind.
Then it's based on the notion of fields. So we have to abandon trying to understand fields as things they are that which precede things. They are that whose excitations are things. And this is an abstraction. It is a kind of magic, but it's less magic than the alternative. And that's what we try to do. We try to reduce the magic as much as possible. And what remains is what we call our reduction base, the axioms; it's the foundations of the building of science that we erect on top of that without magic.
But at some point in modeling nature, we have to sort of postulate these convenient fictions, these entities, in a way that is as consistent as possible with nature's behavior. So I'm saying I'm acknowledging this, but I don't mean by this, that these quantum fields are arbitrary. They're not because there is no other viable way to understand nature's behavior than to postulate quantum fields. Everything else runs into empirical contradictions. So there is something to this; it is abstraction, but it's an abstraction that's telling us something real about nature, and how do we reconcile this admission that it's an abstraction with the empirical fact that we do not have a better way to account for nature's behavior. That's what goes on in the mind of each and everyone, and we have to find our piece with it.
Adam Jacobs: That's a good way of saying it. I'm working to find my peace with it. But I know that Dr. Hy Schipper is associated with your foundation, and he was kind enough to write a piece for us a couple of weeks ago. But what you're describing right now is so Kabbalistic sounding to me, it's so reminiscent of matters that I've studied, and I'm personally fascinated by the overlap there—just putting it out there. But maybe there's some kind of synthesis that can be discovered, and maybe Dr. Schipper will do that.
But I want to jump, I might have to skip two questions for the sake of time. I did have two people contact me who asked me to ask you the following question. With your permission, they say the following, “you assert that physical reality is how certain patterns in the mind at large appear to us across the disassociated boundary. In this regard, fundamental consciousness, ie, the mind at large, causes the appearance of physical reality. There must be some set of rules that gets us from the phenomena of the base layer of consciousness to the behaviors we observe in the projection we see in the physical world, ie “the dashboard.” So now the question is, how should we think about the behaviors and processes of the underlying consciousness, specifically how they translate into such remarkably consistent rules in the dashboard. For instance, general relativity or the second law of thermodynamics?” Nice, simple question.
Bernardo Kastrup: So the point of the question is my assertion that what we see around us, this world of objects, of shapes, forms, and phenomena, this is a dashboard representation of the real world. We do not have a transparent window to see the world as it actually is. All we can do is to make measurements of the world through our sensors, our eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and skin. And those sensors, those measurements are then presented to us in the form of the physical world. In other words, the physical world is a dashboard representation of the real world out there. And the question is, well, there are correlations between the behaviors of the dials on the dashboard and what's happening out there, the world that there is actually being measured. Of course, there is such a correlation, right? Dashboards are provide true information about the world being measured outside the airplane.
So an airplane's dashboard is not the sky outside, but it does convey true information about the sky outside. So much so that the pilot can fly safely by instruments, by looking at the dashboard alone and ignoring that he has a transparent window. We do not have a transparent window, and to survive, we have to take the dashboard seriously. And the reason for that is that the behavior of the dashboard correlates with the behavior of the world. Now what the question is asking is, what is that behavior of the world? Well, we don't really know. All we have is the dashboard. The dashboard behaves in a way that is self-consistent.
In other words, the dials don't move arbitrarily. There are patterns that we can identify and which are consistently present in the dashboard. If one dial goes to the left, the other one goes to the right. We call those patterns. The laws of nature and the laws of nature are very self-consistent. They're not arbitrary. They don't change their minds. Tomorrow. Tomorrow gravity is still pulling everything together. They're not pushing everything apart. So whatever the world is behind the dashboard, it seems to behave in a very self-consistent, spontaneous, naturalistic way.
Adam Jacobs: Great. Excellent question, excellent question, and excellent answer. And in the 30 seconds that I have for my own edification to summarize your worldview, the universal consciousness, the universal mind, is that co-equal to what people call God, or is that a totally separate matter in your way of thinking?
Bernardo Kastrup: I think there are 8 billion different definitions of God on earth today. So I cannot answer that for everyone. I can answer that only to my own satisfaction according to my own understanding of what the word God means. Yes, they are one and the same thing. And people have meant that throughout history.
Adam Jacobs: Well, this has been a very rewarding conversation for me, and I'm sure that everyone who's seeing it is going to feel exactly the same. Once again, I encourage people to go out and to really spend some time with your materials, which I will once again say are really excellent, very easy, not easy to understand, but they're accessible, deep, and highly significant.
So I would like to again congratulate you on what you've accomplished to date and thank you and wish you a lot of strength and a lot of reach with what you are presenting because I think it's extremely important for our world. Thank you. So for everyone else, please take a moment and subscribe to our YouTube channel and please visit our blog, which is Beyondbelief.blog, where you can find all kinds of fascinating information along the lines of what you've heard here today and beyond. And thank you. Thank you, Bernardo, for being here and taking the time. I really appreciate it. And thank you, everyone, for listening.
Beyond Belief is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.