Bernardo Kastrup, Mainstreaming Controversial Philosophy of Mind Theories |378|

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  1. Alex

    Alex New

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    Bernardo Kastrup, Mainstreaming Controversial Philosophy of Mind Theories |378|
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    Dr. Bernardo Kastrup on the growing acceptance of his controversial theories of consciousness.
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    photo by: Skeptiko
    Today we welcome Dr. Bernardo Kastrup back to Skeptiko. Bernardo is the author of several books on consciousness and has created quite a stir with his recent articles in Scientific American:

    Alex Tsakiris: These people will be recognized by people in my community as skeptics or as materialists, but these people are just generally regarded as scientists, as mainstream scientists. We’re talking about Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Neil deGrasse Tyson, whether we like it or not, is the face of science for many, many, many Americans, so let’s see what mainstream science has to say about consciousness.

    Here we go, I’m going to play this clip. You can see it there, I’m going to play it.

    Richard Dawkins: But you can say something about the question which you really would wish to know the answer to, and for me it would be, what’s consciousness, because that’s totally baffling.

    Neil de Grasse Tyson: Richard, you know what I think, not that you ask, but what I think on this is, consciousness has, kind of, baffled us for a while and evidence that we haven’t a clue about what consciousness is, is drawn from the fact of, how many books are published on the topic. We’re not really continuing to publish books, not really, on Newtonian physics, it’s done. So, the fact that people keep publishing books on consciousness is the evidence we don’t know anything about, because if we knew all about it, you wouldn’t have to keep publishing.

    So, what I wonder, what I wonder Richard is, whether there really is no such thing as consciousness at all and that there’s some other understanding of the functioning of the human brain that renders that question obsolete.

    Bill Nye: To that I’ve got to say like, oh wow!

    Alex Tsakiris: I’m laughing, but what is so funny about that.

    Bernardo Kastrup: The idea that maybe consciousness is not there is probably the weirdest, stupidest idea every conceived by human thought. I mean, where does thought take place? It takes place in consciousness. So, here we have consciousness, speculating about the possibility that consciousness does not exist and it may not be there. I mean, the very thought is an in your face contradiction and the fact that something like this is not only seriously entertained, but even verbalized with a public with the public exposure of the gentleman we just saw, is a worrying sign of cultural sickness, a very serious one.
     
  2. Andrew9

    Andrew9 Member

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    While agreeing with Neil about the widespread bafflement, from that point I would agree with Bernado! Bill makes a good point too... :)
     
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  3. In meditation the point is to reduce mental activity and the results are spiritual / transcendental / non-dual experiences.

    This makes sense if the brain is a filter of non-phsical consciousness. Less brain activity = less filtering = more unfiltered raw consciousness.

    It also makes sense if the logical / rational mind is an illusion. When you reduce logical thinking, you are better able to apprehend the truth.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2018
  4. malf

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    Since organic chemistry began, organisms have a history of sensory interactions with, and awareness of, their environment.

    The power and scope of these interactions has increased over time (through evolution, ID or whatever). Careful study of the human brain reveals what we have is laid on top of the brains of our ancestors. The ancient reptilian brain ensuring coordination and staying alive for as long as possible. The early mammalian brain with some cortex giving rise to richer experience and even a emotional life. The great apes (us) developed the frontal cortex which builds on that and, in a nutshell,allows us to do all the things our dog cannot (planning, advanced problem solving, and a vanity that allows to think we’re something ‘special’ etc)

    I’m not sure it’s right to say ‘consciousness doesn’t exist’ the question is does it exist beyond those known processes? Is it a stand alone ‘thing’ seperate from those awareness processes?

    (I don’t know the answer, but thought I’d slightly flesh out (what I assume is) Tyson’s position. I also understand this is a difficult concept to grapple with for those of us steeped in the history of ‘consciousness studies’)
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2018
  5. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Alex's question at the end of the podcast:

    What do you make of the prospects for engineering extended consciousness?
     
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  6. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

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    Some might say: why set the beginning of sensory interactions at organic chemistry and not reactions of elementary particles?

    No question that the current form of consciousness we experience is but the latest iteration in a set of evolving patterns. But if the hermetic princple "As Above So Below" holds true and if the Fractal Holographic principle holds true, then this present form of consciousness is in some way a representation of the greater Whole.

    It is the thing that crosses the boundary between thing and no-thing.

    Tyson's position is totally useless, but it makes perfect sense: if you are a monist and you start with the primitive notion that everything is biliard balls or dead rocks, then we are dead rocks. So obviously, "dead rocks" are not the best fundamental metaphor for reality. Personally, I start with the idea that monism is correct, but it is non-sense, and things don't begin to make any sense at all until you have at least two things to compare, so then there are three things (you, thing1, thing2, etc...) and so pattern becomes the ultimate Primitive Notion, the kernal, the core, the atom, the fundamental metaphor (rather than dead rocks or billiard balls), and pattern is a combination of subjectivity and objectivity so any "thing" at all necessitates an observer to define it. Likewise, if there is only an observer and nothing to observe, there is nothing. If a man sits alone and there is no tree falling in the woods, the man doesn't exist.

    So consciousness doesn't exist without objects and objects don't exist without consciousness and "objects" are just the generalized metaphor for rocks (or billiard balls)... come on, why is this so hard, people? :)
     
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  7. Silence

    Silence Member

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    What these "known processes" to which you are referring? Seems to me like you laid out a rather loose theory linking regions of the human brain to various aspects of consciousness. I didn't see an iota of process documentation, explanation/evidence of how consciousness emerges from the brain, etc.

    Did I misunderstand?
     
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  8. malf

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    An organism’s processes of awareness and interactions with its environment.

    Beyond that, the vanity, pseudoprofundity and playful wordplay introduced when an organism’s system tries to examine that system, might lead us astray.

    When ridiculing Tyson, maintain the humility to recognise that one’s own preferred model of reality is at least as daft as the next man’s; every model is bonkers.
     
  9. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

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    No ontology would be logically complete without a circular fallacy. I mean if monism is correct, then start and finish must be the same place. This doesn’t mean that all ontologies are created equal though... carefully stretching definitions and balancing contradictions for the desired effect (comedy or mindfuk) is a delicate art. My main problem with Tyson’s perfectly valid ontology is that he doesn’t realize it’s a joke.
     
  10. Number 22

    Number 22 Member

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    Hmmm that interesting.
     
  11. Baccarat

    Baccarat New

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    I'm going to play devils advocate, what if 7 billion people had 7 billion theories on what consciousness is? Then what?
     
  12. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    This is a thoughtful post, so I don't want to tear it to bits, so much as try to make you think a little deeper!
    Well people say sentences like that, but take a typical organic chemical - benzene - how exactly does it engage in sensory interactions?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benzene

    Scientists don't normally talk like that, except when they are, in truth, utterly stumped by a phenomenon but don't want to admit it.
    Assume a simple brain, and it is possible to elaborate a story (without any proof) that ends up with a more complicated brain, but it is that first step - attributing some sensory capability to organic chemicals - where the problem really lies. That is compounded by the vagueness of the phrase 'sensory interactions' that might include two billiard balls bouncing off each other, but is designed to imply something more like what humans do.

    You can always tell when scientists want to fool you, if they resort of vague poetic language.
    Actually, your dog can do a lot of things that you can't. The vanity consists in assuming that the things you do better than him are more important!
    Give me a fully understood dog mechanism, and I don't think it would be that hard to reach human thinking.
    Well radio reception isn't separate from the radio, but it still needs careful explanation, and it depends on the existence of electromagnetic radiation - a new thing that had to be discovered.
    I don't think most of us want to ridicule Tyson so much as point out that you can't get rid of the problem of consciousness by any of:

    1) Claiming it 'doesn't exist' or 'is an illusion'. Remember, scientists made these claims. They should stand by them or retract them. My beef is that they make a whole fog of claims, so that nobody quite knows which claim is meant to be taken literally.

    2) 'Explaining' consciousness in an evolutionary fashion. The evolution of the liver may be interesting, but that is quite distinct from explaining what it does, and how it does it. Wouldn't you feel cheated if you went to a class to learn about how computers work, and you were lectured about the 'evolutionary tree' of computers, but nobody explained how the damn things work!

    3) 'Explaining' consciousness by pretending that primitive consciousness is somehow simpler to explain than advanced consciousness. Once you implant that idea in someone's head, you can just side-step the discussion into a discussion of how it might gradually become more complex.

    David
     
  13. Laird

    Laird Member

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    Here's a bullet-point summary of that which seemed most significant to me in this interview. Please forgive me for any misunderstandings or poor paraphrasings as I only listened through one time and took notes whilst I was listening that single time (although I rewound in some places to make sure I understood various points):

    • It covered a couple of interesting and important issues that had already been raised in Bernardo's book, "Why Materialism is Baloney", namely:
      • That science only analyses differential natures; it cannot examine intrinsic natures, the study of which is properly the subject of ontology; of philosophy.
      • That reduced brain activity is correlated with enhanced spiritual/conscious experience.
    • The most important issue (in my view) raised (by Alex, at least in part on behalf of dpdownsouth) was the compatibility of idealism with paranormal phenomena such as NDEs. This dominated a good part of the conversation to a greater or lesser extent, and rightly so. Some of the interesting points that came out of this were:
      • That in Bernardo's view, if consciousness is fundamental, then it cannot disappear (i.e. the survival hypothesis is affirmed). But, asks Bernardo, what is the form of that consciousness? He goes on to say that death is the reintegration of personal consciousness into the broader matrix of universal consciousness.
      • Re enhanced belief in God after NDEs: in Bernardo's view, we need to consider that the concept of God is ill-defined (e.g. Brahman versus Yahweh), but that NDErs are obviously referring to a core defining characteristic of "God", that is, as we would put it in the West, omniscience, being "sentience everywhere", which is consistent with idealism.
      • Re, as Alex puts it, a putative "hierarchy of consciousness", Bernardo is at pains to distinguish this issue/question from the basic question of the nature of consciousness, which he answers with idealism based on such criteria as parsimony. Having made that distinction, Bernardo goes on to say that we know about the "hierarchy of consciousness" through (the testimonies of the) personal experiences (of others). Here, the problem is lack of shared references (of commonly defined language) - so people resort to metaphor. The challenges/questions then are twofold:
        1. What is the underlying meaning behind the metaphor?
        2. What when people become wedded to (their) metaphors in a fundamentalist/literal way?

    Some critical questions about / thoughts on all of this:

    • Is it really fair to say that personal consciousness survives if it is reintegrated into the universal consciousness after death? (Raimo, I await your emphatic assertion of "No! And what a ghastly idea that is!").
    • Isn't God's personhood as defining in the West as God's omniscience? If so, doesn't idealism map poorly onto this Western conception of God?
    • Is it perhaps not so much that experients are constructing metaphors as that they are being presented with metaphors? Alternatively, is it perhaps that they are not even being presented with metaphors (in a beneficent attempt to help them understand concepts) but at times being presented with literal images that conflict with the literal images of other experients (in a malevolent attempt to sow confusion)? I'm just throwing that out there as a possibility, not necessarily as a reality or even as a personal belief.

    On an only semi-relevant note: I had told Alex that I would hold off on "officially" publishing my review of "Why Materialism is Baloney" until he published this interview, in case he chose to use anything from that review, so that he could - so to speak - have the "scoop". As it turns out, he didn't use anything from it, which is fine, but in any case, I figure I might as well share my review publicly for the first time here: Consciousness experiences; experience is not consciousness: a review of Bernardo Kastrup's "Why Materialism Is Baloney".
     
  14. Raimo

    Raimo New

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    No. If personal consciousness is reintegrated into the universal consciousness (or if it merges with the oversoul/higher self etc.), it will cease to exist.

    Personal consciousness can survive death only if it continues to exist as a distinct personality.
     
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  15. Ginko

    Ginko New

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    New topic- apologies but: HEY-what did that alien tell the general? He/she/it oughta know, right? He/she/it flew in a spaceship at least a trillion trillion trillion miles and then crashed! WOW! Crazy!!!! Great driver, poor at parking.

    Guys- if there is a physical alien, then UFOs are not a "mental phenomena", they are a physical phenomena. Grant Cameron is making absolutely no sense and it was sad to hear him in the same podcast with Kastro, who is brilliant. Otherwise cool interview, but I had to stop listening right there.

    The conspiracy is that they are trying to get us to believe in "physical" aliens so that we worship advanced technology and science even more, with the goal of establishing a world wide religion based on science for a world wide government. Religion/mythology is a prerequisite for any government.

    Aliens do not exist physically and there is not a single shred of evidence for them. For aliens as mental phenomena yes- lots of evidence for that. Also lots of evidence for demons and leprechauns etc. Same thing. Different day. There are no physical aliens. Period. There are physical UFOs. They are also called secret aircraft spycraft/hidden- advanced technology. And no they did not come from reverse engineered alien saucers. Just wack job freemason CIA Pentagon NASA scientists. There's your conspiracy.

    All the abduction cases are MK-Ultra mind control experiments to induce trauma based mind control on the victims whose resulting reports will make us believe in physical aliens. That's why they didn't even leave a single sock behind!

    If it is a mental phenomena, as I believe UFOs are, it negates the need for a physical craft to be here. Why bother? it's ALL consciousness.
     
  16. malf

    malf Member

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    Hurmanetar really had it right up above. Atoms, sub atomic particles, waves, fields, photons etc are constantly interacting. The questions you’re really asking are,’What is chemistry?’,’What is physics?’. And there is the mystery. No answer I can give you will leave you fulfilled or satisfied so I’m not going to try. If you are more satisfied with, ‘Don’t worry about that, it’s ALL consciousness’ then good for you, but I don’t necessarily see it as ‘thinking deeper’, and doesn’t really explain anything more clearly.



    If we set aside the mountains of evidence for common descent, including the genetic record

    See above.




    Be careful going down this route when Bernardo is in the room ;)


    Most of what we talk about on here as ‘consciousness’, the inner monologue, the ego, appears to be a feature of the frontal cortex, when ‘bolted on’ to the more primitive brain regions.

    Any explanation can be disregarded and ‘more detail’ requested. Unfortunately, any explanation doesn’t have to be satisfying; it all comes back to the questions at the top of the post. What is chemistry? What is physics? If one really studies the neurological underpinnings and chemistry of brain function it is staggering how much we do know, but that sort of study is long, arduous and not readily administered on a chat forum.

    But no matter, as your line of argument is faulty in any event: The liver is as good an example as any. The liver was happily functioning away well before we had an explanation of how it functioned (or an explanation that D. Bailey deems adequate). Thus (a) The function of the brain and (b) an explanation of that function, are two different categories. That (b) doesn’t pass muster for you (despite converging lines of evidence) has no bearing on (a) because it is in a different category.
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2018
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  17. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Well don't forget that I was a chemist. Chemistry is ultimately the consequence of quantum waves (those wave functions) interfering with each other - rather like ripples on the surface of a lake going round a vertical post. Stable stuff like atoms or molecules are analogous to a standing wave in an organ pipe. The wave in an organ pipe will vibrate at one of a small number of frequencies - not just any old frequency. Atoms and molecules correspond to a standing wave pattern - that is why atoms and molecules have well defined properties - rather than every atom having unique properties. People used to compare an atom with a solar system, but of course the crucial difference is that every solar system will presumably turn out unique in detail.

    There is some detailed maths - the non-relativistic Schroedinger's equation for N particles - to back this up, but the problem is that it is only possible to solve this properly for a few special systems like the hydrogen atom (a hydrogen molecule (H2) is already too big! After that a variety of approximations are used, but these get less and less exact as you get to even slightly larger systems. This is why chemistry is still an experimental science - in principle you could just solve Schroedinger's equation, but this just isn't practical! Even a tenfold increase in computer power (say) would only improve things marginally, because every little addition to a molecule produces a vast increase in complexity.

    Consciousness may enter that scheme when an atom or molecule is about to change from one configuration to another - usually by emitting a photon - but that is often disputed - but otherwise all that goes on is just like the churning of a vast machine. Think of physical machines - you probably would consider it to be superstitious nonsense to claim that an old fashioned clock was conscious. If Babbage had ever finished his famous clockwork computer, I'll bet you would also be certain that that wasn't conscious - and indeed I doubt that you think the computer you are sitting at to read this, is conscious. All these great scientists are saying is, "We don't know how consciousness works, but maybe given a sufficiently humongous machine, something might turn up!"

    It is indeed staggering how much is known by now, but it is also staggering just how little this knowledge impinges on the question of how consciousness is created. This has practical consequences - people with depression often get very little help from medicine - none of that knowledge seems to get at what matters.

    Consider this. If someone came up with a complicated electrochemical gadget, and claimed it was conscious (but unable to communicate), there would be no definitive way to test this. It would be no use performing a scan or EEG, because these rely on neural correlates - i.e. you can test a brain to see if it looks like another person's brain in a conscious state - given an electrochemical gadget (or maybe an alien) such a test would be meaningless.

    David
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2018
  18. dpdownsouth

    dpdownsouth Member

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    Wonderful show!
    Great and very helpful summary. Thanks for taking the time to do it.
    More than slightly embarrassing, but cool if it helped lead to some interesting conversation.
    This was at the heart of my question, and I reckon Bernardo's answer is a deeply practical one.... as opposed to some who use philosophical idealism as a tool to undermine any systematic attempt at filling in the gaps between here and infinite consciousness (relief!).

    It's like Jacques Vallée says re: UFOs: Yes, consciousness is at the heart of the phenomena.... but it's still worth running around collecting soil samples and filling in MUFON reports. :)
     
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  19. Michael Patterson

    Michael Patterson New

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    Which seems to be the case. But it is important to distinguish between our sense of self in physical being and a sense of self in a non-physical state.

    I take the view that our 'spiritual' consciousness mingles with the brain to create a temporary state of awareness that is appropriate to being in a physical body. It has no use in a non-physical state. That consciousness is pure utility and context based. When we 'die' it dies because it is body dependent - and physicality relevant.

    I favour Alex's notion of a hierarchy. Individual consciousness will both integrate with universal consciousness and yet still exist. That is because universal consciousness is not 'one' in the sense of a kind of homogeneity that means all is the same, but in the sense, as is true at this very moment, we are all expressions of the One.

    We tend to think of the individual in isolation rather than a point of focus in a continuum of being. If we see 'I' as no more than the focus of intense awareness within a continuum it presents a very different sense of the idea of individuality.

    A necessary attribute of universal consciousness is also awareness of time as we know as an eternal 'now' - that is to say it must be aware, as it were, from the beginning in the past to the end in the future - and within that spectrum our sense of individual being remains - persists.

    In Long's work the people he surveyed experienced 'God' in their terms, and without contradiction. Can God be on all those scales? In a hierarchy of expression? If the answer is yes then does that mean that the word God can be applied to each scale or level? If yes then what does that tell us about how we imagine the divine?

    Let's look at Love. God is Love, so it is said. I love Bananas. God is the Banana, but the Banana is not God. We have similar problems with other words/ideas - like freedom, truth and justice. The problems we have in conceiving and describing the divine are not attributes of the divine but of our mentality and language.
     
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  20. Michael Patterson

    Michael Patterson New

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    Hey Laird

    I wanted to respond to one point in particular:
    • Isn't God's personhood as defining in the West as God's omniscience? If so, doesn't idealism map poorly onto this Western conception of God?
    This is a fundamental problem of the Western notion of the divine. If we read the OT carefully we see it is rooted in a polytheistic tradition. To the extent that there is a 'creator' deity they are not usually involved in the politics of the created. Other gods do that. The shift from polytheism to monotheism causes confusion of reference. The One is not the unique creative source of all, but sits behind it, so to speak. Thats to say that the Western God cannot be the primal nature, and can only be omniscient in relation to his creation - if at all. Theologians of the Middle Ages and before understood that God was beyond description and imagination - so imputing personhood and ascribing attributes is essentially a metaphoric act.

    The Western conception of God is actually a mess and a muddle. Monotheism is a dogma, not a reality. If it has a purpose it is to disrupt polytheism when it becomes unhealthy. Now monotheism is disrupted by polytheism and atheism. As an animist I am not much bothered with idealism - but it wouldn't map on the Western God any better than animism does -which is to say not at all.

    This why the hierarchy idea is so useful. I like the Qabalistic model. Its not ideal but it is far more serviceable than other ideas in my view.
     
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