Interview with Idealist & Physicist Amit Goswami



An interview with Amit Goswami

Interviewing Amit Goswami was a mind-bending and concept-challenging experience. Listening to him explain many ideas with which he seemed perfectly at home, required, for me, such a suspension of disbelief that I at times found myself having to stretch far beyond anything I had previously considered. (Goswami is also a great fan of science fiction whose first book, The Cosmic Dancers, was a look at science fiction through the eyes of a physicist.)

But whether or not one ultimately accepts some of his more esoteric theories, one has to respect the creativity and passion with which he is willing to inquire. Goswami is clearly willing to take risks with his ideas and is fervently dedicated to sharing his investigation with audiences around the world. He speaks widely at conferences and other forums about the exciting discoveries of the new science and their significance, not only for the way science is done, but for society as a whole. In India, the country of his birth, he is actively involved in a growing organized movement to bridge the gap between science and spirituality, through which he is helping to pioneer a graduate institute in "consciousness studies" based on the premise that consciousness is the ground of all being.

Goswami is considered by some to be a pioneer in his field. By attempting to bring material realism to its knees and to integrate all fields of knowledge in a single unified paradigm, he hopes to pave the way for a new holistic worldview in which spirit is put first. In fact, as far as we know, he is the only new paradigm scientist who is taking a clear stand against the relativism so popular among new age thinkers. At a time when the decay of human values and the erosion of any sense of meaning has reached epidemic scale, it is hard to imagine what could be more important than this.

And yet, for all the important and valuable work he seems to be doing, in the end we are left with serious reservations as to whether Goswami"s approach will ultimately lead to the kind of transformation he hopes for. Thinkers such as Huston Smith and E. F. Schumacher have pointed to what they feel is an arrogance, or at least, a kind of naiveté, on the part of scientists who believe they can expand the reach of their discipline to somehow include or explain the spiritual dimension of life. Such critics suggest that the very attempt to scientifically validate the spiritual is itself a product of the same materialistic impulses it intends to uproot and, because of this, is ultimately only capable of reducing spirit, God and the transcendent to mere objects of scientific fascination.
I resonate with a lot of what he says. Now I haven't read anything from him yet, just this interview (thanks again for introducing me to another fascinating thinker) but IMO there is a gaping hole at the base of his paradigm, one that he shares with materialism though he tries to strongly separate his perspective (but he may have addressed this point in the literature). Materialism claims that consciousness somehow just happens under the right conditions ie. given such-and-such a configuration of neurobiological artifacts we will find consciousness but that consciousness causally relies somehow on that particular physical configuration.

Goswami comments in several different ways in this interview that makes me think his idealism does not go far enough. He proposes that there is a state of affairs prior to consciousness and that consciousness emerges from this immaterial state of affairs. But so far as I can see all this does is put the problem back one more step. Why should we assume that consciousness emerges from some non-conscious immaterial realm? All he's done is move the emergence of consciousness from the material to the immaterial ie. a particular configuration of immaterial properties allows consciousness 'to be', whether in some caused, emergent or non-reductive sense.

Now, I haven't finished reading the interview and I know that interviews do not fairly represent the corpus of a thinker so I may have misunderstood or missed something.

But this is precisely why I find myself landing somewhere between theism and panentheism. Firstly, I accept that consciousness is fundamental in some way but I cannot conceive of how a non-conscious state of affairs can ever give rise to a conscious entity (and by entity I mean a specified set of instantiated properties). I also see the problem of infinite causal regresses leading back to the same thing. viz. there must be a non-temporal, uncaused conscious ground of being ie. God/the Supreme Mind/the Source/whatever one wishes to call it/him/her, and that there is no state of affairs that is ontologically prior to this supreme consciousness. About this point, I'm not agnostic, though I am unsure about everything that comes after and how it all fits together.

And this is also actually why the concept of tulpae was instantly fascinating to me. As the apostle Paul said when quoting the Greeks, "In Him, we live and move and have our being". I know that I exist and I am very confident that my existence is sustained because God is aware of me. I do not believe I have an independent existence. I may even be a part of the supreme consciousness in a panentheistic sense rather than ontologically distinct as in the theistic sense. But I am sure that I am a thought in the great mind ie. I am a tulpa myself in some way. So I intuit that personally exploring tulpae could provide insights into consciousness. What I found disappointing was how discussions of the phenomena seemed mostly based on materialist paradigms. I want to come at it from an idealist perspective.

Anyway, digressing there. I'll go back and keep reading.
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