Recorded 10 March 2020
This time around we are going to take a closer look at Part II of Kastrup’s book, “An Idealist Ontology”. It encompasses three chapters (a preamble and two content articles; a format that will be repeated in the other sections of the book) which, in his own words, “comprise the core of this work.” (IOTW, p. 52) The reading for this session encompasses the largest contiguous block of text in the planned series of cafés dealing with this work.
(What now follows is a quasi-summary of Chapter 4, the Preamble to Part II.)
After making clear in Part I why he believes the current, dominant, physicalist ontology needs replacing, in this part he develops an idealist ontology to do just that. The chapters in this part “articulate and defend a present-day form of the ontology of idealism, according to which all existence consists solely of ideas: thoughts, emotions, perceptions, intuitions, imagination, etc.” (IOTW, p. 52) His contention is that the facts of nature are essentially phenomenal; that is, that what we experience as the inanimate universe is in fact “simply the extrinsic appearance of impersonal mental processes.” (IOTW, p. 52) He state that “Nature is unequivocally telling us not only that there is something conscious inner life looks like from a second-person perspective, but that this ‘something’ takes the form of what we call ‘matter’ […].” (IOTW, p. 52) His book, then, "seeks to look at nature without theoretical preconceptions: if the matter in a working brain is the extrinsic appearance of conscious inner life, then – at least in principle – so should the matter in the inanimate universe as a whole be. (IOTW, pp. 52-53) This view of reality, however, sounds to many as counterintuitive. He hastens to point out that it is essential to distinguish between idealism and solipsism, for they are often incorrectly confused. Solipsism maintains that the world is your individual, one might say personal, dream: all that exists is what you think. Idealism, by contrast, asserts that “the whole universe I in mind, but not in your individual psyche alone, for mind extends far beyond the boundaries of personal introspection.” (IOTW, p. 53)
He lays out his theory in two chapters. Chapter 5 explains our classical, non-contextual world under idealism, emphasizing that “the notion of a mental universe is the most parsimonious and powerful explanation of our daily experiences. The chapter argues that existence consists of patterns of self-excitation of one universal mind.” (IOTW, p. 54) In other words, other living organisms are “dissociated alters of this universal mind”, which he calls “mind-at-large”. In his idealist view of reality, the inanimate universe (and all alters, of course) are external to our individual psyches (i.e., “out there”), but still within, or inside, universal mind. (IOTW, p. 54) In Chapter 6, then, he tackles th quantum notion of “contextuality”; that is that the properties of the physical world, such as the position and momentum of objects, “do not exist independently of observation.” (IOTW, p. 54) Stated differently, “The physical world we perceive isn’t merely discovered by observation, but created by it.” (IOTW, p. 54). What he is attempting to show is how the naïve-realist notion of an autonomously existing external world is untenable. It is in this chapter that the shows how idealism makes sense without being reducible to solipsism.
Part II provides the theoretical foundation for his idealist ontology. Part IV will deal with the empirical case for it.
Reading / Watching / Listening
Kastrup, Bernardo (2019) The Idea of the World: A multi-disciplinary argument for the mental nature of reality [IOTW] , Winchester, UK/Washington, USA , iff Books, pp. 51-122.
Kastrup, IOTW, Ch 5, An Ontological Solution to the Mind-Body Problem (online)
Kastrup, IOTW, Ch 6, Making Sense of the Mental Universe (online)
Seed Question Complexes
How convincing do you find Kastrup’s case as presented in this part of the book? What do you consider to be the strong points of his argumentation? Which weaknesses, if any, can you identify?
Has Kastrup in fact provided an ontological solution to the mind-body problem? How do you understand his notion of “spatially unbound consciousness”? His use of the psychological process of “dissociation” is a somewhat creative approach to allowing for the existence of other living organisms. What is your view of this approach’s tenability? Have you been convinced?
How do you feel about his dive into quantum physics and the notion of “contextuality” (in a sense, a microcosmic approach) as a way of making a case for his explanation of macrocosmic reality (that is, the world as we encounter and experience it)? Has this approach helped you make sense of reality, or make sense of the notion of a mental universe in general?
Has your reading of this part of the text modified your understanding of what he was trying to achieve in Part I of the book. What further consequences has your reading had for your own understanding of reality?
Context, Backstory, and Related Topics
Welcomes (especially if we have new participants)
General overview of the session
Gather first reactions and open questions that might be answered in our discussion
Engage the reading from the vantage of Chapter 5 and Chapter 6
Round-up and preview of coming attractions (what’s up next time)