Month: February 2020

Why I’m an Idealist

Maybe it’s just the reductionist in me, but I’m attracted to monism. To be fair, exactly one ultimate type of stuff seems less oddly arbitrary than two, three, or any other number of types (and an infinity of types of stuff sounds like a pointless clusterf_ck). Zero types of stuff sounds plausible too, but for some strange reason Stuff Exists rather than nothing ever existing.

Another good reason to be a monist is that, if two different substances were 100% totally unique, they’d have no common grounds on which to interact with each other. There’d be no language, protocol, or rules to determine in what ways one affects the other. They’d miss each other completely. And if two substances do interact with each other (and therefore and have the common mechanics necessary to do so), it seems fair to assume that they’re only patterns within a third, more fundamental substance—in other words that they “boil down to” the third substance—or that one of the two boils down to being merely patterns within the other.

Mind and matter/physical stuff seem like two totally distinct types of extant (hence the relationship between mind and matter being such a fundamental/popular topic in philosophy), but as per monism we should probably assume that either they both boil down to a third substance, or one boils down to the other. We know of no third substance, so the more parsimonious tack would be to assume that one boils down to the other. So which boils down to which?

The more popular and academic approach seems to be that mind boils down to matter/physical stuff. I argue why this position is incogent and weak here.

Consciousness as an Illusion

Another easy tactic that physicalists use to eliminate the scary idea of life itself (i.e. consciousness and everything that goes with it) is to posit that consciousness must be an illusion.

Consciousness cannot be any less real than it appears to be, because its existence does not intrinsically imply anything that would be verified by any empirical or external means, so there is nothing to disprove or nothing further to discover that it “really” is, in the way that, say, water on the road can be shown to be really a mirage caused by a heated layer of air. There are no implications other than the direct self-experience, or awareness of consciousness by consciousness itself. And that is a universal experience, and attempting to deny it (as functionalists actually do) would be akin to putting one’s hand in front of one’s face in broad daylight and denying that it appears.

Furthermore, mind can’t be an illusion because it’s in the mind that an illusion exists. So if the mind didn’t exist illusion would have no meaning. Or if it’s supposed to be in the brain that the illusion exists then it’s only insofar as mind, in which the illusion must exist because illusion is a mental phenomenon by definition, is assumed to be an abstraction or emergent property of brain processes, and abstractions or emergent properties aren’t illusions. And even if they were, the mind Xm of Brain Xb wouldn’t be an abstraction or observation made by Individual X anyway; it would simply be its behavior, or perhaps an abstraction or observation only to outside observers. Or if, on the other hand, mind is a process of abstraction that the brain makes which creates awareness of thoughts, then that’s merely the nature of mind, not a refutation of it. In other words, what else would mind be assumed to be, and why? If mind were something other than our experience of it, we’d never know of it or have a reason to come up with the concept. And the meaning of a word is in how it’s used anyway, so either way the mind can’t be an illusion.

In other words, if consciousness is an illusion, what it is it an illusion of? What is it that we erroneously think it is? If consciousness didn’t exist, how would we have the clear idea of what it’s like to be conscious? In order for us to even know of consciousness, we must have witnessed it at some time. Even if by some unlikely chance we knew of something we called consciousness that’s not really consciousness, it still must be consciousness because consciousness is whatever we’re referring to when we use the word. It can’t be anything else because the concept doesn’t exist in the realm of empirically known things / we know of it directly and not sensorially, so there’s no way to show that what we think it is actually boils down to another thing.

On a slight tangent, I wrote some notes on why free will is not an illusion here. and are also relevant.

So, having ruled out mind reducing to matter/physicality, we’re left with matter/physicality reducing to mind. If this seems impossible, notice that, as pointed out in the above quote, we only know of any material things through perception, and perception can easily be generated by mind.

To be honest, characterizing everything not physical about us as “mind” seems vacuous and overly analytical. I believe there is more to life/consciousness/awareness/experience/the divine spark than either mind or matter. I think mind is an aspect of life, and I think it’s more accurate to say that physical reality is somehow produced by life per se than by mind alone. To wit, all that exists is life.

In what manner and for what reason does life give rise to the perception of material, which appears to be lifeless? I think there are two possibilities: (1) Physical reality is a projection of mind for the purpose of having a particular kind of experience, or (2) Physical reality is a perspective under which we perceive life or a particular part of life, which we incorrectly deem to be lifeless. If (2) is correct, then that raises the question of why some life (or all life?) appears to us to be lifeless.

Firstly, our mode of perception of the world depends heavily on the form of our beings, particularly our bodies (whatever they may really be) and their sensory apparatuses, and not to mention the size-scale at which we exist. We’re so immersed in our God-given (or at least nature-given) mode of perceiving the world that it seems to us that our model of the world is the one and only correct way of seeing it.

Plato’s cave opened our minds to the possibility that the way we see the world may not be the way it actually is. (Maybe there is no “the way the world actually is” because to be a perceiver of the world is to have a be form of being, which implies having a particular, perhaps necessarily arbitrary mode of perceiving the world, but there may be some modes of perception that are more direct or free from illusion than others.)

As another example, a even a periphery study of color vision will dispel any notions of realism in how we perceive objects—or at least their colors—pretty quickly.

So it could just be that our bodies are formulated in such a way that we perceive life (or at least some life), including the contents of our own bodies, as being solid, in stasis, mechanical and lifeless and we call it matter. We as humans, and biological beings in general, seem to be particularly suited for predicting and manipulating the world. Maybe being able to predict and manipulate the world means seeing it as mechanical—or seeing the mechanical aspects of it—and hence seeing it as lifeless.

One particular aspect of our bodies to go back to and consider is the sheer scale of size at which they exist, perform and perceive. Maybe we’re huge! We don’t seem huge to ourselves, but of course that perception is only relative to our own size. Think about it: our bodies contain something in the order of 100,000,000,000,000 cells, and each cell contains something in the order of 100,000,000,000,000 atoms.

If we could perceive matter on the cellular, atomic or perhaps quantum level, maybe we would see it more as a living thing! Just as it’s only in aggregate that quantum effects seem classical and deterministic and rocks seem solid and still rather than spacious and seething with vibrations of atoms and flow of electrons, maybe it’s only in giant aggregate that the flow of life appears still, mechanical and solid enough to be deemed lifeless!

Another possibility is that the entire physical universe is a spirit or a group of spirits that have lowered their vibration so much, for whatever reason, for better or worse, that they became dense enough and unaware and hence predictable enough that they appear material to us. Our bodies would be parts of one those spirits, of course; existing as a carnal being would actually be interfacing our consciousness with its. The being would be so large that it would be envelope us and completely dominate our contextual field.

Whether material reality is a projection of consciousness or a way of perceiving it, the purpose of living in a material realm may be for us to interact with each other in a highly consensual/agreed-upon reality. This high degree of consistency would, of course, give us the impression that there’s an objective reality outside of us that has nothing to do with our own minds and their manifestations or with life itself.

Even disregarding most of the above reasoning, the chances that life is primary and material is secondary instead of material being primary and life being secondary are at least 50/50. (Yes, you could reason that the vast majority of the universe appears to be lifeless and life only appears to exist within biological organisms that evolved within the material universe, but you could also reason that the one thing we can be most sure of is our own consciousness/spark of life; everything external to it is, ultimately, theoretical.)

Now consider that the point of view that life is primary and that everything is life allows for much more hope, happiness, magic, and general possibility such as that of life after death, God, parapsychology and the paranormal, spirituality, the Mandela effect, synchronicity, the unity of all beings and between the internal and the external, etc. A more inclusive worldview is much more apt to assimilate beliefs, experiences and phenomena of various kinds that otherwise have to be dismissed or, at best, explained away given a few presumptive premises.

One may think that it’s is a non-theory because it’s not scientific, isn’t rigorously defined and makes no predictions, but it isn’t meant to replace or revise everything, or even anything, we know in science; scientific theory, as far as it’s valid, still stands because it works, while the part of scientific (or scientistic) thinking that’s countered by this theory—e.g. physicalism—has no empirical basis. This “theory” (or metaphysical worldview) merely undoes some undue assumptions about the universe (such as its being completely mechanistic and hence rigorously describable) and makes it more open-ended, allowing for for the unknown, the mysterious, and the unknowable and utterly ineffable. It calls a spade a spade by admitting what aspect of the universe we don’t understand rather than dictating restrictions on what’s possible ahead of time.

Also, as per my writing on physical reductionism linked to above, this worldview allows for the possibility of an ultimate, or incremental, understanding/explanation of the universe whose bases are actually meaningful to us, rather than being ever-smaller subatomic particles or dry equations devoid of anything qualitative, because such bases could be found within us on a psychological, emotional or spiritual level.

I mentioned a little bit more in the way of arguing for idealism in this essay.