It strikes me how often discussions about the nature of reality get muddled in misunderstandings arising from concepts. Words like ‘mind,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘subjectivity,’ and even ‘world’ can evoke all kinds of unintended meanings, depending on the listener’s background, expectations, prejudices and proclivities. ‘Isms’ like ‘idealism’ and ‘panpsychism’ are even worse, since they hopelessly attempt to package, in only a few letters, the meanings of disparate and complex ideas that have taken many books to expound on. As a result of this conceptual pollution, we get caught in a dangerous web of words that make simple, self-evident arguments look tortuous, complex and even implausible.
Ideally, I would love to do away with words and convey meaning directly, through some form of telepathy. But until we figure out a way to do that, I’m afraid we’re stuck with words. The best we can then hope to accomplish is to make as few assumptions as possible about the meaning that words will carry to different listeners. This extremely short essay is my effort to summarize my views on the nature of reality in precisely that way. In what follows, what I do not say is just as important as what I do say. So please police yourself to avoid projecting meaning onto what is stated below that actually isn’t there. Here we go:
1 – I consider it self-evident that experience exists. The redness of an apple, the sweetness of an orange, the warmth of a hug, the spaciousness of a landscape: they all obviously exist as experiences, illusory or not.
2 – Therefore, I must acknowledge the existence of that which experiences; that is, I must acknowledge that there is an entity who experiences, whatever this entity may or may not be.
3 – I argue that experiences are behaviors of this entity. In other words, experiences are something the entity does (not ‘makes,’ not ‘builds,’ but does).
4 – Therefore, there is no reason to infer the existence of objects separate from the entity who experiences. Its behaviors alone account for all reality.
5 – As such, only the appearance of objects exist, which is itself nothing but an experience.
6 – I model the behaviors we call experiences as oscillations, vibrations or excitations of that which experiences, much like a ripple is an oscillatory behavior of water.
7 – Given our linguistic associations, I consider it entirely valid to call that which experiences ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness.’
8 – I also consider it valid to say that that which experiences is a ‘subject,’ despite the absence of objects. After all, our culture has come to consider experience a phenomenon exclusive of subjects.
9 – I argue that the inner-lives of different living beings are dissociated streams of experience of the entity who experiences.
10 – Finally, I argue that metabolizing organisms – that is, living bodies – are the outside image, or second-person perspective, of these dissociated streams of experience.
For a book-length elaboration of these ideas, please consider perusing my latest book, Brief Peeks Beyond.
This article was first published on Bernardo Kastrup’s web site