Bernardo Kastrup, Philosopher for Our Times
This is the latest in a series of articles following on from my conversation with Anders Bolling, fellow writer on Medium, for his Mind the Shift podcast last week, in which I’ll discuss some of the material we didn’t have time for. Having written several articles on the theme of new paradigm science, I’ll now turn to philosophy.
I first became aware of Bernardo Kastrup last year when I watched a Zoom talk he gave. Just that was enough to persuade me to ask my wife to buy all his eight books as a Christmas present for me, which she kindly did. I would, of course, have been happy to buy them for myself. Since then, he has published a ninth which I have also bought, and a tenth which I don’t have yet.
My purpose here is not to go into great details about these books, merely to make Medium readers aware of them, in the hope that they might go away and read them for themselves. In chronological order they are:
- Rationalist Spirituality: an Exploration of the Meaning of Life and Existence Informed by Logic and Science (2011)
- Dreamed Up Reality: Diving into Mind to Uncover the Astonishing Tale of Nature (2011)
- Meaning in Absurdity: What Bizarre Phenomena Can Tell Us about the Nature of Reality (2011)
- Why Materialism is Baloney: How True Skeptics Know There is No Death and Fathom Answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything (2014)
- Brief Peeks Beyond: Critical Essays on Metaphysics, Neuroscience, Free Will, Skepticism and Culture (2015)
- More Than Allegory: On Religious Myth, Truth and Belief (2016)
- The Idea of the World: a Multi-Disciplinary Argument for the Mental Nature of Reality (2019)
- Decoding Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics: the Key to Understanding How it Solves the Hard Problem of Consciousness and the Paradoxes of Quantum Mechanics (2020)
- Decoding Jung’s Metaphysics: The Archetypal Semantics of an Experiential Universe (2021)
- Science Ideated¹.
When I say that he is a philosopher for our times, readers will probably have guessed that what I mean is that his worldview and mine more or less coincide. It’s just that he is far more knowledgeable than I am, and says it all much better. What I find appealing is that he has a respect for modern science and the scientific method, having had a career in physics and computing (AI), yet is profoundly aware of science’s limitations in uncovering the true nature of reality, which it claims is its purpose. He mercilessly exposes the flaws in the dominant worldview of modern science, materialism/physicalism. We have a synthesis of:
- the philosophy of Idealism, and metaphysics in general
- a quantum physics understanding of the world
- ancient religions and modern spirituality
- a deep interest in mythology in the tradition of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell
- Jungian Psychology, deep exploration of the psyche and its nature
- paranormal phenomena, which he does not dismiss as many sceptical scientists would, but tries to understand them
- much fascinating autobiographical material, accounts of the experiences that have led him to adopt his beliefs.
His ideas resonate with the subjects I’ve addressed in the previous articles in this series and other recent ones:
- evolutionary panentheism
- the universe as God’s dream
- mind-at-large (as proposed by the philosopher C. D. Broad and Aldous Huxley), otherwise known as the Transmission Model, the idea that the brain is an organ which filters or limits consciousness
- synchronicity as a metaphysical phenomenon.
As this connects directly with one of my previous articles, I’ll just mention that Edward Kelly, lead author of Irreducible Mind and Beyond Physicalism, and Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, has written an afterword to The Idea of the World, where he says on the theme of a new paradigm: “Bernardo Kastrup has contributed at many levels to the development of this emerging vision, and this fine new book gives me real hope that the main barrier to its widespread acceptance… is on the verge of collapse. A major inflection point in modern intellectual history is close at hand!”
Rather than go into more detail about the general contents of the books, I’ll pick out one idea which was new to me, and was very useful in deepening my understanding of the various spiritual traditions. In general I subscribe to the central idea of the Perennial Philosophy, that at their core all religions are essentially the same. There is a well-known teaching story in relation to this. Several philosophers are blindfolded, then asked to touch various parts of an elephant and describe what it is they believe they are touching. One is touching the trunk, another the foot, another the tail, and so on. Needless to say, their descriptions differ widely, and they begin to argue with each other. When the blindfolds are removed and they see the whole picture, however, they have the sudden realisation that they have all been describing only part of the totality, and that actually they have all been describing the same thing. We can also see all religions as different branches of the same tree.
Kastrup takes this idea further and offers a new perspective on it. He separates religions and spiritual traditions into two camps, which he calls ‘myth’ and ‘no-myth’². The latter are more commonly known as nondualist, and the former whatever the opposite of that is — anything other than nondualist.
Examples of ‘no-myth’ are Zen Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, and Dzogchen. Kastrup says that:
- “the essence of the no-myth traditions is to free the human being from the myriad little myths that imprison us in intellectual cages of delusion”
- “an Advaita practitioner seeks to drop the myth of identification with his own thoughts, emotions, beliefs and personality… A successful Advaita practitioner will identify himself only with pure awareness: an impersonal interpretation-free witness”
- Advaita rejects “every myth: it entails no narratives or theories of any kind. Its masters simply try to point the way for you to drop the myth of identification with the ego”.
I’ll now add my own interpretation. Advaita has taken the Chandogya Upanishad saying Tat twam asi — you are the same as the universal essence — very seriously, and to the exclusion of everything else. Reconnecting with the source is all that matters. Any interest in associated myths, intellectual theorising, and trying to understand the universe better is a complete waste of time, if it is possible to find a way to reconnect directly and spontaneously.
I am by no means an expert in these matters but, from what I’ve read, that seems to be what Zen Buddhists seek, instant enlightenment. Why would anyone get interested in ideas about astral bodies, out-of-body experiences, reincarnation, parapsychology and so on, when these are just stories which distract the mind, and waste time that would be better spent seeking enlightenment? On that theme Kastrup says: “It is easy to see how this realization could have led entire spiritual traditions to a complete rejection of the intellect and all myths”.
I have a good friend who is very into Advaita Vedanta, nondualism in general, and is also a big fan of Gurdjieff. I’ve known him for many years, and he has frequently told me, politely of course, how I’ve got things wrong, I don’t understand, and asks when I am going to read those who do truly understand — one suggestion he offers is Neville Goddard. Also, on Medium I have received over the years similar advice from Sender Spike.
I have nothing in principle against nondualism, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. (By this I mean the practice, not the concept, since I am also philosophically a nondualist.) It tends to end up with beliefs like, nothing exists except the ocean (the universal consciousness) and the waves upon it (individual egos). It therefore considers irrelevant all the things I find fascinating: the nature of the psyche, dreams, myths, fairy tales, sacred geometry, synchronicity, and so on. Advaita Vedanta would ask, what is the point of all that?
Kastrup has helped me to understand that I belong to a different tradition, what he calls the ‘myth’ tradition, and that, just as in the case of the elephant teaching story, both that and the ‘non-myth’ traditions might be equally valid. If they took off their blindfolds, their advocates might realise that both paths lead ultimately to the same source; both are branches of the same tree. It’s just a matter of which one the individual feels most attuned to.
Not that I really needed it, but this gives me more confidence in being true to what I perceive to be my vocation. The ‘myth’ tradition is an authentic path.
Here’s a link to Bernardo Kastrup’s website, click here.
In the next article in the series I discuss James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis:
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. All these are published by iff Books
2. The following material comes from the early pages of chapter 4 of More Than Allegory.