Materialism is still the mainstream explanation of reality even though it fails to adequately explain central aspects of the human experience – like subjective experience and psi phenomena.
IONS invited Bernardo Kastrup, author with a double Ph.D. in philosophy and computer engineering, to discuss his book: Why Materialism Is Baloney. The interview was led by IONS Chief Scientist Dean Radin during a ConnectIONS Live webinar.
IONS members can access the full 75-minute interview in the Membership Vault, where you can watch videos on topics like lucid dreaming, the science behind energy healing, the latest research in consciousness, and much more!
After the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, scientific Materialism — the philosophical set of assumptions that everything ultimately consists of matter — was so successful that it rapidly supplanted religious doctrine as the arbiter of truth about reality. Because of that success, science has paid very little attention to anything that challenges that philosophy, especially aspects of consciousness that strongly challenge materialism. This strange state of affairs is reflected in the discipline of parapsychology by the funding it receives as compared to other areas of science. For example, in 2022 the US government allocated a total of $291 billion for scientific research. Of that, zero dollars were allocated for parapsychological research. All of the funding for psi research comes from individual donors and a handful of private foundations. It has been estimated that the total worldwide funding devoted to parapsychology since 1882 is approximately equivalent to two months of funding for conventional academic psychology.
The US – Always at the Forefront! Or..?
The US is globally known as a world leader in many areas, including science. IONS Chief Scientist, Dean Radin, paints a different picture: “In India, the kinds of things we do at IONS are accepted by mainstream science and medicine. That’s also true in most Asian countries and in South America. But what we do is considered the far fringe by many Western countries. In fact, the country that is the least accepting of psi phenomena, at least by the funding allocated for it, is the US.”
Why this difference? This article will hopefully help shine some light on the question.
So… Why Is Materialism Baloney?
Some scientists believe that psi research hasn’t resulted in any significant effects, which justifies why it is ignored. But around eight minutes into the video, we’re presented with a quote from a past President of the American Statistical Association and current IONS Board Science Committee External Advisor, Prof. Jessica Utts: “The data in support of precognition and possibly other related psychic phenomena are quite strong statistically – and would be widely accepted if they pertained to something more mundane.”
In other words: disregarding psi phenomena on scientific grounds doesn’t hold. Rather, psi is questioned because strictly materialist explanations, which many scientists assume are the only valid kinds of explanations, are lacking.
Around the 10-minute mark, Kastrup agrees with Prof. Utts and claims that from an empirical perspective, psi exists. He says that the philosophy of Idealism states that consciousness is the fundamental property of reality. This is opposed to the materialist view, where consciousness is considered an emergent property.
In his article, The Universe in Consciousness, Kastrup makes a number of assertions. Among those are the idea that the only thing that exists is cosmic consciousness. We as humans are what he refers to as “dissociated alters.”. We are to cosmic consciousness what waves are to the ocean. He also states that the world we see around us is a direct product of thoughts and that animals and other living organisms are just a different type of wave to this unifying ocean.
Thirteen minutes in, Kastrup states that Materialism is put on its pedestal mainly for historical and political reasons. From a scientific perspective, however, Materialism is “internally inconsistent, inadequate and incoherent” and doesn’t make sense of the data. He returns to this argument around 19:40 into the video, saying that the mainstream perspective moves in a certain direction for socio-political reasons. The purely materialist view implies nihilism. It suggests that nature and life lack meaning. Quite depressing!
Dean Radin then says that thanks to Materialism, we have access to advanced technology and can do this seminar! So where did we go wrong?
Kastrup replies that one of the biggest fallacies is attributing the success of technology to Materialism.
Think about it: we only need to know HOW nature behaves to build efficient technology – not WHAT it is. Science is just a psychological tool for humans to make sense of something as ineffable as reality. Kastrup goes as far as to call science “a prejudice”.
But science in itself doesn’t enable or disable the development of technology. Think of it like a computer game: you can be skilled at playing the game without knowing exactly how or why it works – you just need to master the rules.
About fifty years ago the mainstream scientific take was that quantum mechanics would ultimately be proven wrong or incomplete – rather than indicating that Materialism is inaccurate.
However, experiments run between 1979 and 2018 have managed to test Bell’s inequality, which was predicted by the mathematics of quantum theory, but not considered physically real. Today we know that quantum entanglement is a real phenomenon (it won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2022), even if it seems to contradict everyday reality as we experience it.
So we’re left with two options for describing reality (presented around 18:30 into the video):
- We embrace Idealism (and understand consciousness to be the fundamental property of the universe)
- We believe in an infinite number of physical universes constantly popping into existence (the many worlds hypothesis).
There are scientists who believe in both of these possibilities. Which one do you think is the most accurate?
Around 21 minutes in, Kastrup revisits the argument made by Radin in the beginning: that science should be metaphysically agnostic. It should only look at data and not constrain itself by bias. Otherwise, is it science or propaganda?
Materialism is arguably a limited view of reality. Idealism is not ideal (despite the name) but opens a broader understanding of nature, one that explains paranormal phenomena.
At the end of the day, there will always be a certain loss of accuracy when describing something continuous and infinite (reality) by something discrete (language and models). Assuming all models had an equal probability of accurately describing our world, why not choose the model with the highest potential?
Twenty-three minutes in, Kastrup takes us on a thought experiment: if we DID accept psi (like telepathy or precognition), how far could we have come now as one humanity?
Shortly after, he paints a picture of how everything works: the most fundamental level of existence is what he calls a “field of subjectivity”. All experiences we can have are patterns of exaltation of the field of subjectivity. You can think of it as a cloth that can be pushed up or pulled down in countless ways.
Kastrup also challenges reality as we’re used to thinking about it: as objects in space-time. Instead, we take in the exaltations from the field of subjectivity through our senses. The exaltations or transpersonal experiences are “objective” and the only things that really exist.
Our senses then act as dials that interpret these exaltations and give rise to a picture of reality on a screen. But it is just that: a picture, that can be more or less accurate and is unique to each observer. It is important to remember that what we see is not reality but a projection of reality.
Around 25 minutes in, Kastrup shares a fascinating perspective on quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon where two subatomic particles are said to influence each other instantly. It can be thought of as telepathy between particles.
However, the very idea of “instantly” suggests the existence of time and “influence” the existence of space – that the particles are two distinct objects. Moving beyond the materialist interpretation, a more accurate view would be to see the two particles as two camera angles showing one and the same reality! So what we believe to be two different objects interacting are actually mirror images of one exaltation of the subjectivity field.
He also gives an alternative explanation of telepathy through the lens of Idealism. Usually, we wonder how telepathy happens. Imagining a unified field of consciousness, the mystery is not how it happens – but rather, why it doesn’t happen more frequently.
To answer this, we can regard humans as dissociated entities of the same reality. The dissociation provides a barrier separating us so that we cannot read each other’s thoughts by default.
But no process in nature is perfect – including dissociation. Telepathy or precognitive dreams happen through “slips” – unintentional “openings” in the dissociative membrane separating us on a cognitive level.
So, what is the core of our essence as human beings?
Kastrup explains (29 minutes into the video) that what we really are under the personality is a core subjectivity, which Eastern philosophies have described for thousands of years.
This core subjectivity is dressed up in narratives, labels, and episodic memories constituting what we call life.
The core subjectivity is what would be left of your life if you were locked into a dark silent room and forgot everything. It is the SAME for everyone – it is impossible to distinguish me from you. It is the ocean beneath the waves.
We, as humans, are nothing but universal consciousness experiencing itself from multiple perspectives. By coating this core consciousness with personal identity and hiding it underneath a narrative/personality, we think we are different from each other.
But just like someone with multiple personality disorder can be “healed by, reintegrating the different personalities and remembering “it was me all along,” so too can we remember this oneness. Kastrup makes a timely remark: I think this is what’s happening right now.
He then describes the idea raised by philosophers like Sam Harris that there’s no shared world, only subjectivity. Kastrup argues that there is a shared layer of existence – but it’s purely mental.
We can say that the physical world takes on specific properties when we measure it (as stated in quantum physics by the famous Schrödinger’s cat). When we measure the world, we get physicality.
Around 37:30, Kastrup uses Idealism to describe the concept of manifesting or creating your reality through focused intention. We covered how telepathy arises when the dissociation is not perfect, and information percolates from the transpersonal into the personal. This leads you to know something that you otherwise shouldn’t.
But you could imagine the process happening the other way as well. If you have a deep wish and back it with lots of mental “energy,” you create what Kastrup refers to as a large “mental disturbance” in your personal field. This alteration can leak from the personal into the transpersonal and affect our unified mental process.
And since the mental is the foundation for the physical, we can imagine that those mental disturbances reverberate into the physical world – and you have manifested what you desired!
Forty minutes into the webinar, Kastrup makes an analogy about the relationship between shared consciousness and the individual. The cosmic mind can be seen as a stream and each person as an individual whirlpool in that stream. There seems to be a boundary between the stream and the whirlpool – yet the whirlpool is made up exclusively of the stream.
The analogy here is that the body only consists of the universal mind – “there is nothing to the body but the universal mind”, as Kastrup states.
He goes on to say that just like the whirlpool is something the stream is doing, we are something the universal mind is doing.
And just like the whirlpool is characterized by its localization, humans identify by their characteristics. We mistake that for some form of fundamental separation, which is not what dissociation indicates. As we have seen before, we are NOT fundamentally separate!
Kastrup then explains the difference between Materialism and Idealism (around the 45-minute mark). Materialism means that you think you study the thing in itself. Idealism implies that you study the appearance of the thing.
What you see depends on the interaction between the observed and the observer – and the structure of our cognition. Based on our beliefs and prejudices, we experience different realities. These differences do not imply that the thing we study changes – only that the filter through which we study it has changed.
We also learn how there are three paths to knowledge:
- Royal path: through introspection
- Empirical path: through observation
- Reasoning path: through logic
In the West, only the last two have been given importance. That means we disregard one-third of the collective knowledge we could potentially obtain.
One explanation could be that language itself hasn’t evolved into explaining what we can experience through introspection. It is essential to realize that just because we don’t have a word for something doesn’t mean it’s non-existent or useless.
Are there ways to deliberately open up the dissociative boundary between the perceived individual and the collective consciousness? Psychedelics is one candidate. Kastrup mentions how the experiences gained through psychedelics are very rich and can be life-changing. This is despite the fact that psychedelics have been shown not to increase but reduce brain activity (but this doesn’t necessarily mean the brain is less active – brain activity can appear to subside because brainwaves interfere with each other). If consciousness were generated in the brain, as implied by the materialist worldview, how could these transcendent experiences be explained?
What conclusions can we make?
As a concluding remark, around 1 hour and 10 minutes in, Kastrup predicts that Materialism will be just a blip in the historical context. We are also left with something that has us question its validity – Materialism became the norm during the Enlightenment, mostly for political reasons. Science itself can be used against alternative worldviews. Materialism is extremely effective in explaining physical reality, but it doesn’t explain subjective reality.
We mentioned the evidence for psi as support for an Idealist worldview. But even in the absence of psi, the Materialist worldview fails to adequately explain subjective experience, the existence of which (hopefully) very few people question.
We live in exciting times, and as Kastrup states, we are collectively remembering who we are. We are remembering that separation is an illusion – and that very insight makes Materialism baloney.