(There is an earlier dutch version of this post)
What is the basis of our world? Is that matter, possibly supplemented with the forces of nature? How is it possible that I can perceive it? Are our senses, experiences and thoughts gateways to a world outside of me, separate from the world within me? There should be something like that if one does not want to accept that matter can start thinking about itself. But can two worlds exist independently of each other, while one can perceive the other?
A second argument against the materialistic worldview is that every perception of the world will changes. Foresters may have their say on this. If people have the opportunity to see nature by making it accessible, then it will change. Explorers put an end to the terra incognita. After the unknown area has been found, it no longer exists as such. Quantum mechanics has also shown this experimentally. Every physical observation changes the observed object. A strict dualism is not possible, but a materialistic monism seems contrary to the inner experience that we are outside the world we perceive.
Idealism is a monistic attempt to give the world a unique basis in the mind. Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753) was one of the founders of spiritualism or subjective idealism: objects exist thanks to the observer. Not the material outside world, but the observer’s inner self is leading. There is much to add and explain to make this insight ones own. It can be characterized as psychic monism, as opposed to physical monism (also called physicalism), often also referred to as materialism
In a recent book, Nijmegen university researcher Bernardo Kastrup (computer technology and philosophy) advocates idealism: The Idea of the World, 2019. It is based on ten articles in reviewed, mainly philosophical journals. Five parts of two articles each systematically build up his argument. Arguments for and against are discussed in detail, supported by many references to the public scientific literature. Each part is preceded by a readable introduction. This is very helpful because the articles themselves are written for professional fellow researchers, thereby only with effort readable for the interested layman.
According to Kastrup, neurophysiological and quantum-mechanical experimental observations substantiate the untenability of the position of physical monism, which nevertheless remains the dominant scientific paradigm. This leads again and again to “the hard problem of consciousness“: how and why can physical states as brain processes lead to consciousness? Some researchers solve this by denying or declaring consciousness an illusion, such as Daniel Dennett in Consciousness Explained. Kastrup makes short work of this: who calls consciousness an illusion actually admits its existence.
Parts II and V of the book are the most interesting ones. They explain Kastrup’s ontology (a description of the whole of creation). The other parts, also very worthwhile, mainly deal with the arguments pro and con. The fascinating thing about this ontology is that it is man, the world. the cosmos. so all that exists is based on a single fundamental building block: consciousness. Everything is ultimately consciousness. In fact, everything is ultimately based on a single, universal consciousness. In this view, different, distinguishable, people, animals, plants, objects, substances, planets and stars exist due to the fact that this universal consciousness can manifest itself in different “alters”. These are extreme forms of consciousness modes that everyone recognizes in their daily manifestations: our consciousness as a motorist is different than as a pedestrian. Our personality is different at home than at work. This can lead to interesting observations when colleagues visit each other at home, or accidentally bump into each other at a campsite. More extreme forms are the multiple personalities that occur in schizophrenic dissociative identity disorders. There it may, under certain circumstances, impossible to move from one “alter” to another.
If, according to the idealism as described, all things we we encounter in the world are different manifestations, different alters of one and the same universal consciousness, then everything is also connected with everything. Just as what we experience in sleep, even if it is “unconscious”, also influences our behavior during the day, so ultimately every event in creation must have an influence on everything else. This is an exciting idea that will be explored further in the last section. On a microscopic scale, this phenomenon has been made visible in quantum mechanical experiments. It is fascinating to think further about the consequences of non-locality. According to the described idealism , every observation leads to a change in the observed world. If I look at a table, the next observer of the same table may see another table. “The same table” does not exist. After a thousand people viewed the Night Watch in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum on a busy day, it must have become a different painting. I wonder whether Kastrup means that such changes only take place in the consciousness of the observers, or also in the physicality of the table or the painting respectively. The latter seems to be the logical consequence of his argument and should therefore also be detectable by measuring instruments.
Kastrup is not concerned with the essence of man, his thinking and his freedom, but instead with the totality of creation. Kastrup makes no attempt to describe the uniqueness of the “alter” of man. It is thereby incomplete. Although the “I” of man is occasionally mentioned in the book, the unique human potential is not addressed. This possibility could be described as follows: the “alter” of man can separate completely from the universal consciousness, and can reconnect with it in freedom, but then adds a unique quality to universal consciousness. However, in this framework it seems possible that alters reject such a connection and position themselves definitively outside the universal consciousness. Would Kastrup endorse this possibility?
A very interesting book that offers much material for further philosophizing.