THIRD WAVE PODCAST

Are Materialist Philosophies Destroying Humanity?

Episode 40

Bernardo Kastrup

Philosopher Bernardo Kastrup joins us this week, to discuss the concepts of idealism and panpsychism, and how they relate to the psychedelic experience. Kastrup explains that a conceptual understanding of idealism is not enough to fully grasp its truth – and that people must experience a non-dual state first-hand to truly comprehend its meaning.

Podcast Highlights

  • Psychedelics allowed Bernardo to take his philosophy from the conceptual to the experiential
  • We discuss the difference between panpsychism (everything is conscious, or has consciousness) and idealism (everything is consciousness, or is in consciousness)
  • Bernardo explains why the pervasive philosophy of ontological materialism could be the end of humanity

Podcast Transcript

00:25 Paul Austin: Hello, Third Wave listeners. Welcome back to the podcast. Philosopher Bernardo Kastrup joins us this week to discuss the concepts of idealism and panpsychism, and how they relate to the psychedelic experience. Kastrup explains that a conceptual understanding of idealism is not enough to fully grasp its truth, and that people must experience a non-dual state first-hand to truly comprehend its meaning. Now, it took me a little bit of time to warm up with Bernardo, as it does for, generally, philosophers when I talk to, to go from a more mundane, concrete perspective to an abstract understanding. Philosophical understanding can be sometimes a difficult transition. So I tried to ease into the conversation, and then, towards the end of it, became more active and involved in really pushing certain points. And one of the points that I liked, that Bernardo made, was that physicalism, or the idea of materialism, from a philosophical perspective, is believing in nonsense. And that in that belief system is what is leading us to destruction. So enjoy the podcast. And if you do enjoy the podcast, I would ask that you please leave us a review on iTunes. And without further ado, I present to you Bernardo Kastrup.

[music]

01:50 Bernardo Kastrup: How psychedelics came into my life? I mean, it’s not like I am a very big psychedelic user or anything. Actually, it’s been a very long time since last time I used it. Several years ago, there was a time I experimented with it, and the interest was actually mostly philosophical. At some point in your life, you come to the conclusion that you’re deceiving yourself, that you’re sort of immersed in a web of concepts, and you lost contact with what is really real, that the world you think you see and you inhabit and the things you believe in, they arise out of this web of concepts, and they are abstract, conceptual. They aren’t really linked to the concrete real reality that is out there. There is sort of an overlay on top of it that distorts your view. I think even Aldous Huxley talked about it. He referred to languages as implicit philosophical systems which really captures the essence of what I’m trying to say. And when you use language to communicate and to think, we use language mostly to talk to ourselves, like Noam Chomsky emphasizes often, language is about the structure of our thinking. When we do that, we are using an implicit philosophy system.

02:57 BK: And once I realized that many years ago, I thought, “How do I break through this?” And by chance, I saw a talk by Terence McKenna on YouTube. I saw a first video by him and I thought, “Who is this idiot?” The guy, it was really one… So it was one of… A segment of one of his talks in which he was talking about elves, machine elves, and all that stuff. And I thought, “What the hell is he talking about?” And then I don’t know why I watched the second video, which was a 1998 lecture he gave in San Francisco, ‘Dreaming Awake at the End of Time’ I think that was the title. And he came across to me as somebody reasonable, rational, critical, and yet with a message that was outlandish. And that cognitive dissonance got me interested because I thought, “Maybe he has seen something I haven’t seen,” and that’s how I got interested in psychedelics. And I went about it in a fairly almost… I don’t want to use the word scientific, but in a very systematic way.

03:58 BK: I read what there was to read about it. I was very careful about it. I happened to live in a country where you can safely and legally procure psychedelic substances, so that helped, otherwise I don’t think I would have done it. And then I experimented with it, and it was mind-opening [chuckle], let’s put it that way.

[chuckle]

04:17 PA: Mind-opening, that’s a really good way of putting it. So do you remember that first experience for you in terms of what sort of understandings or realizations you came to, through that experience, in terms of pre and post-Bernardo?

04:32 BK: Well, the first couple of experiences, they didn’t really count because the dose was very low, and I was basically sort of dipping my toe in the water just to do some evaluation of the territory, see how I felt. So those don’t count. The first real experience, which was not a super high dose or anything, but it was an effective dose, had a lot to do with my past, my childhood, reintegrating feelings that I had lost touch with, aspects of my personality that I had lost touch with. The image I had as a metaphor in my mind was that it was like as if I were a car losing pieces as it drove down the road, you know what I mean? And then there’s all these trail of pieces of yourself left behind when you look back in the mirror, and that’s what the trip was about. And it was very integrative in the sense that there was an experience of all those pieces coming back. A lot of memories coming back, not only memories of events but memories of feelings, of ways of being, ways to relate to myself and the world as sort of a tone that colors your experience of the here and now, that I think I used to have as a child, and I had lost touch with, and then it returned. So it’s a very gratifying experience.

05:46 PA: Yeah, that return to that childlike playfulness that sometimes comes with the psychedelic experience, and that kind of juxtaposes well with some of the research that psychedelic researchers have carried out in terms of when people are under the influence of a psychedelic, it seems to return us to, at least the brain, a childlike state. And that, for me, has been why I continue to use psychedelics, is because I think sometimes when we are somewhat caught up in the rush and ongoing chaos of modern-day life, being able to take a step back and remember that crystal-clear beauty or presence that comes with responsible structured use of psychedelics is really… It’s reinvigorating. Yeah, that’s been for me.

06:31 BK: Yes, I recognize everything you’re saying. Yet, for me, it was a surprise because I came to it from a philosophical perspective. I basically wanted to clear my thinking and understand what’s going on, understand what the world’s all about, what reality is all about from an ontology perspective, what the self is all about, how consciousness relates to the world out there. So, I had an agenda, if you know. I almost had the list of questions that I wanted to explore and meditate about, contemplate, but when I had this first experience, it was totally unlike what I expected because it was very personal, and I didn’t expect it to be so personal. Eventually, I did have my philosophical insights. Eventually, it did come, but before it came, a lot of very personal stuff came first, to a point that… At some point, I thought I would never get to go where I wanted to go in the beginning, and I even thought maybe it doesn’t matter because it’s been so rewarding. But eventually, it did come, and I did all my philosophical explorations, so it was very enriching.

07:35 PA: Why do you think that is? Why do you think… ‘Cause I’ve had very common experiences where we first have to work through our own, maybe baggage, or our own past or history until the mind feels like it’s allowed to expand into higher philosophical concepts. Why do you think you had that experience?

07:52 BK: Well, whatever I say, it’s speculative. And the real answer is, “I don’t know”, because there is so much more I don’t know than what I do know, if I know anything. I would speculate that you’re opening the closet and then there’s a lot of stuff in there. And when you open it, you don’t get only what you were planning to see, you get whatever is in there. And personal stuff, because it’s so evocative, it’s so part of who you are, it comes first, because of this evocative link. And once you’ve cleared that, once you’ve integrated that or made some kind of peace with it, then you can go… I don’t want to use the word deeper, but you can pursue some other avenues that maybe are not as evocative to you, emotionally, but which you do want to explore from an intellectual perspective. But you have to get past that very personal stuff that is bottled up first.

08:43 PA: So what did then… You were able to work through these things through the psychedelic experiences, until you were able to finally explore those higher philosophical ideas or concepts. How did your own philosophy then evolve as a result of those experiences?

08:57 BK: I had always speculated, at least with myself, about a philosophical system that, historically, has been called idealism. And it’s not about ethical idealism in a sense that we live based on ideals. It’s the ontology that says that, “All realities based on ideas… ” Actually, should better be called idea-ism, but it doesn’t sound very well. And I always thought about that, and from a rational perspective, I thought that was reasonable, with… Some problems could be resolved, like why there are multiple minds? If the whole of nature is only one giant mind, why am I unable to read your thoughts? Why can’t I change the laws of nature by just imagining them to be different? So I was approaching it from an intellectual perspective, but it was conceptual. And when you have some psychedelic experiences, what is conceptual becomes very palpable, probably if it is true. Because all the other philosophical systems I was considering didn’t become palpable at all.

09:56 BK: They became nonsense. But idealism became very alive, very vivid. I didn’t need the conceptual argument anymore to justify why idealism was true. I experienced its truth. I knew the world was mental. I knew not only the experience I was undergoing at that moment was mental, was in consciousness, but the experience I’m having right now in my daily, normal, ordinary, waking life was also mental, was also an event in consciousness and not a representation of something outside consciousness. That was patently clear, clear in a way that does not need a conceptual justification, for me. Of course, the moment I want to communicate and convince others about it, I need to provide an argument. Otherwise, why would people believe me? But when I was there with myself and the question was, do I think this is true? The answer was obvious. There was no doubt about it. And that brought the entire philosophy I was thinking about alive. It convinced me beyond what any conceptual argument could do, way beyond.

11:03 PA: Do you think the psychedelic experience then that you had is necessary for people to understand this model of idealism? Not from a conceptual perspective, but from a perspective that you experienced it from, which seemed to be more real, in a sense?

11:18 BK: History tells us that, no, it’s not necessary, because apparently a lot of people who wrote about this, who wrote about their direct acquaintance with this reality, not only conceptual knowledge of, but the direct acquaintance with consciousness only view of the world, they… Some of them had this spontaneously, others through meditation, others through prayer. So, I don’t think it is generally necessary. Do I think it was necessary for me to convince myself intellectually that all reality is in consciousness? No, it was not necessary. I was already convinced. Or at least I was already deep into it already, considering it a very likely hypothesis. But to know it by acquaintance, for me, it was necessary. I’m very hard-headed. I’m very intellect-driven, argument-driven, almost hard-nosed, in that sense. I don’t think I would have had that kind of opening spontaneously. No, no. Not a chance. Not somebody like me.

12:20 BK: And insofar as there are other people who are out there who are like me, perhaps they would need something like this to have that knowledge by acquaintance, not to be convinced intellectually that this is the best hypothesis we have today. No, no, this is… Intellectually, it’s very easy… Today, I think it’s very easy to argue that idealism is by far the best hypothesis. And I have been arguing it in academic journals, so it is possible, but it doesn’t replace the knowledge by acquaintance, the direct experience of the mental reality that brings it to a whole other level. And for some people, psychedelics may be the way to go. I don’t know.

12:55 PA: And how did that change the way that then you interacted with your reality, when you went from conceptually understanding idealism to actually experiencing that sense of, we could say, interconnectedness? Did that actually change your day-to-day life, how you interacted with other people, the way that you perceived the world around you? Or had you already kind of integrated those things and this was just another validation of your belief system?

13:20 BK: No, it was more than a validation. The validation was very nice, it was very welcome. Part of my motivation for doing this was to check whether I was really going down the right path, and it confirmed that. But today, I can see that almost… It was not an important aspect of the experience, that confirmation. Many other things were more important. Did I change? I did change. My personality changed. I became more open, more tolerant, became capable of listening more to what people were saying. Before, I would focus on what people were actually saying, as opposed to what they meant, and I would attack what they were saying, if they would give me an opportunity to attack, because in their words, they were contradicting themselves, or something like that, I would attack that. Today, I’m much more interested in understanding what they mean as opposed to what they are saying. I’m interested in looking past the words to see how their perspective feels like. How do they see the world? What motivates them to say what they are saying? I became more sensitive to art, to music, to nature. Today, I feel a lot more of a drive to be in nature than I used to feel before.

14:32 BK: Mentally, I’m healthier, I think. Was it a panacea? Did it solve everything? Absolutely not. I’m highly, highly neurotic. If you make a list of sub-clinical neurotic symptoms, I have them all, anxiety, OCD, little bit of depression, not clinical, but I have the whole existentialist gamut of bad places to be, emotionally and mentally. That didn’t go away at all. So I don’t think it’s a panacea, but it allows you to relate to this aspect of self and life in a healthier, more open way. I stopped pushing it back so much. I accepted it for what it is. So it has been very positive. Not a solution for the big problems of life, but it has been very helpful.

15:16 PA: Right. In a way, it seems to make us more adaptable, more flexible, instead of so rigid, when we can go beyond… At least for me, when we have that sense of selflessness, which we could get back into this non-dual awareness. I would like to kind of transition into then some of this work in terms of this difference between… And by the way, our idealism and panpsychism, can we talk a little bit about that? What is the difference between idealism and panpsychism? Are those two terms to describe the same thing, because then I’d like to transition into how that juxtaposes with the more common understanding of materialism and kind of digging there.

15:55 BK: There’s no easy, simple, answer to the question. There are many variations of panpsychism. There is… Well, I’m not going to list it, but I would define what is hopefully accepted as a general definition of most variations of panpsychism, and that’s the idea that all matter is conscious. In other words, that the matter we measure, what we measure in the world, the matter is just the extrinsic aspect of matter. Mass that we measure, electrical charge, the spin, the momentum, position, these are the extrinsic aspects of matter, but matter also has an intrinsic aspect, what it is from the inside, and that is then consciousness itself. So all matter, according to this general panpsychist definition, all matter is conscious, but the structure of consciousness is still the structure of matter. In other words, consciousness is fragmented. An electron is conscious and a proton is conscious, and they come together to form an atom, so their consciousness somehow combines bottom-up to form the conscious of an atom, which then combines to form the consciousness of molecules, which then combine to form cells, tissues, organ systems, you and I.

17:06 BK: So our consciousness, as we experience it, is then supposedly formed from the bottom-up combination of all these micro-level little consciousnesses, micro-level little subjects, which somehow, by some miracle, nobody has an answer to that, it’s probably an impossible problem, combines to form the unitary consciousness field that you and I experience. So that would be panpsychism, all matter is conscious. Idealism would be all matter is in consciousness. It’s a very important difference. It’s not that all matter is conscious. In other words, consciousness is not a property of matter, circumscribed by the structure and boundaries of matter. No, that’s panpsychism. Idealism says that all matter is in consciousness, and arises in consciousness as an excitation of consciousness. In other words, matter exists only insofar as it is experienced, not necessarily by you and me, not necessarily by a personal mind, maybe the inanimate universe itself is one giant mind and it experiences. And therefore, there is something out there, independent of my perception of the world, that corresponds to matter, but that something out there would still be an experience, an experience that may be in commensurate with my own, but nonetheless still an experience. So, that’s idealism. Everything is in consciousness.

18:30 PA: Now, from a practical perspective, how does that then juxtapose or how is that different than the more mainstream understanding that comes at matter and consciousness from a materialist perspective? And then I would like to tie that into that piece that you wrote in April 2016 and dig further into those concepts.

18:53 BK: Okay. So the mainstream view of the world we have today, materialism, so not ethical materialism, in the sense that you just want to buy stuff. No, it’s ontological materialism, also called mainstream physicalism. That’s the idea that all that exists is matter, and matter, at the fundamental level, is not conscious. That consciousness arises out of complex arrangements of matter. So, at the bottom level of reality, there is no consciousness at all. At the most fundamental level, it’s all dead, there are no qualities even. There is no red, there is no melody, there is no flavor, because these qualities are generated by our brains, according to physicalists. They don’t exist out there. At the most fundamental level of reality, you have pure abstraction, it is outside consciousness and there is no consciousness in it.

19:43 BK: And then these little physical particles combine, and somehow, out of this combination, when it reaches the right level of complexity, with just the right structure, somehow consciousness pops out, consciousness emerges out of it, but it can be reduced to something unconscious. In other words, consciousness can be explained in terms of something that is not consciousness. That’s physicalism. The problem is that nobody can conceive, even in principle, of how the qualities of experience, the redness of red, the bitterness of disappointment, to the warmth of love, how this could arise, emerge from spin, charge, momentum, mass, position. There is a huge explanatory gap in between these two things, which basically means that insofar as experience and the qualities of experience is all we have, everything else we abstract from it. So insofar as experience is all we have, materialism explains exactly nothing because it does not explain experience.

20:43 PA: Let’s simplify a little bit, and just if you could talk a little bit about that relationship between industrialization, how we’re transitioning out of industrialization into the information age, as Alvin Toffler once wrote. What’s that relationship in terms of the philosophy of mind that we’re dealing with?

21:00 BK: That’s a very broad question that touches…

21:02 PA: I know.

[chuckle]

21:04 BK: The history of how we came to be where we are is not simple, but originally, religion ruled the world. In the early days of science, you could be burned at the stake for being a scientist and for holding a scientific worldview. Actually, for being an empiricist, for just looking at how things work and saying, “This is what I see,” you could be burned at the stake and many were burned at the stake for that. What Descartes, I think, attempt to do was to sort of separate these two things so science would have a domain without the church having to be excluded from the picture, because the church was just too powerful to be kicked out, so Descartes said, “Okay, there is mind and there is matter. Mind is the domain of the church, we accept that. So the church feel comfortable, and they don’t burn us anymore, but let us deal with matter because that’s what we observe. And we can, by observing, study and model the patterns and regularities of how matter behaves.” So that was this partitioning of the spheres of influence, of two ways of relating to reality.

22:06 BK: I think, by the early 19th century, this Newtonian materialism, that everything is just a billiard ball game at a microscopic level, started becoming mainstream, at least amongst the elite. And that’s where materialism really was born, because to this day, our notion of materialism is billiard ball world. Science has already figured out that this is not at all how things are. For the past 100 years, at least, since the quantum revolution, we have known that there aren’t little balls there. It is very weird stuff that is at the fundamental level of nature. But that didn’t percolate even through the other sciences, let alone through the culture, at large. So we still have this mindset from the early 19th century, which probably was useful back then because it allowed you to be objective, as a scientist, by saying that matter was separate from you as mind, it allowed you to objectively observe matter. And that degree of objectivity was a step forward at that time. Science was too dominated by prejudice and subjective worldviews. People were trying to confirm what they already believed in. And this empiricist idea that you’re clear of mind, you don’t know what’s going on, and you’re an objective observer was a step forward. And it was enabled by this wrong… Ultimately, wrong view that mind has nothing to do with the material world you’re observing. It’s totally independent from that.

23:29 BK: It was useful back then, but now it’s a problem because what is the consequence of that? The consequence of saying that, “Oh, there is this matter,” and that mind is just an epi-phenomenon, a consequence of particular arrangements of matter is that, you see, if all there is is matter, what other goal can there be in life but to accumulate matter? Matter is all there is, so the best you can do is to accumulate more and more of it as you can, better and better arrangements of it as you can. In other words, better phones, better computers, better clothes, better shoes, better girlfriends, because what is your girlfriend but a very interesting and attractive arrangement of matter. That’s the ultimate dehumanization. And it happens, it’s widespread. Look at the Me Too movement out there, and it’s becoming very visible now. And that’s where it becomes pernicious. That’s where it dehumanizes us, and it goes beyond that.

24:23 BK: If you truly believe that your consciousness is just the result of a transient arrangement of matter in your brain, that when you die, your consciousness disappears. In other words, when you die, you’re dead. There’s no one there to worry about anything. So why do you care about preserving the environment if it all goes to hell a 100 years from now? You’re not gonna be here to see you suffer the consequences, you know what I mean? So what was a useful worldview, wrong but useful worldview 200 years ago is now a species-killer, and the species that will be killed is us.

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25:05 PA: Hey, listeners. It’s Paul here. We just got some quick announcements and pieces of news for you this week before we get back to the interview. First off, our microdosing course is up and ready, and we want you in that community. If you’re looking to optimize your microdosing protocol or generally understand how to utilize psychedelics to live a better life, then it’s an excellent resource for that purpose. So, check it out. If you want more detail, it’s at thirdwave.co/microdosing-course. A couple pieces of news. Old Bitcoin transactions on the dark net can potentially be traced back to you, and this highlights the need to use anonymizing services when you’re purchasing and using Bitcoin, particularly in places like the dark net, or generally even if you’re looking at purchasing research chemicals, for example, in Canada or Germany, it’s important to anonymize those things.

25:57 PA: Well, I don’t think still that law enforcement has the resources available to actually pursue individuals. It is something just to be generally aware of, particularly as cryptocurrencies become more relevant in our day-to-day lives. Another study has shown that taking Psilocybin Mushrooms can drastically change personality features, including making you feel less authoritarian and more connected to nature. The study shows that these changes are actually induced by the substance rather than being an prior characteristic of people who choose to take psychedelics. In short, that means that the psychedelic is the differentiator in helping people to transition into that more open interconnected worldview. And although this was kind of more or less understood, especially by people who have had a peak experience by psychedelics, again, it’s nice to have the clinical research that backs these presuppositions or assumptions because it continues to then legitimize the psychedelic experience in the eyes of people who are more skeptical.

26:54 PA: So, those are two pieces of news. Let’s now get back to the interview with Bernardo. And don’t forget, if you enjoy the podcast, please leave a review on iTunes, and send us your questions on Facebook and Twitter. We wanna answer your questions. We haven’t had them for the past couple weeks. So, any questions you have about psychedelics, about microdosing, about utilizing psychedelics and microdosing, about consciousness, about neuroscience, whatever, we’ll dig in and we’ll do our best to answer your question. Now back to the show.

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27:27 PA: One of the big things that I often think about is what is the role of this post-egoic experience, from a leadership perspective and business in the 21st century. How can these high-dose psychedelic experiences, if they are done by people like Elon Musk, or Sergey Brin, or some of these other big business leaders, help us to understand the value of building sustainable regenerative systems, because we do care about where or how our, for example, offspring are going to live in a future world.

28:03 BK: Oh, there’s a lot to be said about all this. Let me start in an unpopular note, I think, for your audience. I don’t think you solve our problems… It would solve our problems if everybody in the business world would take high-dose psychedelics. I don’t think that’s a panacea. I don’t think it would solve things. Let me tell you why. I think a psychedelic experience can be very enlightening, mind-opening, but it doesn’t abide for very long. In other words, you fall back to where you were before and you start re-interpreting your experience, telling you stories about your experience, about how your brain playing tricks on you.

28:40 BK: I have seen so many people who have done psychedelics, both for personal use and professional use, because there are psychedelic researchers out there who can rationalize away the direct experience of oneness, it’s amazing. And also psychedelic experiences are unpredictable. You can be confronted with your shadow, and come back saying, “I’m never gonna do this again.” Then you never do it again. And you close that chapter in your life. Happens a lot as well. So, would it solve all of our problems if everybody would take high-dose psychedelics? I doubt it very much. I don’t think it would. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think it would. Would an abiding experience of non-duality, of oneness, of idealism by acquaintance, would that help? Oh, you bet. It would go a long way.

29:30 BK: I don’t think this is something we can enforce by revolution. I think it’s part of the natural evolution of the human psyche. There is a dialectical movement going on in the human psyche, and it has been going on for thousands of years, and we are in a particularly bad part of it, but probably a necessary part. We have to explore this deluded perspective we have right now, in order to be able to contrast it with perceiving something closer to the truth later on. So, I think there’s a natural process, and evolutionary process that we cannot control, of our livers. I think we can influence it though. And the way I personally try to influence it is the following.

30:12 BK: I don’t think conceptual narratives change people. They don’t change the way people live, they don’t change the way people think. Because something that is conceptual, there’s always a distance between that conceptual system and you. And a philosophical system is always a conceptual system. So, I think, even if I were to convince the whole world that idealism is true, at a conceptual level, which is what philosophers can do, they cannot do more than that, that would change nobody’s life, in and of itself. But what I think it does is if you intellectually believe in idealism and you happen to have a spontaneous experience or a psychedelics experience, or an experience of direct acquaintance with that oneness, that non-dual reality, and you already buy into idealism at the conceptual level, then you give yourself permission to incorporate that experience in yourself. You open up to that experience, you accept it, you welcome it, and you integrate it and it becomes a part of who you are, an essential element of how you interact with others and the world at large.

31:14 BK: So, I think we need very sound logically-rigorous, empirically-honest conceptual systems, closer to the truth than we are today, so people can give themselves permission to accept that experience, if and when it comes, by whatever means it comes. I think that’s what philosophers can help achieve. But how do we enforce that experience coming to everybody? I don’t think we can. Even if everybody would take psychedelics, I don’t think that would necessarily be the result of that. So, I’m quite cautious about psychedelics. They have been useful to me, but I’m cautious about projecting that onto everybody else, because I have seen so many examples of it not having the effect on others that it has had on me.

31:57 PA: And I’m really glad that you made that distinction, is there’s a certain level of maturity that has to be present in our philosophical understanding of the reality around us before we can fully utilize and integrate the psychedelic experience in a way that is beneficial and meaningful within the paradigm that we’re talking about, switching from this materialist understanding to an idealist sort of understanding. And this is what…

32:19 BK: Absolutely.

32:20 PA: Neal Goldsmith, who is a friend of mine, he’s written a book called ‘Psychedelic Healing‘. He says, “The biggest contraindication for psychedelic use is maturity”, in that, oftentimes, when people who take psychedelics at an early age, it’s very… You’re playing with fire because you don’t necessarily have that full philosophical understanding of how it could impact and change your life. And I’m really glad that you made that distinction because I think what psychedelics do is they make us more permeable. That doesn’t necessarily… And it’s a neutral thing. It’s not a positive or a negative thing. We saw this in the ’60s with Charles Manson and psychedelic drugs. They could have a very negative effect. However, the reason I contextualize psychedelic use from a business or leadership perspective is because we’re also seeing movement just generally in the business world where this kind of win-at-all-costs, very masculine, aggressive way of doing business is slowly falling out of favor, because it’s not very sustainable. We saw this with Uber, for example, when they got a lot of backlash. And now more and more people are switching to a company like Lyft, this is just an example that I like to use, which pays their drivers more, which allowed for tips, which is really building more of a community around it.

33:39 PA: And so I think, from my understanding within that context then, if you make it clear that business leaders, going forward, it’s not gonna be about profit, how much money you can make. Instead it’s gonna be, “How are you facilitating contribution to your community in a positive way?” My hope is that the psychedelic experience is just going to act as an accelerator in accepting these new philosophical paradigms that are more… Like you said, this sense of idealism that we can operate from, it’s more adaptive, it’s more useful because it’s a better model. Whereas, the old materials paradigm is maladaptive, in that if we continue to believe in that nonsense, we’re going to lead ourselves into destruction.

34:22 BK: I’ve said this several times, this exact statement. I will repeat it now because I think it’s useful and appropriate. The intellect is the bouncer of the heart, that’s how it usually operates in our society. Something only reaches your heart if the intellect filters it and says, “Okay, this one I let in.” Otherwise, it’s filtered out. That’s how we protect ourselves. It’s so easy for us to intellectualize away all the suffering we see sometimes on television in other parts of the world. And we tell ourselves like, “Well, it’s their own doing,” or, “It came to this because of this, this and that.” And there’s a whole series of rationalizations and explanations, and then we can live with the fact that 5-year-old girls are being raped systematically in certain parts of the world, and people are still dying of starvation or simple conditions like dehydration. So the intellect is the bouncer of the heart, and it works in all aspects of life, I think even the philosophical one. So what you said right now was that a maybe direct experience of oneness through psychedelics, or whatever other means, even spontaneous, that we’d be more open to idealism.

35:27 BK: Yes, that’s certainly true. But I focus a lot also on the other way around. I think if people can buy into idealism, intellectually, purely based on rational reasons on the power of a rational argument alone. If they become convinced, at a rational level, that, “Hey, idealism is the best game in town,” given the evidence and given the logic of the situation, they will be able to profit a lot more from the experience, if and when it came. It wouldn’t be filtered out, bounced off by the intellect afterwards, which is what happens to so many people. They have an experience of oneness sometimes, under psychedelics, and two days later, they already have a story about how the brain engendered it and how it sort of brought down certain inhibitory processes or shut down the language centers and blah blah blah. And yet, back they are to the old way of relating to the world. But if the intellect had that alternative story, then what would happen after the experience would be completely different, they would follow a completely different path down that road afterwards, much more integrative, much less dismissive. So I think this other direction now is very important too, that our mainstream cultural narrative itself evolves based on rational and empirical arguments, such that we can incorporate these direct experiences and integrate them better into our society.

36:49 PA: And so that kind of leads then to the big question that I’ve wanted to build up to, which is how do you start building cultural narratives that help to point people towards this is a… Idealism is a better understanding, a more rational understanding than materialism?

[chuckle]

37:10 BK: That’s the… That’s the key question.

37:11 PA: The million-dollar question.

37:13 BK: Oh man, much more than a million dollars.

37:16 PA: A trillion-dollar question. [chuckle]

37:19 BK: I have tried different things. This is my game too. This is the game I’m trying to play in a modest way. It’s the role… The small role I try to play is to contribute to that change of the mainstream cultural narrative, conceptual change, because the mainstream cultural narrative is conceptual. It’s what can be communicated through the media. In the beginning, I thought I can’t do this through academia, I thought. That was years ago. I thought the position of materialism is too entrenched now. People don’t progress in their careers if they entertain alternatives. There’s no way. I have to go straight to the people. And I became disappointed with that. How do I explain to you why without sounding horrible?

[laughter]

38:00 BK: There is a lot of noise in the culture today. There’s the mainstream media and there is lots of alternatives. There is social media. There’s alternative media. And years ago, when this begun, I thought this is promising because it will give people another channel that they can compare to the mainstream narrative that’s so much wedded to materialism, physicalism. Today, I’m completely disillusioned with that because there is so much fact-free hysterical nonsense being pumped through alternative media channels. I’m not going to name names but I think you will recognize at least an aspect of what I’m saying. It’s playing on the tendency of people to engage in wish-fulfillment, hysteria. So trying to reach the educated people on the streets directly is something that I’ve become disillusioned with because I am one voice amongst thousands, and a number of the other thousands are spewing nonsense, and they are being heard just as much as I am being heard. This sounds horribly arrogant, and when I listen to myself saying this, I sort of, “Oh my God. How could I say this?”

39:05 BK: There are many other people out there who are saying good things, true things, probably true things. Who knows what’s true… Probably true things, reasonable things, well-substantiated things, but that’s being drowned out by a lot of stories that are not substantiated, that are not based on logical reasoning, that are completely disconnected to empirical fact, that fly in the face of empirical fact, stories that are internally contradictory, that defeat themselves, if you critically evaluate what’s being said. So the voices of reason are being drowned out in the hysterical nonsense that is out there. So what hope do we have to change the mainstream cultural narrative that way? I don’t know. I don’t want to give you a conclusion because I don’t have that conclusion. I am in the process of being confused [chuckle] about this whole thing.

39:52 BK: So, two years ago, I decided I’m going to try what, in the beginning, I thought I wouldn’t try, which is I’m going to speak directly to academia. And the reason I’m doing that is that, for good or for bad, the mainstream media still hold some credibility and it differentiates it from the rest. There is some degree of gravitas in the mainstream media still. They are pumping out a lot of nonsense too. Materialism is nonsense, and it’s being pumped out all the time through the mainstream media. But there is a certain gravitas. There are certain established channels of communication and influencing the culture that originate or at least pass through the mainstream media and they originate at academia.

40:32 BK: Academia still has influence. If academia were to, 10 years from now, say, “You know what? Based on everything we know, everything we see, we think that idealism is probably the most likely scenario for what’s going on, that everything is actually happening in consciousness, and that the human mind is just a dissociated complex of a broader universal consciousness.” If academia would say that, it would have a different effect. There would be a weight behind it, a certain gravitas behind it, and it would be heard.

41:02 BK: So what I’m trying now… Maybe it’s futile, but it’s what I’m trying. I’m trying to speak directly to academia by sort of only writing books for the educated public. I’m writing papers in mainstream academic journals, and there is some resonance. Sometimes I am shut down, sometimes I’m heard, and that’s the path I’m trying now. I don’t know whether it’s going to work, but I’m a little guy, and I try things, and I see whether there is some resonance or not, and for as long as there is, I keep trying, it’s the best I can do. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, I did my best, and I can die with that knowledge too. It’s fine.

41:38 BK: Are there any other indications, outside of what you’re personally doing, that idealism is coming more and more to an understanding in our mainstream cultural narrative. One thing that I think about, for example, is a lot of the activities that, for example, were counterculture in the 1960s, psychedelics, yoga, meditation, a lot of these are now becoming mainstream in our current culture. And again, these are all of… Things that can initiate non-dual states, can initiate the sense of selflessness. Do the rise of popularity in those give you hope or are there any other things that you see going on, that make you… Provide some sort of hope in that idealism will become more mainstream, or is it kind of all just a lost game at this point?

42:23 BK: No, no. I have a lot of hope. The question is timing, and timing is very important because if it comes too late, it’s too late, we will wreck ourselves. We will wreck the planet. But I think there’s a lot of reason for hope. The things you mentioned, that are visible, are certainly reason for hope. The popularity of non-dualism in the West now is unprecedented. And things like Buddhism, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, unprecedented popularity as well. It’s all positive. Openness in academia for alternatives to physicalism, panpsychism, in all its variations is openly talked about. Idealism is finally openly talked about. Again, last year, there was an academic workshop organized by David Chalmers from New York University. He organized a workshop dedicated to idealism in China, in Shanghai. I had the opportunity to participate. David himself published a paper on idealism only a few months ago. There is an ontology called panpsychism which is very close, if not identical, to idealism under certain interpretations. There’s a lot of publications in philosophy now around panpsychism.

43:31 BK: So there are many physical signs to be positive, but I think the main reason to be positive is invisible. I have had this experience consistently that I’ve had a frank private conversation with people who, outwardly, are complete materialists, hardcore businesspeople. I navigate in the business world in my day job. I do corporate strategy for a living. You wouldn’t expect that, would you?

[chuckle]

43:56 BK: And in private conversations with these people, who would… Probably the psychedelic community would see as, “No, those are [unclear speech]. Those are the enemy,” you would be amazed at what these people think in the privacy of their own thoughts of their own homes. When they really ponded a situation, you’d be amazed what they are open to, because these are intelligent people who are trained to not deceive themselves. That’s business education. Don’t deceive yourself, otherwise, you’ll wreck your business. They are trained to be critical. They are trained to be paranoid about the signs that are around them. They are trained to read the signs. And when that’s wired in your brain, this self-honesty, this ability to be critical and to pay attention to what’s around you, they apply that to the rest of their lives and that includes too: What is their own nature? What is the self? Is there a soul? What’s the body? What’s the world out there? Where is this all happening? What is this all about? They have these questions. They ask themselves these questions. And I think there’s a lot more invisible openness than you would ever guess by looking at what people publicly say or how they publicly behave, that did not yet percolate into the heart, ’cause there is doubt.

45:09 BK: For as long as there is strong conceptual doubt, the intellect, that’s the bouncer of the heart, doesn’t let it sink in. So the behavior, the behavioral patterns have not changed. These people will go for profit alright, because that’s also what they have been trained to do, but there is something happening under the surface, which I think is very hopeful and very promising.

45:28 PA: And I think this is a topic that I like to explore in this podcast and just with what we’re doing at Third Wave is, for me, this speaks almost to the element of, there’s still a certain level of stigma about openly professing some of these belief systems.

45:41 BK: Absolutely. I think if you’d put 10 business leaders in a room to talk business, they would each came out of the room thinking, “Well, I have these thoughts, I have these views in my private moments, but I could never share it with the other nine because they would think I’m a fruitcake. And these other nine guys are very hardcore, hard-nosed people, very pragmatic.” And if you would ask the other nine about it, they would say the same thing. They would think that the other nine are the hard-nosed ones, that each one of the 10 would have the same fear about the other nine, or maybe eight of the 10, or seven of the 10. I don’t know what the number would be, but because we don’t share what we truly think unless we are with a trusted friend, having a glass of wine on a Friday, happy hour, we don’t share it.

46:28 BK: We share only with close colleagues, and we think everybody else is not there, that we are the exception. Well, in fact, everybody is the exception, but we don’t communicate so we don’t get to know it. We don’t get to know that everybody is having similar thoughts, asking themselves the same questions, having the same doubts, entertaining the same fruitcake possibilities. So that’s one aspect. The other aspect is, unfortunately, this hypothesis that at the bottom of reality, what there is is phenomenality, consciousness, phenomenality would be the technical word, that reality is fundamentally a mental phenomenon. It has been associated, for centuries, with religion, and it has, in more recent times, being associated with the… I don’t wanna say New Age, because there are good things in the New Age movement, but with New Age-y things, in a pejorative sense, with alien visitors from the Pleiades, or whatever. And that association is something that the people of intellectual influence in our society today do not want to touch with a 10-foot pole.

47:30 BK: They want to be very… As far away as possible from that kind of association. So, the ontology, although it’s eminently-reasonable, empirically-sound, and internally-consistent, if you put the time to study it, it has become associated with nonsense, with historical nonsense, or spiritual nonsense, or all this stuff that people [unclear speech] in order to sell books and get you into all kinds of therapies, or surrender your autonomy to a spiritual teacher that who abuse you. It’s part of human nature to abuse of everything. Unfortunately, idealism has been associated with some of the worst types of abuse that have happened in history, and it would take a while until these associations weaken a little bit.

48:15 PA: I really like the way that you put that. It got me thinking about a number of ideas which I won’t jump into too much, but just also the sense of the existentialism of the 19th century and 20th century, and particularly, I’ve been reading a lot of Nietzsche lately, with what Nietzsche talks about with the Ubermensch, and how that also plays into people accepting idealism. So, when you bring these, I wanna just go off on all these ideas, but I know I have been trying to… Try to keep it grounded. So, I wanna ask one last question, which I think is relevant to the psychedelic space, and just hear your thoughts about that.

48:48 PA: A lot of the mainstream, even psychedelic media, like you covered, has been about the medical, using psychedelics within a medical model, and we’ve often described the therapeutic or beneficial impacts of psychedelics in a somewhat reductionist paradigm by saying, “When you take Psilocybin, it activates the 5-HT2A receptor, which is tied to adaptability. It disrupts the default mode network,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. What are some of your concerns in terms of introducing psychedelics within that paradigm? Do you think the reintroduction of psychedelics into Western culture should be done in that way, because it will become accepted, or do you think there are other ways that we can also discuss psychedelics within a larger cultural narrative that will help to spread the philosophical concepts of idealism?

49:38 BK: I think a lot of the research being done on psychedelics today has to do with providing alternatives to people with serious psychic conditions, depression, anxiety, whatever. In that sense, it has a very practical clinical application that is independent, hopefully independent and agnostic of philosophical system, philosophical view. In other words, if it works, it works, and it’s good. Regardless of your philosophical views, it works. It has prevented you from committing suicide. It has helped you keep caring, overcome your addiction, or it has helped you deal with the anxiety. If it works, I think it’s always a good thing. And the people who are doing clinical studies now, it is possible, certainly plausible that they have to stay consistent with the mainstream paradigm if they are to get research funding, if they are to get grants funding to do their research.

50:37 BK: So, the last thing you want, I think, is a psychedelic researcher going off on a rant about a philosophical view. That’s not his job. That’s not his role. He’s not a philosopher. He is studying the mechanisms of action of a psychedelic in the human brain, hopefully, in a manner that is philosophically-agnostic. There are such things as neurotransmitters. We know that mental brain activity is based on neurons firing and that’s mediated by neurotransmitter releases. There’s no point in denying that. Philosophy comes in interpreting what that means but that there are such things as neurons that fire and neurotransmitters. Whatever they are, intrinsically, there are such things. And I think research can be done in this context, the philosophically-agnostic context, that studies the mechanisms of action and determines the effects of these drugs and models, what are the best treatment protocols for certain conditions? And the whole thing, if it works, is always good, independent of philosophy. I think, in addition to that, our culture or society, as a whole, can also look at what the implications of a broader use of psychedelics, maybe for recreational purposes, would be, in terms of how we see the world.

51:51 BK: I think it’s very likely… This is bad news. And I think it’s very likely that if recreational use of psychedelics at safe doses were widespread, that we would consume less, we would buy less stuff. I think it’s very likely, distinctly possible. I think it’s very likely that we would spend less money on pharma, psychoactive drugs that are patented and that are sold for very high prices. It’s also very likely. And these two things touch on strong economic interests. And that’s the dialectic now. I’m not a conspiracy theorist at all, one. I think we do all this stuff to ourselves because the people that have these economic interests are people like you and me, confused like you and me, depressed and anxious like you and me, going through the same processes of life. Now, all of them, even the very rich one, the Bill Gates, the Rupert Murdochs, I’m sure they have their existential crisis as well, perhaps more than the peasant working the fields, likely more. So we do that to ourselves, but it is naïve to deny that there are these economic forces, and that the implications of a wider-spread use of psychedelics would go against those economic forces.

53:02 PA: And so I think that’s why researchers have taken the avenue that they’ve taken, in terms of they’re utilizing the current infrastructure of the Western medical model to reintroduce psychedelics, in the hopes that it will change the actual model itself. Well, I’ll just kind of give an example of what I mean by that. I was recently reading a book about Bitcoin, because crypto’s taking off at the moment, it’s called ‘The Internet of Money‘. And the comparison that the author gave, with what’s going on right now with cryptocurrency, is he talked about how cars really didn’t become a thing until Henry Ford’s Model T, in the early 20th century. Yet, the first car was invented in, I believe, the late 1860s.

53:49 PA: So, it was at least 30 to 40 years before they actually became mainstream and accepted, and that’s because the entire infrastructure of the way that people got around was through horses. So, in essence, in order for cars to become more widely-used and integrated, there first needed to be an infrastructure that was built around it. And so my understanding of what researchers are trying to do is to first just get the foot in the door so that people start to just use psychedelics for a medical model perspective, but the hope would be that it would create a larger transformation where people re-evaluate their relationship with the other, in essence, that they’re able to see that context of selflessness.

54:28 BK: I think some mature researchers… There are some wise elders out there in this field. I think what you said does apply to them. Yeah. But I think there are other researchers out there who truly are physicalists, who truly are materialists. My point is it should not matter because the role they are playing is agnostic of philosophical view. If they’re honest researchers, it does not matter how they see reality, what their ontology is. They should do their research competently, safely and effectively. And that’s all that matters. It bothers me when a researcher, a clinical researcher or a neuroscientist, becomes a philosopher, in the sense of trying to promote a philosophical view, and unfortunately, there is a lot of it.

55:15 BK: Science spokespeople today, let’s say Brian Cox, in the UK, I don’t know whether you know him, not the British actor Brian Cox, but the science host, Brian Cox, in the UK, Richard Dawkins in the US, Neil deGrasse Tyson, these people become spokespeople of materialism as a philosophy. Well, they are scientists, and they are not equipped to talk about philosophy. And that I think is nasty. One, it’s stupid, and two, it’s nasty, insidious, and overall negative for society. I think they should just shut the hell up because they don’t know what they’re talking about. They should do science, and science is agnostic of ontology. Science is about studying the patterns and irregularities of perceivable nature and building predictive models of it.

56:02 BK: And none of it requires that you subscribe to a particular ontology. And I think, even in neuroscience, this happens. You have people like Steve Novella, who is a militant materialist. Well, in fact, he’s a neurologist. Sam Harris, to some extent, particularly difficult one because he comes across as so open-minded, but if you really go to the details of what he’s writing… Well, let me stop here. I think this is a problem. I think if researchers would be scientists and researchers, it’s fine. If philosophers do philosophy, even when they do it wrong, but at least they’re equipped to do it, and they are thinking through the issues of philosophy, fine. But when you have philosophers trying to do science or scientists trying to do philosophy, that’s bad. Unless some scientists are also philosophers, that also happens and that’s also fine, but you should know what you’re talking about before you open your mouth.

56:52 PA: And that’s a great way to end things. So I’ve learned so much from you, just having this conversation. I know it kind of started slow, but I think once we got the hang of it, I really, really enjoyed this. And I think I was able to understand, particularly for our audience, the way that we contextualize idealism and panpsychism within the current framework of our world and society. So I just wanna thank you, Bernardo, for taking the time to do this. If you could just let our listeners know where they could find you, whether that’s on Twitter or your website, I think that would be a great way to end.

57:23 BK: Everything is linked to my website. So my website is bernardokastrup.com, and there you find links to Twitter, Facebook, my forum, everything, my papers, my books, everything.

57:40 PA: Great. Well, thank you, again, so much, Bernardo. It was a pleasure to have you on the show, and I’ve learned a lot.

57:44 BK: It was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. AvatarBud Valley says

    Great podcast! I highly recommend Bernardo’s book “Why Materialism is Baloney”, which elaborates on idealism in more detail. One of the best books I read in 2017.

  2. AvatarKelly Hite says

    This is a great interview! I love the way you weaved Bernardo Kastrup’s experience and brilliant philosophy into the wider pursuit of Truth through various means including psychedelics. Well done! (I loved his expression “the intellect is the bouncer of the heart” – he’s so articulate)

  3. AvatarMark Abrahams says

    If Bernardo is interested, he could look for Masters & Houston’s book ‘The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience’ (1966) wherein he would see the phenomenology of “personal” data described. There was a hierarchy of levels beginning with the “Sensory,” and then moving into a “Recollective-Analytical” level, which where his “personal” data was encountered. Then there are the “Integral” and “Symbolic” levels which were experienced by smaller numbers of subjects.

    The Recollective-Analytical level is like the lions, or mythic sphinxes past which a psychedelic explorer must pass in order to reach the inner portals of transpersonal experience. One must resolve one’s personal psychodynamic issues first in a sometimes gut-wrenching catharsis and ego-death, before one has been sufficiently purified to enter the Holy-of-Holies. I am reminded of the rather smug Richard Alpert who experienced such a gut-wrenching release when he first met the guru Neem Karolie Baba who used a bit of telepathic siddhi, disclosing Alpert’s private thoughts the night before about his mother who had died following a spleenectomy. The experience of the ‘impossible’ (telepathy) caused Alpert’s belief system to crash.

    Something similar needs to occur on psychedelics in order to accommodate the influx of transpersonal, non-causal (synchronistic), and sometimes parapsychological Psi-function (e.g., telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.).

  4. AvatarMelissa says

    Thank you, I related grately to this podcast, I felt connected to the information. It’s great to find others that have had similar experiences. It’s great to hear from others thoughts that myself have been thinking. In my day to day life these conversations can be hard to have with those closest to me (family, co-workers).

    Lots of new learnings as well in the second part of the podcast. Appreciate the time. Thank you again!!

  5. AvatarDavid says

    Consumerism appeals to a larger number of the population. I do believe the psychedelic transformation would produce in any subject a shift towards materialism. I also have the understanding that extreme messages such as moving to Alaska and running far away from society norms can often occur in subjects.

  6. AvatarJonathan says

    This is why philosophy repels so many people. Speak in the abstract from the your perspective and work your way outward. So many logical fallacies I lost track. Apparently the “Me Too” movement is caused by Materialism and not narcissistic power hungry men? Disappointing interview.

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