Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about (philosophical) idealism. I qualify it as philosophical to distinguish it from casual meaning of optimistic. In philosophy, idealism is a metaphysical view about the nature of reality — one that I’ve always seen as in contrast to realism.

What caught my eye in all the talk was that I couldn’t always tell if people were speaking of epistemological or ontological idealism. I agree, of course, with the former — one way or another, it’s the common understanding — but I’m not a fan of the various flavors of ontological idealism.

It seems downright Ptolemaic to me.

Realism is the belief that external reality exists, roughly as we perceive it, and that our minds are travelers through this reality. I’ve posted about realism before.

Idealism is an opposing belief. It holds that reality is primarily, or exclusively, mental. This view has many variations, but broadly divides into two classes: epistemological and ontological idealism.

The former really isn’t idealism if it admits to a lawful physical reality. The transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant is epistemic. Kant was an empirical realist. His idealism involved the impossibility of ever knowing things in themselves — we can only know the world as presented to our senses and represented in our thoughts.

Ontological idealism holds that mental content is primary or exclusive. It has some intersection with panpsychism, a view the sees conscious experience in particles or in the universe as a whole.

As I said, I am not particularly sympathetic to ontological idealism, and I’m even less so to panpsychism. I think both are illustrations of philosophy gone wrong. I see them as the result of over-thinking — admittedly a ready and easy trap for philosophers, theoretical physicists, and “thinkers” in general.

All I can say is, to me, panpsychism and idealism have a “whiff of the wide-eyed.”


There’s a taxonomy that, firstly, divides metaphysical views between monism and dualism; and, secondly, divides monism between materialism and idealism. Dualism includes both materialism and idealism.

For me, realism is justified in the convergence of scientific knowledge and in that technology works as understood and designed. Idealism has to account for the constancy and universality of the laws of physics.

I read an interesting paper by David Chalmers, “Idealism and the Mind-Body Problem” which opens with this:

When I was in graduate school, I recall hearing “One starts as a materialist, then one becomes a dualist, then a panpsychist, and one ends up as an idealist”.

Chalmers goes on to explain his theory about why: First, one is impressed by science, but then encounters the hard problem, which suggests dualism. Rejecting that, one moves to panpsychism, the view that matter is conscious, which ultimately leads to a view that everything amounts to, or only consists of, consciousness.

I’m not sure I agree. At least, it hasn’t worked that way for me.

I think the materialist position is still an open, not fully written, book. It may turn out to be the reality. The hard problem turns out to be just that: hard. Not impossible; just hard. Like weather prediction.

Phenomenal experience here turns out to be just the something it is like to be an incredibly sophisticated physical information processing machine tuned by millions of years of evolution.

Nothing we know rules this out.

[That said, “nothing rules out X,” is a weak argument, in part because the boundaries of what can be ruled out are malleable. But a horse running last in a race and clearly losing still can’t be ruled out as winning.]

On the presumption materialism fails, there is some form of dualism to fall back on, and since we’re already into metaphysical territory here, I’m not sure why we would pile on even stranger metaphysics.

To me it’s a bit like math involving a hierarchy of uncountable infinities. I think those also are fantasies that come from mathematicians over-thinking things. I think there is only the countable and the uncountable. The idea of a hierarchy of uncountable sets just doesn’t seem coherent to me. It’s just a game with mathematical symbols.

Likewise, I see panpsychism and idealism as a game with ideas. I’m very dubious these games, as genuinely interesting as they are, have anything to do with reality.


Over history, science has shown how small and insignificant we are.

We started with Ptolemy and a model that put Earth (that is, us) at the center. But Copernicus replaced that with a model centered on the Sun — we are just one of many objects that circle it.

We used to think our galaxy was the only galaxy, but Hubble replaced that model with universe filled with galaxies. We just inhabit one of the multitude.

That there is nothing especially special about us or our place in the universe is a key tenant of science. It’s a view that has been shown accurate many times in our history.

I am not the only human. We are not the only family. We are not the only tribe, village, state, or country. We are not the only species, or planet, or star system, or galaxy.

According to some scientists (who, I’m pretty certain are over-thinking things), we are not even the only universe.

And yet, idealism would put our minds back at the center of things.

I’m amused at the conceit.

The universe is vast and old — humans are newcomers who’ve been around for only a tiny blip of time. The idea that our puny minds account for all that time and space is preposterous to me. I have a hard time taking it seriously.


For one thing, we know the brain is flawed and easily fooled — it can even fool itself. It’s also often quite unaware of what it’s doing; we can never truly “know ourselves.”

This flawed trivially deceived instrument is a source of existence?

Color me dubious in the extreme.

A good thing, too, or someone having hallucinations might really screw reality up for the rest of us.

That’s actually, in my view, a revealing flaw in idealism. Our myriad hallucinations and illusions (and self-deceptions) seem not to affect reality as others perceive it.

What makes perfect sense, however, is that individuals, for a variety of reasons, can have highly inaccurate mental models of external reality.

To me, this alone seems to justify realism and deny idealism.


Panpsychism is the view that inanimate objects have phenomenal experience (or something akin to it).

There is a taxonomy that divides panpsychism into three classes: micro, macro, and cosmic. Living creatures with brains are examples of the middle class, macro.

Micro panpsychism is about particles “experiencing” reality — for example, an electron is said to “experience” a magnetic field. (Which I think conflates two different semantics.)

But the micro form has a serious flaw (one I think condemns the idea). It’s called the combination problem. How do particles that “experience” reality combine to form a brain that (we personally know) does experience reality?

Trees aren’t made from tree particles; cars aren’t made from car particles. The idea that the mind is made of mind particles seems absurd.

I think it is. Nothing works like that.

In the paper I mentioned above, of micro panpsychism, Chalmers sums up his discussion of it with:

But it also faces the significant extra challenges from spacetime and causation, as well as the more general challenges from holism and the combination problem. Some of these problems are very serious; arguably the combination problem is the most serious, followed by the problems of spacetime and of holism. So while there are significant attractions to micro-idealism, its prospects are somewhat questionable.

Yeah. Somewhat.


Which leads to cosmic panpsychism, the idea that consciousness is a universal property of some kind. Our consciousness, then, somehow comes from this universal consciousness.

It is here that panpsychism intersects with idealism.

A basic problem with idealism is: If reality comes from mental content, what about things no one is thinking about? Did the far side of the Moon exist before we saw it? Did Pluto? What about other galaxies?

A solution is to posit a cosmic mind — the “mind of God” — that thinks of… well, everything. If reality must be instantiated by thought, then cosmic reality must come from cosmic thought.

But there is a similar problem to the combination problem: How do our minds inherit from this cosmic mind?


I think what we might call structuralism makes the most sense — it’s the one view that accords with what we know.

A brain is a unique (natural) structure produced by millions of years of evolution. It’s complex almost beyond belief — even its basic parts (like synapses) are extremely complex. Its network, a defining property, is mind-boggling in size and interconnectedness.

All in all, it’s an amazing natural engine; this much we know. It’s the one thing the universe has created that questions (and challenges) the universe.

Tiny objects show none of this, nor does the larger universe. We see no questions, no challenges, no art, no celebration, no sorrow, no joy.

It’s tempting to put such a wondrous instrument at the center of things — after all, we are certainly the centers of our personal realities. The epistemic form of idealism is certainly correct.

But ontological idealism? No, I don’t think so.

Stay realistic, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

33 responses to “Idealism

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I flirted with idealism back in high school. I had this idea that scientific thoughts or discoveries actually created reality as we went along. I was taken with the story of the discovery of the benzene ring and the dream about a snake eating its tail (a story that’s been questioned).

    More recently one can ponder the Higgs field (and its boson). Did the necessity to make the Standard Model account for mass literally bring the Higgs field into reality? So it could then be found when they looked?

    But the problems with idealism eventually ruled out that view in my thinking. Hadn’t really thought about my high school opinions until I bumped into so many talking about idealism these days.

    (I really do think a lack of progress in high-energy physics, and in consciousness, has driven some thinkers in both fields a little batty around the edges. Panpsychism is little more than a belief in ghosts and spirits. It’s a modern form of animism. “Oh, great spirit of the electron, hear our prayers!”)

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I’ve never understood how idealism avoids collapsing into solipsism. If I’m going to doubt the external world, why should I give other minds a pass?

    The cosmic mind or God thing, seems like idealism backing up into pantheism (or panentheism): there is an external world, but it’s God, or created by God.

    In the end, for me, external reality is a theory that is predictive. If someone wants to push an alternate theory like idealism, my question is, what extra explanatory work does it do? Does it let us mentally alter reality? If not, then what do we even mean by saying that unchangeable reality is part of our mind?

    People will sometimes say it explains consciousness. But as far as I can see, all it does is deny one half of the question. Idealists like Kastrup express scorn for illusionism, but they’re just doing the same thing on the other end.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “If I’m going to doubt the external world, why should I give other minds a pass?”

      Solipsism is certainly a kind of (extreme) idealism, but idealism doesn’t necessarily deny external reality — it puts it as secondary to mental content. Likewise, if mental content is primary, that doesn’t require that yours (or mine) is the only mental content in existence.

      “The cosmic mind or God thing,”

      Yeah, sorta indistinguishable from religion, isn’t it. I suppose one out, both for cosmic idealism and panpsychism, would be a consciousness field we haven’t discovered. (We’ve never found the inflaton field, so you never know.)

      But it’s hard to see how that helps. What is it about brains that engages this field?

      Maybe, if we’d only built the SSC, we’d have found brainion particles. (I was just reading how the SSC was designed as a 40 TeV collider that could have been upgraded to 50 TeV by now. Instead, we’re about to bump the LHC to 14 Tev. Who knows what might lurk in the 20-50 TeV range. Not us. Not anytime soon.)

      “People will sometimes say it explains consciousness.”

      That seems to be the motivation. It really does strike me the same way multiverses do — fanciful solutions based on assumptions about how things have to be. All very “post-empirical” which, I believe, is the modern phrase for “total hand-waving bullshit.”

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “Likewise, if mental content is primary, that doesn’t require that yours (or mine) is the only mental content in existence.”

        Ah, ok, I can see that. (I have to admit I’m not read up on idealism.) But I still don’t see the logical break that prevents solipsism. If mental content is primary, why isn’t the mental content of one mind not primary?

        The consciousness field strikes me as more relevant for panpsychism. It seems like idealism can get by without it. Although technically, so can panpsychism, if some existing thing, such as spin is appropriated (as Goff postulated in a comment on Hossenfelder’s blog).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “…why isn’t the mental content of one mind not primary?”

        That would conflate two different views: One about the primacy of mental content, the other about the primacy of personality. They seem inclusive in that solipsism pretty much has to be a kind of idealism. I’m not sure the notion of a realist solipsist is coherent (although now that it’s popped into my head, I’ll have to think about it).

        “The consciousness field strikes me as more relevant for panpsychism.”

        A field, yeah, I think so, too. I don’t see how a field can be thinking about the universe and thus bringing it into existence. (But then I reject idealism in general, so of course it doesn’t make sense to me. (Neither does Goff.))

        Idealism, to me, seems almost forced into having to accept either that parts of reality aren’t real unless we think about them, or some sort of mind of god or other intentional über-being. (Which, again, just shows the absurdity of idealism to me.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On the field, a lot depends on what we precisely mean by “consciousness”. I get the impression that many panpsychists see it as just raw beingness, a metaphysical icing that is more concentrated in more intelligent systems. That version seems instrumentally identical to illusionism, except that the illusionist should expect to eventually see an explanation for the illusion.

        “Idealism, to me, seems almost forced into having to accept either that parts of reality aren’t real unless we think about them, or some sort of mind of god or other intentional über-being. ”

        I actually thought that was the motivation for some variants of it, like some of the ones derived from the Copenhagen interpretation. The mind of God thing seems like it’s in danger of just amounting to romantic physicalism.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I get the impression that many panpsychists see it as just raw beingness,…”

        Right, just a field. But the second part of that sentence raises the major questions of, “Huh? Why?” and “What kind of systems?”

        Worse, a field implies particles… 😮

        “That version seems instrumentally identical to illusionism,”

        You lost me on that. I thought illusionism was the idea that our experience of consciousness isn’t what we think it is. (But since we don’t know what we think it is, I’m not sure how an utter lack of knowledge can be said to be an illusion. An illusion of what?)

        “I actually thought that was the motivation for some variants of it, like some of the ones derived from the Copenhagen interpretation.”

        My high school sympathies for it kind of turned on that. Back then the whole wave-function collapse due to consciousness (?!?!) caught my fancy. And I was struck by the benzene ring story which seemed to support the view.

        My hypothesis was that number of minds involved mattered. Once entire civilizations began believing things, reality got pretty locked in. Only the things no one had considered were malleable. Therefore Peter Higgs literally brought the Higgs field into existence. Now lots of people believe it’s real, so it’s pretty locked in.

        Pity we believed the speed of light was a limit. If we could just convince ourselves it isn’t…

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On illusionism, I was going on the version that says the beingness is a mirage. (Which technically makes it not what it seems.)

        Interesting idea on the number of minds. But I wonder about something like heliocentrism, where the consensus was different and was forced to change. Of course, maybe history itself depends on that consensus. o_O

      • Wyrd Smythe

        One of my high school ideas was that maybe in “olden times” miracles and monsters really did happen because people believed they could. Science came along and convinced everyone that stuff was impossible, so now it is.

        Heliocentrism would have started false and become more true as people believed. Which is pretty silly… was there an in between state? But, as you say, “history” — perhaps history “corrected itself” once enough people agreed the Earth went ’round the Sun. Idealism allows for almost anything regarding external reality.

        Terry Pratchett, in Discworld, often expresses the idea that belief makes things real. All the minor Discworld gods (and there are many of them) depend on the faith of their believers. Such gods never die so long as any memory (of any kind) exists (ideas are hard to kill), but they can diminish to nothing. Of course, the Discworld is magical, so many forms of idealism are true. (In one incident, due to too much magic, swear words popped into existence as ugly flying or crawling creatures. (Because swear words have some power on their own.))

        There’s also a David Brin novel, The Practice Effect, that takes place on a world with magic that causes a combination of the idea of something and using it per the idea to have real effect. For instance, a short stick nailed to a long stick and used as a sword becomes a good sword over time. Used regularly for long enough, it becomes an excellent sword — diamond-edged, razor-sharp, unbreakable… but neglected will revert and decay. Left long enough, becomes two sticks again.

        Really cool idea; it’s one of my favorite Brin books. Rich people have to hire people to wear their clothes in order to keep them at their finest. Left in the closet, they revert.

        That’s some weird idealism, but it’s a neat take on the idea that “practice makes perfect.”

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I haven’t read too much fiction set in idealism. Or any really that I can think of.

        “Idealism allows for almost anything regarding external reality.”

        That might be what attracts people to it. Don’t like what science is saying about reality. No worries. It’s all an illusion we either create or created for us. We conscious minds are the center of everything.

        But I wonder how wide the collection of “we” are. It’s not just me. So it includes all humans? What about animals? Plants? If so, what makes one mind a human and another one a mouse? Or is everything included and we’re back to panpsychism?

        It can also blend into the simulation hypothesis, which could be viewed as a sort of neo-idealism.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ha, funny, I can tie your first and last paragraphs together. Jack Chalker and Michael Moorcock are two I can think of who’ve written what you’re calling “neo-idealism” — a reality controlled by computer.

        Moorcock’s far distant future humans wish any reality they like into existence, and that reality is concrete, yet not bound by physics. It’s all done with hyper-powerful computers that read their minds and fulfill their wishes.

        Chalker, likewise, has powerful computers manipulating reality based on thoughts of living beings. Chalker also has this thing about mind-body swapping or changing. The minds of his characters end up all sorts of crazy places. (Early Piers Anthony did a lot of mind-swapping, too, but only among living beings.)

        I just finished reading the second Well World trilogy. I’ve had paperback versions of #2 and #3 on my shelf long enough for their pages to yellow, but never read them due to not having #1. Finally the light bulb went on: Duh! Amazon, you idiot! Even there, had to special order it through one of their associates, and it was the new larger paperback format, but at least and at last I had it.

        Chalker… is one of those who hasn’t aged well, based entirely on his views of women. Or as he invariably calls them, “girls” (which just doesn’t cut it in anything written after, say, 1970). I can’t decide if he’s a misguided wannabe champion of women’s rights or a secret misogynist.

        I was going to post about it for Sci-Fi Saturday, but I can’t decide on what approach to take on him. Well World is a classic, and one I enjoyed very much as a much younger person. Now Chalker is hard to take. I have a feeling the post will pivot to hexagons, which are kind of interesting. (If you’ve read Well World, that’s not as much of a non sequitur as it seems. 🙂 )

        I suppose it’s possible one could read Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series as idealism in that, at least in the first trilogy, Donaldson is very coy about whether Covenant imagined it all or not — including the old “prophet” Covenant sees in the real world. The second trilogy seems more clear that it’s all real.

        But ultimately, the ‘no holds barred’ nature of idealism may make it poor story material. It’s a bit like hallucinogenic sequences (which I rarely care for). Everything just becomes whatever and doesn’t mean anything. We might like it as an escape from our scientific reality, but maybe it makes our stories too fanciful. [shrug]

        “So it includes all humans? What about animals?”

        It’s a pity “structuralism” refers to a kind of sociology, because I think it would be the perfect term for what I think I am. I think the structure of the brain (down to the smaller details) matters. So, yeah to humans, kinda yeah to animals, but no to plants.

        Even animals with significantly different brains, still have brains — networks connected through synapses plus other stuff. I think that’s key. I’m a structuralist! 😀

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I don’t believe I’ve read any Chalker before. But yeah, when reading stuff written decades ago, I usually go into historical mode and make allowances for the times. Old school sci-fi was a boy’s club, and it shows. I can understand why so many women find it hard to read the classical stuff. It’s portrayal of them was utterly from a male perspective, and usually cast them in roles that women of the time probably couldn’t tolerate, much less today.

        On brains, I think that leaves a lot of variance. The book I’m reading right now talks about the “brain” of c-elegans, which I thought was odd, but after looking at the diagram, most of its neural structure is concentrated in the frontal regions where a brain typically goes. Although with 302 neurons, there isn’t a lot to work with.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I don’t believe I’ve read any Chalker before.”

        It’s one thing to have stereotypical role models — that’s forgivable in context, I agree. It’s another thing entirely to deal in misogynist themes and images. Chalker seems to at least pay lip service to “feminist” thinking (or his idea of it), but he puts in female characters in pretty ugly situations.

        He’s big on body alteration and swapping, so his characters end up as various other aliens, many of which are bestial in nature. His women tend to end up as beast-like or as naked fertility types. (I’m not joking. In the series I just read, a primary female character spends nearly the entire trilogy running around naked. She has special mental powers that keep her from feeling the elements. Yet she’s also been altered to be simple-minded in affect. Complaint, useful, sexual, almost an accessory for the other character.

        And yet she’s instrumental to the plot, and most of what happens has a logic behind it, so it’s really hard to know WTF is up with this stuff. Is Chalker daring to write about topics no one in their right mind would normally touch (in which case bravo, very thoughtful), or is he indulging in some rather seamy, even ugly, personal fantasies (in which case yuck).

        “Although with 302 neurons, there isn’t a lot to work with.”

        Neural nets accomplish a fair amount with like numbers, which says something about that architecture. More to the point, 302 neurons does seem like a heap of sand (so to speak) — a recognizable, albeit extremely simple, “brain.”

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        The Chalker stuff is starting to sound interesting. It actually reminds of Neal Asher’s stories, which are much more contemporary. In one, he has a woman slowly transformed into an alien attack monster, in another, a woman is captured by an AI, who saves her after she is injured, but takes the opportunity to modify her into a mental slave. Of course, all kinds of horrible things happen to male characters as well, but the female ones tend to be more memorable. It does feel uncomfortably misogynistic.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Chalker is a long-time favorite author of mine. Some of his stuff, especially the stand-alone novels, is really good. (If only he weren’t so problematic.)

        The Well World series is kind of his crowning achievement — a cult-level hit (albeit kind of a small cult 🙂 ). It’s about a planet-sized reality-controlling supercomputer built by an ancient race that had attained the status of bored immortal gods. Achieving perfection didn’t satisfy them, so they created the Well World as a laboratory of possible worlds.

        The surface of the planet is, firstly divided into northern and southern hemispheres. Each hemisphere is comprised of 780 hexagons (“hexes”) — each of which is a separate world and different species. Separate down to the physics. Broadly, there are three classes of hex: High-tech, Semi-Tech, Non-Tech. In the latter two, electrical systems just don’t work. Current dies in the wire, radio signals die in the air, batteries don’t hold a charge (if you can manage to charge them in the first place). In the non-tech hexes, even mechanical machines won’t work. Steam power, for instance, works in semi-tech, but not non-tech. It’s strictly muscle power in non-tech hexes.

        Travel between hexes is no problem — there’s just a shimmering curtain that offers no resistance. But weather and technology can change utterly in a single step. Some hexes are water hexes with water-breathing races. Lots of water hexes together comprise an ocean. The southern hemisphere is carbon based life; the northern hemisphere is non-carbon-based life.

        I ain’t even to the really cool parts, yet. 😉

        Pretty much all the races on Well World were used as templates for “real” (ha!) worlds in the universe. Humans, for instance, come from a Well World hex, named Glathriel. So space-faring people who find themselves in Well World often encounter species they’ve heard about or met.

        The ancient race who created all this is long gone, but their experimental laboratory lives on. They also left behind a series of gates that offer one-way transport to the Well World — but only if the intelligent being who stumbles on them wants to leave their life. (Narratively, it means people with certain interesting attitudes.)

        The kicker is you show up in either the southern or northern hemisphere, depending on whether you’re carbon-based or not, and you show up initially in “the Zone” — two huge facilities located at the poles. (Chalker mostly ignored the northern hemisphere. Nearly everything takes place in the southern.)

        You could potentially spend your life in the Zone, but that’s boring, and they generally won’t let you. You generally end up taking the gate out to Well World. When you do that the first time, the WW computer randomly (yet often perversely) assigns you to a race (and gender!) and puts you in the appropriate hex.

        From then on, you’re that creature. You can use the gate to return to the Zone, but you’ll always return home and your species never changes. You can travel to other hexes and use their gates to go to the Zone and from there return home, so it’s handy for a quick return home when traveling.

        Okay, long explanation, but I’ll probably use a lot of it in the post I plan to write. You can see the potential for storytelling. Seems like Well World would make an excellent background for a TV series. New worlds just a hex away.

        The punchline, by the way, is that our entire universe is created and maintained by the Well World computer. The first trilogy, which is five books because books two and three are so long, involves the need for a repairman to fix the supercomputer. There is one on call, but the adventure is his getting where he needs to be. Ultimately the series is a quest adventure.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Wow, that’s pretty developed. I can see why there’s a cult. (Literary cults have been generated on far less.)

        The different zones of technology reminds me of a story Alastair Reynolds did, ‘Terminal World’, with a tower city and different levels of technology possible. Of course, Reynolds was writing decades after Chalker, so he might have been inspired by the Well World series.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Chalker was fairly well-known and well-read in certain circles but he never quite hit the Big Time. It’s a good bet other Sci-Fi authors know his work.

        To be clear, by “cult” I do mean a quiet literary sort comprised of interested readers waiting for the next book. I don’t mean the more modern sort involving costumes, merchandise, people having a favorite character, or questions about which was stronger, the Enterprise (or Death Star) or the Well World computer. (Because, obviously, the WW computer. 😀 )

    • James Cross

      Idealist like Kastrup think there is a world external to our individual mind (called an alter) but its reality also is experiential in nature but the experience is of a mind at large. Our individual minds, the alters, are disassociated from the mind at large and have partial and relative views into the larger reality.

      Just explaining not advocating. It really doesn’t need to explain consciousness because consciousness is fundamental, the basis of everything. So it can’t be explained anymore than a materialist can explain why there is something (matter) rather than nothing.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Our individual minds, the alters, are disassociated from the mind at large…”

        Heh, yeah, that’s another point that I think signals the incorrectness of the view. Disassociated? WTF?

        I finally went back and finished listening to the Richard Brown interview with Kastrup (which I had to stop listening to because my head was shaking so much it was hurting my neck). He and Brown touched on why our brains are disassociated objects but a cell phone (Kastrup says) has no mental content and no disassociation. Which immediately raises the question, what’s the difference?

        Kastrup had no real answer other than, seemingly, to assert biological naturalism (although he didn’t put it that way). Brown is something of a biological naturalist (he’s dubious even a Positronic Brain would work), so he was sympathetic to the idea, although I believe he still rejects idealism.

        I was a little surprised the conversation moved on. They seemed to be reaching for structuralism. (I may leave a comment on his blog about it. He sometimes deigns to reply to amateurs like me. 😀 )

        “It really doesn’t need to explain consciousness because consciousness is fundamental,…”

        Exactly why it shares aspects of panpsychism!

        To my eye, it’s a reaction to lack of progress solving the hard problem. Idealism and panpsychism posit that the hard problem is [A] indeed mystical and [B] unsolvable through physics, therefore [C] it must be some kind of fundamental magic.

        In virtue of having dabbled in it in high school, I’m a tiny bit sympathetic to macro idealism (and I’d bite the bullet — things unthought of don’t exist), and also sympathetic to a “mind of god” scenario, but I utterly reject micro panpsychism. No sympathy there at all. 😉

        A form of panpsychism in which consciousness is a fundamental force that, for some mysterious reason, only manifests in brain-like structures… I guess I wouldn’t be willing to rule that out 100% but the question of “why only in brains” demands an answer.

        But I digress…

        The funny thing was, after disagreeing with almost everything Kastrup said, the end of his discussion got into his rejection of machine consciousness. He wasn’t entirely clear about Positronic Brains, but he seemed to think we would ultimately create intelligent life. (He does seem to have biological exceptionalist tendencies.)

        So while I very much disagree with his views on idealism, I quite agree with his views on computationalism. 😀

    • James Cross

      It gets down to the fact there is something rather than nothing.

      So what is the something? Everything we know comes from experience so the simplest view per the idealist viewpoint is the something is experiential too. If it is different from the experiential, then you’re stuck with some variation of dualism or the hard problem.

      Still just explaining.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Thanks for the explanations. The idea of the mind at large, which seems equivalent to what Wyrd called a cosmic mind, seems like it might just be relabeling physical reality as the contents or produce of another mind, one that just happens to work in the same way that what we call physical reality works. It seems equivalent to pantheism, or panentheism.

        For me, it always comes down to what has predictive value. An external reality seems to explain why things just happen that no one seemed to plan, expect, or want. I’m sure various idealisms can provide explanations for these events, but are they the simplest explanations for our observations, our experiences?

        It seems to me that mixing in consciousness where it’s not already evident complicates rather than streamlines. Granted, the very fact that we’re involved already mixes it in to as least some extent, but is that epistemic or ontological?

      • James Cross

        An idealist might say the materialist is relabeling mind as physical reality which would make its mental attributes somewhat illusory. If you think mind is not illusion, then you have to explain how it acquires characteristics which are not physical.

        “An external reality seems to explain why things just happen that no one seemed to plan, expect, or want. ”

        Yes but idealism accepts an external reality different from your own mind too. So your statement wouldn’t explain anything to an idealist. On the other hand, since the things that happen can be predicted to some degree, the order and predictiveness would more logically come from a mental external reality than a non-mental one.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “If you think mind is not illusion, then you have to explain how it acquires characteristics which are not physical.”

        I don’t think mind is illusion, but my definition of mind is an organization of physical processes. Of course, the mind creates models of things which don’t physically exist, but the model doesn’t necessarily imply the thing modeled.

        I think the fact that prediction is often wrong, and is done more in probabilistic rather than deterministic terms, shows that the predicted is separate from the predictor. Of course, an idealist can say that it’s just separate mentality. At some point, it might reduce to differences in terminology.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “…the order and predictiveness would more logically come from a mental external reality than a non-mental one.”

        Ha! 😀 Not from the mentalities I’ve met!

        Consider how hard it is to get general fiction right and how much harder it is to get science fiction right. What are the odds of a mind coming up with something as logically ordered as reality?

        And if multiple minds were involved… well, who hasn’t had to deal with a committee before? What have they ever gotten right?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “An external reality seems to explain why things just happen that no one seemed to plan, expect, or want.”

        And, even trickier to my eye, why external reality seems completely lawful, consistent, and persistent.

        I really admire whoever thought of π — that was some righteous thinking! 😀

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Everything we know comes from experience so the simplest view per the idealist viewpoint is the something is experiential too.”

        But what is the source of that experience, hmm?

      • James Cross

        No source. It is primary. That’s the view. Just saying.

        What’s the source of matter? Same sort of question.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “No source. It is primary.”

        I do understand that’s the view. I just find it incoherent. Experience, pretty much by definition, is of something.

        “What’s the source of matter? Same sort of question.”

        I’m not sure it is, but I’ll have to think about exactly why…

        I think it’s something along the lines of a difference between positing physical reality (a single idea) as axiomatic compared to positing, what seems to me, a compound idea involving mentality and something apparently non-physical having that mentality and then somehow creating a lawful consistent reality.

        The latter seems like a way bigger ask to me, and it’s already bad enough having to swallow the idea that matter (or anything) just is.

  • James Cross

    “something apparently non-physical having that mentality and then somehow creating a lawful consistent reality.”

    I might not be understanding what you mean with that statement. If you are referring to the mind at large, it would naturally be non-physical and creating a lawful consistent reality from a mind would be more imaginable than a lawful consistent reality arising spontaneously from matter.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “If you are referring to the mind at large,”

      In the context of the particular thread you’re replying to, I believe we three were discussing macro idealism, not the cosmic form. The comment you’re replying to assumed macro, but the argument works for cosmic idealism, too.

      Idealism assumes that disembodied experience, and a disembodied mind to have that experience, came first, before substance, before physical minds existed. Yet minds are just about the most complex system we know, so idealism takes this disembodied complex intentional system as axiomatic.

      Realism assumes that a set of basic physical laws is axiomatic, and everything comes from that. We live in a lawful universe, because the law came first. (You had it backwards: “a lawful consistent reality arising spontaneously from matter.” Matter arises from physical law. Matter can’t help but operate lawfully.)

      Why would any mentality be capable of creating a lawful universe? That, pretty much by definition, is a commitment to a traditional God. “Let there be light!” (And there was.)

      • James Cross

        Wouldn’t basic physical laws be Platonic and hence mental?

        Most idealist do more or less equate mind at large with God.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Platonic in the sense they already exist for us to discover, certainly. I don’t see how that makes them mental in the idealist sense. Mental content about Platonic forms is received, isn’t it? We discover them, we don’t invent them.

        Physical law arising from mental content, per idealism, would be more Aristotelian. It would be something we invent based on our thoughts about stuff. (Which seems horse before cart. How do think about stuff lawfully, thus creating law, if law didn’t already exist? This seems to fall under Kant’s ideas about our intuitions of time and space.)

        I’m fine with a cosmic God. The closest I come to atheism is agnosticism, I have strong dualist tendencies, and I lean into deism. I even have theist suspicions at times (many things have raised my eye-brows over time). But it’s pure metaphysics, so it’s a topic with no possible resolution. (In our lifetimes, anyway. 😉 ) Most aren’t interested, so I generally stick to physicalism for discussion.

And what do you think?

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