Friday, April 1, 2016

Bernardo Kastrup

Hello Bernardo, Please tell Mind Body Spirit readers about yourself.

I have a Ph.D. in computer engineering with specializations in artificial intelligence and reconfigurable computing (computers that can re-wire themselves so to autonomously adapt to the specific task at hand). I have worked as a scientist in places like CERN in Switzerland (home to the world's largest particle accelerator, the LHC) and Philips Research in the Netherlands. I have also had a life-long scholarly interest in philosophy, both Western and Eastern.

You have a special philosophy of life based on your work with computers, can you explain this please?

Because of my science background, I started out as a rather cynical materialist. Part of my early scientific work consisted in trying to replicate aspects of human thinking in computers, so to solve engineering problems. The attempt eventually opened my eyes to some fundamental problems with the materialist worldview. For instance, materialists take for granted that the brain somehow generates consciousness, even though nobody today can explain how. But while it was clear to me that we could build artificial brains to process information like human brains, we couldn't even begin to think about how to create consciousness. How could a specific arrangement of electromagnetic signals suddenly lead to subjective experience? To expect a computer simulation of brains to produce awareness is akin to expecting a computer simulation of kidneys to make the computer pee on your desk. It's absurd.

But consciousness undoubtedly exists: it is the only carrier of reality anyone can ever know. So why can't we even begin to conceive of how to create it artificially? The answer slowly dawned on me over the years: consciousness is never created because it is the very ground of all existence. It was already there before the original act of creation. As such, consciousness is primary, everything else – from dust particles to galaxy clusters – arising from and within it. According to this view, the brain is merely the image of a process of localization in a stream of transpersonal experiences, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localization in a stream of water.The brain doesn’t generate consciousness for exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water. Active neurons are what experiences look like from the outside – not the cause of experiences – this being the reason why brain function correlates tightly with subjective states.

My philosophy of life entails that, for the sake of preserving a minimum degree of honesty in our culture, we must remain grounded in conscious experience. Experience is what there is before we start theorizing about the world and ourselves. It takes precedence over everything else. It is the departing point and necessary substrate of all theories.

Do you envisage a future very different from the one we know today based on your knowledge of computers?

Yes, I envision a future when human beings will understand, beyond any doubt, that their consciousness will never cease to exist. But not because of foolish trans-humanist ideas like the uploading of consciousness into computers, which are based on a complete misunderstanding of the nature of reality. Instead, I think that we will finally realize that, for the same reason that computers cannot generate consciousness, neither can the body. It is the body that is in consciousness, not consciousness in the body. As such, there is simply no reason whatsoever to believe that the end of your body will be the end of your consciousness. The body is merely what a particular configuration of consciousness looks like from the outside. Its dissolution upon physical death is merely the outside image of a change in our state of consciousness: from localized to de-clenched. This realization alone will have drastic implications as far as our cultural value system, personal priorities, way of life, economy and power structures.

You have written several books, what do they have in common?

All my books elaborate on a philosophical view of the nature of reality called 'monistic idealism.' According to this view, a world outside consciousness is an unprovable and unnecessary abstraction. We can explain all reality without it. The implication is that all reality is then fundamentally subjective. The difference between the ‘outside’ world perceived through our five senses and the ‘inside’ world of thoughts and feelings is merely one of misidentification, not of fundamental nature. We misidentify ourselves with a particular subset of our stream of experiences – namely, thoughts and feelings – while deeming the rest of the stream – sensory perceptions – to come from a world outside ourselves. Think of it in terms of your nightly dreams: you misidentify yourself with a character within your dream, believing the rest of the dreamscape to be external to you. Once you wake up, however, you immediately realize that your mind was creating the whole dream. In that sense, you were the whole dream, not only a character within it. In my books, I discuss the idea that the very same thing is happening right now, as you read these words.

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