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Sinking into life: the tragedy of our lost philosophy

Sinking into life: the tragedy of our lost philosophy

Reading | Editorial

The editors | 2021-09-26

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In an age when abstraction and conceptual games have come to dominate our philosophy, we must wonder whether we’ve lost something important, even crucial, in our way to relate to the world, one another and even ourselves.

If an adventurous but regular person peruses today’s most scholarly academic literature on foundational philosophical topics, such as metaphysics, they are bound to be taken aback but the utter failure of such literature to relate to life in even the most menial ways. Analytic metaphysics has, by and large, turned into an abstract game utterly disconnected from the vividness and pungency of life; a puzzle wherein each piece is an invented concept and there is no pre-determined picture that should emerge when they’re put together. Consequently, each player assembles the pieces in whatever way pleases their intuitions, prejudices or agendas best, and proclaims the emerging picture to be correct. Out of this curious gameplay, intricate, entirely abstract conceptual edifices emerge, cladded in inaccessible jargon; games so abstruse and jargon so inaccessible, in fact, that even the specialists responsible for judging their quality often have difficulty determining whether they contain important insights or are just linguistic smoke and mirrors. We know it, for we often find ourselves in just such a position.

Often enough, professional philosophers are fond of weaving endless strings of concepts and qualifiers as if the linguistic sophistication of such intellectual edifices could somehow compensate for their lack of real-life substance, meaning, proximity, vividness and significance. Neologisms are liberally sprinkled on top of such edifices, so to disguise their otherwise conspicuous lack of originality. Papers are then published and tenures achieved. But these are empty victories that change precisely nothing; they fail to shed any light on the mightily strange condition in which we all find ourselves merely by being alive. For abstract conceptual games are just that: abstract products of ethereal thought that fail to sink into life. And herein lies the problem: for it to be anything, philosophy must sink into life. Short of it, it’s just a game, as lightly experienced and ultimately meaningless as any game.

When philosophy is merely ‘done,’ as a factory worker does work, it becomes counterproductive, a distraction (as all games are), an illusion of progress that encumbers real progress. The signs that this is precisely what’s happening are omnipresent: every few years, philosophers come up with new ideas that unashamedly contradict their previous ones, publishing new papers and new books in the process, and ultimately holding no position with any serious conviction. “But how could they be criticized for their bravery in acknowledging that they had been wrong? How could we censure their courage to change their minds in the presence of new evidence or new ratiocinations?” you might ask.

The problem is the naiveté of the notion that such changes are steps forward in a road that ultimately leads to truth. If anything, abstract conceptual games are circular: they go round and round, only to return to the point of departure, for they deliberately ignore the natural cognitive faculties that give us a steady sense of direction. Philosophical positions are swapped like changes of clothes because they are held lightly; they lack the gravitas, the weight of ideas capable of sinking into life; ideas that resonate with the body, calibrate and modulate our lived experience at every moment of our lives, inform our feelings and guide our most important choices.

Analytic philosophy attempts to separate itself from our intrinsic subjectivity in the hope of rendering itself purely objective. This extraordinarily ingenuous and vain hope aside, the main effect of the attempt has been to disconnect philosophy from its very source: the felt complexity, nuance, vividness and pungency of lived experience, without which philosophy is literally dead. Consider Nietzsche’s words, from his The Joyful Wisdom (1882):

We philosophers … are no thinking frogs, no objectifying and registering devices with frozen innards—we must constantly give birth to our thoughts out of our pain and maternally endow them with all that we have of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate, and disaster. Life—to us, that means constantly transforming all that we are into light and flame, and also all that wounds us … Only great pain is the liberator of the spirit.

Professional philosophers in the 21st century are proud to be “thinking frogs,” for only then—they presume—can their output be objective and reliable. Ironically, it’s precisely this attitude that makes their output unreliable, for it disconnects them from the very cognitive faculties that could otherwise give them a steady sense of direction.

“But just what are these faculties?” we hear you ask. Are we calling for a reliance on vague intuitions, as opposed to rigorous logical reasoning and empirical evidence? Are we defending a return to the lack of conceptual clarity that plagued continental philosophy before the rise of the analytic school, in the early 20th century? Surely not. As the editors responsible for pursuing the stated goals of Essentia Foundation, we demand conceptual clarity, rigorous reasoning and empirical grounding from the work we publish and otherwise support. So what is missing?

The best way to state what we are calling for, while avoiding the trap of yet more abstract conceptual games, is to put it so: we are calling for analytic philosophy to be taken truly seriously by its own practitioners. Philosophical ideas should be put forward with the same earnestness and weight with which one makes a life-changing choice, or even a life-risking choice. “Would you stake your life, or that of a loved one, on the ideas you are putting forward?” That’s the question every analytic philosopher should ask themselves before publishing anything. Yes, this is a high demand indeed, but not at all unreasonable: doctors, airline pilots, traffic controllers and engineers, among many others, make these life-and-death choices every day. They don’t hold their positions lightly, even though they know there are inevitable risks involved. Their professions intrinsically carry the weight of the continuation—or not—of life. And so does philosophy, for as serious a matter as the continuation of life is life’s very meaning. It is the lived acknowledgment of the responsibility carried by philosophical work that invests it with the gravitas of life itself, and mobilizes all of the practitioner’s cognitive faculties. If one realizes this, it becomes unimportant to explicitly name those faculties; we all know them by direct acquaintance when our lives—or their meaning—are at stake.

True philosophy is the art and science of finding out how to live life meaningfully. What are we? What are we supposed to do and how to go about it? What is it all for? What is the foundation of out relationship with nature? These are the questions that give birth to philosophy as the most uniquely human activity, our distinctive contribution to the dance of nature. Professional philosophers who regard their work with any less earnestness do not deserve to be called ‘professionals’—or ‘philosophers,’ for that matter. They’re just players.

Essentia Foundation regards metaphysics with the greatest earnestness. For us, metaphysics is the blood of human life. We seek to be a supportive channel for work that sinks into the lives of our readers, enriching them in the process. This is our key value and our raison d’être. We are not here to play games.

Depression, anxiety and the grip of metaphysics

Depression, anxiety and the grip of metaphysics

Reading | Editorial

The editors | 2021-08-09

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Metaphysical beliefs modulate our experience of all aspects of life. As such, explicitly assessing the metaphysics we internalize can be the difference between depression and contentment, anxiety and vibrant aliveness. In this brief editorial, we highlight the crucial importance of metaphysics to every facet of our lives.

Recently, one of us was talking to an acquaintance who has been battling stage-four colon cancer for almost five years. The person was struggling with the prospect of the end of life, mentally reliving and reviewing past actions, relationships, mistakes and unachieved dreams. At one point, he confessed to himself out loud: “I’m solely responsible for my loneliness. Socially awkward since childhood, graduating with honors transformed me into an insufferably arrogant over-achiever. I destroyed my engagement and career. Ultimately, cancer erased my hubris too late to mend bridges with family and friends.” That cancer had given him both the push and the time to mend himself—as evidenced by his very words—didn’t occur to him. And if it had occurred, he would still have dismissed it as irrelevant, for our private insights and inner maturity die with us; only what is ‘out there,’ outside our inner lives, counts. Or so we think.

At another point in the conversation, our acquaintance was reminiscing about what he did or failed to accomplish in the course of his life. He managed to find one thing he was proud of; a relatively minor technical achievement that constituted the thin thread of self-validation he was hanging on to. But, soon enough, it gave way: “I don’t feel worthy of the outrageous financial and expert resources expended in extending my life.” For him—as for the vast majority of us—only external accomplishments count as a measure of one’s life’s worth. Nothing that happens inside—insights, understandings, realizations—holds any meaning, for the mental is ephemeral and evanescent; only the material is concrete and substantial. Or so we think.

This person’s way of relating to himself, others and the world—the inner narrative setting the tone for his apprehension of meaning, worth and significance—is a direct implication of the physicalist metaphysics, according to which mind is an ephemeral and inconsequential side-effect of physical entities. Only the latter have true, standalone existence and endure—in different configurations—across time and space. In contrast, inner, mental events, for being destined to eventually vanish into oblivion, are ultimately pointless.

This is very important to realize, if one wants to avoid the fate of our acquaintance: belief in the metaphysics of physicalism is not merely conceptual; it’s not an abstract, academic thing; it is instead deeply internalized and, as such, orchestrates our emotional inner lives. Under most circumstances—not only terminal illness, but also many other aspects of life, such as career and relationship events—it determines whether we are content or dissatisfied, happy or depressed, comfortable or anxious, peaceful or restless, feel supported or lonely, and so on. Our emotional inner lives—our very happiness, contentment and sense of safety—are a direct function of our internalized metaphysical beliefs.

Clearly, thus, metaphysics is a matter of utmost importance. It is very personal, very close to us, very intimate, even if we think we are not ‘into it’ or ‘couldn’t care less.’ If asked, our cancer survivor acquaintance would deny having any affinity with metaphysical questions. Yet, his suffering is modulated by his unexamined metaphysical beliefs. Metaphysical questions are, arguably, the most important questions in life, for they determine whether any given life event will be experienced as positive or negative, constructive or destructive, meaningful or insignificant. We don’t experience objective events; we experience only our internalized apprehension of these events, as determined by the metaphysics we embody. Anyone who believes that what counts are the events themselves, not our embodied interpretation of them, has failed to cognize something vitally important about human nature.

As the material published by Essentia Foundation seeks to make clear, physicalism is not only just a hypothesis, but also a very problematic one at that, as far as coherence, explanatory power and empirical adequacy are concerned. The widespread belief that physicalism must be true—for most scientists and scholars seem to tacitly adopt it at an operational level—is not only unjustified by the facts but also dangerous, since it lies at the root of most existential suffering. It has made us blind to the numinous meaning, significance and immortality of our inner lives, to the universal service we render by achieving inner insight, and to the eternal light of inner growth. If this were understood by our cancer survivor acquaintance, his journey would be eased. To be sure, he would still suffer, but his suffering would be imbued with the grace of eternal meaning, for the mental is what truly has standalone existence. Objective events and external achievements are but means to an end, ephemeral representations without reality of their own.

This is why Essentia Foundation exists: not to engage in a merely abstract, conceptual game, but to change lives in all ways that truly count. Understanding and internalizing metaphysical idealism is literally life-changing: it opens a window to light and fresh air in the dark, moldy and claustrophobic room of physicalism. And so, we invite you to join us in this expansive journey towards true meaning; a journey through vast inner landscapes.

Our free Analytic Idealism Course is now online!

Our free Analytic Idealism Course is now online!

Learning | Ontology

The editors | 2021-06-01

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Today we’re releasing a complete, carefully produced but free online course on Analytic Idealism, perhaps the most modern and intellectually compelling formulation of Idealism currently available. The course is based on a series of seven videos, totaling over 6 hours of content. It is conducted by Essentia Foundation’s executive director, Bernardo Kastrup.

This entirely video-based course has been in the making since early 2021! According to Bernardo Kastrup, it is the most complete, in-depth video series he has ever produced on Analytic Idealism. Don’t miss out on the chance to follow it and become conversant in the most compelling and well-substantiate metaphysical alternative to physicalism currently available.

Analytic Idealism maintains that the universe is experiential in essence. That does not mean that reality is in your or our individual minds alone, but instead in a spatially unbound, transpersonal field of subjectivity of which we are segments. Analytic Idealism is one particular formulation of Idealism, which is based on and motivated by post-enlightenment values such as conceptual parsimony, coherence, internal logical consistency, explanatory power and empirical adequacy. It’s a formulation that will appeal to intellectually hard-nosed, left-brained, science-oriented people, but isn’t the sole formulation of Idealism.

To follow the course, click here!

Hello, we are Essentia Foundation

Hello, we are Essentia Foundation

Reading | Editorial

The editors | 2021-01-16

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In this inaugural editorial, we introduce ourselves to you by discussing our perspective on an urgent challenge facing our society, our vision for how to address this challenge, and how we hope to contribute to the solution.

It is with sober optimism in these difficult times that we, Essentia Foundation, introduce ourselves to you. Essentia has been created to address one of the least discussed—yet most significant—challenges facing our society today: the now-clear fallacies of our materialist worldview, according to which matter is primary and mind secondary. In doing so, we also hope to articulate a more coherent, parsimonious and empirically adequate alternative: idealism, also known as nondualism.

A remnant of a more intellectually naïve and unsophisticated past, metaphysical materialism now rides on intellectual habit and unexamined assumptions. Being the reigning worldview in our society, it subtly validates and amplifies some of our most dysfunctional behaviors, such as consumerism, environmental destruction, corruption, conflict, mechanistic medicine, etc. If truly embodied, materialism can also contribute to our most dreaded inner states, such as existential anxiety and a sense of meaninglessness associated with clinical depression.

We at Essentia Foundation are committed to truth. We believe that, if there were good objective reasons to consider materialism the most plausible metaphysics, we should bite the bullet and live with the implications. But on the basis of the latest scientific evidence and analytic reasoning, the contrary is arguably the case: evidence from neuroscience and foundations of physics is now contradicting some of the foundational tenets of materialism. Careful reasoning in analytic philosophy is also showing that materialism may be incoherent, based on fundamental logical fallacies. So why should we accept its grim implications? Why should we live according to a demonstrably fallacious worldview?

In his magnificent book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions—perhaps the most important volume of the 20th century—Thomas Kuhn has shown that, historically, we are anything but objective when it comes to our worldview. The latter is defined more by a set of inherited values, beliefs and assumptions than reason and evidence. Looking back to our ancestors, we have no difficulties acknowledging this. For instance, we think patronizingly of 17th-century scientists, who thought electrostatic attraction was caused by an invisible elastic fluid called ‘effluvium.’ What a nonsensical view of things, isn’t it? But when it comes to ourselves, here in the early 21st century, we cannot imagine that we are as deluded as our ancestors; that, just like them, we can’t see past our own paradigmatic values, beliefs and assumptions.

Essentia Foundation will seek to help us see beyond the materialist paradigm. Indeed, to future generations, our present mistakes will look as silly and incomprehensible as ‘effluvium.’ Two of these mistakes will seem particularly confounding to them: our insistence on replacing reality with a mere description of reality, and our disposition to acknowledge appearances while denying the thing that projects these appearances in the first place. Let us look into these more closely.

Early scientists counted on their senses to study the world: the things they could consciously see, hear, smell, taste and touch around them. Their world, just like yours and mine, was thus a world of mental qualities: colors, sounds, flavors, aromas and textures. At some point, they realized that it was very useful to use numbers to describe the relative differences between mental qualities: to say, for instance, that a feather weighed 50 grams while a heavy piece of luggage weighed, say, 50,000 grams. This represented the birth of quantitative science, in which numbers and their relationships are extremely powerful tools to describe the world and predict its behavior.

But then something strange happened: some scientists and philosophers—the distinction wasn’t clear at the time—started maintaining that only the numbers exist, which they called ‘matter.’ For them, only the description of the world had standalone reality, while the qualities described in the first place were somehow secondary to the numbers, mysteriously created within people’s skulls. This was the birth of metaphysical materialism, which—in a self-evidently incoherent move—tries to magically pull the territory out of the map. Yet it stuck. Instead of acknowledging it has taken an early wrong turn, our paradigmatic thinking labels this wrong turn a ‘problem’—more specifically, the so-called ‘hard problem of consciousness’—and promises to somehow solve it one day.

Equally embarrassing is our paradigmatic insistence that appearances exist, but not the reality that projects—or appears according to—these appearances. For matter is but an appearance: it’s how the world presents itself to our observation, not necessarily what the world is in and of itself. Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer have made this abundantly clear already over two centuries ago, but our paradigmatic values, beliefs and assumptions are stronger than the iron-clad logic of our own sages. We say that matter is all there is, that it is the ‘thing-in-itself,’ instead of the mere appearance or representation of a deeper and more concrete reality.

Such a misunderstanding would be, well, understandable if nature weren’t putting evidence to the contrary right in front of our eyes—literally—every day: every time we look into the mirror, we see an appearance. But we know that ‘behind’ that appearance, in some sense, lies the thing-in-itself: our conscious inner life, our moods, thoughts, emotions, fantasies, aspirations, hopes, dreams, fears and desires. When we see tears flowing down our faces as we look into the mirror, we know that the tears are but the external appearance of the concrete inner reality of sorrow and despair. We know that material tears on a contorted material face aren’t all there is to the story, but merely the way a felt inner reality presents itself to external observation. And since our tears, faces and the rest of our bodies are made of the same atoms and force fields that constitute the rest of the observable universe, it is only reasonable to infer—as Schopenhauer did—that the rest of the universe, too, is but the external appearance of a deeper reality; perhaps a reality of inner feelings analogous to our own.

But instead, our paradigmatic thinking assumes that there is an arbitrary discontinuity in nature: in human beings, there is an inner mental reality of which matter is an appearance, alright; but when it comes to the inanimate universe—and perhaps most other living creatures as well—matter is the thing-in-itself. For us, in the early 21st century, there is nothing ‘behind’ the appearances; there is nothing that appears in the form of appearances, just hollow, phantasm-like appearances themselves, without inner essence. This is analogous to going to the cinema and acknowledging the existence of the images on the screen, while denying the reality of the projector by virtue of which the images exist. Erupting volcanoes, thunderstorms, exploding supernovas: we think of all these images as flat, hollow, without intrinsic meaning; they aren’t representations of a deeper reality, but mere phantasms without essence, zombies floating in thin air.

Perhaps future generations will dedicate entire fields of study in psychology, sociology, anthropology and the like, to trying to figure out how we could have gone so wrong; how we could be so blind, for so long, to the blatant incoherence of our own thinking. But for now, different action is called for: subjectively biased as even science and philosophy may have become—for they are the quintessential embodiment of the paradigm—reason and evidence should ultimately prevail, as they have in previous times. What we need is a constant, tireless, ever renewed articulation of the available reasoning and evidence, till they slowly start to percolate through the paradigmatic shield of our collective thinking. And once a critical mass of reason and evidence has come through, our understanding of the essence of ourselves and nature at large will undergo remarkable change; change that will bring us closer to truth and each other. This, in essence, is what Essentia Foundation tries to achieve.

But what will this new worldview look like? What are reason and evidence pointing to? As we hope to make clear over time with the material we will be publishing, there is a strong sense in which the precise opposite of what we think today is much more plausible: instead of matter being primary and mind secondary, we will find that mind—not your or my individual mind alone, but an extended form of mind underlying all nature, of which we are microscopic segments—is primary, matter being just an appearance of essentially mental processes. We will find that, when regarded from a particular perspective, mentation—the thing-in-itself—simply presents itself in the form we colloquially call ‘matter.’ Indeed, there is now robust, compelling scientific and philosophical evidence for this; evidence known in small specialist groups, but hardly made accessible to a wider public. Essentia Foundation will seek to eliminate this communication gap.

The journey ahead is long and difficult. But we believe that, with your help, our goals can be achieved within our own lifetimes. A brave new world will emerge from that: one less susceptible to consumerism and environmental destruction; to despair, loneliness and meaninglessness; to corruption, conflict and egotistic thinking; a world where we will more readily recognize our essential identity with each other and the rest of nature; where logic, reason and evidence will actually be logical, reasonable and evidentiary; where we will see through not only the paradigms of our ancestors, but also our own; in a word, a more mature world, closer to truth.

The journey has only just begun!

Is what you see, what you get?

Where is your mind?

Is matter but a superficial appearance?