Response to Bernardo Kastrup

comments 49

I have just published a piece in the Institute of Art and Ideas, raising some objections to Bernardo’s Kastrup’s analytic idealism. One aspect of the disagreement between Bernardo and I is whether the following conditional is true: if physicalism is true, conscious states are epiphenomenal (i.e. have no causal effect on the physical world). Bernardo thinks it’s true; I think it’s false. I gave my reasons for thinking this in the IAI piece, but I would also like to counter-respond to some responses Bernardo raised in this blog post. I thought it better not to include this in the IAI piece, as it’s a somewhat peripheral concern. But I would recommend reading the IAI piece before reading the discussion below.

Bernardo argues for the claim <if physicalism is true, conscious states are epiphenomenal> by appealing to the work of David Chalmers on this topic, which is generally taken as canonical. Bernardo said:

“David Chalmers recapitulates the mainstream physicalist argument that, because the physical world is putatively causally-closed, phenomenal states must be physical states. In other words, because they have no causal efficacy, phenomenal states cannot exist as phenomenal states; instead, all the qualities they entail must be reducible to the quantities of physics.”

The first sentence above is correct. The second sentence, however, is not only not a correct interpretation of the first, but it contradicts the first. Again, we’re back to the logic of identity (see the IAI article). If phenomenal states are – are identical with – physical states, it follows – from Leibniz’s law – that, if physical states have causal efficacy, then phenomenal states have causal efficacy. I suspect from what he says elsewhere in the post that Bernardo will think I’m playing academic games. But the laws of logic don’t play games for anyone.

I think Bernardo may be confusing identity with elimination. Some physicalist hold that phenomenal qualities should be eliminated, in which case they don’t have causal efficacy but only because they don’t exist. The more common physicalist position is that conscious states are identical with, or wholly constituted of, physical states, in which case they have causal efficacy because they are identical with/wholly constituted of physical states. Bernardo seems to be trying to get to a middle way option for the physicalist: phenomenal states exist, but they don’t exist ‘as phenomenal states’ because they’ve been ‘reduced’. But what on earth would it mean for a phenomenal state to exist but not to exist as a phenomenal state? When physicalists say that they’ve reduced phenomenal states, they mean that phenomenal states really exist (as phenomenal states, how else would a phenomenal state exist?), but that they’re either identical with or wholly constituted of physical states.

In any case, the mainstream argument for physicalism that Chalmers is discussing claims that if dualism is true, then phenomenal states have no causal efficacy (because the physical world is causally closed), and hence that the only way we can ensure that phenomenal states have causal efficacy is if physicalism is true. I don’t buy that argument as panpsychism also gives us a way of ensuring that phenomenal states have causal efficacy (Chalmers agrees with this, which is one of the main points of the article). But the point is that Bernardo is misunderstanding what the causal closure argument is trying to show. If you don’t believe me, I recommend asking Chalmers, or any other academic philosopher working in this area, on either side of the debate. This is not a point of controversy.

The Author

I am a philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.


  1. cadmar larson says

    If both have been created by the same cause, then by logic, both are related with a commonality and can affect each other. If consciousness is part of the first cause that created everything, then again, consciousness can affect, but not the other way around, what has been caused can not affect that which caused it to come into existence.

  2. Stephen Davies says

    You say consciousness is the essential nature of everything. You say there is only consciousness. You say matter is nothing more than what consciousness does.
    In that case, ‘all that does‘ is matter. There can be no expression of consciousness other than matter. So what are phenomenal states and experiences? These could not be experienced in your view because any movement, any action, any experience can only be matter. Any doing of consciousness is matter and nothing else.

    You say matter is fundamental.
    How can the action of a fundamental (Consciousness) be itself a fundamental?

    • I don’t get the argument. Can you lay it out as a logically valid argument with premises leading to a conclusion?

  3. Stephen Davies says

    I’ll try 🙂 I am struggling to express a feeling of disquiet I have that matter can be what consciousness does.
    Maybe some questions will be better.
    In what sense is matter a fundamental if it is just what your ontological fundamental does?
    If matter is what consciousness does, isn’t any experience a ‘doing’ of consciousness and therefore material and quantitative, and so how can there be any experience of qualities?
    If consciousness is at rest, the fundamental of matter wouldn’t exist.
    Do you not have the same explanatory gap as material but in reverse? Don’t you also need a one-to-one isomorphism between conscious states and neural arrangements and need to explain how one gives rise to the other?
    Thanks for considering my questions; I am really wanting to understand your position.

    • Steven Evans says

      Matter is as described in the Standard Model, shown empirically by trillions of experiments. Panpsychism is crank nonsense.

      • Stephen Davies says

        I’m sure you are aware that empirical science and metaphysical theories are two different things, and that both panpsychist Goff and idealist Bernardo accept completely empirical science.

      • Kevin Pryor says

        The calculations for quantum mechanics quickly become too hard for the biggest supercomputer very quickly for molecules so you can’t test the theory for large molecules if your computer can’t calculate the probabilities. Quantum computers were supposed to remedy that situation but won’t work for a high number of qubits if quantum mechanics stops working at high a qubit count count and free will gradually takes over.

  4. Stephen Davies says

    *as materialism in reverse (Typo above)
    Just one more point:
    Materialism has the explanatory gap of how inanimate matter gives rise to consciousness as well as physical phenomena, qualia as well as quantity,
    It seems to me that you have a weirder explanatory gap of how consciousness can give give rise to inanimate quantitative phenomena, and *only* inanimate quantitative phenomena.
    Consciousness cannot give rise to qualia, as all that rises from consciousness is quantity/matter; ‘matter is what consciousness does‘.
    Qualia are, and only are, the essential nature of things. Qualia can never be an expression, an action, an experience, for that is the sole realm of your other fundamental, matter/quantity.

  5. Stephen Davies says

    How do you explain dreams?
    ‘Matter is what consciousness does’. Where is the matter of my conscious dream experiences? Why do my dream qualia of interactions and landscapes not manifest actual people and physical worlds?
    If the expression of my waking consciousness is the physical world, where is the physical world of my dreaming consciousness?
    If matter is what consciousness does, how can consciousness create non-physical dream experiences?
    A materialist has to explain how matter gives rise to all conscious experiences, including dreams. You have to explain how all conscious experiences give rise to matter, but the conscious experience of dreams give rise to immaterial worlds.
    The idealist is not so limited. Giving rise to matter is just one special case of what consciousness does. But for you – consciousness is, matter does – matter is the only thing that consciousness can give rise to by your own definition.
    For the idealist, waking life is like a dream. For you, a dream should be like waking life – physical.

  6. Stephen Davies says

    Idealism: the essential nature of everything is consciousness; what consciousness does is create conscious experiences/qualia; a special case of conscious experience is the conscious experience of matter.

    Materialism: the essential nature of everything is matter; what matter does is create combinations of quantitative objects; a special case of this creation of combinations of objects is the combination of objects that have conscious experiences.

    Goff Panpsychism: the essential nature of everything is consciousness; what consciousness does is matter. It cannot create immaterial conscious experiences (e.g. qualia and dreams). It can only create quantitative matter by definition.

    Pansomism (the theoretical opposite to panpsychism): the essential nature of everything is matter; what matter does is consciousness. It cannot create combinations of objects or quantity. It can only create qualia and dreams, by definition.

    The first two positions are coherent, even if they have problems in explaining their special cases.

    The latter two are incoherent as there is a complete ontological mismatch between the essential nature of each and its expression. And rather than having the challenge of explaining quantity or qualia as a special case, each one makes the experience of either qualia or quantity impossible by definition.

  7. Lee Roetcisoender says

    Both you and Bernardo are a couple of egoistical children playing in the same sandbox, a sandbox consisting of sand made up from the aggregate of subject/object metaphysics (SOM). Metaphysics is the grounding foundation upon which any and every theory is built; get the metaphysics wrong and the entire intellectual construction will collapse.

    Do the math folks: this debate has been going on for the last twenty-five hundred (2500) years. The mind/matter dichotomy cannot be resolved because the mind/matter division is a byproduct of, and/or the very offspring of the SOM paradigm. SOM is a massively suppressive model, an intellectual construction that is responsible for creating intractable problems that fundamentally do not exist.


    • Stephen Davies says

      Are you saying there is a non-subject/object metaphysics for adults. Or that adults shouldn’t waste their time playing with metaphysics at all?

  8. Haydar Inan says

    Dear Philip, I think what Bernardo is getting at is correct but it’s true that he articulates it in a rather unfortunate way. The physicalist argument is that since there is mental causation and the physical world is causally closed then the mental must be physical. But the way this argument accomodates mental causation into a physicalist ontology is very much like how compatbilism accomodates free will into determinism. They manage to secure the concepts but what the concepts refer to under said views are very different from what they purport to refer to according to common-sense. I think that according to common-sense the phenomenal features of mental states play a role in those states causing other mental or bodily states and behaviour. But if mental states are physical states this cannot happen since causation involving the mental is the same as causation not involving the mental. It involves physical events and physical events at the fundamental level are to be described in non-mental terms. A

    • Nicely argued, but seems to me like an argument against physicalism rather than an argument that if physicalism is true, consciousness is epiphenomenal. Indeed, you analogy suggests this: if compatibilism is true, we have free will. It sounds like you just don’t buy compatibilism.

      • Haydar Inan says

        I think it is an argument against physicalism on the ground that physicalism implies epiphenomenalism. Or at least it implies epihenomenalism if we understand mental causation as common-sense understands it. The same goes for determinism. It is only compatible with free will in my opinion if we twist the concept as understood by common-sense. And in this sense the way compatibilism saves free will and physicalism secures mental causation indeed seems to be a case of word-game.

    • Lee Roetcisoender says

      The physicalist argument and the idealist argument are equally untenable. This is due to the fact that both physicalism and idealism start from the same demise, and that premise is subject/object metaphysics (SOM). One cannot unify the world under either physicalism or idealism when the grounding architecture upon which both of those ontologies is constructed is built upon a foundation of duality, and that dualist architecture is SOM.

      SOM holds metaphysics and philosophy hostage the same way the flat earth held sea faring travel hostage. Empirical, a posteriori evidence finally freed the world from the flat earth syndrome. Breaking free from the constraints of SOM will not be attained utilizing empirical, a priori evidence; it will require a priori intuitions, intuitions that conform to three distinct bullet points: 1.) logical consistency, 2.) ease of explanation, 3.) inclusiveness, containing zero paradoxes and/or contradictions. Neither physicalism nor idealism conform to any of the bullet points listed above.


      • Stephen Davies says

        And what is this alternative metaphysics that meets your criteria?

      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        Reality/appearance metaphysics or (RAM). Parmenides was the first person in recorded history to bring up the notion of a reality/appearance distinction. Even though during his own lifetime Parmenides was venerated by his contemporaries as a genius, his ontology was later rejected by Plato and Aristotle who then substituted it for SOM.

        In the East, Nagarjuna reintroduced the notion of the reality/appearance distinction with his Two Truths doctrine. More recently, Immanuel Kant brought the Two Truths doctrine to the West, renaming it Transcendental Idealism, thereby canonizing the terms noumena and phenomena. Noumena or the “thing-in-itself” represents the ultimate reality or literally “REALITY”, whereas phenomena represents “the thing”, our conventional reality, or literally the “APPEARANCE”.

        To this very day scholars, philosophers and metaphysicians alike all reject RAM and are still held hostage by the massively suppressive SOM paradigm. SOM is the intellectual version of the flat earth syndrome…


      • Stephen Davies says

        Would you say the following metaphysical position meets the criteria for a RAM: Reality is one Mind, one universal consciousness; an Appearance of Reality occurs to parts of itself that have become partially and temporarily disassociated/partitioned. Or would you say that was a SOM?

      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        Here’s the problem Stephen: Fundamentally there are only two forms of analytical idealism, subjective idealism of the East and objective idealism of the West. The SOM paradigm mandates the ontological distinction of the subject and the object. It is a grounding substrate upon which all of our intellectual constructions and determinations are based. SOM is the problem, not physicalism nor idealism.


      • Stephen Davies says

        So if RAM is not idealist, what is it?
        Idealism as described by Bernardo has apparent subjects and objects, but these are appearances, there is actually only one Reality. There are, empirically, the appearance of subjects and objects so these must be accounted for somehow.

  9. Lee Roetcisoender says

    In direct contrast to SOM, RAM is an “anti-realism” architecture, one that makes a definitive, concise, and succinct ontological distinction between the one Reality (which is unknown) and the appearance of reality (which is knowable). Because RAM is an anti-realism architecture, it is able to unite both physicalism and idealism under a single manifold of monism wherein both mind and matter are fundamentally the same “thing”. The compelling question them becomes; what is that “thing”?

    By the simple fact that Bernardo’s model of idealism still acknowledges the ontological distinction dividing the subject from the object, (mind being the subject and matter being the object), be them classified as empirical appearances or not, demonstrates that Bernardo is still under the influence and intellectually serves the SOM paradigm. All physicalists do exactly the same thing. SOM is the prism through which we view the world and the prism has to shift.


  10. Lee Roetcisoender says

    I do not expect you to apprehend what I’m talking about here, but here is one final anecdote regarding RAM. Since both mind (consciousness) and matter are appearances and not the Reality; by definition, the ontological primitive cannot be either one of those two substrates. It has to be something else, something that is more fundamental than either mind or matter, a fundamental that is responsible for every thing, a fundamental that is centric to every thing and a fundamental that in the context of Reality “is” every thing.

    Whatever that underlying fundamental actually is, that fundamental will be at the core of every discrete system in our physical universe and every discrete system in that universe will experience it directly. Additionally, it is centric to who and what we are as an individuated consciousness, a consciousness that is nothing more than a physically complex discrete system, just like any other discrete physical system in our universe.


    • Stephen Davies says

      Thanks for this explanation.
      But I’m not yet clear why neutral monism solves the subject-object problem? Nor why it is such a problem in the first place.
      There still seem to be subjects and objects in your description but you give them a different name, a PCDS.
      And why do you give prominence to ‘physical’ here? What is physicality in your ontology?
      How does saying that subject and object are the same and both the direct appearance of an unknown ontological imperative explain anything?
      In Kastrup Idealism, there are apparent subjects and objects and there is one ontological imperative. All subjects and objects, whatever you want to call them, are the appearance of the one reality.
      Are you really saying that there is no difference between a conscious and non-conscious PCDS?
      If your ontological imperative is neither matter nor consciousness, you need to account for how it gives rise to matter and consciousness, otherwise there is no explanation and no understanding – it’s an appeal to the magic of a Flying Spaghetti Monster.
      Kastrup works with the empirical appearances of conscious and unconscious, physical and non-physical, and explains that in terms of the reality of a known ontological imperative.
      You seem to be denying the empirical distinction by labelling both subject and object as physical and then saying they magically appear from something unknown and undefined.

      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        Thank you for your patience. RAM is not neutral monism, it’s strict monism, an ontology which firmly asserts that there is only one imperative fundamental, and that fundamental is neither matter nor mind. I hope you can at least acknowledge to yourself that: “Wow, that’s something new, I’ve never heard that before”.

        Addressing your Flying Spaghetti Monster: There is something that is more fundamental than either mind or matter, but up to this point I have not introduced nor articulated what the ontological imperative actually is, nor have I exhaustively explained RAM. Nevertheless, I can assure you that once the ontological imperative is identified, RAM makes a clear, concise and succinct accounting of how the ontological imperative gives rise to matter and consciousness. And for the record, that venue is a three dimensional physical reality, the appearance.

        All I can reassert is that a grounding metaphysics is the foundation of any intellectual construction. Get the foundation wrong and the entire infrastructure that is built upon that base will be false. RAM resolves all of the intractable problems which SOM created, problems that fundamentally do not exist.

        No disrespect intended here, but I do not expect you to apprehend RAM, and it is impossible to explain it in a forum format. I’ve published a book, but I have yet to make it available to the public. My metaphysics is original and ground breaking. It stands in direct contrast to the prevailing paradigm of materialism and idealism, so it is only natural that my theory gets a great deal of “push back” from both communities. New ideas always threaten the status quo. It appears that my metaphysics is an affront to both materialism and idealism. In light of that paradigm, I do not have an audience for my work. Furthermore, I am not in the business of trying to change anyone’s mind.


      • Stephen Davies says

        As your ontological imperative is beyond consciousness, I can see why it would be hard to explain it in a forum as it would suggest it was unknowable by any conscious being, not just me.
        Your book sounds interesting.

      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        Just to add further clarity: Even though one’s the initial response would be that the ontological imperative is unknowable, this is not the case. It is knowable, but there are two specific reasons why knowability is problematic. First, it is too close and centric to who and what we are as a physical system, so close that we can’t even see it and second, SOM does not allow and/or will not accommodate the vocabulary that is used to express the ontological imperative.

        I’ve gotten a few independent reviews of my work. By and large, materialists disagree and are relatively indifferent, something I would expect. Idealists on the other hand are the most resistant, and can be downright hostile towards RAM. I’ve had a couple of individuals I would consider to be mystics read my book and they found the ontology to be right on target. In fact, they have helped me refine the book to make it more concise and add even more clarity. Personally, I don’t consider myself to be a mystic, I’m a metaphysician, so getting additional impute from mystics was a real plus for me.


    • Haydar Inan says

      Lee, it’s quite ironic that you call others egotistical when you belittle others with senteces like “I do not expect you to apprehend what I’m taking about here…”
      Not that it is that profound. In fact I think that you are quite confused. For one thing, claiming that Kant’s metaphysics was similar to Nagarjuna’s is evidence that you deeply misunderstood Nagarjuna. What he stresses is that the concept of Two Truths should not be understood to mean that there is a noumenal world behind the veil of maya. Also, claiming that Bernardo’s idealism reinforces the distinction between subject (consciousness) and object (matter) is a sign that you don’t understand his view. According to him there’s only consciousness which can and will divide itself into subject and object but this duality is not inherent to it.

      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        For what its worth, here is a rebuttal I gave to the last person who accused me of not understanding Nagarjuna:

        “Your understanding of Nagarguna is seen through the prism of idealism. Nagarjuna was “not” an idealist. The very reason Nagarjuna developed the double negation architecture of the tetra lemma in the first place was to deter his disciples from attempting to create an articulation of the ultimate reality. Nagarjuna’s understanding of the ultimate reality mirrors Parmenides reality/appearance distinction. It is a distinction which state: The ultimate reality is separate and distinct from any appearance one might assign to it as well as separate and distinct from any opinion one might have of it. According to the current prevailing buddhist tradition, it becomes quite clear that Nagarjuna’s efforts fell upon deaf ears because the disciples began using the tetra lemma as an instrument to “justify” their articulations of the ultimate reality and continue to do so to this very day.

        The Madhymaka Buddhist tradition is under an obligation to explain “why” they do not respect nor honor the original intent of the tetra lemma. The double negation architecture built into the tetra lemma is simple. In western syllogistic logic there are only two lemmas to any given proposition, either true or false. The tetra lemma offers another alternative or “lemma” to either true or false, and that third alternative is “neither true no false, plus it is neither not true and not false”; which in laymen terms simply means: “I don’t know”. Long story short: Madhymaka Buddhism does not honor nor respect “I don’t know”.


  11. Lee Roetcisoender says

    To be clear, I have a great deal of respect for Bernardo because he is not satisfied with the absurd viewpoint of materialism, and he is at least attempting to bridge the gap in our understanding.

    “According to him there’s only consciousness which can and will divide itself into subject and object but this duality is not inherent to it.”

    I understanding that this is Bernardo’s position. But here’s the problem: According to the SOM paradigm, there are only two options from which to choose in order to reach a consensus as to what is the REALITY, either matter is fundamental or consciousness (mind) is fundamental. There are no other alternatives from which to choose. The RAM architecture introduces a third option, an option which distinguishes itself as more fundamental than either consciousness or matter.


    • Stephen Davies says

      But what is this more fundamental third option and how does it give rise to consciousness and matter?

  12. Lee Roetcisoender says

    Your debate with Bernardo garnered a visit to your website from a couple of his avid disciples. I hope my engagement with them gives you a greater insight into the mindset of idealism. When an idealist states: “That nothing happens outside of consciousness (mind)”, they are speaking the truth. Nevertheless, like everything else in the realm of appearances, that truth is contextual, and that context is the individuated consciousness of the individual having the experience. Mind is a physical system, and for the physical system of mind, just like any other physical system, nothing happens outside of that system. That is the context which makes their assertion true.

    SOM does not accommodate nor will it allow contextualization of reality, whereas RAM is an architecture grounded in context. RAM asserts that every thing is real and that every thing is true, but true-ness and real-ness are a context, a context that is subordinate to the one Reality.

    Summary: In light of the mind/matter dichotomy, one must be compelled to consider; what is more fundamental that either mind or matter? If one can answer that question, then a form of micro panpsychism will be on a solid foundation, satisfying all three (3) of the bullet points I listed in a previous post.


  13. probot says

    To me, its quite shocking that Kastrup still doesn’t understand modern materialism. He keeps forming those absolutely straw man arguments and somehow no one humbles him. Since 2015 he’s been writing that materialists consider consciousness “epiphenomenal” which is false and hopelessly wrong. It is embarrassingly bad. And his argument against panpsychism is that it is based on physicalism and physicalism is wrong because it is based on the belief of “discrete particles” and quantum theory proves these discrete particles false. Oh Jesus, where to start? He’s jockeying with quantum theory against physicalism using arguments against classic materialism that is effectively DEAD since late 19th century. No one considers everything to be discrete particle stuff! Bernie, we know-know that there are fields! Hence, name changed to physicalism. Physicalism is the view that whatever physics tells us is true, including quantum theory and so forth. It is not some rudimentary use of the word “physical” that is synonymous with matter. Quantum theory is physicalist’s bible because its all about physics (hence PHYSICALISM).

    I am getting the impression that a bunch of guys that suffer through “neuroexistentialist” crisis cling to that idealist stuff because it gives them hope that something matters. It becomes a cult-like religion with a hindu-twist. But where’s honesty in this? As B. Russell once said, its always useful to believe things that are true, and not just convenient to believe because they make us feel good. One should be man enough to face reality as it is.

    • Stephen Davies says

      I think his argument is slightly different: Kastrup argues that consciousness must be epiphrnomenal given materialism/physicalism. He is fully aware that physicalists themselves argue isomorphism or illusionism. It’s just that he thinks that these positions are formerly meaningless and latterly ridiculous.
      He is also well aware of, and very well informed about, quantum field theory – and how it seriously questions the idea of an objective and external world.
      He criticises Goff’s panpsychism for assuming particles are fundamental.

      • probot says

        No. I am far from sure about that. Quite the contrary. Given his descriptions and what he explicity says, it seems more like he is clueless about what is modern materialism. For example, he misrepresents emergentism in his writing. Kastrup (2015):

        “Under the emergentist hypothesis just discussed, consciousness is seen as an epiphenomenon of matter: an emerging secondary effect of particular arrangements of atoms in the brain”

        It is clearly false. Embarrassingly false.

        And again, watch him saying at HTLGI that “for all materialists consciousness is epiphenomenon”. Again, nothing more wrong. For token physicalist like D. Papineau, consciousness is physical in a broad sense, and as such, all physical interactions are casually effective. It presupposes a casually closed system in which nothing is epiphenomenon. Moreover, already in 50s all mind-identity theorists (Smart 1959) and other materialists were rejecting epiphenomenalism. In the end, Kastrup is attacking non-reductive physicalism (property dualism) which is on decline. Non-reductive physicalism is essentially dead, because supervenience project largely failed, yet even more so epiphenomenalism is dead. No materialist wants to lose causal effectiveness of mental (Kim 2005 “Physicalism, or something near enough”).

        “He criticises Goff’s panpsychism for assuming particles are fundamental.”

        But this is false too, terribly false. At least you can read that in even Philip’s pop book “Galileo’s Error” and nearly all of his other books (2017). I can cite all the passages if you’d like. Particles are not fundamental by neither any physicalist, nor panpsychist under the sun. I don’t think particles can be said at all to be fundamental, physics doesn’t tell us whether there is bottom-down physics or not. Physicalists want to stick to physics as closely as possible, including panpsychists, because panpsychism is a synthesis thesis. In fact, at HTLGI talk with Kastrup you can clearly hear Goff saying that he is in the “consciousness as a field camp”, just watch the video.

        We all know about fields and quantum theory, Kastrup is attacking straw men. He attacked Keith Frankish with a straw man argument about circularity. Keith reminded him that “seems” only is circular if you believe in qualia in the first place. But qualia talk it is not in accordance with such eliminative functionalism, which he “seeminlgy” (pun intended) fails to grasp. His book “Materialism is baloney” is full of these bad attempts.

      • probot says

        Kastrup (2020):

        “Physicalists have no idea—not even in principle—how the material brain could possibly produce experience. Therefore, they appeal to—and hide behind—the inscrutable complexity of the brain with all kinds of promissory notes. Phenomenal consciousness—they argue—is somehow an emergent epiphenomenon of that unfathomable complexity. Fine. But if such is the case, it becomes unreasonable to posit that something requiring such a level of complexity could have been just an accidental byproduct of something else. One can’t have it both ways.”

        He says that “they argue” (yes, explicitly!) that it is an epiphenomenon. You can clearly see that he is mistaken and he’s only got himself to blame. He should read more.

      • Stephen says

        Ok, so assuming Kastrup has misunderstood and/or misrepresented physicalism, what is physicalism actually saying; how does it explain that I am having a subjective conscious experience?

  14. probot says

    In short (from Wikipedia):

    “Physicalists have traditionally opted for a “theory-based” characterization of the physical either in terms of current physics, or a future (ideal) physics”

    Physical is physical if and only if it aligns with currently accepted or future physics (by including scientific theories/hypotheses). Thus, to reduce physicalism to any single position is an oversimplification. In philosophy of mind physicalism purports different hypotheses that fall into three camps: eliminativism, reductionism and non-reductionism. So, it is really hard to answer this question because each camp has a different view.

    Eliminativism says that qualia is only apparent “illusion” because there is only really an underlying informational processing in the brain which is neurophysical. It only seems to us that we have qualias because we don’t have priviledged access to our brains due to introspective barrier. Thus, it only feels like we have intrinsic qualitative experiences, but actually isn’t true. It does not deny consciousness as the common misconception goes, it merely states that we aren’t experts on what is going on due to several limitations of subjective experience. The real experts of what is going on here are neuroscientists, not our first-person impressions.

    Reductionism doesn’t go as far as eliminativism and equates stuff that is going on in brain to be identical (1:1) to conscious state by either token or type identity. That saves mental causality because physical is mental, and all physical interactions are causal (casual closure). In this view, neither mental, nor physical is over and above each other which implies that nothing is subordinate to anything; mental and physical are the exact same stuff. For example, if ‘X = type-C fibre firing’ and ‘Y = feeling of pain’ then ‘X = Y’. The physical is conscious mental state in a simple identity fashion. There is no “emergence” because nothing emerges over anything, there is only a single level physical monism; there is identity without any hierarchy. The common phrase “consciousness is just a chemical reaction” illustrates this position.

    Non-reductionism is typically property dualism which is either epiphenomenalist or not. It shortly poses that physical substance has two properties: mental and physical. It is here where can we have either emergentism and/or supervenience. There are many hypotheses here, but only some of them are subjected to Kastrup’s critique–not all of them. Non-reductionism might propose a separate ontologies of mental and physical property, in this case it is a subject to Kastrup’s critique. But it might not propose separate ontology and still be non-reductive, for example, in Spinozian multiple aspect theory (neutral monism). If the neutral monism is the case, the things are neither mental nor physical but both at once (they are “phental”). Since Spinoza’s aspects are parallel aspects of single substance (which is “phental”), and don’t have any lawlike interaction, it can be a form of anomalous monism.

    • Stephen says

      Thanks for this excellent explanation. It’s really helpful. I feel I have a better grasp of what I called illusionism and isomorphism.

      However, I think I understand better now also, why Bernardo may focus his criticisms on emergence: despite its apparent loss of popularity, it is a form of materialist argument that at least acknowledges the problem that consciousness warrants an explanation. Eliminativism and Reductionism don’t even try.

      I agree with Kastrup that they are empty words games pretending that nothing needs explaining. They are substance-less proclamations, asserting there is only matter. They are completely devoid of any explanation of the undeniable fact of experience.

      I could equally simply assert that there is only consciousness, that the experience of inanimate matter is just a type of dream-like delusion, that the brain and all NCC just are consciousness. At least then I would be acknowledging – rather than trying to define out of existence – the only epistemological certainty of experience.

      Emergentism may be a straw man, but Eliminativism and Reductionism have even less substance to them than that. Bernardo is being generous in attributing something of substance to criticise. Without Emergentism, without the straw man, there is nothing left at all.

      I’d be happy to hear why you think – if you do – that these positions have any substance or explanatory power to them. I really can’t see it.

      Thanks also for the description of Spinoza’s view, that was also really helpful in understanding Goff’s panpsychism, which sounds very much like a form of phentalism. The problem I have with his panpsychism is that it unnecessarily limits consciousness to just being the essence of matter; it denies the possibility that consciousness does not have to necessitate matter.

    • probot says

      Yes, but again he’s confused himself to some degree. He’s used qualia circularity argument supposing that eliminativists’ use of “seeming” talk presupposes existence of qualia itsel. This indeed wouldn’t make sense if that’s what they claimed; but, for obvious reasons, they don’t. I believe Frankish has already responded to this:

      The problem with eliminativism is that people attack it by largely misrepresenting it. They create a caricature view of eliminativism and take a stab. Just like in the case of Galen Strawson, for instance when he made some most ridiculous claims in his 2018 savage attack to which Dennett accused him of strawmanship. Illusionism doesn’t deny existence of consciousness and I don’t think anyone can say that after reading Daniel Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained”. Illusionism refuses to claim that qualias are some kind of intrinsic, mysterious “magical” features that cannot be explained away by science. For example, eliminativism would just say that the color red experience is NCC-wise just some processing activity in visual area V4.

      • Stephen says

        I think the article from Bernardo is a response to the Frankish one (which was in turn a response to an earlier Bernardo one).

        Thanks for your thoughts. Again, I’m finding them really helpful. I think I am closer to reconciling this in my own mind now. I’ll have a go at explaining my thoughts here.

        The hard problem set up:

        I know from my immediate and direct experience right now that I having a conscious subjective experience.

        The content of that experience can be abstract thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions.

        I needn’t make any assumptions at all as to the truth of the content.

        I can describe the experience as I experience it and it may be that what I am experiencing isn’t what it appears to be. That’s fine.

        I may experience the perception of a table but it turns out that it is an illusionary table. That’s fine.

        It may be that it is a table but it turns out that on closer inspection the table is nothing more than a manifestation of particles appearing from a probabilistic quantum field. That’s fine.

        My only claim is that I am having an experience.

        There can be NCCs for my experience. That’s also fine.

        The question is: how could something unconscious and non-subjectively experiencing, such as matter/physicality/NCCs create that experience?

        The non-emergentist physicalist response:
        It doesn’t. The description of experience above is not something that is created by the NCC. There isn’t a hard problem because we are not saying that the NCC creates something else. We are also not saying that the experience doesn’t exist. We are saying the experience is there but it is not created by the NCC; it IS the NCC. There is nothing more to the experience than the NCC.

        This is my attempt to put the argument in my own words, hopefully without misunderstanding or misrepresentation. Would you say that I have managed that?

  15. probot says

    Yes, I think you did. All in all, eliminativism is a very non-trivial claim.

    Ah, also a Superman metaphor can also be useful! Consider three examples:

    Emergentism: There is Clark Kent and Superman, but they are different people.
    Reductionism: There is Clark Kent, and he is Superman, they are the same person.
    Eliminativism: There is no Clark Kent really, he is in fact Superman, a person disguised.

    Dennett’s own example is the magician’s trick of woman split in half. Everyone is initially amazed, but upon the explanation of the trick, the illusion is demystified; it is not real magic in the end.

    You could argue that reductionism and eliminativism are cultivating just a kind of word play between each other, and that there might be a thin line between these stances. Reductionist would definitely say that qualia is real, it’s just identical to physical reaction. But, as a famous philosopher Willard Quine once said, to him, the difference between these two approaches isn’t enough to warrant a separate methodology, at least he didn’t see the need. Although there is a lot of neuroscientific plausibility to eliminativism because it tries to be aligned with science. I feel that

    By the way, Kastrup’s article that you’ve posted was from April as a response to earlier Keith’s article from January. Then one I posted from Keith was already from May, which was the response to Kastrup’s April piece. So, it was the last word to say the least–at least I don’t think there was any further exchange but I might be wrong.

    • probot says

      Whoah, ok you were actually right about the article continuity. My bad.

      • probot says

        From that last Kastrup’s piece, a conclusion:

        “ Therefore, contrary to what Frankish claims, the only assumption my criticism makes is that there is seeming, which is precisely what illusionism requires (otherwise one cannot speak of illusions to begin with).”

        Is still a failure to understand eliminativism or illusionism and KF’s response. I am not sure if Bernardo will ever get this. For eliminativism seeming might be just a propositional function implemented at informational level, neurological level. Voila, quaila demystified (if I were an eliminativist). A major issue here is that he cannot think past his quaila conviction which Dennett has been calling a failure of imagination for the last 20 years or so.

      • Stephen says

        Great analogy. I’m a little miffed that you’ve bagged Superman for matter, but never mind, it makes sense for it to be that way round 🙂

        (Forgive the vast amount of repetition below – I kind of needed to do it for myself, and decided not to edit it down.)

        “There is no Clark Kent really, he is in fact Superman, a person disguised.”

        So this is where eliminitivism really needs to be clear and bite the bullet.

        Clark Kent is subjective experience. If there is actually no Clark Kent, just the neurons/Superman, then the argument is that there is no actual subjective experience – just the appearance of subjective experience, just as Clark Kent is an appearance hiding the real Superman.

        So my undeniable subjective experience is not an actual subjective experience, just mistaken subjective experience, neural activity disguised as subjective experience.

        There is no reality to Clark Kent in and of himself. Clark Kent is a superficial appearance of Superman.

        So does it make sense to say that subjective experience is just an apparent experience in this way?

        I experience subjective experience. I am the subjective experiencer. But I am wrong to think that I am having a subjective experience, I am just firing neurons. So it is the firing neurons that are having the mistaken experience of having subjective experience.

        How can neurons have the mistaken experience of subjective experience?

        If the neurons are not having the mistaken experience of subjective experience, then nobody is, so it doesn’t exist at all – but it does, I’m experiencing it right now.

        Neuronal activity is disguised as subjective experience. Who is being taken in by the disguise? Who is experiencing the disguise instead of seeing the reality beneath the disguise?

        The disguise is there in some form – you have repeatedly said that the subjective experience isn’t being completely denied altogether – so how do the neurons experience the disguise?

        How can their be any neuronal experience, whether it’s a true experience of themselves as neurons, or a mistaken experience of themselves as being a subjective experiencer?

        If there is any experience at all to be had – and there is, I’m having it right now – then however mistaken that experience may be, if the only actual thing that exists is neural activity, then it can only be the neural activity that is having that (mistaken) experience.

        The question remains: how do neurons have the mistaken experience of subjective experience?

        The hard problem remains, just reworded to match the definitions of eliminitivism. From the original question of how do neurons create a separate subjective experience, we now have the question: How do neurons themselves have a mistaken subjective experience?

        The explanatory gap remains: if there is subjective experience – and there is, I’m having it right now – and the only actual and extant reality to this experience is neural activity, then it must be the neurons who are having the mistaken/illusory subjective experience.

        There is no explanation as to how neurons can have a subjective experience, no matter how mistaken, illusory, disguising or misleading that subjective experience is.

        Similarly for reductionism, it just needs a a trivial rewording of the hard problem: how can neural activity be identical to subjective experience?

        Why isn’t all physical stuff identical to subjective experience? Why is it that particular activities of neurons become something totally other than all other matter: matter that is identical to a subjective experience?

        What is it about neural activity that transforms matter without identical subjective experience, to matter with identical subjective experience? What is it about a particular arrangement of matter that makes that arrangement of matter be subjective experience when other arrangements are not subjective experience?

        It’s exactly the same problem.

        In both of these cases, the only change is in the form of expression of the materialist theory. The empirical reality has not changed, and cannot change: empirically there is matter and there is subjective experience.

        How matter can be the only thing, when there is subjective experience – whether that subjective experience is disguising matter or identical to matter – has not been explained at all.

  16. probot says


    “Why is it that particular activities of neurons become something totally other than all other matter: matter that is identical to a subjective experience?”

    It would boil down to which of the neuroscientist mind theory is right: HOT, global workspace theory, or IIT. But we don’t know that yet, however, we are closer than we were 20 or 30 years ago. Earlier this year some breakthrough was made that correlates mental experience with XOR gates[1].

    “How matter can be the only thing, when there is subjective experience – whether that subjective experience is disguising matter or identical to matter – has not been explained at all.”

    So, of course the explanation is not out there yet, because none of the leading theories was confirmed yet, but it is largely demystified. Demystified like many other phenomena were, such as shape of the earth, flammability, mechanics, spacetime, the motion of the planes and other physical forces that were big mysteries back in middle ages, but aren’t anymore.

    If you read a classic piece, that is D. Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained” you will get a bit more clarity on that and the scope of the project. It is a massively important work, no matter where you stand. In short, we are not experts on what is going on in our brain and what is happening in experience at all. For instance, I cannot say what is actually going on when I am having a hallucination while having the brain stroke or why I am gradually suffering from dementia at late age; only MRI image and examination will tell me why do I experience things this way. But in mental realm, try as might, will give us no clue about that at all.

    Does this make sense? Let’s have an experiment.

    1. Launch a simple object detection demo with allowing your camera:
    2. Point some object at it, like remote controller, banana, or something else. Look how magically this tells you what an object is, and also how it surrounds it with a beautiful rectangle with a label. Wow! Cool!
    3. Does anything on the screen tell you, or allow you to figure out how does that “magic” actually happen? No, you don’t know what is going on. There are complex functions, algorithms and networks running behind the scenes. If you look at the implementation, then you might just find it out (like here:

    The end experience is a real trick! The trick is very important, it is how we live our lives. That is undeniable, and eliminativists would fight hard if someone wishes to vandalise the common-sense view out of the picture[2]. That is because eliminativists about qualia like Dennett or Frankish work within Sellarsian distinction between so-called “manifest image” and “scientific image”. Manifest image is how things appear to us via common-sense, like qualia, free will, morality and so on, and the scientific image, which tells us something quite different–what things are under the hood. There will be conflict about common-sense view, and the scientific view, so better find a way how to ease out that conflict. For reference, see

    „The two images sometimes complement one another, and sometimes conflict. For example, the manifest image includes practical or moral claims, whereas the scientific image does not. There is conflict, e.g. where science tells us that apparently solid objects are mostly empty space. Sellars favours a synoptic vision, wherein the scientific image takes ultimate precedence in cases of conflict, at least with respect to empirical descriptions and explanations.”[3]


    • Stephen says


      Thanks again for your thoughts – I’ve found this discussion very useful in understanding the physicalist position.

      The breakthroughs are all about correlations not causation and so I don’t think they will ever satisfactorily answer the fundamental question of the hard problem – but that doesn’t worry the physicalist of course because the correlations are everything, the primacy of matter is already assumed and doesn’t need to be questioned.

      This is the crux of the debate I think:, physicalists will continue to say that there isn’t a question to be answered as they will be satisfied that a complete description of the mechanics of the phenomena provides a complete explanation.

      I think quantum mechanic experiments are more revealing about the fundamental nature of reality. To my mind they simply sit better within an Idealist framework.

      • Stephen says

        Solving the Paradoxes of Quantum Physics with Bernardo Kastrup

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