Manifesto for Conscious Chronicles, part 2: Materialism v. Idealism
In my last post, the first part of my manifesto, I outlined some of the main dynamics of climate change and what I believe will happen. In this post I will try to describe the developments that led to the human conditions which gave us climate change. Bear in mind that I’m trying to cover centuries of human thought and history in very little space. My interest is not providing a full academic account, but rather understanding the fundamentals of how we got here and how to move on. I’m focusing mainly on the Western world and use the term ‘materialism’ for both the scientific and societal worldview as they are deeply interlinked.
Manifesto for Conscious Chronicles, part 2: Materialism v. Idealism
11. With the scientific revolution of the 16th century, the physical and metaphysical worlds became divided into dualism: a separation between both body and mind; and matter and spirit. Science was given permission by the church to freely study all things material without worrying about the inquisition. Spirit and consciousness belonged to the domain of religion, or they were individual matters of dreams, visions and altered states of mind, largely separated from scientific discourse. The division gave rise to materialism, today’s dominant worldview of science and society. It is a purely mechanistic view of nature that holds matter as the fundamental substance in nature and that everything is the result of material processes.
12. Materialism’s success arose from its exceptional ability to describe the physical universe, using Newtonian physics, which marked a progressive departure from the worldviews of the Middle Ages. It led to incredible scientific, medical and technological advances without which modern mass-society would not be possible. Despite its success materialism has been unable to explain scientifically how consciousness apparently arises from unconscious matter in the brain, which today is referred to as ‘the hard problem of consciousness’.
13. Materialism was so convincing that its quantitative description of the physical world, that which we experience qualitatively, increasingly was taken literally as all and everything there is. Mind and our personal experience of colour, smell, taste etc., were nothing more than peculiar side-effects of unconscious brain matter. Society gradually adopted a nihilistic materialist belief system, stating that there is no purpose to mankind other than that of evolution’s essentially meaningless survival and propagation. Industrialisation, which sprung from materialism, led to the development of a globalised economy that favours never-ending growth and accumulation of material wealth as a substitute for meaning, without factoring in its damage to the finite natural world it is embedded in.
14. In our current so-called anthropocene era, planet Earth is viewed as nothing more than a marketplace for materialism to thrive, which has led to over-extraction of resources, overpopulation, overconsumption and human-centric land use at the cost of all other species. Through rapid urbanisation and the extreme exploitation and subsequent loss of nature, we’ve become estranged from the natural world that we came from. With widespread secularisation and materialism’s failure to understand consciousness, the mind was marginalised even further and largely ignored by science, except in some departments of philosophy, psychology, anthropology and, of course, theology.
15. The planetary suffering is mirrored within each individual who searches in vain for meaning, coherence and community in modern society. To the materialist wealth creation system people are essentially dispensable human resources, in many sectors soon to be replaced by automation. In order to counter the absurdity of meaningless existence many self-compensate with food, sex or substance abuse, perverted consumption and hoarding of monetary wealth, or they try to escape through endless and mind-numbing entertainment. Depression, burnout and mental illness have become normalised across the planet. The stagnant domain of religion has proven unable to provide sufficient balance to the human condition in the rampant materialist society.
16. However, a paradigm shift is emerging from progressive parts of several scientific domains, including physics, quantum physics, cosmology, mathematics, biology, psychology, philosophy and neuroscience. It’s referred to as (metaphysical or ontological) idealism, sometimes also called non-dualism. It states that consciousness is fundamental in our universe, not just a peculiar side-effect of brain matter.
17. Idealism has a rich history and heritage all over the world, dating back thousands of years. In fact, it’s been the norm for most of human history, although it comes in many culturally different versions. Nonetheless, given materialism’s current dominance, it’s on par with the initial heresy of the Copernican Revolution for anyone in the context of the standard model of science today to argue that nature is essentially mental. But the ongoing multidisciplinary scientific resurgence of idealism does not discard the utility of materialism and the scientific method, nor does it favour solipsism. Rather, it expands the possible area of exploration by allowing metaphysics back into the critical discourse of the human condition and the universe. It also has the potential to counter the flawed assumptions and inherently dysfunctional belief system of materialism.
18. The implications of idealism are far and widespread. From quantum physics we’ve learned that consciousness directly influences, or rather, causes, matter and that information somehow is able to travel faster than the speed of light, which is impossible with classical mechanics. From philosophy, neuroscience, psychology and biology we’re learning that evolutionary fitness has concealed a greater truth, meaning that our brain has evolved to act as a functional filter of a larger and more complex reality. Consciousness extends beyond the human brain, body and even death. Our physical spacetime dimension is far from all there is, rather it’s a functional illusion for physical life to exist. Science does not yet know how to describe the larger reality which lies beyond, but we know that in essence it must be mental (non-physical).
19. Idealism offers a way out of the strict materialist dead-end domain. Materialism was useful in quantitatively describing some of what we humans qualitatively experience in the physical world, but it’s a gross fallacy to later arrive at the conclusion that human experience is a meaningless epiphenomenon derived from matter. It’s just as absurd as “trying to pull the territory out of the map” (Kastrup). Consciousness and experience is, and always was, fundamental. The good news is that we’re not, like materialism falsely concluded, lumbering meat robots with a brain-generated illusory sense of self that ends with death. Instead, we’re in essence conscious agents having a temporary, probably serial, physical experience and it’s absurd to believe that our entire purpose should be found in a purely physical realm with no plausible metaphysics. The path ahead for human development must lie with consciousness, which, by definition, is non-physical and experiential, i.e. personal, mental and qualitative, which will challenge and hopefully expand the scientific method cultivated under materialism.
20. Perhaps the most radical fact of idealism’s resurgence is that it is now being supported by science itself, the very institution that brought us materialism. On a societal level it’s clear we need to understand how we as conscious agents relate to each other and funda/mental reality, which is why we must invest in consciousness development on a much larger scale. Adopting idealism in mainstream culture will likely take several decades, but only by understanding the limits of materialism and its temporary loss of fundamental consciousness does the madness of modern society make sense. With idealism it becomes laughable that humanity’s end goal should ever be material self-destruction. Only a non-conscious species would ever arrive at that conclusion.
I am indebted to the following people and resources that I recommend you look deeper into, if you are even remotely interested in idealism and/or challenging the status quo of mechanistic materialism.
A short overview of the history and different schools of idealism is available here.
A good introduction to contemporary and analytical idealism is available through the Essentia Foundation led by Bernardo Kastrup.
I also recommend ‘The Science Delusion’ by Rupert Sheldrake and ‘The Case Against Reality’ by Donald D. Hoffman.
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Next up: Consciousness and suffering in the human condition