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Thu, 25 Apr 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

Book 2

Book review: 'Idea of the World' seeks to bring truth and meaning to our lives

minds heads space stars
In my view, the philosopher-scientist Bernardo Kastrup is one of the most important thinkers of the moment on the crucial subject of the nature of consciousness - crucial because the way we understand consciousness and reality shapes our outlook on the world, and on life and existence generally.

In his latest and most commanding book to date, The Idea of the World: A multi-disciplinary argument for the mental nature of reality (Iff Books, UK £14.99 / US $22.95, March 2019), Kastrup consolidates and powers up his argument that, unlike that of physicalism or panpsychism, consciousness is causal and fundamental, that our reality arises from consciousness, is consciousness in effect, and not the other way round; that physical structures are circumscribed by consciousness, and not the other way round.

As Kastrup says, most theories of reality that contradict mainstream physicalism are dismissed as not rigorous or plausible enough. Of these, nearly all theories that claim consciousness to be the fundamental substrate of existence 'are pooh-poohed as flaky New Age nonsense'.

So, with analytical and critical flair and rigour, on his mission to save us from the morass of ontological misinformation, he has produced an inspiring masterwork to counter such prejudices. His book comprises 13 academic papers he has published in leading journals in recent years, together with linking arguments; plus he has a second PhD thesis available that serves as companion text. In this, he meets his detractors head-on, cutting their philosophical legs from under them.

The upshot is, to my mind, that Kastrup makes redundant, in particular, the familiar controversy over subjective idealism in that it is said to rest on the representative theory of perception, which itself has been contentious in philosophical circles: this argues that the stimulation of our sense organs produces not only sensations but, in addition, something which performs the role of representing whatever is causing the stimulation, so that it's this, it's claimed, that we're directly aware of, and not the object itself.

Comment: Check out MindMatters' discussion of Kastrup's article on information realism here:

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MindMatters: Fragments of the Divine: Analyzing Jordan Peterson's Conception of the Soul

peterson soul
In Jordan Peterson's latest YouTube Q&A, a subscriber asks about the nature of the soul. Peterson's answer touches on the nature of consciousness, ethics, responsibility, character, theology, and what it all might mean metaphysically. In short, many of our favorite topics here on MindMatters!

So join us as we dive into Peterson's ideas on the soul, their applications to everyday life, and the implications for what they might say about the nature of the universe, and our place within it. And as always, if you appreciate our discussions, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Running Time: 01:02:03

Download: MP3 — 56.8 MB


Using connection to transform addiction

Right now an exciting new perspective on addiction is emerging. Johann Harri, author of Chasing The Scream, recently captured widespread public interest with his Ted talk Everything You Know About Addiction Is Wrong, where he concluded with this powerful statement:
The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. - Johann Harri
These sentiments are augmented by a growing number of experts, including addiction specialist Dr. Gabor Maté, who cites 'emotional loss and trauma' as the core of addiction. Compare this 'emotional loss' to Johan Harri's idea about lack of connection and it is clear they're talking about a similar emotional condition.

Limbic Resonance

If connection is the opposite of addiction, then an examination of the neuroscience of human connection is in order. Published in 2000, A General Theory Of Love is a collaboration between three professors of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco. A General Theory Of Love reveals that humans require social connection for optimal brain development and that babies cared for in a loving environment are psychological and neurologically 'immunised' by love. When things get difficult in adult life, the neural wiring developed from a love-filled childhood leads to increased emotional resilience in adult life. Conversely, those who grow up in an environment where loving care is unstable or absent are less likely to be resilient in the face of emotional distress.

Comment: What is the root cause of addiction, and how do you heal it?


On the eve of the great psychedelic debate

trippy mushroom
© Ben Weeks
Trippy "Medicine"

Listening to some of the opponents of medical marijuana over the last few years, one could be forgiven for thinking that they have never heard of a psychoactive substance being used in medicine before. These people might be surprised to learn that in England the doctor can send you home with a prescription for pain called diamorphine, a fancy word for heroin. They might be equally surprised to learn that the anti-obesity prescription Desoxyn is nothing more than methamphetamine in a pill, or that the popular ADHD medication Adderall is very similar to methamphetamine chemically and physiologically. If you've had throat, dental or nose surgery there's a chance the anesthetist used cocaine to numb your senses as it restricts the flow of blood more than any other local anesthetic (the cocaine alkaloid is extracted from coca leaves for medical use and the leftover de-cocainized extract sent to Coca Cola for flavoring). You won't hear it put this way. No doctor says to the cancer patient, "I suggest you use smack from here on out," and no weight loss specialist asks whether you've tried meth yet. Imagine a dentist telling their patient to open wide so they can inject some blow into their gum line. Of course, medical vernacular replaces street names for drugs to provide a line of demarcation between highly stigmatized illicit activities and their pharmacological corollary under medical settings. In its online guide for safe diamorphine use for cancer sufferers, Cancer Research UK chooses to omit the word heroin completely, to obfuscate any connection with its recreational use.

Comment: There is clearly a great deal yet to be discovered about psychedelic drugs and their potential for healing, yet outdated, puritanical prohibition stands as a significant barrier to research. Given the potential for these drugs to help so many people, isn't it time to upend the taboos and proceed with caution?

See also:


Exercise makes you happier than money, according to Yale and Oxford research

It's clear exercise has health benefits both physical and mental. But what if we could show it was more important to your mental health than your economic status?

According to a study from researchers at Yale and Oxford, we may have done just that.

In the study, published in The Lancet, scientists collected data about the physical behavior and mental mood of more than 1.2 million Americans.

Comment: Finally, an answer to the question no one ever asked - "How much money would I have to make to make me as happy as I would be if I exercised!"

While a study based on self-reporting questionnaires makes any quantitative conclusions quite suspect, given what we know about the benefits of exercise on mental outlook, happiness and stress alleviation, the overall message of the study seems sound.

See also:


Rewards warp the brain's inner GPS

deformed grids
© Lucy Reading-Ikkanda / Quanta Magazine

Cells that control an animal's spatial awareness can reorient themselves to favor locations that are full of food.

The cover illustration of The New Yorker's March 29, 1976, issue depicted a "view of the world from 9th Avenue," starring a massive Manhattan that dwarfed not only other U.S. cities but entire countries, reducing the Pacific Ocean to a band of water not much wider across than the Hudson River.

But New Yorkers aren't the only ones with a skewed perception of scale or an idiosyncratic sense of geography and place. Humans and other animals behave in ways that suggest they're mapping out their view of the world by emphasizing the information they find valuable.

Two studies appearing in Science last week show how deep that bias runs. Both research teams observed how the neurons that compile mental maps of physical space reprogram themselves to better reflect our experiences, activities, and priorities. The findings also offer evidence for a link that other scientists have started to uncover: The brain's way of encoding positional information might extend to the way it organizes volumes of other information to be navigated, including varieties of sounds and abstract concepts such as social hierarchy.

Comment: See also:


How our bodies remember trauma

Our bodies remember trauma and abuse - quite literally. They respond to new situations with strategies learned during moments that were terrifying or life-threatening. Our bodies remember, but memory is malleable. The therapeutic practice of somatics takes these facts - and their relation to each other - seriously.

Imagine yourself surfing. Whatever your level of skill, a wave is a threat and an opportunity. Your body will respond, partly based on memories of other waves, other moments of danger or opportunity. Like life, your board and the ocean require certain things of your body: straddle, yoga pose, push up, stand, ben knees, arms at the just right angle. Maybe you're alone or maybe vying with other surfers for the same wave. You'll feel a bunch of emotions, and they will be embodied in your stance, in your muscles, your nerves, your breath. Whether or how you ride the wave will be a result of how you embody your history. The same goes for other surfers vying for that wave. After all, we are social organisms. These are premises of somatics, a set of practices designed to help people coordinate their emotional, physical, and intellectual responses to the past into new ways of being.

Comment: Also read: Psychomotor Therapy: A revolutionary approach to treating PTSD?


Political correctness strikes again: Many social workers are in denial about child psychopaths

Alesha MacPhail

Alesha MacPhail, six, was raped and murdered by Aaron Campbell. Could her death have been prevented if the extent of his psychological problems had been realised?
Following the murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail by 16-year-old Aaron Campbell, psychologist Dr John J Marshall, who was involved in the case, writes that warm parenting can make a difference to children with psychopathic traits, but only at a young age, so it is vital to find those who display early warning signs. Psychopathic traits are a devastating developmental trajectory. As the rape and murder of Alesha McPhail has shown, the ruthless self-interest and callousness associated with psychopaths lead to staggering human costs. You don't become a psychopath on your 16th birthday.

Psychopathic traits start in very early childhood, have predictable pathways and yet we do not assess children for this neurodevelopmental problem. As one of the psychologists involved in the Aaron Campbell case, having assessed psychopaths for 25 years in Scotland and carried out research on the topic, I feel determined that some good comes from this tragedy for Alesha's family, in the form of raising awareness of the need for early prevention.

It would be tempting to think that the type of sadistic homicide carried out by Campbell is so rare that there is little we need to do about people with psychopathic traits. It is estimated that less than one to three per cent in the population will be diagnosed with these traits over their lifetime and even among offenders only around eight per cent are psychopathic. However, psychopaths are responsible for overwhelming misery, disproportionate amounts of crime, more varied offending and they are far more likely to be responsible for homicide. They may even be responsible for more than half of all persistent, violent crimes.


Sailing into the storm: Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches us how to live a values-driven life even in the face of dark emotions & trauma

Before she even knew what was happening, he was already on her. He punched her in the face, smashed her head against the wall, and dragged her through the corridor by her hair. The pain was searing; the fear, overwhelming. When help finally arrived, after what seemed like an eternity, the damage had already been done. The effects of the beating were both physical and psychological. The onset of trauma, at first muted by shock, would soon unfold in ways unimaginable to her. Her illusion of safety was shattered. This was her job. She was this person's caretaker, an authority figure in a building full of authority of figures. This wasn't supposed to happen. She was supposed to be safe here, but the young man she was caring for was severely disturbed and, for reasons that will forever remain unknown, he turned on her, and her life would never be the same.

Alice was a teacher's aide in a small-town high school working with students who had special needs. She was good at her job and cared deeply about her students, but Alice happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and suffered an astonishing trauma as a result. Moreover, this was but the most recent traumatic event in a long line of abuse going back to her early childhood, when the adults in her life were doing everything but protecting her from the horrors of the world, her neighbourhood, and her own home.

Cloud Precipitation

A time for rain: Teaching our children about sadness

Stop crying Danny!

That tears are a bad thing is so baked into our social fabric that parents might find themselves renouncing crying without any awareness of the deeper implications. It might not even present as admonishment... "Don't cry Sara, you're fine, do you want a popsicle?" is drawn from the same pool of feeling-shaming, hurt-distracting, and pain-minimizing consciousness.

Have you ever stopped yourself from crying? Why? Because you don't want to feel out of control, or make someone you're with uncomfortable? Because you don't have time for the arc that tears - real, deep tears - demand?

We value toughness. We value cooperation. We value rational predictability. And feelings - when they are truly felt - are messy, wild, and sometimes ugly to our constrained sensibilities.