Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. There have been almost 350 of them now, so if you’d like to check out previous ones, go to batgap.com, look under the past interviews menu, and you’ll see them all archived in various ways. This whole production is made possible by the support of generous viewers and listeners, and so thanks to those who have been supporting it. And if you feel like being one of them, there’s a donate button and a page about donations on the website that you can check out. My guest today is my friend Bernardo Kastrup. I interviewed Bernardo a couple of years ago, and then we met in person out at the SAND conference this fall, and I had a good time. I would say that if I would categorize Bernardo as a jnani, you know, he’s one of the smartest people I know, and if anybody can get to enlightenment by virtue of the brilliance of their intellect, it’s Bernardo.
Bernardo: We’ll see about that.
Rick: Just trying to see if I can make you blush. But first let me read your formal bio here, so people can get to know who you are. Bernardo Kastrup has a PhD in computer engineering with specializations in artificial intelligence and reconfigurable computing. He has worked as a scientist in some of the world’s foremost research laboratories, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, and the Phillips Research Laboratories, where the Casimir effect of quantum field theory was discovered. Bernardo has authored many scientific papers and philosophy books. His three most recent books are “More Than Allegory,” which is what we’re going to be talking about today, subtitled “On Religious Myth, Truth, and Belief,” another book “Brief Peaks Beyond,” and another one “Why Materialism is Baloney.” He has been an entrepreneur and founder of a successful high-tech startup. Next to a managerial position in the high-tech industry, Bernardo maintains a philosophy blog, a video interview series, and continues to develop his ideas about the nature of reality. He has lived and worked in four different countries across continents, currently residing in the Netherlands. For a rigorous analytical summary of his philosophical ideas, you can look to, and there’s a link here which is kind of long, I’ll put it on the website. So, thanks Bernardo, and thank you also for doing this on short notice. For those who have been listening, I had scheduled David Spangler this weekend, and he had a health emergency and had to postpone, so Bernardo was kind enough to do this on very short notice.
Bernardo: It’s always fun to talk to you, so I’m happy to be here.
Bernardo: Never mind that there are thousands of people watching, it’s always fun to talk to you anyway.
Rick: At the moment there’s only 27, so you can relax.
Bernardo: Yeah, more will be watching offline I guess.
Rick: Right, and just to put a plug about where Bernardo is, he’s in his girlfriend’s apartment in Germany and that’s her artwork on the wall behind him. She’s obviously a very talented artist. So, why don’t you get us started Bernardo by giving us just a synopsis of what your book is about that we’re going to be talking about.
Bernardo: Well, as the subtitle implies, it’s about a religious myth, religious mythology, which is something I’ve had a bit of a schizophrenic relationship with throughout my life. My father was a scientist, my mother was a Roman Catholic, so she had a relationship with religion and I was exposed to that as a kid, but in my career as a scientist and corporate manager I sort of completely lost contact with that, neglected it completely, even disregarded it, and only very recently it is sort of resurging in me, but in a very different way than it was before. And the book is about how do you restore the legitimacy of religious myths in a mature way that doesn’t defy reason, doesn’t defy logic, doesn’t condone fundamentalism, but also keeps the door open for what the myths are pointing to, which are truths that transcend literal articulation, linear articulation through the rules of Aristotelian logic, transcendent truth.
Rick: Do you feel that all religious myths do that or would there be like a spectrum of myths, some of which correlate with deeper realities and others of which are just sort of fanciful notions?
Bernardo: There’s a spectrum of course. Myths are basically narratives that tell each other, metaphorical / symbolic narratives. I’m interested in the symbolic part, but of course there is a spectrum. There are myths that are just preposterous. There are myths that are meant to be conducive to social control, to gender repression or the repression of whatever sexual orientation is out there, myths that are meant to help people achieve power and money and status or whatever. So there is a spectrum, but when I talk of religious myths I talk about the core that underlies the canon of the world’s established religions and some creation myths that are less well known, but the core intuitive aspect of those narratives, not the bells and whistles we’ve added to them in the course of history for whatever egoic, eccentric purpose, but the core intuitions underlying those myths that emerge from deep within the human psyche. Those are what I call the true authentic legitimate religious myths.
Rick: And we should point out that myths are not the sole province of religion. For instance, in your book you talk about the myths of modern culture, myths of science for instance. Here’s a quote, “Science is blind devotion to the gods of chance and automatism condemns its myths to hollowness.” So I mean there’s a whole predominant scientific myth that the world is mechanistic and meaningless and you know just a lot of little billiard balls bouncing around without any sort of divine intelligence orchestrating things.
Bernardo: Sure, not every myth is a religious myth, not every myth is pointing to transcendent truths, pointing to things that lack in our ability to linearly articulate in words. Myths in general are just narratives in terms of which we can relate to the world. I mean we are always running myths in the back of our minds constantly because we are always interpreting sense perception, we are always interpreting what we see, what we hear, what we taste, what we smell. There is a constant interpretation machine going on in the backs of our minds that inform us of the meaning and significance of what we perceive. If we didn’t have this myth running in the background all the time, the world we see would be just a bunch of dancing pixels. They would evoke no meaning, no emotion, no significance within us. It would mean literally nothing. So myths are integral to life. The question is what myths do you run? Do you run restrictive myths that basically make life feel dull, unimportant and pointless or do you run rich myths that put you in contact with aspects of your own psyche, of your own minds and the nature of reality itself that transcend our ability to articulate literally in linear logical words? That is the question I think.
Rick: So by that definition you know you’re walking down the street and you see a tree, you see a sidewalk, you see a dog, you see a car, those are all interpretations of phenomenon that are actually in their essence quite a different thing than what our senses bring to us. So you’re saying that by definition just the very act of living is dependent upon myths or if we’re going to use that word or interpretations of what our senses bring to us.
Bernardo: Absolutely, if there weren’t a myth to bridge sense perception to inner meaning and I say meaning not only in the sense of purpose but also in the sense of what is the denotation of what you see, the denotation and the connotations of what you see, what does it mean, what does it imply? If you don’t have this mythical bridge there would be a complete disconnect from your inner life, your feelings, your emotions, your thoughts and your perceptions. There would be no bridge, no commerce between the two, they would be fundamentally dissociated. The bridge between the two is a narrative in terms of which you link the contents of perception to the emotions, thoughts and insights that arise within you. The myths link the outer world to the inner world and I use the outer world here, I don’t mean it quite literally but I will use it as a shorthand to refer to the contents of perception. So yes, myths are integral to life, to pretend that one can live life without a myth is itself a myth that basically entails a very poor, a very restrictive interpretation of the world, a very existentialist interpretation of the world as something that has no meaning, that itself is a myth, that itself is an interpretation. If there were truly no myths running in your mind you would not open your mouth, you would say nothing, you would just witness.
Rick: Yeah, so I remember I was at somebody’s house one time, it was wintertime and it was drizzling and cloudy and she was saying, “I hate wintertime, it’s so depressing” and all this and I was feeling good and it looked kind of beautiful to me. So I mean there’s perhaps an example of a personal myth, “I hate wintertime, you know it makes me depressed” and whereas it’s completely dependent upon your subjective orientation or interpretation of the experience and it could be a very blissful time and a blissful experience.
Bernardo: Absolutely, I mean we are always running these little myths, right, and I think I mean you were very connected to Advaita, Advaita Vedanta and non-dualism and one of the underlying objectives of Vedanta I think is to eliminate these harmful little myths about “oh I hate winter” and “oh I’m a bad person” or “oh the future is bleak” or “oh I should have done something different in the past” you know these little myths are very harmful in the sense that they trigger harmful emotions and they make life unnecessarily difficult. So it is a legitimate goal to try to get rid of them but you can overshoot in Advaita and you can go to the point where you think that the actual goal is to eliminate all myths. If you eliminate all myths you’re denying life. I mean even if the world we live in, Rick, is an illusion in the sense that it isn’t what it appears to be, in other words that it isn’t really out there as as a physical reality independent of consciousness, it’s just images arising in consciousness which I think is the case and I make this case in the book, even if that is so then something true is generating that illusion in the same way that a speaker generates sounds without itself being a sound. So there is something that is not an illusion and which is generating an illusion and so the illusion would be an expression of that something. So I think it is integral to life to interpret the illusion, to grant it validity as such, illusion as it may be, to grant it the validity it has for what it is and to try to interpret it and derive meaning from it because the illusion may be the only way truth expresses itself. So I think it may go too far in Advaita to try to eliminate all interpretations, it may be a denial of nature, a denial of life itself.
Rick: A perfect example of what you just said is the famous rope and snake analogy in Vedanta, you know where somebody’s walking along in a dim light and there’s a rope coiled up by the side of the road and they think it’s a snake and they jump and they’re all fearful and you know running away and so on and then someone brings a light and points out to them, “Well it’s really just a rope.” So I don’t think Vedanta is trying to eliminate the rope, it’s just trying to eliminate the misinterpretation of the rope and the consequent fear you know that results from that misinterpretation.
Bernardo: I agree, I agree that this is the legitimate goal. I do think there is a risk that people overshoot, that people go too far and I have seen it, people saying, “Well what is the point of this? This is all an illusion anyway so forget about it.” Then you don’t engage with life and that’s what I think is a denial of nature and in that sense I think there is value in religious myths. I’m not saying that all myths are religious myths, but religious myths are particularly rich because they try to see behind the symbols, the phantasmagoria and the illusion. That phantasmagoria and the screen of perception is composed of symbols. Those symbols mean something, not something that you can pin down in words and put your finger on and say this is what it is literally, but symbols that are pointing to aspects of our inner lives that we may be dissociated from and interpreting that phantasmagoria I think is what religious myths may try to do. They lend significance to the aspects of existence. I mean we can talk about Christianity and the descent of the Holy Spirit that imbues every aspect of life and every living creature with divine significance. I think there is something to that, it’s a symbol pointing at something, it’s pointing at the significance of the illusion and the usefulness of engaging with life.
Rick: Oh yeah, I just want to add before we elaborate on that, that you know Vedanta like everything can and has been misinterpreted by ending up in the hands of people who don’t fully and properly appreciate it. I mean look at some of the various interpretations of Islam or of Christianity that have come down through history or that are plaguing society even today that are an embarrassment to the deeper more mystical appreciation of those traditions. So there’s this sort of so-called neo-Advaita these days which I don’t think that you know Shankara would be rolling in his grave if he heard some of the things that are presented in the name of Vedanta, although he was probably cremated so I guess he can’t roll.
Bernardo: Myths as part of any human activity can be abused.
Rick: Yeah now let’s take an example of a myth because in your book for instance you take the creation myth and you go through several different cultures aboriginal, and I think something from South America, and the Hindu treatment of that and there’s a striking similarity between these different myths and let’s take that as a case in point and discuss it a little bit.
Bernardo: Sure, do you want me to go over some examples?
Rick: Yeah, go ahead, explain it a bit. Yeah.
Bernardo: Just to put the car ahead of the horses for a moment and it’s striking how they all are consistent with Vedanta, it’s pretty striking. We can start in Australia, there is an Australian aboriginal myth, one of the dream time myths, there are many, there’s a wide variety. I picked one because I thought it was a good example and representative of everything. The myth says that the creator deity Karora dreamed the world up into existence and then woke up within his own dream and within the dream he lost the magical powers of creation. He had to comply to the rules and constraints of the dream, so he got hungry, he had to eat some of the animals that he created, he met the people that he had created while dreaming and every night he would go to dream again, he would sleep again, dream more stuff into existence and next morning he would wake up again and within the dream. So you have this theme of a creator deity that creates the world as a thought, as an image in his imagination, as a dream in his mind and then wakes up within his own dream and you see that on the other side of the world, the Witoto tribe in the Amazon, they have a mind-boggling myth. It was very difficult to summarize it accurately in a few words as I did in the book because there are so many ways of interpreting it, it’s so subtle, so nuanced, but the main line is that the creator deity, this time called the Ninema, created the world as an illusion, a very elusive illusion in his mind that kept on escaping him and to prevent the illusion from escaping he tied it up with a magical rope and then glued it, so he would basically fix that illusion as a sort of a more stable dream if you want and then he stamped on it until he broke through and entered his own dream and from within the dream he spit the jungle into existence. So again you have this notion of the world created in the mind of a deity which then enters his own creation, enters his own dream. You have that in Hinduism where Brahman creates the primordial waters and then drops his sperm in the primordial waters or his seed as they call it I think in the Upanishads, somewhere in the Vedas and from his seed in the primordial waters a cosmic egg is created and Brahman itself hatches from that cosmic egg within his creation. So again this self-recursive notion that creator deity imagines the world into existence and then is born within it by hatching from the egg he put in there and guess what Christianity is the same thing. God created the world through the word, that’s the Gospel of John right in the beginning was the word through the words all things were made and the words is of course in the English translation for the Greek logos which also means reason, thought. So God created the world through thought and then was born into it through the Christ and the Christ was God fully and was man fully. So this thing recurs which I thought was pretty striking and rekindled my respect for religious mythology as symbolic narratives, not literal, not metaphoric either. A metaphor is just an indirect way of referring to something that can be made sense of literally, it’s just an easier to understand way for something that has a literal articulation while a symbol has no literal articulation. It’s pointing at something that cannot be said in words, can only be hinted at, indicated, pointed at, suggested. So it’s rekindled my respect for religion in that sense.
Rick: Yeah and I would say that’s true of everything. I mean try describing the color of my shirt in words, well it’s blue, yeah, but what’s blue? How do you describe that? But I just wanted to add that it might be easy for people of a scientific bent to dismiss all these myths as primitive and kind of silly, notions of cultures that didn’t really understand how the world works, but actually if you look deeply into science and kind of begin talking about the self-interacting dynamics of the unified field and sequential spontaneous symmetry breaking through which manifestation occurs and all, you actually find the same myth presented in scientific terms.
Bernardo: Yeah, even if you didn’t have those parallels and I’ll share my personal impression with you, even without those striking parallels that you’re referring to, even if you read the myth alone by itself, pretend you know nothing of science and physics and all this latest and greatest developments, just looking at the myth itself and then you think about it and you consider that for instance this Witoto myth has emerged in a tribe that is, I mean from our perspective, is extraordinarily primitive. They really have developed no technology, no written language, no culture in that sense whatsoever. It’s a bow and arrow and hunter-gatherer culture and the myth is of a sophistication. I mean I didn’t do justice to it in the way I just summarized it now with you, but the myth is so nuanced, so sophisticated and it’s mind-boggling to imagine that these guys could have composed this myth through steps of reasoning. Obviously they didn’t, they just don’t have the intellectual background to do that, so how did it happen? I think and I discuss this in the book, I think what happens is that myths are not composed by thinking, they’re not composed through thought steps in the ego, in the intellect. They are perceived like you perceive a landscape. They emerge from deep within the human psyche, from what analytical psychology would call the unconscious. I don’t like this word, I think it’s a misnomer. I think there is no unconscious whatsoever, they are only obfuscated segments of mind. It emerges from this obfuscated segment of mind, pure and complete as a reality available to contemplation and these guys then just wrap a word-based narrative around it in order to create a reference to it within their culture, so they can talk about it. So myths are not composed intellectually, they’re not created for a reason, they just pop full and ready and the differences between authentic myths are the differences with which different cultures use words to wrap that landscape they can perceive with a different narrative in order to refer to it in the culture and of course in that process myths can be abused, bells and whistles can be added in order to repress women and gay people and make the priests rich and powerful and whatnot, but this happens later I think. True myths begin pure as a pure contemplation of a transcendent truth available to aspects of the human mind that are very far away from the intellect.
Rick: And this jibes perfectly with the whole Vedic tradition, which I know more about than other traditions, but I bet you they have their parallels in which you know most if not all significant truths come about through cognition, not through reasoning and logic. It’s that the rishis or the seers go deep within and kind of use their mind and nervous system as a scientific research tool to plumb more fundamental aspects of reality and cognize those deeper truths and then come out to express them in various ways. And I think that obviously people of every culture have been capable of that, the human nervous system being what it is, doesn’t matter if they’re a bow and arrow society, there would naturally be people in every society that have the spiritual insight or the mystical capability to cognize the deepest truths of nature and then naturally they’re going to express them in their own language and within their own culture.
Bernardo: I would even say they have an advantage compared to us. I think by the mere fact that we are humans, we have an umbilical cord to the root of reality, right, to the source of it all because we are conscious beings. So by definition we all have that umbilical connection somewhere deep in the mind and we can contemplate those truths if we really introspect. Those pre- literary cultures had less superficial myths running in the level of the intellect, less narratives telling them what is true, what’s not, what’s possible, what’s not, what this means, what this doesn’t mean, all this stuff, this baggage that is created in culture, these worldviews that give or don’t give us permission to contemplate this or that. They had less of that. They had more of a beginner’s mind because they knew nothing. The entire world, the whole of reality was a big mystery to them. They didn’t have prejudices or preconceptions, they were just there observing and they didn’t have a narrative in their mind telling, “Oh this should be possible, this shouldn’t be possible, this is right or this is wrong.” So there was less pollution between their eyes and the thing that they could contemplate, that inner truth that could be perceived through the organ of the imagination as Rudolf Steiner would say.
Rick: Also I mean along the same lines they weren’t bombarded by television and all the distractions of modern culture. They’re out there sitting looking at the stars you know and able to sort of contemplative atmosphere.
Bernardo: There you go, yeah I totally agree and it would be nice if you could rescue some of that but it’s nearly impossible in this day and age.
Rick: I think the tides are turning, you know people are sort of individually rescuing it for themselves anyway and maybe if enough of them do that then the culture will begin to display that change. I think it’s happening. Well maybe it’s happening, it’s kind of polarizing in my opinion.
Bernardo: That’s true, yeah that’s true and that’s what worries me. But I see what you’re alluding to, I agree. There is something happening on the positive side as well.
Rick: Oh yeah, yeah we could perhaps talk about that at some point. There might even be some myths about that, about polarization being a harbinger of you know societal change, you know of any?
Bernardo: No, but I hope it is the case because then it offers some hope for what is happening now, this extreme polarization that we are witnessing since the 20th century.
Rick: Well if we took the Mahabharata as a myth then that was an example of polarization where the sort of the good and evil forces so to speak had sorted themselves out and were assembled in opposing armies and there was a huge,
Bernardo: Yeah, but that’s from the beginning. I mean you have a Zoroastrianism which is also a very polarizing religion, you know good and evil and some currents of Islamic mysticism as well. But these are also creation myths in a sense, Gnosticism is very polarizing as well, but this polarization happened in the beginning. I wonder if there is a myth saying that if it gets more extreme going forward then it’s a harbinger of change. That would be nice, but I don’t know any myth that says that.
Rick: Yeah, well I don’t know when in the Gita again Lord Krishna says when a dharma prevails, basically he’s saying when the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of a dharma or kind of like violation of natural law, then I take birth to restore it. So you know sort of like what he’s saying is God comes, an infusion of God consciousness comes into the world to restore the balance and as he puts it, to uplift the righteous and destroy the wicked. I know that sounds very apocalyptic and kind of judgmental, but I’m just kind of citing that as a myth.
Bernardo: God knows we need some of that influx these days, fast.
Rick: Yeah, so as we go along here just talk about anything that pops to mind, you know because I’m sure there are plenty of things where I wouldn’t have thought to ask a question and if an idea comes to you as you’re speaking just launch into it and we’ll go with it. Meanwhile I have notes that I can rely upon, but is there anything at the moment that you know is percolating?
Bernardo: I’ll follow you for now and when something pops up I will bring it in.
Rick: Okay, well here’s something I highlighted, in a life informed by a religious myth nothing is just so, everything has a reason for being and a purpose to fulfill. Everything belongs in a bigger and timeless context.
Bernardo: That’s what it means too. Religious myths are a particular way of translating the contents of perception, in other words the empirical world around us, into meaning within, significance within, which leads to purpose. The thing is we are plagued as a culture in the West and increasingly in the East because we’re sort of contaminating them with the myth of literalism, the myth that something can embody its own final meaning. The idea that this is a glass of water and there is nothing else it is, this embodies its own meaning. It’s a glass of water, that’s it, it’s the end of a cognitive chain of associations. You could start with a metaphor that points to another metaphor that points to another metaphor that points to a glass of water but it ends there. There is a route to this chain of cognitive associations and once you get there that’s it, that’s the end of meaning, then things just are. And this is a very Western thing and science is philosophically based on this quest for this final route of meaning, what things actually are in and of themselves. And I think what religious myths help us do is to embrace at an emotional level this idea that the things we see in the world are not their own meaning, that this glass of water itself is a symbol pointing at something else that is not part of the empirical world, something that goes behind and beyond the empirical world and that invests life with a spaceless/timeless meaning because the contents of life, the contents of perception, the things, events, people of the world, they are all indicating, pointing at something beyond. And that is the richness that I think a religious myth can bring to life. I have an acquaintance who, and this is a true story by the way, he may be listening to this and I hope he doesn’t mind that I’m telling it, I’m not going to mention his name. He went on a quest to Thailand to learn to meditate and do yoga and find himself and has a difficult past that he wanted to transcend and find his true self and leave his past behind. And at the final day of a long course he did and long retreat, the final day his house went up in flames, burned up and he lost everything.
Rick: Back at home?
Bernardo: In Thailand. He moved his entire life to Thailand. He rented a house by the beach and everything that had importance to him was in that house, you know, a computer and hard drives with the pictures he took throughout his life. This seems quite symbolic, what you’re getting out of here. Yeah, all the notes and the books and the memorabilia that he accumulated throughout life, the little memories and his clothes, his books, everything went up in flames. He was left with his wallet that was in his pocket and a motorcycle and some clothes that he had in the laundry. And look at the symbolic significance of this. I mean there are two ways we can approach this. One is to say the fire is its own meaning. In other words it means nothing but a fire, that’s how there is to it. It’s just a fire, it happens, that’s it. Or you see the fire as an embodiment of a symbolism that has a lot to do with where he is in his mind and in this phase of his life. So that’s the choice we have. If you’re fired from work it’s either its own meaning, you were just fired, that’s all, or it’s pointing at necessary change in your life. If you have a romantic relationship or a divorce, what does it mean? If you’re ill, what does it mean? You know your entire life can become an epic drama that extends before your birth and beyond your death and you are the main character of that epic drama. I mean talk about dramas on television, I mean they’re nothing. I mean there’s this series now, what’s its name, its full of dragons and …
Rick: Game of Thrones, right.
Bernardo: Oh man, your life is much richer and more significant than Game of Thrones, if it is informed by a religious myth. And what I call a religious myth is any myth that points to transcendence. It doesn’t really need to be religious in the sense that we normally understand the word religions. I define it in the book, so I should define it with you as well. Any myth that points to transcendence in a way that is legitimate and sound based on deep and authentic human intuitions is a religious myth in that sense. So if your life is informed by those, suddenly it’s not claustrophobic and meaningless anymore. Certainly it’s a rich drama.
Rick: Yeah, I mean if we could define a myth here I would say that, you know, one nice myth to live by. Well here’s one to juxtapose with it first of all. You say in your book, where is it? Oh, I’m losing it. Something about real men and tough chicks. Oh yeah, here it is, here it is. “Contemporary science cannot acknowledge even the possibility of meaning and purpose, for real men and tough chicks face bleak facts.” This isn’t skepticism but cynicism, an arbitrary commitment to the impossibility of something. And the way I perceive life and live it is that everything is pregnant with meaning and significance because everything is suffused with intelligence, and even science will tell us that. If we look closely there’s marvelous intelligence operating in everything on every level. But I’ll tell you a little story that happened to me yesterday. We have this ice cream maker and my wife decided she’s not going to bother making ice cream. If we want ice cream we’ll just buy some ice cream. So it’s this nice ice cream maker and so we went to have our hair cut yesterday and I called the lady who was going to cut our hair and said, “Hey, would you like an ice cream maker?” And she said, “Yeah, I would.” So we brought it over and we got there and she said, “Look at this.” She picked up a magazine and she said, “Just this morning I was looking at this magazine and it was an article about ice cream makers and here is the ice cream maker, there’s a picture of it, the recommended one to get. This is the one you brought me and I had thought just this morning I would like an ice cream maker like that.” Now is that sheer coincidence or is there some kind of deeper thing going on there?
Bernardo: It’s a synchronicity and it could reflect information transfers in the world beyond what we today acknowledge as possible from what we understand in science. It could reflect the fact that human psyches are not really insulated from each other, that they are all connected to each other at root because they may be dissociated fragments of only one consciousness, right, the universal consciousness or Brahman or the Godhead, many myths call it different names. So I acknowledge synchronicities but I think the significance of the world at the symbolic level goes beyond synchronicity. It’s not only this meaningful coincidence, even if there isn’t any coincidence whatsoever, the thing in front of you right now, the fact that we are talking to each other right now and how the weather is today and what’s going to happen to you tomorrow, those have their own symbolic significance. I think this may sound anti-Advaita but it isn’t really, actually it’s completely Advaitic. If I may just take a tangent here Rick because I think it’s worthwhile. You see, if one can look upon the world without judgment the world becomes a cosmic drama, the world loses its symbolic significance only when we start passing judgment on it, when we start telling ourselves this shouldn’t have been so or this has to be so or that person is silly or is an ass or you know when you start passing judgment we flatten the drama and it becomes provincial, pedestrian, trivial almost. We don’t do that when we are watching a movie, if you’re watching War and Peace on TV or if you’re reading “War and Peace.” I mean there are so many holes in that story, right? There are so many people that if you would judge them, if they were your friends or acquaintances, you would judge them so badly and you make them, you would make them so small. But in “War and Peace” they are heroes, they are main characters in that drama and why do you see them that way? Because you’re not judging them, you’re reading or watching it for what it is, which is a symbolic drama that points to the realities of the human psyche and the human society. So if we could adopt that same attitude of reading a novel, reading a rich symbolic novel as you live your life, without that judgment you would restore the symbolism of the world that makes attempt to point to. And what does Advaita do? It helps you achieve exactly that, to experience the world without this judgment. So Advaita is extremely conducive to this, although it’s often interpreted to mean the opposite, which is if you don’t judge the world then you don’t see any meaning in it and then you become aloof because it’s all an illusion anyway and yeah forget about it. You know just roll up in a corner and wait to die because it’s all for nothing anyway. Well that’s the option one has. How are you going to look at it?
Rick: Yeah that again though is not true Vedanta, I don’t think that’s not the way the founders and great teachers of Vedanta lived their lives. It seems to me that on this point of judging, if we are saying that things shouldn’t be the way they are or there’s something wrong with the weather or there’s something wrong with the way the universe is working, then implicitly we’re denying the existence of God, we’re denying the existence of a deeper intelligence that’s actually running the show, you know.
Rick: Orchestrating things. We’re kind of co-opting that authority and saying I know better how things should be and you know I’m in charge of this universe, which is absurd.
Bernardo: Yeah, this brings back to me a book by Thomas Moore, an old book from the early 90s by Father Thomas Moore who was a psychotherapist for many years and he wrote a book called about the Soul, Cultivating the Soul, Soul-making and I don’t remember the title of the book anymore, but he mentions one beautiful example, he talks about family. I mean we all have, most of us have a very difficult relationship with our families, right, this pure love and hate. We love them but if they stay around too long, well we hate them, you know, and it brings the worst in us because of this judgment, you know, my mother should be different, my father should be different, or they should have been different, which is even worse, or this is how they should behave or how they should not behave and so on and so forth. And we are judging our families and we make them very small and we are distanced from them because it’s all trouble and what Moore says in the book is if you inject soul in that, you refrain from judging and you read the story of your family as you read “War and Peace”, you know what I mean, as you read one of the great epics and each member of your family will acquire a sort of an archetypal quality and archetypes, they’re not all good, many archetypes are pretty quote bad, right, they’re pretty disgusting sometimes or you don’t want to have them around, but if you watch the members of your family as embodiments of that archetypal dynamics suddenly it’s invested with soul which was Moore’s word for what I mean by invested with meaning and significance, symbolic meaning, what are archetypes but symbolic manifestations of deep patterns, psychic patterns in minds, in consciousness itself.
Rick: Nice. Here’s a question that just came in, let’s read this, this is from Dan in London, he asks, “Through lucid dreams I’m always exploring the dream reality and comparing it to actual reality as a way to explore the nature of reality. I have noticed that the dream reality, if explored carefully, that is you look at a blade of grass carefully and you’ll notice all the details you’d expect in the waking reality and can’t tell a difference, it’s interesting that all the myths you mentioned in terms of the creation of the world relate to a deity dreaming the world into existence. Do you think lucid dreaming can play a part in the exploration of reality to come to such conclusions about reality as those myths you have mentioned?”
Bernardo: Absolutely, I think it is a formidable tool, it is a very difficult tool to master, I have never mastered it, I have had lucid dreams, I adopted a very scientific approach in the lucid dream, I did precisely what he is describing, I’m trying to find any quality or characteristic in the world of dreams that would allow me to differentiate it from waking life purely perceptually. I could differentiate it because I could remember the history, I knew I was asleep because I remember I went to bed and so on, but they differentiate it based on perceptual qualities and I couldn’t, so I think what lucid dreams tell us is that mind is perfectly capable of creating this, this whole shebang, all the dramas of life, all the contents of perceptions, galaxies, black holes, galaxy clusters, all the way to grains of sand, ants and electrons, mind is perfectly capable of creating this and you know that for yourself if you are a capable regular lucid dreamer, which I am not. So I think there is a hint based on direct experience, right there, about what these myths were trying to say, who is creating the world right now but you, not the you Rick Archer or Bernardo Kastrup but the true sense of I that is witnessing Rick Archer and Bernardo Kastrup and whoever else is out there, that is imagining the world into existence and I think myths are pointing to that. In part three of the book I try to elaborate on it in slightly more analytical explicit terms and I do that, guess what, in the form of a myth, a dialogue between an archetypal figure and an explorer of consciousness that could have been a lucid dreamer. In the book I talk about it in different terms, there is a lot of technology involved there to put this explorer in a sort of an altered state of consciousness where he can interact with this archetypal figure and learn about the nature of reality and how everything came into existence but it could have been a lucid dream. If lucid dreamers can establish a dialogue with an archetypal figure manifested in symbolic form within a lucid dream which is extraordinarily difficult to do, especially if you’re trying, usually it happens when you’re not trying, but if that happens you probably can have a dialogue of the kind that I mythically described in part three of the book.
Rick: Nice, here’s another question, Elizabeth from the United States asks, “Myth and science are often presented as being polar opposites, myth having to do with fantasy and imagination and science having to do with truth. Do you agree with this? How are myth and science different and how are they similar? Thanks.
Bernardo: It’s a terminology question. I define myths not as true or untrue but I define it based on the original etiology of the Greek word mythos which became mythos and which became myth which means a narrative, a report, a story in terms of which we can interpret the contents of the world. That’s why I define the word. So myths can be true or untrue without ceasing to be myths in the way I use the word. In modern culture, especially in a scientific context, people use the word myth in the sense of fantasy which is different. A fantasy is also myth, it’s a myth ungrounded on empirical facts but in the book every time I use the word myth during this interview and in the book I mean something broader, I mean a story in terms of which we can interpret the contents of perception, in other words the world out there. Now science itself today in the way it is practiced is based on myths. Every time in the way I define the word, every time you have a narrative for interpreting experiments you’re running a myth in the way I define the word and that myth can be true or untrue. You can have a hypothesis tested and proven to be untrue or tested and proven to be true and you still have a myth. Philosophically you would say that any interpretation of scientific observations that give you an idea about what things actually are, we call it an ontology. An ontology is a myth of reality, a myth of what reality essentially is. Science itself, not in the way it’s practiced but in the way it should be, in the way it was originally defined, is ontology independent. Science itself does not actually require myths or interpretations. It only requires correct predictive models that can be tested under controlled conditions. In other words you do not need to know what an atom is, what an electron is, what an orbital or a photon are. You do not need to know what they essentially are. All you need to know is that if a photon hits an electron in a certain orbital it will jump to the next orbital. This is a model, a predictive model. It tells you that if this happens then that will happen as a consequence. These models can be verified and proven to be correct or incorrect and that is the business of science.
Rick: But if you’re a scientist you might also want to know what they are. That might be another inquiry.
Bernardo: That’s the thing. In practice all scientists will be running an ontology myth in their minds. They will be telling themselves what this probably means but that’s no longer science. Officially this is philosophy. The problem is that what happens today is that scientists like Krauss and Hawking, they put down philosophy as something completely unnecessary and then they go ahead and do philosophy. And because they are completely ignorant of philosophy they do philosophy in a miserably wrong, pathetic way. And these are the people telling our kids what reality is, especially in the United States. And I think that’s a problem.
Rick: So you’re saying, just for clarification here, that if science begins to get into wanting to know ultimately what things are then it has strayed into the realm of philosophy and that that’s not really the business of science, that’s the business of philosophy. Is that what you just said in the last couple minutes?
Bernardo: That’s exactly what I’m saying, yes. It’s not the business of science to investigate the essential underlying nature of things.
Rick: Why shouldn’t it be? Why is it not a legitimate purpose of science? I mean isn’t that what quantum physicists and the more advanced realms of science are trying to do?
Bernardo: I think the methods of science are not suitable for this. The methods of science, I mean there are three ways you can explore the world. One is through theoretical thinking, logical thinking, logic. The other one is through empirical observation. And the third one is through introspection. Science uses only the first two and it completely ignores the third. The problem is to understand the underlying nature of things you cannot ignore the third. You can ignore the third one, introspection, if all you want to do is to come up with correct predictive models. If this happens then that will happen as a consequence. If that other thing happens then this happens as a consequence. This is what science can do through its methods. The third one is totally beyond the scope of a methodology that ignores introspection and that’s where things go dramatically wrong, because most scientists ignore what I just said. They do not recognize what I just said.
Rick: This is one of my favorite themes actually, if I understand you correctly. You worked at CERN for a while, which is where the Large Hadron Collider is these days, and you know that’s a very sophisticated instrument and using that they’re trying to observe the way very fundamental particles behave with one another and so on. I always like to think of the human nervous system as the ultimate particle accelerator, so to speak. Not that we accelerate particles with it, but that it’s the ultimate tool. It’s the scientific instrument that we use if we want to do introspection and that its very structure is vastly more sophisticated than the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider, and therefore it is capable of doing things that that instrument, well firstly isn’t designed to do, but could never, that no instrument that man makes could ever do, because we couldn’t make an instrument as sophisticated as the human nervous system and why should we bother, because we already have one. All we have to do is learn how to use it properly and you know using it properly we can plumb the very fundamental ground of existence and introspectively cognize the deepest realities of nature’s functioning and existence.
Bernardo: I wouldn’t disregard either approach. I think they’re complementary.
Rick: I’m not saying it’s either-or, I’m saying they both have different functions.
Bernardo: And they come together which is counterintuitive for most people in Western society today. I think introspection brings you, if this is what you want to understand, introspection brings you from one side and empirical analysis brings you at the same point from the other side, and where they meet is where the meat is, if you pardon the pun. What is the empirical world but the patterns of excitation of mind itself? When mind is excited that excitation appears to you in the screen of perception as the atoms, the electrons, the fundamental subatomic particles.
Rick: And you don’t just mean individual mind here, you mean mind with a capital M.
Bernardo: I mean universal consciousness, mind at large, Brahma, Godhead, Karora, whatever.
Rick: Your analogy of whirlpools in water, what is a whirlpool? It’s just water but it’s a sort of a current in the water that seems to have a structure which ultimately it doesn’t, it’s nothing but water, right?
Bernardo: That’s right. So our personal psyche would be like whirlpools in a stream, and what I’m referring to as mind at large is the stream itself, not the individual whirlpools. So if the empirical worlds are the ripples on the stream that whirlpools can see when they look around to the neighborhoods, there are two ways of studying these excitations of mind. One is through introspecting and the other one is through aggressive empirical investigation, like what happened at Large Hadron Collider, a project that I worked on from its inception in 1994. Yeah, I was part of the data acquisition team for the ATLAS detector of the LHC, which is one of the two main detectors, the ATLAS and the CMS. I worked on the ATLAS detector. I was watching a documentary on that just a few weeks ago and they were showing that very thing. I had no idea that you were part of that. I was part of the data acquisition system which doesn’t sit inside the onion itself, the detector itself. It’s a large computer system next to it. It’s connected by cables. It’s not down there in the tunnel but it’s essential for the detector. Well, never mind, I don’t want to get into the technical details of that. But I think introspection and empiricism are complementary. So I think science is very informative to philosophy, especially philosophy of mind or neurophilosophy. We would be operating more or less blind in neurophilosophy today. Well, not completely blind because we still have introspection but it’s extraordinarily helpful to have neuroscience give us empirical facts about what happens. We don’t need to interpret, scientists don’t need to interpret those facts but they can gather these facts in a way that is internally consistent and robust and repeatable and isolates variables so it makes interpretation easier. I think that’s extraordinarily important and useful. At the same time, I think it applies, the same rationale applies the other way around as well. Science without philosophy is purely an enabler for engineering. It helps us build computers and microphones and airplanes and telephones and it helps us have this conversation. But without philosophy it informs us not at all about the underlying nature of reality. It only plays that role if it’s coupled to philosophy and philosophy can be much expedited through the empirical information that arises from science. So I think the marriage is important and the marriage shouldn’t be such that one party completely dominates the other or puts the other down like a dominating husband putting down his wife. It wouldn’t work. This has to be a marriage of equals that meet somewhere in the middle and I think that’s where things have been going wrong. I mean in the early days philosophy was not informed by science and it pursued all kinds of useless avenues of thought and speculation totally ungrounded on reality because it was not empirically informed in a systematic way. Today the pendulum swung to the other side, now we have science saying we don’t need philosophy, that’s ridiculous.
Rick: Yeah, I think philosophy itself lost its moorings because you know it perhaps lost its ability to have mystical insight or have deep profound cognition and so you know people who call themselves philosophers were like people sitting on a frozen lake kind of looking through the ice and kind of speculating about what might be down there, you know maybe there’s sea monsters or maybe there’s mermaids or whatever, they’re coming up with all kinds of ideas that actually bore no resemblance to truth or became very distorted and strange because again if there had ever been a fairly common access to deeper mystical truth through introspection, through subjective experience, it had somehow been lost. And so you know when science dawned around the period of the Renaissance it did so in response to very rather strange ideas that had come to dominate, mainly in the hands of the church, and so it was really a much needed antidote to the weirdness that had come to, you know, that that had become dogma in the popular, you know, culture.
Bernardo: I agree, but you see the problem that science became an antidote for only arose when we started interpreting myths literally, then things started going south, because then we started speculating wildly about, not only widely, but wildly about what the facts of the matter were and completely ungrounded on reality and we started taking those stories literally. So instead of contemplating deep landscapes of transcendent truth deep within the mind, we started making up stories in the intellect and then interpreting them literally. These myths were not religious myths in the sense that they didn’t emerge from deep within that umbilical cord that connects us to the source of truth. They were made up through observation of the world and intellectual exercises, but ungrounded on systematic observation of the world. And then they became silly myths that were interpreted literally and then it was a disaster and science came as an antidote of that, but it corrected more than the original problem, because now it went down the path of saying, “Even religious myths are nonsense and by the way we don’t need an interpretative framework, philosophical interpretative framework for science, because science itself already provides the answers.” That’s absolutely silly, that’s just applying a certain ontology, a certain philosophical view to the data without even knowing that you’re doing it. So blind one becomes to it.
Rick: And also religion had co-opted a lot of stuff that it had no business messing with, such as astronomy. You know, okay well now the earth is the center of the universe and that has religious significance. It means that man is ultimately important and the planets have to move in circles, not ellipses, because circles are perfect and ellipses aren’t. So religions were getting into all kinds of stuff that I don’t think that the founders of religions, such as Jesus or Buddha, would have wanted them to. So science kind of saved the day in that respect.
Bernardo: Well the perfect circles thing was actually a philosophical speculation.
Rick: Oh was it Plato or somebody?
Bernardo: Yeah, it comes from very old times in Greece prior to Jesus I think, this idea of the perfect spheres and so on. But I think religious institutions are guilty of what you’re saying. Once you have an institution with people, you have all the negative aspects of people playing a role there, greed, status and power seeking, even sexual whatever, motivations. So the religious institution can hijack a myth with terrifying consequences, like burning witches and converting the new world, the Inquisition converting the new world people to Christianity and completely removing meaning from their lives or the Crusades going to a place where they had no business and then killing everybody there. And of course the Muslims are no less guilty of this as well, radical fundamentalist Islam is very visible today for doing something similar, probably well at a much lower scale than what Christians have done, but much more visible today. I’m not pro or against any particular religion by the way and I didn’t mean to sound biased here, but I think we should make a difference between a religious institution with its own problems and biases and prejudices and also with its benefits, because you know without some form of institutional support it’s hard to see how a religious myth can be maintained vital and alive without institutional support. So there are pros and cons to religious institutions, but you have to differentiate all that from the original religious myth itself, the original short little story rich in symbolism that emerges spontaneously and ready from the obfuscated mind in which people very long ago contemplated and tried to wrap around in words.
Rick: Yeah, also just to put a cap on that, I mean religious institutions were not only inimical to other cultures and all, but even to the mystics within their own tradition. I mean people like you know Saint John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, they got a really hard time from the religious administrators of their day because they were actually having genuine direct mystical insights and that kind of threatened those who clung desperately to mere beliefs.
Bernardo: Yeah, if you have a direct connection to transcendence you don’t need an intermediary, and if you don’t need the intermediary what power does the intermediary have? So of course these people and others, Swedenborg comes to mind, of course they were a threat. They could access these things directly. Remember there was a time only a few hundred years ago when Christians were not supposed to even read the Bible.
Bernardo: We shouldn’t forget that. So this thing, this idea of you need an intermediary and we will take care of you, don’t try to have this experience yourself, this has a very long history.
Rick: Yeah, fortunately not so much of a history in the Hindu or Vedic tradition. I mean there you know the teachers, I mean I’m sure there are examples of it, but there the teachers would want their students to have the same experience they had and to graduate so to speak and become experiential authorities of themselves without needing the teachers tried to put themselves out of a job essentially if they were good ones.
Bernardo: And still you have the whole thing around gurus and the way they dress and you know the flower necklaces and the throne high in the room in front of the room and all the adoration and all that stuff. So it happens in the East too, it may be less officially institutionalized as it has been in the West, but it’s happening.
Rick: Now let’s kind of wrap up a theme we’ve been discussing I think, which we haven’t quite done the conclusion on it, and that is that you know science arose to fulfill a need that was you know pretty dire because society or human thinking was so gripped by ridiculous myths and so science said, “Hey wait a minute, let’s understand things correctly here and see what’s really going on.” But as you’ve said, science threw the baby out with the bathwater and even today generally, totally, rejects myth as meaningless and silly, but we’ve seen what can happen to the world without that sort of deeper spiritual orientation where materialistic understanding of things is allowed to dominate and the implications that that is having for the environment and you know species extinction and you know all this stuff. So if all goes well, you know how would you see you know a decade or two or three or four down the line, how would you envision a world in which a proper balance had been restored between the empirical and the intuitive? I think that was the word you used, the intuitive.
Rick: You know what would an ideal world look like if those two were actually in proper balance and relationship with one another?
Bernardo: Before I answer this directly let me just make a comment. We never abandoned myths, they’re just hidden and they don’t have this label anymore. If you look at science today all the multiverse cosmologies with copy of copies, countless copies of Rick Archer living their lives in countless parallel universes and gazillions more emerging every tiny fraction of a second. I mean what is that but a rich myth in which you never die because the result is a you somewhere else that didn’t die or even if you die you will be reborn exactly as you are today at some point in the cosmological future because there is enough time for that to happen and there are limited states in the universe so combination of states we have to believe repeats at some point.
Rick: Or Ray Kurzweil wanting to upload his mind to a computer so he can be eternal or that kind of nonsense.
Bernardo: That’s going to be my next example. You see if consciousness is generated from material arrangements, hey, then it can be downloaded or uploaded and then that’s another door to immortality. The difference here is that in the modern scientific myth-making, covertly also aiming at transcendence and immortality the difference is that what is invested with power is the ego. The ego now has the power to control transcendence through technology not deities, not the archetypal forces of the obfuscated mind. There is a recent psychological study done here at the University of Cologne if I’m not mistaken, at least the lead researcher was published this year. They did research with volunteers and they could show that belief that science will eventually attain control of nature is perceived as very empowering, comforting, as a means to reduce anxiety, depression and all that. That belief in the power of science to completely control nature and the belief that
Rick: In every realm I suppose, agriculture, disease, environment,
Rick: Everything, Okay, yeah.
Bernardo: so a sort of transhumanist idea but without the downloading of consciousness of Ray Kurzweil, just extraordinarily advanced medicine that would get you to live a hundred years, a thousand years or even beyond. This belief was perceived and the belief that this is within reach, that it may happen within our lifetimes, that the lifetimes of our kids is very empowering, has a religious tone to it but again it invests the ego, not deities, with the power to control transcendence. So we never lost the myths of transcendence, they are covert. The only difference is that they are now focusing on the ego as opposed to focusing on what the ancients would call the soul, which is how you truly feel, what you truly want, not what you think you feel, not what you think you want, but how you feel inside, in the chest, in the gut, not in the head, and that’s the difference. Now, how can we restore balance? I’m very bad at coming up with recipes for things, Rick, as you know me well enough to know this by now, I focus on analyzing and understanding what is.
Rick: Yeah, but let’s say to, you know, if you were able to, if you were a science fiction writer or a futurist and you wanted to portray a civilization in which a proper balance had been restored between science and, you know, mystical insight or intuitive insight, and that each was flourishing in its full value, but in a way that was in which they were harmonious with each other and complementary to one another, you know, what would that look like to you?
Bernardo: I’ll be honest even though it will not be nice what I’m going to say. I think that the train of a physicalist science has enormous momentum now. It’s a very heavy, very large train and it’s going at a very, very high speed. It is nearly impossible to stop it within any term that we can contemplate now. I see only one hole that can be explored and it’s precisely the hole I’m focusing on and that is the hard problem of consciousness. That is the fact that we cannot explain the qualities of experience, the warmth of love, the rediness of an apple, the bitterness of disappointment. We cannot explain these qualities on the basis of parameters of physical systems like a spin, momentum, form, angle, mass, charge. These are completely disconnected, disjoint worlds. You cannot explain one in terms of the other and that’s even in principle. So it’s a very fundamental gap and there are more and more people looking at it, scratching their heads and thinking what are we doing wrong, what are we seeing wrong. I mean the answer is obvious right. Here we have consciousness imagining things like electrons and atoms outside consciousness and then becoming puzzled why it can’t explain itself on the basis of its own abstractions. I mean it’s obvious what’s going on. Consciousness is abstracting things into existence, contents of consciousness itself and then it can’t figure out how it can explain itself on the basis of its abstractions. It will never do that. It’s chasing its own tails, its own tail. It’s like a dog running around in circles and that’s the hard problem and because there are more and more people seeing this for what it is, that we have dogs chasing our own tails here, we never come out of it. I think that offers some hope but my feeling is that it’s not going to happen in time. I think what will happen to restore balance is catastrophe.
Rick: Yeah, I mean with your train metaphor there have been several train crashes in recent years where high speed trains went into curves much too quickly because the conductor wasn’t paying attention or something and they went off the rails and I think this so-called unstoppable train of science is heading for the curve.
Bernardo: Physically it’s science and when I say physically science I mean science prejudiced by a particular ontology. Science itself without an ontological load, an ontological bias or prejudice causes no harm. It only gives us tools. It’s what we do with the tools based on how we interpret what we see in science. That’s where things go incredibly wrong. For instance, if you take the position of eliminative materialism and this is the idea that consciousness doesn’t really exist. That’s what Michael Graziano has been saying, Daniel Dennett and the Churchlands and a few other people with questionable insanity if you ask me. So here we have consciousness denying that consciousness exists or consciousness saying that consciousness is an illusion. But wait a moment, where do illusions happen but in consciousness? So well there’s a short circuit here but if these guys and these guys are published by you know major journals and even the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine and Atlantic and other mainstream magazines they get a lot of airtime, they are taken seriously which is incredible but it is so they are taken seriously. Now what is the implication of this interpretation of reality if you say that consciousness doesn’t exist that all that really exists is matter outside consciousness. What possible meaning can there be to life but the accumulation of consciousness? This is the necessary answer because there is no other answer. There is no other possible conceivable meaning and then what do you do? You ponder, you don’t care about the future of the planet because once you’re dead you’re dead anyway you’re not going to live to see the catastrophe. All you can do is collect your material stuff and enjoy it as much as you can and to hell with the rest. So you see what causes the trouble is the interpretation. When we lay a myth, a story on top of those predictive models of science that inform us what will happen if this happens and so on and so forth, we load a tool with an interpretation that leads to disaster. Science itself will only offer the tools. I think the problem is in the interpretation. So I wouldn’t blame science, I would blame physicalist contaminated science.
Rick: Yeah, I’m used to the term obfuscated mind and to obfuscate means to make something unclear or occluded to some extent and it seems to me that people who come up with these very sort of anemic myths about the world are just not seeing very clearly. They’re occluded, they’re obfuscated. I mean it amazes me actually that a scientist or a doctor or anyone who looks at nature very, very closely could be an atheist because they more than anyone have the sort of the beauty and intricacy of nature, the obvious intelligence of nature staring them in the face. If you’re a cell biologist and you’re looking at the mechanics of a cell, how could you possibly conclude that that’s just some mechanistic little thing that is not being orchestrated by unfathomably rich intelligence?
Bernardo: I have a theory about this. I think there is a surprising psychological game for these people to say what they say and to think what they think. It’s very covert, they portray themselves as just staring the hard facts in the face and biting the bullet and in that sense they make themselves better than you and me because we are just wishful thinkers, we’re just dreamers, we want reality to be different than what it is and they just stare the hard facts in the face. But actually there’s tremendous psychological gain by taking this position. It’s a complex theory I have, I’m submitting a paper actually to a psychologist journal with it. I’m not sure you want to get into this but there is psychological gain, this is biased.
Rick: Well in a nutshell are you implying that the psychological gain is a buttressing of their individual ego? It’s sort of like an attempt to strengthen and maintain.
Bernardo: That’s certainly part of it, I think there’s more to it, it goes deeper, it has to do with gaining meaning surprisingly enough because you see one major source of meaning, the main source of meaning humanity has had historically is religious myths, the transcendence, the theological transcendence and the immortality that religious myths offer. Once we lost the ability around mid of the 19th century, we lost the ability to relate to religious myths without intellectual scrutiny. So you were forced to disregard them if people felt that they were intellectually honest, they had to disregard those myths and that created an ontological trauma. People were traumatized because now they had to stare their own mortality in the face and that’s a tremendous loss of meaning. We know that from terror management theory today that mortality salience as it’s called in psychology, the fact that you have to acknowledge your own approach in mortality, that is a tremendous threat to your sense of meaning in life. But the thing is meaning has multiple sources and there is a theory called meaning management model or something like this. The core idea is fluid compensation and the idea is if you lose one source of meaning you will compensate by getting meaning from another source and another source of meaning is closure. It’s a major source of meaning. So if you lose meaning from religious transcendence you will emphasize closure to restore meaning. Closure means what? Closure means that you have an understanding of why things happen. They may be shit but at least you understand why they’re shit. For instance if
Rick: So you feel like you have it all figured out and that gives you some security.
Bernardo: It gives you meaning, a sense of meaning, not security, a sense of meaning. And for instance if you are, suppose you’re trying very hard to get a promotion and you fail, that destroys your sense of meaning or significantly impacts it and you compensate that by telling yourself but that company is a piece of crap anyway and that gives you closure. So we play this little game inside our heads all the time. This is established psychological fact. We know that from the MMM fluid compensation and all that. It happens subliminally. I think what materialists do is they compensate the meaning that has been robbed from them by their intellect which is the bounce of their heart and doesn’t allow them to relate spontaneously to religious myths anymore. They compensate by seeking closure and what is science doing? Science is by far the biggest attempt humanity has ever made to come up with a complete causally closed model of reality. So yes, reality may be shit, we may be dying, it may all be lost anyway, but at least we figured it out and it gives us a sense that at least we won that. We won a battle, we get something out of it and I think that’s what is underlying this. But okay, it’s a
Rick: That’s an interesting line of thinking and it’s interesting to note the arrogance or audacity of the attitude of many of these people. There’s a certainty, a finality, “This is the way it is and everybody else is stupid,” and juxtapose that with a lot of spiritual teachers these days who talk a lot about the value of not knowing and the value of uncertainty and keeping an open mind and never considering yourself to have final answers to anything, but life is a continuous exploration and a mystery. That to me is a much more humble and healthy attitude.
Bernardo: You see most people, I hope my science colleagues, and I still have many, don’t take me wrong when I say this.
Rick: Oh, they probably won’t be watching this anyway.
Bernardo: Well, I can refer to someone, I can cite someone else and get rid of my own guilt and my own responsibility. Let me cite Thomas Kuhn who wrote “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Yes, a lot of what goes on in science is game playing. People are playing games. They made the rules themselves and they play those games and they can win or they can lose and when they win it’s a big kick. It’s like winning a chess tournament, you know, or winning an Olympic competition. You feel good about yourself and that gives you meaning too because self, what’s the right word for that, if you have a positive view of yourself that gives you meaning as well. So it’s one of the sources of meaning, amenable to fluid compensation. So I think what you see is a lot of grown-up adolescents who are very smart, who enjoy their games very much, can avoid the toughest existential questions of their lives by focusing all their energies and passions in playing those games. The games bring them a strong sense of meaning despite the pessimistic outlook of materialism for the reasons we just discussed, which are usually covert. Nobody talks about that but it gives them a sense of meaning and they go on playing this game all their lives and self-esteem is boosted because hey they understand the world and most people on the streets don’t understand and if they speak out and pretend that they understand we have to shut them up because they’re ignorant idiots anyway and we are the ones who understand. It’s the new priesthood. They are placing themselves like priests in the past, in the recent past, as intermediaries between people and truth. They’re basically telling you, “You can’t figure truth out for yourself, it’s way too complex. You don’t have the education, you don’t have the background, you don’t have the publications and the degrees. Listen to me because I know.
Rick: It’s interesting because it’s like you know when Christ came along he was always railing against the scribes and Pharisees who were hypocrites and who weren’t really sincerely interested in truth. They were more interested in power and position and you know they had sort of lost the original purity of their own tradition and you’re kind of saying the same thing about science. When I hear you describe them that way it’s like these people aren’t interested in knowing what’s real, they aren’t interested in knowing what’s ultimately true. They’re just playing games as you said. They’re kind of jockeying for status and wealth and various perks of their position.
Bernardo: When I say playing games I don’t mean necessarily just status and wealth and all these negative things. It can be honest, healthy game playing but it becomes unhealthy if you replace reality with game playing, if you think that your game is actually the reality of things.
Rick: Well you can also spend half a career investing in a particular paradigm and then you feel very threatened. If that paradigm begins to be threatened by something you don’t want to just drop it.
Bernardo: There you go. But I think you see my own experience in science and I have been in the greatest bastions of science is that scientists by and large are honest. They are not bad people, they don’t have bad intents. They are doing all this thinking that they are doing the right thing. So I don’t mean to imply that this is malicious. This isn’t malicious, it’s just human being stuff, garden variety psychology, you know with its weaknesses and its traps and scientists are just human beings, very smart human beings are playing those games but that smartness doesn’t necessarily correlate with wisdom and introspective insights.
BERNARDO: And often, often it doesn’t.
Rick: Well it strikes me that it’s a symptom of egotism, of being fixated or absorbed in one’s individual ego as opposed to being willing to surrender or relinquish that, which ultimately is what you have to do if you really want truth. You know you have to, because the drop has to dissolve into the ocean to understand the ocean.
Bernardo: Yeah this idea of surrender, this is not in the map of science, it does not exist. This is really beyond their conception of reality, that’s not what happens in scientific circles.
Rick: Which is again a point that is, if we’re talking about a future scenario in which science and spirituality have each blossomed fully and are collaborating with one another, hopefully they will each have adopted the best of the other’s systems, you know, so that spiritual people will be very systematic and scientific in their explorations, not given to fanciful imaginings. And science, you know, will be kind of very humble and open to truth wherever it may be found, or wherever they may be led, without being kind of rigid or invested in paradigms that are no longer working.
Bernardo: I think you make an important point, all the critiques we’ve just leveraged at science, we can leverage analogous critiques at spirituality. It may be worse, but since I feel I know more of science than of spirituality, I will refrain from pounding people that I don’t know sufficiently about.
Rick: I kind of think they need each other, you know, and you know at one point so-called spirituality had the upper hand and now so-called science has the upper hand, but neither was really all it ought to be, and that if they can somehow move beyond the current stage to the point where both are coming to their full potential, and by sharing with one another the best aspects of each, then both will become much more than either ever has been.
Bernardo: Absolutely, I think there’s a lot of room for dialogue. I mean, there are things, I can mention one concrete example, if you read Nisargadatta Maharaj, I mean, first you have to get past all the alt-right contradictions in every page of what he writes, because his use of words is so loose and because there is translation and because you know there are 30 words in India for consciousness and only one in English, so they translate everything into consciousness, so there’s contradictions all over the place, but if you get past all that, he was talking about metacognition, about re-representation and self-reflection, already in the 60s and the 70s, and this is something that entered the realm of neuropsychology and neuroscience this century. So, Schuller published, I think, a seminal paper in 2002 about this idea of re-representation and metacognition and only this year there has been some influential papers about the fact that the neuro-correlates of reportable experience are not the neuro-correlates of experience in itself, because to report an experience is an extra cognitive faculty, a metacognitive faculty on top of the ability to experience something. So, all these things are now being talked about in neuroscience and Isaac Gennady was talking about it long ago in completely different words. He was saying, he was talking about the I am, know that you are, that’s an appeal to metacognition. He was talking about an experience that isn’t in consciousness or something to that effect. He’s talking about non-re- represented experiences, in other words experiences that are not re-represented at the metacognitive level. This modern stuff in neuroscience, if you read Nisargadatta with the knowledge that you have today, you go, damn, through pure introspection this guy knew all this shit already decades ago. Yeah, and millennia ago people have known it. Yeah. Here’s a question that came in from Elizabeth again. In Tibetan Buddhism there is a practice known as deity yoga, maybe you’re familiar with it, in which the practitioner imagines that their body is the body of the deity, their mind is the mind of the deity and their speech is the speech of the deity. In this way we invoke and inhabit the energy of an archetype. I’ve often wondered how this sort of practice relates to the more direct path of Advaita Vedanta. What’s your sense of this?
Bernardo: I think this resonates a lot with Jungian psychology. Okay, I have a lot to say about this actually. This is a sweet spot for me and I feel strongly about this. I think one thing is to know what the ultimate truth is and that’s what Advaita Vedanta tells us and I think it’s very effective. Know that at the bottom of everything there is only consciousness, which is the best English word we have. I mean we should have more English words to really explain and I don’t mean consciousness as cognition or as metacognition or as self-reflection. Like an ocean, like at the bottom of every wave there’s the ocean. Pure consciousness, so the potential for there being something it is like to be, that would be the rigorous definition that comes from David Chalmers. You’re conscious if there is something it is like to be you, so that’s the most basic level of consciousness. If there is some quality of experience in you then you are conscious at that basic level.
Rick: Like you might say that your glass of water is not conscious because there’s nothing that it is like to be a glass of water.
Bernardo: In itself no, but there is something it is like to be the whole universe, a part of which is the glass of water,
Bernardo: So we can put it that way. So what Advaita Vedanta is telling us is that at the bottom of everything, in scientific terms, the ontological primitive of all reality, the root of all reality, the speaker whose vibrations is the world we see, the feelings we have and everything, is consciousness itself. And what is consciousness? It is that which experiences. It is that whose excitations are the qualities of experience. That’s what Advaita Vedanta tells us and you can interpret it in many ways. Like well then the rest is just excitations, it’s all illusion, or the rest are symbols of this ultimate truth that ask for interpretation, ask for engagement. It’s interpretation, but Advaita gives us that root level. What the Western approaches, which are highly symbolic, and I discussed this I think in chapter four of the book, this myth versus no myth traditions and the pros and cons of each as I see them. What the Western traditions give you is a study of the structure of the illusion, if we can call it an illusion. I’ll concede that word illusion to speak to Advaitists, which I think a big part of your audience. So I concede that yes it’s all illusion, but I emphasize that the illusion is the way the truth expresses itself, because the truth cannot be known directly for the same reason that you can’t see your eyes with your eyes, unless you have a mirror. The illusion is the mirror, the illusion is the way what is true projects itself in a way that can be apprehended, cognized, and experienced. So the illusion is the only expression of the truth, but what Advaita is probably not going to give us is how does the illusion arise, what is the structure and dynamics of that illusion, is it restricted to what we can see with our five senses or does the illusion continue before birth, after death and maybe was there before birth? Are there hierarchical worlds of experience in which some form of individuality is preserved? Are there alternative phenomenal universes, universes of experience with different patterns and regularities, different laws of physics, if you want to call it. Is there a purpose behind the illusion? Is there teleology? Is it going somewhere? Is it driving to something? Is there a grand meaning? Is it a “War and Peace” or is it just an accident or is it just for nothing, just for fun as Alan Watts used to claim that this is just for fun, which appealed to his personality but doesn’t appeal to anybody who is driven by meaning, which unfortunately is most people today. So I think the Jungian approach which is reflected also in this Buddhist meditation she’s referring to the play of the archetypes, it’s not looking at what is ultimately true. It’s saying, okay there is an ultimate truth but we don’t look at it, we look at the hierarchical levels of the manifestation of that truth, whatever it may essentially be. And we want to study this structure, this complexity, these patterns of the illusion because it may be helpful, it may inform our lives in a way that we don’t understand today. I think the best approach is to marry the two and this is a very recent, very strongly feeling I have had this week that if you have only one you’re missing out on something. If you go down this archetypal path, the Gnostic path, the Western esotericist path of hermeticism, you know all these other symbolic currents of religious mythology, if we ignore that purely for the sake of what is ultimately true, you find a measure of peace but you will not engage life because you need a myth to engage life, you need a narrative to motivate you to really engage with the fact that you are alive in the world. But if you have only that mythology and you’re not connected to what is ultimately true, you are liable to all kinds of detours and false shortcuts and delusions and taking things too seriously when ultimately you shouldn’t, when they go wrong. So marrying these two I think is very useful and from that perspective I think to answer her question finally directly I think this meditation in which you play with archetypal figures I think it can be very useful. Jung called it active imagination. It’s slightly different but the essence underlying the approach is the same, the goal is the same but it’s also very dangerous because there are some archetypal forces down there that are tricky to be in touch with but if one feels courageous and adventurous enough and perhaps prepared enough I think it’s worthwhile to do it. I think if it doesn’t work it’s harmless and people might think it’s working but actually it’s not, so it’s harmless. But if it does work and you really embody an archetype I think you raise your eyebrows very high and then you think, “Oh shit this is not what I thought it would be.” But it can be very useful.
Rick: Well I think you really have to be in shape if you’re going to try to climb Everest and so there might be paths of spiritual practice that not everyone is suitable or qualified for or without more preparation or something they could be too much for a person or they may not even be able to practice them. But to your other points, you know my understanding of things just that I’ve gleaned over the years and doing these interviews, you know the idea of a deity is not merely some kind of fanciful or imaginative notion. There are deities, there are deep powerful impulses of intelligence that help to govern and orchestrate the universe and some of them have vast jurisdictions and some of them more small perhaps, but there are all sorts of things going on that don’t ordinarily meet the eye, at least of the average person. They do meet the eye of some people, some people actually perceive the mechanics of this stuff quite routinely. So I don’t know, that might be a bit of a diversion, but you know it’s just that life is much more incredible and mysterious and magical and multifarious than the vast majority of people realize.
Bernardo: Yeah and connecting with this felt sense of the mystery and the magic I think that is one of the greatest challenges and it’s a challenge I systematically fail at and because in a sense
Rick: It’s something that one grows into and that you may become more successful at as you go along.
Bernardo: I used to be very successful at it when I was very young, I was very connected to the sense of mystery and the magic of the world but the more and that’s the trick you know, everything that you succeed on has a negative impact. The more you think you’re understanding what this is all about, the more you lose the connection with that sense of ultimate mystery and unfortunately to be effective in what I do, which is to write rigorous philosophy, if you don’t have this sense that you’re making progress and you’re figuring it out you can’t do this, you can’t do it. So it’s a sort of a job hazard, you know what I mean. I should get extra pay for this job hazard because maybe if you just read what I’m saying you’re not really, you get a sense of, oh yeah this makes sense but you’re not as exposed to the hazard as you are when you’re actually plowing your way through the jungle and getting this feeling that I’m getting this, I’m figuring this out and the more you go down that path the more you lose contact with the mystery and the magic and the more gray and silly life starts to fill. So my personal challenge right now is to continue to do what I do but not fall on this track and maintain that beginner’s mind, maintain that sense of the unfathomable mystery we are sitting on which is right under our noses and it’s very difficult.
Rick: I think you can do it, others have. I mean you know a lot of people I talked to say that they had this sort of mystical union kind of thing going on when they were very young and then they lost it as they got into their teen years and began to become educated and so on and so forth and some say they’ve regained it, some haven’t, but you know some of the greatest spiritual luminaries of history have been great intellects as well as being great mystics and for instance Shankara himself you know wrote all these really sophisticated commentaries and so on and yet so he was a great intellect but at the same time a great realizer of truth. So I think the two can actually be complementary and you shouldn’t feel like you’re kind of handicapping yourself with all this all this thinking and writing and so on. Maybe you just need to supplement what you’re doing with something else, some more meditative practice or something.
Bernardo: I envy Swedenborg who was a scientist, an engineer, an inventor, you know very respected in Swedish Academy of Sciences I think. He was a and he had this mind-boggling mystical experiences and if I read his experiences symbolically it makes all kinds of sense his idea of the correspondences. I mean that’s deep it’s fantastically deep, it’s symbolic but fantastically deep but it’s difficult these days it was possible until a couple of hundred years ago but today there is so much you have to know intellectually in order to be able to articulate things in a way that will get you heard. So much you have to know. I have had an experience very recently I submitted a paper to a neuroscience journal which shall remain unnamed and a very kind editor who also shall remain unnamed wrote me back saying it’s a great paper, it’s a fantastic paper but great ideas but a lot of it has already been written about and there is enough new here to go ahead but you have to connect all this stuff that has already been written about to the previous papers and it was a mind-boggling list and I thought shit this is I’ll have to plow through another jungle here of a specialty that’s not mine I’m a computer engineer not a neuroscientist and I’m doing it by the way I’m doing it but it illustrates the difficulty today because you see I’m approaching things from a holistic perspective which I think is what’s needed today introspection and science at multiple levels, science in terms of neuroscience in terms of psychology in terms of philosophy of mind hardcore analytic neurophilosophy as well, so I think when you put it all together then you have a picture of what’s going on because these things are not separate we separated them for our own ease now it makes it easier for us to separate things but reality is not separate there is no neuroscience psychology and philosophy of mind in reality there is only the reality, so in trying to sew these things all together in a coherent narrative you get exposed to so much that you have to know constantly it never ends that it’s very difficult to see how you can be a complete, even on the spiritual side and the introspective side of things something will fall through the cracks anyway when we knew last this was possible it was possible for Swedenborg it was possible for Leonardo you know this renaissance and men and women who were fantastic characters but there is so much today and so much useless knowledge as well that you have to know anyway in order to be able to articulate your position that is very tough.
Rick: For many branched and endlessly diverse are the intellects of the irresolute but the resolute intellect is one-pointed comes from the Gita but think of it in terms of like a wheel with spokes you have the hub of the wheel and then you have all these spokes representing the different branches of knowledge and in terms of actual knowledge you can’t really become a master of all the spokes there just isn’t time enough in life but you can using any spoke get to the hub and if you’re at the hub then you’re at kind of the home of all the spokes so to speak. So I would suggest that consciousness in the oceanic sense of it the Self you know one’s essential ultimate nature is the home of all knowledge and that if you can capture that in your awareness then you will have the sort of the benefit that would be had were you to somehow explore all the branches of knowledge in detail without actually having to do that.
Bernardo: I think for your personal realization all this complexity I’m referring to is unnecessary. A personal realization of the truth can be very simple. I have had my glimpses so I don’t live in the truth but I have had glimpses personal direct experiential glimpses and I know it’s it’s simple you can’t put it in words you don’t even try because you know it’s completely hopeless but it is simple. So for that personal realization this forest of complexity and knowledge I’m referring to is unnecessary but if you want to engage in the cultural dialogue if you want to engage at the level of words and models and theories and arguments and be heard and God let me even win then you need to engage the forest because everybody else is in the forest.
Rick: But the more you can sort of be grounded at the source of it all then the more all this other the more the greater the capacity you have to deal with the complexities without getting lost in them.
Bernardo: True, you know you can discard what is
Rick: It sorts everything out for you.
Bernardo: Yes, yes, oh that experience I’ve had I have come across things that I look at and I’m saying this is complete nonsense, I don’t need to read this further right I mean but there is a lot of out there that makes sense. There are tiny little glimpses or formulations of tiny little aspects of the truth that we blow up tremendously in complexity in order to be rigorous and precise and complete and so on. So it’s a tree with many many many branches and leaves and you have to go from leaf to leaf in order to argue about it but you can be at the root of the tree and not ever have to face the complexity of the leaves and branches. It’s unnecessary for your personal experience.
Rick: Right and you know you might spend a lifetime exploring the complexity of certain leaves and branches whereas if you can be at the root you might in a moment realize, all right I don’t need to go into all that complexity I’ve got the essence of that here at the root let’s investigate other things. But I guess what I just want to emphasize is that having established yourself at the root there’s no harm in exploring all the leaves and branches.
Rick: As you feel motivated to do so you won’t get lost you won’t lose the forest for the trees you know.
Bernardo: Yeah and this goes a nice circle so if you don’t mind I add something. I think from a purely or neo or misinterpreted Advaita perspective if you find yourself at the root that’s the end of it. You’re there, you’re at the root, you feel the truth, the truth breathes through you, it’s part of your inner experience. So there is nothing else but from a Jungian or a Western esotericist perspective, a hermetic perspective or a Gnostic perspective a symbolic, the via positiva, the via of symbols you would have an archetype that impels you to leave the root, go to the branches and leaves and fight a cultural fight because that’s what your soul wants and I sense this very strongly in me. My personal sense of peace takes a backseat to an archetypal drive to influence the cultural dialogue about the nature of reality.
Rick: Yeah, but what I’m saying is you can do that without leaving the root and you’ll do it better if you can do it without leaving the root. The Gita says “Yogasthar Kuru Karmani” established in yoga perform action, it doesn’t just stay established in union, it says get there, be established there and then engage in the battle of life.
Bernardo: I acknowledge that, not that I know how to do it but I acknowledge it.
Rick: You’re moving along. Actually since we’re on a personal note with you I just want to ask you about something. When we were at the Science and Non-duality Conference and we were doing that talk with Chris Fields you said something that troubled me afterwards. You said something about how with your new understanding of the way things work you actually are fearful of death now and I wonder if you could address that and if you’ve resolved that fear.
Bernardo: No, okay when I went to university very early at 17 just completed 17 I was already at the university immersed in you know in the culture of physicalism, materialism, hardcore physics, engineering, computer science and all that. I was a materialist by default because I was not thinking about alternatives, I just received materialism as the most plausible alternative. I accepted it, it came from the masters, you know the teachers, the professors, the Nobel Prize winners even. I had contact with some at CERN and I just swallowed it whole and I had no fear of death because if you really most people who proclaim themselves materialists aren’t really. If you really embrace and internalize materialism you don’t fear death because there is literally nothing to fear.
Rick: I see because you’re just gone when you’re gone.
Bernardo: There’s nothing there, you know it’s the end of all of your suffering, your problems, your anxieties, your depression, you push a button it’s all out, it’s off, it’s the end of it all. No, it’s a ticket to freedom because you aren’t anymore. So this wouldn’t occupy my mind at all, there’s nothing to prepare for, there’s nothing to think about, there is literally nothing there, literally. So it’s very freeing and then at some point in my 30s I realized that that’s complete nonsense, that’s just wishful thinking, I mean it doesn’t make sense and I realized that once I understood the hard problem of consciousness and I understood the hopelessness of ever trying to explain the qualities of experience from the modeled parameters of physical system, which is what I was doing at the time, I was working on artificial intelligence, strong AI for physics experiments. We had this ambition of having an artificial intelligence to the data selection during the data acquisition at the LHC, at the Atlas detector. Ultimately something, some other approach was used but it was what I was doing, I was trying to replicate in a computer mental processes and I realized that whatever I could replicate would never give rise to the qualities of experience as a fundamental gap and if that was the case then physicalism didn’t add up and if physicalism doesn’t hold and there’s no reason to think consciousness ends upon the end of the body because if it’s not the body that’s generating your consciousness that the body dies, so what? It’s not generating your consciousness anyway and then what is the ultimate implication? The ultimate implication is then that death is not the end of consciousness, death is a new experience but one you know nothing about. Now you have an unknown and that has been the archetypal fear of of humankind, I mean the fear of hell, the fear of purgatory, the fear of what will happen after you die, which it has built into it the idea that consciousness will continue. You just don’t know what will be the next experience and what we do know based on for instance meditation or the use of psychedelics which as it turns out reduce brain activity, don’t increase it so it’s a sort of a simulation of death. You make the first steps towards no brain activity by using psychedelics what we know from studies and from experience there is that the archetypal forces emerge and they can be very good, they can be blissful and they can be terrible and now there are many deities in the pantheon of archetypes and which deity will come to you when you die? I don’t know and that’s my honest answer and then the refuge would be to really be well trained in Advaita so that once you die you know how to step out of your experience and assume the witness position and know that this is just an image in the mirror, a symbolic image in a symbolic mirror of what you are but that fundamentally you are the one watching the mirror and the image in the mirror can never hurt what you truly are because you’re just watching all of your experiences. So I can imagine that this kind of training is useful during that transition but it doesn’t solve the fear.
Rick: Well in simple terms though I know in Eastern traditions and maybe also Western, the basic myth is that if you live a good life then whatever happens after you die will be pretty good. So you know we have control over that pretty much and maybe we don’t need to fear as long as we’re doing the best we can in this life.
Bernardo: It’s a soothing story isn’t it?
Rick: Yeah, well we’re talking about myths here. In fact here’s a question from Mike in Santa Clara that might be a good point to bring it in. We were talking earlier about the train wreck metaphor and he said, “Is there a particular myth that can help reduce the existential angst for those who see the train of materialism heading for catastrophe?”
Bernardo: Oh of course, if he is actually referring to existentialism so the existential angst as described by
Rick: He might also mean like you know what we see with climate change and various other things happening in the world that you know we could end up you know going to hell in a handbasket if we don’t turn things around.
Bernardo: I understand that the expression existential angst is Kierkegaardian, so I will reply on that assumption that that’s what he means.
Bernardo: The existential angst comes to you only to the extent that you see yourself as smaller than the world and inserted in the world and the world being separate from you. Only then is the world oppressive, out of control, threatening and only then can the world also be finite and the train wreck a permanent thing that actually threatens you. I think all legitimate religious myths can help one overcome this existential angst. They all talk about the kinship, the essential fundamental kinship between humans and God. Jesus was fully man and Jesus was fully God and the Holy Spirit has descendants to every man, woman and child on this planet. So this fundamental kinship, this identity between man and God, God as the one that encompasses the world and man as the one who is encompassed by the world. If this different collapses through this kinship existential angst goes out of the window because then you know what if there is a train wreck, what if there is catastrophe and this planet goes up in flames. It’s an event in time and we live in eternity, we are ground in eternity. It will be part of the romance, it will be part of war and peace. It will be a tragedy in war and peace and many new romances will emerge after that tragedy, new planets, maybe the earth will come back online after a few thousand years. We cannot destroy the planet, we can only destroy our means to survive in the planet. The planet itself will always recover given sufficient millions of years into the future. We can only destroy ourselves as a species and but then what does it matter? Yeah what does it matter if you don’t see yourself as the one inserted in the planet but as the one imagining the planet and the whole thing that is happening in it?
Rick: I think that’s a good answer and I mean even the planet won’t survive eventually. The sun is going to become a red giant and the the earth will become engulfed in it and melted and so on but we want
Bernardo: 5 billion years
Rick: Yeah that’s about it, that’s about the timeline yeah. At that point the global warming skeptics will finally have to admit we have a problem but that won’t perturb the Self, you know, for men may come and men may go but I go on forever. Great well maybe that’s a good point to end on. I’m sure there’s tons of points in your book here and even on this summary of your book that I have in front of me that we could discuss and haven’t discussed but these interviews always have to be sort of a little taste you know a teaser and you know if people like what they hear then then they can read the book and I’ve it’s interesting there’s a fellow named Jeffrey Kripal that I interviewed a couple years ago along with Dana Sawyer and I noticed that Jeffrey discovered you and and kind of did a crash course in reading all your books and wrote a very beautiful introduction to the current one and
Bernardo: we’ve met a few weeks back in Virginia right a very nice guy yeah
Rick: but in any case I think that endorsement says something, there’s I always find it a little bit of a challenge and a stretch to read your material and even to talk to you but it because you’re so brilliant but it makes me more intelligent by having to expand my capacity in order to understand what you’re talking about so so I really appreciate it actually and I highly encourage those who have found this conversation interesting and there have been a record number of people online during it well over 100 at most times to check out some of your writings and
Bernardo: I think one thing we didn’t cover and I’m not suggesting that we cover it now but just to mention it so people know I think part two of the book where I talk about space and time and the fact that they don’t exist and how we can figure it out through pure introspection without any scientific knowledge or scientific experiments purely by introspecting we can we can feel and realize that space and time are not there and the idea of the cosmic big bang how do we create space and time in our own minds through circular cognition I think that could be attractive to Advaita inclined people because it resonates so well with Advaita it’s difficult to talk about it’s very difficult to write about but at least you have more time to to sort of craft your words when you’re writing which is much more difficult to do when you’re talking so maybe it’s even good that we didn’t talk about that but I just wanted to leave it out there put it out there that this is in the book and it can be interesting.
Rick: Great, well P.T. Barnum said always leave them wanting more so there’s a little little temptation for the people. All right, well, let me just make some concluding remarks. I’ve been speaking with Bernardo Kastrup which has really been enjoyable for me and hopefully for all of you who’ve been listening to us all this time I’ll be creating a page for this interview on batgap.com and linking to all of Bernardo’s books and his website and all that you have a podcast also I believe and are you keeping up with that the podcast or
Bernardo: not really not really it’s really incidental.
Rick: Okay, so we won’t worry about that too much and this interview as I said in the beginning as most of you know is part of an ongoing series we’re continuing with a new one every week so if you would like to be notified of new ones you can either subscribe on YouTube and YouTube will notify you or you can subscribe on batgap you’ll get an email once a week every time a new one is posted, what else is going on there’s an audio podcast of the whole thing if you prefer to listen in that format rather than watch, there’s the donate button which I mentioned in the beginning and a bunch of other things if you just poke around the menus on the website you’ll you’ll see what we have to offer so thanks for listening or watching and thank you again Bernardo it’s really been a joy and hope to see you again at SAND Conference or someplace it’s…
Bernardo: Sure, always fun to talk to you Rick, it was a pleasure.
Rick: It was a pleasure and those who are listening watching see you next week.