Christ, the Cosmic Mind, and Consciousness

How’s that for a crazy title! This post is a follow up from my last post on worldviews.   You will no doubt think this entire post is crazy, but if you take some time to study it out, it might actually start to make sense.

Today, I want to share some thoughts about ontology as it relates to Christology and consciousness. 

On the subject of consciousness, we had a lengthy discussion on panpsychism last time. Panpsychism is a popular view among materialists.

Consciousness is defined as the quality or state of being aware, especially of something within oneself (“inner self”).

A materialist, philosophically speaking, is a person who supports the theory that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.

And this gets to the problem. As Bernardo Kastrup said in his book, Brief Peeks Beyond: Critical Essays on Metaphysics, Neuroscience, Freewill,  Skepticism and Culture:

“Nobody in science or philosophy has ever managed to explain, even in principle how presumably unconscious matter could possibly give rise to subjective experience. This is known as the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ or ‘explanatory gap’ in philosophy of mind.” (p.58)

Kastrup argues that it’s a “hard problem” precisely because consciousness is tackled from a materialist paradigm. In the video clip below, he goes on to contrast his ontology (technically called monistic idealism) with panpsychism. Here’s a brief explanation:

Panpsychism: all matter has bits of consciousness. In other words, consciousness is a fundamental property of matter (like particles, spin, momentum).

Monistic Idealism: all matter is in consciousness.

To illustrate the difference between panpsychism and monistic idealism, see the diagram below (taken from video).

Both panpsychism (view 1) and monistic idealism (view 2) hold that consciousness is fundamental. It’s irreducible and cannot be explained in terms of something else.

Panpsychists believe that all matter contains bits of consciousness. The problem with this hypothesis is that there is zero evidence that inanimate objects have consciousness at all.

But Kastrup believes that his alternative position is the most logical, the most parsimonious, and the most empirically honest and consistent ontology that we can come up with. And it can be defended purely on reason and empirical evidence without appealing to spiritual insight (although he says that’s important, too).

Under monistic idealism, the body-brain system is more like the image of the process of localization in the stream of consciousness, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localization in a stream of water. For exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water, the body-brain doesn’t generate consciousness.

This is what we actually know:

  • There is experience
  • Therefore, there is “that which experiences” (Consciousness”)
  • The perceptual experience called “brain function” correlates with other experiences.
  • The brain is a material system like the rest of the cosmos.

Why is monistic idealism the simplest explanation for what we know?

  • Experience is a behavior of “that-which-experiences,” can be understood like ripples of water or the dance of the dancer.
  • There are two perspectives to the experience: first-person and second-person.
  • The material brain is simply the second-person perspective of first-person experience (inner life).

In other words, someone observing the brain function with an fMRI is the second-person perspective; those signals and data are not the same thing as consciousness (first-person perspective).

Kastrup also proffers that the physical cosmos itself could be seen as the second-person perspective of God’s mind. Here’s a diagram from the video showing this correlation.

But does the cosmos look like a brain? Actually, it sort of does! (See diagram above)

“The structure of the universe and the laws that govern its growth may be more similar than previously thought to the structure and growth of the human brain.” (Jan Zverina, UC San Diego News Center, Nov.19, 2012)

Okay, that’s pretty crazy, but then…how are we unique as individuals?

According to Kastrup, our unique inner life could be analogous to an “alter” that’s forms in the human psyche in multiple personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)). This is only meant to be an analogy because Kastrop is using the term in a positive way.

Now, before we go any deeper into this ontology, I would like to step back and look at the big picture for a moment. As a Christian, this non-dualistic view (all matter in consciousness) may seem weird to you (which it probably is), but if you think about it, it’s not too far from the very heart of Christian ontology. Here’s what Paul said:

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ( 1 Cor.1:16-17 NIV, emphasis added)

If all things consist and are held together in Christ, then it would stand to reason that all consciousness (or “Mind-at-large” Aldous Huxley) is in Christ. So, Christology, at least in principle, is in agreement with monistic idealism.

Furthermore, we can see that this “Mind-at-large,” or Cosmic Consciousness, easily corresponds to the “energies” of God (see my post, “The Divine Essence and Energies of God“) in the weak panentheism model (see diagram below).

In other words, this Cosmic Consciousness is part of how God interacts with His creation (material cosmos). We are the disassociated “alters” of God’s “mind.” We are the multiple split personalities of God which acquire an illusionary sense of separation. These are the personal and individual personalities. Our physical bodies are what the “alters” look like via perception.

Einstein was right: our separateness is an “optical delusion.” (See “Everything is relational” for further thought on that!)

Okay, that’s as “out there” as I want to get for now. I would suggest you watch the first half  of the video to get a better understanding (Kastrup shows the fallacies of panpsychism and materialist view of artificial sentience in the second half).

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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11 Responses to Christ, the Cosmic Mind, and Consciousness

  1. John Branyan says:

    I don’t have a problem with “consciousness” as separate from the brain. That makes some sense to me. Just like certain aspects of “evolution” make sense as well. The problems arise when Panpsychism (or evolution) are offered as a complete explanation for reality.

    Panpsychism cannot explain the existence of matter. That’s kind of important.

    • Mel Wild says:

      The problems arise when Panpsychism (or evolution) are offered as a complete explanation for reality.

      Exactly. It’s like a carpenter trying to fix his plumbing problem with a hammer and saw. It takes being open to all avenues to come up with a view that works.

      Panpsychism cannot explain the existence of matter. That’s kind of important.

      Yeah, you would think that would be kind of important. But that’s what happens when your brain is just random, purposeless, and unguided. 🙂

  2. Whew, this is some heady stuff, Mel. I like it!

    Really appreciate this analogy, “our unique inner life could be analogous to an “alter” that’s forms in the human psyche in multiple personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)). This is only meant to be an analogy because Kastrop is using the term in a positive way.”

    There is some really fascinating stuff that goes on within DID and PTSD, that really does spotlight what is being said here. The nature of this whole discussion kind of reminds me of the movie the 6th Sense, with the kid who says, “I see dead people.” The story kind of revolves around which one is the ghost, the psychiatrist trying to help the kid, or the kid himself? I’m laughing here, but it’s almost harder to prove your own existence than it is to prove God’s.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, it’s very weird and heady stuff! At first I thought it was just another Eastern mystic take on ontology, but the more I studied it, the more it actually started to make sense from a scientific point of view. It’s actually more empirically sound than panpsychism, which is a more complex ontology that has zero evidence. Kastrup really shows how Eastern and Western religion and philosophy have commonalities and share some truth about reality. Of course, we believe, ultimately, Jesus is the “reason for everything” (the logos). 🙂

      His book (“A Brief Peek Beyond”) provides a better and more thorough explanation than I could give.

      • I’m sure you’re busy, Mel, but I’ve written a few posts that touch on PTSD and the nature of the soul. Here’s one that was kind of fun,

        https://insanitybytes2.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/the-men-who-stare-at-goats/

        One problem with the West is that we divide people into mind and body as if they were practically separate beings. The soul is hardly even recognized at all. You see this reflected in Western medicine. Each system and part requires a whole different doctor. The Eastern world tends to be more holistic in their perceptions, seeing people as mind, body, and spirit. In the West we like to worship at the altar of science and reason, very compartmentalized and disconnected. LOL, and we have the scars to prove it,too. Western atheists tend to really reflect this mindset, shunning the supernatural or anything perceived as “woo.”

        • Mel Wild says:

          Thanks IB. I’ll take a look at your post when I get a chance. I always loved the title of that movie, although I’ve never seen it. 🙂

          It’s true that we live in a very compartmentalized, dualistic culture. This is totally Western, although we’ve greatly influenced the East because of our prosperity. Which makes it all so interesting in an ironic way: a materialist ontology leads to dualistic materialism! We end up pursuing and even worshiping “stuff” instead of pursuing inner peace. It’s revealed in how we define success in our culture. As Kastrup points out, the strength of materialism is its symbiotic relationship with the economic system and the power structures we have come to depend on in the West. Since reality is thought to be outside of “us,” we must look for fulfillment outside of ourselves. In our jobs, popularity, social status, wealth, etc. But we intuitively know that none of these things will ever fulfill us or satisfy our heart. Yet, Jesus said our fulfillment comes from seeking the Kingdom first (Matt.6:33), and that kingdom is within us (Luke 17:21).

          So, we become materially successful but anemic in all the ways that really make life meaningful. As Kastrup says in his book:

          “Never before have we become so wealthy and dominant as a species, but have our lives ever been as meaningless as today…. We have become orphans of meaning.” (Brief Peeks Beyond, p.149)

          This, and a host of other reasons, are why materialism is not a sustainable ontology. We might be very powerful and effective in economics and science, but we inevitably shrivel up on the inside. We can only manufacture so many toys to keep people under a delusion of happiness before the whole house of cards falls down. Maybe we should be saying, “He or she who dies with the most toys has an empty soul.”

  3. Pingback: Is Materialism dead? | In My Father's House

  4. Anthony Paul says:

    I’ve been reading Bernardo’s books for about a year now and it certainly feels right on an intuitive level to say that his work is quite compelling in getting us to think about Jesus (God) on a totally different level… it makes a good deal of sense in light of the fact that some of the harder stuff that Jesus said, or had said about Him like the above quote from Saint Paul, seem to support a higher level of consciousness about the nature of Divinity and our relationship to this “mind-at-large”. Another one that I like is found in The Gospel of John, chapter 17: “…that all of them may be one, Father just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be [one] in us…”

    Thank you for an excellent article!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your comments, Anthony. I like what Bernardo is saying, too. It fits how the early church saw the “mind of God” behind the cosmos. We all participate in this consciousness in some small degree. There was no separation for them, only in our perception. It also explains intuition and prophecy.

      You also quoted on one of my favorite passages in the Bible. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Pulling back the curtain on materialism | In My Father's House

  6. Pingback: Why materialism won’t give us artificial consciousness | In My Father's House

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