Analogies for Idealism

This is a response to an article in Scientific American by Bernardo Kastrup, Adam Crabtree, and Edward F. Kelly, idealism proponents, where they claim that an analogy with dissociation (as Kastrup discusses) like that found in the dissociative identity disorder (DID) can offer a solution to “a critical problem in our current understanding of the nature of reality”.  That problem being the combination problem in panpsychism where the question is, as David Chalmers briefly puts it — “how do the experiences of fundamental physical entities such as quarks and photons combine to yield the familiar sort of human conscious experience that we know and love.”  The authors of the article respond to the problem with an alternative view:

The obvious way around the combination problem is to posit that, although consciousness is indeed fundamental in nature, it isn’t fragmented like matter. The idea is to extend consciousness to the entire fabric of spacetime, as opposed to limiting it to the boundaries of individual subatomic particles. This view—called “cosmopsychism” in modern philosophy, although our preferred formulation of it boils down to what has classically been called “idealism”—is that there is only one, universal, consciousness. The physical universe as a whole is the extrinsic appearance of universal inner life, just as a living brain and body are the extrinsic appearance of a person’s inner life.

However, the authors also recognize a potential problem:

You don’t need to be a philosopher to realize the obvious problem with this idea: people have private, separate fields of experience. We can’t normally read your thoughts and, presumably, neither can you read ours. Moreover, we are not normally aware of what’s going on across the universe and, presumably, neither are you. So, for idealism to be tenable, one must explain—at least in principle—how one universal consciousness gives rise to multiple, private but concurrently conscious centers of cognition, each with a distinct personality and sense of identity.

They think the solution can be found in an analogy with dissociative identity disorder:

And here is where dissociation comes in. We know empirically from DID that consciousness can give rise to many operationally distinct centers of concurrent experience, each with its own personality and sense of identity. Therefore, if something analogous to DID happens at a universal level, the one universal consciousness could, as a result, give rise to many alters with private inner lives like yours and ours. As such, we may all be alters—dissociated personalities—of universal consciousness.

This would seem to satisfy the conceivability requirement in philosophy of mind proposals and suggest some details about what is happening, but at what cost?  There is a negative connotation associated with DID.  It is considered a disorder, perhaps stemming from pathological inabilities to cope with life as a unified personality.  F. C. S. Schiller in his 1906 paper, “Idealism and the Dissociation of Personality” affirms that this analogy does solve some problems for idealism but also recognizes that it carries a negative connotation for the absolute:

Moreover, (2) if the absolute is to include the whole of
a world which contains madness, it is clear that, anyhow, it must, in
a sense, be mad. The appearance, that is, which is judged by us to
be madness must be essential to the absolute’s perfection. All that
the analogy suggested does is to ascribe a somewhat higher degree
of reality to the madness in the absolute

While I appreciate the intent of the dissociative analogy to address a problem, if analogies can offer some credence to idealism, then perhaps there are other real-world analogies that are reasonable but do not carry the negative connotations. So, I’ll offer a couple of analogies here that might also be viable but are positive and affirming for why the diversity in the cosmos came about and do not imply a dysfunction within the Divine Mind. Instead, they imagine a God who embraces taking on constrained being even with all its difficulties and challenges. Given all the problems and evils within life, this must mean there is something so very important and valuable about life itself.

Actor/Role Analogy
It is well known that many actors relish taking on challenging roles. It helps them grow as actors and, perhaps on a personal level, presents unique opportunities to plunge deeper into the human psyche, both theirs and others. So, they research the role, often talk to those whom they will portray, and try to create that role in their mind.  Then in the scenes, they shift gears from their normal selves to that role even if that role is diametrically opposite to their normal self.  They compartmentalize the role within themselves and act within that compartment, but they still have a unitary self, unlike dissociated personalities. Then when the scene is over, they shift back to their normal selves but they may also experience some change because of the experience of “the other self” in the role. This could represent God-as-transcendent, being changed by God-as-living in each aspect of the Divine Life. What this analogy suggests is that God seeks out the challenge of living perhaps because it evokes the most admirable qualities — courage, resolve, grace in the face of adversity, altruistic love, concern for both self and others, progressive action, growth, etc. In other words, God taking on somewhat distinct lives is not out of dysfunction but rather because God saw something so wonderful and valuable about living within constraints.

MMORPGs Analogy
MMORPGs is an acronym for — Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.  These are online games where multiple players take on certain character types and play those roles as the game dynamically emerges.  Those roles can vary dramatically just as personalities can. There can be noble, evil, good, childlike, magical, non-human, conflicted, etc. roles, each with its own personality, characteristics, powers, frailties, and histories.  There is also the environment within which the RPG is played. It could be realistic or fanciful. In essence, it is an imagined world with imagined characters that navigate the dynamics of a certain broad narrative.  Each player adopts a role and suspends their own self as much a possible to play that role, often within a team of other role-players. It is a simulation of life with all the intricacies of psychology, sociology, culture, and challenge.  Why do people seek out and participate in these games? Similar to the Actor/Role analogy, because it offers opportunities to embrace the multidimensions of life in an alternate reality that is both fun, interesting, and satisfies our need to be challenged, grow, be social, and reach out beyond the limitations of our ordinary life.

So, what’s the analogy? The analogy is that whereas in online role-playing games there are many separate people playing the roles, in the Divine Life, God is playing all the roles including the role of the environment. Each of us and everything else is an aspect of the Divine Life, created (imagined) in the Mind of God.  We are in God’s unitary mind but also distinct and somewhat independent, living our lives within the grand divine narrative where we also must make choices whether or not to embrace the transcendent divine depth within and actualize the divine vision for how life can be.

Now, the limitations of using analogies toward metaphysics should be recognized.  They come from within our limited, constrained being and, as such, shouldn’t be taken too literally.  Perhaps they can be accepted as metaphors — while of limited literal value perhaps they also point to some deep truths.

Here are some other posts on analogies/metaphors:
Role Play Games
Venn Diagrams
Divine Action and a Juggler

15 thoughts on “Analogies for Idealism

  1. Steve,
    You’ve got an interesting website here, a great hobby for someone who is retired. I’ve personally dealt with Bernardo and his fan club, quite an interesting group actually. I think Bernardo sees himself as a self-proclaimed visionary with an axe to grind and he is super sensitive to any form of criticism. His base reflects the unwavering dedication of a cult.

    Theology: Personally, I think that the question of whether God exists is inappropriate. The question should be deferred to reflect intellectual honesty and re-stated as: Whether a God “ought” to exist. My thesis asserts that a God ought to exist and the only obstacle inherent within that model is understanding. I am a noumenalist and adhere strictly to the Parmenidean reality-appearance distinction, a distinction wherein God is separate from any appearance one might be tempted to assign to it and separate from any opinion one might have of it. Of course, the reality-appearance distinction is built into the architecture of the Torah, i.e., the first two commandments. And human nature being what it is, practitioners of this rich religious tradition do not adhere to those two simple admonitions. The first commandment has no meaning of and by itself. It is only when the first commandment is contrasted against the second commandment that the first gains its meaning. It is what it is…



    • Hi Lee,

      Thanks for commenting. As it relates to theology, I see two ways we might be able to know or suspect something about God. One is through appearances. Perhaps we can know something about the Artisan (God) from the Artifact (the world). So this can tap into all observational avenues i.e. science, philosophy, art, as well as everyday observations. However, those observations come to us within our perceptual and conceptual capabilities and therefore reflect our type of being. So while those observations may provide hints toward a metaphysics, any interpretation should be humble, realizing the limitations of our concepts and language. The other avenue is through religious or spiritual intuition. Paul Tillich called it “the mystical a priori” and Calvin called it “sensus divinitatis”. It is sui generis — of its own kind so it is a special type of perception. That “perception” could be thought of as supra-rational because it challenges any explication. Nevertheless, it can have a great impact on us and we may try to use language to describe it but that language will necessarily be metaphorical — not taken literally but perhaps pointing to some deep truth. If all this ends up in a particular belief system, I think it should be seen as within a faithing fallibilism — taking a position but accepting we could be wrong.


      • I have to ask you Steve: Are you a hardcore skeptic, or do you lean one way or the other towards a particular ideology such as idealism, materialism, substance dualism, or property dualism?



  2. Steve,
    You can disregard my last post because I’ve spent enough time on your website to determine your positions. I certainly understand your theories on intentionality, theism and idealism because I too once held those positions. I can also appreciate what you posted on Bernardo’s website:

    “I have long believed that it is impossible to come up with a seminal metaphysical idea that hasn’t already been thought of at some time in history. How those ideas are put together might be somewhat unique but they are just recycled in different ways as both metaphysical and non-metaphysical knowledge evolves.”

    Now here’s the question: Do you think that it is “possible” to break the glass ceiling on seminal metaphysical ideas or are you skeptical that it can be done?



  3. Lee,

    Now here’s the question: Do you think that it is “possible” to break the glass ceiling on seminal metaphysical ideas or are you skeptical that it can be done?

    My view is that there isn’t a distinct, rigid boundary between the immanent and the transcendent but rather a porous continuum.

    While the basic, seminal metaphysical ideas have been around for a long time, there can still be a lot of unpacking to do. For instance perhaps one of the first instances of puzzling about the perennial question of “The One and the Many” occured during Akhenaten’s rein in Egypt circa 1335 BCE. He said that there is only one God, Aten, but that left open the question of what to do with all the other previous gods. Since then there have many attempts at answering the question of the One and the Many more broadly including those in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc. In Indian philosophy, there is Advaita Vedanta (illusion) and Vishishtadvaita Vedanta (qualified monism) which are different in their characterization. So the basic metaphysical ideas concerning that issue have already been posited but they can still have addendums and expansions added.

    This brings me to the porous gradient. I believe there is a divine depth in all things. That depth can be probed because it is porous and a continuum. Since this divine depth is infinite, there could never be an end to the probing but perhaps a greater depth achieved.

    I certainly understand your theories on intentionality, theism and idealism because I too once held those positions

    Do you mind if I ask what changed your mind?


    • No problem Steve, but my answer to your inquiry is not a simple one and I do not mind discussing it. Like yourself, I was brought up in the West with all of the rich religious traditions that come with the West. In my early twenties, I too enrolled in a religious seminary, but later dropped out. That’s the short answer… Now a longer version.

      The late Richard Rorty once commented that without a vocabulary that captures either the way the world really is or a core human nature there will never even be a possibility of locating a metaphysical foundation for truth. Rorty’s analysis is in full agreement with the glass ceiling hypothesis.

      Now, I’m a hardcore theoretical philosopher whose area of expertise lies in underlying form. In order to grasp the principles of underlying form in the first place, one must live on the razor’s edge dividing sanity from insanity. And for some reason, I was gifted and/or cursed (depending upon one’s perspective) with that mental instability, a balancing act that allows one to see beyond the horizon of knowable things across the impasse separating us from the “thing-in-itself”.

      I’ve written two books. The first book is titled: The Wizard’s Reign: An Inquiry into Acceptable Norms. The Wizard’s Reign is a self-portrait in which I attempted to show the audience my trials, tribulations, struggles and transformation, much of which I deliberately cloaked with story telling and metaphors. I’ve just finished my second book which in short is a vocabulary that captures the way the world really is as well as a vocabulary that captures a core human nature. My second book literally shatters the glass ceiling hypothesis. The content is not more footnotes to what the Greeks previously gave us, to the contrary, it dismantles their entire architecture.

      I had an offer from John Hunt publishing company out of the U.K. to publish my book. But everyone who reviewed my work felt a University Press of some kind would be a better venue for my work. I took their advice and did not accept their contract. As it currently stands, I have not decided to make my work public. Fundamentally, my work is an assault on our current paradigm and there is not a single community that will be happy with the findings. It is what it is I guess, and I feel strongly that people are better off with their own belief systems if it gives them what they want out of the deal. Unfortunately, that deal is a fleeting “sense of control” in the absence of control. In a nutshell, a sense of control in the absence of control is the paradigm of our primary experience.


      • I’m a fan of pragmatism, particularly that of philosophers like William James and Hillary Putnam. They along with Wittgenstein showed the folly of making a truth claim about some philosophical construct. So, instead of using the word “truth” as a criterion for my theology, I chose the word “verisimilitude”. I think the best we can do with metaphysical speculations is try for something that looks like or feels like it might be true. That is obviously vague and subjective, but I think that’s the best we can do. One therapeutic to this, however, might be found in Wittgenstein’s “forms of life” and “meaning is use”. If we are grounded and participate in the divine, then our language and religious sense may have some verisimilitude. However, because our form of life and language are constantly changing as knowledge and culture evolve, there can and must be constant testing of past and current thinking. Following the pragmatists — does it work? Where this comes in, I think, is within the marketplace of ideas. If there is truth value to some formulation and we participate in the divine, then perhaps certain formulations will “work” in that marketplace. As a metaphor, think of guitar string tuning. One way to tune two guitar strings is to press on the fifth fret of the string above and then pluck the lower string. If they are in tune with each other, the string above will resonate. The closer they are in tune, the more the top string will resonate. So, if in the marketplace of ideas certain concepts and ideas resonate with the divine within, then perhaps they will be embraced as at least somewhat true. It’s certainly not perfect and skepticism is always warranted, but I think the quest for certainty is so misguided and destructive for progress. Certainty could offer a sense of control (perhaps what you are talking about) but that’s a fool’s dream.


  4. Just a quick footnote on idealism… The underlying principle of idealism is a viable model in an isolated context, nevertheless, idealism does not qualify as the ontological primitive. An ontological distinction needs to be made in order to understand idealism in the correct context. Mind may indeed be a “feature” of the ontological primitive, but according to my models, mind is not an underlying qualitative property as such.

    This is best demonstrated by a metaphor. The underlying qualitative properties of a house may consist of sand, gravel, concrete and lumber. The features of the house may include, but not be limited to the foundation, walls, roof, floor, doors, windows, rooms, etc. The features of the house are intrinsic to the house, but they are not the qualitative properties. The same distinction can be made about the features of the ontological primitive in contrast to its qualitative properties, and those qualitative properties are “radically indeterminate”.

    I hope that helps…


    • If I understand you correctly, I agree. But, I think, it depends on how the concept of idealism is cashed out. Some formulations posit “consciousness is everything”. That doesn’t make sense to me for several reasons. That’s why I opt for a divine idealism where the mind in idealism is God’s mind but that does not constitute a complete picture of God and “God’s Mind” is a metaphor we employ from our embodied context. We just can’t characterize in a literal sense a noumenal or complete picture of God. This is indeterminate and will forever be that way. It’s also represented in the concept of the abysmal character of God. Does that mean our metaphors are illegitimate? If they are accepted as limited and not literal, perhaps they can still have, in some sense, a verisimilitude, as argued in my previous post. After all, in my ontology of an aspect monism, each aspect being part of the Divine Mind, perhaps it is reasonable that those aspects could in some way intuit and explicate to a limited degree concerning the source of their being.


  5. I find great wisdom in the words of your last post, a wisdom which I have not encountered from anyone that I have engaged with online. Now, this causes me to pause; and listen as intently to what you are not saying with as much deliberation as to what you are actually articulating. I’ve personally experienced enough through the years to know that the words which we choose to disseminate our own understanding of those experiences can at times be misleading to the ones who are listening. I find your ontology of an aspect monism and interesting model, one that is well founded. For I too am convinced that the true nature of reality is centric to who and what we are and literally stands alone at the center of every construct within our phenomenal realm. It is because of this close proximity to our own locus of consciousness that the true nature of reality is not recognizable by our species. In many aspects, it’s too close to be seen from an eye that was designed to look out…

    I am compelled to ask: Is the understanding that you currently possess something you’ve always inherently known since your youth, or did a dramatic and traumatic transformation later in life lead you to where you are today?


    • Lee,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. My journey to this understanding wasn’t marked by any traumatic events, but there were definitely times of considerable stress. There were several factors that led me to where I am and my thoughts about theology. Like you, I have struggled with mental problems. In my case, it has been a struggle with depression and anxiety all my adult life. Although I was able to function at what I think was a high level, and while these problems weren’t debilitating, still there were times when life was very hard. So, I think that has contributed to my desire to think about deep questions in life. Also, I have always had, even since my youth a religious sensibility, a sense of a divine presence. I was raised in a Lutheran church that very much took seriously sacredness. I enjoyed most of the rituals and sermons. Interestingly enough, when I was in confirmation class, my pastor said that I should become a pastor. I guess he saw something in me. Of course, I didn’t think anything of it and went into engineering. However, after a few years of engineering, I decided to go to seminary, thinking maybe he was right. That didn’t work out for me partly because, after two years of intense theological study, my beliefs were very different from those at the grassroots level. So, I went back into engineering, much disappointed in traditional religion. Then there came a time in 1980 when I realized I didn’t find Christianity compelling to me anymore. But, since I still believed in God, but was also very science-oriented (as an engineer), I decided to see if I could find or develop something I could accept. I took a look at existing religious systems, but each always had a fundamental deal-breaker for me. So since by trade I was a design engineer, specializing in complex machines and systems, it seemed doable. So over many years, and much research that is what I did. My theology is still very much a work in progress, but it works for me.

      Thanks for asking and listening.


  6. Oh, and one of the reasons I put up the website and included my approach to developing a systematic theology was in the hope the many others would take up the task. It’s only in dialog including criticism from others similarly interested that perhaps forms of religious sentiment can emerge that are more compelling, and helpful, for the growing number of people who find that the current traditions aren’t working for them.


  7. Just by looking at the time postings, we must be in different time zones. My home is in the west central mountains of Idaho, USA. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and it is ironic that I suffered from severe depression as well most of my adult life beginning at the age of nineteen.

    Your ontology is clearly an intellectual construct and that analysis is not meant to be condescending because constructs are the only thing we have access to in our primary experience. To better explain what I mean, an illustration is forth coming. Thomas Metzinger once stated that what is needed to move forward in our understanding is a union of intellectual honesty and spiritualism. Spiritualism is not religion. Religion reflects one’s passion for a belief, not a nominal belief beyond the weight of evidence, but a substantial belief based on personal experience of one degree or another. In contrast, spiritualism is not satisfied with the construct of belief as predicate, but in the unconditional experience of “knowing”. Spiritualism is a meaningful relationship, a literal one on one with the “unknown”. Immanuel Kant did not believe that it was possible to have a meaningful relationship with the “thing-in-itself” because it was unknowable. My experience has taught me that his position is not correct. The “thing-in-itself” made indeed be unknown, but it is not unknowable. That knowing comes through personal experience, an experience that is not defined by my terms or conditions, but by the terms and conditions of the “thing-in-itself”.

    I stated this before, but I want to continue with the thought. Richard Rorty once commented: That without a vocabulary that captures either the way the world really is, or a core human nature, there is never any possibility to locate a metaphysical foundation for truth. After over twenty-five hundred years of effort, Rorty felt strongly that the endeavor was a waste of time and should be abandoned. His justification consists of few words: “In order to locate this standard, the seeker must already be at the convergent consensus point which is being sought. The seeker must already know what this is in order to recognize it when seen.” That’s some profound insight and no truer words have been spoken by a modern philosopher. According to my models, the convergent consensus point is the next evolutionary ontological level of experience. But, that’s another subject for another time…



  8. Steve,
    I’ve been following the conversation on Bernardo’s site. I understand why you want to postulate mind as the ontological primitive, but that position cannot be defended. Mind may indeed be a feature or an attribute of the ontological primitive just like consciousness and everything other appearance that one could think of, but mind is not the underlying qualitative property as such. Without a grounding, concise, and succinct underlying qualitative property, the circular arguments are without end…

    In a strict monism there is only “one thing” period, not several things, not two things, but one thing. The ontological primitive is a singularity that stands alone at the center of motion and form and stands alone within every discrete system the can be discovered or imagined, even the seemingly infinite constructs that our vivid imagination can construct. The ontological primitive is not what one would expect it to be, and when I saw it; I was literally blown away because of its beauty, simplicity and elegance. It woke me up in the middle of the night where the simplicity struck me like a bolt of lightning. I remember saying to myself out loud… “This is so moronically simple that it’s ridiculous.”

    I got censored by Bernardo’s back in April of 2018 because he got all pissy when I wanted to challenge the construct of subject/object metaphysics. He sent out his internet trolls out to try and discredit my position because he personally was not willing to expose himself, simply because his position was indefensible. He even sunk to level of posting one of our private email exchanges. (zero scruples on his part). Lou Gold is the only regular on the site who doesn’t have his head up his ass. Lou is an eighty year old guy whom I would consider to be at the convergent consensus point or damn close to it. If you want to get a rise out of the regulars, bring up my name and associate it with the genetic defect in rationality. Lou grasped my arguments on that paradigm, but everyone else went crazy.



    • Well, I was just using their language for my arguments. I don’t particularly like it but as you know from my writings I posit God as the ground of all being, which transcendents our conceptual schemes. We could call ultimate reality by many names such as God, Brahman, or a Singularity. Tillich talks about “the God above the god of theism” because he recognized that God’s “character” transcends any concept we can have. I concur. However, I do think the Mind metaphor can be helpful because we can relate to it. Their consciousness ontological primitive doesn’t make sense to me which is why I pushed back against it.


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