Analytic Idealism

Until now, I’ve considered myself to be a physicalist or materialist, but in adopting this position, I’ve had open questions. I’d tell people, “I’m a Physicalist, but I don’t understand how X, Y, or Z works.” As it happens, Analytic Idealism fills in most of these gaps. I’ve also been leery of Constitutive Panpsychism, and this theory addressed those shortcomings.

According to standard materialistic doctrine, consciousness, like space-time before the invention of general relativity, plays a secondary, subservient role, being considered just a function of matter and a tool for the description of the truly existing material world. But let us remember that our knowledge of the world begins not with matter but with perceptions. I know for sure that my pain exists, my “green” exists, and my “sweet” exists. I do not need any proof of their existence, because these events are a part of me; everything else is a theory. Later we find out that our perceptions obey some laws, which can be most conveniently formulated if we assume that there is some underlying reality beyond our perceptions. This model of material world obeying laws of physics is so successful that soon we forget about our starting point and say that matter is the only reality, and perceptions are only helpful for its description.

Universe, Life, Consciousness by Andrei Linde
What about mainstream Physicalism?

Firstly, it centres everything on experience. It divides the world into ‘out there’ and ‘perception’, what Bernard Kastrup calls ‘intrinsic view’ and ‘extrinsic experience’, what Schopenhauer termed ‘noumena’ and ‘phenomena’.

So how could I abandon material so quickly? The short answer is that I didn’t. It’s just that it’s not fundamental. One of the challenges I always had with the notion of materialism is the distance between perception and material. Analytic Idealism allows there to be a concealed nature out there and a revealed nature that our senses could perceive.

physics is ultimately a science of perception

I abandoned Donald Hoffman’s’ book, The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes, a few months back because although it seemed to make sense, it wasn’t quite resonating with me. It seems that he shares this perspective.

Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll lay a foundation. Our brains, among other things, are experience-perceiving machines—not experience-generating. Unlike some solipsistic theories, we don’t generate our reality. There is an objective reality, as it were. out there, but our perception of it is limited by our sense organs and cognitive faculties. Anything not accessible to these is imperceptible, pretty much by definition. It could be that there is nothing out there beyond perception, but I wouldn’t count on it.

I know that this invites paranormal and spiritual injections. I don’t have a propensity to make this jump, and absence of at least circumstantial evidence, I don’t expect to expend energy pondering this space. If this is your proclivity, feel free, and I’d love to see what you come up with. As it happens, Bernard Kastrup does believe in paranormal phenomena, so you’d be in good company. I’m just not ready to make that leap.

Humans do not view reality as it is. This conforms to correspondence theories of truth. In this theory, we interface reality through a virtual dashboard. Like an aeroplane with dials and gauges, our sense organs merely give USA representations of this reality in a manner suitable to our survival—fitness over truth. Just as the altimeter and speedometer are fit for navigating a plane, they are just symbols or icons representing the ‘out there’. Similar to the Matrix, the out there is unintelligible—save for Neo who is able to transcend and decode on the fly. But this is science fiction. We cannot see beyond the dashboard, and it wouldn’t benefit us if we could.

instrument dashboard from

This instrument panel or dashboard, as Kastrup calls it, is all we have. And like a computer monitor that represents files and folders as beige, blue, and white rectangles, looking behind the screen isn’t going to yield you more information. At their core, these represent binary code, millions or zeros and ones that would not be useful to see in their native state. It is more useful to see the iconic representation.

It turns out that matter is simply a representation of reality through dashboard instruments. This means that physics is ultimately a science of perception, though it only has access to the map rather than the terrain.

It’s not my intent to articulate the entire theory. Besides, I’m new to it. There is much more for me to suss out. For now, it’s the best explanation for the way I perceive perception. And although I still have questions, I have fewer than before, so here’s looking to a long and fruitful relationship.


6 thoughts on “Analytic Idealism

  1. But we have collectively created our own modern reality using incorrect, or at least incomplete theories which suggests we’re not just perceptive intakes. I think any theory will do if we all buy into it to create whatever reality we want.


    1. In line with correspondence and coherence theories, this is correct so long as it is both experientially and internally consistent. I discuss the challenge with this in the linked video. I’m not wholly convinced by Donald Hoffman, but I appreciate the interface metaphor that Bernardo Kastrup also uses, and I like his Fitness Before Truth algorithmic approach to evolutionary theory. He presents this at length in The Case Against Reality.

      So, I don’t think just ‘any theory’ will do. A testudinal theory of how the earth is supported is cute enough, but it misses the mark—or that the moon is made of cheese. So all theories are not equally viable nor feasible. Neither Hoffman nor Kastrup argues for creating the reality we want. Reality precedes us, but we are experiential interpretation machines. I like to call us Baysean difference engines.

      Iain McGilchrist takes a slightly different approach that I am less bought into, but it makes sense. Our reality is created when our experience interacts with the environment. I’m still trying to suss out if he is suggesting there’s a sort of static energy about there that only becomes kinetic through interaction, as if it’s a video on pause until someone presses play. I’ve been reading The Matter with Things. It’s some 3,000 pages in 2 volumes, and I am only on volume 1. The metaphysical stuff is in volume 2, so I haven’t got to it yet.

      Truth about Truth:

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      1. The earth made of cheese would be a ridiculous assumption, but why not A theory or technology that flows with the course of energy, not one that consumes it and pollutes it?
        Since it is static and activated by the observer, can we not have some control over what a waveform inflates into?
        Reality to the Kofan or the Kogi is vastly different than us conformist and civilized types. Are they wrong when the Kofan listen to the flora instruct them on the botanical uses of its plants?


      2. Just as flat-earthers can defend their position, and there have been many theories across the ages and cultures, they aren’t all valid. There may be ‘truths’ and ‘facts’, but the interpretation of these is always subjective. I don’t tend to believe in either animistic or paranormal theories. It’s not that they absolutely can’t be true, but the claims don’t usually pass evidentiary muster.

        Even in the Kofan or Kogi examples, their perception may be valid for them, but this experience is not reality either. I’d argue that on a curve measuring the gap between perception and reality, it is a wider gap than that of, say quantum theory, but who’s to say? But I think it’s a mistake to assert that ‘perception is reality’ as much as ‘perception depicts reality’, and like a funhouse mirror, this perception can be off.


      3. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights. Perhaps their perception are a more accurate depiction of reality—possibly why they would already be extinct had Columbia not isolated and fenced them in a preserve?
        When I lived in the jungle the natives could not tell me the name of any snakes. They only knew “poisonous or not poisonous “. They were not bogged down in the labels and names, but lived according to utility. The same it was for plants. Although they knew far more than a Harvard trained botanist, they had no modern way to communicate that knowledge. But they did know all the uses of everything around them.
        Dicing perception and reality—which comes first, there is no way to know.
        In the biblical account I would say the fall was not sin, but the fall came in naming everything and they slipped into a fixed and measured reality. And that is where we sit today.


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