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Can our thoughts directly affect reality at large? by Bernardo Kastrup

To mark the launch of the new book, Brief Peeks Beyond, we are publishing its introduction (Chapter 1) today, as well as an excerpt entitled: Can our thoughts directly affect reality at large? The intent is to offer a brief overview of the book.

Author Bernard Kastrup considers this his most important published work to-date and we hope you find value in it.

This unique book is a multi-faceted exploration and critique of the human condition as it is presently manifested. It addresses science and philosophy, explores the underlying nature of reality, the state of our society and culture, the influence of the mainstream media, the nature of free will and a number of other topics. Each of these examinations contributes an angle to an emerging idea gestalt that challenges present mainstream views and behaviors and offers a sane alternative.

The book is organized as a series of short and self-contained essays (see below for sample), most of which can be read in under one hour.


“When you see the world you see God. There is no seeing God apart from the world. Beyond the world to see God is to be God.”

~Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj


This is probably the most important book I’ve written. The original idea for it seemed easy enough: my publisher and I discussed creating an anthology of essays I had previously written for webzines, blogs and magazines. The intent was to update the essays and organize them into a coherent structure. Once I embarked on the project, however, something within me saw an opportunity and I became determined to take it way beyond its original scope. The result, which you now hold in your hands, could no longer be honestly described as just an anthology. It has turned into an experiment in ‘nonlinear philosophy,’ with a new, unifying message of its own. Allow me to elaborate.
As I reviewed my original essays, I noticed for the first time that they were pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle. Only with the benefit of hindsight did I realize this; the overall picture in the puzzle had eluded me up to that moment. It became clear that much of the material consisted in explorations of different angles of a single motif: an idea gestalt – an organized cognitive whole beyond the mere sum of its parts – about the human condition as it is presently manifested. It has various facets related to science, philosophy of mind, the underlying nature of reality, the state of our society and culture, the influence of the mainstream media, etc. Because of this apparent disparity of facets, the gestalt that links them together can’t be conveyed through a linear narrative. There are just too many important nuances to capture that way. It can only be conveyed by tackling each of its facets within its own context so that you, dear reader, can combine the pieces of the puzzle and reconstruct the gestalt in your own mind. This is precisely what this book attempts to achieve. The essay format turns out to have been critical in that it allowed me to approach the target motif through several different angles, helping you build an overall picture of it facet by facet. If the book succeeds in its endeavor, at the end of it you will be looking upon the present nexus of the human story in a very different way.
(Photo by Diggy Lloyd)

(Photo by Diggy Lloyd)

I’ve attempted to make each essay in this book suggestive of, and conducive to, this global cognitive gestalt. Each contributes an important angle to it. Yet, when putting the original material together, it became clear to me that there were gaps; important pieces of the puzzle were missing. For this reason, many of the essays here are entirely new, having never been published. They are meant to cover the gaps. All previously published material was also updated and in many ways improved. Several essays were largely rewritten to reflect new, more complete insights I’ve had since I first wrote them, or to make their message crisper and clearer. Most were also adapted so as to complement each other in suggesting the subtleties and nuances of the global motif that is the message of this book. Even among the essays that were least changed in terms of the number of words edited, the importance of the changes is disproportionate to the space they occupy.

Overall, this work is characterized by a new readiness on my part to go all out with my points of view. In my previous works, I’ve held myself back in the interest of striking a more moderate note with broader appeal. It is, however, unclear whether that was effective. What is sure is that it pruned the full expression of my views. Now, having turned 40 and witnessed my life take turns I’d never expected, I feel less motivated to compromise on my discourse. Life is just too short for that. Therefore, this book tackles, head-on, subjects I have hitherto kept out-of-bounds: God, ‘conspiracies,’ the obvious flaws of science as practiced today, the often insidious role of the media and a number of other polemical topics. You be the judge of whether my uncensored views still hold up to reason and the available evidence.
This book can be read in two ways: in sequence, from beginning to end; or by picking a different essay at each sitting. The essays have been organized in a logical and coherent sequence, optimized for insinuating the subtle bridges and relationships between the various different topics. This way, readers who are willing to read this book from cover to cover will probably develop a better grasp of the ideas in it. That said, I am well aware that many readers will prefer to pick their favorite topic from the table of contents, depending on their mood and disposition of the day, and go straight to it. I confess to often preferring this approach myself, especially when reading in bed before sleep. Therefore, I also made sure that each essay is self-contained and can be read independently of the others. The majority can be read in well under an hour. When appropriate, I refer to other essays where certain topics mentioned are covered in more depth. The price for this modularity, however, is some redundancy: many of the essays contain summaries of my metaphysics, which is necessary to give context to the ideas they express. I’ve endeavored to strike an optimal balance between redundancy and modularity, so readers neither feel bored with repeated content, nor miss essential context for understanding each essay.
Whichever way you prefer to read this book, I do suggest that you always start with essays 2.1 and 2.2. They provide context that underlies what is discussed in most other essays. Although the key contextual points are, as mentioned above, repeated each time, readers will derive more value from the rest of the book if they have more extensive prior grasp of those two initial texts.
A couple of observations should be made at this point. This is largely a critical work: it criticizes today’s science, philosophy, media, culture and society. It is also largely a body of – hopefully well-substantiated – opinions. Yet, the criticisms it contains are not always preceded by a disclaimer asserting that what follows is an expression of opinion. Doing so would be highly detrimental to flow and readability. Let this be the general disclaimer, thus: unless stated otherwise, you should assume that what you will find in the following pages is an expression of my opinions. The extensive substantiation of my arguments does not change this fact.
Another important observation: I use the words ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness’ interchangeably. The meaning I lend to the word ‘consciousness’ – and thus ‘mind’ – is defined early in essay 2.1. I use the term ‘psyche’ when I mean personal consciousness, or personal mind. This terminology may be confusing to some: in non-duality circles, the word ‘mind’ has come to be associated with ‘thoughts;’ that is, with a particular type of contents of consciousness. Yet, my use of the terms is more consistent with their traditional meaning in Western philosophy.
Finally, this book contains a high concentration of ideas. Very few words are wasted. I go quickly to the point and don’t ramble around. While this will probably feed the enthusiasm of some readers, it may prove a little too intense to others. I apologize to the latter: my approach here reflects my surrender to what comes more naturally to me, rather than a deliberate attempt to favor a particular segment of my readership.

Can our thoughts directly affect reality at large?

A recurring theme in popular culture, at least since the birth of the New Thought movement in the 19th century, has been what I call the ‘intentional mind-over-matter hypothesis’: the notion that our thoughts can deliberately and directly influence reality.
According to the hypothesis, we should be able to purposefully mold reality – at least to a small extent – to our own wishes by the use of mental practices such as positive thinking, visualization, affirmations, etc. Documentary films and books like The Secret have given a renewed, modern spin to this idea, spreading it far and wide.
My own view is that reality unfolds entirely in consciousness – the medium of all thoughts – as opposed to a strongly objective world outside consciousness. This view is called monistic idealism. One may then legitimately wonder if monistic idealism doesn’t lend support to the intentional mind-over-matter hypothesis. After all, if both thoughts and empirical reality are in consciousness, it doesn’t seem to be at all implausible that they could influence each other. But is the possibility of an intentional mind-over-matter effect a necessary implication of monistic idealism? The answer isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.
Before we can address the question fairly, some brief background is required. According to monistic idealism, all reality is in a transpersonal form of consciousness that transcends your personal psyche alone. Thus, it is your body-brain system – as a part of reality – that is in consciousness, not consciousness in your body-brain system. The body is an outside image of a process of localization of experiences in transpersonal consciousness, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localization of water in a stream. For exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water, your brain doesn’t generate consciousness. Yet, because an outside image of a process correlates tightly with the inner dynamics of the process, brain activity correlates with subjective experience. Active neurons are what our localized, personal experiences look like from the outside, not their cause.
As such, it is true that positive thinking, affirmations and visualizations can affect the reality of our personal psyches and bodies: they can change our emotions, general outlook on reality and even our physical health. After all, these thoughts, affirmations and visualizations are experiences created by, and unfolding within, the whirlpool that we identify with as personal entities. Disturbances arising within the whirlpool can, of course, directly influence the whirlpool’s inner dynamics. They can also indirectly influence the broader stream through contact with the rim of the whirlpool: with the use of our arms and legs, we can physically act upon our thoughts to change reality at large. We do this every day when we wipe the floor, move furniture around or build a house with our own hands.

Brief Peeks Beyond Full Cover HD

The question, of course, is whether our localized mental activity can directly influence the world without the physical mediation of our body. Can a disturbance created within the whirlpool remotely affect the flow of water on the other side of the stream, without any form of contact with the rim of the whirlpool?

Framed this way, the answer doesn’t seem all that obvious anymore, does it? Indeed, monistic idealism doesn’t necessarily imply that we can ‘attract’ a promotion or the ideal lover by merely visualizing it. It doesn’t necessarily imply that thoughts or imagination within the whirlpool can remotely affect anything outside of the whirlpool. The consensus world clearly unfolds according to stable patterns and regularities that we’ve come to call the ‘laws of nature.’ Monistic idealism doesn’t deny this; it simply brings these patterns and regularities into the scope of consciousness: they become certain ‘laws of consciousness,’ so to speak.
Yet, monistic idealism also doesn’t refute intentional mind-over-matter effects. It is true that disturbances arising within a whirlpool can influence the stream outside by going through the rim of the whirlpool – that is, through body-mediated, physical intervention in the world. But there may also be ways for disturbances to propagate under water. Indeed, what we call the physical world is the ripples propagating on the surface of mind-at-large. They are all we can ordinarily perceive. The glare of the surface obfuscates the currents and disturbances that may be flowing underneath, so we can’t discern them in a self-reflective manner. It is thus conceivable that thoughts and imagination originating in our personal psyche, if they somehow sink into the deepest, most obfuscated, collective levels of consciousness, could indeed affect consensus reality directly.
According to monistic idealism, the physical world is an outside image of collective mental processes. But the image of a process doesn’t necessarily reflect all there is to know about the process. Flames don’t tell all there is to know about combustion. Lightning doesn’t tell all there is to know about atmospheric electric discharge. Our physical appearance doesn’t tell all there is to know about our state of health. Therefore, what we ordinarily perceive as physical cause and effect reflects merely the visible regularities of the unfolding of those collective mental processes. There may be a lot more going on beyond our view. Moreover, our understanding of even these visible regularities is very incomplete. We do not know that the physical world is causally closed, or self-contained. As such, the empirical reality we ordinarily perceive may be just the surface of an ocean of untold depth. Unfathomable complexity may lie immersed, obfuscated from view by the glare of the surface.
In one of his many wonderful talks, Alan Watts related a very evocative analogy for what we call physical causality: he asked his audience to imagine themselves sitting in front of a wooden fence, with just a thin slit allowing them to see what lies on the other side of the fence. If a dog were to walk along the other side, one would first see the dog’s head through the slit and, a little while later, the dog’s tail. Every time the dog would walk along the fence, one would first see the head and then the tail. Watts then argued that we would, very naturally, conclude that the dog’s head causes the dog’s tail. The logic behind this conclusion seems indeed impeccable.
You see, if all we have is a partial view of what is actually going on – a small slit in the fence – our understanding of the chains of cause-and-effect in nature may be very limited and inaccurate. The dog’s head obviously doesn’t cause the tail, even though every empirical observation through the slit would consistently reinforce this erroneous conclusion. The head and the tail are just regularities of a broader pattern unfolding beyond ordinary perception; namely, a walking dog. If consensus reality is merely a partial image of obfuscated, collective mental processes, our position as its observers may be entirely analogous to that of the person sitting in front of the wooden fence. The true, complete causal processes behind our observations – that is, the actual dog walking by – may lie in obfuscated depths below the surface. It is thus conceivable that, by somehow allowing our self-created thoughts and imagination to sink into the lower depths of the psyche, we could plug them into the actual causal chains of nature, whose effects could spread far beyond us. By allowing them to sink in we could conceivably release them into wide-ranging underwater currents.
In conclusion, monistic idealism does not necessarily imply that one can directly influence consensus reality through positive thinking, affirmations or visualizations. In fact, it implies precisely that, for as long as our self-created thoughts and imagination remain in our personal psyche, they cannot influence reality at large. At best, they could influence our mental and emotional outlook, as well as physical health. But monistic idealism does leave a door open for intentional mind-over-matter effects when our self-created thoughts and imagination are allowed to sink into the lower, collective levels of the psyche.
How this form of release can be intentionally accomplished is unclear. After all, for as long as our personal intentions remain personal, they are still circumscribed by our personal psyches and cannot affect the world. But it is conceivable that techniques or skills for achieving the effect may have been developed through the course of history. It is also conceivable that the effects could grow if the techniques or skills were to be applied by a large number of people working in synch, as some studies on meditation suggest.
authorBernardo Kastrup has a Ph.D. 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 Philips Research Laboratories (where the “Casimir Effect” of Quantum Field Theory was discovered).
Bernardo has authored many scientific papers and five philosophy books:

Rationalist Spirituality

Dreamed up Reality

Meaning in Absurdity

Why Materialism Is Baloney

Brief Peeks Beyond.

He has also been an entrepreneur and founder of a successful high-tech start-up. Next to a managerial position in the high-tech industry, Bernardo maintains a philosophy blog, an audio/video podcast, 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.


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