Skip to content

Source materials for rethinking “free will”

From Metaphysical Speculations forum – sciborg2: For convenience, here’s the stuff I think should be incorporated – or at least mentioned – in the Free Will essays lest neither really go beyond mechanistic/materialist thinking:

-Mystery of Causality, only exacerbated in Idealism, as noted by Massimo and further expounded on by Tallis’ The Strange Idea that what Happens has to be Made to be Happen & Talbott’s Do Physical Laws Make Things Happen.
Lucas’ Godelian Argument
-Bergson’s Time and Free Will (useful commentary hereherehere)
-Whitehead’s occasions + teleology (some useful stuff herehere)

There’s also the Thomist-Aristotelian conception, but that’s probably too vast to really incorporate as it’s whole metaphysical paradigm. Also Syntropy, though that’s more conjecture than definitive metaphysics (free will comes from the past being the meeting point between forward causality and retrocausality.)


Wonderful overview of McGilchrist on the left and right hemispheres – foundational way of understanding materialism

There’s really no substitute for Iain McGilchrist’s masterpiece, “The Master and His Emissary.”  But short of the 2 or 3 months – minimum – most readers say they need to get the gist of his book, this interview is a marvelous overview.

This is from Brain World magazine (the interviewer is identified in the text as BW)

Q&A with Iain McGilchrist

by Margaret Emory

How many times have you been told, “Oh you’re such a left-brain person,” meaning you think logically, are good with numbers, very analytical and so on? And upon hearing that summation, you long for the right brain’s creative, intuitive, artistic complements. Why can’t they be part of the equation, you wonder.

We used to believe the two parts of the brain work in harmony, but according to London psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, there’s a definite shift in our modern culture which favors left-brain dominance—and it’s something we ought to watch out for and correct. In The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2009), McGilchrist discusses the hemispheres and their different “personalities,” and then shows a sweeping dissertation on the history of Western civilization as seen from the context of the divided brain.

McGilchrist came to medicine later in life, following a distinguished career in academia. He is interested in a variety of psychiatric conditions, as well as neuropsychiatry. He also has a busy practice as a medico-legal expert and writes for numerous publications.

He named The Master and His Emissary after a parable that Friedrich Nietzsche told about a wise spiritual master who ruled a small but prosperous domain, who grew the land and appointed emissaries, one of which began to see himself as the master and used his position to advance his own wealth and influence. The emissary saw his master’s self-control and restraint as weakness, and usurped his master, creating a tyranny and bringing the land to ruins.
McGilchrist likens the right and left hemispheres of the human brain to the master and the emissary of this story, respectively. McGilchrist weaves this cautionary tale to show that while the cerebral hemispheres should cooperate with one another, they have been in conflict for some time, with our current civilization in the hands of the emissary who, although gifted in many ways, functions as “an ambitious regional bureaucrat with his own interests at heart.”

Brain World: Can you speak to us about your theories on the divided brain which you describe in your book, The Master and His Emissary? 
Dr. Ian McGilchrist: I suppose the first thing to say is that the subject of the two hemispheres has become an absolute no-no for any respectable scientist because it was so popularized in the sixties and seventies in a way that relied on some quite simple ideas about the separation between language and visio-spatial phenomena and between reason and emotion. And that is absolutely untrue. In fact practically every single thing that was said about the left hemisphere—it was down to earth and it was boring but at least it told you the truth—all that kind of thing is completely erroneous. I was intrigued by some fairly obvious differences that do come up in different contexts and I wanted to try to find a pattern in them. In so doing and in writing that book I was faced with a problem. When you talk about the brain as though it’s something separate from a human being, there’s a tendency for that to happen and it leads to the fallacy that there’s a machine in there that controls us. That we are somehow separate from this machine. That’s the problem with thinking about it as a machine at all. Because of course it isn’t. It’s part of a person. Our brains don’t experience things. We experience them. I need to make that point because some people who clearly haven’t gotten around to reading my book have put me in the camp of people who reduce the richness of human experience to a lot of physiological data and that’s absolutely not my intention.

BW: What was your intention?
IM: I had to really think of it more as these hemispheres contributing to a person’s experience of the world and as such there is no pre-existing way of describing this. You have to describe it using a metaphor of something and the closest is the metaphor of a person. It’s far closer than the metaphor of a machine. But in doing so you run the risk of people thinking that there are two people in your head or that half a hemisphere is a little person that’s got its own views. That’s also a problem that needs to be steered clear of. When you actually come to look at the data, they (the hemispheres) can be seen as having different goals, different preferences and therefore values, and of being parts of ourselves that have a different focus and a different take on the world. So in the end I make no apologies for making it sound like they have personalities because I’m afraid that’s the nearest way one can get at it without resorting to the “machine in your head” metaphor which is not a good one.

BW: Do the hemispheres work separately or together?
IM: Of course we’re using both hemispheres together all the time. There was never a time when all the activities were in one hemisphere. It’s more a question of what, at any one moment, is governing our actions and it’s bound to be a synthesis. It’s bound to have some of what the left hemisphere gives us and some of what the right gives us. Another thing that can be laid at my door is that I’m dichotomizing and I’m not. I mean there is a great vast dichotomy that nature put there and even though there’s a big divide to be accounted for, in fact these things were made to work together. We’re not conscious of switching. We don’t know what the thing that switches is but there’s a reasonable body of data suggesting that this sort of meta-control may be lodged very low down in the mid-brain which is the uppermost part of the brain stem.

BW: Can you describe the process of how these different hemispheres interact?
IM: The theory that the two hemispheres have differences comes from a simple Darwinian point. In order to survive we need to be able to do two things at once. We need to be able to be busily focused on something that we’ve prioritized is of interest to us already like the bird needing to lock on the seed against the background of the gravel or needing to focus on picking up a twig to build a nest. It’s got that kind of attention which is about manipulating the environment and using it. At the same time, if it’s going to survive, the bird also needs a wide open attention, looking out essentially for predators, not just in that threatening way, but also for its fellow creatures; indeed, for its mate.
Those two ways have somehow to be combined. And yet, if you do look very narrowly at something and bring it into sharp focus in the middle of your vision, it’s very different from the contextual penumbra of other experiences—intuitively-based, body-based, ancient and gathered from a synthesis of all your experience which you also bring to bear on the whole picture. So those two things, the rather narrow here and now moment has to be there but the rest has to be there too.
That’s why I think the two hemispheres have evolved in this way. They need to some extent to be kept apart because you can’t really do both things at once. It’s a bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time but it isn’t actually because with practice you can do that. You can’t literally have both types of attention, or at least it’s extraordinarily difficult to imagine how this can be done. Probably it’s a matter of keeping them both running and alternating. The two hemispheres are connected by a bridge of tissue called the corpus callosum which is commonly thought of as the thing that communicates between the hemispheres. It does. Although a lot of the communication is activating in its original sense—the nerves are stimulating something to happen—what they’re often stimulating to happen is in fact an inhibition. So their ultimate aim in a majority of cases is not to make something happen in the other hemisphere, but to stop something from happening there. And by filtering like this, things come into existence.

BW: You believe the left brain has been gaining control over the course of human evolution. How did this come about?
IM: I think an aspect of being a conscious being is that you are aware that you can become powerful by manipulation. Other creatures, of course, are competing and manipulating, but they’re probably not aware of the fact that this is a way of becoming powerful—that it seems to work well for a lot of the things that one does as one grows a civilization.
One needs to build structures by putting brick upon brick, or stone on stone. One needs to create drainage and irrigation and so on. One creates these things that seem to make life simpler, easier and better and make you more powerful. It’s enticing, and you can soon begin to think that everything works like this. Everything in your world seems to break down into a lot of machines that we’ve created. While this is a very interesting way of looking at things, it’s basically a practical tool for getting ahead. It’s not really a very good instrument for epistemology or for ontology—for finding out actually what the world is and how we know about it. It can lead us to narrow down the way we think about things to a merely rationalistic set of propositions, a series of algorithms.

BW: What are the effects of the left brain taking over?
IM: One of the interesting elements that comes out in research into the “personalities” or the “takes” of the two hemispheres is that the left hemisphere thinks it knows it all, and as a result is extremely optimistic. It overvalues its own ability. It takes us away from the presence of things in all their rich complexity to a useful representation—that representation is always much simpler. And an awful lot is lost in it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you need to simplify. For example, if you’re designing a building or if you’re fighting a campaign, you need a map, a scheme. You don’t really need all the richness of what would be there in the real world. But I’m afraid that that representation moves into a world where we have the ability constantly to interact with the world only as a representation, over a screen.
Even Facebook and social networking may look like you have suddenly have loads of friends, but what it may actually do is take you away from your real-life friends so that your life is more crowded and there’s less time, actually, to be aware peacefully of the world around you and to interact socially—a word that used to mean “with your fellow creatures.”

BW: What can we do about this? 

IM: People often ask me this question. I think they’re rather hoping I’ll give them a list of bullet points—“The 12 Things You Need”—like a best-selling paperback. That is really a perfect example of the left hemisphere. “Okay. Fix it by having a little plan. We do this, we do that, and bingo!” But in fact, what I have tried to convey throughout the entire book is that the world, as it is, has its own shape, value, meaning and so on, and that we crowd it out with our own plans, thoughts and beliefs, which are going to be narrow.
A wise thing to do would be not to do certain things. Another theme of my book is that negation is creative. That by having less of something, more comes into being. So actually what we need to do is not create a world. We need to stop doing lots of things and allow the wonderful thing that is already there to evolve, to give it room to grow. That’s also true of a single human mind.

BW: How do you advise your patients in your psychiatric practice?
IM: As a psychiatrist I see people day in and day out who have problems in their lives. One way of looking at these problems might be that their minds are full of things that they feel are important, ways of thinking, and that it’s not so much that I can tell them to think differently. You can give people pointers, but the critical thing for them is to come to a realization that they’re doing things that are damaging. Therapy is always like that. Sometimes when I see a patient I have a pretty shrewd intuition of what they need to do. But if I were to tell them that right off, it would have no meaning. They need to find their way to it by realizing that what they’re doing now is not the right way.
One very practical thing—a recipe for healing for almost every one of my patients—is not forcing things to be the way they would like them to be, but to embrace the way that they’re likely to be and doing those things that will help that forward.

BW: It sounds like a very philosophical attitude.
IM: We are now understanding the benefits of mindfulness, which is officially recommended by the British body NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence). The essence of mindfulness is clearing your mind of all the stuff that’s going on in there and stopping you from experiencing life. You’re so busy feeling bad about the past you can’t change and chasing after a future you can’t predict, instead of actually being alive in the moment. That is really the essence of mindfulness. Recent research shows that mindfulness engages wide networks in the right hemisphere, and the EEG studies show that there is a more balancing of the two hemispheres in those who are meditating. So I think meditation and not doing things, making space in your life and switching off your machines, being present in the moment and practicing mindfulness would be a way to start.

BW: We often think about our brain in terms of cognitive processing, but the brain guides all of our activities from breathing and muscle movements to sensations and emotions. What do you think is the ultimate use of the human brain?
IM: I think that’s a terribly good question because it draws attention very beautifully to the fact that we are in fact not brains in a vat, but we are embodied beings. The cognitive processing model is mechanistic and sees us like a complicated heating system with valves and pumps and thermostats that switch things on and off. But one of the interesting things about the hemispheres is that the right hemisphere seems to be better able to take into its vision the information that is coming to it from what was always called the lower parts of the brain, the more ancient parts of the brain, and indeed, from the body. The difficulty with the cognitive model is that we think of the brain as a computer, and we think of memory as something like a data bank.
Memory, of course, is not at all like that. It’s part of the human’s whole world and is distributed in the body. In a way, you can say that the very muscles have memory. Memory is not something that is unchanging. It is contextual—and that’s a weakness of it in some ways, but it’s also very much the strength of it.
We now know that even something like the heart actually communicates with the brain and gives as much information back to the brain—in fact, possibly more—than the brain gives to the heart. Anyone who suffers from depression will know that you have this terribly heavy oppressive feeling in the center of your chest. The things that you feel in your body are of course experienced through the brain, but they then are seen and experienced phenomenologically in the body. Our bodies and our brains can’t be separated in that way. So although cognitive science is a very useful thing, I think it ought to learn less from the Cartesian tradition of philosophy and more from the phenomenological tradition of philosophy, particularly from the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, who is probably the single most important philosopher of the last century for those who are interested in the relationship between mind and the body.

BW: What’s up next for you?
IW: I’m working on a book with the possible title, The Porcupine is a Monkey. In it I describe an experiment done by one of the most distinguished living Anglo-American neuroscientists, Marcel Kinsbourne, with a colleague, Deglin. They were able to interview people with one half of their brain at a time desensitized. Essentially, they were addressing either their left hemisphere or their right hemisphere, or, in a controlled condition, both. They asked them what they made of false syllogisms. (A false syllogism is one where you give a couple of premises and draw a conclusion, but one of the premises is wrong. Truth is either what is consistent with your model—i.e., it follows the logic of your system, and it’s what’s on this piece of paper—or truth is what you know about the world that you’ve gathered from both reading, learning and living, all that rich mass of stuff that goes into your knowledge of the world, which we call common sense.)
I’m thinking of writing this book because you see such staggering examples of this all over our world. Clever guys with techie minds sold the idea that these things would work, and they now administratively run all the professions. Teachers used to create a relationship with their students by using the richness of their experience and knowledge of the world, often in idiosyncratic ways, with their infectious enthusiasm to fire up their students. Instead, it’s [been] replaced by, “You must do this curriculum and you must escort so many on this, and you must have so many of the following.” That is death to the mind, to the imagination, in fact to our civilization. I would like to alert people to that.

– See more at:

Krishna Prem on consciousness and form

From Sri Krishna Prem’s “The Yoga of the Bhavagad Gita”: APPENDIX A – NOTE ON THE TERMS CONSCIOUSNESS AND FORM

The two terms, consciousness and form, are in constant use throughout this book and an understanding of the sense in which they are used is of vital importance.

If any experience is analyzed – say, for example, the visual experience of a blue disc – two aspects can be distinguished. There is the content, a round blue shape in this instance, and the ‘awareness’ of that shape. The content is what I have termed form and the awareness consciousness.

It must be carefully noted that ‘form’ does not here mean outline, but filled-in content-shape, and the term must also be understood in the same way of other elements of experience, sensuous or non-sensuous. For instance we have the ‘form’ of a sound, a taste, a feeling, or a thought, which must be understood by analogy with the forms of visual experience.

In contrast with these forms, which are all different both as regards individual forms within one class and as regards different classes of forms, there is the awareness or consciousness, which is of the same sort throughout.

There are many drawbacks to the use of the word ‘consciousness.’ In the first place it is used in half a dozen different senses by philosophers and psychologists, and in the second place it suffers from the great drawback that it has no active verbal form. One can say ‘to be conscious of’ but not ‘to conscious’ such-and-such an object. There is the word ‘awareness’ and the dubious coined derivative ‘awaring,’ which I have also occasionally pressed into service, but it is ugly and not very current. The best term is one that was coined by E. D. Fawcett in his The World as Imagination, Zermatt Dialogues, etc. The term in question is consciring – i.e. “knowing together” – and has as its correlative, for the content-form, the word conscitum (plural, conscita. I should certainly have availed myself of these coinages but, unfortunately, they are not as yet sufficiently widely current to be generally understood and, moreover, a great deal of the book had been written before I came across Fawcett’s writings.

It should be clear from introspective meditation that all forms are sustained in consciousness, and that, apart from consciousness, we know nothing and can know nothing of forms. It is in fact meaningless to talk of forms as existing apart from consciousness [he adds this footnote: “This position must by no means be confused with that of subjective idealism. The consciousness spoken of is not ‘your’ or ‘my’ consciousenss, in fact ‘you’ and ‘I’ exist only as constellated form-sequences brought to foci in that consciousness which, in itself, is neither human nor individualized, but a pervading Light.”] The ojbecfts supposed by some to exist behind the forms are mere mental constructs devised fror dealing with experience in practice. No one knows them, no one can ever know them; to believe in their existence is a pure and quite uncalled-for act of faith.

It should not be supposed that by the forms are meant sensations, camera pictures of reality located somewhere in the brain. The brain itself (as an ‘object’) is one of the constructs of which mention has just been made. The usefulness of such constructs in certain realms of thought and study is not at all denied, but they are irrelevant here.

The primary bedrock of experience is not sensations in the eye, ear, or brain, but visual and other forms in space. All the rest is inference and construction. Materialistic science begins by abstracting consciousness from the forms in order to deal with them more objectively and impersonally and then, when analysis fails to reveal any life or conscious principle in those forms, triumphantly exclaims that all is mechanism, nowhere is there anything of a spiritual nature. Behaviorist psychology is an example of the same procedure applied to mental life. If you start by abstracting consciousness from phenomena it is obviously absurd to expect to find it as a term in your concluded analysis. For this reason no one should feel disappointed that science (as nowadays practised) does not know anything of the existence of the ‘soul.’ It is the old story of looking for one’s spectacles when they are on one’s nose.

To go into this subject fully would require a volume and not an appendix. Here I am only concerned to indicate the sense in which the word ‘consciousness’ has been used in this book. It follows from that sense that the modern term ‘unconscious’ mind can have no meaning. There is not the slightest reason for supposing that anything whatever, physical or mental, exists or can exist save as the content of consciousness. Hence we can talk of a sub- or a super-conscious mind, meaning by those terms mental processes that are sustained in consciousness below or above the level at which it is normally focused, processes which are not attended to by normal consciousness, but we cannot talk of an unconscious mind, for that would have no meaning.

It only remains to add that the Sanskrit term for hat is here termed consciousness is chit, as distinct from chitta, which means the mind. The Buddhists, on the other hand, speak of Vijnana (Pali – vinnana). Thus consciousness illuminating visual forms is called caksuh-vijnana (eye-consciousenss), illuminating thoughts, mano-vijnana (mind-consciousness), and so on. Beyond the sense and mind consciousness (at least in Mahayana systems) is the Alaya Vijnana or store-consciousness, corresponding to the Mahat Atman as used in this book. The Mahayanists also use the word chitta to do duty for consciousness as well as for mind. For instance they will speak indifferently of chitta-matra or Vijnana-matra, meaning by both terms pure consciousness.


Challenging materialism – important contacts, ideas about evolution


(from Braude through Jack Hunter – from “Sciborg2”; below that is from Don Salmon)

Braude – I think having Braude’s careful analysis on the failures of mechanistic theories – including ones from Idealism & Dualism – is vital. I say this because replacing “matter” with “mind” in a search-replace sense seems to avail us little.


Sheldrake – A pioneer who was willing to wander into the wilderness before others, I think no matter the final accounting for morphic resonance Sheldrake’s understanding of biology – as well as Bergson’s philosophy of Time – will be important.


Freya Matthews – Even if the path ends with Idealism, I do think Holistic Panpsychism has a role to play in shifting people from materialism to Idealism. Additionally, I think the Taoist and environmental aspects will prove useful in shifting the tide as she shows why materialism is bad in a clearly understandable way.


Jeff Kripal – as a theology professor working in comparative religion, Kripal provides people a way to utilize their existing faith as a frame in which to consider the Numinous. Given the number of people who are religious, but don’t have a good grasp on the reasons one should reject materialism, Kripal offers a way to reach that demographic.


Raymond Tallis – Neuroscientist, Philosopher, Novelist, Poet, and so on. You gotta have a neuroscientist on board, given so much of materialist claims about the person hinges on neuroscience.


Brian Josephson – Nobel Prize Winner in physics. Helps with the credibility problem.


Jack Hunter – Paranthopology Journal. I think we need to get more of the humanities involved in this effort. While no doubt people will want to see results from parapsychology, the paranthropological record is – IMO at least – important to consider as well.


Dan Siegel: almost alone among mainstream neuroscientists, he refuses to reduce mind to brain.  He’s now working with a psychiatrist at Stanford on connecting the Enneagram to neuroscience.  I’m expecting him to go into astrology next (just kidding, but as far as most scientists go, the enneagram is almost as far out as astrology)


Tom McFarlane: Just posted something from him; fantastic guy who totally gets non duality and science. he’s a a mathematician and (Peter, take note if you stop by) he has written stuff based on Laws of Form, filtered through Franklin Merrell Wolff’s “consciousness without an object” philosophy. Very cool stuff. And you need someone connected to Merrell Wolff, who himself as a trained philosopher and mathematician.


Avery Solomon: long time student of Paul Brunton, worked closely with physicists at Cornell and others; Brunton and kastrup’s views and language are very close; would be great team.

Peter Wilberg – Wilberg is a therapist who has drawn on Abhivnavagupta’s tantric wisdom and translated it for a number of modern disciplines. He’s written great stuff on scientism (“The Qualia Revolution”) and has a lot of practical stuff too.


and I’ll just quickly mention some of my favorites again: Don DeGracia, Ulrich Mohrhoff, Matthijs Cornelissen, Alan Wallace, Ed Kelly, James Carpenter.  Oh, Rudolf Tanzi too


And some ideas for challenging neo-darwinian/materialist evolutionism:


Another essential piece is rethinking evolution from a non-material perspective. Sci, if you feel like taking a brief amount of time, look back – I think it was in 2013? – at posts on evolution. There were about 6 or so on direction in evolution. I was surprised myself, as when I did research on this back in 2003, almost nobody in the mainstream accepted it. A lot has changed in the last 11 years.  Once you acknowledge direction, some kind of telos is almost inevitable. Whitehead sees this, Bergson did to some extent, as did Aurobindo.  Now an increasing number of mainstream evolutionary biologists are very tentatively catching on.


This may be tiresome as I’ve written it before, but here are my keys, including psi:


  1. Bernardo’s main point – we start with subjective experience, thus the burden of proof is on the materialist as to why we should accept his shadow, abstract universe.
  2. Freya matthews on laws of physics. Once you get that pattern of any kind is impossible in a mindless universe, this underscores point #1 and completely eliminates the need for that postulate.
  3. Evolution:
  4. Look at neuroscience research showing the mind constructs (not creates) the environment. Look at Barfield, Gebser, Graves (spiral dynamics), etc showing that the WAY the mind constructs the environment develops, or evolves.  This “construction” takes place over several hundred milliseconds, and once you see that there IS direction in evolution, you see that the unfolding of consciousness at each moment mirrors in a startling way how consciousness unfolded over 2 billion years.(George, by “consciousness” I don’t mean pure awareness)
  5. Look at the way that knowing, willing and feeling manifest in plants and unicellular organisms, and then see that the essential processes are the same in what we call “physical” structures, from stars to subatomic particles
  6. Look at psi data on plants and animals, showing psychokinesis and telepathy (group consciousness affecting large numbers of animals in terms of mutations). Incorporate yogic knowledge (Aurobindo is best source for me, but there’s lots of others) regarding subliminal or inner consciousness. Experiments can be done showing that changes in inner consciousness occur prior to either physical or surface consciousness changes.  This explains direction in evolution.
  7. Incorporate all parapsychology and par anthropology research, as well as NDE research.


This will, I think, bring a revolution in physics, biology and neuroscience. it will also require new methodologies, quantitative, qualitative, and based on intuitive knowing with conventional analytic thinking only secondary.






Arguments for and against materialism

(posted by Bernardo Kastrup at his forum,!topic/metaphysical-speculations/nOI1QTksPEY, October 8, 2014

I am challenging materialists at JREF to come up with the best they can:

Here is the complete text of my post:

As some of you know, I think materialism is baloney. I subscribe to the much more parsimonious and skeptical notion that reality is in a trans-personal form of consciousness, of which we are localizations — like whirlpools in a stream. This ontology is often called monistic idealism. My books, videos and blog expand on all this, so I won’t elaborate here (moreover, apparently I lose rights to anything I post here). What I want to do is this: in my upcoming book, I am taking the time to dissect and expose all materialist counter-arguments against monistic idealism. So far I have selected 16 of them, which I list below. I argue in the upcoming book that all these points fail because they (a) beg the question; (b) contradict materialism itself (!); (c) totally misunderstand and misrepresent monistic idealism (i.e. straw man); (d) misunderstand or misrepresent the evidence; or (e) fail simple sound logic.

So my challenge to you is this: can you come up with other, better arguments for materialism, beyond the ones I list below? I doubt, but remain curious and open minded.

The current list:

1) Our sense perceptions provide direct evidence for a world outside consciousness.
2) Because we cannot change reality by merely wishing it to be different, it’s clear that reality is outside consciousness.
3) Because we are separate beings witnessing the same external reality, reality has to be outside consciousness.
4) It is untenable to maintain that there is no reality independent of consciousness, for there is plenty of evidence about what was going on in the Universe before consciousness evolved.
5) It is not parsimonious to say that reality is in consciousness, because that would require postulating an unfathomably complex entity to be imagining reality.
6) Reality is clearly not inside our heads, therefore monistic idealism is wrong.
7) Monistic idealism is too metaphysical.
8) There are strong correlations between brain activity and subjective experience. Clearly, thus, the brain generates consciousness.
9) Unconscious brain activity precedes the awareness of certain decisions, showing a clear arrow of causation from purely material processes to conscious experience.
10) Because psychoactive drugs and brain trauma can markedly change subjective experience, it’s clear that the brain generates consciousness.
11) During dreamless sleep, or under general anesthesia, we are clearly unconscious. Yet, we don’t cease to exist because we become temporarily unconscious. Clearly, thus, reality cannot be in consciousness.
12) The stability and consistency of the laws of physics show that reality is outside consciousness.
13) To postulate a collective and obfuscated part of consciousness as the source of consensus reality is equivalent to postulating a reality outside consciousness.
14) Why would consciousness deceive us by simulating a materialist world?
15) Monistic idealism is solipsistic and, as such, unfalsifiable.
16) One cannot prove that monistic idealism is true.

Although you have to wait for the publication of my new book to see the refutation of all these 16 arguments, I can guarantee to you that only smoldering ashes will be left of them after I am done. 

So can you come up with anything else? What’s your best argument in defense of materialism? What’s your best argument against monistic idealism? Apologies in advance for the fact that I will have to ignore trolls given my limited time. As for the rest of you, your input will be sincerely appreciated.

Overview of Paul Brunton’s philosophy

About PB’s Terms and Teachings

The six essential terms in Paul Brunton’s writings are Mind AloneWorld-MindWorld Idea, the Overself,Mentalism, and Philosophy.  The first four terms refer to the highest and most fundamental principles of Reality, whose presence is at once the source and the goal of all spiritual questing.  The second terms, Mentalism and Philosophy, refer to the two levels of PB’s later writings.  Mentalism refers to a particular approach to the problems of epistemology—an approach that considers all of our experience to be in the (true) mind of the experiencer.  The last term, Philosophy, may seem odd to include here, but PB was meticulous in working out his own meaning for that hoary word, so we’ve included a brief introduction to his unique perspective here.  In fact, the entire category 20 of The Notebooks of Paul Brunton is titled “What is Philosophy?” and is an invaluable guide to PB’s later thoughts.

The first of the three terms, Mind Alone, can be correlated to the highest principle of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Platonism, and of some modern Philosophers.  This is not to say that any or all these terms are perfectly equivalent.  While it is possible to associate PB’s usage of Mind Alone with the Void Mind of Buddhism, the Godhead of Christianity, the Brahman of Vedanta, and the Platonic “One,” it is not possible to make a perfect substitution of one term for the other, for as PB points out, these are all-too-human expressions of a Non-human Mystery.

Indeed, PB makes no claim of synthesizing the various teachings and traditions of the world, but rather seeks to draw on the best they each have to offer to our modern minds.  Thus we find that he describes Mind Alone this way: “The ultimate reality is one and the same, no matter what it is called; to the Chinese mystic it is TAO, that is, the Significance; to the Christian mystic it is GOD; to the Chinese philosopher it is TAI CHI, that is, The Great Extreme; to the Hindu philosopher it is TAT, that is, Absolute Existence.  It has its own independent, everlasting, invisible, and infinite existence, while all worldly things and creatures are but fragmentary and fleeting expressions of IT on a lower sphere altogether.  It lies deeply concealed as their innermost substance and persists through their changes of form.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 28.1.4)

The second term, “World-Mind,” is the unique term that PB uses when referring to the active or creative aspect of Pure Mind.  He uses this term in lieu of a Deistic one to emphasize the tremendous impersonality—and lack of anthropomorphic characteristics—to be found in this fundamental Agent.  The precise meaning of “World-Mind” varies considerably according to the context in which it appears, something PB deliberately chose to do, in order to inspire independent thinking in the advanced student while providing simple clarity for the novice.  Thus in some contexts the World-Mind refers to “the Mind of this world, our Holy Mother Earth,” while at other times PB employs World-Mind when discussing the Mind of the entire manifest Universe, and in rare cases it parallels Plotinus’ Intellectual Principle or, in PB’s own terms, the Act of Mind Itself.

PB describes the World-Mind this way: “There has been so much friction and clash between the different religions because of this idea: whether God is personal or impersonal—so much persecution, even hatred, so unnecessarily.  I say unnecessarily because the difference between the two conceptions is only an apparent one.  Mind is the source of all; this is Mind inactive.  Mind as World-Mind-in-manifestation is the personal God.  Between essence and manifestation the only difference is that essence is hidden and manifestation is known.  World-Mind is personal (in the sense of being what the Hindus call “Îshvara”); Mind is totally impersonal.  Basically, the two are one.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 27.3.56)

And he also says, “Behind it all is the Great Silence, broken only by the projection of new worlds and the re-absorption of old ones, the unutterable and unknowable Mystery, unreachable and untouchable by humans.  Tiny creature that we are, with the tiny minds we have, THAT is utterly beyond us.  But from the Grand Mystery, the active God of which this planet Earth is a projection has in turn projected us.  Here, communication in the most attenuated intuitive form is possible, even holy communion may be attained.  This is the God, the higher power, to whom people instinctively turn in despair or in aspiration, in faith or in doubt.  Sometimes a mere fragment of His work is revealed to a chosen prophet in the Cosmic Vision, an awe-filled experience.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 27.1.3)

PB’s term for the divine order of the universe, the nature of the world as a vast thought held by the World-Mind.  The World-Idea is at once the order revealed in “scientific laws,” and the evolutionary push observed in Nature and in humankind.  World-Idea is not for humankind alone, nor limited to this earth; therefore its actions (if they can be called that) do not always appear benign to humankind and other creatures, nor is it entirely comprehensible to the human mind and yet it guides all our ultimate evolution toward the good.  It carries us within a greater flowing consciousness that eternally rests within the Awesome Stillness of the World-Mind.  Even though we can have but limited success, it is our task to consciously align our actions with the evolutionary direction of the World-Idea; for to do so is to honor the spiritual destiny of humankind, while to exist in ignorance of this Presence is to wander in the byways of ignorance.

Of World-Idea and World-Mind PB writes, “Whatever we call it, most people feel—whether vaguely or strongly—that there must be a God and that there must be something which God has in view in letting the universe come into existence.  This purpose I call the World-Idea, because to me God is the World’s Mind.  This is a thrilling conception.  It was an ancient revelation which came to the first cultures, the first civilizations, of any importance, as it has come to all others which have appeared, and it is still coming today to our own.  With this knowledge, deeply absorbed and properly applied, people come into harmonious alignment with their Source.” (Perspectives p. 360)

He also says, “In glimpses of the World-Idea, human observational and intellectual beings discover an arrangement of things and creatures, of activities and circumstances, whose beauty and wisdom in one place evokes their constant wonder, but whose ugliness and horror in another place draws forth their strong protest.  There is no answer to this enigma but simple religious trust for the shallow multitude and movement to another level by mystical experience for the serious seekers.  In the first case there is the hope that in a God-governed world all is arranged for the best, while in the second there is the overwhelming feeling that it is so.  The philosopher is also possessed of hope and feeling but, venturing into a wider area, adds knowledge.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 26.1.47)

And, “The World-Idea contains the pattern, intention, direction, and purpose of the cosmos in a single unified thought of the World-Mind.  Human understanding is too cramped and too finite to comprehend how this miraculous simultaneity is possible.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 26.1.87)

The third term PB developed is the ‘Overself,’ which is his term for the Higher Self, Soul, or Âtman.  It is a literal translation of Adhyâtma.  For PB, the Overself is many things: at its most exalted it is in eternal union with Mind Alone and in eternal dialogue with World-Mind, and at its most personal, it is present as ‘the God within us’ of whom we can become aware during meditation and in life.  The living, conscious human being is the child and student of the Overself, sent forth to evolve, learn, and create in the great field of Creation that the World-Mind provides.  Throughout our lives, the Overself is ever present as our inner light, guide, and protector.  A ray of the Overself is in all of us all the time; when we turn our hearts and minds towards it and it alone, we can follow that ray first into a Glimpse, then into the Witness-I (sâks:in), and thence into the first phase of Enlightenment, when one “makes Real” the relationship (but not identity) between the Overself and Mind Alone.

Here are three quotes from PB’s Notebooks about the Overself:

“Nothing could be nearer to a man than the Overself for it is the source of our lives, minds, and our feeling.  Nothing could be farther from him, nevertheless, for it eludes all his familiar instruments of experience and awareness.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 22.3.184)

“There is a godlike thing within us which theology calls the spirit and which, because it is also a portion of the higher power within the universe, I call the Overself.  He is wise indeed who takes it as his truest guide and makes it his protective guardian.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 22.3.235)

“It is a fallacy to think that this displacement of the lower self brings about its complete substitution by the infinite and absolute Deity.  This fallacy is an ancient and common one in mystical circles and leads to fantastic declarations of self-deification.  If the lower self is displaced, it is not destroyed.  It lives on but in strict subordination to the higher one, the Overself, the divine soul of man; and it is this latter, not the divine world-principle, which is the true displacing element.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 25.2.198)

The two final terms, Mentalism and Philosophy, are the two basic fields of study and practice through which we can become attuned to the Overself, World-Mind, and Mind.  Mentalism is PB’s unique approach to the problem of the knowledge of truth (also known as ‘epistemology’), while he describes Philosophy as a balanced integration of all phases of Consciousness.  PB, along with many others, patiently teaches us that the problem of how we know the truth of anything is no mere scholarly flourish, but is fundamental to our process of self-discovery, our presence in the world, and our preparation for mystical practices.  Similarly, he points out that we need to have a clear idea of what we expect of his philosophy if we are to pursue it, for even our earliest steps can take us nearer or farther away from its doors.

PB says the following of Mentalism: “Because I am a conscious being I am aware of physical sensations and mental thoughts; but the consciousness which enables such awareness to exist itself existed before sensation and before thought, and this is as true of newborn babies as it is of dying adults.  This is what the materialistic anatomist dissecting the body fails to perceive.  This is the forgotten self of the fabled ten persons crossing a river in Indian mythology, and this is the great secret which mentalism unveils for us.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 21.2.175)

And of Philosophy: “It may be asked why I insist on using the word “philosophy” as a self-sufficient name without prefixing it by some descriptive term or person’s name when it has held different meanings in different centuries, or been associated with different points of view ranging from the most materialistic to the most spiritualist.  The question is well asked, although the answer may not be quite satisfactory.  I do so because I want to restore this word to its ancient dignity.  I want it used for the highest kind of insight into the Truth of things, which means into the Truth of the unique Reality.  I want the philosopher to be equated with the sage, the man who not only knows this Truth, has this insight, and experiences this Reality in meditation, but also, although in a modified form, in action amid the world’s turmoil.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton 20.1.127)

As PB says, Mentalism teaches us that the world around us and in us and we ourselves are naught but Universal Mind, and that individual minds work in concert to generate experience, perception, and even life itself.  This is not a doctrine of illusion, for PB tells us that to labor for lifetimes only to return exactly from whence we came is both a waste and an untruth.  There are real lessons, skills, and experiences to be had here in this life and in this world that contribute to the spiritual journey of all humankind.  Our only error is believing these experiences to be based in matter, to be ‘other’ and ‘objective,’ as existing in some pre-sentient world while living in un-blissful ignorance of our own true Self.  PB corrects these beliefs and painstakingly guides us to the eminently rational—and accessible—understanding that we are neither inside or outside the world, that the body is a merely a sensual structure within the mind, and that the ‘gap’ between mysticism and science is as thin as a single word.  Once it is seen for the truth that it is, the fundamental teaching of Mentalism smooths the way to deepening meditation, clarifying the practical value of ethical practice and the essential importance of metaphysical understanding.

The engagement with philosophy comes quickly on the heels of the realization of Mentalism.  When meditation, right action, and metaphysical understanding are all combined, they give birth to Philosophy, as PB uses this hoary term.  Perhaps the simplest definition of Philosophy is a balanced integration of all phases of Consciousness.  PB, along with many others, patiently teaches us that the problem of how we know the truth of anything is no mere scholarly flourish, but is fundamental to our process of self-discovery, our presence in the world, and our preparation for mystical practices.  Similarly, he points out that we need to have a clear idea of what we expect of his philosophy if we are to pursue it, for even our earliest steps can take us nearer or farther away from its doors.

Philosophy is the pinnacle and purpose of human existence, itself culminating in the state of enlightenment sometimes called Sahaja—or “Liberated in Life.”  The Philosopher is at once fully alive to the beauty, politics, suffering and multi-tiered evolution of humankind; the Philosopher is centered in his Higher Self—the Overself—in dialogue with the World-Mind, and awakened to Mind Alone.  Balancing this world and the beyond, the human and the impersonal, detachment and compassion, the Philosopher is the exemplar for all who encounter him or her in whatever context he or she is to be found.  PB himself became such a Philosopher in the course of his long and adventurous life, so we have in him the perfect union of the ideal and the realization—not of The Perfect Man (perish the thought!) but of an Original Human, begun at last to journey henceforward through Eternity, illuminating the stars amongst which he wanders, and ever enriching his own Wisdom.

Anyone inclined towards a traditional path will benefit from spending time studying these teachings, as they will truly deepen one’s appreciation of the subtler meanings found along one’s own path, and stimulate reflection on the variety of teachings available to us all.  While PB himself encouraged a broad study of the teachers, teachings, and cultures of the world, he also acknowledged that his own writings contain a complete path in themselves, so in the end, we are invited to think (and choose) for ourselves.  For those who are drawn to an eclectic practice, a thorough study of the Notebooks of Paul Brunton will provide them with all the tools needed for a daily—and lifelong—practice of spiritual seeking.

Overview of Merrell-Wolff’s life and philosophy

Biographical Sketch of Franklin Merrell-Wolff

I recommend the most honorable kind of life that you can live: In all human relationships to cultivate the attitude that the end is the triumph of good; not my good, but good as such. -Franklin Merrell-Wolff, 1983


Franklin F. Wolff was an American mystic, philosopher, and mathematician who combined an extraordinary intellect with profound mystical insight and authenticity. Born in 1887 in Pasadena, California, he was raised in San Fernando as the son of a Methodist minister. Wolff graduated from Stanford University in 1911 with a major in mathematics and minors in philosophy and psychology. He then went on to Harvard graduate school to study philosophy, where he was particularly influenced by the study of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. As a result of his philosophical studies, Wolff “became convinced of the probable existence of a transcendent mode of consciousness that could not be comprehended within the limits of our ordinary forms of knowledge.” Prior to completing his degree at Harvard, he returned to Stanford to teach mathematics. When it became clear to him that he must “reach beyond anything contained within the academic circles of the West” to Realize Transcendental Consciousness, he left his promising career in academia to engage in a spiritual quest. When he married Sarah Merrell, they joined their surnames to symbolize their partnership in a shared spiritual work.

Wolff’s twenty years of seeking included deep engagements within the theosophical, Sufi, and Hindu traditions. In the later part of his quest, Wolff was drawn to the philosophical works of the Indian sage Shankara, who founded the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. It was while in deep contemplation of the teachings of Shankara that, in 1936, Wolff’s efforts culminated in two Transcendental Realizations which provided the foundation for his philosophy. While the first Realization confirmed the perspective of Shankara’s philosophy, the second Realization was unexpected and opened Wolff’s philosophical view beyond his understanding of Advaita Vedanta. His books Pathways Through To Space and The Philosophy of Consciousness Without An Object provide a detailed record of Wolff’s realizations and a lucid philosophical description of Transcendental Consciousness. Wolff’s long life was spent writing, lecturing, teaching, and working the land. He spent his retirement years at the foothills of the eastern Sierra Nevada near Lone Pine, California and died there in 1985 at the age of 98.


Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s Realizations

Wolff grounds his philosophy in his Realizations, and not in mere rational speculation. In his written report of his mystical unfoldment, Wolff identifies three premonitory recognitions and two fundamental, or transcendental, Recognitions.


First Premonitory Recognition: “I am Atman”


Wolff’s first premonitory recognition took place in 1922, approximately 14 years prior to his transcendental breakthroughs. Wolff describes this first recognition as a noetic insight into the truth of “I am Atman”. The term “Atman” is a Sanskrit term that Wolff uses to refer to the transcendental subject to consciousness. Just prior to this insight, Wolff had been engaged in the practice of discrimination of subject (Atman) and object (world). This practice of discrimination is fundamental to the teachings of Shankara, the founder of the Advaita Vedanta school of nondual philosophy. The purpose of this practice is to effect a disidentification and detachment from the objects of consciousness, and a realization of identity with pure subjectivity. Although Wolff previously had been intellectually convinced of the truth of the proposition “I am Atman”, this time he suddenly realized its truth at a deeper level than the intellect. Although this was only a veiled Realization, it nevertheless brought a sense of Light and Joy, and had persistent positive effects, such as a certain change in the base of thought, bringing clarity where there had previously been obscurity.


Second Premonitory Recognition: “I am Nirvana”

The second premonitory recognition took place in late 1935, approximately 9 months prior to the first fundamental breakthrough. Wolff describes this recognition as the realization that “I am Nirvana”. Prior to this noetic insight, his thought upon the subject of Nirvana had been involved in the confusion that Nirvana is a kind of other-world separate from the relative world of subject-object consciousness. While meditating upon Nirvana, however, it suddenly dawned on him that “I am Nirvana”, where “I” is understood here to mean the inner core of subjectivity. Like the Atman, Nirvana is never an object before consciousness. It is therefore identical with the subject to consciousness, or the true “I”. As with the first premonitory recognition, this insight was accompanied by a sense of Joy and Illumination within the relative consciousness, and had persistent effects. In addition, there was a sense of a Current with profound depth.


Third Premonitory Recognition: “Substantiality is inversely proportional to ponderability”

The third premonitory recognition took place in late July, 1936, about two weeks prior to the fundamental breakthrough. Prior to this insight, Wolff experienced certain logical difficulties reconciling Transcendent Being with the physical universe. These difficulties arise from the habit of regarding objects of consciousness, i.e., any appearance in consciousness that we can ponder or experience, as in some sense substantial. Although Wolff had a prior intellectual conviction that the Transcendent Being was more substantial, the intellectual idea alone had failed to have a powerful transformative effect on his consciousness. This third premonitory recognition, however, had a profound effect on his consciousness that served to clear the way for the fundamental breakthrough that would follow in a matter of days. Wolff expressed the insight with the following proposition: “Substantiality is inversely proportional to ponderability”, or “Reality is inversely proportional to appearance”. In other words, the degree of true substance or reality is the inverse or opposite of the degree of ponderability. Thus, concrete objects of experience, which have a high degree of ponderability, are the least substantial. Subtle or abstract objects of experience, on the other hand, which are less ponderable, partake of a higher degree of substantiality and reality. The effect of this insight upon Wolff was an acceptance of substantial reality where the senses reported emptiness, and a greater capacity to realize unreality, or merely dependent or derivative reality, in the material given through the senses. This insight brought about a more profound shift of identification with the transcendent supersensible reality, and a correspondingly profound detachment from the objects of consciousness. This shift was decisive in clearing the way for the fundamental realizations that were to follow.



First Fundamental Recognition: Realization of Self, Liberation

The first of Wolff’s two fundamental Realizations took place on August 6, 1936. In contrast with the prior insights, which retained objective elements in his own consciousness and thus fell short of genuine identification, the fundamental Realizations unequivocally transcended the subject-object or relative consciousness. Just prior to the first Realization, Wolff had been meditating upon the teachings of Shankara, particularly the discussion of Liberation. Upon meditative reflection, he realized that his efforts to attain Liberation involved a seeking after a subtle object of experience. But any new object of experience, no matter how subtle, was something other than the objectless transcendent consciousness. Thus, Liberation does not necessarily involve any new object of experience or change in the content of consciousness. To seek such a new object or experience, therefore, is a mistake. Genuine Realization, therefore, is a recognition of Nothing — but a Nothing that is absolutely Substantial and identical with the SELF. The result of this profound realization was the complete and instant cessation of expectation of having any new experience or relative form of knowledge arise. The light of consciousness then turned back upon itself, toward its source, and the pure Atman was realized as absolute fullness and as identical with himself. This Recognition was not an experience of any new content in consciousness, but a Re-Cognition of a Truth that is, was, and always will be. It is a nondual knowledge of identity that transcends space and time. Nevertheless, there were various effects experienced within the relative consciousness, that may be considered expressions of the Recognition. Because the Recognition is not the recognition of any particular effects or phenomena, they should not be confused with the Recognition itself. Some of the effects Wolff experienced were: (1) A shift in the base of reference in consciousness, transplanting the roots of identity from the relative to the transcendent, (2) a transformation of the meaning of self from a point-like principle opposed to objects of experience to a space-like identity with the entire field of consciousness and all its contents, (3) a sense of penetrating knowledge into the depths of reality, (4) a transcendence of space, time, and causality, (4) complete freedom and liberation from all bondage. Also experienced were qualities of joy, felicity, serenity, peace, and benevolence.

Second Fundamental Recognition: High Indifference, Equilibrium

Although Wolff’s first fundamental Realization was an unequivocal transcendence of the subject-object consciousness, for a period of approximately 33 days there remained certain unresolved tensions preventing it from being a full state of equilibrium. This tension consisted in the contrast in valuation between the superlative Joy, Peace, Rest, Freedom and Knowledge of the Transcendent and the emptiness of the relative world. There was a distinction between being bound to embodied consciousness and not being so bound, with a subtle attachment to being not bound. Counter-acting this subtle attachment, however, was Wolff’s prior acceptance of the bodhisattva vow, a commitment to the value of relative manifestation and embodiment, motivated by compassion for all sentient beings. With this motivation, Wolff resisted his strong inclination to retreat into the transcendent bliss of nirvanic consciousness. Instead, he sacrificed his strictly personal enjoyment of those transcendent values in order to maintain a relative embodiment and help liberate all sentient beings. This act of compassion and ultimate renunciation led to an unexpected second fundamental Recognition that resolved the residual tensions between the universe and nirvana. This Realization represented a complete Equilibrium, not only a relative equilibrium between objects, but also an ultimate Equilibrium between relative and absolute levels of consciousness. Because this realization does not give any more valuation to nirvana than to the universe, and recognizes no ultimate difference between the two, Wolff called it the High Indifference. It is the complete resolution of tension between all opposites, the complete transcendence of all distinctions, including the distinction between the transcendent and the relative. At this profoundly deep level of Recognition, all self-identity, both in the highest sense of the transcendental Self and the lower sense of the ego self, was no more. In Wolff’s words, “I was no more and God was no more, but only the ETERNAL which sustains all Gods and Selves.”


The Three Fundamentals of the Philosophy of Franklin Merrell-Wolff

Based on his fundamental Realizations, Wolff developed a transcendental philosophy which he distilled into three fundamental propositions. Wolff emphasizes that these propositions, like his philosophy as a whole, are conceptual symbols of an ineffable Reality. Moreover, Wolff acknowledges that the Realizations upon which his philosophy is based are not necessarily ultimate, and are authoritative only for Wolff and anyone who has had similar Realizations. Nevertheless, the philosophy has value for others who aspire to such Realization.


The three fundamentals of his philosophy are as follows.


  1. Consciousness is original, self-existent, and constitutive of all things.


Wolff’s term “Consciousness” here does not mean consciousness as opposed to unconsciousness. Nor does Wolff use the word “Consciousness” here as a consciousness involving any particular structure or mode of experience, such as the structure of intentionality, or the mode of our typical experience based on the distinction between subject and object. Rather, the meaning of the term “Consciousness” here is THAT which is the primordial ground and essential nature of all modes and forms of experience, both subjective and objective. In Wolff’s words,

The One, nonderivative Reality, is THAT which I have symbolized by ‘Consciousness-without-an-object.’ This is Root Consciousness, per se, to be distinguished from consciousness as content or as state, on the one hand, and from consciousness as an attribute of a Self or Atman, in any sense whatsoever. It is Consciousness of which nothing can be predicated in the privative sense save abstract Being. Upon It all else depends, while It remains self-existent.


Thus, Consciousness is primary, i.e., it is first, prior to everything. Not before or first in the sense of time or temporal sequence, but prior in the sense of not being secondary to or derivative from anything else. Hence, Consciousness is self-existent, i.e., it does not depend upon anything else for its being and is entirely self-sufficient and complete. In particular, Consciousness does not depend upon, and is not derivative from, matter, energy, or any other substance. On the contrary, all experience and all objects are derivative from Consciousness. Thus Consciousness is constitutive of all things, i.e., all things are, in their ultimate nature, nothing but this Primordial Consciousness itself.


  1. The Subject to Consciousness transcends the object of Consciousness.

To understand this philosophical proposition, we need to first clarify Wolff’s use of the terms subject and object. Our experience is normally conditioned or structured by the distinction between a subject to consciousness and objects of consciousness. The subject to consciousness is that which is aware of objects or appearances in consciousness. Objects of consciousness are distinct states or appearances in consciousness, ranging from the most concrete to the most subtle. A concrete object in consciousness might be a visual perception of a chair or a sensation of pain in our foot. More subtle objects are appearances in consciousness such as a thought or memory, an intuition about something, or a state of consciousness such as an experience of the world that is permeated by a subtle sense of bliss. It is important to note that the term “object” as used here by Wolff includes our thoughts, feelings, and other inner experiences. Such inner phenomena are still objects in consciousness just as much as outer phenomena are.


In contrast to objects in consciousness, the subject to consciousness is the principle or aspect of consciousness by which there is awareness of objects. Because an object cannot be reasonably said to be in consciousness if it is not an object of awareness, the existence of any object in consciousness necessarily implies a subject to consciousness. At the basis of our relative experience, therefore, is a distinction between subject and object. The second fundamental of the philosophy states that the subject transcends the object, i.e., that the subjective principle or aspect of consciousness is more fundamental to consciousness than the objective appearances in consciousness. This philosophical proposition derives from the insight that, on the one hand, the objective appearances of consciousness vanish in the transcendent nirvanic state of consciousness, while, on the other hand, the subjective principle of consciousness, i.e., the capacity of awareness, is common to both relative and transcendent levels of consciousness. The subjective principle is therefore transcendental, while the objective principle is not.


  1. There are three, not two, organs of knowledge: perception, conception, and introception.

The third fundamental of Wolff’s philosophy is an affirmation of a third way of knowing, or a third organ of knowledge. Secular philosophy in the west admits only two modes of knowledge: perception and conception. Perception includes all sensory knowledge we derive from seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. Conception includes all knowledge we derive from thought, memory, imagination, and the like. If we admit only these two forms of knowledge, then our knowledge of reality is forever limited to our hypothetical, conceptual speculations about what reality might be “behind” our perceptual appearances. If we are limited to conception and perception alone, any certain, categorical knowledge of reality and truth is not possible, and there is no rational way to understand the possibility of mystical realization or transcendental consciousness. The third fundamental, however, affirms the existence of a third way of knowing, which Wolff calls “introception”. The introceptive capacity is normally latent or partially latent, but can be activated partially or fully, through intentional effort, spontaneously or both. When activated, introception provides immediate, categorical knowledge that transcends the subject-object distinction, i.e., it is not a relational knowledge of something by something else, but a knowledge through identity in which there is only knowledge itself that includes and transcends both knower and known. The third fundamental, in short, affirms that, in addition to the capacity of perception and conception, there is also a capacity for transcendental knowledge.


Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s Aphorisms

In addition to using more traditional forms of philosophic expression, Wolff also expressed his Realization in the form of poetry and aphorisms. Regarding his Aphorisms, Wolff writes:

There are two lines of approach to, and employment of, the aphorisms. They may be regarded as seeds to be taken into the meditative state, in which case they will tend to arouse the essentially inexpressible Meaning and Realization which they symbolize. This we may call their mystical value. On the other hand, they may be regarded as primary indefinables upon which a systematic philosophy of the universe and its negation, Nirvana, may be developed. In this case, they may be viewed as a base of reference from which all thought and experience may be evaluated.

In the following aphorisms, Wolff uses the terms “Consciousness-without-an-object” to refer to “the Sole Reality upon which all objects and all selves depend and derive their existence” (aphorism 54).




(Excerpted from The Philosophy of Consciousness Without An Object by Franklin Merrell-Wolff, and reproduced here with the permission of Doroethy Leonard.)

  1. Consciousness-without-an-object is. •
  2. Before objects were, Consciousness-without-an-object is. •
  3. Though objects seem to exist, Consciousness-without-an-object is. •
  4. When objects vanish, yet remaining through all unaffected, Consciousness-without-an-object is. •
  5. Outside of Consciousness-without-an-object nothing is. •
  6. Within the bosom of Consciousness-without-an-object lies the power of awareness that projects objects. •
  7. When objects are projected, the power of awareness as subject is presupposed, yet Consciousness-without-an-object remains unchanged. •
  8. When consciousness of objects is born, then, likewise, consciousness of absence of objects arises. •
  9. Consciousness of objects is the Universe. •
  10. Consciousness of absence of objects is Nirvana. •
  11. Within Consciousness-without-an-object lie both the Universe and Nirvana, yet to Consciousness-without-an-object these two are the same. •
  12. Within Consciousness-without-an-object lies the seed of Time. •
  13. When awareness cognizes Time then knowledge of Timelessness is born. •
  14. To be aware of Time is to be aware of the Universe, and to be aware of the Universe is to be aware of Time. •
  15. To realize Timelessness is to attain Nirvana. •
  16. But for Consciousness-without-an-object there is no difference between Time and Timelessness. •
  17. Within Consciousness-without-an-object lies the seed of the world-containing Space. •
  18. When awareness cognizes the world-containing Space then knowledge of the Spatial Void is born. •
  19. To be aware of the world-containing Space is to be aware of the Universe of Objects. •
  20. To realize the Spatial Void is to awaken to Nirvanic Consciousness. •
  21. But for Consciousness-without-an-object there is no difference between the world-containing Space and the Spatial Void. •
  22. Within Consciousness-without-an-object lies the Seed of Law. •
  23. When consciousness of objects is born the Law is invoked as a Force tending ever toward Equilibrium. •
  24. All objects exist as tensions within Consciousness-without-an-object that tend ever to flow into their own complements or others. •
  25. The ultimate effect of the flow of all objects into their complements is mutual cancellation in complete Equilibrium. •
  26. Consciousness of the field of tensions is the Universe. •
  27. Consciousness of Equilibrium is Nirvana. •
  28. But for Consciousness-without-an-object there is neither tension nor Equilibrium. •
  29. The state of tensions is the state of ever-becoming. •
  30. Ever-becoming is endless-dying. •
  31. So the state of consciousness of objects is a state of ever-renewing promises that pass into death at the moment of fulfillment. •
  32. Thus when consciousness is attached to objects the agony of birth and death never ceases. •
  33. In the state of Equilibrium where birth cancels death the deathless Bliss of Nirvana is realized. •
  34. But Consciousness-without-an-object is neither agony nor bliss. •
  35. Out of the Great Void, which is Consciousness-without-an-object, the Universe is creatively projected. •
  36. The Universe as experienced is the created negation that ever resists. •
  37. The creative act is bliss, the resistance, unending pain. •
  38. Endless resistance is the Universe of experience, the agony of crucifixion. •
  39. Ceaseless creativeness is Nirvana, the Bliss beyond human conceiving. •
  40. But for Consciousness-without-an-object there is neither creativeness nor resistance. •
  41. Ever-becoming and ever-ceasing-to-be are endless action. •
  42. When ever-becoming cancels the ever-ceasing-to-be then Rest is realized. •
  43. Ceaseless action is the Universe. •
  44. Unending Rest is Nirvana. •
  45. But Consciousness-without-an-object is neither Action nor Rest. •
  46. When consciousness is attached to objects it is restricted through the forms imposed by the world-containing Space, by Time, and by Law. •
  47. When consciousness is disengaged from objects, Liberation from the forms of the world-containing Space, of Time, and of Law is attained. •
  48. Attachment to objects is consciousness bound within the Universe. •
  49. Liberation from such attachment is the State of unlimited Nirvanic Freedom. •
  50. But Consciousness-without-an-object is neither bondage nor freedom. •
  51. Consciousness-without-an-object may be symbolized by a SPACE that is unaffected by the presence or absence of objects, for which there is neither Time nor Timelessness, neither a world-containing Space nor a Spatial Void, neither Tension nor Equilibrium, neither Resistance nor Creativeness, neither Agony nor Bliss, neither Action nor Rest, and neither Restriction nor Freedom. •
  52. As the GREAT SPACE is not to be identified with the Universe, so neither is It to be identified with any Self. •
  53. The GREAT SPACE is not God, but the comprehender of all Gods, as well as of all lesser creatures. •
  54. The GREAT SPACE, or Consciousness-without-an-object, is the Sole Reality upon which all objects and all selves depend and derive their existence. •
  55. The GREAT SPACE comprehends both the Path of the Universe and the Path of Nirvana. •
  56. Beside the GREAT SPACE there is none other.