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Notes on “Looking at Kastrup”

November 15, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have been following the debate/feud between scientists Bernardo Kastrup, Robin Carhart-Harris, and Enzo Tagliazucchi that centers around the interpretation of brain research in psychedelics. At issue is the fine distinction between whether psychedelic states have been seen to be correlated with increased or decreased ‘brain activity’.  A decrease in brain activity would seem to support an Idealist view of consciousness while an increase in activity could give support for the materialist consensus.

In this great article, Playing with Razors… Looking at Kastrup , Q4LT gets into the details. While everyone involved is well aware that ‘increased brain activity’ is too broad of a term for deep understanding, I support Kastrup’s effort to clarify that the kind of activity that has been observed to increase is not consistent with the materialist assumption of conscious experience that is confabulated by an electrochemical phenomenon that is local to the tissue of the brain. Here are my thoughts. (Read the article and watch the videos!).

“The big conundrum at hand is as follows… gamma waves have been observed to coincide with enhanced problem solving and neuronal binding. This would seem to be an important correlation in terms of interpreting brain wave data generated by EEG. Faster oscillatory activity appears to coincide with increased processing potential.”

I can think of a reason why the “Higher pitched” gamma brain activity waves could be correlated with psychedelic/mystical experience without directly accounting for them. My conjecture is that these gamma frequency EM signatures correlate not to the florid aesthetic-semantic content of the experience, but to the intensity of them as they are localized into the personal scope of awareness. In other words, I think the gamma may not be the water coming out of the firehose of the psychedelic experience, but the buffering and caching of the experience of trying to drink from that firehose.

Just as a high pitched sound is heard as highly localized within the ear itself, high pitched brain waves might be localized to the aspects of conscious experience which are most public facing. The gamma buffering/caching might be more of a symptom of rapid and thrilling integration and organization of insights into the existing intellectual-ego framework than the expanded content of personal awareness into transpersonal states. These symptoms would be the inflection point where insights which are potentially useful to the life of the embodied personality, as opposed to the full manifestation of the experience.

“Q4LT’s perspective is that everything that is currently measurable is material.”
This seems like a very loaded proposition. Certainly science is almost synonymous with measurement in one sense, however, given that the nature of psychedelic and dream states often present aesthetic content without the tractable, waking sense of countability/measurement, we should consider the possibility that if we focus only on what can be measured with tangible instruments (extending the body into physical contact with other tangible structures), we may be looking in the wrong direction. We may be ‘drinking our own bathwater’ and begging the question of physicalism by elevating the status of physicality-tangibility from the outset.
“However, we don’t particularly enjoy taking the stance that “consciousness is everything so the details of physicality are all secondary noises that aren’t all that interesting or important”.
I completely agree, which is why I’m a Multisense Realist rather than an Idealist.
““Consciousness” is a tricky topic but our perception of it is that the closest physically measurable layer to better understand the complexity of consciousness has to do with electricity and magnetism. This is why we weren’t completely in agreement with the Kastrup/Kelly stance that blood flow changes via fMRI provided definitive proof of a counter argument against materialism.”

I agree here too about electricity and magnetism, and I have proposed that we should try looking at EM as primordial sensory-motive signaling schemas rather than blind force-field mechanisms. I suggest that EM wave/particles are not literally present in empty space, but rather they are a (slightly misguided or inverted) modeling of deeper perceptual-participatory phenomena. Electromagnetism may not be, in my view, non-stufflike-stuff-traveling-through-spacetime, but rather symptoms of the spatio-temporalizing of non-local experience into local scopes or framings.*

I think that Kastrup/Kelly are justified in wanting to make it clear that in layman’s terms, things that expand consciousness don’t make your brain ‘work harder’ in general. There is a pressing need to communicate this general insight to science writers and their audiences, so that psychedelic research, and consciousness research in general, can be understood as valid and important. It seems like it is now time to begin to spread the understanding that what has been observed about psychedelic states is that they do not suggest a physical organ working hard to produce physiological effects within the tissue itself, but rather a more subtle, quiet level of molecular activity against a background of decreasing overall blood flow/’brain activity’, especially in the regions most active during waking consciousness.

This would, for better or worse, open the door to a view in which the brain is grounded in a context that is larger than subjectivity, but not larger than consciousness-in-general. Psychedelics may, in fact, facilitate access to genuinely transpersonal, non-local experiences rather than mere ‘hallucinations in the head’. This could help recontextualize religious and spiritual views, psi, NDEs, etc as (flawed/folk) intimations of an eternal and pervasive source of subjective consciousness, rather than as an isolated, and all too mortal collection of ephemeral experiences.

*Plato’s ‘moving image of eternity’ might be seen in a more modern light, with electromagnetism as a language governing Lorentz-like, Holos-graphing transformations between public, frames of entanglement and private frames of contextuality. (See quantum entanglement vs quantum contextuality research). We may be looking at quantum mechanics and electromagnetism all wrong; as external phenomena in the physical universe, when they may, in fact, be the modulation of phenomenalization and physicalization from a deeper spectrum which transcends tangible and intangible appearences.


I sent a draft of this post to QLT4, and he had this to say:

“It’s good except this part… “we should consider the possibility that if we focus only on what can be measured with tangible instruments (extending the body into physical contact with other tangible structures), we may be looking in the wrong direction”.

I’m not looking in any direction in particular. Only wherever instruments that measure layers that correlate somehow with the conscious experience in an effort to better understand emotion and thought from a mechanistic perspective.
It’s obvious theres much more to life but if we are to discuss the results of scientific experiments we must immerse ourselves within this framework to a high degree. Scientific discussion is based on what is measurable… that is the focus of Q4LT. Philosophers are free to postulate outside of the scope of what is measurable. It is a different domain than what we are interested in.
My response:
Thanks, that makes sense. I agree that we have to immerse ourselves within the scientific framework, and to exhaustively measure all that we can, but what I was trying to get to is that there seems to be a specific property of anti-measure that correlates positively with the depth/purity of conscious experience. When I say that we may be looking in the wrong direction, I mean it more in a literal sense of say, trying to find our identity by adding more and smaller fingers to our hands. It may be that our most valuable tools will be things like etymology and transpersonal psychology (when correlated with measurements).
  1. November 16, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    There is some more commentary on this at this link:


    I have a comment on there about questioning what they were really measuring. This LZ complexity might just be measuring noise.

    For that matter, I am not really sure what “expand consciousness” means in this discussion. And this is coming from some one who has had a good bit of experience with psychedelics.

    I also can’t understand what Kastrup et al are complaining about. Whether there is more or less activity in the brain wouldn’t seem to be a concern if, as is his view, all brain activity is in consciousness anyway. However, consciousness “chose” to represent the experience in brain activity wouldn’t really seem to be of importance.Why would brain activity mean anything unless it is in part generated by something more or in addition to consciousness? And if that is the case, then his whole thesis falls apart.

    I also have some questions about the methodology in this experiment. I don’t know why they added ketamine to psilocybin and LSD. It seems like a different type of chemical, often termed a “dissociative”, which bolsters my argument about noise. Also, the doses seem very low for the hallucinogens but I could be wrong about that if injections are considerably more potent than oral. Also, there seemed to be a long wait time between injection of the LSD and measurement of brain activity.

    Bottom line is that I don’t see this study answering anything.

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