The linguistic con game of the 'mind/matter duality'

By Bernardo Kastrup

‘Parallel Worlds,’ by Selene’s Art. Copyright by Selene’s Art

I have recently been accused of proposing a metaphysics that simply replaces one form of reductionism with another: instead of reducing everything to matter, I allegedly ‘reduce’ everything to mind, the supposed polar opposite of matter. Underlying this accusation is the notion that ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ are dual concepts or polar opposites at the same level of abstraction, so that a reduction to either of them is seen as equally abstract. The suggestion is that there is a higher, truer, more enlightened point-of-view that precedes both mind and matter ontologically, and from which we can contemplate both mind and matter as a lower-level duality or polarity. As such, I allegedly fail to bring us any closer to that ‘higher point-of-view,’ instead replacing one abstraction with another.

If this is what you think, you’ve fallen for a linguistic con game; one that, unfortunately, plagues most of our culture. Mind and matter are not a true duality; and they aren’t polar opposites. Since the time of Aristotle we’ve known that we must be careful about identifying true contradictory pairs, lest we incur in major logical errors. A very similar rationale applies here. Mind is not at the same level of abstraction as matter. As a matter of fact, mind is not an abstraction at all. Only matter is.

Before we continue, let me state precisely what I mean by ‘mind.’ I use the word ‘mind’ in exactly the same way that I use the word ‘consciousness’: mind/consciousness is that whose excitations are subjective experiences. Whatever mind/consciousness may intrinsically be, its patterns of excitation are our subjective experiences, which in turn are our entire reality. My use of this definition is not an attempt to be peculiar: it’s simply a recognition that there is no universally-accepted definition of mind and consciousness out there, so I have to be precise regarding what I mean. From this point on, I will use only the word ‘mind.’

Since all we can ever know are our subjective experiences, matter – as something that supposedly exists outside all experience – is an abstraction of and in mind. We infer that matter exists outside mind, but even that inference is an experience that arises and exists within mind. Mind is what exists before we start theorizing, abstracting, or conceptualizing anything, including the very notions of reduction, duality and polarity. When one states that mind and matter form a duality, or a polarity, the statement itself arises and exists in one’s mind as a subjective experience. One cannot step out of one’s own mind and look upon it as a mere abstraction. Where would one be ‘looking from’ if not from one’s own mind? Do you see what I mean?

All of our abstractions arise from and within our mind, the ground of our being. Therefore, it is obviously a fallacy to say that matter and mind are dual concepts or polar opposites. Matter is an abstraction of mind. We can never transcend mind so to see it as a member of a lower-level dual pair, for mind – whatever it may intrinsically be – is what we are before we begin conceptualizing reality. To say that mind and matter form a polarity is like saying that ripples are the polar opposite of the water where they ripple. It makes no sense. Polarities are valid only between different kinds of ripples – say, ripples that flow to the right versus ripples that flow to the left – not between ripples and the medium where they ripple. And since mind is the ‘medium’ of the experiences we call matter, there cannot be a duality between matter – ‘ripples’ of mind – and mind either. Matter isn’t independent of mind.

The illusion of a duality or a polarity between mind and matter arises purely from language. It’s a linguistic con game. In order to speak of the very ‘medium’ of subjective experience, we must give it a name. We call it ‘mind,’ or ‘consciousness.’ Then, in order to speak of certain specific patterns of excitation of this ‘medium,’ we also give them names, like ‘matter.’ Finally, we lose ourselves in our own linguistic abstractions and end up thinking of ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ as polar opposites. We delude ourselves into believing that we, the agents conceiving of polarities and dualities, are somehow different from ‘mind;’ that we can look at mind from the outside. We can’t. Mind is what we are. It refers to our identity, not to one of our abstractions. It’s the ‘medium’ of experience, not a type of experience.

When people implicitly assume that somehow there is a ‘higher point-of-view’ from which to contemplate the alleged mind/matter duality or polarity, they are abstracting away from their own nature. You are mind and you can’t step away from what you are in order to see a true mind/matter duality/polarity. There is no such ‘higher point-of-view,’ just linguistic confusion that gets us lost in the forest of our own conceptual abstractions. When I say that all reality is patterns of excitations of mind, I am not ‘reducing’ the universe to an abstract concept – such as matter – but simply acknowledging the very ground of being.

Closing remark: in non-duality circles, the word ‘mind’ is usually taken to mean ‘thoughts’ or ‘intellect.’ As such, one could say that reducing reality to ‘mind,’ in this particular sense, amounts to reducing reality to intellectual conceptualizations. This, indeed, is just as bad as reducing reality to matter, which is itself an abstract concept. So please remember that, above, as well as in all my work, I use the word ‘mind’ as a synonym for what in non-duality circles is called ‘consciousness.’ This is more consistent with the terminology of Western philosophy.
This article was originally published here.

Continue reading

Related Content


Holotropic States of Consciousness: Technologies of the Sacred

Dec 18, 2018

A pre-recorded 4-part Video Series with Stanislav Grof


Oct 21–25, 2015
Hayes Mansion, San Jose California

Compassionate Inquiry with Gabor Maté

Mar 3–8, 2019
1440 Multiversity, California

SAND19 Italy

Jul 2–8, 2019
Titignano Castle, Italy


Oct 22–26, 2014
Hayes Mansion, San Jose California