Magic and Miracle in a Time of Climate Breakdown
Myth, allegory, dreamed-up realities, morphic resonance: Part three in a series.
I will continue my reflections on whether (and how) “magic” and the “miraculous” might offer a path beyond the planetary “polycrisis” and ecological cataclysm we confront as a species. As I noted last time, I suspect this investigation offers a new direction for the future of humanity, if we take it seriously. Taking it seriously requires getting past knee-jerk rejections of the subject, as well as naive, superficial approaches (like all the variations on the common catchphrase, “You create your own reality”), to approach it with depth and nuance.
In Dreamed-up Reality, Bernardo Kastrup explores the idealist thesis that consciousness, not any form of material stuff, is the “ontological primitive,” the bedrock of reality. “The possibility that suggests itself is that, at the very bottom of the chain, there is just mind,” he writes. “The ultimate reduction step is not towards another thing, or another object, but towards elemental thought patterns, subjective by their very nature and externalized in the shared canvas of space-time just like a vivid dream is externalized in the private canvas of the psyche.” Kastrup proposes we are all dream-characters — temporarily dissociated “alters” of that primal source — in this collective dream that consciousness is exploring.
In More than Allegory, Kastrup proposes that analytic idealism allows us to understand the world, again, as a mythological artifact that speaks to us in the language of signs and symbols. We can interpret these symbols just as we can interpret the fragments of our dreams, and glean insights from them. What he posits is akin to the ancient, alchemical worldview, which recognized everything as linked through the Anima Mundi, the soul of the animate world.
This also matches the animist philosophies of many indigenous people, who understand the world and nature as a “book” made of signs to interact with and interpret. As an example, for the Kogi in Colombia, if a butterfly lands on your foot, it might be a message telling you that your uncle has gotten sick in a different town. They believe, if you develop proper attunement, you can learn to read these signs accurately. Their system of divination is not simply a fantasy; it “works” and has efficacy for them.
However, Kastrup notes in Dreamed-up Reality, even if the universe is woven out of consciousness and is, actually, consciousness temporarily projected into material form (just as the waves and foam spewing across the surface of the ocean seem distinct but are made of the same substance as the ocean itself), we still do not have the ability, sadly, to simply imagine or dream our tangible, quotidian world into a new and different form.
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