Radical Idealism

“As above, so below… But like unto another manner.” -Alchemical maxim

I. Those who speculate the existence of universals, and how those universals relate to particulars, engage in an active dualism, somehow pitting the collective against the individual, heaven against earth, subject against object. I suggest that perhaps the true state of affairs is otherwise.

I propose to argue for Radical Idealism – the existence of a single substance, often called “mind,” which resolves the duality and can account for both particulars and universals. If you remove the inherent dichotomies in everyone from Plato to Quine, you end up with what?… Unity? But how can this unity exist when the existence of any single individual, much less the unending multitudes of individuals we daily perceive, refutes the existence of unity?

For as long as humanity has existed, mystics of all stripes have denied the subject/object division, even though it seems counter-intuitive to many. Usually, this unitary cosmology was ensconced within a religious context that precluded the majority of humanity. But as science has continued its own path of evolution, current empirical science in the guise of quantum mechanics offers us a cosmology of a unitary nature – or a “Holotropic Universe1,” as mind researcher Stanislav Grof coins it. To me, this smells suspiciously of that ancient mystic recognition: that the whole is contained within the part.

Having affirmed the essential unity of reality, the next question is: what is that one substance? The traditional answer is God. Other names have been The Unmoved Mover (not Aristotle’s), Brahma, Tao, the Ain… A more recent name is Holomovement (D. Bohm in Grof, p.9).

But what is this unity of which we are supposedly a part? Is there only matter, with mind being some subtle form of matter? Or is there only mind, which solidifies into matter?

If the table and I are essentially one, what is it that we have in common that makes us a unity, despite the appearance of separateness? Matter? Perceptions? Mystics and quantum scientists have offered various views, a few of which we shall explore.

But, ultimately, this may be unanswerable at our present state of development. For the sake of argument, I shall argue that the only substance in existence is mind or consciousness, but I could have chosen matter equally effectively.

“God and microbe are the same system, the only difference is in the number of centers.” (G.I. Gurdjeiff, p.209)

II Octaves of Reality

So, how am I, my coffee table and God all one unity? Medieval Jewish mysticism (known as Kabalah) holds that there are “worlds within worlds” – in other words, interpenetrating layers of reality, something like holographic nesting dolls. For the purpose of this enquiry, I shall posit only the four traditional layers of existence, although greater minds than mine have hypothesized more ambitious and far-reaching distinctions and conclusions. These octaves of existence (or experience) are a synthesis of ancient and modern theories, which more or less conform to the accepted traditional models.

a) The Physical Octave - External Reality

Berkeley argued brilliantly that to exist is to perceive or to be perceived (Principles, I,3; p.66). According to this line of reasoning, being is relative – contingent upon the existence of other perceivers. Ideas cannot exist without someone perceiving them. Physical objects are complexes of perception and ideas. Objects have constancy, in Berkeley’s idealism, because they are either actively or potentially perceived. That is, the table exists because I or someone else might see it. But in the absence of me (or anyone else) having seen it, the table continues to exist outside my (or anyone else’s) range of perception because some mind (God) is still perceiving it.

At this point, I part company with Brother Berkeley, as he still admits of an objective reality, which can only be known subjectively, through our senses. To be perceived, in Berkeley’s account, is to be an idea within a mind. His view, then, posits the existence of at least two substances: mind and ideas. A radical theory of unity denies that more than one substance exists. It denies any split between inner and outer, subject and object. Yet, how do I account for this seemingly counter-intuitive claim?

The physical level is the lowest octave (or outermost circle) of manifestation, being constructed of the densest forms of cosmic substance, or Universal Mind.

By density, what is referred to here is like unto a wave frequency (or more poetically, a cosmic musical note), as the physically manifesting multiverse is held to be the lowest rate of mental activity (or vibration). The term density, therefore, is not a strictly defining attribute, but rather is an attempt at describing inertial movements of mind at the lowest (and slowest) octave of consciousness.

Following the wave model, it is possible for many different levels to co-exist and interpenetrate simultaneously. These interpenetrating mind-waves (for lack of a better word) are in constant contact with one another, their interactions generating that level of awareness, which we usually label as physical existence. The physical level is only the lowest that we are consciously aware of – for all we know, there may be even lower scales of existence occupying the same time-space continuum with us that are below our ability to register, even with advanced technological aids. This level also includes the concrete mind, as well as all varieties of thought pertaining to physical existence.

Just as physics is having to redefine itself in the light of its discoveries, so is every field of human inquiry being redefined to accommodate the implications of relativity and uncertainty.

“The exploration of the microworld soon revealed that the universe of everyday life, which appears to us to be composed of solid, discrete objects is actually a complex web of unified events and relationships. Within this new context, consciousness does not just passively reflect the objective material world; it plays an active role in creating reality.” ( Grof, p. 6)

Thus, matter is dependent on mind for its form. But I go even further and say that only mind exists. Therefore, matter gets both its form and its existence from mind (or consciousness), just as music is both sound and vibration. So, if both the form and the being are of the same substance (mind), then it seems reasonable to say that mind and matter are equivalently of the same substance, thus denying substance dualism from the likes of Descartes. The faster and more complex the mind-waves, the higher the level of consciousness.

b) The Psychological Octave – Inner Reality

Just as physical manifestation is part of the cosmic continuum, so also is the Psychological Octave part and parcel of the whole, and can be understood as existing closest to the Physical. This is the level where the mind-waves are complex and of sufficient momentum to produce self-awareness, such as personal, subjective experiences (read: humans). But there is also a universal aspect of this level of existence. A good example of the sharing of inner reality is found in the works of C. G. Jung’s theories of the Collective Unconscious and Archetypes.

Jung hypothesized that all humanity shares not only a subliminal co-awareness (which accounts for phenomena such as synchronicity & ESP, amongst others), but also a shared lexicon of symbols called archetypes. Some might even go so far as to claim that Jung’s archetypes are the psychological octave’s equivalent of universals. But such speculation is not within the limited scope of this article.

In the psychological octave, active imagination and emotion, as well as beliefs, contribute to shape the shared perceptions of “reality.” The vibratory rate is just beyond the pale of physical perception, being experienced subjectively. This realm also traditionally contains the lower abstract mind.

c) The Spiritual Octave – Cosmic Reality

The spiritual level relates to the higher abstract mind and metahuman consciousnesses in which humanity participates, such as planetary, solar and galactic consciousness) It is in this nexus of consciousness from which true prophets, mystics and founders of religions arise, as well as from what level the miraculous is accomplished. Like the other octaves of being, the cosmic reality intermingles and influences all other levels of being. It stands between the human range of experience and the Absolute. It’s vibratory rate is only felt subjectively by those blessed few, but all lower levels are heavily impacted by the swift, highly complex movements of these dynamos of mind on unconscious and mass levels.

d) The Metaprogrammic2 Octave – Ultimate Reality

This octave of being is both the deepest and the most ineffable. It has been variably called: the Tao, the Ain (Negative Veils of Existence) or the Holy Spirit. It is the immediate awareness and presence of infinity, the Ultimate Experiencer, Brahma. The metaprogrammic level of reality is beyond the direct experience of human senses, yet all of existence is contingent upon the existence and consciousness of this center of all being. It has been likened to the silence that underlies the celestial music that we call creation.

This has been an attempt to describe a theoretical continuum of being and consciousness that permeates and connects the whole universe. The positing of the four interactive layers of being accounts for the existence of universals and particulars, as all mind-waves interpenetrate and cooperate. The intermixing of all these layers of reality into a rich, meaningful, cohesive whole suggests that what we perceive may not always be an accurate reflection of “true” reality. In this paradigm, “reality” is not some fixed external object.

For example, the table is not other than me – it is a part of me and I am a part of the table. Both the table’s existence and my own are contingent on the existence of everything else – just as everything else that exist is contingent on the existence of both me and the table.

Thus, empirical science no longer holds any stronger claim than any other system of belief.

“We ultimately come to the realization that all perceptions and knowledge – including scientific work – are not objective reconstructions of reality; instead, they are creative activities comparable to artistic expressions. We cannot measure true reality; in fact, the very essence of reality is its immeasurablity.” (Grof, p.10)

III Particulars

In a dualistic paradigm one must account for individual identity as distinct from universals. But Radical Idealism as described here, does not equate individuality with bundles of attributes. Attributes and properties are accidental to the individuality, which is grounded in essence. A round, wooden table and a rectangular glass table are both tables, but the physical properties of each are contingent on a single instantiation of the whole. Each and every part is necessary to the existence of the whole. Attributes and properties confirm individuality, but they don’t by any means create it.

This Radical Idealist position shares some features of the nominalist position of Substratum Theory, in which individuals with shared attributes are accounted for by the positing of a substrata underlying the existence of each individual. In Absolute Idealism, the whole (interpenetrating realities and all) functions as the substratum of the separate identities of identical objects.

Just as in music, every note, every nuance is necessary to the complete whole. It is how each of the notes’ vibrations balance and reflect each other which creates the mood of the music. The whiteness of a piece of chalk, for instance, is white by virtue of the fact that its mind-waves-stuff vibrates at the level of awareness that our human awareness registers as “whiteness” or “chalkiness.” The seeming attributes of the chalk are not intrinsic to its being, but are more likely artifacts of our perception. The true being of the chalk is not what it appears to be to limited human senses, just as the true being of humans are not limited merely to our visible physical bodies. Just as human minds contains thoughts and ideas mostly hidden from other human minds, so does the chalk contain an awareness of self that we are not able to access subjectively. It is this awareness of “chalkiness” which the chalk contains what humans interpret as white, cylindrical, etc.

What are perceived as attributes are the distinct vibratory rates given off by specific complexes of frequencies of mind-waves. The uniqueness of the piece of chalk is found in its awareness (as low and rudimentary as that may seem to us). Awareness is created at the intersection of mind-waves. The faster and more complex the wave pattern becomes, the higher the level of self-awareness. Yet, all these many levels of mind vibrations are all just aspects of a single whole, which is always in contact (directly or subliminally) with all-that-is.

As individuality is contained within (and is not the effect of external reality), there is no need for any elaborate theory to account for separate particulars. All seemingly separate particulars are grounded in the existence of everything else, in an interconnecting web of being. The question of identity is one of ontology, for to understand all as mind, immediately, the question arises, “whose mind?” The easy answer, of course, is God.

IV. Universals – The Holotropic Universe

As we saw before, universals exist as a shared consciousness, coined by psychoanalyst C.G. Jung as the “Collective Unconscious,” peopled by “Archetypes.” Thus, Qualities (Properties) and Kinds are subliminally shared ideas, much like Jung’s archetypes are subliminally shared ideas. As all the layers of reality are intermixed, every aspect of the whole contains the pattern of everything within it.

Physicist David Bohm hypothesizes that the reality which we perceive is only a small fraction of the whole of reality. Bohm calls what small amount our senses reveal the “Explicate” order of reality. The larger remaining unperceived reality he calls the “Implicate” order. The Implicate order is the matrix from which the explicate order arises – much as a hologram emerges from the combination of holographic film and coherent light. And, like a hologram, the grand design is imprinted throughout the being of the film, so any portion of it presents a picture of the whole. Thus, the Implicate order of reality is not directly perceivable. Ultimately, the vastness and richness of the Implicate reality confounds our ability to describe the experience of infinity (Grof, p. 9 – 10)

As all existence is but the interactions of individualized aspects of a greater, organic whole, relations are of utmost importance. It is each consciousness’ relationship to its neighbors and to the whole, which combines with consciousness to cement the separate identity that originated in the whole. For consciousness on the human level, it is the positing of location within space/time which brings separate entities into relationship in the Explicate order.

V. Objections and Responses

1)The first obvious objection to Radical Idealism is the lack of empirical or intuitive evidence to support it.

Although I believe I answered this charge in the body of the essay, my first response is to point to the works of those scientists already noted, who hold to this same (or a very similar) view. They come from several different disciplines, ranging from Quantum Physics (David Bohm), to Neurophysiology (John Lilly) to Psychology (Stanislav Grof). The fact that these researchers all reached the same conclusion through the pursuit of their own respective fields seems rather compelling.

My second response is that the subliminal subject/object bonding of the nature of the multiplicity of interlaced realities prevents us from ever hoping to obtain any “purely objective” evidence of anything.

As for the charge of being counter-intuitive, I reply by asking if this is really so? After all, every world religion teaches Radical Idealism in some form or another. Any good mystic worth his salt would tell you the same thing. And so would that purple-haired pierced and tattooed punk raver hanging out on Campus Corner.

2) Another possible objection to this position is that it implies a religious context, as the Cosmic Holographic Whole looks a lot like a deist God.

Nonsense and Poppycock I retort!

Obviously, both Grof and Bohm don’t think it is contingent on religion. Nor do Lilly or Leary. Now, if you have a taste for some Religion Sauce on your personal reality, feel free to pile it on. C.G. Jung and Journalist Gary Zukav both use religious metaphors to share certain thoughts and insights. Countless mystics have discovered deeper levels of being through prayer and meditation, such as Martin Buber and Yogananda. And, as for equating the whole with God, I say, if the shoe fits… But I deny a deist God, in the sense that the abolition of the subject/object distinction makes God much more interactive.

3) If everything exists in essential unity, how can anything maintain an individual identity? If I am only a molecule in God’s toenail, how come I still experience myself in the singular? And, of course, what about Free Will?

I repeat my refrain: the fusion of subject and object prevents the dissolution of identity in the whole. Each aspect is a part of the whole and is integral to the composition of the whole. The whole cannot exist without every one of its parts. Thus, consciousness (as the only existing substance) is conserved, though it’s precepts, maxims and archetypes can and will change form.

As far as the question of Free Will goes, I assert that Radical Idealism is an affirmation of Free Will. It is only by Free Will that we continually partake in and shape the reality we perceive through our beliefs and desires. It could not come to pass that an individual wills something that is perceived to be at odds with the will of the whole. Again, the subject/object fusion chimes in here.

If there is no difference between subject and object, there can be no conflict between subject and object. Therefore, any perception of an individual will in conflict with the collective will must be a misperception – like an optical illusion that resolves once you change your point of reference. Could we perceive the Implicate order of reality, I am sure many such paradoxes would be solved.

4) Finally, if everything is mind and consciousness, what are thoughts? Isn’t that another substance?

No. Thoughts are also consciousness, but of a very different order.Thoughts and concepts as we experience them, have their own evolutions, using human minds as the medium of their growth – through sharing a thought, it is increased in strength and complexity. Daniel Dennett offers a nightmarish view of a parasitic evolution of concepts in his discussion of infestations of memes (units of cultural transmission) (Dennett, p. 203- 207). There are limitless universes and infinite entities within us, which we have little to no conscious knowledge of. But deep within, we know….

VI. Conclusion

In this article, I have outlined and defended a position of Radical Idealism. By dissolving the subject/object distinction, I have posited the existence of one substance: Mind. Within this one substance of infinite densities and varieties there exists multiple interpenetrating orders of being, roughly analogous to interpenetrating wave patterns. I described four possible orders of being, and how their interaction creates Implicate and Explicate orders of reality.

A single substance theory eliminates the need for those messy nominalist accounts of identity and attributes. According to Ockham’s Razor, the simplest theory is most likely to be right.

Well, you can’t get any simpler than One.


1 Grof defines the term ‘Holotropic’ as a “radically expanded model of the human psyche” which includes the study of non-ordinary states of consciousness and quantum mechanics. (Grof, p.20)

2 This term comes from the works of neurophysicist John Lilly. It refers to the capacity to observe and simultaneously control multiple – in this case, infinite – programs. I choose this term for lack of a better one, as many common terms carry unintended religious or emotional charges.


Berkeley, George Principles of Human Knowledge/ Three DialoguesLondon, New York, Australia, Toronto, New Zealand. Penguin Books 1988

Buber, Martin I and ThouNew York City, New York, MacMillan Publishing Co. 1987

Dennett, Daniel Consciousness ExplainedLondon, New York, Australia, Toronto, New Zealand. Penguin Books 1991

Fortune, Dion The Mystical QuabbalahYork Beach, Maine. Samuel Weiser 1935

Grof, Stanislav The Holotropic MindNew York. Harper Publishing Co. 1993

Gurdjieff, G.I. Views From the Real WorldNew York. E.P. Dutton 1975

Leary, Timothy The Game of LifePhoenix, AZ. New Falcon Publications 1993

Lilly, John The Deep SelfNew York City, New York. Warner Books 1977

Zukav, Gary The Seat of the SoulNew York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore. Simon & Schuster 1990

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