Tag Archives: metaphysics

How would you like to start a religion?

In Alain de Botton’s recent book; Religion for Atheists, the School of Life philosopher argues the benefits of religious thinking. He points out that the shared values in humanist philosophy and religion are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the structures and traditions of each may be useful in creating a society that we can all agree is good and moral, regardless of their personal God (or lack of one).

Big Think – Alain de Botton “Religion for Atheists”

Those with brilliant acumen for realizing the essential effects of religious and spiritual thinking, as well as skeptical and critical thinking, should use every tool to navigate an otherwise trapped society ruled by charlatan plutarchs and snake-oil salesmen.

Tim Mawson has argued that atheists need to pray in an open-ended fashion, at the very least as a personal experiment to falsify the possibility of one’s own spiritual pantheon. Or is this a dubious step down the path to belief, activating and placating the God delusion parts of the brain? Or can a sufficiently intelligent brain maintain the divisions between outwardly-seeming contradictory systems of thought? Though Richard Dawkins would ask ‘what’s the point?’, many others ask ‘what’s the harm?’

Or as Kadam Morten (teacher in the New Kadampa tradition of Buddhism) explains, the neuro and cognitive sciences have shown an increasing benefit to the sustained practice of meditation, which can permanently change the structure of the brain and improve attentional capacity. Buddhists belief in the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things – a kind of unified theory of everything, and that all of reality is a distortion, which is echoed in the disconnect we know exists between physical reality, our sense organs, and the brain that illusorily compartmentalizes our experiences. Morten reminds us that the human capacity for love, compassion, peace, apology, happiness and joy all live in the brain, and can be understood through the lens of both spirituality or scientific discovery.

Since we all seem to be wired for belief, whatever the survival mechanism that brought us to this point, these instincts have clearly had a massive impact on religion, art, society, ethics and emotion. And while the corroborative neural pathways in humans and other animals can tell us a lot about brain evolution, the more subjective questions of emotion may always be beyond our grasp. How could we ever fully understand what emotion an animal is feeling, or even apply the human words we’ve developed with our own electrochemical impulses? But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be more informed, more literate, in our empathic roles as researchers and investigators and thinkers.

Some of these questions are (as yet) unfalsifiable, which makes them useless to science, but not necessarily to our growth and adaptability as humans. Provided there is no conflict with the current model of scientific knowledge, the Canon, then perhaps the ever-evolving systems of religious and spiritual thinking in our history can also build into a productive model of social utility.

But reconciling the physical world of hard science and metaphysical speculation is nothing new, and the brain is certainly capable of maintaining multiple worldviews.

When Einstein referred to his God, he was referring to Spinoza’s God. Indeed, when Richard Dawkins denies God, he refers implicitly to the God of traditional theology, and not Spinoza’s being of infinite attributes… or being itself. In so doing, the Big Bang can be the creation myth, empirical discovery becomes our theology, the laws of physics our forms of magick, and the Heat Death of the Universe becomes analogous to the Eschaton.

The Philosopher’s Zone – Beth Lord “Spinoza’s God”

This is not to say that science is based on belief, that creationism is in any way equitable to evolution, that quantum physics can by extrapolated on the macro-scale to justify mystical flim-flam, or that energized memory crystals can infuse the power of intention to transform reality into the magical alternate version you desire. Some things are simply false notions.

Atheists are still the most hated and distrusted group in America, despite being on average just as moral and law-abiding as any random religious adherent (and certainly more than some I could mention). Reason and philosophy have different aims from religion, the extent to which these various factors rule our lives and interact and cooperate with each other partly determining the kind of person we will be.

Theists do battle with atheists, atheists fight right back, many religions disenfranchise or discriminate against others, while some atheists belittle agnostics and others whose beliefs and opinions differ from their own.

The false dichotomy has it that people on the right behave and believe irrationally, and that those on the left are amoral heathens. But what if all parties involved transcended their petty differences to find those sticking similarities? How could we organize our communities, nations, and minds in such ways as to accept the verifiable truths found in science, and the infinitely complex beings we believe keep us thinking, going, doing, feeling, and helping?

Lest we forget that our great American experiment was started by a group of deists, who believed in a necessary first cause but were otherwise largely agnostic regarding the idea of an interventionist Creator. They believed that intellectual pursuit, discourse, and hard work were what built a nation, not an affinity to ghosts and clouds. True, while many of the groups that came to America to escape religious persecution and indoctrination were more puritanical, many others rightly splintered from them. Splitters.

Even Scientology, which is only fifty-eight years old and is largely regarded as a cult of science-fiction quackery, has spawned a reform movement of former members now disillusioned by the Church, but still firm believers in the metaphysical benefits they receive through their form of worship:

Marty was given intensive auditing, carried out lengthy meditation exercises, and at one point during a “communication drill” in which he had to silently stare into a counsellor’s eyes for an hour, underwent what he calls an “out-of-body” experience. “I literally exteriorised from my body,” he says. “It was incredible. It changed everything.”

The tools of science reveal that meditation alters brain-wave states, ritual belief and thinking change the dosage of electro-chemical impulses, and fasting raises the user’s perceptional awareness and focus. All this without the drama of a a bullying god, danger of fraud such as dying in a sweat lodge under some nincompoop new age guru, myopic prejudice rendered by dogmatic interpretations, or tithing your savings to a theocorporate entity.

Perhaps a truly superintelligent being (AI, extraterrestrial, extradimensional, god-like, or ourselves in the near future) would need to explore an infinitely rich tapestry of realities involving scientific discovery, spiritual self-reflection, psychoanalysis and even experimental psychedelic use.

“It has to do with your own intelligence. Truly stupid people aren’t interested in psychedelics because they can’t figure out what the point of it is. It feeds off intelligence. It’s a consciousness-expanding drug. If you don’t have any consciousness you can’t expand it.”

-Terence McKenna

And while an extreme intelligence would be largely unpredictable, given that its parameters for growth and survival would be very different than our mortal comprehension, it is useful to note that no strategy or resource would go ignored or unconsidered. It should go without saying, but often goes unnoticed, that a diverse set experiences, techniques and modalities for thinking will yield a more well-rounded, intellectual individual with wider options and resources for problem solving and deep reflection. We may even reach a point in our development towards super-intelligence that allows us to induce analytical or spiritual thinking, psychedelic or profound experiences all at will, depending on what suits our present needs.

Science is still the greatest tool we have for discovering the truth about the physical world, and neuroscience may bring us answers in the coming centuries concerning our elusive and dated conceptions of consciousness and self.

But epistemology and metaphysics aside, the most pressing and useful marriage of these techniques and schools of thought could further the higher order ethics usually found in humanist philosophies, and in the desire utilitarianism of Alonzo Fyfe, as “the idea that morality involves using praise and condemnation to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and to inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires.” This empirical system defines ‘general good‘, which can be either true or false, and the more specific ‘moral good‘:

“A good desire is a desire that tends to fulfill other desires. A bad desire is a desire that tends to thwart other desires.”

It uses relational values in such a way to determine a moral realism and not a moral relativism, in the same way that, say, distance can be both relative and definitely quantifiable at the same time. This would seem to result in a society that pursues civil libertarian values that do not adversely affect the lives of others, while rejecting both the individual subjectivism of psychotics and narcissists, and any desires based on fictional precepts such as neo-conservatism or fundamentalist dogma. In other words, such a system of ethics avoids the dangers of both populist and oligarchical power-mongering based on false notions. It, like other rational forms of philosophy and political science, would allow religious followers to worship as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This would seem simple and American enough, and perhaps such a reasonable approach may one day replace the heated rhetoric and violent passion of theocratic conflict.

Conversations From the Pale Blue Dot – Alonzo Fyfe “Desire Utilitarianism”

In the realm of the secular sciences, peace is already being wedged into the Middle East, with cooperative endeavors such as SESAME, or Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications, which has been bringing together physicists from Israel and Egypt and Jordan, and perhaps eventually Iran.

Culture codes, languages and biases cannot be changed overnight. But perhaps the ongoing reformation (of art, science, philosophy, and religion) can utilize these ideas to bridge the gaps in these disparate fields. As we can see, they all have vital importance to operating minds, and we need only to overcome the contrived conflicts that have arisen through ignorance, but that may otherwise doom us with their obstinacy.

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Stop the train and let me off!

Every day of my life as long as I can remember, I have pictured myself as a hundred other things besides a man; a superman, a sea turtle, a bird, an ape, a demigod, a snail, a plastic bag, a volcano.

I fantasize that God or some other space alien will lift me up and unify me with the energy of the cosmos, or else smash me into an unrecognizable paste with their giant fist-from-the-sky. Either way, I wouldn’t have to deal with the minutiae.

I wish that I had never learned what wishing was. No I don’t. Yes I do.

But an immortal man would have no more chance of understanding the world or himself than a stillborn baby. So here’s to equality.

I asked an old man once, while helping him fill out an online application, what I should put down for his skills and whatnot. He replied with clear pronunciation, “Well sir, I am what you would call, ‘a lazy man.'” Even though I hated him, I wish everyone would be as honest as him, and by that I mean I wish everyone would say exactly what he did.

People suck. Mostly the white ones. There’s not enough hatred against whites, if you ask me. But its not as if anybody will do anything about it. The winning teams were decided long ago.

The difference between luck and chance is the letters that are used, and thus, their placement in the dictionary.

The difference between success and banality is the same distance between a supermarket and a natural history museum.

You’re born, you live, you die. Like the frothing effervescent sea foam of a pounding rushing wave, which exists but an instant, only to be replaced later by a near facsimile. It’s silly to want to do anything else but that, or even complain about the circumstances in-between. It makes for very predictable literature, or a very boring board game.

There’s a reason there that the heavy waves of the ocean are considered revitalizing and new to the fragile human spirit. Doesn’t anybody else wonder and worry about the fact that a body can trouble themselves over the supernatural (sometimes egregious) effects of a rainstorm one day, and smile at the uplifting stupor of a full rainbow the next?

A lot of people have no regard for ‘tomorrow’. They seem foolish because a storm could wipe out their home the same day they lose their job. Those people who have great consideration for ‘tomorrow’ wisely organize their piles into geometric stacks that will one day be the forgotten detritus of a long-extinct smoking cinder.

Everywhere are roots sticking out of the ground, and throngs of immobile people, and fences, and ‘No Trespassing’ signs, and public transportation, and little spiky balls of vegetable matter stuck in your footwear. But the reality is you can’t escape your own skull, the contents of which conspire against you far more than any other real or imagined forces of the universe.

I used to laugh at people with ridiculous phobias, as I am not afraid of clowns, or needles, or spiders, or dentists, or dogs, or what other relatively harmless things my friends are. That is, until I realized that I am afraid of perhaps that most fantastic and intangible construction of human evolution: falling in love.

I don’t believe I could take the time to get to know somebody as well as I know myself. I don’t know myself all that well.

Some people take drugs to stop them from thinking so much. Others take drugs so that they’ll think even harder. Society is a drug that does both simultaneously.

I can feel my thoughts and opinions and beliefs and wishes and aspirations and dreams sloshing around in my brain. I feel their weight. As though tilting my head back and forth would let them ooze warmly from my inner ear canal with a loud ‘POP’ and puddle into a pillow cover which I would then throw away and forget about.

When I try to force myself to think, I get sleepy. When I try to stop myself thinking, I get a headache. Either way I need to lie down.

If I ever do get depressed, it seems to be during those transcendental moments of beauty that defy all attempts at description. I involuntarily enter a trance-state as if in some drunken mind-frame, but wholly different from any drug. Thoughts overtake me, in what should be a happy or religious experience, but somehow induced from another place, like spoken in tongues, or finding something you thought you threw away long ago, or suddenly realizing you’re at the place you were supposed to be, but you don’t feel at all the way you anticipated. Disoriented, thinking of your position to the world all wrong once confronted by its image, then inexplicably angry at nobody. What an odd coincidence.

I’m grateful for plenty of things, but perpetually devoid of any ideas on how to express it appropriately.

If I ran away from ‘it all’ and changed my name or stole somebody’s, sure, the scenery might be better, but there would still be all the bullshit. It smells the same everywhere.

My most foolish fantasy has never been contemplating suicide. That is, I never think about it seriously enough to be considered ‘contemplation.’ Certainly not more than the average person, I suppose. Just as every heterosexual has the stray homosexual thought, but with such infrequency and frivolity that one can’t seriously self-identify as gay, let alone act upon it. So when somebody steps in front of oncoming traffic to end their life, it astounds me that they would want to reduce all the petty problems in their life into one massive immediate one. Though, to their credit, if they are killed they can’t be said to have any problems at all. But I always think, ‘if they aren’t killed, just seriously injured, they’ve increased their share of problems to work with tenfold.’ No. My most foolish fantasy is that I imagine stepping into oncoming traffic, surviving, and being somebody else’s problem. Maybe somebody attractive.

But I’m not depressed or tortured. That would be just another excuse to disrupt a disturbing train of thought, and I think its best to see the train to its destination, no matter how annoying. The trains are never on time, always end up at the wrong place with the wrong passengers aboard, with squealing wheels sparking against steel at an uncontrollable rate of speed, the driver having jumped off long ago. So far, there’s been no crash, but that’s almost worse.

No artist is tortured any more than any other thinking individual. Torture is what religion and the CIA perpetrate upon dissidents, or what some fetishists do for loads of money. But I repeat myself.

I don’t know what’s more upsetting, that the universe doesn’t care what I do, or that I don’t.

Not that I really have any problems or complaints, mind you. Just the typical ones that we all have, from the starving third-world villager to the multi-billionaire CEO. Wait. Scratch that.

It troubles me very deeply and very often that I am just like everybody else on the planet, and nobody is just like me.