Functional programming for Syntheism and Snaz

I saw a meme recently labelling selfie-sticks “Narcissistick” as though taking photos of yourself is the definition of narcissism. Really, the definition of narcissism is quite the opposite: imagining that your thoughts or actions have any meaning in isolation. I have been doing lots of verbal sharing recently, talking up my exploits and promoting my attentional value in Homer, but I have been neglecting the digital space, and notably, the Syntheism blog. So it’s time to share!

My primary focus now is creating an event-based social media platform: a digital bulletin board for displaying digital posters. I call the platform Snaz. My highest priority for Snaz is its accessibility and design. It absolutely must be a user experience so clean and beautiful that it can become ubiquitous. In order to build Snaz, I have been studying a functional programming language called Haskell. I have been studying Haskell for longer than I have known about Syntheism, and ever since I discovered The Syntheist Movement I have felt that it could be connected with the functional programming community in a philosophically meaningful way. With this blog post, I aim to establish that connection.

Snaz: event-based social media

I live in the small town of Homer, Alaska where, despite the town’s size, there is always something going on. Homer sits on the north side of Kachemak bay and overlooks mountains and glaciers on the south side. The natural beauty of the area attracts people with a wide variety of interests who put on all kinds of events year-round. The trouble is, it’s hard to know what’s happening on any given day or night. There are too many different tools for promoting events, and they are used by different groups of people. Older community members still largely rely on the local paper’s community calendar, but younger folks don’t. Facebook is fairly widely used by my peers, but I have plenty of friends who are not on Facebook or don’t use it much. Lots of people, myself included, use cellular text messaging for managing their social outings. Some events are announced on the radio, but different folks listen to different radio stations, if at all. Event promotion in Homer absolutely requires putting up posters on local bulletin boards and talking to people face to face.

This is why a digital bulletin board is such a pressing need. The sources of information are too many and too disparate. The task of advertising effectively and boosting participation and attendance is overwhelming and daunting. The need for a central, user-friendly platform for promoting and locating events in Homer is evident. This need is by no means unique to Homer, and I am only launching it here because this is where I have the most social ties.

I first became aware of this informational void when I was studying math at University of Puget Sound (UPS) in Tacoma, Washington. Even the university website had no central digital space that effectively promoted campus events. The walls of every heavily-trafficked stairwell were covered in posters, and posters were my primary source of what’s-going-on info. I have been thinking about digital bulletin boards with increasing intensity since then, imagining an entire social-media platform. I half-expected that someone else would come up with the same idea and build it before I had the chance, but I haven’t yet come across anything quite like my vision. Finally, I decided last year to genuinely pursue the goal of creating the platform I dream of. I am driven to build a social media platform centered around event promotion, and towards that end I have been studying Haskell.

If you know anything about web development you might be surprised at my choice of language. The languages that are hot in web development right now are Ruby, Python, and Javascript. But I didn’t choose a language to study based on what’s popular. Instead I chose Haskell because its coding philosophy fits with how I want to develop software. Most people I talk to haven’t heard of Haskell, but on the Internet there is a growing community of enthusiasts who are passionate about Haskell and want to bring it in to widespread use. Surrounding and intersecting with this community is an even larger community devoted to functional programming, which is the computer programming paradigm Haskell is built for.

Parrallel paradigms in philosophy and coding

In learning about Haskell I have discovered a whole world of intrigue surrounding programming language design. It turns out there are lots of ways to go about making a language humans can write and computers can read, and the approaches have been evolving rapidly over the last fifty years or so. The evolution of programming language design is approaching a paradigm shift that will have wide reaching effects on the Internet and digital technology as a whole. A while back there was a shift from procedural programming languages like C to object-oriented programming languages like C++ and Java. Object-oriented programming is currently the dominant paradigm in the industry. Within the next five years or so we will move in to functional programming being the dominant paradigm, and functional programming languages like Haskell will start to see wider use. Functional programming promises to offer faster, less buggy apps and websites, that can more easily handle growth and the addition of new features. But the importance of functional programming and its connection to Syntheism goes deeper than the superficial benefits of software performance.

Syntheism places itself at the forefront of Western philosophy by writing the information-technology history of thought. I would like do do the same thing for the functional programming paradigm by framing the history of computer programming in relation to the history of Western philosophy (at least as Bard and Soderqvist present it, since I myself have read very little of the Western philosophical canon). Computer programming can be thought of as an attempt to model thought, so it makes sense that the paradigm shifts in programming language design should reflect the history of Western thought. Just as information technology has forced Western philosophical thought through four paradigms, computing technology has forced the dominant approach to computer programming through four corresponding paradigm shifts. The computer programmer can be metaphorically associated with the metaphysical basis in each paradigm. Hence, the programmer is analogous to the ancestor in primitivism, God in feudalism, the individual in capitalism, and the network in attentionalism. The programmer is the source of thought, and hence the source of code, just as the metaphysical basis for philosophy is society’s source of meaning.

The first information-technology paradigm, primitivism, was brought about with spoken language, and was around for much longer than the time spanned by feudalism, capitalism, and informationalism. Likewise, mathematical proof-writing has been around for much longer than computers, and it should be regarded as the most primitive form of computer programming. Just as spoken language is communication that cannot be recorded, proofs are step-by-step calculations that cannot be tested by a machine. Hence it is the field of mathematics that is the primitive paradigm of computer programming. Primitivism’s metaphysical basis, the ancestor, fits nicely with mathematicians’ propensity to track academic lineages. Mathematicians inherit the terms with which they build their proofs from their academic predecessors; the bulk of a proof is the invocation of theorems proven by ancestral proof-writers. The validity of one mathematician’s work is dependent on the validity of her teacher’s work, and her teacher’s teacher before that, back through the history of mathematical proofs. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification of the history of mathematics and of the notion of a proof, but mathematics remains an apt metaphor for the primitive paradigm of computing precisely because mathematical research has been irrevocably transformed by computing technology.

With the invention of computers, the procedural programming paradigm was born, as feudalism began with the invention of writing. Procedural programming fits nicely with the theistic philosophies that were powerful under feudalism, because the programmer is focused on giving verb-based commands to the computer, much like God gives commands to pious believers. Procedural programming remained dominant until the advent of the personal computer and the need to continually develop and improve large software products over time. Asking a computer to do a few simple calculations is one thing, but working on an ongoing project requires reading code and editing the program. It turns out that reading a long list of verb-based commands doesn’t make it easy to understand what a program actually does. This resonates with how post-theistic philosophies reject theistic dogma and ritual: they are overly complex and seem to obscure the core value of religious practice. Despite the dominance of object-oriented programming, well-written procedural programs are still the fastest programs we can write, so devout programmers still learn C, just as devout religious practitioners forgo modern social mores to keep the commandments of traditional holy books.

Object-oriented programming can be associated with capitalism in historical as well as metaphorical ways, because object-oriented programming has been used to make personal computers, the pinnacle of hyper-capitalist technology. Software for personal computers is centrally developed but intended to be0 used by masses of individuals, making it sociologically akin to capitalism’s other technological favorites the printing press, radio, and television. Thus the computer programmer is no longer God; the programmer is the individual. Computer programs are not verb-based commands issued by an academic researcher in search of truth, they are descriptions of digital objects whose purpose is to make profit for some individual computer-user. Object-oriented programs seem analogous to totalistic philosophy’s attempts to break the universe into distinct, comprehensible ideas, as object-oriented programming divides a program’s functionality into distinct, comprehensible digital objects.

Unfortunately, object-oriented programming fails in its attempt to simplify through abstraction. There are two main reasons for this. First, it never really leaves behind the command-style of ‘imperative’ or procedural programming. Instead of giving commands directly to the processor, the programmer ends up giving commands to the objects. Secondly, which structure the program should take, i.e. which objects should have which functionality, is difficult to optimize before you start writing a program, but also difficult to alter after a first iteration has been coded.

The netocratic development of software demands code that is both easy to reason about and easy to radically alter and restructure to serve the constantly changing needs of the netocracy. This is what functional programming can offer, and this is why functional programming is the programming paradigm for attentionalism. Functional programming aims to be higher-level, modeling problems using pure math functions, and so it fits nicely with the eternalism’s pragmatism and the metaphysics of relationalism. Just as eternalism applies philosophical ideas pragmatically to produce contextually relevant truth without assigning meta-truth value to the applied ideas, functional programming directly applies abstract mathematical structures to the modeling of real world applications, but leaves the choice of structure entirely up to the programmer. Relationalism moves the focus from models of static subjects and objects to models of dynamic processes and relations, and in tandem functional programming shifts us from creating digital objects to codifying digital processes in mathematical structure.

Should Syntheists learn math?

What is mathematical structure exactly? As eternalists we cannot imagine the field of mathematics as the mystical blueprints for the universe, but rather as a language: eternalisations developed by elite networks, even if these networks largely believe themselves to be discovering rather than creating new math. Learning to speak the language of math gives a person the opportunity to enter in to these networks and participate in the creative process of making new math, or applying math in a new way to the task of modeling the chaotic universe. Under capitalism these math-creating networks were locked away in academia. With the Internet, now any network has access to an overwhelming amount of mathematical knowledge; anyone can learn to speak this language now. Many people express loathing and distaste for math, and still more imagine themselves incapable of ever learning math. Though many feel alienated by math and its jargon, math as a language is widely praised by those who speak it, myself included.

So the question is, should syntheists learn this language? Will the netocracy inevitably choose to become mathematically literate? Power has always kept math out of the hands of the powerless. Power is dependent on information technology, and development in science and technology has historically leaned heavily on math. Thus it seems reasonable that the most powerful netocrats will be mathematically literate and that the netocracy as a whole will value math more and more as it gains power.

I went to college because I was still stuck in a capitalist mentality coming out of high school, but I didn’t study math because I thought it would be useful for getting a job. I studied math because it is a language I love speaking, and I find math beautiful. I was applying the mantra, ‘follow your passion and you will fall in to your life purpose.’ I love tutoring math and teaching people to communicate using math. I have found that most of my task is convincing a student that she has the ability to figure it out and think critically about a problem. So many students want to fall in to the trap of self loathing where they imagine themselves incapable of doing math if they make the slightest error in mental calculation. They say, “I made a mistake so I must be bad at this,” and imagine themselves too stupid or lazy for math. Students become more adept at eliciting ‘the right answer’ from teachers, tutors, or other mathematical authority figures.

This narcissism is bred by the industrial style of math education that tells students math is about calculation, rather than communication and critical thinking, and that making errors is an indication that you are bad at math. Add on top of this a culture that rewards speed over correctness and you can see why so many math students get discouraged quickly. They are tested in isolation for their ability to quickly follow a memorized set of steps. But this is not how math is ever used in application. Engineers and scientists who use the jargon of math on a daily basis to converse with their colleagues about problems and projects. They are almost never sitting by themselves going through step-by-step calculations; that is the job of computers. Learning to communicate using math requires practice, patience, self-love, and a willingness to constantly reaffirm the most obvious and basic aspects of a problem’s definition. Making mental mistakes is a given for the mathematically literate. They do not carry a sense of infallibility because of math’s mystical status in our society. Instead, they have developed the skill of regularly checking themselves for errors in order to maintain precision. But this re-checking process is only possible of you don’t get down on yourself every time you make a small error. In other words, teaching math as communication rather than calculation presents one opportunity to help people move from narcissism to self-love.

Thus, for informational society, math education should be designed to teach students to use the language of math to communicate in groups about collaborative projects. Students can learn to forgive themselves for making mistakes while also learning to catch the mistakes of their peers without discouraging or putting them down. Is this doable? Of course! Tutoring math has taught me that anyone can learn math if they just believe they can, and convincing students they can do it is not that hard. If anyone can learn math, then any network can learn to use math. Moreover, the necessary cultural transition from a culture of inter-narcissism to a culture of self-love will go hand in hand with the development of a mathematically literate netocracy.

Functional programming in the age of informationalism

This finally brings us back to the question of how functional programming can successfully provide a programming paradigm suitable for informationalism. If math literacy can be imagined as a useful tool for an attention-seeking network, then functional programming comes right alongside math, because it uses the language of math to model computer software. Hence, with a little effort, a mathematically literate network will be able to transform itself into a software development team and begin experimenting with building new information technology. It is in the context of this mathematically literate network that we see how functional programming achieves the goals of having code that is both easy to understand and easy to restructure. Hence, the network is empowered to build its own technology as it likes in a way that capitalism’s individual never was.

Only very recently has the functional programming technology progressed to the point that these languages can realistically compete with mainstream languages. This means that we are at a critical moment in the history of the informational paradigm shift when a new form human expression has been made available to anyone with a computer and the time and motivation to learn it. Not only can humans express mathematical structures as we have for a few thousand years, but we now also have the power to codify those ideas in a language that machines can execute. In other words, we can finally mobilize our mathematical eternalizations.

The next frontier of philosophy is writing philosophy in computer code. I recently stumbled across the notion of ‘literate programming’, which suggests that a computer program ought to be thought of not primarily as something for a computer to execute, but rather as text for humans to read. The inverse should also be true: text that we have previously imagined to be primarily for reading by humans might be possible to consider as a program that a computer could execute. An immediate example is the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, which has spawned a branch of mathematics known as mereotopology. Certainly we can find syntheological interest in attempting to make computer programs based on this branch of mathematics.

But in the more immediate future, if Syntheism is about creating God in the intenet age, then we syntheists should take a more pronounced interest in the technology used to create the internet. The syntheist community should join forces with the functional programming community and help in the push to bring functional programming into the mainstream. We should encourage math literacy within our ranks by framing math as a fun activity to do with friends. After all, math is present in all kinds of games and art. We should also attempt to use some of the tools that are now available for functional web development for our blogging and our social media use. After all, Syntheism aims at being a radical removal, a stepping out of the capitalist paradigm; we should make plans to step out of Facebook and WordPress.

This brings me back to Snaz, the social-media platform that I want to create, or rather participate in the creation of. This meme has infected my brain and I am doing everything I can to catalyze the emergence of this new information technology. I strongly believe that event-based social-media is what Syntheism should use for networking. Facebook’s approach to the user’s profile belies its roots in the old capitalist paradigm. The fields for description define the individual based on capitalism’s measuring sticks of production and consumption: job, education, and which media you consume. On Snaz the profile will instead be a reflection of the dividuality of the user: a collage of posters representing a variety of events participated in or in the making.

This blog post is a call to action for the Syntheist community. Let’s embrace math literacy and functional programming and take this unique historical opportunity to begin for the first time to mobilize mathematical eternalisations. Let’s create a wide range of information technologies and begin experimenting with using them as organizational tools for our networks. Let’s seize the power that is now within our grasp.

illustration of clouds in the shape of question mark on sky background

The Science of Life Meaning

Have you ever felt like you go through the motions every day but it all seems meaningless? Did you know that you can use science to help you find a sense of life purpose? Wait, but science can’t answer life’s big questions – that’s the job of religious dogma, right? Well, a wave of recent research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and other disciplines has explored how we find meaning and purpose in life, with or without belief in a deity!

illustration of clouds in the shape of question mark on sky background

I wish I knew that when I was growing up. I struggled with gaining a sense of life meaning and purpose throughout my teenage years and young adulthood. I remember experiencing the sense of meaninglessness as an emptiness deep in the pit of my stomach.

This sense of life purpose is not a trivial matter. Recent research shows that people who feel that their life has meaning experience a substantially higher sense of wellbeing and even physical health. For example, Michael F. Steger, a psychologist and Director of the Laboratory for the Study of Meaning and Quality of Life at Colorado State University, found that many people gain a great deal of psychological benefit from understanding what their lives are about and how they fit within the world around them. His research demonstrates that people who have a sense of life meaning and purpose feel in general more happy as well as more satisfied on a daily level, and also feel less depressed, anxious, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

M+P, Blog 1 - Image of Eye Chart with Quote

According to Christian perspectives, the meaning and purpose of life is to be found only in a Christian God. An example of a prominent recent religious thinker is Karl Barth, one of the most important Protestant thinkers of modern times. In his The Epistle to the Romans, he calls modern people’s attention to God in Christ, where the true meaning and purpose of life must be found. Another example is The Purpose Driven Life (2002), a popular book written by Rick Warren, a Christian mega church leader.

But some thinkers disagree with the notion that a Christian God is the only way to find meaning and purpose in life. Jean-Paul Sartre, in his Existentialism and Human Emotions, advances the notions of “existentialism,” the philosophical perspective that all meaning and purpose originates from the individual. Another prominent thinker is Greg Epstein. In his Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, he advocates striving for dignity as a means of finding “meaning to life beyond God.” Likewise, Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist note in Syntheism: Creating God in an Internet Age that “Man is the meaning-generating animal constantly scanning his environment for patterns that indicate and keep confirming various causative links that engender a feeling of security. And if we do not find any such patterns, we don’t hesitate to quite simply invent them. With a utopia on the horizon, we give our lives a direction and a context. God is another name for utopia, and utopia is another name for God.”

Meaning of life - Thinking about religion, inside blog

Are they correct? Can we have meaning and purpose without belief in a Christian-style deity?

So what does research on this issue show? Apparently, the important thing is simply to gain a sense of life purpose and meaning: the source of the purpose itself is not so important. Religion can be one among many channels to help someone gain a sense of life meaning. The pioneer in this field, Victor Frankl, was a Viennese psychiatrist who lived through the Holocaust concentration camps. In his research and work, both in the camps and afterward in private practice, he found that the crucial thing for individuals surviving and thriving in life is to develop a personal sense of purpose and meaning, what he terms the “will-to-meaning.” There are many paths to do so. For example, Frankl helped people find purpose and meaning in life through helping others to remember their joys, sorrows, sacrifices, and blessings, and thereby bring to mind the meaningfulness of their lives as already lived. Frankl’s approach to psychotherapy came to be called logotherapy, and forms part of a broader therapeutic practice known as existential psychotherapy. This philosophically- informed therapy stems from the notion that internal tensions and conflicts stem from one’s confrontation with the challenges of the nature of life itself, and relate back to the notions brought up by Sartre and other existentialist philosophers.

2-1-2 - Meaning of Life (Facebook)

These findings fit well with my own research on secular societies. My desire to find a personal sense of meaning and purpose impelled me to pursue higher education and study how people in the Soviet Union, where my family came from, found purpose, happiness, and fun in life. The Soviet Union is typically perceived as a militaristic and grey society, with a government that oriented all of its efforts to taking over the world. Well, that’s simply not true, as the Soviet authorities put a lot of resources into providing its citizens with opportunities to find meaning and purpose in life, as well as fun and pleasure – although they also certainly wanted to spread communism throughout the world, and put a lot of efforts into this goal as well. To understand how the USSR’s government helped its citizens gain a greater sense of meaning and purpose, I spent over a decade investigating government reports in archives across the Soviet Union, exploring national and local newspapers, read memoirs and diaries, and interviewed over fifty former Soviet citizens. The answer: to a large extent, through government-sponsored community and cultural centers called kluby (clubs). These venues, and other ones such as discos, offered Soviet citizens social and community connections, chances for serving others, and places to reflect on meaning and purpose in life, the three crucial factors that research shows help us gain a personal sense of life purpose.

Present-day societies with a more secular orientation than the United States have similar stories to tell, as illustrated by research on contemporary Denmark and Sweden. Most Danes and Swedes do not worship any god. At the same time these countries score at the very top of the “happiness index,” have very low crime and corruption rates, great educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies. They have a wide variety of strong social institutions that provide community connections, opportunities for serving others, and other benefits that religion provides in the United States.

So where does this leave us? A Christian religion is only one among many ways of developing a personal sense of life meaning and greater sense of personal agency. Based on my research, I presented a videotaped workshop for anyone who wants to learn more on this topic, and also developed a free online course. Moreover, I wrote a book, Find Your Purpose Using Science, which combines an engaging narrative style, academic research, and stories from people’s everyday lives with exercises to help you discover your own sense of life purpose and meaning from a science-based perspective. These are part of our broader offerings at Intentional Insights, which aims to help us as reason-oriented people use scientific evidence to live better lives and achieve our goals. We are glad to join together and collaborate with the Syntheist movement, which offers a unique combination of religious symbolism and community without demanding belief in a really existing, Christian-style deity to help its members gain meaning and purpose, and plenty of other benefits, traditionally provided by religion.

Bio: Gleb Tsipursky, PhD, is the author of Find Your Purpose Using Science; Co-Founder and President at Intentional Insights, a nonprofit that empowers reason-oriented people to refine and reach their goals by providing research-based content to help improve thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns; finally, a professor at The Ohio State University. Get in touch with him at gleb@intentionalinsights.org

 

Androids do dream of electric sheep… And why it matters!

Photo credit: A strange carnival with automobile-animal hybrids. Michael Tyka/ Google

A strange carnival with automobile-animal hybrids. Michael Tyka/ Google

Researchers at Google have found a way to make their server computers create astonishingly beautiful images by feeding them information at different levels of their identification network. One of the more fascinating aspects is that the images look strangely similar to the fractalized visions in altered states of consciousness. In this essay, I speculate that this technology might be a first attempt at visually capturing experience in a cognitive system, thus giving a glimpse of a solution to the problem of qualia.

Here we have images, created by artificial intelligence (the Google server computers) as it is identifying asked for objects by searching within it’s own bank of information. The normal identification process of the server computers is that an image passes through several layers of artificial neural networks, dedicated to recognition of certain features. The lower levels of this network are dealing with rough contrasting structures like edges and corners. At intermediate-level layers, individual object-like features are interpreted like a door or a leaf. In the final layers the computer interprets “the bigger picture” giving an illustrated output of what is asked for (a picture of a house for example). However, the above image is the product of “turn[ing] the network upside down” and feeding arbitrary visual input through selected layers while asking the computer to recognize objects by it’s own interpretations.

Drawing upon the interpretations of the previous layers the computer outputs a subjective representation through feedback loops of certain important aspects of the identified object, elaborating recognized features through iteration. If some aspect of the asked for object looks like something else, it will generate more of it, and the higher up the neural chain the input is added, the more detailed the iteration and meaningful the elaboration. The end product is a surrealistic and dreamlike depiction made up by countless fractal patterns of various intermingled images from the server bank. Doesn’t it look kind of familiar? Kind of like something you would expect from a vivid dream or the closed eye visions in an intense psychedelic experience? I kind of think so. And apparently some other people think so too.

I argue that not only does it look similar, these images are created by the same kind of neural processing of information as the brain (even if in a very simplified way). In normal waking consciousness, we, as the computers operate at the lower levels of the neural system, feeding information “upward”. We identify the world around us by filtering out unnecessary information in favor of a coherent experience. In altered states of conscious – trance, dreams and psychedelic experiences – the brain overrides these lower-level layers by increasing entropy of the neural network. It tweaks the system, sending incoming information through novel pathways, giving rise to more free associative thinking and perception.

While it certainly can feel very otherworldly, the hallucinations in the psychedelic state are (probably) not visions of transcendent dimensions, but actual and immediate psychological responses to external and internal stimuli. Multi-sensory input mingling with memories of past experiences and future planing, neurons firing in all directions producing fantastic visions and experiences which are often presented in a fractalized fashion. Very much like “the dreams” of our artificial friends.

So here’s a bold suggestion. If we can perceive and experience it, and the machines (semi-) independently can replicate it by visual representations, this could mean that it is the first empirical evidence of mind and matter being of the same substance. That qualia is not a hidden dimension, but something that is actually manifest in the material world. These artificially created images suggests that we now can record and measure how associative cognitive networks create experiences by interpreting stimuli inputs. At least in the visual domain. It is important to note that what we are looking at is not just random noise interpreted by us as meaningful, but an output of a cognitive system finding meaningful interpretations in random noise. This process is not so different from that of a human artist, and the artificial renderings are as real a depiction of experience as any painting, and in a sense even more truthful.

In the case of the painter painting a painting, whether it is an image of a landscape or the surreal abstraction of a feeling, it is the experience of stimuli that has passed through the sensory modalities that is depicted on the canvas.  But, the painter is always limited by the human inability to accurately convey our conscious experience. Elapsed time and fading memories, change of context and limited artistic skills are all factors that skew the portrait of the original experience. However, one could argue that the act of painting in itself is a temporal event and the cognitive process a continuous flow of interaction. The experience is thus slowly manifesting itself in the layers of the painting. Still, it lacks the precision of a truthful depiction (and of course, this is often not even the intended purpose of most art).

The computers used for the artificial renderings are also producing their images in a self-updating continuous event. But unlike the human painter who is divorced from experience by space and time – also filtering out irrelevant information – the computer is accurately recording every instance of the process. But why is this different from that of any other recording device? The key difference between these artificially created images and those of an ordinary camera is that the images are the products of creation by meaningful interpretations rather than the arbitrary capture of photons. A still picture of a dog is nothing but random visual noise stuck on paper until a cognitive system interprets that picture as meaningful. It is the observer who creates the dog.

The higher the level of neural layers in charge of performing the interpretation of the sensory input, the more abstract the depiction. This corresponds with the information processing during normal vs. altered states of consciousness. Where normal consciousness have firm and solid renderings to optimize precision performance, the altered states invoke meaning in the details, overriding the usual cognitive filtering. The deeper one goes into the altered states, the higher the resolution of the details which in turn feeds back into the system and fosters further interpretations. At high doses of psychedelic drugs or very deep states of meditation, the level of abstraction reaches a peak where the comprehension of the experience breaks down. This process is reflected in the computer generated images produced by adding the input at the highest levels of the artificial neural layers.

Naturally, at this stage the correlation is mere speculation. But if we can assume that these images are an accurate depiction of the cognitive process of meaningful interpretation of stimuli; it is not so far fetched to assume that our brains work in a similar fashion, but more complex (adding a multitude of other sensory modalities). Thus, some instances of qualia can be captured and in this case, visually represented. And if something can represented it is measurable, and if it is measurable it exists within the world of matter. Sure, it is an analogous leap, we still can’t see what a pure biologically produced experience look/feel/taste like. However, more complex artificial intelligence is on the rise, and soon we might be able to record the same kind of cognitive processing of other artificially created sensory modalities like sound, smell or touch. One day, we might even be able to integrate these with virtual reality technologies – where we can share experiences as if they were our own. If this is a future possibility or pure fiction only time will tell. Either way, what the ability to record first hand experience is telling us, is that consciousness exists here, in this world and not in some far off transcendent dimension. Information is substance. The Word has become flesh.

Syntheism and the Holarchy

So I’ve been asked to write about Holacracy and it’s connection to Syntheism. But in my opinion that is not the right question. Holacracy, in my opinion is, a brand name. As is my own business which is called HNO.nu. Both are forks of the same program, which I affectionately call, the Holarchy.

Holarchy comes from Holon (Greek: ὅλον, holon neuter form of ὅλος, holos “whole”), and ἄρχω (arkho), meaning “to rule or to command”).The Holon is a term coined by Arthur Koestler and describes an entity that is similarly part of a whole and the whole itself. So in a Holarchy the whole is ruled by the whole. Which means all the people in an organization are simultaneously the purpose and part of the bigger purpose.

To understand what Holacracy does I recommend this article titled: Heres why you should care about Holacracy. Which explains the practical application of the Holarchy in great detail and shows a bit of the social change that is required to let it run.

“Responsive organizations aim to distribute authority and decision-making to all of their employees — even if it makes them less predictable and efficient in the short run. The goal is to increase their capacity to learn and respond to change by empowering more of them to do so.”

A Holarchy is a fundamental shift away from the Keynesian Command and Control structure, which is better known as a Hierarchy. It is a method that helps organizations grow in the same way nature grows it’s magnificent diversity of different organisms. That’s why Brian Robertson (the founder of Holacracy) calls it an evolutionary algorithm, as well as an operating system for organizations.

And it is within these two elements that the Holarchy and Syntheism meet.

As I see it, when our linear thinking became predominant in ‘western culture’ we started inventing machines that could help us with processing ‘linear stuff’.
Which of course culminated in the modern day Computer. And Computer has gotten increasingly better at doing our (to be crude) left brain operations. Of course the brain is far to intricate to be reduced to just a left and a right part but, for the sake of argument, lets say the left part of the brain is mainly associated with rational and linear thinking, and the right part is generally associated with creative and Rhizomatic thinking. (Which is, obviously, the opposite of linear thinking.)

So having made this distinction we can now go on by imagining that Computer has taken over most of the linear left-brainish thinking. And the big difference between humans and Computer is that the latter has no ego. By which no-ego means that Computer has no motivation to manipulate the flow of information.

Because of it’s absolute rationality the computer has figured out the optimal form of processing information. Which is something that we humans could never have achieved because the processing of information is what gives us power over others.

To explain that The GNU Foundation defines software as “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”. With this you can make the analogy that: if I have beer, you can not take my beer. But I’ll teach you to make your own beer. This is the whole point of all “free” software and open-source and the opposite of Control. Because in this analogy Control means: If you want my beer you will have to pay for it, because I will not tell you how to make it. Which in laymen terms is called a monopoly.

Which is the same control that institutionalized religion uses.
“Somewhere there is a god, and the only way to get to god is through me.” So the church has the monopoly on the way to god. Which is only to be understood from an ego perspective. And by ego this time we mean: The ‘I’ that identifies with objects. Which is a major flaw in societies throughout history. Right now it would sound something like this: “That is my car, it is part of my identity and status. So if you scratch my car you scratch me.”
Ego is tied to identity which, when tied to the external, has to find a unique position in society to experience a sense of importance. So the priest controls the-way-to-god and that gives him his status. If you know how to get to god without his ‘guidance’ he would lose his sense of meaning and purpose in society. This, by and large, is the turmoil we experience in society today. The old control system is losing it’s control to the new ‘Network Society’. But they will fight tooth and nail to keep it. Even though they can never win from entropy. By which I mean that everything in nature wants to go to it’s least structured state.

“Naturally control is impossible, because it is the opposite of nature which is inherently chaotic and complex.”

We who see the future realize that we don’t need anyone to get to god. But we need each other to get ahead.
We are not the center of the universe. We are human beings with very special capabilities. But in the end we are part of a very intricate and complex network of life. And that network of life is part of a bigger network. And it is this network that we recognize as God.

To respond to an earlier post, there is meaning to being part of this intricate network of God. Which, ultimately, is to be part of it and expand on it. In other words, which resonates throughout our human existence, we live to enjoy life and add beauty to it.

Our ‘Network Society’ is looking for more natural ways of living. Because it is becoming increasingly clear that the contemporary way of organizing ourselves is very unnatural. And if we don’t change we will cause so much damage that it might exterminate all human-life.

One of those changes is to copy the ego-less way of processing information that Computer shows us. And use it to organize ourselves in accord with nature and God. However you imagine it/her/he to be/not-be.

So What is the connection between Holarchy & Syntheism?
The Holarchy is a comprehensive and natural way of working together. It defines a clear and natural structure with which we organize ourselves. The method is like a game that we can play to find our place in any organization without the need for an ego identification with the external. That’s why we separate “role from soul”.

As ‘human gods’ we have created machines. And the machines invite us to look at ourselves and see our true place within creation. And the Holarchy is a method that has grown by doing just that. We are first people in society, and next to that we perform certain roles. The roles we have are, ultimately, the ones we choose to take. You are not your role, just like you are not your car. It is a mere tool in our endeavor to become more human. And right now, it seems that the best way to do that is to share part of our being with our creation.

So we have to become more like the machines we have built. Our rational mind has given us a perfect image of how we could be. Which means that we leave the rational and linear to the machines that can do it far better then us, which is Computer. And we start being what is left right. Which is to be connected to everything with our Rhizomatic creative right brain. Because that is the part that makes us unique. And it’s the part that can conceive the beauty that is abundance in our society.

Everyone can add 1 + 1,
but expressing yourself through creativity is what makes you a unique node in this great network we live in. And it is that same realization that Syntheism tries to invite us to.

Both The Holarchy and Syntheism show us that we are nodes in a network of many different nodes. Syntheism tries to give us a ‘spiritual’ story to cope with that fact and is thus ultimately subjective. The Holarchy is ruthlessly objective, a method with a rulebook that anyone can follow. But the rules are not there to hinder your progress. They are the game-rules with which we can organize in a truly equal way.

But to do that we will have to let go of a lot of programming; The Newtonian world view, that we are all particles who never connect, has to be updated to the idea of a network-universe. We are connected to everything and everyone. And the ego-anthropocentrical idea of human beings being separate from the network-world has to go. As does the idea that, to be somebody, you have to have a lot of stuff because that somehow makes you a ‘better person’. These things have to change. And working with Holarchy can help by making that change manageable. Because it is like a program, it sets you free to work with purpose and a sense of direction and belonging. It is not a way of controlling, it gives clear structure to cope with chaos. As does Syntheism.

On the problem of Envy

One important element of the human condition is our instinctive ability to participate in emotions. An emotion is an affective state experienced by a subject that lasts for at most a few minutes and functions as a signal to events in the surroundings of the body. It is how the subject understands the emotions that influence how it will act on these feelings. In my view, one function of syntheology should be, together with science, to deepen our understanding of the different emotions, that then can be manifested in practices.

Bodily map of simple (Upper) and complex emotions (Lower) associated with words.

Bodily map of simple (Upper) and complex emotions (Lower) associated with words.

Some emotions are more complex than others. The complexity is made evident by on the one hand the subject’s experience and, on the other hand, the body’s expression. According to Darwinian reasoning, the subject’s emotions have to be expressed to be shaped by evolution. The simple emotions are because of this distinct both in the experience and expressions. Fear is a great example of a simple emotion, which is different in experience and involves an apparent facial expression. On the other side of both spectrums, we have the complex emotions, that lack both a distinct experience and expression. Envy has the characteristics of complex emotion.

In short, nowhere does it appear more clearly that man’s desire finds it’s meaning in the desire of the other, not so much because the other holds the key to the object desired, as because the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other. – Jacques Lacan

The ability to relate to another is needed for envy to emerge. In the same way, desire itself needs to refer to another to exist. First of all we have the logic of self-defeating envy that says: “I want it because you want it and to the extent that you want it.” The attractiveness of the object of desire is dependent on it being desired by another. Self-defeating envy taken to its logical conclusion is the destruction of the other – that cause the object of desire to be void of meaning. Another known way to the problem of envy is through the logic of admiration that desire through the other. Both in the sense of “I let the other enjoy for me”, and “I only desire what you desire, I only want to fulfill your desire”. Is there a third less passive way to this problem? We find it in the logic of self-assertive envy that says: “I desire what you desire, I want to fulfill my desire.”

Envy amplifies in a more horizontal society. The effect is of no surprise as envy is dependent on our ability to relate to others. Moreover, in a more horizontal society the possibilities for this is amplified aggressively. The effect is, however, counterintuitive to how many people think about envy, as on the contrary something resulting from a hierarchical society. How could this make any sense from an evolutionary perspective? Since proper hierarchical societies only emerged about 6000 years ago – while humanity appeared about 200,000 years ago – if hierarchical societies are what form the basis for envy. There would be no evolutionary basis for envy to begin with at all.

The conventional wisdom of envy is that it is a bad emotion. Christianity have hammered this down excessively for two millennia, by declaring envy as a deadly sin. One of the ten commandments explicitly states that: “You shall not desire anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Deuteronomy 5:21). Totalitarian commands like this are all about the threat of disconnection, for those who are bad as defined by the command. No wonder then that envy connected tightly with shame, or more precisely fear of disconnection.

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.” – Brené Brown

Fear of disconnection imposes avoiding behavior and alienation from others. The fear that one shall not receive acceptance makes it tempting to conceal it and not express it. This avoiding action, however, does nothing else then straighten the anxiety. To overcome this necessitates radical vulnerability.

The self-defeating way the Atheist behave to the religious makes it obvious how, in fact, the Atheist suffers from severe religion envy. The Atheists self-defeating way in finding joy in the humiliation of the religious person exemplifies this point. The temptation is there, even if one do not act on it.

Belief in the end boils down to how you choose to act. What distinguishes authentic belief is in the way one is not disturbed and envious of others choosing to act differently from you. Why would you desire differently then your belief, if your belief is authentic? Syntheism to me is a creative solution to this problem of belief and desire concerning envy – recognizing through envy the deep desire of humanity to be religious. Moreover, in recognizing this need assertively co-create authentic beliefs for our time in history.

Syntheism: The Cognitive Ad-block

When you ascribe to a religion, you’re ultimately downloading a metaphysics “plugin” to your life “browser”. You’ve added a feature, and this feature should add something beneficial to your user experience, but what? As Bard and Soderquist have noted in several of their books, in previous era, the elites of the society are those that understood how power flowed, and this was facilitated by having a grasp of the new metaphysics. In Capitalism, the Humanist metaphysic illuminated shortcuts around problems felt by the Theistic model and feudalism. The rigidity of the Law had no room for subtly. The King, a vassal of God Almighty, ruled in absolutes. The humanist, circumvents theocratic mandate, and asks for consensus of the citizens. This allows for individual interpretation–if backed by consensus. This allows for nuance. This makes Jean Valjean immediately redeemable to the reader of Les Misérables, yet an obvious criminal to Javert (the antagonist whom tirelessly pursues Jean in order to rectify his antiquated perceived affront to justice). The beauty of this book lying in it’s historicity, it’s positioned right after the Industrial Revolution. The audience at this point almost exclusively has humanist blinders, “the protagonist is obviously in the right! It’s not even a question that the law is flawed, it doesn’t account for the nuance of his situation!” Does syntheism provide this same filter to our perception in late-capitalism/early attentionalism?

I imagine for most people, the most difficult part of the (a)theism conversation is realizing that dichotomies often do not exist in Nature, let alone metaphysics. When a budding syntheist begins to shy away from the Hegelian dialectic between theism and atheism, it’s likely because they have the intellectual flexibility to see two sides as one in the same coin. The theistic God is non-existent in one sense, but is fundamentally the “awe” humanist scientists find in Nature. God is The One, i.e. everything, but when God is everything, that God-concept is no longer useful and fundamentally non-existent. The Syntheist, understands this, and chooses to embrace the nihilism by creating their own God. Synthesizing the previous dialectic, and plowing forth. This ability to synthesize dichotomies is paramount in modernity. The simplicities of pre-internet life are very quickly fading. Increasingly, everyone will have access to the entire wealth of human knowledge updated an inordinant times a second, accessible from their smartphone, their smart-watch, their smart car, their internet of things. There is no online/offline dichotomy, we are swimming in a sea of WiFi signals. Just as I may be online and zoning out in front of a webpage or offline and being pinged by my smart phone, we are both online/offline and then some.

The Syntheist can no longer see dichotomies, and no longer wants to. The Syntheist ad-block is not an acknowledgement of a pop up, with another slightly less annoying pop-up in the corner of your eye. We’re talking, “I have completely forgotten what ads looks like” (and I’m sure if you’re reading this, you probably have in the literal). Syntheism means that soon enough dualism will no longer exist in your cognitive vocabulary. Pre-attentionalist thinking is met with re-routing.  It means in day-to-day life, you will actively engage in a dialectic with the knowledge that there exists a combination between the two, it means thinking “both, and..” The syntheist plug-in absolved you of the tireless oscillation between opposites, and allows for you to move forward. The user is not delegated to an eternalization and it’s complement, but rather the ease of motion that mobilism provides allowing for a future eternalization should it be convenient.

Verily I say, “…but seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto thee!” (Matthew 6:33)

“The doer alone learneth” (Friedrich Nietzsche)

The Syntheist seeks not Truth (with a capital T), but seeks to reason and uses this as a platform to further their understanding of the Universe they live in. Uses it to exist within the “Kingdom of God,” or to “flourish” within our Universe. They act rather than passively allowing life to abscond from them. Your handy dandy syntheist ad-block allows the user to continue on their path and facilitate their flourishing, so that all these things and more shall be added unto thee!

There Is Meaning

There is something. This might seem as an obvious affirmation, but as Henri Bergson reminds us, most people assume that there very well could be nothing, hence they ask why there is something rather than nothing. Our minds, Bergson claims, are wired to naturally imagine that reality fills up some absolute kind of vacuum. This human all too human tendency to proceed from emptiness to fullness—from nothing to something—gives rise to badly stated metaphysical questions. What moves Bergson to this position is his understanding that the idea of Nothing is actually greater than the idea of something, since it implies both the idea of all and an operation of thought which motivates the negation of everything. The same is true regarding order and disorder: ’In reality there is more intellectual content in the ideas of disorder and nothingness when they represent something than in those of order and existence, because they imply several orders, several existences and, in addition, a play of wit which unconsciously juggles them.’

Using the same line of reasoning, Bergson then proceeds by saying that the idea of the possible as less than the real is erroneous, rather the existence of things precede the possibility of them being actualized: ’The idea immanent in most philosophies and natural to the human mind, of possibles which would be realized by an acquisition of existence, is therefore pure illusion.’ Needless to say, Bergson’s argument moves us to consider the future as radically open and free, which corresponds to his affirmation that there constantly is a continuous creation of unforeseeable novelty going on in the universe. Intuitively it is not difficult to agree with Bergson, but the history of both philosophy and theology unveils that this intuitive notion has been far from uncontested: ’The ancients already revolted against it because, Platonists to a greater or less degree, they imagined that Being was given once and for all, complete and perfect, in the immutable system of Ideas, the world which unfolds before our eyes could therefore add nothing to it; it was on the contrary, diminution or degradation.’

A while back, Dino Demarchi published a text here called This Much I Know and although I sympathize with some of his ideas I would like to problematize the notion that nihilism is a viable vantage point for thought. ’A nihilist,’ Dino writes, ’maintains that there is no meaning or purpose to our existence. The world doesn’t think or speak; it has no intellect or will; it doesn’t care about the hardships and adversities we experience — it is indifferent to us.’ My initial thought as I read this was that Dino is approaching philosophy from an anthropocentric perspective. We, as human beings, think and speak, we have intellect and will, and we care about the hardships and adversities we experience. Are we then to believe that our minds are not part of the universe? My further concern is that the idea of nihilism is greater than the idea of a meaningful universe, since it implies several meanings, several purposes and, in addition, a play of wit which unconsciously juggles them. Nihilism is thus reactive.

Dino also says that ’We are products of our environment, we are a part of this world, and all we do feeds back into our existences. It is this thought that undoes nihilism, at least for me. It inspires us to ask ourselves: What sort of world do I want to live in?’ From a Bergsonian perspective, this argument does not simply undo nihilism in our present approach to life since ’As reality is created as something unforeseeable and new, its image is reflected behind it into the indefinite past; thus it finds that it has from all time been possible…’ My claim is therefore that even Dino’s own argument ultimately provides the universe with at least the possibility of meaning from all time, and that seems rather meaningful, no?

Misunderstand and being misunderstood.

I am autistic, and as such I can recognize the temptation to view eternalisations as ends in themselves. So when people talk, my spontaneous impulse is to compare my eternalisations with what they are saying, without realizing that the eternalisation has been mobilised. A great example of this is the stranger who greet you by saying “how are you doing?”. The normal non-autistic response to this would be to simply reply by saying “Fine, thanks”, realizing that the stranger could not care less of how you are doing, the autistic response on the contrary is to take the question literally and answer truthfully to the question.

The same occurs when I in my mobilistic creativity want to communicate my thoughts. I talk without realizing that people can’t follow what I am saying, because for them the symbols I am using is following a different structure or logic. In the end, we are all misunderstood in this way. We are all alone. Most of the time without realizing it (I suspect). So where can we find a common ground for solidarity between each other? What we understand as the past is always restructured from the acts that happens now. So my answer is that we find it in mutual acts.

Pedagogy as a tool for bringing motivated layfolk to the cutting edge of syntheist creativity

It seems that with peer-to-peer, interconnected, and collaborative environments, syntheists ought to be able to keep up to speed on the latest computer science technology.

In other words, I would like to re-envision what a team of programmers looks like and make it more in line with Syntheism.

My impression of a grossly stereotypical software development team is a group of isolated white dudes each with four screens and a 24-pack of Mountain Dew.  Each developer is essentially learning on his own, but with a group of people to whom he can pose questions and read their answers in a linear forum. Tasks are broken into tiny chunks that programmers split up amongst each other. It’s divide and conquer.

There are efforts under way to fix the gender disparity in the technology industry.  My pick of late is Women’s Tech Radio, which brings inspiring stories from diverse backgrounds. In episode 15 Liz Heidner talks about her positive experiences with pair development teams around one computer.  Show host Paige eloquently describes this new programming paradigm as “person-based dual core processing and hyperthreading.”

I hypothesize that a group of two or more motivated syntheists around one computer will be more productive by far than a single body. Not every contributor need be fully proficient in the technology being used in order to learn and add constructive ideas to the project. Groups should have a plurality of ages. This is the most efficient way I can think of to get our society directly involved in the creation of syntheos.

A distributed software team, then, is a network of syntheist groups connected in real time to contribute code, text, photos, video, gaming, and audio content and collaboratively create a web application for free and universal access.

We can imagine the experience of the least technologically savvy group member and foresee a multitude of questions arising during and after the real-time development event.  To meet this tide of questions we need pedagogy to create content for the questioners to turn to.  Thus, there will have to be meta-development teams creating the new educational material whose purpose is to ease new members into a development team.  The cutting edge will develop rapidly, so the need for new pedagogical content will be constant.  It is easy to see then, another meta-development level for facilitating the evolution of pedagogy.  The most practical number of meta-development levels remains an open question that might demand experimental inquiry.