Addendum

I would like to add to Josef Gustafsson’s comment on This much I know that nihilism is not about speculative metaphysics. A nihilist does not deny that there is something; he simply denies that it means something in itself.

As Nietzsche put it: “Whoever does not know how to 
lay his will into things, at least lays some meaning into them: that means, he has the faith that they already obey a will.” The idea that life has a purpose implies that there is will and intention, but there is no creative director behind the curtain. We are finite creatures that owe their existence to chance. As I said, there is a difference between the meaning of life (objective, as seen from the outside) and meaning in life (intersubjective, as experienced in this world, and shared with other people). All meaning is man-made.

Yes, nihilism is reactive — what else could it be? According to Nietzsche, nihilism is the desire to un-do and an-nihil-ate as a response to the pointlessness of it all. It is an emotional reaction rather than an intellectual exercise. As such, it is associated with resentment, despair and disillusionment. Take someone who is desperate and destitute, who is truly lost, and who engages in self-destructive activities because nothing matters to him. 

I don’t talk about nihilism as a metaphysical issue. It is a sociological issue because we co-produce meaning through social interaction. So there is indeed meaning. It’s just not the sort of meaning that keeps the nihilist awake at night.

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.

This much I know.

As a trained social scientist and amateur philosopher, and as someone who’s had a roller coaster sort of life and experimented with various lifestyles, I’ve learned that we can’t get around or skip nihilism. A nihilist 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. Nietzsche’s response to these unpleasant facts was amor fati: to say yes to life, and to embrace it even if we know that we are fated to endure the same difficulties and hardships again and again (the eternal recurrence of the same). I find that Nietzsche’s amor fati borders on the cynical, so are there other ways to respond to nihilism?

I’m a nihilist because I don’t believe that there is any purpose or meaning to existence. There is no secret message from God hidden behind the tears and bruises. It is after all a scientific fact that we are products of chance and that chance continues to play a major role in our lives, so we are less in control than we like to think. But I’m also an anti-nihilist because I believe that we co-create this world through the course of action that we choose.

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We weren’t “meant” to be here, but our thoughts form the words we speak and the actions we undertake, and our words and actions have consequences in this world. There is a difference between the meaning of life (there is none) and meaning in life (our virtues and values) — there is no meaning other than the one we achieve to co-produce through social interaction. 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?

I think that it is necessary, if not essential, to admit to one’s vulnerabilities and imperfections in order to connect authentically with other people and attain a sense of meaning in life. It takes courage to expose oneself and acknowledge one’s struggles. So I’m all for adopting a non-judgmental attitude toward oneself. We are far more vulnerable than we like to admit, so the most sensible response to our condition is self-acceptance.

Becoming more self-accepting necessitates that we begin to appreciate that, ultimately, we’re not really to blame for anything — whether it’s our looks, intelligence, or any of our more questionable behaviors. (…) We need to realize that, given our internal programming up to that point, we could hardly have behaved differently. For regardless of what we may have concluded earlier, we were, in a sense, always innocent — doing the best we could, given what was innate or hard-wired in us, how compelling our needs and feelings were at the time, and what, back then, we believed about ourselves.
— Leon F. Seltzer

A post-nihilist embraces rather than mourns the fact that there is no meaning — we are free to give life a new purpose. We can’t change the world from scratch, what’s happened has happened and what’s done is done — but there is no need to wallow in self-pity and helplessness, nor is there any benefit to engaging in self-torment. It is our attitude that determines what we make of our experiences and the values we assign to them. I believe that attitude awareness can make a difference.

Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.
— Milan Kundera

We all come from a distinctive combination of genes and have experienced a unique set of formative relationships, so there isn’t a simple set of instructions that can guarantee happiness and fulfillment. One size does not fit all. I have no reason to believe that abstract ideas such as Nietzsche’s amor fati can tell you what works for you. All you can do is try, and keep on trying, using all the resources and help available to you. So I’m all for setting up our own sanctuaries where we can explore nihilism’s uncomfortable truths and develop helpful coping strategies in a safe and stimulating environment.

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.

What god would you like to have today, Sir/Madam?

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Research has shown that our brains are predisposed for belief in god(s) [1]. Stephen Pinker’s theory is that it’s an unwanted side-effect of our instinct for grammar [2]. Richard Dawkins theorises that it’s genetic drift, ie the mutation(s) that led to the survival benefit of brains capable of symbolic thought is greater than the cost of an erroneous belief in deities [3].

Now when we understand this we can stop this childish nonsense of belief in god(s). Can’t we? No. For all our capacity of rational thought, we’re still fundamentally emotionally driven beings. No matter how much you understand why you are sad, this fact alone won’t dispel the sadness. Just wanting to be happy, however rational this may be, doesn’t necessarily make it so. Understanding that there is no god doesn’t magically fill in the empty god-shaped hole in our atheist’s brains.

If we’re stuck with belief in god(s), we might as well pick a god or gods that work for us. Since we, Syntheists, are aware all gods are invented, and are therefore infinitely malleable, they can take any shape or form we desire or need. With one minor caveat. We can’t make them actually exist.

How about an infinitely loving god, who listens to us, and cares and wipes our tears when we’re sad. A god who we can turn to for protection in times of need? But love has a physical manifestation. Yes, it’s an emotion. It’s a very strong emotion. Of all our emotions, love is maybe the strongest emotion that has been programmed into our genes. It’s the emotion we’re genetically predisposed to yearn more than any other. Love isn’t only kind words and a pat on the head. Love is among other things altruistic acts and for people to go out of their way to help each other. Not just kind words. An imaginary god, no matter how hard we believe in it, won’t do shit for you. It really doesn’t matter how much in pain you are or how afraid you are, apart from kind words, no god is going to come and help you.

If you think I’m only having a go at monotheism. I’m not. The same criticism can be made against most gods humanity has ever created. We’re all insecure to some degree. We all have an urge to be taken care of by somebody who understands us. But this type of god will turn you into a passive child, unable to help yourself. And if your passivity ends up ruining your life, it’ll turn you into a victim. No matter how common it is, I think faith in this type of god is wholly destructive. It’s painting over the cracks instead of fixing the underlying emotional problems in your life. Faith in god can only positive if that faith motivates you and give you the strength to fix what needs fixing.

“God helps those who help themselves.”

-Sophocles (409 BC)

How about gods that are facets of your personality. These are the types of gods found in Buddhism. When you want to be more decisive and aggressive you worship the god of that type. [4]. It relies on identifying with the deity and taking on their facets. And in effect bringing out those aspects in ourselves. To aid the worshipper they’ve been given names, clothing, personalities, specific prayers and so. A plethora of tactile and mnemonic aids in reminding the worshipper who they now are. The handy thing about these is that it’s thousands of years of Buddhist tradition and ritual to draw upon. Even though our modern world is much different from the world of Gautama Buddha, our brains are the same. And we have the same emotional needs as they did. Whether the Buddhist gods really exist out there or are only figments of our imagination, Buddhism is silent on. But does it really matter? Does the fact that us atheists use a god that other people may actually believe really exists take away from it’s usefulness? Of course it doesn’t. Please, feel free to use these if they work for you. Or use them as templates and change them. Wouldn’t it be fun to worship a god of initiative and action called Sparky?

I’ve played around with the idea of god(s) and have come to use a very rudimentary type of god. I’ve found they help me the best in times of mental weakness. They’re a kind of imaginary parent. Or to use Freudian terms, they’re facets of my super-ego I’ve broken out and made into concrete mental images.

I only have two gods in my life at the moment. Treating them as sacred is the key to their success in helping me. The first is the god of silence. I allow this god to fill me when I need to sill my mind or just relax. Without this god I have trouble winding down. I’m not naturally inclined for lying back and relaxing. For me I have to force myself. Therefore I need this god in my life. By keeping it sacred I refrain from pushing it away and filling my mind again. This god works for me because this is something I need in life.

I have not given this god a name. Which in itself is a mnemonic as to what this god is for. It’s the opposite of the god of labelling, understanding, thinking, controlling, manipulating and so on. This is the god of letting go. It’s possibly also the god of deep breaths. I discovered this god when writing this article and has been with me since [5].

The other god I have found I call “get on with it”. When my dead gaze stares back at me from the monday morning mirror, this is the god that appears. This god often pops up when I’m doing everything else but what I’ve set myself as a goal to do. This god is impatient and usually rolls it’s eyes at me. Each time he appears I know it’s right. And keeping this god sacred has helped me with, among other things, getting to work on time.

These little friends are always with me nowadays. And they truly have been like friends to me. Imaginary friends. Much like I imagine a Christian feels when they feel the presence of God. But it’s not like I have conversations with this god. All conversation with these gods has always been decidedly one-sided. Which of course is only to be expected of a wholly invented god. But they have, in spite of their non-existence, still managed to make my life better and have helped and guided me to be a better person.

Another member of the Stockholm congregation, Joel Lindefors, also has been experimenting with using gods. He has found other gods than me useful to him.

His first is a god he calls, Pantheos or Amor  Fati, the god of acceptance. To understand one’s own little part in it all. To look up at the sky or out over the ocean.

The god of strength. To use when Joel feels small, worthless and in the grips of overwhelming fear. He calls this god Entheos or Syntheos. Syntheos is the god that is evoked when among other people. While Entheos is the god of renewal and change. To find the strength within to grow and adapt, to beat one’s demons. These are two aspects of the same god Joel uses.

If you have gods that have helped you that I haven’t thought of, please feel free to add them in the comment section below.

I’ll end this with saying a prayer to the god of coming up with clever endings to articles. Let’s just call her Fluffy. Yes, I invented her just now. I will no doubt invent more as needed.

Amen

[1] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110714103828.htm

This is just one example of many

[2] http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/2004_10_29_religion.htm)

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_Delusion.

[4] http://www.iloveulove.com/spirituality/buddhist/buddhistdeities.htm

[5] http://syntheism.org/index.php/2013/12/athea/

 

Syntheism and the Creative Commons

Dear Friends

One of Syntheism’s utopian beliefs and practices is that ideas should not be owned by anybody but deserve to be shared and spread to as many people as possible, We call this the Free The Meme principle. This is why we are proud to acknowledge that all the material published here at syntheism.org is also free for all to use under the rules of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. So go ahead and let the Syntheist meme take over your mind too.

Who Speaks for Syntheism?

Many people believe that there is an afterlife with rewards or punishments based on how well we live. Yet this is not irrefutable evidence this exists. What, then, is the basis of this belief?

If you ask people why they believe (or don’t believe) this to be true, you will get varying responses. Nearly all of them neatly fall into the three categories of persuasion Aristotle identified over 2,000 years ago:

  • Ethos (appeal to authority) – The Bible / The Pope / My pastor / My guru / Richard Dawkins / some guy on the Syntheism.org blog says it is true (or not), therefore I believe it
  • Logos (appeal to logic) – This argument (for or against) is true, therefore I believe it
  • Pathos (appeal to emotion) – This emotional experience (or lack thereof) happened to me, therefore I believe it

Most people misunderstand authority. If I were to claim equal authority with the Pope, no one would believe me. Why? Is it because he is sanctioned by God, or the vast resources at his command, or the linkage to thousands of years of history, while I have none of those things?

No! It turns out that the source of his authority is that millions of people believe that one or more of these reasons is sufficient. For example, when the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches split in 1054, the Pope instantly lost authority with those in the Eastern Orthodox church. The only thing that changed were people’s beliefs about his claim to authority!

Why should this matter to Syntheists? Authority is an inescapable part of life. No one has the time and skill to validate every thing they hear and act on. It is so ingrained that we rarely even think about it.

Sytheism cannot appeal to a creator God or a divine book for authority. Everything we do around Syntheism falls in the realm of personal opinion (including this post!) So ultimately, YOU are the authority for Syntheism. Therefore, it is only appropriate that you help us create it. That’s the real meaning of “religion in the making”!