Building civilisation for the purpuse of living once

We are all going to die someday. Therefore a post-atheistic religion must credibly deal with how we can live our life once. Historically, theistic faiths have denied this, in one way or another. And although atheistic positions of such religions intelligently point this out, that doesn’t give life more richness; it only negates that one way of living life is dependent on an illusion of eternity. A presupposed eternal existence that transcends our immediate experience, as such; Syntheism is as much an atheistic critical unlearning as it is a creative co-learning of how to live life to it’s fullest.

In our experience of others, it is common that we project on them. Some people, like Freud, assume that projections come from past personal experiences, while others, like Jung, argues that they are grounded in an evolutionary timeframe of biology, with patterns of experiences that he called — archetypes. Whether you agree with the pioneers of psychoanalysis, and much of the inspiration to the research of psychology to this day. The take away from this is that we need to learn the difference between internal consciousness and external reality.

In projection we and others are mirrors.

There is at least two ways of relating to others, a sexual of the finite bodies and an intimate of the infinite consciousness of another. With a lover, we, of course, want the seemingly impossible, both. Spirituality is about how to live life to the fullest. We, therefore, both have sexual, spiritual practices, that digs into the depth of the sensual and erotic interplay in relationships. And intimate spiritual practices, which brings unity within ourselves and a direction of how we can contribute together with others. And therefore also both learn how to love strangers, and to create the conditions for higher forms of collaboration.

When we stop seeing reality as something static and eternal, but instead something that is creating and re-creating itself without our involvement, but that we are invited to play a minor part in co-creating, a temporary gift called life. Life becomes engaging, and working hard together with others, we might as well co-create internal and external paradise. Utopia is, therefore the process of mutually enriching expansion of consciousness and civilisation – simultaneously. So, we can ask ourselves how we can innovate more clever and creative ways of collaborating unitedly?

Haurvatat: enlightenment by doing

We have the Gathas to understand its meaning it is clear that we have to think of Asha, Haurvatat ect as proper philosophical concepts in the Deleuzian sense. Meaning that each concept connects to other concepts.

Science as a sacred process

For example, Ahura is a concept, one can then ask, what is the Asha of Ahura? From that, we get the process of understanding how the Universe works. A concept we today more or less associates with Science and the scientific mindset. Although that might not be entirely accurate,  due to the history of ideas up to this point in time. Many scientists today still has Abrahamitic and Platonistic assumptions still lingering on. That being said, Mazdayasna as a religion and a way of thinking is not in any way hostile to the enterprise of science, quite the opposite due to the reasons stated above. The impulse is not so much to subjugate to or resist Ahura, but to engage with Ahura.

Acting in harmony with yourself

The same way, Mazda is a concept, one can ask, what is Asha of Mazda? Which is a pure ethical notion. Of thinking in alignment with Asha. For the purpose of speaking in alignment with Asha. For the purpose of acting in alignment with Asha. In contrast to how the 21-century in Western contexts often understands spirituality. It’s then not enough to just think Asha. Asha is not just a conscious experience. That would be to my understanding to undermine the deeper meaning of Asha. Instead, although the focus is on thoughts, words and actions. We ought to evalutate the effects in reverse order, of actions, words and thoughts. This might also be the reason why Mazdayazna has never had Monasteries as far as I am aware of.

Eternal now as ethical ideal

This brings me to trying to get a more clear understanding of Haurvatat, and it’s meaning as a concept. The way I have come to understand it has similarities how Zen teachers discusses Enlightenment. The point is that each moment (what we can understand as thoughts, words and actions) influence the next moment. And that in each moment Enlightenment is possible. So that we have a flow of moments. And as long and as far as they in each moment is in alignment with Asha. We call that sequence of moments Haurvatat.

Further reading:

Intensities and phenomena in a relationalist universe

Maximizing the Value of Altering our State of Consciousness

There are many ways for us to alter our state of consciousness. Meditation, tantric sex, psychedelics, triathlons, bacon cheeseburgers, Pokemon Go, and the list goes on and on. Exploring these states contributes to our quality of life and our ability to effectively operate in the Internet Age. How do we decide how often to indulge in these activities to best balance our enjoyment of today and our ability to enjoy tomorrow?

Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal recently outlined an approach called the “hedonic calendar” that is useful for this purpose. They published the excellent Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work. It describes many ways we are altering our state of consciousness today and how we can do so more effectively. It consists of four steps:

Creating Your Hedonic Calendar

  • Start by listing everything you like or want to do that alters your state. Don’t be shy!
  • Next, rank them using the ecstasis equation. Kotler and Wheal define it as (Value = Time Learning Curve * Reward Back in the Real World / Risk from Potential Dangers)
  • Sort them into five buckets (daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, annually). Tie the ones you struggle to practice regularly to habit triggers to stick with them. For those you indulge too often, limit them to notable calendar events.
  • Review your calendar annually after a 30 day “Lenten” period where you give up the indulgent activities. Shift the frequency of items so that you have a slight longing for performing each of them.

Happy exploration!

Suggested Daily Ritual

  • Start of Day
    • 5 minutes focusing on the possibilities of the new day – based on Tony Robbins’ morning power questions (Entheos)
      • What am I and could be happy about in my life now?
      • What am I and could be excited about in my life now?
      • What am I and could be proud about in my life now?
      • What am I and could be grateful about in my life now?
      • What am I and could be enjoying about my life now?
      • What am I or could be committed to in my life now?
      • Who do I or could I love? Who loves me or could love me?
    • 5 minutes of dancing/movement to energizing/inspiring music (Pantheos)
  • During the day
    • Season-specific practice
      • Athea – discomfort
      • Enthea – creation (blog, poem, song, etc)
      • Panthea – play
      • Synthea – clean
    • Daily improvement focus
      • Sunday – spirituality
      • Monday – assets/finances
      • Tuesday – health/energy
      • Wednesday – skills/capabilities
      • Thursday – experiences
      • Friday – mindset
      • Saturday – relationships
  • End of day
    • 5 minutes of reflection on the day – based on Tony Robbins’ evening power questions (Syntheos)
      • What have I given today?
      • What did I learn today?
      • How has today added to the quality of my life and how can I use it as an investment in my future?
    • 5 minutes of meditation (Atheos)

Thoughts on mentality

There are four choices of attitude-colored actions toward others: (1) Ask for something with the expectation of not give anything in return; (2) Give with the expectation of getting something in return; (3) Ask for something in return for something else; (4a) Give for the joy of giving; (4b) Receive for the joy of receiving. Where 1 and 2 has a mentality of begging, and 3 a mentality of whoring. We have all been screaming babies. And there is always an honor to make the least bad choice.


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.

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


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 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

Our instinctive ability to engage in the emotions is one important part of the human condition. An emotion is affective state experienced a few minutes by a subject. And works as a signal of the body’s surrounding events. The subject’s actions follow how it understands emotions. With the scientific method, we need to deepen our emotional understanding, with spiritual needs in mind, that we can then apply in practices and rituals.

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

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

The difference between the subject’s experience and the body’s expression of some emotions makes its emotional complexity clear. Darwinian reasoning says, shaping of emotions by evolution need a bodily expression. Therefore, simple emotions are distinct in both emotional experience and expression. Fear has both characteristics for example. Complex emotions are radically different, lacking 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

Envy and desire preconditions the capacity to imagine the mental experience of others. There are two known passive attitudes to the other, self-defeating envy and admiration. Self-defeating envy says: “I want what you want because and as long as you want it.” The attitudes logical conclusion is crushing the other. Which results in the object losing its sensed value. And attitude of admiration says both “I let the other enjoy for me”, and “I only desire what you desire, I only want to fulfill your desire”. What’s the active attitude of envy and desire? We find it in the attitude of self-assertive envy that says: “I desire what you desire, I want to fulfill my desire.”

Envy expands in a nonhierarchical society. An obvious effect because the emotion is dependent on empathy. Because the higher possibilities for empathy in a nonhierarchical society. Contrary to the common view of envy as the result of a hierarchical society. How does this make sense from an evolutionary perspective? Since proper hierarchical societies only emerged about 6000 years ago – while humans appeared about 200,000 years ago – if hierarchical societies are what form the basis for envy. There couldn’t be any evolutionary basis for envy.

The common view is that envy is bad. Christianity has hammered this down excessively for two millennia, by declaring envy as a deadly sin. One of the ten commandments directly state that: “You shall not desire anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Deuteronomy 5:21). A totalitarian threat of disconnection towards the sinners breaking this command. No wonder then that envy connected tightly with shame, or more precisely fear of disconnection. Fear of disconnection imposes avoiding behaviour and alienation from others. The fear or disconnection makes it tempting to cover expressing the emotion. This avoiding action, however, does nothing else, then straighten the anxiety. To overcome this calls for radical vulnerability.

“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

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 to humiliate the religious person typifies this point. The destructive temptation remains, as long as this attitude towards religion is upheld. Belief in the end boils down to how you choose to act. What distinguishes genuine belief becomes clear ones reaction of others acting differently, if it’s disturbed and envious or not. Why would you desire differently than your belief, if your belief is genuine? Syntheism to me is an imaginative approach to the Atheist’s problem of belief – recognizing through envy the deep desire of humanity to be religious. However, in recognizing this need assertively co-create genuine beliefs for our time in history.