Category Archives: Philosophy

The philosophical foundation of syntheism

Marrying Physics with Philosophy, Lee Smolin opens the door to an exciting merger with Religion too

Lee Smolin (born 1955) is one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists. He is a Professor at the Perimeter Institute at the University of Ontario, Canada. Smolin is best known for his contributions to quantum gravity theory, in particular the approach known as loop quantum gravity (LQG). He advocates that the two primary approaches to quantum gravity, loop quantum gravity and string theory, can be reconciled as different aspects of the same underlying theory.

Lee Smolin

Frustrated with the abrupt stop, spanning over the last three decades, to the amazing Physics revolution which began with Albert Einstein’s theories on general and special relativity and the Quantum Physics revolution – which was kickstarted by Max Planck and peaked with Niels Bohr’s amazing philosophical as much as physicist work in the 1930s – Smolin has pursued a highly original path in Physics, for example with his controversial mainstream breakthrough The Life of The Cosmos, a highly recommended book where he argues for a new approach to multiverse theory which he calls cosmological natural selection.

Smolin has summarized his citicism of contemporary Physics in his tombstone The Trouble With Physics, only to then explore some brand new controversial ideas in his latest work Time Reborn. There Smolin argues that Time is the constantly underrated factor in Physics. Ever since Plato and all the way up to Einstein (via Isaac Newton), Physics has tried very hard to turn Time into an illusion, or at least merely an extra domension to Space (which has been presented as the true constant of Physics).

Smolin turns the Spacetime Paradigm around by making Time the mysterious constant of Physics, the undeniably true factor which Physics has yet to explore properly. Time is not merely a dimension of Spacetime as if a clumsily added dimension to Space. Time is the rather the beginning and end of everything physical, and the main factor to which everything else in Physics has to relate. This move radically changes almost everything we have heard from speculative Physics during the last few decades.

Relying on the classic mobilist philosophies of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and David Hume, Smolin then pursues a mobilist rather than totalist approach to Physics. We doubt he has read Gilles Deleuze, Manuel De Landa, or Karen Barad yet, but if anything, it is among these thinkers that Smolin is likely to find his strongest supporters in the world of Philosophy.

Because the daring questions Smolin raises are: What if there are no universal laws outside of The Universe (as Plato, Newton, and Einstein have all insisted)? What if the Universe is truly contingent? What if the future is truly open? Niels Bohr proved that The Universe is properly indeterministic (to Einstein’s enormous frustration). Is Smolin perhaps the true ancestor of the formidable Bohr today? At least you can’t deny hardly anybody has made the borderland between Physics and Philosophy this exiciting for a long long time.

Why just stop at relativism, why not go all the way, and propose full-on relationalism? Perhaps there are no such things as objects in The Universe to begin with? Perhaps there are just fields and relations? So how do we relate to such a revolutionary new understanding of reality? Let’s just say Syntheism is well prepared. We add Lee Smolin to our potential future saints, and place him next to Gilles Deleuze, Manuel De Landa, and Karen Barad. Marrying Physics with Philosophy, Lee Smolin opens the door to an exciting merger with Religion too.

On the risks of intuition

When you have choices in life how do you, (or I) know which is the correct path to follow? How do we know what is the ethically right thing to do? Religions have in all ages been dependable guides to turn to when we aren’t sure. As an atheist we have, to date, no such option. As Syntheists we can change that, in the future. Today we have two available options, our reason or our intuition. In two articles I’m going to attempt to argue that neither is good enough. This article is about the problems of placing to great a trust in our intuition.

Do you usually go with whatever feels right to you in your heart? Go with your gut feeling? Your intuition? Do you trust your intuition? Should you trust your intuition? What is intuition?

in·tu·i·tion

noun \ˌin-tü-ˈi-shən, -tyü-\

The power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.

On the question how we came to learn about whatever it is we intuit nobody is quite sure. You can easily do this experiment with your own mind. From any collection of things quickly and without reflection reach out and grab whatever speaks to you the most, and then ask yourself how that line of reasoning went. Why that and not another?

If we ask a neuroscientist where it comes from their answer will also be, “we’re not quite sure”. But we do know through psychological research that there are patterns to intuition.

  • When we intuit we tend to think in extremes, (called Law of excluded middle). If there are more than two options any option in the middle is automatically dropped from our attention. We become blind to subtleties. 
  • We also exaggerate the importance of minor flaws or draw overly strong conclusions from minor details, (called Reductio ad absurdum). 
  • Evidence that goes against what we already believe feels wrong (confirmation bias). 
  • There’s our tendency to go with whatever it is we saw first, (anchoring). 
  • We pay attention to whatever has the most dominant stimuli more than we would after closer reflection (Attentional bias). 
“When you expand your awareness, seemingly random events will be seen to fit into a larger purpose.” –Deepak Chopra (New Age guru)

The complete list is quite long and is linked to at the very end of this article. It’s not a flattering read. Yes, it can be trained to get better. But it still won’t beat deliberate introspection. I think I’ve made my point. Intuition is a terrible method by which to make important decisions in life. But that’s not what it’s for. We have the ability to intuit because it’s a quick method by which to make good-enough decisions without taxing the brain more than necessary. Without it we wouldn’t be able to function in our day-to-day lives. Evolutionarily it’s a compromise necessary to keep us alive in tight spots. There are simply too many decisions to make in our ordinary lives for it to be practical to think through every decision in detail.

Intuition also has a place when we are trying to be honest with ourselves regarding our emotional states. We have a tendency to lie to ourselves, to over-think personal issues and rationalise, to decide what we should feel rather than what we actually feel. In those cases using our intuitions and analysing them can be useful for attaining self-understanding. Those usages are not what I’m arguing against in this article.

I’m arguing against seeing intuition as some sort of superior knowledge, “more pure” or better informed knowledge. All research shows that it is inferior compared to deliberate introspection and careful reasoning. And if you think I’m stating the obvious. I can assure you that I am not. I also don’t want you to think that I’m picking on New Age in particular. The problem of overt trust in our intuitions is found everywhere in our societies. Below are some non-New Age examples. 

“Listen to your intuition. It will tell you everything you need to know.” -Anthony J. D’Angelo (musician)

The civil disobedience movement that ended US racial segregation and British rule in India are both a direct result of human intuitions being put on pedestals, and was acknowledged as such by its leaders. More on that later in this article. Martin Luther King didn’t argue against segregation on ethical ground. But because it felt bad… in his heart. Likewise Ghandi wasn’t against British rule because it was inherently racist and undemocratic but because he felt in his gut that self rule for Indians was the right way to go. This was also the theme of the Nüremburg trials of Nazi war criminals. Every human was expected to have an inner conscience that guided us toward doing good. The Nazi War Criminals were bad because they had ignored what we all “knew” their intuitions told them to do.

You might think all of this sounds great. The results sure were for the better. But I base that opinion on ethical grounds. In the above examples, what I am trying to demonstrate, is that they were all examples of instances where we’re expected to listen to the voice of God in your heart, ie our intuition rather than what we thought was the right thing to do by reasoning about it. It simply asserts that everybodies intuitions are the same or similar. But they’re not. We know they’re not.

“If prayer is you talking to God, then intuition is God talking to you.” –Dr. Wayne Dyer (motivational speaker, self-help author)

Intuitions can go either way. Racists have never had any arguments other than that it feels right “in their souls”. That was as true for King’s and Ghandi’s opponents as it was for their supporters. The same can be said about many Nazis. It is also contemporary. I’m thinking of the rampant homophobia in the world today. I’ve yet to hear a coherent argument against gay marriage that doesn’t violate the modern democratic principle of freedom of religion. Yet, that doesn’t stop nominally pro-democratically minded to completely turn off their higher faculties and try to block gays from it anyway. If you think rampant sexism is a problem in this world you can bet that the intuitions of the sexist minded will re-enforce and confirm sexist ideas making the problem worse. That will certainly be the case if sexists are encouraged to open up their hearts, feel inward and listen to what the “universe tells them in their soul”.

“We live in a culture that doesn't acknowledge or validate human intuition and doesn't encourage us to rely on our intuitive wisdom.” -Shakti Gawain (New Age guru)

The biggest problem of arguing for anything on what “your heart” tells you is that, if somebody disagrees with you have no other recourse than violence. As often is the case. There is simply no foundation from which to have any discussion, no room for compromise or mutual respect and understanding.

If all people would stop trusting their intuitions as their prime foundation for taking decisions I’m convinced all extreme right-wing political parties all over the world would disappear tomorrow, as well as homophobia and sexism.

If you only take away one thing from this article it’s the insight that your intuition, although often useful, is an inferior method by which to take important decisions that are in your own best interest.

History lesson

So where did the modern idea that our intuition is a superior form of knowledge come from? Which person did Martin Luther King and Ghandi both name as one of their greatest inspirations? For this we need a little history lesson. A history lesson that I think is especially interesting for religious atheists.

Religions have in all ages been repositories for practical solutions to everyday problems. What we might call wisdom. These were disseminated through society via priests and rituals. Often in the form of taboos. The religious community was a source of strength and practical support in times of need. A much needed safety net.

When the Enlightenment swept the Western world in the 18’th century organised religion was arguably its main target. All figures of authority were attacked, but mainly priests. The role of teaching the lessons on how to live one’s life and approach the world was taught by Christian clergy. Above all, the church had a monopoly on saying what is True. Over time they had transformed this role into power, real political power which they often abused.

The reformation did break the power of the pope to dictate its teachings to the masses. But didn’t do much to change the basic structure of how people learned them. It was still top down from religious authorities according to stiff and often outdated dogma. The Enlightenment wanted to sweep it all away with one fell swoop.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." -Thomas Jefferson (American revolutionary)

Individualism and Self Reliance became the war cries. No longer were we going to bow to the whims of authorities to take advantage of us and exploit us. The church was increasingly seen as nothing but a tool of those in power to control us. We alone would be the master of our lives, and would rely on no support other than from our immediate families.

If we are to stop relying on any external support in our lives, it raises the question of what to replace it with. I think we’ve all have come across moments in our lives where just muddling along as we always have just won’t cut it any longer. The times when we realize that we need to work on some aspect of our lives or be doomed to repeat earlier mistakes. So if not to priests, where should we turn for support and answers to help guide us?

One option is to turn to rationalism. People should learn to think for themselves. Be taught to think critically. Go to universities to learn facts with which to draw their own conclusions. Be guided by what their own reason dictated is ethical. Not be spoon fed ready-made answers.

 “Synchronicity is choreographed by a great, pervasive intelligence that lies at the heart of nature, and is manifest in each of us through intuitive knowledge.” –Deepak Chopra  (New Age guru)

The other path to truth is to follow what feels right in your heart, one’s intuition. As we’ve already discussed, this is simply a bad idea. Yet it came to be extremely influential. In the Enlightenment this is the path that later led to 19’th century romanticism, the reaction against rationalism. To capture the implications of this school of thought I think it will be most informative to pick a few thinkers and focus on them.

In the fledgling state of USA Ralph Waldo Emerson formulated his ideas (Transcendentalism) borrowing from Hindu religious texts to expand Enlightenment ideas of personal liberty. His ideas came to have a powerful influence on the rights and roles of a citizen in a modern democracy. Yes, this is the guy both Martin Luther King jr and Ghandi said was a direct inspiration to their movements. Not only of course. They both had many other role models but both gave a prominent place to Emerson.

In Emerson’s essay Self Reliance he argues against all conformity. Emerson’s concept of self reliance is based on only relying on one’s own interpretation of reality, or Truth. One must turn inward to one’s intuition for guidance, only. Never trust any authority that your gut feeling isn’t okay with. Never accept any hierarchy if you don’t feel okay with it, regardless of where on the ladder you find yourself. And never join a flock where you ever have to compromise. Any and all norms are seen as problematic. If what a teacher tells you in school doesn’t feel right “in your soul”, it should be dismissed.

According to Emerson, how do we know that what our intuition tells us is true really is true? He believed that we all had divinity within us. The all knowing omnipotent God lives inside us all. He called it “The Over-Soul”. As atheists we can dismiss that one out of hand. And it won’t come as a surprise that all thinkers in all ages who have stressed the importance of following one’s intuition has had to fall back on woo. Which in practice means saying; “if you don’t agree with me you just aren’t honest with yourself enough”.

Emerson’s ideas have not only survived into the modern world, they are stronger than ever. Here is a video by the popular New Age spiritual guide Deepak Chopra on this very topic. He simply regurgitates old myths, reconfirming popular and false beliefs. Yet, Chopra managed to write an entire book on it called “The power of intuition”. It successfully ignores all the world’s available research on it. He shamelessly sprinkles it with irrelevant neuroscience to make it sound like it isn’t nonsense. For example, (at 00:22) he mentions that the prefrontal cortex lights up when we intuit. He makes no effort in explaining why this is relevant or what it allegedly proves.

The book that first coined the phrase “New Age” and arguably started the modern movement was “Living in the Light” by Shakti Gawain. This is how she views intuition:

“There is a universal, intelligent, life force that exists within everyone and everything. It resides within each one of us as a deep wisdom, an inner knowing. We can access this wonderful source of knowledge and wisdom through our intuition, an inner sense that tells us what feels right and true for us at any given moment.” -Shakti Gawain (New Age guru)

She repeats throughout the book how our intuitions is a superior form of knowledge without bothering to explain why or how.

Is following one’s intuition bad?

Of course not. If we did that we’d also ignore out feelings. If we ignore our feelings we are bound for a life of misery. it’s healthy to understand and accept that our emotionally loaded intuitions rarely are particularly smart or rational. It’s also important to understand and accept that other people’s intuitions aren’t smart or rational either. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge when people staunchly hold irrational positions. Especially not to their face. Nobody wants to be called an idiot.

“Your intuition will tell you where you need to go; it will connect you with people you should meet; it will guide you toward work that is meaningful for you - work that brings you joy, work that feels right for you.” -Shakti Gawain (gives some good advice for a change)

This is where religions like Syntheism can come in and give us guidance. Again, like religions have in all ages. But today we won’t have blind trust in priests or have to go mining ancient holy texts for the scraps if wisdom that still might be relevant today. Since Syntheists don’t believe church leaders have gained their authority from a god, but based on track-record we have a structure by which to prevent abuses of power. By using insights gained by modern psychology we can incorporate modern therapy methods and mechanics. Over time the wisdom collected in the church will evolve and grow, and yet again be the guide and help we need to protect us from misguided overt trust in our intuition.

Syntheism is still in its infancy, and we have neither priests or any kind of organisation or system that can act to collect and spread collected wisdoms. But it’s my hope that once we’ve now seen the need we will start giving it some serious thought.

Resources for further reading

If you would like to know more here are some links to some actual science. There is quite a large body of research to dig into. The below barely touches on what there is.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intuition_(psychology)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recognition_primed_decision

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Sanders_Peirce

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Kahneman

Interview with Daniel Khaneman on intuition: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/interview-with-daniel-kahneman-on-the-pitfalls-of-intuition-and-memory-a-834407.html

The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, Gary Klein (2004)

Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, Gary Klein (1999)

Decision-Making Barbara A Mellers, (2006)

 C.R. Hamilton Paths in the brain, actions of the mind (1998)

R.W. Sperry “Cerebral Organization and Behavior: The split brain behaves in many respects like two separate brains, providing new research possibilities, 1961

Miller, Charles E., III, Emotional/rational decision making in law enforcement, 2004

 

Measuring Happiness

I think it’s a safe assumption that we all want to be happier. Ok, great. We now know what we want from life. All we need to do now is figure out how to get it. What do we need to do? Are there different ways to be happy? What are the most effective methods reach them?

To figure this out we need to find a language in order to talk about the different ways of being happy. Once we have that down we can attempt to measure it. That is what this article is about. 

Obstacles to measuring happiness

It goes without saying that happiness is subjective as well as relative. It’s hard to compare one person’s self reporting of happiness with another’s. Only you can be the judge of how effective actions and states of mind are in making you happy. Never let anybody tell you what you need to do to be happy. This is something we all simply have to figure out for ourselves. And vice versa. You can’t tell anybody else what will make them happy.

Biology is relevant. Fundamentally happiness is the firing of neurotransmitters in the brain. Our brains are all different. Some people seem to need very little positive reinforcement in the most horrible situations to feel inner peace and joy. Others struggle with seemingly perpetual depressions no matter their fortunes in life.

The philosopher Thomas Metzinger argues that the promise of happiness is the neurochemical engine by which our brains push our bodies to do things at all. This means that whenever we achieve a state of happiness our brains immediately adapt in order for us to be pushed ahead for the next task at hand. We are so-to-speak programmed by evolution to never feel satisfied over any length of time. Therefore it would be folly to even aim for perpetual happiness. By its very evolutionary design happiness is transitory.

The biologist and science writer Matt Ridley makes the same arguments and expands it with the genetic aspect. Triggers for happiness (and pain) has been programmed into our genes by evolution in order to steer us into ways that keep us alive and eventually lead to us spreading our genes. But evolution is slow and this is a very blunt tool for control. Humans are clever and self-reflective. So we are quicker at developing ways in which to fool our genetic programming. To trigger happiness neurotransmitters faster than evolution manage to compensate for it. This we can and do use to our advantage. An example would be condom use for sex or triggering endorphines by watching comedies on television. So we arguably have a greater capacity for happiness than what the basic design was built for.  

We call it aceeeeed

We call it Aceeeeed

So now we know what happiness is for. The next step is to define it.

The definition of happiness

Happiness can be defined in many ways. All useful in their own way. For simplicity I’m sticking to the happiness philosopher Bengt Brülde’s definitions. He separates happiness into the following types:

Euphoria, peace of mind, experiencing pleasure and satisfaction.

Euphoria

An ecstatic intoxication of joy.This type of happiness is associated with succeeding with a long or difficult task in life, like graduating, being in love, finishing a race, getting your dream job or getting long longed for recognition. Can be induced by doing the unexpected and joyful like suddenly racing outside and euphorically dancing in a summer rain. Also the type of happiness we get from using drugs. By it’s nature this type of happiness is rare, ephemeral and fickle.  

Peace of mind

I think we can all agree on that, in general, the less we suffer the better. We have all suffered at some point in our lives and we are all well aware that no matter at what stage we are in life we will most likely suffer some more later on. This knowledge can give us fear and anxiety. In this case there is no solution to the source of the problem. We will suffer. The fear is real and often realistic. The best we can do is manage the symptoms. Religions around the world have come up with solutions.

For example Christians attain peace of mind by praying regularly to God. Why not give it a shot and see if a Christian prayer does the trick for you? I’m pretty sure you don’t need to believe in God in order for their prayers to help you achieve a peace of mind. To get you started here is an example of a popular Christian prayer.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.

Amen.

/Written by the evangelical Christian Reinhold Niebuhr adapted for use by Alcoholics Anonymous

To get maximum effect from your prayers the evangelical Christians at prayers-for-special-help.com) has offered some advice. I’m presenting them here unbowdlerized:

Set aside a few minutes in the morning or in the evening to pray your devotions to God. Ask God for serenity on a daily basis using this prayer as your guide.

1. Try to memorize the words to the prayer.

2. Speak directly to God. Don’t just blindly repeat the words you’ve memorized. You need to speak directly to Him and truly mean the words you’re speaking.

3. After praying, write your reflections in a prayer journal. Over time you’ll be able to track your progress towards serenity and happiness.

Note! This is not intended to promote Christianity or Christian beliefs in God. This is only as an example of things we Syntheists can steal/borrow/use from other religions. As a Syntheist any reference to a god (or anything supernatural) should be seen and interpreted as a metaphor. If the idea of praying to God makes your atheistic mind uneasy, simply replace those lines with something your secular brain is more comfortable with.

Experiencing pleasure

Good wine, a great massage, the rush of shopping pretty things, eating cake, sitting in a comfortable bath, having an orgasm, a jacuzzi, sinking into a water bed, having a dishwasher, travelling in first class instead of second class, staying at a hotel with wifi by the pool.

The only real problem with this one is that we’ll get used to it no matter the level. To experience this type of happiness we have to deny ourselves our pleasure for a while to miss it, and then indulge again once we’re well and truly starved. It is important for our peace of mind that we are aware of this cycle.

One strategy is to not indulge at all. To opt out of the cycle. Which is what Buddhists try to do. Another is to apply moderation which is the typical approach in most religions. For example, Jews are encouraged to indulge their desires to their hearts content during the Sabbath while abstaining from pleasures the rest of the week.

Satisfaction

When we see newspapers claiming that country X is happier than country Y or people with such and such a job are happier than people with another job this is the kind of happiness that is implied. This is based on surveys and self reporting. People who say they are happy give stuff like this as an explanation; being physically active, having a social life, having close friends, being in a relationship, having a job that is adequately challenging. Being rich sure is nice but is rarely given as a reason for happiness. That comes back to pleasure. We can’t buy friends. Money can buy pleasure. See earlier heading.

The religious typically score high on this simply by being part of a religious community. This is arguably even more important than any of its philosophies or teachings. The mere fact of doing things together, sharing an identity and having a common goal is important for humans and always greatly satisfying.

General principles on maximising happiness.

Don’t have euphoria as your major goal in life, and don’t expect it. It will only come when you aren’t trying to. Be in the moment. Pay attention and do plenty of introspection.  

Peace of mind can be attained through calming one’s thoughts overall. Praying, meditation or mindful physical exercise, (like yoga) are excellent tools by which to still the mind. Try to fit less things into your weekly schedule and set time aside for being alone with your thoughts. But even simpler things like removing clutter from your home. Paint your walls at home with calming colours. Buying plants and take care of them. Or just making sure you’ve got a good house insurance.

People like to be around us and we attract friends by letting go of our ego, our egotism and self centeredness. We have to learn to accept that the world doesn’t revolve around us and be ok with that. This also brings about peace of mind. If all else fails you can always buy a pet.

There’s countless studies that show that by generously giving to others you are also making yourself happier. This is the lesson Scrooge learns in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It’s a popular story because so many can relate. 

The Golden Rule isn’t just for other people’s benefit. You too will become happier if you make a point of treating others like you yourself would like to be treated. If other people take advantage of it, you at least can feel secure in the fact that at least you are overall happier than them. To get respect you need to give respect. 

Indulging in a guilty pleasure is perfectly fine as long as you don’t make it into a habit. Any pleasure we take for granted and is routine will stop making us happy. And longing for something can also be a source of joy. Knowing that we will indulge a certain pleasure once we’ve finished some necessary yet gruelling task. 

So what about measuring happiness? Didn’t I say in the beginning that this article is about measuring it?

Yes, I did. But I must admit that I’m not going to be much help. Happiness is subjective and only you can be the measuring stick of what it is that makes you happy. What do you usually do when you are happy? Or what state of mind are you in then? Are you doing that or feeling like that more or less often  today? If less, what can you do about it? Do you know what to do about it?

Those are questions only you can answer.

/Tom Knox, a member of the Stockholm congregation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness_economics

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_happiness

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjective_well-being

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monoamine_neurotransmitter

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Ridley

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Metzinger

http://www.prayers-for-special-help.com/serenity-prayer.html

 

Hello. I’m a Syntheist. This is what I believe

Dead sea scrolls

Dead sea scrolls

Few things make sceptics and scientifically inclined free thinkers nervous as the idea that they might be adhering to any kind of dogma. We all want to avoid the dreaded bane of group-think or risk turning into any kind of brain-washing cult. But any group of people have distinguishing features. That’s why we can identify it as a group. Idea-based groups share common ideas. This should be uncontroversial. We are not open to anybody. We are only open to those who share our beliefs and values. I hope this to is uncontroversial?

I set about trying to identify what these shared beliefs could be. Since these beliefs are intended to be universal for all Syntheists we needed to agree to them. As it happens, free thinking rationalist found it impossible to agree to such a list. Who would have thought?

A herd of cats

Cats resenting being herded

So I gave up on the idea to create a universally accepted Syntheist creed. But I still wanted some sort of a list that Syntheists could get behind. Not an authoritative list from above. But simply something we could point to and show as an example of the kinds of things Syntheists believe. Something tangible and concrete. So instead of our list I created my list:

A Syntheist…

– is a post-atheist. 1)

– is an ethicist 2)

– is a Monist

– accepts that Science is at present the best tool we have to understand reality. 3)

– believes that our understanding of reality is always inter-subjective, that we are individuals and that we can never separate ourselves from our experience of the world. 4 )

– thinks religion can be a positive force in the world.

-believe that religion is primarily about the sacredness of community. 5)

– understand that holiness and divinity is humanly created concepts to answer psychological needs as biological creatures with a symbolic brain.

– finds a personal approach and way through their spirituality, but understand the need for communal action and rites so shares values, direction and connection.

-is aware that each individual is free to join and leave, partake or disagree with any Syntheist group.

Science stand back

Notes:

1)      Post-atheism is an atheist in a world where all theistic belief has disappeared already. It’s a stance on the “Big Questions” that isn’t opposed to anything since there’s nothing for such a stance to oppose. If you don’t like the term post-atheist or you don’t think it’s accurate for you in your situation in life, then you are free to replace “post-atheist” with just “atheist”. You’ll be just as welcome.

2)  Philosophically speaking, Syntheists are ethicists: empowerment through knowledge, community building and creative activity. Ethics comes from logical thinking, rational discourse and inquiries into the human condition: intersubjectivity rather than objectivity.

http://syntheism.org/index.php/2013/05/syntheism-and-ethics/

3) That’s full on science with all the bells and whistles, applied scientific method. No pseudoscience or real science as a fig-leaf for some otherwise crazy beliefs. Furthermore, we are not scientistic. We acknowledge that there is plenty of valuable knowledge the scientific method has little or nothing to say about (ex. ethics)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

4)  A more fancy way of saying the same thing is:

We believe that our understanding of reality is always intersubjective, that we are dividuals rather than individuals, operating under the illusory but necessary experience of the isolated Self, and fundamentally unable to separate ourselves from the continuous and interactive process with the rest of existence.

5)  This belief renders the struggles over God (God vs God or theism vs atheism) an irrelevant conflict.

This list is not  complete and will never be. These are only the most fundamental beliefs that I think identify me as a Syntheist. It should also be pointed out that I received plenty of help from other Syntheists in compiling this list and finding the best formulations. It was, very much so, a group effort.

/Tom Knox,

member of the Stockholm congregation

Tantra: Transcendence, World Affirmation, Ecstasy and Bliss

Much confusion has been spread around about what Tantra is. Common questions that come up are “You mean like Tantric sex?” or “Tantra, that is all about sex, right?” Well not quite. To say such a thing is like claiming that every bicycle is a Schwinn. Yes there is an element of sex, or sexuality that is within Tantra, but at the same time this is not the sole purpose.

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When asked what Tantra is there can often be confusion because Tantra is not a method that could be described, but more an experience. Where Tantra is unique to most Indian spiritual practices is that it is heavily female centered. It is an Indian practice where a lot Yogi’s, Swami’s, or Guru’s are in fact women. Because of this Tantra will have a different view of Moksha than most Indian traditions. In general Moksha would be liberation from the physical world. Your average Tantrist would define Moksha as liberation from separation of the mental, physical, and spiritual world. Because Tantra is based heavily on feminine principles there is an emphasis on eliminating binaries dualities. This could be male and female, Higher or Lower, Left or right, mind or body, Spiritual and Material ect. The purpose of Tantra is to eliminate the binary within these terms as these are terms that intensive agrarian societies have used as a way of control. Instead Tantra strives for complimentary opposites.

So what is Tantra? The best way for me to describe it is that it is a goal to get to a state of being that is a combination of ecstasy and bliss. Were reason is good, but not everything is limited to it. Where the conscious self observes all reason, thought, feeling, and desire so that all will be directed in ways that are beneficial to the practitioner, so that you do not have to be some great ascetic to attain inner stillness or enlightenment.

The compatibility with Tantra to Syntheism is that the view of God is not something separate from Nature or oneself.  The purpose of Tantra is to see all existence as sacred.  To see us as the very universe exploring itself.  Since there is little difference between spiritual atheism and pantheism, and since Syntheism does not separate between spirit and matter, the goal of Moksha as I described above would be something that a Syntheist could apply to their daily lives.  If for no other reason than most Syntheists live in a culture based on duality and such a practice could help the Syntheist unlearn this cultural conditioning that he/she has been brought up with.

Many people and practitioners that come to Tantra have their spiritual and material goals connected. Tantra for many people who experience it (as it is not for everyone) increases ones charisma, charm, and compassion as well as reason. At the same time aiding in personal relationships, be they romantic, friendships, family, or business. The idea is that desire, passion, and even the ego are not bad in and of themselves, but are aspects of our being that need to be directed. Through being conscious of these very aspects of our being we can be better at accomplishing our duty or “darma” in this world and eliminate boundaries to the service we can give the world. That every mundane endeavor is in fact a spiritual one and through our duty we bring happiness and peace to the world we live.

Kenneth

Deep atheism: Syntheism as a post-atheist religion

Atheism is sometimes (wrongly) referred to as a religion. As a matter of fact, atheism has nothing to do with religion. Some religions are theistic and some religions are atheistic, but atheism in itself is no more a religion than its opposite theism is.

Theism believes there is at least one god (whatever kind of god that may be), a-theism is just the belief that a specific defined god does not exist – there can be no general atheism, but merely specific versions directed against different theisms, like Christian atheism, Islamic atheism, Judaist atheism, Hindu atheism etc – since atheism always needs at least one god that it can claim not to believe in. Atheism is always, you see, nothing beyond a pure negation.

Individual

Actually, it is a miracle that anybody cares about atheism in the first place since it delivers no worldview of its own. It is nothing but a constantly repeated I am still not sure what I believe in, but at least I do not believe in that! Atheism can in itself not define anything it actually does believe in. It is an empty hole, an intellectual dead end.

Historically, atheists have therefore always been forced to define at least something in addition to atheism, which they can claim they do believe in. The most common reponse is that atheists stick to humanism, they believe that there are people and these people are individuals and this is apparently of great metaphysical importance to them. So atheists end up believing in individualism where they can at least claim to believe in themselves.

The problem is that individuals exist no more than the so far defined gods. Just like nobody ever seems to have met God and can prove his or existence, nobody has ever met and can prove the existence of an individual. Sure, there are over seven billion people on this planet, and these people have bodies, but that these bodies also harbor individuals is no more proven than the existence of any external divinity. There is only the body, there is no individual inside the body. Rather people seem to be far more dividual than individual, split, chaotic and living with grand delusions of all kinds, rather than being unified, structured, and all-knowing.

Syntheism starts right here: Individualism is a dead end, science has proved that the feeling of being an individual is an illusion, literally a mindgame. So we can no longer be complacent with historical atheism. We have to move beyond atheism, into what we refer to as deep atheism or post-atheism. Please feel most welcome to join us. When both God and The Individual are dead, what can we do with whatever is left of metaphysics, if not create our own new gods which we really can believe in? Far more than we could ever believe in our limited and illusionary selves.

The differences between Atheism, Pantheism, and Syntheism

The Syntheist vocabulary constantly returns to the the three terms Atheism, Pantheism, and Syntheism. Atheism is the belief that there has been no god presented to us so far which we can credibly believe in. Atheism is the opposite of theism, the belief that at least one god exists independently of human existence (often divided between monotheism claiming there is one god only as opposed to polytheism believing there are many gods).

Pantheism is the belief that all dualistic theisms are based on mistaken assumptions, that there is no point in discussing God as something external to our obvious existence. According to Pantheism, The Universe and God amount to one and the same thing. God is internal and not external to The Universe and everything that exists is divine. An atheist can therefore also be a pantheist and vice versa. The world’s possibly most ardent atheistic campaigner Rickard Dawkins has even admitted exactly this with his famous quote Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. [1]

Richard Dawkins

What Syntheism adds to this spectrum is the concept that rather than discussing whether gods exist independently of us or not (as if this for some strange reason would be a necessary condition for divinity), we have to admit that all gods have been created by humanity and nobody else, and we are consequently free to keep creating gods (even physically) as long as we admit that this is precisely what we do when we conduct religion.

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So while Atheism and Pantheism are perfectly acceptable passive intellectual positions that amount to pretty much the same thing, two sides of the same coin, it is when we take these concepts seriously and put them in contact with our human emotional needs that we become active Syntheists. Syntheism can best described as Atheism+ or Pantheism+. And no god is more Syntheistic, no god can more lay claim to the term Syntheos, than the sacredness which appears to us when we are bound together (re-ligare) as a holy community.

In other words, Syntheism is religion for the sake of religion alone, without us waiting for any external force to communicate to and dominate us. Instead we become Syntheists through divine communication in between us. The Syntheist symbol shows this interplay: The white ellipse represents The Universe (Pantheos), the black circle represents The Void (Atheos) and the symbol in its entirety represents Syntheos, the sacred unity which we as humans project onto Existence.

Syntheology is even based on four rather than three basic concepts, but the forth one, the sophisticated and mysterious concept of Entheos, “The God inside you”, does not seem to require its own -ism, which is why we happily study this concept deeper in a different article.

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, page 40. “Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist’s metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism”.

So it took a brave smart American woman to finally bring quantum physics into philosophy

Ploughing our way through massive amounts of fascinating new philosophy this European winter – including inspiring variations on the Syntheist theme from writers as different as Simon Critchley, Quentin Meillassoux, and Martin Hägglund – perhaps the most fascinating read of all has been Meeting The Universe Halfway, from new American philosophy superstar Karen Barad. Now here is a Syntheist manifesto if ever there was one!

Karen Barad

Barad is radically unique. A woman, a feminist, a critical theorist, and a quantum physicist, all in one person, she provides fresh air like no other author into the often conservative world of academic philosophy. Closely related in attitude to another obviously Syntheist thinker from North America, Mexican philosopher Manuel De Landa (the author of much recommended classics like A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History and War In The Age of Intelligent Machines ), Barad represents a new generation of philosophers best described as the American Ultradeleuzians.

Building on the groundbreaking work in the 1960s by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Barad and De Landa represent a radically monist mode of thinking in radical opposition to the Kantian paradigm which has dominated the world of philosophy for the past 300 years. Of all the old gurus, it seems the radically original Baruch Spinoza is the only classic thinker left reasonably respected among these new radical monists steeped in and inspired by 21 century physics and biology.

Taking her starting point from Niels Bohr’s heartbreaking correspondence attempting to convince Albert Einstein in the 1930s that quantum physics presents us with a relationist worldview far more radical than Einstien’s own limited relativism, Barad turns Bohr’s highly original thinking on the dissolution of subject and object in physics and turns into philosophy proper. The consequence is that Barad has to regard all philosophy written so far, in its historical entirety, as being way too anthropocentric.

What we need is instead is a second Copernican revolution. We need to get rid of concepts like individualism and atomism once and for all. In Barad’s beautiful new world there are frankly no things, no separate objects, no isolated beings left. There are just entanglements and nothing but entanglements. And this very physically proven fact – quantum physics proves there is for example never such a thing as an observer independent from his or her observation – means we can finally get rid of Immanuel Kant’s sad division between phenomena and noumena.

Barad’s phenomena of entanglements are in no need of any separate noumenal world. Mathematicaly solid and empirically verified (quantum physics being the most well proved scientific theory ever, by far) Barad instead preaches the gospel of an agential realism we as Syntheists can happily adher to. To be honest, has any philosopher since Friedrich Nietzsche provided us with this much hope, belief in amazing possibilties, and inspiration to act? What is this if not radically affirmative philosophy par excellence?

It is while reading Meeting The Universe Halfway, digging into Barad’s beautifully universocentric paradigm, where The Universe appears for itself through itself, including us all as agents and phenomena of ontological entanglements, where we are confronted with a world of enormous complexity and senseless intensities all around. But without any sadly isolated individuals of any kind. Like Karen Barad says herself, what we experience when finally looking at the Universe through the well proven glasses of quantum physics is nothing less than an immense sense of awe.

This is a book full of excellent texts for your local Syntheist mass. Use it!

The Syntheist Movement – The Facebook Forum Description

Religion (Latin for “re-connecting”) is the most productive, creative, intimate, and also the most provocative and controversial form of social activity. This historical fact is beyond doubt. Our longing for belonging with “the Other” and need to “freeze the chaos of the world and pretend it is an orderly cosmos” to stay sane makes it impossible to refuse metaphysics without resorting to intense depression and madness.

It is a common misunderstanding that Religion must be preoccupied with either the belief in God (monotheism), gods (polytheism), the dualism of natural versus supernatural. However mistaking Religion (the longing for belonging with The Other) with theism (the construction of gods and sagas precisely as to keep us stupid, controlled, and infantile) is “The Great Lie” under whose bitter shadows we have lived far too long. Re-ligion has to be re-interpreted. This is why we speak of Syntheism: The position that the question “Does God exist?”, the position of theism vs atheism, is irrelevant!

From Zarathushtra to Nietzsche, it has been widely known – often under the guise of “religious mysticism” – that while religious theater produces endless amounts of gods and sagas, True Religion is the art of “knowing that which we did not know that we know”.

There is something rather than nothing, there is undoubtedly a Universe within which we exist. Regardless of whatever attitude this Universe has towards us, we have to adapt to this divinity; it gives birth to, controls and ultimately defeats us. What is the Universe if not a god, Pantheos, the God of Everything that exists.

Inside The Sacred Room of the temple, overloaded with baroque amounts of art, jewelry, and other forms of eartly wealth, lies The Most Sacred Room: empty, dark, cold. This is where the true god recides, the god of priests and mystics. This is Atheos (Greek for “the god who does not exist”) or The Black Void.

The Syntheist Movement is seriously, intensely, uncompromisingly, decicated to Georges Bataille’s suggested atheological exercise: The art of nonknowledge, an exercise beyond both Science and Philosophy. So while Jehovah may be the god of unpredictable mood swings, Allah the god of obedience and reward, and Jesus the god of masochism and mercy, Atheos is the god of utter and complete silence from which Agape springs.

“The objectivity of science separates human beings from their world, wheras Bataille is interested in an impossible ecstatic connection with the world. Bataille is interested in another kind of consciousness altogether: A consciousness of nonknowledge, a consciousness of the absence of consciousness.”

When you as a modern atheist enter a beautiful cathedral: What makes you so castrated it prevents you from building something similar? Syntheism is the answer!

Alain de Botton

Recommended viewing: Alain de Botton’s Ted Talk on his book Religion for Atheists.