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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.

Syntheism and the Holarchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Speaks for Syntheism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Law of Change

All conditioned things are unsatisfactory.
All conditioned things are impermanent.
All things are empty, devoid of intrinsic, independent nature

-The three marks of existence,
from the Pali Canon

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: neither all thy Piety or Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

-Omar Khayyám, the Rubaiyat

The hardest questions in life are asked in innocence:

Why did my dog pass away?

Why do we have to die?

If one thing defines an absolute truth about life, it’s that things change, and quite often for the individual, they change for the worse. It’s can be a somewhat depressing fact of the universe that life is hard. It’s full of full of dangerous things that seemingly are dead set on making our lives risky: disease, radiation, war, volcanoes, old age, fast moving objects, predators; the list goes on endlessly. It’s an experience so universal that one could conclude that it is time itself that is set against us. The passage of time eventually destroys anything and everything that is conditioned, buildings, empires, our loved ones, us.

If time is our enemy then, it makes it important to know its nature. But time is a tricky thing to define. Many definitions end up in circles, and trying to nail it down beyond the somewhat unsatisfying statement that “time is what clocks measure” is the topic of many arguments among both scientists and philosophers.

But one aspect of time that’s beyond reproach is the Moving Finger that Omar Khayyám addresses in his verse above:  the truth that time moves inexorably from the past and into the future, and while redemption, forgiveness and reparation may be found, there is no undoing of past mistakes. This is the Arrow of Time. Life has no save points. There is no [CTRL] + [Z] in physical reality.

But why exactly is this? Both classical and quantum mechanics fall short here. In mechanics, there is no particular reason why time has a direction. Consider a movie where two billiard balls collide perfectly, each going off in their own direction. Play this movie backwards, and there is no apparent problem: the motion of the balls backwards to collision and outwards to their initial positions seems to the human eye a perfectly reasonable proposition. This process is what’s known as reversible.

However, when we just have two billiard balls on our table, things are simple. But if we have a whole game of pool things become trickier. A cue ball smashing into the triangle of balls is a process that’s not completely impossible to reverse, but would take very careful measurement and setup of initial conditions to make all the balls move back together in a triangle and then spit out the cue ball with all their combined energy. You can be absolutely sure that this will not happen randomly. And as the game gets bigger, the complications to reversing processes become all but impossible.

Let’s now say we do something horrible: we light a tree on fire, make a movie of it, and play it in reverse. Now something in this picture strikes our intuitions (and hopefully also our conscience) as clearly wrong. Thermal fluctuations and atmospheric ashes do not direct themselves inwards, their turbulent flows becoming smooth, concentrating until the carbon glows red hot, and all this energy being used to split and then fuse oxidized carbon atoms together into an intricate matrix of carbohydrates and metals that is capable of sustaining itself by energy from the sun. This simply does not happen by itself. The process of burning a living thing is utterly irreversible, so take care if you are ever contemplating doing so.

To get a grasp of the extent of the physical reality that underlies this irreversibility, look around you. If you are reading this in the comfort of your home, your first impression may be that not much is happening. This is an illusion. Our perception is attuned to the narrow band of phenomena where saber-toothed tigers pounce and beautiful people dance, because these are the things we need to be able to react to in order to survive and reproduce. Nevertheless, the physical reality is that all things are constantly in a state of relative motion. Clouds look initially static as you gaze on them, but as you keep staring, it becomes apparent that they are in flux, shape shifting as they pass overhead. So it goes with windows, tables, computers, mountains, planets.

If all things then are in motion as time passes by, what in this is the cause of our loss and grief?

The examples of reversibility and irreversibility above show us something about nature: as soon as things get complicated, they also become irreversible. But why exactly is that?

The answer to both of these questions is one that’s purely probabilistic in nature. There are many ways that a game of pool can go after we hit the cue ball, but very, very few that land us back in the situation we started in. There are many ways that the particles of the tree can fly once it’s lit on fire, but incredibly few ways that they can fall back together to be a tree.

The Law of Hard Knocks then, to which Murphy’s Law is but a lemma, is that there are many, many more ways that things can go wrong than ways that they can go right. Leave things up to random chance, and the dice is overwhelmingly loaded against you. That’s life.

This law is mathematically codified in physics as The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that as time passes, entropy in a closed system increases. Entropy is the property associated with the number of ways a given system can arrange itself. The Second Law is widely celebrated as the surest thing in science. Because it is an intrinsic property of systems of any real complexity, it’s not just that we can’t imagine how the universe would look without the Second Law, it’s that we can’t imagine any universe without it. The great physicist Arthur Eddington, who is credited for coining the concept of the Arrow of Time, once stated:

“The law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation”

He also made it clear that the Arrow of Time, the property of time moving in one direction only, is solely a property of entropy. However, he also stated that even though it doesn’t have any other physical properties, it is immediately recognizable by consciousness. Any observable process that doesn’t make sense when run in reverse is subject to the Second Law. And the Second Law deems that as time passes by, all things must return to dust. Does it absolutely have to be this way? No, because the Second Law isn’t absolute. There’s a chance that things can randomly run in the opposite direction, but this chance is so vanishing small that it’s easier to regard it as impossible.

Entropy has some properties related to the human condition that are worth noting:

It is the mechanism that causes bad things to happen.

It is the mechanism of impermanence.

It does not map to any physical property except the configuration of matter and energy as it relates to something else. In other words, it has no essential nature, only relational nature.

These three properties map disturbingly well to the three marks of existence as witnessed by Buddha several thousand years ago, once again lending credence to the argument that the Second Law is all-pervading not just scientifically, but also on the scale of humanity.

So if all things are at the mercy of the Second Law, why is it then that we’re surrounded by order? Truly if we look around us there are a great many things that are set in order, much higher than it was when say, the Earth first cooled billions of years ago?

There is an aspect of entropy that seems to clash with itself: chaos can lead to order. Death can lead to life. All it takes is a mechanism that constrains entropy to rise in a certain way.  Because the Second Law states that entropy is always on the rise in a closed system, and systems aren’t generally closed. Think of a windmill: it’s an arrangement of matter that causes something very chaotic, the weather, to be turned into something very ordered, electricity. Though it causes turbulence and therefore increases entropy in its environment, internally in the mechanism, entropy is reduced.

Let’s go back and have another look at the burning tree example. As it turns out, there is a process that comes very close to describing our impossible reversed burn scenario of gas, ashes and energy turning back into a tree: the growing of the tree itself. Through photosynthesis and other self-organized metabolic pathways, the tree grows, taking in energy from the sun, carbon from the atmosphere, and minerals from the ground. How then is this not in conflict with the Second Law? Because the tree is not a closed system. The sun’s rays come from the nuclear processes taking place in its core, which are very high entropy, but the rays themselves transmit lower entropy to the tree which utilizes them to create itself. In other words, the seed of the tree creates constraints that limit the number of possible ways the future might look for the tree, until the seemingly impossible happens with a high probability: the miracle of life.

Likewise, if you eat an apple from the tree, you increase the entropy in the apple by digesting it, which then leads to a lowering of entropy locally in your organism and thereby staving off your own demise. It takes the death of the apple to support your life. All this happens because you and the tree and all life is carefully yet robustly arranged in a configuration that allows for entropy to flow out of one subsystem and into another, and as long as the total entropy for the system is on the rise, the Second Law is appeased. Internally in the sun, entropy is always rising and eventually it will die. But here on Earth, that process of dying is the root cause of weather, photosynthesis, brains, trees, apples, puppy dogs, space probes, ancient sages and great Arab poets. It is a misunderstanding that entropy must necessarily end in total death and decay. It can just as well turn to life.

These constraints on the flow of entropy are so carefully arranged that they can perpetuate themselves, flexibly and with small variations so that they can always respond to the changes in their environments, just like the windmill turns into the wind, propagating endlessly and diversifying into endless forms most beautiful and wonderful. We call this mechanism of constraint propagation Evolution, which is arguably the most elegant explanatory tool we’ve ever encountered. Evolution is the mechanism that has life locked in a dance with the Second Law, ever postponing the inevitable and doing so with unfathomable beauty and efficiency for the last 4 billion years, exactly because the universe is such a dangerous place. The very thing that is trying so hard to kill you is the source of all the complex forms you hold dear.

Life is hard. As soon as we’re old enough to perceive the world, this becomes apparent. But if life wasn’t hard, we’d have no reason to exist the way we do.

What remains is the question: what do we call this this eternal double-sided law of entropy and evolution, yin and yang, death and life, creation and destruction?

The Chinese named it the Dao. I choose to call it Entheos, the Divinity of Change, the dynamic of cause and effect.

It is the core conveyor of creativity in the universe, a law that transcends the material, independent on everything but the interconnectedness of all things.

The worship of Entheos is nothing other than effecting change, by creating the constraints and frames into which your life flows by itself.

Today’s Saviors and Superheroes

anonymouse_s640x427Picture yourself an average citizen on planet earth.  You know as a fact the system is wrong yet you are not sure what to do.  You go about your daily life starting with a cup of joe and a shower before work.  You slept in so you may not even have time to cook a proper breakfast.  In that case you may have a bowl of cereal which may not be too healthy for you, but is inexpensive.  You ask yourself “why is the food which is luxury so expensive while the food I need, I cannot afford?”  Regardless, you obey the routine and go about your day.  You go to work.  If you are in the United States, you are lucky if you can call in sick or have a paid vacation.  Life is not as convenient for you as it was for your parents or grandparents when they were young adults.  The prosperity taken off the backs of indigenous people’s from the west of Africa and in the Amazon of Brazil that began in the 1950’s is deteriorating.  You receive a text on your phone.  As you look at it you may not see the man held at gun point in Kenya so you can have the precious mineral that helps your phone operate.  Yet you know something is not right.  You know deep down that you are not happy with the regiment of your day.  Deep down you know the system has made it mandatory for you to be an addict just to get by.  You know this as you take a sleep aid to go to bed early so you can wake up on time.  How you have your morning coffee to keep you awake.  One day you go on youtube.  Maybe you just want to be entertained by something funny.  Not looking for anything in particular but you just want to wind down and forget about the day.  Out of shear curiosity you click on a random video.  Then a figure pops up.  It’s a drawing of a suit with its arms behind its back.  The message in the synthesized voice says “Greetings Mastercard.”   You watch with anticipation as the voice gives them an option to cease in stopping free speech on the internet.  The voice may sound kind of creepy.  Maybe a little scary at first but there is something in you that is building hope.  At the end of the message the voice says “We are Anonymous.  We are Legion.  We do not forgive.  We do not forget.  Expect us.”  You are unsure what you just saw, but as you go and watch PBS or RT, you see that whoever Anonymous is, they did in fact crash MasterCard’s system.  This says they mean business!

                What does this indicate?  It indicates the very nature of this entity called the internet.  Alexander Bard, a philosopher from Stockholm illustrated in Berlin how for ages information only came from the top down and how the invention of the internet has just severed that line.  In this day with the invention of the internet information can come from wherever.  The pitfall is that most of the information is Poppycock.  The upside is that just about the most accurate information in the world is available online if one knows where to look. 

                Many Folklorists and religious scholars see the Adam and Eve story as symbolic of the transition from foraging to agriculture.  How after Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they had to till the soil, wear clothes, woman had to be submissive to man and once out of Eden (foraging) they can never return.    All of which are traits of agrarian society and the origin of property.  The invention of humans that made cities and States possible.  This is neither good or bad.  There is much mankind can be thankful for due to agriculture in terms of the innovations that came from it.  However agriculture combined with the idea of ownership is what led to stratification, patriarchy, even slavery and last but not least warfare.   So while the invention of farming brought us out of Eden, the internet may bring us back.  The way Timothy Leary said Psychedelics would.  😉

                So where are today’s superheroes one may ask?  When is superman coming to save the world?  When will the savior come or return to cleanse the world of its ills?  Who is this savior?  Who is this superhero?  No use waiting, because he is not coming.  But there is good news.  You can be this savior or you can be this superhero!

                To begin, examine what a superhero is.  Before they were called superheroes, these comic book icons were called mystery men.  Though on the surface these characters may be filled with ego as they were made from the egos of some nerdy pulp writers.  However if you take a closer look, they are an example of a high standard of altruism.  This concept was borrowed heavily from Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch.   Superman as well as Batman, Spiderman, ect . Do incredibly kind and heroic acts.  They often get despised even by the people they are saving.  But they wear a disguise as they do not want recognition for the heroic deeds they do.  They as Zarathustra says “righteousness for the sake of righteousness alone.”  Even in the case of Batman who was at first out for revenge against the murderer of his parents.  Once he had revenge he realized that crime still exists, and that he must not stop doing his job.  Batman is a good example with where this essay is going as he does not have any special powers.

                As for the savior!  The original savior idea came out of Zarathustra’s message of the Saoshyant meaning bringer of hope or happiness.  Unlike later views of the Saoshyant, Zarathustra did not say that this figure will come.  Zarathustra advocated that we all strive to be Saoshyants and bring the paradise here to earth right now.   

With the invention of internet we are in a day where all human beings can be Saoshyant.  The truth is humans always had that opportunity.  The internet is now practically handing it to us.  And yes.  Superheroes are real in this sense.  You do not have to be known for what you are doing when you do right for our environment or for humanity.  You may not have to be a hactivist, but you have a means to get the message across and be heard.  You have the means at your fingertips to organize.  You no matter how small you may see yourself in the world can make a major shift in the world perspective to create Heaven here on earth.  Anonymous are not only today’s superheroes, but today’s saviors.  We the people can be one or both if we choose, and if you have a computer, the tool is available to you.

                  Like the superheroes of Marvel and DC comics Anonymous has a secret identity.  You never know who they are.  They could be your neighbor or classmate, or work colleague.  Never the less like Spiderman he/she could be a teenager.  The Anon will go about their day and when near a computer provided no one is looking will open a proxy server, go on a Gmail account or twitter that does not have their real information and put on their secret identity.  This person will go on irc not telling the other Anon’s his/her real information.  They discuss an injustice happening in the world.  It could be something big like the shutting off of the internet in Egypt.  It could even be a local incident like the teenage girl who was raped and killed by the guys on the high school football team but the courts were trying to dismiss it.  Either way whether one agrees with their methods they are working to protect the common person from tyranny.  So on the irc these Mystery Men and Women vote to see if these atrocities should be leaked.  If by consensus all agree, they hit their target. 

Wait a minute?  How did the internet suddenly flip back on?  Pepper spraying the faces of college students?  Fine Mr. police officer, we will just post all your information.  Bet you thought there would not be consequences eh? 

                Here is the genius of the whole thing.  Anonymous, as well as Arab Spring, and the Occupy movements all over the world do not have leaders.  This is the strength of this global rebellion.  It is useless to arrest someone.  It is also useless to assassinate anyone.  There will always be replacements.  In a day in age where we are handed the chance to be savior’s, who needs leaders?  The internet is uniting the collective.  While agriculture created hierarchy and male dominance the internet is doing away with it.  It may take a while but like all shifts, it happens sooner than we realize.  Perhaps the dominion of the Great Intellect is happening now as it has always been happening.  It’s just a matter of waking up to the possibilities of having a paradise here on Earth.  Sure there are camera’s and they are watching us, but we carry our own camera’s in our cell phones and we are also watching them.  When a cop is using excessive force he will be recoded and leaked on youtube.  While we are all losing our privacy because of the entity called the internet, those on the side of justice and truth will not face the repercussions as much as those whose injustices rely on secrecy. 

                Syntheism which has its foundations in the teachings of Zarathustra, as well as Nietzsche, Aldous Huxley, ect. strives for direct action against institutions that create inequality and injustice.   Syntheism may be thought of as idealistic as Island by Huxley is one of the society types we stand for.  However it is an idealism that promotes the ultimate realism.  Where the phrases “never” or “will not happen” do not have a place in the ideology of the evolution of human ethos.  As Aristotle once said “In pursuing an ideal, we may assume what we wish, but must avoid impossibilities.”  i.e. we not only as Syntheists but as citizens of mother earth,  must never assume the impossibilities in the goal itself, but must be realistic and go by the step by step process while we work to achieve our vision.

 

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

 

Syntheism and Happiness

Religions through the ages have commonly put a major emphasis on human happiness, albeit in different forms. Is happiness important in Syntheism and, if so, in what way? For an answer, we can look to three icons of Syntheism—Zarathushtra, Spinoza, and Nietzsche—as well as to the modern scientifically oriented study of happiness.

Happiness

In Zoroastrianism, happiness involves neither hedonism nor asceticism, both of which are foreign to the religion. Instead, Zarathushtra taught that happiness emerges from the quest for “asha,” or the natural way of the universe—that which fits or that which works. We participate in Asha in proportion to the degree to which we embrace the pursuit of wisdom and conform our actions to the laws of the universe. There is a profound joy that comes with this experience. In words that echo Zarathushtrian sentiments, Albert Einstein described a feeling “that takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law” and is “a sort of intoxicated joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of this world…” (Einstein, The World as I See It, 1934). Indeed, so crucial is happiness in this sense that Zoroastrians often greet each other with the word “ushta,” which roughly translated means “radiant happiness,” or the happiness in you that brings happiness to others.

Spinoza associates happiness with our activity—our engagement with the world. He sees the cultivation of knowledge, of intellect, through this activity as the source of our joy. In Spinoza’s thinking, we must reject what Deleuze refers to as the “sad passions,” that which disparages life, and instead embrace joyful, life-affirming, wisdom-seeking activity.

Nietzsche explicitly rejects both hedonism and asceticism. In fact, his notion of happiness is quite the opposite of the ascetic approach: Nietzsche sees joy as arising through the overcoming of suffering. What is more, Nietzsche’s notion of power is tied to complete self-overcoming and joy. Indispensable to happiness in Nietzsche’s view is fully embracing our sense of resolution and mission in life and engaging in a heroic struggle in that mission, in becoming our authentic selves. Happiness is a byproduct, or as philosophers say, an epiphenomenon of our plunge into our goals and activities. According to Nietzsche, the power to live one’s life actively, not reactively, and thus attain joy requires refraining from an effort to find some “true” (ultimately imaginary) world beyond what we observe.

The notion of happiness as emerging through our active quest to know the world as it is and to creatively pursue self-overcoming through our own goals is consistent with the growing, scientific study of happiness. Though emerging from the field of psychology, empirical, experimental research into happiness, more recently identified with “positive psychology,” has reached across disciplines and methodologies. In addition to psychology, disciplines involved in the systematic pursuit of research findings include economics, public policy, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, history, education, medicine, and many others.

In addition to, and to a degree overlapping with, the focus on activity, the modern study of happiness reflects principles that are consistent with the ideas of Zarathurshtra, Spinoza, and Nietzsche, and with the bedrock features of Syntheism. Among these are principles of community, creativity, and meaning.

A number of studies have demonstrated a link between happiness and community life, including socializing with family members, close friends, neighbors, and other community members. Moreover, people that get involved in religious congregations and volunteer organizations tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction. Generally, engaging in cooperative activities emblematic of a community are among the strongest correlates of subjective wellbeing. Having the space for the open exchange of ideas where individuals and groups can take risks and feel capable contributes significantly to our happiness. At the same time, being happy tends to invite greater cooperation from others, thus forming a feedback loop that can strengthen our communities.

Creative challenge and absorption in activity is closely tied to a concept that one of the founders of the positive psychology movement, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has referred to as “flow.” The subjective state of flow involves absorption in creatively dealing with a challenge that entails intense and focused concentration. Creativity, the key element of flow, has been shown to be closely correlated with levels of happiness. The happiness-creativity connection may find a powerful explanation with reference to brain chemistry. Neuroscientists have shown that happiness tends to trigger higher levels of activity in the prefrontal cortices of the brain. In turn, activity in the prefrontal cortex correlates with the strong generation of ideas. In other words, there appears to be a chemical connection between greater happiness and more robust creativity.

Personal growth is associated with our search for meaning in life: our efforts to experiment, develop ourselves, and realize our potential in line with our values and identity are the key elements of personal growth and are closely tied to our happiness. The greater the amount of meaning one finds in life, studies seem to show, the greater one’s level of subjective wellbeing. Meaning is the sine qua non of happiness. Drawing from interdisciplinary work in cognitive science in the context of happiness studies, psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains that humans “gain a sense of meaning when their lives cohere across the three levels of existence.” The three levels of our existence as systems that Haidt refers to are physical (our bodies and brains), psychological (our minds that emerge from our bodies and brains), and sociocultural (the societies and cultures that form from the interactions of our minds).

Happiness is, then, an important concept in Syntheism. Through active, wisdom-seeking engagement in life, participation in Syntheist communities, absorption in creative challenge, and searching for meaning, we become both better Syntheists and happier humans.

Let’s admit it: We suffer from religion-envy!

The Syntheist pathos starts with the admission that we as Syntheists suffer from religion-envy. While we live in a society obsessed with counting every dollar, every vote, every orgasm, seeing each one of these items as nothing more than a commodity of trade, we envy the religious who can walk into any one of their temples, cathedrals, mosques, in awe over what they and their fellow believers proudly have managed to construct as their evental site of community.

Winchester Cathedral

However we can decide that our envy is productive and indeed raises a fascinating question: What prevents us from doing exactly the same as the traditionally religious? What prevents us from building a sacred site where we can reflect on ourselves and The Universe, in awe? A site which is not owned by anybody, which does not have any exploitative purposes whatsoever, a place to bring people together, loving each other and The Universe, a place where Syntheos, the god we create and become when we are truly together, becomes manifest. This is the question from which Syntheism rises. And if you share our desire, come join us!