Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts on the Origin of our "God" Ideas - A Discussion with Stefan Molyneux

I had the opportunity recently to talk with Stefan Molyneux during one of his "Sunday Morning Call-in Shows".  You can find that discussion here starting at 34:11. 

I know that what I cover in this discussion may challenge the beliefs of many of my family and friends with respect to our ideas about "heaven" and about "God". Furthermore, there are implications for those who are more oriented towards "spiritual" experiences or practices, although I do not go into that with this particular discussion.

Nevertheless, in the past year or so I have come to question all of this. I have become more focused on who and what we are as Human Beings "only"; i.e. as highly evolved biological organisms on this planet.  At the root of my feelings surrounding all of this is that As Long as We Keep Comparing Ourselves to some "Spiritual Ideal" that may only be a remnant of our early developmental experience, and we put ourselves down or allow ourselves to be diminished in a myriad of ways - if we keep feeling "condemned" by the "problematic nature of human existence", then we will not completely Own, Honor, and, most importantly, Be Completely Responsible For our overall functioning and relating here with Each Other, On This Planet and in This World. In other words, if we keep "meditating on ourselves" as "falling short" then we will not be as motivated to continue to strive to reach our full potential as Ordinary Human Beings, who, in my mind, happen to be Truly Extraordinary biological organisms - capable of both amazing and terrible things! 

For anyone who persists in the ideas that, as human beings, we are "inherently sinful" or "born of sin", or even secularists who have a generally negative view of human beings, I'm offering something to counter all of that by suggesting  a possible source of where each of us as individuals got those ideas into our heads in the Very First Place. As I discuss with Stefan, those ideas could have arisen spontaneously in the hearts and minds of every human being who has ever lived, who has ever been in the womb and then been born, and experienced the biochemical patterns associated with all of those experiences. I am coming to the conclusion that the "latent memories" the "intuitions" that are the expression of those biochemical patterns are what we then "project" into the outer world as gods, and demons, and stories of heaven. Furthermore, I would offer that it is even tied to our "projection" of anthropomorphic consciousness onto other living (or even non-living) beings,whether plant or animal, which is the source of animistic religions.

It is not easy for me to stand in place with what I am saying, knowing, that if people really pay attention, they will realize I'm challenging a huge, huge, entrenched history of religious and "spiritual" dogma and dharma, and anthropology, even across all past and present cultures. Some people may think I'm just "trying to be confrontational or controversial." I assure you, that is not the case. I am sharing what I feel are the insights that have come to me fairly spontaneously, and if you thoroughly review the previous posts in this blog, you will see where some of the tendrils of the roots of these ideas first took hold.

There is another reason why I am sharing all of this though, in spite of the reactions it might provoke from some.  Almost all of my life, up until the last year or so, I have been a "believer" myself. From my early Christian upbringing to my more recently becoming a formal devotee of "spiritual master" Adi Da Samraj. In between, I moved around the "metaphysical" communities and drew many ideas from the scientific principles of quantum mechanics, etc., etc. I have probably been more inclined to believe in reincarnation through all of this than I have in "heaven" and/or "hell" and Adi Da's Wisdom-Teaching on these subjects continued to reinforce and elaborate on many of those ideas.

However, in a very passionate discussion I had with Paul K. Chappell, many months ago, he posed a simple question to me: "But, Lori...What if this is it?  What if human beings only have one life to live here and that's it?" In other words, for all the human beings who suffer abuse, depravity, etc., etc., that's It for them. That is all they will know of what it is like to be a human being. There is no coming back. No getting it better next time. No heaven after they die. As Paul pointed out, it still makes sense to do everything each of us can both individually and collectively to make this the very best experience of being human any of us can have, and that means doing whatever we can to make the world, This Incredible World we live in a better place for current and future generations, in part because, as the Incredible Biological Organisms that we are...we Can Do That.

Alternatively, we can also keep going down the path we are on, more or less consciously (usually less) seeking romantic and spiritual biochemical highs that are generated internally, or we can seek chemical highs from all kinds of other external sources of drugs or experiences that stimulate or modulate our internal biochemistry. We can continue to let our lower biological functioning as it relates to our drives for eating, mating, protecting territory, etc. continue to rule the higher levels of our functioning that allow us to become "self-aware", or we can more consciously develop and use the tools that our more developed brains give us to more effectively, consciously, and rationally manage all of our lower impulses and learn better how to voluntarily cooperate with rather than compete with everyone around us.

But, I am growing more convinced, if we persist in "projecting" from our own experience a necessarily naive point of view, of some "ideal" state that is Not that of being an ordinary human being, based in our most infantile experience and misinterpretation of our lives As human beings; if we do not Get Over That, then we will also be trapped there, individually and culturally, never able to move ahead in our otherwise TRULY INCREDIBLE CAPACITIES as VERY HIGHLY EVOLVED ORGANISMS on this planet.

I do agree with many from all camps, that there is a necessary Shift that needs to take place, and in many ways I feel it already is. I know it has with me. However, I do not necessarily agree with all in terms of the Direction of that "shift". Where some may think we need to be better develop our (religious) "morality" or our (metaphysical) "spirituality" - I would say we need to focus more on our Humanity and our (biologically unique?) Capacity for Self-awareness and Rationality. Everything else has brought us to where we are now, but I do not believe retreating to a prior state, the state of infantile "oneness with everything" or even further to the "heaven" of the womb where "all of our needs are met with no effort of our own" is going to Move Us Forward in our evolution as Biological Organisms on this planet.

Follow-up - 12-14-2013

Through comments posted on the YouTube video I've linked above, I have been made aware that Ken Wilbur has some things to add to this consideration with his description of what he calls "The Pre-Trans Fallacy".  This is a short video where he talks about it, and this is another succinct commentary from another source.

Although I was not familiar with these particular elements of Ken Wilbur's work before, I can see where there is definitely some overlap with my own ideas, and I really appreciate the person who brought this to my attention in the comments. Such is the power of the internet in helping to tie all of our minds and thoughts together.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

When It Comes to "Being All that You Can Be"...Self-Awareness Is Key

This morning I came across this article: "Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?" The crux of the instruction they are receiving seems to be pointing them towards greater "self-awareness", especially in the midst of mundane or ordinary every day experiences.  As E.F. Schumacher explains in A Guide for the Perplexed..., this is the quality of "z" in the formula, "Man = m + x + y + z", or "Man = mineral + life + consciousness + self-awareness".  In his analysis, Schumacher contends that our capacity for self-awareness is what sets us apart from all other animals - as far as we can tell right now.  From my own point of view, I can appreciate that as long as the language barrier persists, it is hard to get inside the head of say a dolphin, or a member of the lower primate species, to know exactly how they are thinking of themselves. Who knows though, we might figure out how to do that at some point in the future. Nevertheless, for now anyway, I think we are safe in taking Schumacher's assumption at face value.

Furthermore, if every human being were actively using their capacity for self-awareness, all of the time, then there would be no need for this class at Harvard.  Apparently that is not the case. Schumacher acknowledges the fact that even though human beings have the capacity for self-awareness, the degree to which we exercise it tends to vary across populations and even within individuals themselves; i.e. even as individuals, there are some times when we are more self-aware than at other times.

I would offer that there is actually a pretty strong impetus in our society to not be self-aware and instead to be constantly distracted by things and people outside of ourselves; to be more "aware of" what is going on "outside" of ourselves than to be "aware of" what is going on "inside" of ourselves.  I find it interesting that this class is now being taught at Harvard, maybe even being Allowed to be taught at Harvard, because it is a pretty blatant counter to that trend.  I think the fact that it is being so well received by the student population alludes to my contention that human beings are not totally satisfied with just "m, x, and y".  I think because we are capable of "z", of self-awareness, it is something we need to experience to be satisfied with ourselves; i.e. through realizing more of our full potential as human (i.e., "m+x+y+Z") beings.

For a long time now I have felt very strongly that we are at a point in our evolution as a species that we can no longer live our lives as merely a function of "m, x, and y"; i.e. the more biologically based aspects of our existence. I have written several blog posts on this subject such as "The Biology of Heaven""Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part I""Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part II""Overcoming My Addiction to 'Falling In Love'""The Biology of 'Omnipotence'", and "So What Does Love FEEL Like...For Real?", etc. If I were to make a broad summary of all of these posts, I would say they have to do with becoming much more self-aware, even to the point of being sensitive to the "patterns-patterning" in our own biochemistry that we recognize as "feelings", that may be driving us from much deeper biological imperatives, but are not necessarily beyond our conscious control.  I would offer that it is the very fact that we can become more "self-aware" in the midst of that play of our biology, that we actually have more opportunities to regulate it intentionally. The truth is there are all kinds of ways that we are doing things without full-consciousness or intention that are ultimately ways of regulating our emotional biochemistry. Why do we do anything that "makes us feel good"? What is "feeling good" apart from a secretion of certain biochemicals into our bloodstream?

Admittedly, with all of the work I have done in this area myself, I find myself identifying more and more with the "Bene Gesserit" of the world of Dune and science fiction: "But beyond the outer virtues of poise, self-control, and diplomacy, Bene Gesserit training includes superior combat skills and precise physiological control that grants them direct control over conception and embryonic sex determination, aging, and even the ability to render poisons harmless within their bodies...." (according to this Wikipedia article). Granted, that's a Really Idealized conception of what anyone might be capable of doing with regards to regulating their own physiology, but it does point to some inkling of what we might become capable of, at least to a greater degree, especially with better training.

Furthermore, I think for us to have a more functional human culture in this world, and to have more people experiencing more meaningful and ultimately happier lives as human beings, it is important that we give more attention to this higher capacity in ourselves, this capacity for self-awareness and emotional/biological/physiological self-regulation. I think much of the dissatisfaction people are experiencing today stems from the very fact that they are not able to exercise those capacities, that they have not been given the social support and context for developing those capacities within themselves. These young people attending this class at Harvard...they are some of the lucky ones, especially because they are getting exposed to this fairly early in their lives. I am a firm believer that even much younger children can be gently and effectively guided in their learning of emotional self-regulation, but it needs to be something their parents and teachers also understand and know how to practice themselves, before it can be taught to their children and students.

In other words, we still have plenty of room to grow and evolve as human beings in this world, both individually, and collectively.  From my point of view, we have barely even begun to realize the potential of our capacity for self-awareness; i.e. "The Z Factor" (according to E.F. Schumacher). Consequently, I applaud the work of people who are effectively helping others to explore along this path, people like Professor Michael Puett. I am continuing my own "work" in this area as well, and, as appropriate, will continue to share with you here from my experiences and insights.