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Haven’t we said enough about the ineffable?
— Dean Radin

Give me a place to stand, from which I can see the earth
Sell me a ticket that I might return to the land before my birth
Grant me a new perspective on what I have never seen
Teach me to be a being of a sort I have never been
Deliver me from the familiar, from whence there can be no sight
Shutter my eyes in darkness, that I might see the light

What have I held as presumption, routinely unaware?
What have I failed to see in the haze and reflection of my own glare?
May my neurons diverge from my body and branch to infinity
For there is and can be no salvation but devolves from mystery.
The source of all my confusion is this vessel which I call “me”
And until it’s demolished, how can I expect to aspire to clarity?

(No I cannot believe that I have to be dead to see things as they really are
But compared to the scope of this limited brain, the truth is a distant star.)

— Josh Mitteldorf

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What work could be

Untitled drawingI have long accepted this as true and right.  It is part of the cultural water I swim in.  But today I find it goes against the grain of my deeper values.  It is a denigration of work and a denigration of living.

Everyone deserves to live.  No one should starve or freeze on the street.   This applies without conditions to all.

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. — Mark Twain

Many people are generous; they find joy and fulfillment serving one another, in large ways and small.  We can organize our economy around faith in the citizens’ goodness, rather than the assumption that people are lazy and selfish by nature.

When you coerce a man to work, when you tell him that work is unpleasant, that he must suffer or die—of course he comes to hate his job and hate his employer.

Real work isn’t degrading.  It isn’t dishonest.  It’s not at someone else’s expense, and it involves no coercion, either of or by the worker.

Real work makes us feel good about ourselves and connected to those we care about.

We are all serving the god of capitalism.  What if we served one another instead?

In practice it might looks like this:

  • A guaranteed universal income, sufficient live modestly with health and security.
  • Public employment: a guaranteed job for anyone who wants one, doing public service of his or her choosing, maintaining infrastructure or providing social services, creating art or scholarship.
  • In fact, people should be encouraged to write their own job descriptions, with liberal oversight and generous approval.
  • An expansion of the idea of public utilities: banking, housing, internet, and transportation become free public services.  Basic personal energy needs might also be free, including energy efficiency, energy conservation, and recycling services.

Right-to-serve (3)

 

 

 

Science advances; the scientific world-view remains stuck

What has become entrenched as the “scientific world-view” is the foundation of our secular values and reasoning.  For those of us without a religious tradition, it is the basis of our ideas about how the world works and who we are.  But in what sense is the “scientific world-view” scientific?  It grew out of 19th Century science, and has never been updated.  It is no longer compatible with known science.


Thermodynamics and Evolutionary Theory.  These were two triumphs of 19th Century science that told us how order may emerge from randomness.

The first gave rise to the idea that the physics of atoms could explain chemistry.  From the second arose the idea that life (and consequently human minds) are products of chance in a world of chemistry.  The universe is a clockwork of atoms that know only the attractions and repulsions of their neighbors.  All order, all life and mind, comes about through  the laws of chance.

This led to a philosophy rooted in meaninglessness that dominated Western thought from Nietzsche through Sartre, and still has a pervasive (perversive?) influence today.  “Humanism” is its best face: “We’re going to have to supply our own sense of what is good and beautiful because the world is only atoms, and we are an insignificant part of the whole.”

In the 20th Century a funny thing happened: The science behind this world-view collapsed but the world-view had a life of its own.  As a philosophy and an attitude, this idea continues to weigh us down, though its scientific underpinnings have become untenable.  

A) First is the discovery that pure thought can influence quantum phenomena on a tiny scale, and through the “butterfly” effect might come to make large-scale changes.  Originally, this was a consequence of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, but now it has been verified experimentally in the works of (for example) Dean Radin and Robert Jahn.  Quantum entanglement is a reality in our brains, and since single nerve-firings can lead to whole new ideas, our thoughts are linked with one another and with the outside world in ways that stretch our imagination.

B) Second is the discovery that the laws of physics and the properties (like charge and mass and spin) of elementary particles are fine-tuned in a way that makes life possible.  The old view was that there are a few arbitrary, mathematically elegant rules about the way particles behave, and also a few arbitrary numbers, like how much the particles weigh and how strong the forces are.  Life just took the given physical rules as raw material and put together (by chance) some combinations that could make copies of themselves, and the rest of the story was explained by natural selection.  Well, this story no longer hangs together.  In the 1970s came the discovery that the physical rules are not arbitrary, but quite special.  If we changed the rules just a little bit in any direction, we would have a universe in which nothing interesting ever happened—For example, one kind of tiny change leads to no stars or galaxies; change the rules in another direction and all atoms would be hydrogen, so there’s no chemistry at all.   

There is a remarkable “coincidence” to be explained, and just two interpretations have been proposed:

      1. 1. The more conventional view is that there are zillions of different universes with no one to look at them or describe them, and the reason we find ourselves in this one is that it is one of a tiny set in which complexity of any kind is possible.  (Yes, this is now the

    standard view of cosmology.  To my mind, this huge number of undetectable universes is a lot of baggage for any theory to have to carry.)

    2. The other idea is that conscious awareness has an independent existence, and is more fundamental than physics, thus matter, space and time, with all the physical laws, were co-created by consciousness–perhaps as a kind of playground.  (This idea is conventionally regarded as mystical, but it ties together the psychic research cited above, and it avoids references to a billion billion billion universes we can never see or touch.  Personally, I like it much better.)

    3.  

      There is no #3.  I have never seen any other proposed explanation of the extraordinary good fortune that gave us laws of physics that can support complexity in general and life in particular.

C) One more change in our basic understanding is not yet so well-accepted as the first two, but it is well on its way.  It is beginning to look as thought the problem of the origin of life has no conventional solutions.  In other words, after 70 years of trying, no one has been able to come up with a plausible scenario for the first molecule or set of molecules that could reproduce itself.  Attempts to create living things from simple molecules with simulated lightning and cosmic rays have failed utterly.  And even with the full force of biochemical engineering, no lab has been able to create a self-reproducing set of chemicals that can function in a non-biological environment.  And it is not for lack of trying.  A further, basic problem goes under the arcane name “evolvability”.  We have known for 20 years that self-reproducing systems cannot necessarily evolve.  Even more stringent design features are required for a living system that is capable of evolving.  So, how did evolvability evolve?

Conclusion:  Life and consciousness are not epiphenomena built on a foundation of cold physical law.  Life and mind are woven into the fabric of reality at a deep level.  We seem to be seeing “intention” or goal-oriented collective behavior in living systems at the lowest levels, and perhaps in non-living things to a lesser extent.  

Paradoxically, the “scientific world-view” has come to be identified with 19th Century science.  The mainstream of scientiss will tell you with a straight face that the light of consciousness—the first and only thing you know for sure—doesn’t matter at all, and that it is some kind of illusion that arises from large-scale computation.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

When the new science comes to be incorporated into our view of ourselves and our relation to nature, everything will change.

Intersubjective bootstrap

If all life is a dream, is it your dream or mine?
And why should our two worlds agree?
An answer avails if we’re both The Divine,
At our source, I am you and you’re me.
Though it seems that we’re separate (I trust you’ll concur)
It’s a stretch to conceive “one great soul”–
Still, we sense there are times when our boundaries blur
Our designs coalesce as one whole.
emotionally-intelligent-people
If together we’ve dreamed up this life, with its flaws
And its numberless wonders untold,
Might we harness the power of resonant thought,
Who can say what new worlds will unfold?
We might rein back our species to mind Nature’s laws,
We might dream exploitation to cease.
Once we own all the battles that e’er man has fought,
Are we ready to co-create peace?

— Josh Mitteldorf

Challenging your own beliefs

If you read something that fits in well with your current framework of beliefs, the chances are good that you’ll learn something new, and integrate a new piece of knowledge with what you already know.  But the chance that you’ll be moved to change and grow are close to zero.

If you read something that doesn’t fit with what you presently know and believe, chances are good that you’ll disbelieve it, you’ll forget the information, or put it out of your mind.  But in the rare event that you believe it, take it in and integrate it, the potential for change and growth and personal transformation is high.

Inevitably, most of what we read is in the first category, and rightly so.  But don’t limit your reading to the familiar and the comfortable.  Once or twice a week, take in something that you deeply disagree with.  Read something that you know in advance is wrong and misguided, even morally depraved.

Let yourself take it in.  How would you answer someone who thinks this way?  What would you say to him to win him over to your own perspective?  If he attacked your beliefs at their most vulnerable point, how would you defend yourself?

If appropriate, you might take a step further:  If I had the same life experiences as this person, would my beliefs be like his?  Who do I know who has changed over the years from a perspective like this one to a perspective like mine?  Who do I know who has changed in the other direction, starting from beliefs that agree with my present views, evolving toward these alien ideas that I just read?

— Josh Mitteldorf

New Year’s Resolution

By and large, willpower doesn’t work. When you’re ready for a new habit, it will become difficult, then impossible to maintain the old one.  In fact, one good application of willpower is to force yourself to continue in an old habit that feels wrong, to allow yourself to feel deeply the motivation to change.

When people set out to lose weight by sticking to a diet, over 95% of them fail. Most actually gain weight after a short initial period of success.  Feeling like a failure is part of the pattern that keeps the weight in place, and the harder you try to force yourself, the greater the resistance.

Other attempts to impose change on yourself are almost as futile.  Perhaps you can encourage growth and transformation by focusing more awareness on your moment-to-moment experience.  But to some extent, even focused awareness is a gift.
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Resolve nothing.  You are already on exactly the right path, even if you don’t know where it is taking you along the way.