Holy Rock

Faith is a module in the Human Consciousness Program (HCP).

As I pointed out in my last post, human consciousness can be thought of as a piece of software. The analogy breaks down somewhat when you get into the details, but certainly this is the best way to describe the nature of human consciousness that I have found. I will uniformly refer to this piece of software as the HCP on this blog.

The HCP is a program that was written by the process of evolution. Thus, everything in  the HCP is an adaptation which promotes the successful reproduction of the human race. Remember that evolution promotes reproduction (including the rearing of offspring which are in turn prepared and capable of reproducing as well), and nothing else. This is the basic underlying fact that drives all of the logic in the HCP. Modules in the HCP do not need to be rational, logical, ethical, or anything else positive. Modules can be illogical, irrational, and even negative in terms of human suffering, no problem, as long as the given module increases reproduction.

So, how do we get faith as a module in this software? Simple. Assume that there was a proto-humanoid primate in a paleolithic hunter-gatherer tribe somewhere in the world. We will call this individual Leo. (The gender is arbitrary: This person could have been either male or female.) Leo had an interesting genetic mutation: He was mildly delusional. This particular form of delusion caused Leo to be able to believe facts which were not true (at least not provably true in the traditional sense), and behave in a manner as if these facts were true. Also, when he asserts the truth of these facts to himself, despite the evidence of his senses, his brain rewards him with a form of pleasure: A sense of awe and wonder.

In our scenario, let’s assume that Leo is down by the riverbed one day, and he finds a rock. This is a very unusual rock: It is shaped like a torus (what we refer to as a doughnut). He is filled with awe: This rock has a place which is there, and yet isn’t. Leo finds it enchanting and wonderful. He believes he can hear a voice speaking to him from the rock. This voice tells him of how special, significant and wonderful he is. He is flooded with a profound feeling of peace and love. He decides that the rock is holy. He calls it The Holy Rock.

Leo takes the rock back to his village. He shows the rock to his village, and tries (in his proto-humanoid, pre-language) to communicate the idea of how special and significant The Holy Rock is. Most of his tribe finds him to be absolutely crazy, but a few of the females are fascinated by him. They find his ideas very interesting. As a result, they hang around with Leo, and allow him to mate with them. In the process, Leo has a large number of offspring, many of whom inherit his mutation.

He then shares with his children the ideas about The Holy Rock, and many of them believe as well. In the process of believing in The Holy Rock, these individuals become tightly bound with each other. They share common values and ideas. Further, they have a sense that the rest of the world is against them, and thus they need to be united with each other. This increases the level of empathy and cooperation within this group dramatically.

Empathy and cooperation are absolutely adaptive traits in humans which promote reproduction. Think about what happens when a pre-agricultural hunting party tries to take down a wooly mammoth. If one of the young men gets hit by a tusk while going in for a spear thrust, he had better hope than one of the other humans in that party will carry him back to the village and feed him while he gets back to health. Otherwise, that man is going to die. Thus, a strong bond of love between humans is required for optimal survival and reproduction. As a result of this, Leo’s group flourishes, and breeds competing groups out of existence.

Religion is simply the combination of culture with faith. Faith is now a built-in module which has the capacity to fire if necessary. Once the Faith Module has fired in an individual, that person will tend to express that faith in the context of their culture. This creates religion.

The Faith Module also directly encourages reproduction: It is patently obvious that very religious people have a higher birth rate in general than less religious humans. When I was in Christianity and was considering going into the ministry, I was repeatedly warned by my fellow Christians (especially those already in the ministry) that ministers face a daunting amount of sexual temptation. Apparently, intimate contact with a religious leader is a powerful aphrodisiac for human females. Religious leaders are very high status males, and thus attract lots of sexual attention from women. We see this readily in our own culture in all religions, especially Christianity, where many religious leaders get caught in sexual infidelity.

Faith has several other positive effects aside from increasing reproduction:

  • Faith decreases mortality stress. A religious person is able to believe that they are immortal in some sense. Thus, they do not have to worry as much about death. Believe me, this is a significant source of anxiety, even in our own time. I should know: I am an older man with serious health problems. I would love to be able to believe that I will be ushered gloriously in the presence of Jesus when I die. Oh well.
  • Faith decreases situational stress as well. A religious human group living in an area where there has been no rain in a long time are able to pray for rain. In the process of prayer, they submit the issue of rain to some divine source (the gods, God, or whatever). By doing so, they relieve themselves of some of the anxiety over a situation over which they have no direct control. Thus, faith creates the illusion of control (or at least influence) over circumstances over which a human does not have any direct control. In our own time, relationship stress is a good example. If a religious man has marital problems, by praying, he is able to turn over the problem of his marriage to some divine source. In the process, again, he releases his responsibility over the issue, and this reduces his anxiety over the situation. I have found personally that letting go of religious delusions has increased my own stress. I am now completely aware that I am both responsible and free: I have to manage my own life as best I can. This places the burden on me, not on God.

Unfortunately, religious faith also has some serious negative affects on our culture. Certainly it is spectacularly wasteful in terms of resources. In my own environment, I can barely go outside and throw a rock without hitting a Christian church of some type. Just the land use alone is a huge waste. And that’s in modern times when religion has declined in importance. In places like Cologne, Germany, the local cathedral has provided the dominant source of resource consumption for the entire area for centuries.

Further, religious folks, by virtue of believing facts which are not provably true, open themselves up to being manipulated and exploited. I have certainly fallen into this trap numerous times. The Hallelujah Diet is a great example. Although it shows up on the QuackWatch website, the Hallelujah Diet remains hugely popular among Christians, especially evangelicals, who stubbornly refuse to accept that this program is completely unscientific, and likely does more harm than good for most folks. My experience with the Hallelujah Diet is very instructive: When my wife became seriously ill, many of our Christian friends strongly recommended that she go on the HD program. Later, after we figured out that HD was a completely ineffective approach, I went back to these Christians and asked them about their personal experience with the HD. Without exception, they had also abandoned the HD, and concluded that it did not work for them. So, I asked, why did they recommend the HD so highly, especially given the combination of their own negative experience, plus all of the information about the HD which is available on the internet? I got a lot of shrugging of shoulders and shuffling of feet while staring at the ground on that one. Near as I can tell, for these religious folks, the Christian nature of HD trumped all other questions: Since George Malkmus is such a great Christian brother, and hears from God, and so forth, the HD must be good. It just didn’t work for me. Never mind that it is a well-known quack cure, as documented on the internet. Most Christians don’t even check for that when considering Christian programs like the HD. They simply implicitly trust other Christians, often despite all reason.

Other obvious examples of financial exploitation are readily available in our culture. Many televangelists live off of this stuff, and are able to raise large sums of money, most of which is simply wasted. Thus, in that sense, religion often becomes a legalized form of theft. I will not belabor the point further.

Perhaps the greatest negative effect of religion is the development of war. Recall in our example that the tribal group that Leo started believed that they were unique, and that the rest of the world was opposed to them. (Some resistance to religious ideas is inevitable from folks in whom the religion gene does not fire.) In Christianity, this takes the form of the persecution myth. This leads eventually to the formation of competing religious groups, such as Christianity vs. Islam.

Also, religious folks believe that the divine is on their side. This gives religion a powerful motivation and rationale for war. The promise of divine reward after death has been used as a manipulation for glorious death in battle (or as a suicide bomber) for all of human history. It is pretty likely that the first wars had a religious context, and as we see in human history, many (if not most) wars are over religion in some form.

More later.

Rethinking How We Think

Human consciousness is a piece of software. Highly evolved, messy, counter-intuitive, massively patched, and so forth, yes. But still a piece of software nonetheless. I have observed this before, but as I decompile the HCP (Human Consciousness Program, please keep up), and as I figure out more and more about it, the more interesting this idea becomes to me.

Take inebriation. I have been an alcoholic during several periods of my life. Now, I barely touch the stuff and it does not appeal to me. Largely eliminating alcohol from my lifestyle has had huge health benefits for me. I have lost around 90 pounds, and many of my chronic health care problems have simply resolved since I made this simple lifestyle change. Which leads to the question: Why does mankind consume alcohol since it is obviously harmful to our health?

Simple: The force of evolution favors one thing, and one thing only: Reproduction. Inebriation leads to sexual activity, which leads to reproduction. Hence, mankind loves alcohol, marijuana, opiates and all the rest. Anything that makes us less inhibited, more inclined to relax, that will be preferred in evolutionary terms, because those who get inebriated will breed the teetotalers out of existence.

It gets gnarly when you talk about things like marijuana and opiates. Marijuana is also referred to as cannibis, and we actually have physical structures in our brains called canniboid recepters. These puppies receive the THC released by marijuana and causes the effects of marijuana which we experience: Increased sensory sensation, euphoria and all the rest. That same thing is true with opiates: We have opioid receptors in our brains as well.

So, obvious question: Why do we have these structures at all? I mean, again, inebriation is harmful, right?

Wrong: Inebriation using marijuana definitely increases sexual activity. So do opiates. Given two proto-humanoid primate family groups, one with canniboid receptors and the other without, assuming that both have access to cannibis, the group with canniboid receptors will breed the other group into oblivion.

Hence: Evolution favors anything that increases reproduction. Nothing more.

Which leads to my original thesis: The HCP is a piece of software. That piece of software includes features like inebriation, all of which got built in for various reasons, all related to enhancing chances for reproduction. Survival at least until successful reproduction, and rearing of viable offspring.

Here’s the problem: The HCP is based upon incorrect assumptions. Like any piece of software that becomes obsolete over time, it needs to be fundamentally rewritten. The assumptions of the HCP are the ancestral environment: Paleolithic, pre-agricultural man. Hunter gathers, in other words. We are about as far away from that as you can possibly imagine.

It reminds me of the Chicago project. During the mid-1990s, Microsoft launched a project they called Chicago. At that time, Microsoft was one of the largest and most successful businesses in the history of planet Earth, largely based upon the success of one product: Windows. Despite this, Microsoft made the odd, counter-intuitive decision to completely rewrite Windows from scratch, starting with a relatively clean slate. In the process, Microsoft somewhat trashed the work they had done before on the existing version of Windows.

The result of the Chicago project was Windows NT, which eventually led to Windows 2000, and ultimately the versions of Windows we have now. This was the most successful and profitable software project in the history of Microsoft, and maybe the entire world. But it was based upon one simple reality: Windows was dying. It was crippled by an obsolete architecture based upon assumptions that were no longer correct: Memory was scarse and expensive, networks were slow and tiny, disk space was cramped, CPUs were terribly slow, and so forth. The IT industry even has a word for this type of software: They call it “crufty”. Crufty means a piece of software that is old, obsolete, difficult to rewrite, and just needs to be scrapped.

The HCP is crufty. We need to rewrite it.

More later.

My Friend Joan

I have a dear old friend named Joan who posted the following comment to my Facebook page, in response to my most recent blog called I am not a Sinner. Here is the quote from Joan’s comment:

Get over it Jeff, you continuously contemplate God….etc., etc., but YOU make no REAL meaningful or significant changes/ differences IN YOUR LIFE….I follow you, but, you never seem to move on, in ANY direction, there is ALWAYS so much confusion andso little advancement, with so little clarity in what you say….Hopefully, maybe, moving forward with contemplated changes and positive decisions in your life WILL make a difference….(outside of all the other crap)……..SOOOOO…sorry… but life’s a bitch!!!!! I’m just trying to find anything substantial or significant in your writing thats worth holding onto throughout your rants…. Maybe your intellect is beyond mine…but sometimes I think life is purely nothing more than life…..moving forward without all the intro-spectrum stuff……ENJOY!!

Lets look at whats outside….and then try to move in….academics can sometimes cloud things…..A LOT!!! xo

First of all, let me say to Joan: I am delighted that you are following me. I find it significant and inspiring that this blog caused you to to have such a strong response. That’s wonderful.

Now, in terms of what you said in your comment, well, yeah. That’s kind of the whole idea behind that particular blog post: Moving on. I can tell you since that day (the day I referred to in my previous post in which I had a profound spiritually transformative experience), I have been very different. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. We had a conflict before that day. Now we don’t. That’s because I let go of all the rage. I am no longer trying to change my wife, my friends or any one else in my life. I no longer want folks to be like me. I am happy and content to allow all of my loved ones to be exactly who they want to be, right now, in this present moment, in the area of spirituality as in all other areas.

So, I have a great deal of peace now. That’s what happened on that day. I think that’s pretty much “moving on”, as you put it. Let me know your thoughts.

In terms of your comments about academics clouding the issues, well, again, yeah. Certainly, I definitely have a tendency to get bogged down in the technical details. I can understand your frustration. I will try to lighten it up a bit in that respect. Watch for my next post, which will be another intensely personal account from my family history. No academic content in other words. I hope you enjoy it.

Having said that, I’ve got to read someone. I have a reading habit, and I like that habit, so I am not going to try to break it any time soon. In that regard, I have chosen to read (arguably) academics like Karen Armstrong and Robert Wright, as opposed to (say) Joel Osteen. I find Armstrong and Wright to be much more balanced in their approach, and I like who I am when I read them as opposed to the overtly Christian writers. I suppose that’s just a matter of taste, but this is where I am. My current read, as I think you know by now, is The Moral Animal by Robert Wright. An incredibly insightful book. But, again, I won’t be blogging on anything like that anytime soon.

Stay tuned though. I enjoy the interaction, and, again, I am thrilled that you are listening.

I am not a Sinner

I had a transformative spiritual experience recently. I was driving from Las Vegas to Phoenix (about a 6 hour drive) alone on a beautiful day. I found myself surrounded by the desert, mountain valley after valley moving behind me, as I drove through this incredible landscape.

An environment which is conducive to reflection, that’s for sure. I found myself replaying in my mind an email conversation that I had with my Christian friend Ray, in which he stated that I “blamed God for all the negative things in the law”. As well as the atrocities committed in the name of Jesus by the Christian church, etc.

I realized that I did not think I really blamed God for these things. But that’s a natural mistake on Ray’s part. He was thinking as he is: A Diest Christian. So he has a personal relationship with his Creator. Most days these days, I am agnostic. Certainly I know at this point in the core of my being that the existence or non-existence of God is an unknowable fact. Certainly not knowable by me, that’s for sure! So I do not know, and cannot know, if I am in a relationship with my Creator. Thus, it would be very difficult for me to blame Him for things of which I don’t believe He is is capable. No. I think that the negative things in the bible and the acts of men in His name are simply acts of human beings. Perhaps acting under a particularly ugly form of delusion. But acts of man nonetheless.

That led to the question: So why is it that I am so pissed off about the law? Why do I get so incensed about the stupid, evil, racist, misogynistic, cruel and inhumane stuff in the law? I mean, beyond normal incredulity at the insanity which is the biblical law. Certainly, my ire seemed to me to be more intense than most folks in our time and culture.

And then I figured it out. What I was angry at was not the law. What I was angry at was sin.

Here is what the idea of sin says: The creator of the universe hates me. And He wants to kill me. And after that, he is going to put me in a terrible place when I die, where he has legions of demons who will torture me to death continuously. Although I won’t be able to die. So the suffering will go on and on and on.

And the only way out of this inevitable abyss (about which I have nothing to say, by the way) is to accept that this same Creator took his own son and tortured him terribly instead. And then if I believed, really believed, all of that, I would be saved, and God would not want to kill and damn me anymore.

Once I got my arms completely around that idea, I did get a bit pissed. I realized the real problem with traditional religion in all of its forms is this very thing: The idea of sin.

So I let it fall away. I simply determined at that moment that I am not a sinner. I have not displeased the Creator in any way. This does not mean that I am perfect. Far from it. It simply means that there is no divinely prescribed code of behavior for humans to follow, the violation of which brings divine ire. I have the right to live my own life, in what ever manner I see fit. I am both responsible and free.

This revelation (if you can call it that) was followed by several hours of driving through an incredible desert landscape with tears streaming down my face as I was bathed in an incredible feeling of love.

Was I visited by God? I don’t know. It certainly felt like it. I have been different from that day. I can feel the difference. It is quite weird, and a bit scary. But I would not want to go back to the way I was before.

More later.