Religion Is A Purpose Engine

Builds Upon: A Formal Mental Science,
Loopholes In Evolution

Superstition, darkness, the inquisition, the opiate of the masses.

This is religion in polite ‘rational’ society.

Yes, religion has been used as a control mechanism and to help keep people docile under oppression but to focus on this only is to think very small.

Religion is a purpose engine for human societies.

The same type of thinking that allowed humans to plan for the winter or the dry season enabled us to become aware of our mortality and the impermanence of all things. This awareness allowed us to arrive at the logical conclusion that the universe is indifferent and our petty struggles pointless.

Humans require some means of fixing this bug. We must have some way of establishing meaning and purpose.

Nihilism is fatal to the continuity of the human species.
No nihilistic human society has ever survived. Societies that lose their sense of purpose are quickly subsumed by their neighbors and forgotten.

A well-established reason to exist better determines a society’s competitive success than sheer numbers, force of arms, or abundant natural resources. Meaning comes before all else.

This does not mean we all ought to try to revive traditional Christianity or any other religion. The old ways have failed for a reason in our own age and we are naive to suppose there ever was a golden age.
Systems of absolute morality have always been a clumsy way of regulating human behavior.
Absolute morals must self-contradict in countless unforeseen ways. A whole science of apologetics is required to keep the system afloat. Absolute morals set a standard that’s impossible to emulate in real life. Most people just ignore The Rules because absolute morality lays out an abysmally poor model of human reality.
In a highly religious society the payoff for clever, hypocritical defectors is very high while those who naively follow the rules are easily exploited. This is the problem that irks critics of religion to no end.

Despite all these shortcomings, however, religions kept thriving societies alive for millennia.

If a traditional religion is no longer suitable as a purpose engine, it must be replaced.

Secularism, a philosophy that favors a lowest common denominator that offends no one is not the answer. It provides a legal basis for a society of many factions but it cannot provide the power of purpose and meaning.

The ‘humanism’ set forth by atheists is not a viable answer. It is Christian ethics without Christianity to support it, a foundation fancifully suspended in mid-air.
Strong atheism reduces to nihilism. It can never uphold or produce a system of social values derived from a system of absolute morality.

There are two main functions that must be performed by a replacement purpose engine.

1) Avoid nihilism.

Traditional religions perform this function by assuming the existence of an eternal, omniscient creator(s) that cares about its creation.

I would propose that a post-religious thinker must assume a higher purpose.

This higher purpose ‘exists’ precisely because we perish without it.
The possibility of a pointless existence self-eliminates.

The higher purpose is pragmatically self-evident from the very laws of our universe.

2) Establish purpose.

In traditional religions the omniscient creator(s) gives us some kind of mission in life.

I have my ideas on how this problem might be approached. I hint at these ideas throughout this blog and will continue to develop them in new posts.

Conclusion:

The old religions arose spontaneously from societies operating wholly in a state of nature.

If Western civilizations continue on their present course, they will be engulfed by the old religions as they falter. The cycles that led to the rise and fall of our civilization will repeat. Better luck next time.

For now, there is a brief window of time to experiment with creating a deliberately engineered purpose engine; a construct superior in function to those that arise by chance and which can never develop beyond a bare minimum required by natural selection.

The fatal flaw in Western enlightenment thought is its relentless obsession with the material and the empirical.

After centuries of technological breakthroughs, methods of social organization, the use of belief systems, the power of human consciousness have remained in an uncultivated, pre-scientific state.
Indeed, it is precisely this lopsided mode of development which now brings the West crashing down.

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27 responses to “Religion Is A Purpose Engine

  1. I don’t think we can claim that we know a higher purpose exists because societies that don’t believe in one go extinct.

    To my mind, explanations of mystical experience explain why humans tend to produce mythological religions.

    However, this does not mean that Zeus is necessarily real.

    Mystical and meditative experiences can bring about a very gnostic understanding of purpose. This does not mean that the gnosis can be expressed completely in ordinary language.

    I don’t agree that the power of consciousness has remained in a pre-scientific state. There are parapsychologists who use the scientific method to publish their findings. There are meditators and spiritual guides who have various systems of mental development.

    • Mythological, polytheistic pantheons seem typical of religions that serve a single a state or ethnic group.
      Indeed, the Gods give a group of people purpose as surely as a more philosophically mature monotheism. The clientele is simply more narrow.
      In terms of competitive performance we repeatedly see ‘corporate’ monotheism outcompete mythological religions precisely because they are ‘small businesses’ with no imperative to expand.

      Does Zeus exist? Perhaps not in the sense of a bearded man with lightning bolts.
      In the sense that he helped Ancient Greeks thrive, he was quite real.
      Belief in him had very real effects on their society.

      There are highly sophisticated students of consciousness but they are mostly outside of the Western tradition. Indeed, their point of view is un-Western.

      Parapsychologists might do experiments on sensational outlier phenomena like telekinesis and telepathy, but how many are observing patterns in how our consciousness works and actively applying this knowledge?

      No, the understanding of consciousness remains very much in a pre-scientific state.

      I might liken the advanced understanding of Yogis and Lamas to that of medieval alchemists on the verge of science, but none of them seem on the way to inventing the steam engine of the mind.

      • Would the steam engine of the mind produce expanded consciousness, superintelligence, and so on?

        Do you have some vision of what a true “steam engine of the mind” would be like?

      • They ran into some of these questions when they were doing the Remote Viewing research at SRI. Materialistic Parapsychology works best when dealing with micro events that can be controlled and rendered statistically relevant. People try to take the same statistical approach and apply it to extremely large macro events and it falls apart usually, much like with macro economics (not to mention the historic record that would be required for a truly predictive model).

        For instance, you have someone view a target, they report that there is steam, it’s hot, and then they say it’s a tea pot. In actuality, it’s a nuclear reactor, the viewer in question simply took an incomplete view of what was there and referenced it to a stock concept she had already formed. Our language and stock pictures are full of fuzzy half-understood things, when the brain cuts corners we can’t make sense of anything. Doubly so if something was sensed but categorized as “meaningless”, then it would just be tossed aside because we have no model for it. In this way huge swatches of information can be tossed aside because of learned limitations. It is dependent on awareness, Swann started calling it sentience and sensitivity. The current default most use is the vague term “energy” to explain the enhanced feelings, sensitivities and awareness.

        In my own tests I’ve noticed it, I would form almost am immediate impression, but it would usually be wrong. I would have to go back, actively probe, ask questions on what it is I am looking at. Work out the details. None of this is actually verbal, not even the questions themselves usually. And that doesn’t indicate whether the perception was/is active or passive.

        Swann has been working on something like this,

        http://www.biomindsuperpowers.com/Pages/TowardActivating-5.html
        http://www.biomindsuperpowers.com/Pages/TowardActivating-6.html
        http://www.biomindsuperpowers.com/Pages/systems.html
        http://www.biomindsuperpowers.com/Pages/1.html

        Some semi-related stuff about creating a galatic religion by Bainbridge:
        http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/bainbridge20090820/
        http://mysite.verizon.net/wsbainbridge/dl/nbic.htm



        Eric,
        Pardon the departure from my usual method but it won’t let me reply to a doubly nested reply.

        This is fascinating stuff.

        I have plans of my own for a post about new uses for the principle of recombinance. It’s always encouraging when I find there’s others out there on a similar path.

      • On the nuclear reactor example, the RVer hadn’t heard of a nuclear reactor before. She could recognize it once she had been introduced to the concept of it.

  2. “Would the steam engine of the mind produce expanded consciousness, superintelligence, and so on?

    Do you have some vision of what a true ‘steam engine of the mind’ would be like?”
    -Zhai2nan2

    I don’t see that human intelligence would necessarily be changed. We have certain structural limitations.

    The things we can accomplish with our intelligence most definitely could change.

    The easiest way I see to begin changing things right now:
    Remove more aspects of the world around us from a Darwinian state of nature.

    This is exactly what Western science did to observations of material reality. People simply started to apply a consistent formal method and actually think about what they were doing.
    Eventually, the manipulation of the natural world started to become a deliberate, consciously pursued endeavor rather than a pre-conscious emergent property of human society.
    So yes, we’re talking about a sort of expanded consciousness.

    Sadly Western thought seems incapable of applying its revolutionary philosophy beyond directly observable phenomena.
    For instance, it refuses to deal with the very empirically real effects of abstractions such as belief, purpose, meaning, societies, religions, and so on.

    So much of what I’m asking here is:
    What if we applied a formal method to making
    -A religion?
    -A ‘program’ we can run in our mind?

    I see some development along these lines as a potential ‘steam engine’ because we already know a conscious, formal method has the potential to lead to ‘machines’ that are far superior to anything Darwinian chance can produce.

  3. Very interesting thoughts you have here, I am somewhat engaged in similar issues myself. However, I do have some disagreements:

    “Religion is a purpose engine for human societies.”

    Yes– and no. Religion ends up being a purpose engine for human societies, but you are oddly switching from your normal, relatively individualistic perspective, to a more collectivist perspective. Religion is a purpose engine for societies, but it’s primary function is (or should be) as a mediator between individuals and a higher power (God/the Form of the Good).

    “The same type of thinking that allowed humans to plan for the winter or the dry season enabled us to become aware of our mortality and the impermanence of all things. This awareness allowed us to arrive at the logical conclusion that the universe is indifferent and our petty struggles pointless.”

    You are approaching this from a modern man’s perspective looking back into time and superimposing his own beliefs on ancient men. How can you read a work such as the Iliad or any of the Socratic Dialogues (to name a few) and come to the conclusion that after man immediately discovered basic reasoning it become self evident that “the universe is indifferent and our petty struggles pointless.”

    Man keep his pagan/animistic view of the world as magical, enchanted, and governed by higher being(s) both hidden and not-so-hidden well after discovering basic reasoning and his own mortality. The loss of animistic type thinking came with the loss of the magical/animist element in Christianity (which it did keep for hundreds of years) combined with the creation of industrialized societies (longer story than that, but trying to be brief).

    • Why must considerations of the society in aggregate be collectivist?

      Primitive tribes tend to have some notion of a creator spirit that designates their homeland as the center of the world and their people as the chosen people.

      In the Iliad there’s the notion that there’s some death realm in which heroic warriors are immortalized and there’s immortal beings who will never forget their exploits. In their cosmology, the small strivings of mortals are witnessed by great beings. The world of Homer’s heroes is not a nihilistic world. Like most mythical worlds it is animated with purpose by higher beings, even if the war over Troy is a monument to pointlessness.

      These societies had religious beliefs to address the basic questions of existence.

  4. My views exactly. We need a new religion which gives us an attainable purpose, taking into account all the data about human behaviour and potentialities that we have today. People want to behave, and to contribute to some purpose; but they don’t want to be expected to behave in some impossible utopian way.

  5. We don’t need to harness any ‘human consciousness power’ though. We don’t know magical thinking. Just stop assuming there’s nothing. Make some stuff up and make people work for something useful.

    • But could something that feels flagrantly made up give you a sense of meaning? Could the Flying Spaghetti Monster inspire a sense of divine purpose in you as you wake up each morning?

      And if you haven’t provided your world with meaning, what is ‘useful’ against our impending deaths and an eternity of empty time forever afterward?

      How is human consciousness magical? Is it magic when we recognize ourselves in the mirror?

      • ‘But could something that feels flagrantly made up give you a sense of meaning? Could the Flying Spaghetti Monster inspire a sense of divine purpose in you as you wake up each morning?’

        Unfortunately, trolling and malice gives many people the will to go on living.

        There are, sadly, many unfortunate souls who can only feel good when they make another human being feel bad. Many of these malefactors love the Flying Spaghetti Monster precisely because it feels false.

        They get out of bed because they hate humanity, and they hate spirituality. Their chiefest joy is to drag others down to their level.

      • Ask the Mormons! They don’t seem to care about making up shit. Works for them.

        It’s magical in the sense that is not subject to empirical confirmation. I’m ok with that in an ontological sense, but the fact is that people do make up a lot of magical bullshit building on that. cf. Western New Age or Indian philosophy in general.


        But would most Mormons agree with the premise that their religion is ‘made up?’

        Even if they conceded the material evidence against Joseph Smith’s claims is overwhelming and that their prophet began as a diviner and treasure hunter who spent his last earthly moments shooting someone in the face(inspiration for Alvis from sealab?) from his prison cell…

        Does their faith feel crassly made up and silly to them? I think that old South Park episode asks exactly this question.
        After all, the episode points out quite clearly that as a purpose engine, Mormonism easily outperforms ‘contemporary’ versions of Christianity: The lively community and family life of the Mormons is depicted as totally alien in a neighborhood where everyone else is weighed down by the typical cynicism and ennui of secular atomized suburbia.

  6. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you or vice versa, but the two main points I’m trying to make are:

    1. From reading some of your back posts here and at your other blogs I’ve noticed the recurring idea that society exists to serve the individual and not the other way around, which leads to the point that if an individual is not adequately served by the existing society, he should attempt to form a new one.

    I agree with this to a large extent, however, I think by saying that religion is “a purpose engine for human societies,” you are reversing your previous dictum regarding society when it comes to religion. I say religion is a purpose engine for the individual member of it– it is about man’s relation to the divine, and thus if an individual’s relationship to the divine is not advanced by his participation in his present religion, he should attempt to reform it or leave it. Even if his religion still gives his society purpose he should leave it if it doesn’t help him in his own personal relationship with the divine order.

    This may seem like hair splitting but I believe it’s a very important distinction.

    2. When you say:
    “This awareness allowed us to arrive at the logical conclusion that the universe is indifferent and our petty struggles pointless.”

    It seems to be saying that atheism and materialism flows naturally from basic reasoning skills– I don’t agree with this. Perhaps that’s not what you meant– but I have trouble reading it any other way. Or maybe it is what you meant and you intend to have a sort of atheist/materialist religion?

    • 1. I guess what I’ve tried to say is I don’t see how these concerns are incompatible. If anything, an individualist does well to understand why human societies tend to be collectivist and repressive. It’s important to understand that this is largely a defensive mechanism against rival societies. Those social organizations that have kept their people sufficiently in thrall are those that have stood the test of time.
      Someone who wants a society that works for the individual must engineer a social order that can outcompete its repressive rivals. This would be an ultimate feat of individualism.

      I still don’t understand how having an individual relationship with a higher being is incompatible with thinking about how it all works out on the macro-scale.
      I firmly believe the astute individualist must be aware of how collectives work and reject the poisonous stereotype that it’s about giving the other guy the finger and eschewing responsibility for one’s actions. An individualist still must understand who they are in relation to the collective to achieve their goals.

      Humans are social animals that live in groups. Individualism succeeds when members of a collective labor to set one another free by reducing friction of association.

      2. It’s only a matter of time before someone ends up asking “Why are we here? Why does anything matter if we will soon be dead?” It really is a pretty basic inquiry emergent from awareness of:
      -the self
      -time
      And that’s why I think we see that even hunter gatherer tribes have some means of infusing their world with purpose and meaning.
      You’re absolutely right that we don’t see hunter gatherers having conversations about nihilism. Nor do most human individuals ever formally ponder questions of purpose.
      But even the most incurious person responds to an overall feeling of purpose down in their gut and equally so to a collective feeling of listlessness and malaise.
      People have a deep need to feel that there is a Point, even if they can’t articulate this need.

      On the societal level, basic questions of existence must be answered.

      • ‘On the societal level, basic questions of existence must be answered.’

        Yes, indeed, and I think as your websites get more popular, you will get more and more folks like PanPhaeton who will ask you to give a 30-second summary of your answers for existence.

        A lot of folks will ask you for a religious agenda, even if you don’t feel a need for one. This is because a lot of folks use religious agendas to answer those basic questions of existence.

      • Nietzsche observed awhile back that most people need something like religion to provide a basic structure so they can turn their energies to other things in life.

        And ever since then, vicious, power hungry people have interpreted the concept of an ‘overman’ as a carte blanche to do whatever you like.
        Really a very juvenile misunderstanding that’s emblematic of the ‘slave’ mentality that Nietzsche criticizes.

        An overman is someone with a burning need to explore beyond the default purpose structure in which most of us live. This requires much greater personal responsibility and toil. That’s why most people can’t or don’t do it!
        Hence, one is thinking in an inherently ‘slavish’ way if they assume nothing exists outside the basic purpose structure and that it’s therefore all about breaking ‘free’ and behaving like a power crazed nihilistic sociopath.

        And I guess that’s why I’ve referred to my line of thinking here as ‘post-religious.’
        If the basic purpose engine most people rely on has broken down, what do you replace it with to keep the society going? And I think this is exactly the issue Nietzsche was probing into when he was exploring the death of God.

        PanPhaeton has asked me some good questions about the division between personal and collective in religions. Religions typically have a mainline tradition that gives most people the basic purpose structure they need to function in a productive, enduring mass society. This is what people, including me, are typically talking about when they refer to ‘religion’ or especially ‘organized religion.’

        Meanwhile, every major faith also has a tradition of intellectuals and mystics for people who want to explore further. And I would think some of these individuals are pretty close to Nietzsche’s ideal while Enlightenment-inspired strong atheists are as much ‘slaves’ as the ‘irrational’ people they criticize.

  7. 1. Ah, now I think I better understand where you’re coming from and getting at.

    “I still don’t understand how having an individual relationship with a higher being is incompatible with thinking about how it all works out on the macro-scale.”

    You’re right, I guess I just think it’s better to start at an individual relationship and proceed from there. So it would be something like:

    God creates man in his image– thus man’s first duty is to God.
    God creates man with such a nature that he cannot live without some kind of society– thus he also has a duty to society.
    But since God created man in his image– society has a duty (or limitations towards) each individual man.

    Therefore religion, being an institution of society with the purpose of helping man come closer to God has a duty to each member (who is a sincere seeker) and a duty to society only if society stays within its proper bounds towards the individual. I.e. religion has a duty to the society that helps man become a more perfect image of God, but not one that does the opposite. So if religion is giving purpose to a rotten society, man has no duty towards it.

    So definitely rebelling against a specific society or religion should not be taken lightly. One must first make sure that his society/religion isn’t fulfilling its proper role of helping him become a more perfect image of God– and even a ‘neutral’ society that neither helps nor hinders in this regard shouldn’t be rebelled against. Also I don’t really think of rebelling as trying to actively fight society, more just trying to live outside its influence as much as possible/necessary.

    “I firmly believe the astute individualist must be aware of how collectives work and reject the poisonous stereotype that it’s about giving the other guy the finger and eschewing responsibility for one’s actions. An individualist still must understand who they are in relation to the collective to achieve their goals.

    Humans are social animals that live in groups. Individualism succeeds when members of a collective labor to set one another free by reducing friction of association.”

    That does sound about right to me. I’ve done the naive ‘giving the other guy the finger’ before and it seems mostly futile and childish. I btw, don’t regard all collectivism as bad and actually am a collectivist in certain spheres. I suppose it’s like empiricism or rationalism– it’s crazy to be fully anti-empiricist or anti-rational, but not so crazy to try to assign certain spheres to them.

    2. Okay I see what you mean.

  8. Do we really need a purpose in order to live?

    The insentive to live is caused by one’s body drive caused by external conditions.
    E.g.: Sitting in the sun for hours will give the body enough energy, therefore enough insentive to live.
    Sitting at home lonely at night, not on purpose, will deprive the body of its insentive to live.

    It is clear that a decent normal life is enough as an insentive to keep living and stronger than any ideology.

  9. Nearly all of the spiritual doctrines that have had impact on humanity contradict one another. It’s amusing, if you look through Tibetan or Indian history, or any of the people traditionally believed to have old enlightened cultures, to watch them make up their mind then change it again over and over. They change what gender they are most partial too, what foods are taboo, what rituals we can embrace, it’s a fluid thing.

    • ‘They change what gender they are most partial too, what foods are taboo, what rituals we can embrace’

      This does not entail contradiction.

      A good physician, receiving a dozen patients over the course of a day, might tell the first four to eliminate meat from their diets, but then tell the next six to increase their meat consumption. This does not mean the doctor has changed his opinion – it means that the patients have different needs.

      • I suppose the very best of them didn’t get caught up in the self deception trap, but I doubt that’s the case for most. With too many preconceptions, it’s easy to be deceived. All worlds are filled with people willing to tell us what we want to hear.

      • Interestingly, it seems this guy made his living giving corporate seminars on consciousness.

        This kind of thing is usually the butt of jokes about the managers being told what they want to hear and the self help ‘guru’ afterwards laughing all the way to the bank.

        Sales 101: Confirm their biases.

      • He’d probably recommend more red meat to Yin anemic, pale, skinny people, who are always cold and advise against it with Yang people who have broad flushed complexions, thick necks, and coarse skin.

        Even if you change around the specific response, the governing principles remain the same.

    • Great series of videos. I’ll be looking up more stuff this guy has done.

      I enjoy taking tea in much the same way he does in part 2/3.

      It really is a meditative experience that puts you in the moment.

  10. Interesting attempt here, Giovanni, but, ultimately, fruitless.

    If you want true meaning, and purpose, you’re going to have to become a Christian. There is no way around it.

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