Archive for March, 2011

Why We Believe

Why do we believe what we believe? I suggest three factors.

Experience coherency. It is clear that our beliefs are founded upon our experiences. I am unlikely to accept a belief that does not cohere with my experiences, and I am less likely to reject a belief which strongly coheres with my experiences.

Just as our experiences shape our beliefs, our beliefs also shape our experiences. This is obvious with the case of spiritual intelligences. I believe in spiritual intelligences, and I seem to experience contact with spiritual intelligences. The more strongly I hold this belief, the more frequent and vivid these experiences are. In times when I do not hold this belief, I do not have these experiences.

There seems to be a kind of feedback loop: the more I see it, the more I believe it, the more I see it, the more I believe it… It works the other way as well: the less I see it, the less I believe it, the less I see it, the less I believe it…

I suggest that such a feedback loop between belief and experience is a common feature of beliefs in general, and not peculiar to this case. What we experience determines what we believe, and what we believe determines what we experience.

In the case of propositions about objects in physical world, beliefs seem to have less of an effect on experience. It is indeed possible to deny the evidence of one’s senses if this is strongly enough in conflict with a strongly held belief. But this rarely happens. On the other hand, with beliefs that are not propositions about physical or mathematical objects, it is easy to believe that it constantly happens that what we believe shapes how we see the world. It is easy to believe that to some extent “seeing is believing” with beliefs that are not propositions about physical or mathematical objects.

Belief coherency. One factor determining whether we accept or reject a belief is its coherency with our experience. Another factor is its coherency with the other things that we believe.

I am more likely to believe something if it coheres with what I already believe. I am less likely to believe something if it does not cohere with what I already believe.

It is possible to undergo a “paradigm shift,” in a which a whole set of interdependent beliefs are replaced with another set of interdependent beliefs which is inconsistent with the old set. Thomas Kuhn described this phenomenon in the history of science. One can also see it for instance when a person accepts or rejects a religion.

I suggest that paradigm shifts occur because it is very difficult to “sit between two stools” (as Gurdjieff put it). To have inconsistencies in one’s belief system is stressful, requires cognitive effort, and generates cognitive dissonance. Therefore, when one is torn between two belief systems, it is likely that eventually one will reject one of the systems wholesale and embrace the other one wholesale.

Social coherency. We believe things that other people believe. All of us have a many-tiered circle of trust. We have groups of people whom we trust and mistrust to greater and lesser degrees. If a belief is not held by people in our circle of trust, then we are less likely to believe it. If a belief is held by people in our circle of trust, then we are more likely to believe it. The size of the effect is in proportion to the closeness of the people in question to the center of our circle of trust.

I suggest that social coherency is an incorporation of others’ beliefs and experiences into our determination of our beliefs. In other words, we believe things that cohere with our experiences (experience coherency) and beliefs (belief coherency), and we also believe things that cohere with others’ experiences and beliefs.

Discussion

Let us analyze how these tools explain why we believe the things that we believe.

Arguments are a major factor in determining our beliefs. We are more likely to accept a belief if somebody can provide a convincing argument for it. I suggest that an argument is a means of revealing belief coherency. An argument proceeds from premises to conclusion. It has no effect if the listener does not believe the premises. If they do believe the premises, and the argument is internally strong, then they will believe the conclusion. They believe the conclusion because the argument has demonstrated to them that the conclusion coheres with things that they already believe (namely, the premises).

Arguments are the foundation for mathematics and philosophy. Evidence and arguments are the foundation for science. Evidence is, in essence, a process of sharing experience within a circle of trust (namely, scientists). A scientist says, “we experienced x as the outcome of our experiment,” and the rest of the scientific community takes it as a datum that this experience occurred.

Our available evidence and arguments together are not sufficient to account for our beliefs. Our beliefs are underdetermined by the available evidence and arguments. If we were all familiar with exactly the same body of evidence and arguments, it would still be possible (probably easy) to hold differing beliefs. The duality between physicalism and anoological non-physicalism is an example of a place where our beliefs are underdetermined.

What accounts for the portion of what we believe that is not fixed by the evidence and arguments? I suggest that belief coherency is an important factor. Since our beliefs are underdetermined, we simply adopt the belief system which is the simplest account of the data. The desire for coherency probably plays a significant role in forming our beliefs when these beliefs surpass the data, but I am not yet willing to state that it is the whole story.

What accounts for religious beliefs? After scientific and mathematical beliefs, these are the most prominent and highly developed belief systems in human society. Religious beliefs are not primarily based on arguments or evidence. Why do people believe them?

I suggest that social coherency is a factor: that people hold religious beliefs in part because the people around them hold religious beliefs. This alone can account fairly well for the people who are religious only in a casual manner, who are not passionate about religion but believe in it in a passive way without ascribing great importance to it.

This, however, does not explain how people originally came to hold religious beliefs. I suggest the following hypothesis, which however does not so much answer the question as narrow the domain of inquiry:

(H.1) One or more great individuals are the first cause of every religion’s existence.

(H.1) states that Christianity exists because Christ existed, Islam exists because Mohammed existed, Buddhism exists because the Buddha existed, Taoism exists because Lao Tzu existed, and Hinduism exists because the various Indian gurus (e.g. Gaudapada, Adi Shankara) existed. (H.1) need not mean that these figures were the only figures instrumental in bringing about any religion; it may be the case that there were many other important figures in each case.

Furthermore, I suggest the following:

(H.2) People who are passionately religious hold religious beliefs because they have religious experiences.

“People who are passionately religious” would include the great individuals of (H.1). If (H.2) is true then experience coherency plays an important role in deciding peoples’ religious beliefs.

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Making Choices, and Value

Earlier I discussed The Question, identifying this question as “what will I do?” I wish to present a systematic way of exploring this question, in order to motivate an exploration of the concept of value. I will begin, however, with value and a continuation of an attempt to place value in a mathematical context, an attempt which was begun by Jeremy Bentham with Utilitarianism.

Value Quantifiers

A value quantifier is an amount of value which something may have. It says, in effect, “x has this much value.”

Value quantifiers have an ordering relation. Over value quantifiers there will be defined operators > and = which say that one value quantifier describes value greater than, or value equal to, the value described by another value quantifier. In addition there will be a value quantifier 0, which indicates no value.

We will stipulate that the ordering relation is a strict weak ordering: that is, for any two value quantifiers v and w, either v > w, w > v, or v = w. Having defined these operators it will be possible to place value quantifiers on a number line.

There are two types of value quantifier which a theory of value may include: positive value quantifiers (greater than zero), and negative value quantifiers (less than zero). Positive value quantifiers indicate something desirable, such as pleasure, happiness, or moral virtue. Negative value quantifiers indicate something undesirable, such as pain, sorrow, or moral vice.

Prima facie, a theory of value may include only negative value, or only positive value. For instance, in a pessimistic philosophy such as Buddhism we might have only negative value. However, if negative value exists then positive value also exists, because if negative value exists, then anything which gets rid of negative value will by virtue of this fact have positive value. Similarly, if only positive value exists, then anything which gets rid of positive value will by virtue of this fact have negative value. Therefore, to posit value at all will necessarily posit both positive and negative value.

Possibility Spaces

A possibility space is a directed graph which represents some set of possible futures. Each node represents a possible state of affairs. When two nodes are joined by an arrow x -> y, this means, “y is a possible outcome of x.”

One node is called the “starting node,” and one or more nodes are called “ending nodes.” The starting node represents the initial or current state of affairs; the ending nodes represent final outcomes. The following rules apply, formalizing the notions of starting and ending:

1. There must exist exactly one node s such that there exist no arrows n -> s for all n. s is called the starting node.
2. There must exist at least one node e such that there exist no arrows e -> n for all n. Any such node e is called an ending node.

It follows that for every node n that is neither the starting node nor an ending node, there exists some node m such that m -> n, and some node o such that n -> o. Such nodes are called intermediate nodes.

A “solution” of a possibility space represents a single possible future. It is a sequence of nodes such that:

1. The first node is the starting node.
2. The last node is an ending node.
3. For all nodes n and m which are adjacent in the sequence with n preceding m, there is an arrow n -> m.

Choice Space

A choice space is an extension of a possibility space. It captures the notion that possibilities are determined by various actors.

An actor is either an individual or a factor. An individual is a person making decisions. A factor is something else which contributes unpredictability to the possibility space.

A choice space consists of a possibility space, a set of actors, and a “choice map.”

A choice map gives, for every node n:

1. A set of pairs (a, C) where a is an actor and C is the set of choices for that actor.
2. A map which takes a set of pairs (a, c) as input (where a is an actor and c is a choice) and produces as output a node of the possibility space. The input must give one choice for every actor which acts at this node. The output must be some node m such that n -> m: other words, the output node must be a possible outcome of the current node.

The map must map every permutation of actor-choices onto exactly one possible outcome. This means that the total number of actor-choices must be equal to the total number of possible outcomes of this node.

A choice space is equivalent to a game in game theory.

A solution to a choice space is the same as a solution to a possibility space.

Value Schema

A value schema ascribes value to the solutions of a possibility space. It is a function from possibility space solutions to value quantifiers.

The constructs just given — possibility spaces, choice spaces, and value schemas — are sufficient to formalize most human reasoning about decision making, and also most moral dilemmas. Let us take a few examples.

First consider Sartre’s dilemma. “Sartre [1957] tells of a student whose brother had been killed in the German offensive of 1940. The student wanted to avenge his brother and to fight forces that he regarded as evil. But the student’s mother was living with him, and he was her one consolation in life. The student believed that he had conflicting obligations.”

Here the choice space can be drawn as follows:

There are two actors here: the student, and the external factors which determine whether or not he succeeds in avenging his brother and fighting evil in the war. The choice points are the student’s decision to care for his mother or to fight, and in the latter case the external factors determining whether he succeeds or fails. There are three solutions to this choice space. He cares for his mother, he fights and succeeds, and he fights and fails.

These solutions are both evaluated under two independent value schemas. One value schema is the student’s desire to care for his mother. The other value schema is his desire to avenge his brother and fight evil in the war. Each of these value schemas gives a value quantifier for each solution. The value quantifiers for the first value schema are given in blue, and the value quantifiers for the second value schema are given in red.

+A means the value the student’s mother derives from having him stay. -A means the loss of this value. +B means the value created by the student avenging his brother and fighting evil in the war. -B means the loss of this value.

If the student stays with his mother, then he gains the value of consoling his mother and loses the value he would have gained from vengeance and fighting evil. If the student fights and suceeds, then he loses the value of consoling his mother and gains the value of vengeance and fighting evil. If the student fights and fails, then he still loses the value of consoling his mother, and within the value schema of vengeance and fighting evil, nothing is gained or lost.

What we see is that here the dilemma is created by the conflict between two incommensurable value schemas.

Next let us consider Sophie’s choice. “In the novel Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron (Vintage Books, 1976 — the 1982 movie starred Meryl Streep & Kevin Kline), a Polish woman, Sophie Zawistowska, is arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. On arrival, she is ‘honored’ for not being a Jew by being allowed a choice: One of her children will be spared the gas chamber if she chooses which one. In an agony of indecision, as both children are being taken away, she suddenly does choose. They can take her daughter, who is younger and smaller. Sophie hopes that her older and stronger son will be better able to survive, but she loses track of him and never does learn of his fate. Did she do the right thing? Years later, haunted by the guilt of having chosen between her children, Sophie commits suicide. Should she have felt guilty?”

The following choice space illustrates this situation:

Here there are three value schemas.

+S/-S: The value obtained by having the son live, or lost by having the son die.
+D/-D: The value obtained by having the daughter live, or lost by having the daughter die.
-Ra/-Rb: The negative value of the responsibility that Sophie has for having daughter and/or son die. -Ra is the value of the responsibility she has for the death of her children in failing to choose. -Rb is the value of the responsibility she has for the death of the child whom she chooses to let die. It is perhaps not clear which of these values is greater.

Now let us consider Pascal’s wager:

Here there are two simultaneous actors. The first actor represents my decision to believe in God, or not to believe in God. The second actor represents the external factor that it is either the case or not the case that God exists. The interaction of these two actors produces four solutions. These solutions are evaluated under two value schemas. One value schema represents the value of my salvation or damnation. One value schema represents the positive value of my holding the true belief regarding God, versus the negative value of my holding the false belief regarding God.

If God exists and I believe in God, then I am saved (+S) and hold a true belief (+T).

If God does not exist and I believe in God, then I am not saved (0) and hold a false belief (-T)

If God exists and I do not believe in God, then I am damned (-S) and hold a false belief (-T).

If God does not exist and I do not believe in God, then I am not saved (0) and hold a true belief (+T).

Hopefully these examples are sufficient to suggest that this type of scheme can be applied to many situations, and perhaps every situation, in which it is necessary to make choices. These concepts line up in essence with those of game theory and decision theory, and so there is nothing particularly novel about them.

I have found this type of scheme to very useful in organizing my thinking on practical decisions that I have to make in my life.

A recurring characteristic of moral dilemmas, which distinguishes them from more mundane choice problems such as the problem of selecting chess moves, is that all moral dilemmas seem to involve multiple incommensurable value schemas. This may in fact be a characteristic of difficult choice problems in general. If a choice problem involves only one value schema, then we can solve it by estimating the probabilities of various external factors and finding ideal choices given the choices of any other actors in the situation. The problem will be one belonging to decision theory or game theory. If we have multiple value schemas, then not merely the difficulty but the very nature of the problem changes.

H1. The most difficult choices are those which involve conflicting value schemas.

In order to solve a choice problem with multiple value schemas in the kind of mathematical way that we are able to solve choice problems with single value schemas, what we require is some way to unify the value schemas.

Suppose that, given a choice problem with multiple value schemas, we could construct a value schema T and a function F to map from a set of pairs (S,v) with S a value schema and v a value quantifier under that schema, such that the set represents all of the value quantifiers of a given solution to the choice problem, to a new single pair (T,u) with T the unifying value schema and u the unified value quantifier.

One way to construct F would be to simply take the sum of all of the value quantifiers. This, however, would require that the value quantifiers be assigned fixed points on a number line, which would be difficult or even absurd in some cases. For instance, in Sartre’s dilemma we would be required to place numerical values on the student taking care of his mother or on his avenging his brother. We may regard this as absurd. Similarly with Sophie’s choice, we would have to place numerical values on the value of her son living or her daughter living, and it seems outrageous to put a numerical value on the value of a human life. It is for these reasons that I have used undefined variables for value quantifiers.

These quantifiers can be discussed in a relative way, within a single value schema: e.g., two dollars are twice as valuable as one dollar. Or, if Sophie’s son living is worth N, then Sophie’s son dying is worth -N. But to relate the value quantifiers of one value schema to the value quantifiers of another unrelated schema is a task that appears in most cases to be impossible. For example, which is more valuable: two dollars or two seconds of inner peace? Or, which is more negatively valuable: Sophie’s guilt about choosing to let her daughter die, or Sartre’s student’s mother’s hopelessness when her son leaves to fight?

We say therefore that value quantifiers belonging to different value schemas are seemingly “incommensurable.” They seemingly cannot be compared to one another in any meaningful way. This forms a significant problem in making choices where conflicting value schemas are involved, and it is a problem that is deeper than merely logical.

If a choice problem does not involve multiple value schemas, then it can be solved by estimating probabilities and predicting the choices of other actors. If a choice problem does involve multiple value schemas, then it touches upon the almost profound problem of reconciling these value schemas.

The question becomes, “what is of value?” Furthermore, if we can answer this question, then answering the question “what will I do?” becomes “easy” in the sense of becoming merely a technical problem. Having now motivated it, I will explore the question “what is of value?” in the future.

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The Seven Densities

According to Ra, our universe is composed of seven “dimensions” or “densities.” The expression “density” is to be taken as meaning that the higher densities are more dense. This density can be understood as density of information.

The meaning of the term will be clear to anybody with sufficient mystical experience. Mystical experiences are “denser” than ordinary experiences. They contain more meaning, more experience, more living, in a given amount of time.

All of the densities are conscious and alive, in their own way and to their own degree. Each density is successively more conscious and more alive than the density preceding it.

The first density is the density of nonorganic matter. It is what is known to us through the physical sciences.

The second density is the density of organic life. It is what is known to us through biology.

The third density is the density of self-conscious life. It is what is known to us through the social sciences. On Earth this term encompasses primarily humans, but there are also some animals (particularly pets) belonging to the third density.

The fourth density is the density of love or understanding. It is peopled by entities unknown to us, but with which we have some contact. They lack physical bodies and exist in a realm of pure thought. These are “angels” and “demons.”

The fifth density is the density of wisdom or light. It is peopled by entities still further removed from us.

The sixth density is the density of unity. It is peopled by entities still further removed from us.

The seventh density is the gateway density. It is peopled by entities still further removed from us. At this stage entities are preparing to merge back into one infinite intelligence.

The third density is also called the third dimension. We, who belong to the third density, experience in three dimensions. We cannot view things across the fourth or time dimension, whereas entities in the fourth density can do this. We may thus speculate that those of the fourth density experience in four dimensions; those of the fifth density in five dimensions; those of the second density in two dimensions; etc.

The third density has very unusual conditions relative to the other densities. In the third density there is a semipermeable “veil” drawn between the conscious or physical, and the unconscious or spiritual, portions of the mind. This veil prevents third density entities from having proper knowledge of those portions of existence which are veiled.

If we accept Ra’s cosmology, then the veil offers us an explanation for why the anoological hypothesis is true. Furthermore, the distinction drawn therein between what it is possible to have reasoned consensus about, and what it is not possible to have reasoned consensus about, may give us a rough idea of where the veil is drawn.

The purpose of this veil is to intensify the activity of the evolutionary process at this juncture. As a result of the veil, the activity of the third density is very intense, chaotic, and confusing. A further result of the veil is that the duration of the density is extremely brief compared to the durations of the others.

As a result of their choices and experiences in the third density, entities pass onto either fourth density positive or fourth density negative. These may be understood as “heaven” and “hell.” Fourth density positive is inhabited by entities who are strongly oriented towards service to others. Fourth density negative is inhabited by entities who are strongly oriented towards service to self.

Third density entities learn the ways of love: either love of others (to graduate to fourth density positive), or love of self (to graduate to fourth density negative). An entity whose thoughts and actions are oriented towards over 50% service to others may graduate to fourth density positive. An entity whose thoughts and actions are oriented towards over 95% service to self may graduate to fourth density negative.

Without pretending to give an adequate description, one may understand fourth density positive by the image of a utopian anarchist society in which all are free and universal love reigns. With the same qualifier, one may understand fourth density negative by the image of a vast empire which enslaves, conquers, and continually expands its power to subordinate the whole universe under itself.

Those of the third density learned the ways of love in order to graduate to fourth density, the density of love. Similarly, those of the fourth density learn the ways of wisdom in order to graduate to the fifth density, the density of wisdom.

The fifth density again is polarized between fifth density positive and fifth density negative. These entities are less active and more contemplative than those of the fourth density. Spiritual gurus form an appropriate image. The fifth density negative entities have become totally isolated and do not usually interact with the rest of the universe. Those of the fifth density learn the ways of unity in order to graduate to the sixth density.

Near the beginning of the sixth density, those of the negative polarity are thrown into confusion, and ultimately switch to positive polarity. For the remainder of the experience all are positively polarized. The mid-sixth-density entity acts as the Higher Self or Holy Guardian Angel, reaching back in time to its past self to offer protection and guidance and helping itself along its own journey. Those of the sixth density learn the ways of eternity in order to graduate to the seventh density.

Those of the seventh density become one infinite intelligence. They graduate to the eighth density, which is also the first density of the next universe.

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The Question

The Question: What will I do?

I argue that this question is, in the general case, the most important question. That is, in particular circumstances in which any particular human may find themselves, other questions may prove to be more important than this question. But averaged over all human circumstances, this is the most important question. Hence, I call it not merely a question, but The Question.

A few arguments may be given for this question’s status as the most important question.

The first argument.

It is always necessary to answer The Question. One cannot avoid doing so. If one decides not to answer The Question, one must then do something other than answer The Question, and the question will arise of what that will be. Hence one will be brought back to it straight away. This is so unless one acts unconsciously, based on instinct or impulse, rather than making a conscious decision to do something. Therefore, at any given time:

1. one asks The Question; or,
2. one, having answered The Question, carries out this answer; or,
3. one acts unconsciously, based on instinct or impulse.

One cannot choose to do (3). To choose is to choose consciously. There is no such thing as unconsciously choosing to do something; in that case one is simply doing, not choosing. Therefore, to choose to act unconsciously is to choose consciously to act unconsciously. Therefore if one chooses to do (3), one is in fact doing (2). Thus, having first become conscious of one’s choice, one is committed to do either (1) or (2) until by accident and without trying to do so, one falls back into (3).

The second argument.

Eventually, we will die. We therefore have finite time in which to do things. By the things we do we will make our life more or less valuable, both for ourselves and for others. We will lead a life that is more or less meaningful to ourselves. We will either make a net positive impact on the world after our death, or make a net negative impact, or make little discernible impact. Presumably we want to lead a life that is as meaningful to ourselves as possible and makes the largest possible net positive impact on the world after our death.

The choices we make will partially determine the value of our lives. There is nothing we can desire that falls out of the sphere of increasing the value of our lives. Our choices are the only thing we can change to increase the value of our lives. The value of our lives, insofar as we can affect this value, will be determined by the quality of our choices. Therefore, the only way that we can obtain anything desirable that we are capable of obtaining, is by choosing well.

We can increase the quality of our choices by thinking about The Question. Hence, thinking about The Question and everything connected with it is an activity of basic importance. We all engage in this activity, because we are required to do so, and engaging in it more fully has the potential to increase the value of our lives, unless we have a satisfactory answer already in our possession, or little potential of improving our choices.

I wish in some future writing to analyze various answers to The Question that are popular in our society. For now, let us consider a variant form of The Question:

The Question. What do I will?

We may also phrase this as, “what do I want?” The two questions “what will I do?” and “what do I will?” are inextricably connected. We can only reasonably choose to do something with some goal in mind, and so in order to choose what to do we must first of all establish what we are after. I suggest that frequently we do not know what we are after, and that especially this must be the case if our desires contradict each other.

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Systems of Archetypes

A variety of “systems of archetypes” exist. A system of archetypes is a way of studying patterns present in existence. These patterns are not simple and quantifiable patterns, like those studied by the field of mathematics, but much vaguer and more loosely defined patterns. They are patterns which are manifested by the universe only when it reaches the level of complexity of intelligent entities.

The study of archetypes is therefore an intuitive, imaginative study encompassing the domains of inquiry of such fields as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and theology. Furthermore, the material for study is furnished by one’s own life and knowledge. It is therefore not necessary to gather a great deal of new knowledge to study archetypes; rather, it is a matter of understanding, organizing, and to a certain extent unveiling knowledge that one already has.

A system of archetypes studies the patterns present in human life by organizing them into some fixed number of “archetypes” or categories. Each system of archetypes is said to have been communicated by higher spiritual intelligences, and therefore each is allegedly based on much greater knowledge than our own. The task in working with a system of archetypes is one of taking this fixed, small set of concepts, understanding them ever more deeply on an intuitive level, and integrating all of one’s knowledge and experience into the system insofar as this is possible.

According to Ra, there are three main systems of archetypes:

“It is appropriate to study one form of constructed and organized distortion of the archetypical mind in depth in order to arrive at the position of being able to become and to experience archetypes at will. You have three basic choices. You may choose astrology, the twelve signs, as you call these portions of your planet’s energy web, and what has been called the ten planets. You may choose the tarot with its twenty-two so-called Major Arcana. You may choose the study of the so-called Tree of Life with its ten Sephiroth and the twenty-two relationships between the stations.”

Elsewhere in the Ra material, Ra gives information on the Tarot.

The same claim is made by Gurdjieff in P.D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” where Gurdjieff identifies four main lines of esoteric thought: the Hindu, the Egyptian, the Persian, and the Hebraic. Furthermore, he says that for three of these — the Egyptian, the Persian, and the Hebraic — we have parts of their theory. These are presumably the Tarot trumps (the Egyptian), the astrological signs (the Persian), and the Tree of Life (the Hebraic).

Neither of these sources mentions the I Ching, though it is clear that the I Ching is a system of archetypes. Gurdjieff also presents his own system of archetypes in “In Search of the Miraculous.”

Aleister Crowley recommended the study of archetypes using the Qabalah in many of his writings (example).

Since all of these systems of archetypes are describing the same thing, it follows that we ought to be able to map from any one to any other. I have long puzzled over this question of how the systems of archetypes correspond, and I currently believe that they can be correlated with each other best by placing the archetypes of each on a circle. Two archetypes which are placed at approximately the same points then mean approximately the same things.

I will show how this is accomplished for each of these four systems of archetypes: the Tarot trumps, astrology, the Tree of Life, and the I Ching. (Gurdjieff has already done this for us with his system of archetypes, with the Enneagram.) I begin with the I Ching, as it is the simplest of the four to do this with:

Next will be the astrological signs. Each astrological sign is defined by two attributes: one of the four elements (fire, air, water, or earth), and one of the three qualities (cardinal, fixed, mutable). The following table shows the correspondences:

Cardinal Fixed Mutable
Fire Aries Leo Sagittarius
Air Libra Aquarius Gemini
Water Cancer Scorpio Pisces
Earth Capricorn Taurus Virgo

To map the astrological signs, two circles are required — one for the four elements, and one for the three qualities:

These two circles can be merged into one sphere. The twelve signs will then exist around the perimeter of this sphere. This, however, is extraordinarily difficult to draw.

A similar strategy is required for the Tarot trumps. Ra claims that the trumps are divided into three groups of seven. The three groups are for Mind, Body, and Spirit. The members of each of the seven groups are given the same names: Matrix, Potentiator, Catalyst, Experience, Significator, Transformation, and Great Way. The following table shows the scheme:

Mind Body Spirit
Matrix I – The Magician VIII – Strength XV – The Devil
Potentiator II – The High Priestess IX – The Hermit XVI – The Tower
Catalyst III – The Empress X – Wheel of Fortune XVII – The Star
Experience IV – The Emperor XI – Justice XVIII – The Moon
Significator V – The Hierophant XII – The Hanged Man XIX – The Sun
Transformation VII – The Lovers XIII – Death XX – Judgment
Great Way VII – The Chariot XIV – Temperance XXI – The World

Thus, under Ra’s scheme, “The Magician” is called “The Matrix of the Mind,” “Death” is called “The Transformation of the Body,” etc.

Also, under Ra’s scheme, “The Fool” stands alone, and is called “The Choice.”

Now, with the foregoing scheme, we can map the Tarot (using, as before, two circles which can be joined to form a sphere):

Finally, here is the Tree of Life:

If the circle is taken as representing existence, we then understand each of the systems of archetypes as a different way of dividing this circle. I imagine that at this point to say anything regarding the meanings of various points on the circle would be more unhelpful than helpful. That information would probably be best obtained by studying one or more of these systems of archetypes.

It is possible on the basis of the foregoing analysis to present a correlation of all of these systems. The following illustration shows how all of the systems’ terms can be correlated to each other to yield a single, unified (and at this stage highly syncretic) system:

This illustration shows how all of the terms of the different systems map onto each other.

Each sephiroth except for those on the middle pillar maps onto one of the I Ching trigrams and onto one of the seven archetypes of the Tarot. Kether and the Great Way map onto the wholly yang and wholly yin trigrams taken together as a unit. These terms are also equivalent to “spirit” from the Tarot and “cardinal” from astrology. “Body” from the Tarot equals “fixed” from astrology, and “mind” from the Tarot equals “mutable” from astrology. Each of the four elements maps onto a pair of trigrams and their corresponding sephiroth and Tarot archetypes. The Choice and Tiphereth are equal.

If the reader finds the foregoing analysis to be valid, then all of the systems under discussion — that is, all of the major systems of archetypes — have been unified into a single system. Furthermore, this system, when simplified somewhat, becomes congruent with with Gurdjieff’s enneagram:

In light of these facts I intend to elaborate upon Gurdjieff’s enneagram in future posts.

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The Anoological Hypothesis

I am going to give an improved formulation of some of the concepts explored in the previous post. First I present the following hypothesis:

The Anoological Hypothesis. It is impossible to arrive at reasoned consensus regarding the truth-value of any proposition about non-physical non-mathematical entities. In particular, it is impossible to prove any non-tautological proposition about non-physical non-mathematical entities.

“Anoological” is composed of the Greek words “nous” (mind or spirit) and “logos” (reason). Put simply, therefore, the anoological hypothesis is the hypothesis that we do not have rational knowledge of anything mental or spiritual. Put more precisely, we only have well-defined and widely agreed upon propositions about physical and mathematical entities, and we have no well-defined or widely agreed upon propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities. Let us further explore the meaning of this hypothesis and the reasons for believing it.

Firstly, what is meant by “non-physical non-mathematical entity?” It is any entity that is not describable by the physical sciences or by mathematics. Such entities include God, souls, angels, demons, heaven, hell, Cartesian egos, astral planes, brahman, Platonic forms, etc. They also include thoughts, feelings, sensations, intentions, consciousness, etc., if these entities are not describable by the physical sciences.

We will divide the entities just mentioned into two further roughly defined categories, for convenience. “Psychological entities” are those entities which are features of the human mind, such as thoughts, feelings, sensations, intentions, and consciousness. “Spiritual entities” are God, souls, angels, etc. Psychological entities may or may not be non-physical non-mathematical entities. Spiritual entities definitely are. These categories are not intended to be precisely defined, or necessarily exhaustive of the category of non-physical non-mathematical entities.

The three categories “physical entities,” “mathematical entities,” and “non-physical non-mathematical entities” are intended to be exhaustive of all entities that are discussed by human beings. The inclusion of mathematical entities as a category is necessitated by the clear fact that mathematical entities are not physical entities, and nonetheless are the objects of our most firmly established knowledge. Here we must leave aside the debates about whether or not mathematical entities exist, and what they are if they do exist.

What is meant in the anoological hypothesis by “reasoned consensus?” Firstly, by “consensus” I mean the kind of consensus that mathematical and scientific propositions frequently obtain, where almost all people with knowledge on the subject agree upon a single truth-value for the proposition in question. Consensus is a measure of the level of agreement in informed peoples’ beliefs.

That non-tautological propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities rarely have such consensus is readily apparent. Certain propositions about psychological entities have consensus, such as “pain hurts” and “pleasure feels good.” It is not clear, however, that any of these consensus-bearing propositions are non-tautological.

It is clear at any rate that there is no non-tautological proposition about any spiritual entity about which there is consensus. According to physicalists, spiritual entities do not exist, and therefore all non-tautological propositions except for “x does not exist” are false of spiritual entities. This proposition does not have consensus, because many people believe that spiritual entities do exist. Physicalists and believers in spiritual entities together assure that there is no non-tautological proposition about spiritual entities which has consensus, because physicalists deny all of the propositions which believers in spiritual entities affirm, and vice versa.

There have been, and are, groups of people in which non-tautological propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities had or have consensus. The present entire world population is not such a group of people, but we can cite examples of other such groups. In Medieval Europe it was the consensus that heaven and hell existed. In much of India it is the consensus that people live through a series of incarnations. Among physicalists it is the consensus that spiritual entities do not exist.

When examining groups other than the present entire world population, it is sometimes the case that there is consensus about propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities. However, in none of these cases (except possibly the case of physicalism) is this “reasoned consensus.”

“Reasoned consensus” means, consensus due to the fact that the propositions upon which there is consensus have been proven. “Proof” means the kind of justification provided for mathematical theorems or scientific hypotheses. It does not necessarily mean mathematical proof; there is the possibility of admitting much that is informal and uncertain in the kind of proof under discussion. It is conceivable that we could stretch the notion of “proof” to include some justifications for believing in physicalism. Though I myself do not believe that this is the case, I do think it is possible to argue it and so I do not assert positively that consensus about physicalism is never reasoned consensus. At least all consensus besides physicalism that has existed in human history regarding propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities has not been reasoned consensus.

It is difficult to say precisely what proof consists of. What modes of reasoning are admissible? What types of evidence are admissible? What premises are admissible? Such problems are complex. One useful measure (but not a final definition) of proof is its ability to produce consensus. This would appear to create a circle in definition between “reasoned consensus” and “proof,” but it does not. Consensus can be produced through means other than proof, such as charisma, duress, or brainwashing. “Reasoned consensus” excludes all means of producing consensus other than proof.

That is all for the meaning of the anoological hypothesis. Let us now consider the grounds for believing it. These are chiefly empirical in the informal sense. Put simply, a great many propositions about physical and mathematical entities have been proven. No proposition about a non-physical non-mathematical entity has ever been proven. Even such valiant attempts as Descartes’ ontological argument have failed to produce consensus. That this has consistently been the case after many, many attempts to prove such propositions, is strong evidence for the proposition that it cannot be done. This proposition is the anoological hypothesis.

The anoological hypothesis, if true, has large implications. Specifically, it implies that all ontologies must be consistent with exactly one of two hypotheses:

Physicalism. Non-physical non-mathematical entities do not exist.

Anoological non-physicalism. Non-physical non-mathematical entities exist, and it is impossible to prove that they exist.

Physicalism is the usual choice in philosophy today. Anoological non-physicalism is a little-considered alternative, and also the only conceivable alternative to physicalism if the anoological hypothesis is true.

Furthermore, if the anoological hypothesis is true, it is impossible to prove either physicalism or anoological non-physicalism. This is so because physicalism and anoological non-physicalism are both propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities, and under the anoological hypothesis such propositions cannot be proven. If the anoological hypothesis is true, then we are stuck with these two ontological alternatives, and no means to establish one over the other.

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Materialism and the Veil of Unknowing

I identify three positions which we may take with regard to the epistemological status of religious propositions.

The Nonreligious Case. We may posit that all religious propositions are false.

We will restrict the notion of “religious propositions” to pointedly exclude those claims that would also be likely to be believed by somebody who disbelieved all religion. For instance, if some religion claimed that eating a particular type of seafood led to sickness, and it did so, this would not count for our purposes as a religious claim. Similarly, for our purposes, “killing is wrong” would probably not count as a religious claim.

Either we posit the Nonreligious Case, or we posit that some religious propositions are true. Here there are two possibilities:

The True Belief Case. We posit that the propositions of one religion are true, and the propositions of all other religions are false.

The Syncretic Case. We posit that some propositions of many religions are true. We posit that some religious propositions are true, some religious propositions are false, and no religion has a monopoly on the truth.

The Nonreligious Case, the True Belief Case, and the Syncretic Case are the three main ways that we may treat the propositions of religion, and all of them are problematic. Let us examine the problems with each of these cases.

One may gather from the data at adherents.com that roughly 90% of people believe in religious propositions. 84% of people belong to some religion, and about half of the remaining 16% are “theistic.” This gives us the conservative estimate that 90% of people believe in religious propositions.

This means that in the Nonreligious Case, we posit that 90% of people have a basically erroneous worldview.

In the True Belief Case, we posit that at least 46% of people have a basically erroneous worldview. The largest religion is Christianity, and so if we believe in Christianity then we say that 66% of the world has an erroneous worldview. This would be the smallest number of people whose worldviews we would reject in the True Belief Case if not for the fact that Islam, the second largest religion at 21% of the world, accepts most of the propositions of Christianity and Judaism. In Islam therefore one shares many of one’s propositions with Christianity and Judaism, and together these religions constitute about 54% of the world. Therefore if we believe in Islam, we reject the worldviews of 46% of the world.

In the Syncretic Case, we posit that a minimum of 0% of people have a basically erroneous worldview, and we also posit that every person’s worldview contains substantial errors. We cannot accept all of the propositions of all religions, because this would lead to absurdity and logical contradiction. In the Syncretic Case we must accept only some religious propositions, and reject other religious propositions. We are also able to adopt an attitutude of fallibility and say that we do not know for sure that we have made the correct assessment of any given religious proposition.

All three of these cases are reasonably popular things to believe. From adherents.com’s estimates we may infer that somewhere in the region of 8% of the world posits the Nonreligious Case. Many certainly posit the True Belief Case: at a minimum, almost every Christian and Muslim posits this case, giving us a minimum figure around 54% of the world. Many of the remaining 38% posit the Syncretic Case; this is popular in regions including India, China, and Japan. In India there is a great diversity of religion but a general acceptance of these diverse religions as different ways of approaching the same thing. In China and Japan the religious atmosphere is one of a melting-pot-like blending of different traditions.

If we accept the Syncretic Case, it becomes important to ask, “what religious propositions are true?” We will see later that there are fundamental difficulties with answering this question. However, a good initial heuristic is that we ought to take more seriously those propositions which a larger proportion of people hold, and less seriously those propositions which fewer people hold.

Religions differ in the claims they make, and there are certain commonalities in the claims they make. Consider, for instance, the following four concepts:

1. The Christian concept of salvation.
2. The Muslim concept of the Day of Judgment.
3. The Hindu concept of samsara and moksha.
4. The Buddhist concept of samsara and Nirvana.

These are five different concepts which have some commonalities. All of them posit the following propositions:

1. There is an afterlife.
2. In this afterlife one is rewarded or punished for one’s moral qualities in this life.
3. One possibility is to spend eternity in a place of infinite positive value.

The position that in this case all of these religions are saying the same thing is absurd. The position that they are saying things that have nothing in common is also absurd. We may draw a Venn diagram in which each circle represents the meaning of these religious concepts:

Since the common propositions are what interest us, the greatest area of interest is the area marked in red. We will call this area the concept of “liberation/salvation.” Liberation/salvation means everything common to these concepts, as captured in the three propositions given above.

Of secondary interest are the area marked in blue, which we may term “liberation,” and the area marked in green, which we may term “salvation.”

We may perform an analysis such as the preceding one for many different religious concepts and eventually arrive at a picture of the world’s most common religious beliefs. By taking the intersection of all religious beliefs we will arrive at a picture of the propositions most worth our consideration.

I propose that this process will be eased by first grouping the major world religions thematically. I propose three categories:

1. The Abrahamic religions. These are Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

2. The Eastern religions. These are Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.

3. Animistic religions. These are primarily tribal religions (but also encompassing Chinese folk religion and Shintoism) which we will define by their positing of various “spirits,” and a general lack of distinction between the spiritual world and the material world.

These three categories will encompass the religious beliefs of about 80% of people. The first two categories will encompass the religious beliefs of about 75% of people.

We could also potentially add Chinese religion to this list, which is a mixture of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Chinese folk religion. I choose to exclude it because of its overlap with both Eastern religions (with Buddhism) and animistic religions (with Chinese folk religion).

The following table compares Eastern and Abrahamic religions.

Abrahamic Eastern
Christianity Islam Hinduism Buddhism
God Allah Ishvara
Soul Atman
Heaven Jannah Higher Lokas Higher Realms
Hell Jahannam Lower Lokas Narakas
Angels Angels Devas Devas
Demons Demons Asuras Asuras
Satan Shaitan
Salvation Salvation
Moksha Nirvana
Sin Sin Karma Karma
Grace Samadhi Jhana
Prophets Prophets Gurus Bodhisattvas

Some concepts which appear consistently through all of these religions are those of heaven, hell, angels, demons, sin/karma, guru/prophets, and liberation/salvation. Furthermore we may add grace/enlightenment, for although Islam does not have a handy term for this concept, it is certainly a notion familiar to Sufism.

The general message we obtain, if we take these religions as telling us the truth, is along these lines:

1. There is a vast spiritual world beyond our physical world, some parts characterized by great joy and bliss, and other parts characterized by great suffering.

2. This world is peopled by spiritual entities, some more evolved/intelligent/powerful than us. Some of these entities are good and some are evil.

3. We will live after death, and whether the place of our future living is characterized by joy/bliss or suffering will depend upon how we live in this life, including the sin/karma that we accumulate.

4. The occasional guru/prophet comes to save and enlighten the human race.

5. The ultimate goal of life is liberation/salvation, which is characterized by union with or closeness to God, or in atheistic systems by a freedom from suffering or karma/action.

If we wish to take animistic as well as Abrahamic/Eastern religions into account, then we may posit considerably less. Taking the intersection of these three categories of religion, we obtain roughly the following: “there are spiritual entities.”

Most of the religious propositions that we have examined depend upon the proposition that nonphysical, i.e. mental/spiritual, entities exist. Such entities include God, souls, angels, demons, heaven, and hell. To accept the existence of any of these entities is to reject materialism, and therefore to posit materialism is to reject most of the claims of religion. Our critical “hinge question” therefore becomes: do mental/spiritual entities exist?

It is clear at any rate that it seems to be impossible to prove propositions about mental/spiritual entities. All of our rigorously established knowledge is about physical entities and mathematical entities. Let us attempt to further explicate this difference.

Many propositions have been put forth by humans about physical, mathematical, and mental/spiritual entities. In every culture these entities are discussed and propositions are made about them. Some of the propositions that have been put forth by humans have been rigorously justified and backed up with various kinds of evidence. Some of these propositions have not.

The only propositions which have ever been rigorously justified are propositions about physical and mathematical entities. No proposition about a mental/spiritual entity has ever been rigorously justified. There is strong empirical evidence that the only propositions that can be rigorously justified are propositions about physical and mathematical entities.

Therefore, one of two things is the case.

Materialism. No proposition about mental/spiritual entities is true.

The Veil of Unknowing Hypothesis. Some propositions about mental/spiritual entities are true, but none of these propositions can be rigorously justified.

That these are the only two likely cases can be seen from the empirical fact that no proposition about a mental/spiritual entity has ever been rigorously justified.

The Veil Hypothesis is so named to suggest the metaphor of a veil covering up mental/spiritual entities so that we are not able to have adequate rational knowledge of them. One thing in particular that is true under the Veil Hypothesis is that mental/spiritual entities exist, but we cannot rigorously justify the proposition that they do exist.

Is it a priori plausible that there could be propositions that are true but not provable? An analogy from Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem will suggest to us that this is, at least, not a priori implausible.

Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem. There are mathematical facts that are true but not provable.

This result, here given in simplified form, is a mathematical fact that was established by Kurt Gödel in 1931. Let us consider a philosophical conclusion that might tentatively be drawn from it:

The Strong Incompleteness Hypothesis. There are facts about the world that are true but not provable.

Gödel’s incompleteness theorem does not strictly entail the Strong Incompleteness Hypothesis. The former is a mathematical theorem, and the latter is a philosophical conclusion which may follow intuitively from Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. The Strong Incompleteness Hypothesis is a priori plausible. Moreover, I suggest that the a priori plausibility of the Strong Incompleteness Hypothesis makes it easier to believe that the Veil Hypothesis is not a priori implausible.

As previously stated, either:

(a) materialism is true, or
(b) the Veil Hypothesis is true.

Either of these cases would be interesting. In the former case we are interested to know why it is that 90% of people hold these false religious beliefs. In the latter case we are interested to know more about mental/spiritual entities, and why our knowledge of them is limited in this way.

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Mathematics and Ontology

If we accept materialism, then we say that every part of existence can be described by mathematics. This is so because physical laws consist of mathematical equations, and according to materialism existence is described by physical laws. We therefore say that under materialism, existence is mathematical.

If we reject materialism, we must nonetheless acknowledge that some of existence is material and is described by science. We may reject materialism and nonetheless maintain that all of existence is mathematical. If we reject this as well, then we are forced to conclude that some of existence is mathematical, and some of it is not. It cannot be that none of existence is mathematical, because some of existence is described by science.

This leaves us with two theories of existence. Either it is wholly mathematical, or it is part mathematical and part unmathematical. In the latter case we need not posit that there is a sharp distinction between the two; there could be room for a fuzzy border.

Let us call these views the Mathematical View, and the Divided View.

If we accept materialism, then we accept the Mathematical View. We only accept the Divided View in a case in which we reject materialism. Here we will take “rejecting materialism” to mean “including nonphysical categories in our ontology.” This is the only act which we may seriously call a rejection of materialism. To the category “physical entities” we add, for instance, the category “mental entities,” or the category “spiritual entities.”

It is odd to notice that these three categories seem to be exhaustive for almost any ontology, and even more strongly seem to be exhaustive for the entities which we directly experience. We experience physical entities such as tables and chairs. We experience mental entities such as thoughts and feelings. We experience spiritual entities such as moments of grace/enlightenment. There does not seem to be a fourth category. Put differently, there do not seem to be any entities which do not readily fall into at least one of these three categories.

Some ontologies, of course, use only one of these categories. We have materialism, in which we posit that all entities are really physical entities. We have idealism, in which we posit that all entities are really mental entities. We may also imagine some kind of spiritual monism in which we posit that all entities are really spiritual entities; Advaitism may be such a philosophy. Furthermore it is easy to imagine ontologies using only two of these categories, or consolidating two categories into one (e.g. merging “mental” and “spiritual”). But the odd fact remains that there does not seem to be a fourth category.

I draw the following tentative conclusions. Every ontology will have to posit some combination of these three categories (either including all three, reducing the number by exclusion and/or merging, or increasing the number by splitting). Furthermore, each category will be either wholly mathematical, wholly unmathematical, or somewhere in between.

No monistic ontology can have its one category be wholly unmathematical, because the parts of the world described by science are mathematical, and those parts of the world will be contained in the one category of any monistic ontology.

Furthermore, any ontology which contains the category “physical” will probably have that category be wholly mathematical. (This conclusion could only be altered upon very detailed philosophical inquiry.)

It is difficult to imagine that the category “spiritual” could be wholly mathematical, and so any ontology which contains the category “spiritual” will probably have that category not wholly mathematical. Most likely it will be wholly unmathematical.

What are likely or obvious candidates for ontologies?

1. The materialist ontology, in which there is one category, “physical,” and it is wholly mathematical.

2. The idealist ontology, in which there is one category, “mental,” and it is partially (perhaps wholly) mathematical.

3. An ontology in which all three categories are present, “physical” is wholly mathematical, “mental” is partially mathematical, and “spiritual” is wholly unmathematical. Let us call this a “physical-mental-spiritual ontology.”

One thing that these inquiries show is the great philosophical difficulty that arises in rejecting materialism. If we take the claims of religions seriously then we almost certainly do reject materialism, but in doing this we cast ourselves out into very confusing and uncertain territory.

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The Mysticism Hypothesis

Aleister Crowley had a lot of ideas, and he had at least one good idea. He thought that certain aspects of religion could be approached as a scientific experiment.

Crowley, in his study of comparative religion, noticed that all religions had in common the fact that they carried out certain ritualistic practices, and these practices did not differ very much between religions. He concluded that there might be something to them.

In particular, Crowley notes, every religion features a type of practice variously called “prayer” or “meditation.” This practice is supposed to bring a person into contact with God. Or, as the Indian mystics more boldly phrased it, “union with God.” Or, as the Buddhists less theologically phrased it, “enlightenment.” It is not quite clear what they are talking about, but it is clear that they are talking about something, and not all completely different things.

Here we have a testable hypothesis. If I engage in this practice of prayer or meditation, this will bring me to “contact with God” or “enlightenment” or whatever it is. It is possible to perform this experiment and confirm or deny the hypothesis.

It is not so easy, because most people hold that doing it once is not sufficient. Most people hold that in order to obtain serious results it is necessary to devote a great deal of time and effort to doing this systematically over a long period of time — and possibly to add various restrictions and disciplines on top of the mere fact of performing the practice.

The proposed experiment therefore not only takes a great deal of time, but it also takes a great deal of effort and potentially involves undergoing a great deal of suffering, depending on the details of the program one selects.

What this means is that most people will not do this. Indeed, in general the people who do do this are fairly certain beforehand that they will succeed, or at any rate that success is in principle possible and that if they fail it will be their own fault. I have not heard of anybody doing it because they were not sure whether or not it would work, and they wanted to find out. Let us give a name to the minimum belief system that people who attempt such a program tend to work under. Let us call it the Mysticism Hypothesis:

The Mysticism Hypothesis: “If I perform the practice called ‘prayer’ or ‘meditation,’ I can obtain ‘contact with God’ or ‘union with God’ or ‘enlightenment.’ If I try and it does not work, it was not because prayer/meditation do not work; rather, it was because my efforts did not make par.”

What grounds are there for believing the Mysticism Hypothesis? Chiefly they are anecdotal. Countless individuals throughout history have practiced prayer/meditation and claimed to have achieved the stated results. I practiced prayer/meditation and claim to have achieved the stated results. Is this anecdotal evidence sufficient reason to believe in the Mysticism Hypothesis?

The question “should I believe in the Mysticism Hypothesis?” is an important question, because if God/enlightenment exists then it is also the most valuable thing there is, and therefore it is rational to have obtaining it as one of one’s basic priorities.

Furthermore, I have suggested that God/enlightenment cannot be described in words, and if I am right in this then the only remotely reliable way I know of to learn what God/enlightenment actually is would be to practice prayer/meditation. We could not place God/enlightenment at its proper value unless we first knew what it was.

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Atheologism

I thought I would attempt to articulate my religious beliefs. Lately these have coalesced into something fairly definite, and since I am not aware of a word for these beliefs I thought I would coin one. I am an atheologist.

“Theos” means “God.” “Logos” means “speech.” An “atheologist” is one who believes that God cannot be discussed. To an atheologist, all statements regarding the nature of God, or regarding God’s existence or non-existence, are neither true nor false, but simply nonsensical. They are nonsensical to the atheologist because they are attempts to discuss something that cannot be discussed.

I am not the first atheologist. Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, also held this position. So did Ludwig Wittgenstein and U.G. Krishnamurti. Atheologism can be placed alongside atheism, monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, etc., as another belief that it is possible to have about God.

How did I arrive at this position? From the beginning of the year through the summer, I was practicing meditation and Yoga very intensively, according to the system set forth by Aleister Crowley and the Indian mystics. These people had claimed, as it is common to claim, that by meditating I could obtain direct contact with God and experience the reality of God for myself. I worked very hard to obtain such experiences.

In the summer my efforts began to pay off richly. I began to have vivid and overwhelming experiences which lined up very well with what was described in the books on the subject. By careful analysis of my experiences, and careful analysis of the descriptions given in the books of what it was supposed to be like to have “oneness with God” or whatever you care to call it, I concluded that I was having these experiences.

It would follow, I concluded, that I had touched upon the true nature of reality and this was now directly accessible to me and laid before my awareness.

It became a matter of great importance to me that I figure out whether or not this was so. Was this the truth? Was this reality? I became extraordinarily skeptical and subjected these experiences to the most intense scrutiny and criticism, trying to find any way that I could doubt that they were reality. All of my efforts crumbled feebly before their towering irreducibility. I finally concluded that I had found the truth, that I had found reality, and that it was totally immune to any conceivable philosophical criticism.

The next matter, then, was to lay down what I had discovered. I tried to do this for a long time. I tried to subject my experiences to rigorous analysis and explain exactly what it was that they were. I always failed. Though I had found the truth, I was not able to make any positive statement that sounded true even to me. Valiantly I continued my attempts.

Things went on like this until sometime last semester I read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The bulk of this text is a highly esoteric analysis of the logical structure of language, which attempts to investigate the nature of meaning in order to draw a demarcation between what can be discussed and what cannot be discussed. The book then ends by veering off suddenly from its highly technical logical investigations into religious, ethical, and aesthetic considerations, ultimately concluding that the subject matter of religion is beyond language and beyond logic.

His conclusions shook me to the core, because he had expressed in a very clear way something that I had been painfully discovering for myself over the past few months. I was led to the massively counterintuitive conclusion that I had found the truth, and I could not talk about it.

This also made it clear to me why it was immune to philosophical criticism. Philosophical criticism is necessarily in the sphere of words, and this was outside of the sphere of words. It was like trying to grab space. Logic couldn’t refute it because it couldn’t even get a grip on it.

I have gradually gotten used to this. It is still somewhat upsetting. My current theory is that it needs to be this way, that somehow for the cosmos to accomplish what it’s trying to accomplish it needs to be the case that we can only find the truth by our own efforts, and not by others’ efforts. The theory goes that if upon finding the truth we could share it with everybody, this would somehow spoil the great cosmic game.

Though this explanation is highly speculatory, the facts stand firm independent of it. I still cannot doubt that what I found this summer is reality. I still cannot say anything about it that sounds true even to me. That the truth is inexpressible has become an irreducible datum for me, as concrete and factual as the couch I’m sitting on. Repeated and persistent experiment has shown it to be so. I invite all others to try and replicate my experiment; the methods are all given in Part I of Liber ABA by Aleister Crowley, among other places. If anybody more competent than I succeeds in expressing the truth, then I will joyfully recant my position. Until then, I am an atheologist.

I will end by quoting at length the final passage of the Tractatus, the closest thing I have to a holy text. (“The closest thing,” because an atheologist having a real holy text would be absurd.)

“How the world is, is completely indifferent for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.

The facts all belong only to the task and not to its performance.

Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.

The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling.

For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.

Scepticism is not irrefutable, but palpably senseless, if it would doubt where a question cannot be asked. For doubt can only exist where there is a question; a question only where there is an answer; and this only where something can be said.

We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer.

The solution to the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem. (Is this not the reason why men to whom after long doubting the sense of life became clear, could not then say wherein this sense consisted?)

There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.

The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other — he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy — but it would be the only strictly correct method.

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

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