Introduction: The Power of Myth
In today's increasingly secular world, many people question the need for spirituality or religion, dismissing them as frivolous fairytales. However, as socio-political creatures, humans not only require spirituality, but upon closer examination, we find that the spiritual dimension of human life is pervasive and unavoidable. This article argues that spirituality, through the lens of memetics and semantics, plays a crucial role in shaping human nature and the organization of society.
As we delve into the complexities of human existence, we'll draw upon insights from a variety of texts compiled in "The Fool’s Reading List." While we'll only reference specific points relevant to our discussion, each book provides a wealth of knowledge that informs our exploration. For a deeper dive into these influential works, we invite you to visit "The Fool’s Reading List" page for more comprehensive discussions on each book.
Our human existence is an intricate tapestry of thoughts, actions, and ideas, woven together by the threads of spirituality, memory, and information. The pursuit of understanding these threads has been a pivotal part of our journey as a species. Traditionally, spirituality often focused on the notion of an intangible "soul" or "spirit", seen as a magical substance within us. However, as we explored in our very first article, modern research suggests that the "magic" of consciousness lies in the pattern of the central nervous system, not in any specific material substance. That article highlights that the essence lies in the pattern, rather than any specific material substance. In the realms of physics and computer science, pattern is often referred to as "information," which transcends specific material manifestations.
To bridge the gap between religious and secular discussions on human nature, we can reframe the concept of "spirit" as patterns in general, and relating to personality and personal growth for “Human Spirituality” in particular. This understanding of "spirit" finds expression in relatable, everyday scenarios such as "team spirit," "school spirit," or the "spirit of the law." By examining these down-to-earth instances, we shift our focus away from contentious metaphysical claims about the substance of a soul. In this context, "spirit" encompasses the patterns of recognizable behaviors that define one's personality, embracing the notion of spiritualism as an endeavor to cultivate and enhance one's personality. It goes beyond the immediate patterns of behavior and thought, encompassing the ongoing patterns of change that shape and will continue to shape the personality.
To fully grasp the concept of spirit and its impact on our lives, it is essential to explore the role of memory and information in shaping our understanding of spirituality. While Western science often focuses on conscious memory stored within the human mind, Hinduism offers a broader perspective that encompasses various types of memory present in the universe.
In Hindu philosophy, memory extends beyond human consciousness and encompasses a vast range of phenomena. It is not limited to the recollection of personal experiences but extends to the memory imprinted in objects, nature, and even the cosmos itself. This expansive understanding of memory is akin to the Western notion of an extension cord's "memory" of how it has been wrapped up. Just as an extension cord retains a coiled shape due to its prior usage, Hinduism recognizes that objects and entities in the world carry within them the imprints of their past interactions and experiences.
This multifaceted notion of memory aligns with scientific insights on the nature of information. In the field of physics, information is considered a fundamental component of the universe, not confined solely to human consciousness. Scientists recognize that information plays a crucial role in the organization and functioning of the cosmos. In this sense, Hinduism's view of memory as an inherent characteristic of all entities resonates with the scientific understanding of information as a fundamental aspect of reality.
This brings us to the concept of "memes," which derives its name from the blending of "gene" and "memory." Memes can be seen as the cultural equivalent of genes and play a role in shaping our understanding of spirituality. Much like a gene in biology, a meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. While genes pass on genetic traits through biological reproduction, memes propagate ideas and cultural practices through social interaction. The study of this propagation falls to the Memeticist, who, akin to a geneticist studying genes and their expression in organisms, examines memes and their expression in individuals and cultures. One's collection of memes, or "Menome," could be considered synonymous with their "cultural heritage."
This field may seem more at home in a university than a church, but it turns out that spirituality has always been about examining the spread and impact of beliefs on our lives, even if we didn't have the proper academic jargon to discuss it in formal settings until Vervaeke had his existential crisis (though even he is still afraid to touch the word "spirit" itself). While this academic terminology might seem convoluted, it's merely a formalized way of discussing what spirituality has always pursued. This additional rigor, however, offers a significant benefit: it allows us to bridge gaps between different faiths, correlating the wisdom of diverse traditions. In doing so, it underscores the importance of spiritual understanding, from the nuanced meanings of words to the societal myths that organize us.
The Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Christian Bible begins with 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' The 'Word' here is a translation of the ancient Greek term 'Logos,' which represents divine wisdom or the organizing principle of the universe. It implies that our cosmos is organized according to discernable principles and truths. The Logos is deeply connected to the concept of Reason itself, emphasizing that our innate capacity for rational thought is our most powerful tool to uncover and comprehend these universal truths. For both Christians and non-Christians alike, this profound insight highlights that our quest for understanding, our pursuit of meaning, and our use of language are all deeply rooted in the divine principle of the Logos, where Reason plays a central role in guiding our lives and shaping our understanding of the world around us.
"In the beginning was semantics, and semantics is the thing of highest importance to Human Civilization" -Upaya
The emphasis on semantics underscores the central role of language and meaning in shaping our understanding of the world and our place in it. The Logos is not merely about the spoken or written word, but about the semantics - the deeper meanings and reasoning conveyed through language.
Myths have long played a crucial role in shaping societies and communities. These shared stories and beliefs provide a common framework for understanding the world and our place within it, fostering a sense of belonging and unity among diverse groups of people. As we discussed in the Foolish Guide to Ontology, Myths operate on the “Intersubjective Mythology” layer of existence, where collective stories and beliefs enable human cooperation and the formation of complex societies. Myths often convey profound spiritual wisdom, transcending religious and cultural boundaries. They serve as a vehicle for imparting deep truths about the human experience, touching on universal themes such as love, sacrifice, courage, and redemption. Spiritual teachings from various traditions often use myths to communicate complex ideas in a more accessible and relatable form, allowing individuals to better grasp the underlying spiritual principles.
Myths and memes, as cultural units, wield profound influence in shaping social structures and civilizations. In his book "Sapiens," Yuval Noah Harari emphasizes the significance of shared beliefs and myths in shaping human societies. By weaving together common narratives, myths facilitate cooperation, trust, and loyalty among individuals, even in groups far larger than Dunbar's number, the cognitive limit on stable relationships a human can maintain, estimated at around 150. Robin Dunbar's concept of Dunbar's number,highlights the unique organizing power of human societies. While other creatures are bound by their species' Dunbar's number, humans have surpassed this limit through the transmission of narratives and myths facilitated by complex languages. These shared beliefs and stories have united larger groups, fostering cohesive communities and enabling the development of complex civilizations. The ability to organize in numbers exceeding Dunbar's number distinguishes humans, showcasing the extraordinary impact of memes and myths in our history.
These stories, or myths, are the heart of our discussion, representing powerful narratives that shaped larger social structures and human civilizations. They serve as a form of societal 'software,' programming behaviors and beliefs within cultural groups. Unlike laws, which explicitly govern behavior, myths tap into the collective consciousness and influence individuals on a much deeper level, suggesting that 'A Myth is worth 1000 Laws.'
In this sense, spirituality, through the lens of myths and the semantics behind them, becomes a key to understanding human nature and the organization of society. It is the exploration and interpretation of these myths that form the foundation of our spiritual wisdom. As we journey through the intricacies of language, meaning, and reasoning, we can draw parallels between different faiths, cultures, and scientific fields.
'Human Spirituality', as we've reframed it, is about discerning and cultivating the patterns of behavior and thought that define one's personality, and their evolution over time. This endeavor is fundamentally semantic and memetic, as it involves interpreting and engaging with the underlying meanings of personal and societal myths. These myths, in the form of narratives, symbols, or traditions, are coded with deep meanings that shape our understanding of ourselves and our roles within society. They are the memes that drive our spiritual growth and understanding.
This approach helps us bridge the gap between religious and secular views, offering a comprehensive understanding of human nature. It emphasizes the importance of engaging with spiritual wisdom, regardless of individual beliefs. By recognizing the power of myths and their profound impact on human behavior and understanding, we foster personal growth and interconnectedness.
For example, as we discussed during the Barrel of Fish Debacle, the parables of Jesus use metaphor and symbolism to convey profound spiritual truths. By engaging with these myths and uncovering the wisdom they contain, individuals can develop a deeper understanding of themselves, the world, and the divine. This process of uncovering spiritual wisdom through myth can foster personal growth, self-improvement, and a greater sense of interconnectedness and compassion in society.
Myths in Non-Religious Contexts
Myths are not limited to religious contexts; they permeate every aspect of human life, including secular culture, ethical principles, societal values, and even units of measurement. Cultural narratives are stories that embody the values, beliefs, and history of a particular society. These narratives can serve as powerful myths that shape individual and collective identities, providing a sense of belonging and a shared understanding of the world.
For instance, the "American Dream" is a widely recognized cultural myth that promotes the idea of upward social mobility through hard work and determination. This myth has inspired generations of people to pursue their goals and has had a significant impact on American society.
Ethical principles and societal values also often have their roots in mythological stories. For example, the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is a universal ethical principle found in various religious and philosophical traditions. This principle serves as a powerful myth that guides human behavior and fosters empathy and cooperation.
Myths have the power to unite people by providing a common ground and shared understanding. They can instill a sense of pride and purpose, fostering social cohesion and cooperation. However, myths can also create division when different groups hold conflicting beliefs or when myths are used to justify prejudice and discrimination.
For example, nationalistic myths can inspire patriotism and unity within a country, but they can also lead to animosity and conflict between nations. Similarly, myths surrounding race, gender, or social class can perpetuate stereotypes and discrimination, exacerbating social inequalities and tensions.
While it is crucial to recognize the power of myths in non-religious contexts, it is equally important to acknowledge the role of spirituality in human life. Neglecting spirituality and avoiding spiritual groups altogether can lead to a lack of ethical guidance, a sense of disconnection from others, and an inability to fully understand the human experience. By fostering a sense of interconnectedness, compassion, and understanding, spirituality can help individuals and societies navigate the challenges and uncertainties of life.
Spiritual Wisdom for the Non-Religious
In today's increasingly secular world, many individuals may feel disconnected from traditional religious teachings. However, spirituality extends beyond the confines of organized religion, and there is a wealth of wisdom that can be gleaned from spiritual teachings, regardless of one's religious beliefs. For example, the Buddhist concept of mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, promoting greater self-awareness and mental well-being. Similarly, the Golden Rule, which can be found in numerous religious traditions, encourages us to treat others as we would like to be treated, fostering empathy and compassion.
Engaging with spiritual teachings can help individuals overcome the five barriers to peace of mind, as we discussed during the Vibin’ Like a Sage article. For instance, teachings on mindfulness and meditation can help us to better manage stress and anxiety, while ethical principles found in various spiritual traditions can guide our actions and decision-making, promoting personal growth and fostering interconnectedness within society.
Many spiritual concepts and practices are universal, transcending cultural and religious boundaries. For example, when we discussed The Prerogative of the Idol, we saw how the practice of prayer or meditation can be found in various forms across different religious traditions, as well as in secular contexts. By engaging with diverse spiritual teachings, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of the common threads that unite humanity, ultimately fostering greater tolerance and compassion.
Two notable texts that exemplify the universality of spiritual wisdom include "The Way of the Bodhisattva" by Shantideva and "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis. Shantideva's Buddhist text offers insights on compassion, ethical conduct, and wisdom that are valuable for everyone, while Lewis's Christian exploration of the types of love highlights their importance in cultivating Good Faith and overcoming barriers to peace of mind such as Lust and Spite in our everyday interactions.
The Dark Side of Spirituality and the Dangers of Avoiding It
The exploration of spirituality as a broad, memetic landscape exposes us to a complex network of ideas, beliefs, and behaviors that shape our understanding and experience. As we delve into this realm, we find that these memes have the potential to inspire growth and enlightenment, but they also bear the risk of manipulation and exploitation. This dual potential underscores the importance of discernment and critical thinking in all human interactions.
As we discussed in last week's article, “Becoming a Cult Connoisseur,” acknowledging the diverse nature of spiritual groups and recognizing their potential benefits and risks is crucial for individuals to make informed decisions about their spiritual journeys and cultivate discernment in their interactions with various communities. Ultimately, this approach promotes personal growth, interconnectedness, and compassion in society.
Spiritual groups and communities play a significant role in fostering personal growth by providing support, guidance, and shared experiences. These communities can serve as safe spaces for individuals to explore their spirituality, ask questions, and learn from others' experiences. However, the important thing for us to see for today's discussion is that every group, regardless of its stated purpose or domain, is inherently spiritual, as they all involve the spread and evolution of memes that influence our behavior and understanding. This includes not only religious or philosophical communities but also political, social, and professional circles. The leadership within these groups wields considerable influence over the propagation and evolution of the memes within the group’s culture. It is essential to exercise discernment when choosing a spiritual group or community, as not all groups are conducive to personal growth. Some may promote dogmatism, manipulation, or exclusivity, which can hinder individual progress.
However, trying to avoid spiritual groups, spirituality, or the memetic dynamics at play in all human interactions, isn't a wise choice either. Such an avoidance could lead to a lack of self-improvement, a deficit in self-reflection, and a diminished sense of compassion and interconnectedness at best, and it could leave one vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation and physical harm at worst. Moreover, avoiding spiritual groups altogether is practically impossible, as shared beliefs and values are pervasive in society. From family traditions to national celebrations, our lives are often shaped by collective myths and rituals. Embracing this reality and recognizing the potential benefits of engaging with spiritual communities can help individuals develop a balanced, well-rounded approach to spirituality. By engaging with genuine spiritual communities, we can find inspiration, camaraderie, and valuable resources to support our personal journeys.
To discern the health and potential risks of any group, we can draw on the insights provided by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith in "The Dictator's Handbook." The book's core thesis elucidates how the key to understanding group dynamics lies in analyzing its power structure, be it a dictatorship, a democracy, or even a homeowners' association. They argue that a group's stability and benevolence can be gauged by its power distribution - whether power is held by a few or dispersed among many. This understanding can empower us to recognize potential dangers and make informed decisions that safeguard our personal, social, and spiritual development. It emphasizes the spiritual importance of being aware of these dynamics, as they can significantly impact the collective spirit.
Furthermore, understanding how toxic structures can lead to harmful actions is vital, and Philip Zimbardo's "The Lucifer Effect" offers a profound exploration of this. The book emphasizes how unhealthy group dynamics and environments that neglect the spiritual aspects of human life can lead even the most upstanding individuals to commit evil acts. This underscores the necessity of evaluating the 'memetic' or 'spiritual' dimensions of all groups we engage with.
In the complex landscape of group dynamics and power relations, Robert Greene's "48 Laws of Power," though not traditionally viewed as a spiritual book, is an essential guide. It provides an understanding of how memes can be manipulated for power gain and maintenance. Knowledge of these power strategies equips us to guard against potential manipulation and enables us to reverse any manipulative tactics used against us or others.
This is an interesting opportunity to revisit the the role of the "Fake Guru". This character may seem similar to a conman, but there's a significant difference. A master conman aims to deceive for their own gain. A fake guru or trickster, on the other hand, doesn't necessarily seek to gain from you; rather, they might put you through a series of manipulative tactics with the goal of teaching you to see through deception. It's a bizarre twist, where their trickery serves to immunize you against future trickery. By the time you're done with them, you may find yourself no longer easily fooled.
“When two Zen masters meet each other on the road, they need no introduction. Thieves recognize one another instantaneously.” -Alan Watts
Creating Personal Myths: Embracing the Imaginary
Myths are not only significant on a societal level but also profoundly impact personal growth and self-improvement. As Joseph Campbell discusses in "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," myths often follow a universal pattern known as the hero's journey. This narrative structure transcends cultures and provides valuable insights into the human experience, allowing individuals to explore their own personal challenges, transformations, and triumphs.
In order to fully grasp the power of myths and their role in shaping our lives, it's essential to recognize the imaginary nature of these stories. The “Human nature” level of existence from the Foolish Ontology article highlights this aspect, emphasizing that the myths from the intersubjective level is the closest we can come to the frontier of Human Nature itself. With this understanding, we begin to see that personal growth is achieved through embracing both delusion and honesty. Delusion allows us to create personal myths that enable us to cope with life's uncertainties, while Radical Honesty helps us recognize when these myths no longer serve us and must be updated or replaced. One helpful resource for exploring the Human Nature level is Alan Watts' "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are." This insightful work encourages readers to recognize the imaginary nature of myths and their influence on our perception of ourselves and the world around us.
By engaging with myths and recognizing the archetypes and lessons they contain, we can gain a deeper understanding of our own lives and the world around us. In this process of personal growth and self-improvement, we engage in a continual cycle of mythologizing and demythologizing ourselves, as outlined in the book “Radical Honesty”.
By examining the myths that shape our own lives, we can identify areas of growth and develop strategies for overcoming obstacles and achieving our goals. We construct personal myths to provide meaning and direction in life. As we evolve, however, we must demythologize, discarding outdated beliefs and incorporating new insights to further our development.
This dynamic cycle is not confined to the realm of spirituality and personal growth, but must also coexist harmoniously with scientific understanding. The science fiction novel "Star Maker" by Olaf Stapledon beautifully exemplifies this. It showcases the power of modern myths and the potential they hold when intertwined with the rigor of scientific exploration. In particular, the climactic Chapter 15 presents a profound depiction of humanity being cyclically mythologized, demythologized, and remythologized.
Stapledon's novel does not simply adhere to traditional spiritual teachings. Instead, it propels the reader past the stage of pious worship, encouraging them to reach the pinnacle of The Hierarchy of Prayer - contemplation. In "Star Maker," contemplation plays a significant role in the story, as the protagonist embarks on a journey of discovery that transcends the physical realm. This form of prayer, alongside the pursuit of scientific knowledge, plays a significant role in the protagonist's transcendental journey of discovery.
In this way, "Star Maker" illustrates that embracing the imaginary and the scientific can lead to a profound spiritual understanding. It serves as a testament that our personal myths and scientific expectations are not mutually exclusive but can, in fact, harmoniously coexist to guide us towards personal growth and a deeper understanding of our place in the cosmos.
Understanding spirituality and the power of myths is crucial for both religious and non-religious individuals. The exploration of the intersection of faith, physics, and philosophy enables us to see the world through different lenses and grasp the essence of human experience. Myths have the power to shape our behavior, beliefs, and values, transcending cultural and religious boundaries and influencing us on a deep, fundamental level.
It is essential for one to explore their own personal myths and integrate spiritual wisdom into their lives. By engaging with these powerful narratives and teachings, individuals can foster interconnectedness and compassion, ultimately contributing to a more harmonious and understanding society. Embracing the imaginary nature of myths, recognizing the limitations of simplifications, and cultivating discernment in evaluating spiritual teachers are all vital aspects of this process.
Engaging with spiritual wisdom is necessary for personal and societal growth, and avoiding spirituality and spiritual groups altogether can have detrimental consequences. While it is crucial to be discerning and cautious of toxic groups or manipulative leaders, it is equally important to recognize the value and potential benefits of authentic spiritual communities and teachings. By embracing both faith and science as complementary aspects of human understanding, we can create a more balanced, Reasonable, and interconnected world.