What do you believe regarding the spiritual aspect of humanity?
I don’t believe in anything.
There are some things about which I am more confident than other things, some things I am sufficiently confident of to bet my life on, and all things are up for review in the light of sufficiently strong evidence.
It seems that it is the notion of belief, rather than the structure of understanding that separates most people.
It seems that most people have core beliefs, mostly accepted uncritically from culture at some level, that they would rather die than challenge (as the challenging of those beliefs would be too uncomfortable at some level). It has been really interesting since I started meeting a lot of people who have cancer and claim they want to survive it, yet when push comes to shove, would rather die than challenge beliefs they hold about themselves or the nature of the reality in which we all find ourselves.
It seems clear that all distinctions are approximations at some level.
No map is ever the thing it maps.
Most maps are very simplistic sketches.
As children we all come into the world devoid of maps, and have to collect them as we go along.
Most of our “maps” of this thing we call reality or life we inherit from culture at some level, and some of them we get to sketch out ourselves.
And all childish drawings are simplistic, yet most of us hold onto many of our childish sketches with a passion – like the sketches of “right and wrong” and “true and false” and “good and evil” and hundreds of other simplistic “beliefs” that we build our understanding upon.
The evidence from science is that we are really complex systems of matter and pattern at many different and interrelated levels of organisation.
It seems that our genetics gives us many levels of organisation, in the structure of our cells, and our bodies and our organs and our brains.
It seems that our cultures give us many more levels of organisation and structure, with sets of distinctions and abstractions that are often given the title of truths, but are more accurately characterised as useful approximations.
It seems that each of us as individuals is capable of exploring the realms of the real and the possible beyond the limits of the known (or approximated). The further we take such explorations from the cultural norms of our existence, the more difficult communication becomes.
It seems that the genetic and cultural constructs give most people a strong impulse towards social agreement. I was born tongue tied. Very few people could understand me anyway, so I sorta missed out on the whole social agreement thing. I have been free to explore this thing we call life, reality, existence, etc in whatever way seemed most appropriate to me since I was about 3 years old (57 years). Those explorations have taken me into the depths of many different disciplines, physical, mental, intellectual. The understandings I have are intensely personal, and very difficult to communicate, as very few people share anything even vaguely like my experience.
So it seems to me that as human beings, we do not experience reality directly.
What we get to experience as reality is a software model of reality that our brains assemble based upon that individual brain’s experience of the world (which includes the actual physical experience of that body, the experience of the cultural elements it is existing in, and any abstractions and intuitions that mind has made from that experience).
It seems clear to me that the notions of spirit and soul are very simple approximations for the extremely complex, highly parallel and multi-levelled sets of hardware (brain) and software (spirit & soul) systems that actually are what we are. It seems that the experience of being, that which philosophers tend to call “qualia”, are the result of the interaction of two very complex sets of software systems – our model of reality and our perception of self.
And within the human brain it is very difficult to draw any sort of clear boundary between hardware and software. What we “think” actually causes physical changes in our brains, altering the probabilities of how those neurons will behave next time.
There are extremely complex interactions between our chemically mediated emotional systems and how certain subsystems within our brains actually work.
We are beginning to understand the major modalities of the major systems that make us who we are, and the numerical complexity of what it is to be a human being is so big, that should we as a species live for the rest of eternity, and should we continue to exponentially expand our knowledge, we will likely still be learning new and interesting things about the subtleties of how we get to be what we are in a billion or ten billion years time.
It seems that the reality of being human is so much more than anything any of the older cultural systems came up with, that the ideas of spirit and soul are just very simple approximations to something far more complex, far more profound, far more beautiful; than most have even the vaguest hint of.
As human beings, it seems that we are limited only by the limits we are prepared to accept.
Unfortunately most cultures put very tight limits on individuals, turning them into “trained fleas” in many essential aspects.
It seems that two of the most profound limits are put there by the commonly accepted ideas of money and markets, and the idea the evolution is all about competition.
Both ideas contain partial truths (are accurate within limited domains) but have been turned into lies by being applied outside of their applicable domains.
Money and markets are very useful tools for allocating scarce resources, but they fail when abundance is present. Most of the laws in most countries seem to be about creating artificial scarcity to prop up a system which people are familiar with, but which is no longer appropriate to our circumstances. We now have the technical capability to deliver an abundance of all of the necessities of life to every person on the planet, but our addiction to money and markets prevents us from doing so.
Certainly competition is a major aspect of the filtering function of evolution by natural selection, but it only tells less than half the story.
When one takes a big picture view of the evolution of life, it is clear that all major developments in the complexity of living systems are characterised by the emergence of new levels of cooperation. Certainly raw cooperation is vulnerable to cheating, so all new levels of cooperation require new levels of strategies which can effectively mitigate against cheats (at all levels).
Arguably we stand on the threshold of the emergence of such a new level of cooperation and resulting abundance – and the greatest barrier to that emergence is the scarcity based thinking engendered by our cultural concepts of markets, finance, politics and economics.
It is hard to accept abundance without effort when one has been taught that one must work for everything, that one must earn everything.
And certainly, there will always remain many levels of attainment that one must strive for.
The neural networks of our brain require training, and the only way to train them is be repeated experience. And that doesn’t mean that we have to work for our basic existence every day – we can use the culturally accumulated knowledge embodied in automated systems of production to supply us with all the material needs of existence, freeing every one of us to explore whatever aspects of our “spiritual” or “physical” development we care to responsibly choose (where responsibility in this sense means to have consideration of the needs of all others for life and liberty, and the needs of the ecosystems and automated systems that support us all).
So yes, we are thinking feeling entities, and it seems clear to me that we are each individually capable of transcending the emotional and cultural conditions of our birth and our development. And it also seems, based upon my own explorations, that there is no potential limit to the levels of such transcendence, each new level opening the possibility of yet more levels.
It seems that there is plenty of possibility to avoid boredom, even should we manage to live a few billion or trillion years.