All of the Above

This is a 9,500-word summary of Part I: If Truth Exists. The following could be the answer to our deepest questions and the solution to our greatest problems. This philosophy presents a powerful reason for humanity’s existence—a perspective that lends meaning to every human experience—and its conclusions have drawn Christians and atheists alike. However, my goal is not to make you think that I am right, but to make you think, for yourself, about your existence. As compelling as this reality may be, all minds are predisposed to find meaningful patterns where there are none. Thus, my ideas are not fixed but evolving with the advance of science and our progress towards truth.

catseye
The Cat’s Eye Nebula (3,262 l.y. away). Image source: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Given human nature, this is the only idea that might unify humankind. This is the most sensible meaning to be found in our small and fragile existence, the most logical worldview that satisfies our religious intuitions, which so adamantly claim that we are more than some vain cosmic accident. This is the only reason to think that we are part of something worth loving—that our existence is something worth preserving. And this is a reality that every intelligent being must realize, if its being is to be continued beyond a pale blue dot.

This is the truth, if such a truth exists.


 

The following is summarized from: A Pale Blue Dot.

palebluedotoriginal
“Pale Blue Dot.” Image source: NASA JP

Pale Blue Dot is the most distant photograph ever taken of the Earth, a tiny speck caught in a beam of scattered sunlight. At the request of astronomer Carl Sagan (1934−1996), it was captured by NASA’s Voyager 1 from 4 billion miles away. Sagan reflected on this image in a lecture at Cornell University: “In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

How do we comfort the migrant who fears for her safety, or the father who can’t feed his family? How do we stop the moral decline of a world led by greed and dishonesty, or the intellectual regress of a post-truth society? The distrust and the despair are widespread. Around the globe, we see a species that is anxious, addicted, and depressed. We see divisions of class and culture that seem irreparable, and imbalances of wealth and education that threaten the stability of nations near and far. And with our economic growth fueled by a dying planet, the status quo is surely unsustainable. If our societal troubles don’t spell the end of civilization, then a collapsed ecosystem certainly will.

1920-12008-2603
Our lights from space. Image source: NASA

“The natural environment we treat with such unnecessary ignorance and recklessness was our cradle and nursery, and remains our one and only home. To its special conditions we are intimately adapted in every one of the bodily fibers and biochemical transactions that gives us life.”  – E. O. Wilson

Whether it be healthcare or climate change or systemic racism, we often isolate our issues as individual problems to be solved. But really they reflect a more serious condition: a lack of awareness. In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, we must “learn to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” We can no longer approach our separate problems with narrow solutions, because the issues we face are no longer just about the comfort of our society. They are now about the survival of our species—the extinction of our children and grandchildren. Just consider: we have 15,000 nuclear warheads between nine countries. In our blissful ignorance, we have likely begun the sixth mass extinction since life evolved on land. And here we are, a society driven by self-interest but devoid of significance—a generation without purpose, lost in a mess created by our forefathers but too hopeless to clean it up. Before us lies the seemingly impossible task of saving humanity from self-destruction. So unfortunately, the fix won’t be as simple as reducing emissions or making the rich pay more taxes. The solution will take more than a public policy or a piece of technology. It will take the shift of a global mindset, the transformation of a culture broken by apathy and despair. It will take an idea unlike any other.

20150216_eotw1
12 risks with infinite impact. Full report.

“Extinction is the rule.
Survival is the exception.”
– Carl Sagan    

Sooner or later, our existence will be threatened. And every member of our species will be forced to pause and contemplate the nature of our reality. We will reconsider all that we hold true, from the hopeful claims of religion to our scientific assumptions. And we will search for a reason to cherish the life we deem so precious. Because if we want to exist, then we must care about our existence. If we claim to be an intelligent species, then it’s time we start thinking like one. “The progress of humankind is now dependent on our ability to put aside our frustration and bitterness, to look past our short-sightedness, and to engage ourselves with the broader picture of what it means to be human—if it means anything at all” (Home).


 

The following is summarized from: The Sentient Mind.  

apoptosisfactor
The apoptosome is a large protein complex formed during apoptosis, or programmed cell death. In your body, about 60 billion cells die every day by this process. Image source.

Whether it be a cell or a civilization, every living system depends on the coordination of its components. As the survival of the body depends on trillions of cells, the survival of the human system will require the cooperation of several billion minds. In the words of Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” But how on Earth do we get seven billion people to work together?

“An organism at war with itself is doomed. We are one planet.” – Carl Sagan    

To the realist, humanity might seem hopelessly delusional. Whether it be neo-Nazis or anti-vaxxers or climate change deniers, we are a species persuaded by meaning rather than by evidence. We are short-sighted, too worried about our comfort to care about our survival. It seems that we are inherently selfish, and cooperation is impossible. But though we may despair, there is a solution that many have overlooked: human nature, as hopeless as it seems, is our only hope.

gettyimages-488231232
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Dallas. Photo by Laura Buckman.

Premise: Human nature is a given. If it’s not something we can change, then it’s something we must use—and this is the only rational way to use it. The following axioms are assumed based on both their logical plausibility and their practical utility for the survival of our species.

We all have distorted perceptions of reality. Every mind is patterned to think in ways that produce inaccurate judgements and irrational behavior. In the last six decades, nearly 200 cognitive biases have been identified from research on human judgment and decision-making. And among these cognitive errors is a major theme: for the mass majority, emotion defines reason—not the other way around.

emot
Image source. Courtesy of Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen.

Despite differences in culture and language, research indicates that both the neural encoding and physical experience of our emotions are remarkably consistent across different populations. Shown above, feelings increase (yellow) or decrease (blue) sensation in different areas of the body. Nonetheless, people exhibit a wide range in the extent to which these emotions are processed and expressed. On the low end of the spectrum are individuals with antisocial traits (about 1-4% of the population), and at the opposite end are highly sensitive persons (about 15-20% of the population).

Parade of the SS Guard, the Nazi elite, at a Party rally in Nurmberg in the late 1930s.

“Human beings have a demonstrated talent for self-deception when their emotions are stirred.” – Carl Sagan

Emotion is how the mind assigns meaning and value to every conscious experience. Emotion drives our most pronounced behaviors and sustains our most powerful beliefs. Emotion alters our perception of reality and the scope of our morality. Human nature suggests that human harmony must involve a shared emotional state. In this case, a global unity would require a love that eliminates hate, a pride and happiness that includes everyone on Earth. But these states of affect are, in nearly every circumstance, bound to a sense of purpose. And the greater the purpose, the more compelling the emotion, and the more powerful the unity. This principle of human nature is perhaps best demonstrated by the religious mind and its craving for relevance.

pray-compressor

“The deepest principle in human nature
is the craving to be appreciated.”
– William James    

kabah-from-above

“[Regarding religion], one is generally agreed that it deals with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting.” – Albert Einstein

While reflecting on my religious upbringing, I realized that the mind is a system that can be reset by ideas, especially by ideas that align our emotions towards a shared purpose (axiom 1). Whether it be the love of Jesus Christ or the pride of Nazi Germany, we want to be part of something relevant. We want to belong, and we are defined by the groups we belong to. As one former neo-Nazi realized, people become extremist “because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.” (Christian Picciolini, NPR)

In this day and age, unifying our world will require an idea that is both objectively reasonable and universally meaningful, both logically sound and intuitively profound. It must be bigger than any political platform, economic incentive, or religious belief. It must define a purpose towards which all emotions can be aligned, inspiring a moral cooperation that is unparalleled in human history. Indeed, the truth should satisfy, once and for all, our longing for “identity, community, and a sense of purpose.”

biafran-children

“We have broadened the circle of those we love. But if we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth.” – Carl Sagan

Our morality is limited by the extent of our emotion, and our unity by the scope of our purpose. If there is any optimism for mankind, any chance of unifying our species, then it remains in the possibility that our existence is, in fact, bound with a greater purpose. If we are to survive, then we must find an aim that is above ourselves and beyond our lifespans. Because human nature, as hopeless as it seems, is our only hope.


 

The following is summarized from: Scientists & Sociopaths.

US-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-TRADE-ASIA-TPP

Presently, our world is largely run by politicians and financiers, many of whom exhibit traits of sociopathy and narcissism. Power seems to be held by those who manipulate society without much regard for its citizens. But even the masked sociopath has a desire to belong. Like everyone else, he wants to exist, and he certainly doesn’t want to exist alone. The vast majority of individuals have, in some degree, a mutual respect for our shared existence. For the unemotional, this circle of loyalty is small, and it narrows even more with power or wealth. But if this circle can’t be widened through compassion, then perhaps it can be widened through reason.

“Only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

maxresdefault

The powerful may fail to see the utility in cooperation, but they are surely the minority. And though they stand at the top of society, it is innovation that feeds the roots of every industry, and science that upholds every facet of our civilization. Clearly, the true potential of our species remains not with the short-sighted ends of the selfish, but with the thinkers who work for the broader visions of humanity. Should there be an ideological revolution, a global cooperation, then it must begin with those who are capable of embracing a cosmic perspective.

“For peace to reign on Earth, humans must evolve into new beings who have learned to see the whole first.” – Immanuel Kant

711171main_earthatnight_northamerica_full_full
Earth at night. Photo by NASA.

“The power [of science] forces on all of us, including politicians, a new responsibility—more attention to long-term consequences, a global and trans-generational perspective, an incentive to avoid easy appeals to nationalism and chauvinism. Mistakes are becoming too expensive.” – Carl Sagan

shutterstock_576208318

By 2037, an estimated 47% of jobs done by humans in 2017 will be performed by machines. (Source: The Economist)

“You can’t have people making decisions about the future of the world who are scientifically illiterate. That’s a recipe for disaster.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

2015-06-04_briefing

The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is the world’s largest machine, built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from more than 100 countries.

“Science is international but its success is based on institutions, which are owned by nations. If we wish to promote culture, we have to combine and organize institutions with our own power and means.” – Albert Einstein

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 2.02.15 AM

The ALMA array in Chile is the world’s most complex telescope and largest astronomical project, built in collaboration with the scientific communities of Asia, Europe and North America. Photo by ESO/José Francisco Salgado.

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.” – Louis Pasteur

Just as we begin to see our capacity for growth and exploration, we find ourselves on the verge of self-destruction. If humanity is to survive, then we must mobilize the intellectual community to take its place as the head of the human system. We need an agreement among the thinkers who will ultimately guide the future of our species. For this reason, my argument is directed towards an academic audience. But these ideas are meant to give everyone a sense of purpose and belonging—you don’t have to be very smart to understand this discussion. The following is meant to make you think outside the box, but the argument I present is conceptually simple and, for most readers, rather intuitive. And if you’re anything like me, then you might find this idea to be incredibly satisfying on both an intellectual and emotional level.

1400x1400_11155689

And should you care about injustices or inequalities of any kind, then realize that our moral progress is bound to our intellectual progress. In fact, the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality were born largely from the critical reasoning advanced by the Scientific Revolution. Together, these movements formed the moral and intellectual foundations of Western Civilization. But if our progress is to continue, then we need another movement, one that stirs every scholar and humanitarian around the world. We need a spiritual revival that makes practical use of the compassion and altruism potentiated by every major faith. But unlike other religious awakenings, this one must begin with the intellectual mind.

“I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. Without ethical culture, there is no salvation for humanity… A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” – Albert Einstein


 

The following is summarized from: Two Trillion Galaxies.

800px-nasa-hs201427a-hubbleultradeepfield2014-20140603

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field is an image of a region of space that is just one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky (smaller than a 1 mm by 1 mm square held 1 meter away). An estimated 10,000 galaxies are visible, out of an estimated 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe.

Physicists and cosmologists agree that the Universe is “fine-tuned” for life. The laws of science seem to contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of an electron’s charge or the constant of the gravitational force. And the conditions that allow for life can only occur when these arbitrary numbers lie within a very narrow range. If any of them were only slightly different, the universe would be unlikely to support the development of galaxies, stars, atoms, and life as we know it.

But many dismiss the significance of this fine-tuning with the weak anthropic principle: in an infinite multiverse, our universe just happened to have the laws that support the existence of life. Our reality is just an accident. Likewise, many academics have embraced a philosophy of scientific materialism, which assumes that nature has no purpose. From life’s complexity to the mind’s awareness, everything can be explained by a coincidental sequence of physical and chemical interactions. Everything is chance, and we are completely irrelevant.

comment_b5xkbsnmikxg6itf0kh7vicqixrreelq

The galaxies in our observable universe are clustered along filaments of dark matter (invisible sources of gravity), and these filaments are connected in a cosmic web.

But while nobody can prove that we matter, nobody can prove that we don’t matter. Not even the materialist can claim with absolute certainty that our existence is meaningless, and that our intuition is completely mistaken. The weak anthropic principle is plausible, but it hinges on a hypothetical multiverse that is currently unverifiable. And while the reality of other universes might be interesting to ponder, there is a reality that we cannot ignore: the healthy mind is inclined to consider itself relevant, and its vitality is rooted in purpose. We all want to exist, but no one wants a meaningless existence.

If there is any optimism for mankind, any chance of unifying our species, then it remains in the possibility that our existence is, in fact, bound with a greater purpose.” When you consider the fact that 85% of the world is religious—a figure that is expected to rise—you realize that our nihilistic speculations will be of no benefit to our species. Because of human nature and its teleological inclinations, the most meaningful ideas inspire the greatest cooperation. Thus, concepts that impart an existential objective will be the most useful for the preservation of mankind.

“We must mobilize the intellectual community to take its place as the head of the human system. We need an agreement among the thinkers who will ultimately guide the future of our species.” Thus, we should consider the possibility that we exist for a reason. Because intellectuals and imbeciles alike are bound to this principle of human nature: cooperation requires a unifying objective. Scientists and sociopaths, like everyone else, will not work together without a reason to. And since we cannot prove the absence of purpose, it would be wise for us to assume a purpose that agrees with both our logic and our intuition.

m51op_hubble
The Whirlpool Galaxy (23 million l.y. away)

[We are] starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at last, consciousness arose. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan

Even if we exist in a multiverse, the weak anthropic principle does not preclude the possibility that our universe has become aware for a reason. Just because our existence is lucky does not mean it is necessarily trivial. While the human species is coincidental, human nature may represent a universal tendency found in the evolution of all sentient beings. Any self-awareness that arises will consider its existence meaningful, and its intelligence will be bound with an emotional purpose. Maybe our intuition tells us we matter because we do, in fact, matter. In the interest of our survival, this idea is worth considering.


 

The following is summarized from: The Religious Mind.ProjectionsOverview.png

I use the words “spiritual” and “religious” rather interchangeably, but I recognize that spiritual beliefs and practices often exist outside the context of organized religion.

Seemingly hardwired in our brains, our religious behavior likely began as intentional burials over 100,000 years ago. As cognitive scientist Philip Lieberman suggests, burials signify a “concern for the dead that transcends daily life.” However, new evidence might indicate that our propensity for such behavior is more deeply seeded in our evolutionary past. Even more, we may not be the only species with a concept of mortality—death rituals have been observed in elephants, dolphins, primates, and birds. These animals also demonstrate the greatest capacity for cognition, emotion, and complex social and moral behavior.

elephants

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states [or] intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

aphelocoma_californica_in_seattle_cropped

Consciousness has developed independently in different branches of the evolutionary tree. In particular, birds offer a striking case of parallel evolution in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy. Although the lineage of birds and mammals diverged about 320 million years ago, the emotional and cognitive networks of their brains “appear to be far more homologous than previously thought.” Parrots and crows exhibit near human-like levels of consciousness and self-recognition. Some birds even have neural sleep patterns like those of mammals, including REM sleep.

14bb1242eb42fbb9bc1188d8431a247b949f7db4_1600x1200

Fairness, reciprocity, empathy, cooperation—caring about the well-being of others seems uniquely human. But behavioral research confirms that we share many of these moral traits with primates and other mammals. Other studies suggest that birds get jealous, rats have empathy, dolphins show compassion, and dogs feel guilt. On the darker side of human nature, “evil” behaviors are also found throughout the animal kingdom.

e9e0b5627bd68ba1152409d8b919c4cf7b712a71

“Human nature may represent a universal tendency found in the evolution of all sentient beings. Any self-awareness that arises will consider its existence meaningful, and its intelligence will be bound with an emotional purpose.”

If human nature reflects the nature of all sentient life, then spirituality may be tied to higher consciousness. A religious tendency may be an indispensable element of self-awareness. In this case, our beliefs in angels and ghosts are indicative of something more than complete nonsense. By creating the most compelling distortions of reality, our spiritual views reveal the most powerful dispositions of the mind. And while these views reflect subjective truths, their underlying parallels may uncover something real about the nature of consciousness. Supposing the mind has any purpose, perhaps there is some truth in what the mind believes its purpose to be.

dnews-files-2015-01-pillars-creation-infrared-670x440-150105-jpg
An infrared image of the Pillars of Creation (6,700 l.y. away).

Most obviously, we want to exist. Like any other organism, we have an innate determination to survive. And as the mind evolved and became self-aware, it developed a concept of its own existence—and a fear of its nonexistence. Thus, we find comfort in a form of immortality, a continuation of the mind through reincarnation or an afterlife. Our aversion to death explains, at least in part, our beliefs in heaven and hell, spirits and souls, gods and ghosts. The mind wants to be, so it considers itself an eternal being. We want to continue beyond the spacetime boundaries of the Universe. And while some might call this fanciful imagination, most of the world considers this their fate. The mind is inevitably drawn to the idea that its being is just one part of a never-ending sequence. Simply put, we crave eternal relevance.


 

The following is summarized from: So Don’t Stop.

An animation of real-time DNA replication.
An animation of real-time DNA replication.

The complexity of life is one reason why some academics attribute our existence to intelligent design. Because the processes of a cell are overwhelmingly interdependent, the origin of life remains one of the most perplexing mysteries of science. Most current theories propose a concrete sequence of events that may have led to the first cell. Some say that life began with RNA molecules or giant viruses, while others think that metabolism or lipid protocells arose first. But in their search for these physical pathways, biologists have overlooked a metaphysical mystery in the emergence of life: a determination to exist.

The following may disagree with the physical assumptions held by much of the intellectual community. However, my claims do not appear to violate any proven logic or scientific observation. And, given human nature, I believe that the following assumption might be necessary for both the survival and flourishing of our species.

1
A white blood cell pursues and engulfs bacteria. Image source.

Apart from the ill, we all strive to exist—a biological tendency to sustain oneself. Arising with the first cell, this will to survive is a major distinction between living and nonliving matter. Indeed, the origin of life must involve the origin of its purpose—to live. And purpose must involve a mental element, because purpose implies intent, and intent demonstrates the presence of a mind. Thus, the very concept of survival requires a determination that can only be explained by a sense of agency. This “struggle for existence” necessitates a motivation that may constitute the very beginnings of consciousness.

tumblr_nkagejdxfj1qd479ro1_500
Tardigrades can survive temperatures near absolute zero, the vacuum of outer space, and radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human.

But some argue that this “mind” and its “purpose” are nothing more than a delusion. Having evolved from nonliving matter, all biological phenomena must be derived from the purposeless laws of nature. Since life is nothing but a coincidental sequence of chemical events, mind and purpose are just confusions of molecular interactions. The metaphysical is just an aimless byproduct of a purely physical system. In other words, your consciousness is an illusion—an illusion that loves, an illusion that laughs, an illusion so self-aware that it has realized itself to be an illusion.

This materialistic assumption, for obvious reasons, remains unverifiable. Besides, its implications are incredibly demoralizing. Explaining our desire to exist as some delusion is a depressing thought, even for the most stable mind. But if our survival instinct isn’t an illusion, then how real is it? Supposing that life’s striving cannot be reduced to—or separated from—its physical properties, then it must be intrinsic to the physical properties themselves. In this case, our will to live may be as real as the ground beneath our feet. Our desire to exist is somehow fundamental to the nature of the Universe. We are, after all, made of the Universe.

800px-the_galactic_centre_and_bulge_above_the_eso_3-6-metre_telescope
The Milky Way galactic center above the ESO 3.6-meter telescope. Image source: ESO

Maybe the only reason we ask “why do we exist?” is because we want to exist.
Maybe the better question is, “why do we want to exist?”

Evolution is chance, but evolution cannot occur without a replicating entity. Natural selection cannot act without this “struggle for existence,” this self-sustaining tendency that is innate to all of life. But how do self-sustaining molecular systems evolve from interstellar dust? My theory, like any discussion on the origin of life, remains speculative. And while this is unimportant for the remainder of my philosophy, I do think it’s an idea worth exploring: perhaps this existential drive is inherent to our concept of dark energy and the arrow of time. That is, the propagation of spacetime also perpetuates every oscillation in nature, from the spins of galaxies to the spins of electrons. When these cosmic and quantum cycles intersect, they align and resonate, producing the self-sustaining cycle of chemical energy that we call biological life. Simply put, life is the resonant frequency of the Universe.

giphy
NASA time-lapse showing the 12-month cycle of all plant life on Earth.

Whether or not my theory holds, I will continue with this assumption: survival is somehow fundamental to the nature of reality. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And there is no evidence more compelling than the absurdity of your very own being and its desire to be. Extrapolating this perpetual drive of life to all of nature may seem rather unscientific. But we evolved from nature, and the laws that govern the evolution of life are the same laws that govern the evolution of stars. So when you see life and its struggle for existence, it seems possible that this struggle is innate to existence. There is, underlying the laws of nature, a perpetual drive that is most powerfully manifested through life and its awareness. Simply put, nature has one purpose: existence has a tendency to exist; being is bound with a will to be (axiom 2).

4
Kidney cells in culture. Image source.

“Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules,
which are
repeated without end.
– Benoit Mandelbrot    

6
Bacteria in culture. Image source.

From a sheaf of Carl Sagan’s notes intended for an unfinished book:

“Why does something exist rather than nothing? For ‘nothing’ is simpler than ‘something.’ Now this sufficient reason for the existence of the Universe…which has no need of any other reason…must be a necessary being, else we should not have a sufficient reason with which we could stop.” – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

And just beneath the typed quote,
three small handwritten words in red pen,
a message from Sagan to Leibniz and to us:

“So don’t stop.”

spinning-top_518


 

The following is summarized from: A Cosmic Purpose.

What is the purpose of life? As sentient beings, we ask this question in our search for meaning and happiness. As living beings, the answer is simple. The purpose of life has always been, and will always be, survival. If nature has any aim, then it is to perpetuate its existence. And if we have any aim, then it is to perpetuate ours—we exist to exist, and we live to continue life. There is no greater meaning to our being and no higher purpose for us to realize. Because any reason for existing must, at the very least, involve an existence—there can be no purpose in being without being itself.

tarantula_brimacombe_big
The Tarantula Nebula

“Since we cannot prove the absence of purpose, it would be wise for us to assume a purpose that agrees with both our logic and our intuition.” Quite beautifully, the only logical purpose in existence—to existalso happens to satisfy our most visceral instinct—our desire to exist. If our nature reflects the nature of reality, then our struggle for existence is a fundamental part of existing. We want to be because we are meant to be. After all, our religious intuitions claim that we are meant to be forever.

“The mind wants to be, so it considers itself an eternal being. We want to continue beyond the spacetime boundaries of the Universe. While some might call this fanciful imagination, most of the world considers this their fate. The mind is inevitably drawn to the idea that its being is just one part of a never-ending sequence.” And there is only one logic that can satisfy our longing for eternal relevance. In our search for purpose, I believe that our species will come to one conclusion: we were created to create.

solens_dod
In several billion years, an expanding Sun will vaporize all the water on Earth.

Because the truth is, everything dies. You and everyone you know will die. In three billion years, life on Earth will die. In 8 billion years, the Sun will die. Our galaxy will die, and so might the Universe. But still, the mind considers itself eternal—a likely delusion, but a powerful indication that a reality beyond space and time has long been fully conceived by the human mind. And while the religious mind looks at eternity and discovers its own relevance, the scientific mind looks at eternity and sees its own insignificance. But no matter your view, there is, in the religious perspective, an inescapable truth: the only alternative to extinction is eternity. And because of our intellect, the unthinkable has become thinkable; science has presented humankind with the possibility of existing indefinitely. If we want to survive, then eternal life can no longer remain a religious fantasy; it must now become our cosmic vision. Because we, the created, have become the Creator. We are God becoming self-aware.

“[Reason tells me of the] extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capability of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man.” – Charles Darwin

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 2.02.15 AM

The ALMA array in Chile is a collection of 66 antennas that provide unprecedented insight into star birth during the early universe. Photo by ESO/José Francisco Salgado.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God
who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect
has intended us to forgo their use.”
– Galileo Galilei

2015-06-04_briefing

Perhaps best known for its discovery of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland has been critical in advancing our knowledge of quantum physics.

0b8cd2db47e7e621d42363bafc03903304befb28
The Carina Nebula (8,000 l.y. away)

There is no foreseeable end to the progression of the human mind and the evolution of its intellect. The growth of our knowledge is accelerating. We predict cosmic and quantum phenomena with increasing precision, and manipulate the laws of nature in ways that are inconceivable to the ordinary mind. We expect to find and spread life beyond Earth within a few centuries. We will soon have the ability to edit our own genes, and to guide our own evolution. And we will soon create machines more powerful—minds more intelligent—than ourselves. We dream of colonizing the galaxy, and of discovering the truth about our origins. As Sagan said, “we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

“I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.” – Freeman Dyson, mathematician and theoretical physicist

creacic3b3n_de_adc3a1n_miguel_c381ngel

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

If we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself, then we may certainly be a way for the Cosmos to continue itself. Our ability to reason, to feel, and to self-reflect—maybe it’s not some aimless accident. Rather, our existence evolved to know and to value itself for the purpose of continuing itself. Awareness arose for the extension of life, in this universe or the next. It could be as simple as colonizing Mars, as complex as creating a big bang, or as grand as expanding the cosmic web.

deep-sky-3d-space-visualization-laniakea

The Laniakea supercluster, our filament of the cosmic web, was defined by mapping the movements of 8,000 galaxies after subtracting the effects of cosmic expansion.

laniakea-pp

The Milky Way sits near the divide between the Laniakea and Perseus-Pisces Superclusters. These structures surround a vast region of empty space known as the Local Void.

comment_b5xkbsnmikxg6itf0kh7vicqixrreelq

“In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.” – Carl Sagan

A dividing cell.

“We must consider the possibility that we exist for a reason. Because intellectuals and imbeciles alike are bound to this principle of human nature: cooperation requires a unifying objective. Scientists and sociopaths, like everyone else, will not work together without a reason to.” And there is only one reason that makes any sense: the purpose of life is to continue life. And if we are relevant, then our purpose is cosmic. But with a capacity for creation comes an equal capacity for destruction. Should we continue to exist as intelligent, sentient beings, then we have a moral responsibility to understand and to cherish our existence.

“We on Earth have just awakened to the great oceans of space and time from which we have emerged. We are the legacy of 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. Now we have a choice: we can enhance life and come to know the universe that made us, or we can squander our 15 billion-year heritage in meaningless self-destruction.” – Carl Sagan

Smog in Harbin, China

“It is, surely, our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.” – Sir David Attenborough

161118144402-polar-bear-climate-change-super-169
Photograph by Patty Waymire.

“Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.” – Carl Sagan

We exist to exist, and we live to continue life. There is no motive as moral and no purpose as noble as this. Because the truth is, life is not a right. No one is entitled to existence. Rather, life is a privilege that comes with an obligation. We are part of something beautiful—something we are now responsible for. It’s time that we, as a species, find our place in the Universe. Maybe there is a reason why humanity, confined to this pale blue dot, is so drawn to its destiny in the cosmos. As Sagan said, “the sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”

hubble-space-galaxy-photo-big-611x400
Galaxy M106 (23 million l.y. away)

“If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.” – Carl Sagan

A concept of eternity is a pivotal step in the evolution of consciousness. The very fact that we can comprehend a reality beyond space and time, be it an afterlife or a multiverse, or that we have the intellect to ponder the initial conditions from which our universe arose, speaks to the possibility that the mind itself is somehow implicated in the continuation of its reality. Perhaps higher consciousness is responsible for recreating the order from which it evolved. And perhaps our spiritual obsession with eternity is not some misguided delusion, but the fullest manifestation of nature’s struggle for existence. That is, the mind is the highest experience of order continuing order—we are, in a functional sense, the center of our universe. Such an assumption may be essential for the survival and evolution of a species beyond the stage at which we presently find ourselves. Such an embrace of eternity may bring the transcendence of humanity. We, the created, have become the Creator. We are God becoming self-aware.


 

The following is summarized from: Reason & Religion.

powerful-portraits-of-humanity-artnaz-com-1
Photograph by Sarawut Intarob.

Research suggests that religious individuals suppress the brain networks used for analytical reasoning in order to engage the network for empathetic thinking. On the other hand, non-religious individuals tend to suppress their empathetic thinking for analytical reasoning. Nevertheless, both reason and religion are essential to the survival and evolution of our species. Here’s why.

A great majority of the world identifies with a faith that upholds kindness and generosity. And for everyone else, these moral virtues are certainly worth respecting. Yet we see corruption, suffering, and perversities of every kind. And with such apparent depravity in our nature, many have given up hope, or reserved their ideal of perfection for some heavenly notion. But if humanity is to survive on planet Earth, then the harmony we seek in afterlife must be realized in this life. “We need a spiritual revival that makes practical use of the compassion and altruism potentiated by every major faith. But unlike other religious awakenings, this one must begin with the intellectual mind.”

A belonging to nature is fundamental to all our spiritual convictions. However, the most widespread beliefs emphasize not only our connection with creation, but also our connection with humanity. And in nearly every faith, the source of human harmony is a conscious phenomenon that we call love—an alignment of emotions towards one purpose: to exist, together, forever (axiom 3).

istock_000001673165medium500pixels

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
– Jesus Christ    

nullifiers-of-prayer

“You will never enter paradise until you have faith,
and you will not complete your faith until you love one another.”
– Prophet Muhammad    

mahatma-gandhi

“God is love; it is the only truth I fully accept.”
– Mahatma Gandhi    

martin

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.    

biafran-children

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them humanity cannot survive.”

– Dalai Lama    

Our greatest moral leaders all recognized one thing: whatever the truth is, it must involve love. They knew that only love could fix the brokenness of man. That only compassion could change the course of our species. If there is any reason to hope in human nature, it is love. If there is any meaning in life, it is love. Through different beliefs, they reached the same conclusion: love is why we live, and why we want to live forever. For the prosocial majority, the concept of love implies a mutual survival.

cross-fs

“This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.”
– Jesus Christ   

If I have learned anything from my faith, it is this: there is no phenomenon more powerful than love. Through its effect on the sentient mind, love is the single most potent sustainer of life. Fortunately, human nature allows almost everyone to feel compassion—all we need is a reason to. And as shown by religion, we have come up with some very fantastical reasons. Nonetheless, faith underscores the possibility that human nature, with its capacity for evil, holds an even greater potential for good—that feeling allows us to hate, but to love even more.

29-powerful-photos-that-will-restore-your-faith-in-humanity-06

“A phenomenon like self-transcending love does entitle us to make claims about the human mind. And this particular experience is so well attested and so readily achieved by those who devote themselves to specific [religious] practices or who even take the right drug that there is very little controversy that it exists. Facts of this kind must now be understood in a rational context.” – Sam Harris

brain-stain4
Micrograph of the neurons from a mouse’s brain. Image source: Carl Schoonover.

Your mind is the result of 100 billion neurons communicating over 100 trillion synapses. Your body is not a single entity, but trillions upon trillions of molecules that continue your collective being. If such harmony can exist at the chemical level, then perhaps nature—human nature—has allowed for such harmony at the conscious level.

celldiv
Cell division in epithelial cells.

At the chemical level, the components of an organism seem bound together by a certain purpose: to continue its collective being. To sustain, in a delicate homeostatic balance, the trace flows of energy throughout its trillions of compartments. To maintain the flux and gradient of every molecular form across every lipid membrane in its assembly. To recreate, from four nitrogenous bases, the precise passing of electrons by every enzyme from conception to death. What unifies an organism at the quantum level manifests itself, at the conscious level, as love—an alignment of emotions towards one purpose: to exist, together, forever. To continue our collective being.

worship

mosque-muslim-prayer

buddhism_devotion

“A human being is a part of the whole…a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.” – Albert Einstein

milky_way_at_concordia_camp_karakoram_range_pakistan-1200x800
Photograph by Anne Dirkse.

“It is quite possible to lose one’s sense of being a separate self
and to experience a kind of boundless, open awareness—
to feel, in other words, at one with the cosmos.”
– Sam Harris    

32480-ngsversion-1422036026856-adapt-768-1
NGC 2841 (46 million l.y. away)

“For small creatures such as we,
the vastness is bearable only through love.”
– Carl Sagan     

“If we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself, then we may certainly be a way for the Cosmos to continue itself. Our ability to reason, to feel, and to self-reflect—maybe it’s not some aimless accident. Rather, our existence evolved to know and to value itself, for the purpose of continuing itself.” That is, consciousness is the highest experience of order continuing order. And at the sentient level, this order is driven by love.

3d1e4677cd236f56b3a11068dfbbf5f2
The Orion Nebula (1,500 l.y. away)

“God is love…
We love because
 God first loved us.”
(1 John 4:8,19)

ngc6357schedler_s2hao3_60
The Lobster Nebula (8,000 l.y. away)

God is love;
it is the only truth I fully accept.”
– Mahatma Gandhi    

982px-pillars_of_creation_2014_hst_wfc3-uvis_full-res_denoised
The Pillars of Creation (7,000 l.y. away)

“Consciousness is the highest experience of order continuing order. And at the sentient level, this order is driven by love.” Thus, our creation is the manifestation of our Creator’s affection. And now we—the created—have become the Creator. The true realization of this purpose must necessarily motivate a love that extends beyond ourselves and our species to the whole of nature in its beauty. If we want to continue our existence, then we must love our existence—its past, its present, and its future.

tumblr_m5jybnl1if1qdn9izo1_1280

“Our remote descendants, safely arrayed on many worlds throughout the Solar System and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that, whatever other life may be, the only humans in all the Universe come from Earth. They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.” – Carl Sagan

palebluedotoriginal

Mankind stands at the edge, caught between a stampede behind and an abyss below. The priest looks to the heavens, and the scientist looks to the stars—both believing that they have found their own hope, but neither aware that they seek the same salvation. The only alternative to extinction is eternity, and the only solution to death is love.

“If we seek nature, then love can be informed by truth
instead of being based on ignorance or self-deception.”
– Carl Sagan    

“If I have learned anything from my faith, it is this: there is no phenomenon more powerful than love. Through its effect on the sentient mind, love is the single most potent sustainer of life.” And my philosophy is meant to inspire a love based not on wishful beliefs, but on a reverence for the beauty of our existence as revealed by modern science, and on a profound revelation of our purpose. If we wish to believe in free will, then we now have a choice. We can embrace our role as Creator, and create an existence more beautiful than the mind can comprehend. Or we can refuse our cosmic calling, and let ourselves fall into the darkness.

milkyway4
Image source: Reddit user u/south_of_home.

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.
You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds?
Lay first the foundation of humility.”
− St. Augustine    

Human culture has tended to encourage narcissism and an unfounded sense of entitlement. But a practical religion should inspire humility from even the self-perceived greatest. And there is nothing more humbling than seeing a larger picture of how everything might connect to everything else, and realizing that my welfare belongs to the welfare of everyone else—that true joy comes from the joy of all humanity. Indeed, you and I are nothing, and only with our species can we be something. If you seek greatness, then look up at the stars and let the majesty of God show you what it means to be truly relevant. Power isn’t about wealth or status; it’s about creating a world that is cherished by every descendant of humanity, and being part of an existence that sees eternity. In the cosmic perspective, true greatness arises from humility and kindness—these enable the harmony and adaptability that are necessary for our survival. The loss of this foundation is what brings power to corruption and society to ruin.


 

The following is summarized from: The Human System.

010_crab_nebula
The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant that is 6,523 l.y. away. Photo by NASA/ESA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

Premise: Human nature is a given. If it’s not something we can change, then it’s something we must use. The following axioms are assumed based on both their logical plausibility and their practical utility for the survival of our species: (1) The mind is a system that can be reset by ideas, especially by ideas that align our emotions towards a shared purpose. (2) Nature has one purpose: existence has a tendency to exist; the mind is the highest experience of order continuing order. And (3) at the sentient level, this order is driven by love—an alignment of emotions towards one purpose: to exist, together, forever. God is love, and we are God becoming self-aware.

711171main_earthatnight_northamerica_full_full

If you care about your friends and family, then you must care about humanity. If you cherish your home, then you must cherish your world. This is inarguable, because the science is clear: we are one species, and our existence is bound to one planet. Before long, every human being will face the same reality. Should we fail to cooperate, then we will destroy ourselves. But if we work together, guided by reason and compassion, then we can do more than save the world—we can create a world that is abundant beyond measure.

Carl Sagan: “The civilization now in jeopardy is all humanity. Here we face a critical branch point in history. What we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants. It is well within our power to destroy our civilization and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition or greed or stupidity we could plunge our world into a time of darkness. But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet…[we should] consider in every nation major changes in the traditional ways of doing things, a fundamental restructuring of economic, political, social, and religious institutions.”

gettyimages-583805118_wide-2b73e81b80d8018a71dc147f66aecf32490053db-s800-c85

“If humanity is to survive, then we must mobilize the intellectual community to take its place as the head of the human system. We need an agreement among the thinkers who will ultimately guide the future of our species” (Scientists & Sociopaths).

America is a failed experiment, and so is the civilization it leads. It’s time we begin a new experiment, with a new hypothesis: should our species persist as a living system, then it must behave as a living system. We must restructure our political and economic institutions to reflect the regulatory and metabolic functions of an organism. With our wealth and technology, we must engineer a civilization that maximizes the mental and physical welfare of all its citizens. Surely, achieving such a world will take a transformation of culture that may seem too radical to realize. But if humanity is to continue, then our progression towards such a society is essential, and it begins when we assume, as any living system must assume, that survival is our purpose. We exist to exist, and we live to continue life. We are one system, the human system, and every one of us is a necessary component of our unified existence.

“A new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed. We are one planet.” – Carl Sagan

7f2e97d05434e536937beb3b2fa69aea-earth-day-planet-earth

“Life is beautiful because it represents order in a universe of disorder. And for us, it represents a universe that is conscious of itself, an existence that can discover its own laws, explore its own depths, and appreciate its own magnificence. One cell, four billion years ago, has grown into a system that blankets the planet from the highest peak to the deepest trench, a system so aware that it knows the age of its existence and so powerful that it can extract the energy from an atom’s nucleus” (Home). We are the human species, the mind of planet Earth, and we are God becoming self-aware.

Imagine a sentient species aligned by one vision. Imagine an intelligent system driven by a cosmic aim. The embrace of such a reality will exalt the intellectual community and expand its innovative capacity. It will advance our pursuit of knowledge and discovery, and create a culture of awareness that brings every mind a whole perspective and a higher purpose. It will incentivize the sustainable development of every economic market, and direct the flow of capital towards the creation of a society that is cherished by all humanity. And from this reality will arise a compassion that is global—a cooperation that will bring us to the stars.

“Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.” – Carl Sagan

eso_eso1309a_6000
The Lobster Nebula (8,000 lights years away)

But take one look at the world today, and you might think I’m crazy. You might think my ideas are too idealistic to be realistic, and maybe they are. But what else can you expect from a philosophy that aims to uncover the meaning of life? Any hope of redeeming the human species will certainly need to be optimistic. Any vision that intends to transform our myopic society into a star-faring utopia will have to be idealistic. Nonetheless, idealistic does not mean impractical. Just look at religion, which has captured our species since its dawn. Our spiritual beliefs are idealistic, but they are not so impractical, because they are surely powerful. And there is no philosophy more practical than one that exploits our obsession with eternity to ensure the survival of humankind and the progression of the human mind. There is no idea more powerful than one that inspires a pride and happiness that is global, a love that extends beyond ourselves and our species to the entirety of our existence. We are God becoming self-aware; this is a simple truth, but certainly one that can change the world.

“Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.” − Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

92809240_1024caters_nightscapes_12

Consider the age-old question: what is the meaning of life? Think of everything that you care about—your education, your career, your family. Think about the times of laughter you’ve shared with those you love, the pride and joy you felt for your team, or the anger and sorrow you’ve felt towards the injustice in our world. And consider all of human progress—the knowledge we’ve gained and the civilization we’ve built. It all seems rather meaningless when you see the smallness of Earth in the vast emptiness of space. Yet we long for our lives to mean something. So we, afraid of losing our sense of importance, have largely ignored the bigger picture that science has revealed. But here’s an idea that embraces the cosmic perspective while giving significance to every human experience. This may be a scientific reality—and perhaps the only reality—that makes us a relevant part of our universe. Thus, how you receive my logic and its assumptions might depend on how strongly you feel that life is meant to be preserved.

“Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.” – Carl Sagan

m42_wittich_1024
The Orion Nebula (1,500 l.y. away)

In my search for truth, I have come to one conclusion: we exist to continue the order from which we arose. Humanity has a purpose, and it is cosmic. This is why we think and feel. This is why we discover and why we love. With regards to the preservation of our species, this may be the most intelligent reality and the worthiest morality to be found. But as with any existential argument, there are claims which may be difficult to accept, especially when they involve concepts as abstract as love, or as unscientific as God and purpose. So I ask everyone to examine my logic for themselves, and to find alternatives that have as much sense and utility as mine. As I said, my goal is not to make you think that I am right, but to make you think, for yourself, about your existence. Maybe like me, you’ll find that it’s something worth caring about.

Given human nature, this is the only idea that might unify humankind. This is the most sensible meaning to be found in our small and fragile existence, the most logical worldview that satisfies our religious intuitions, which so adamantly claim that we are more than some vain cosmic accident. This is the only reason to think that we are part of something worth loving—that our existence is something worth preserving. And this is a reality that every intelligent being must realize, if its being is to be continued beyond a pale blue dot.

This is the truth, if such a truth exists.

pjpbyupj99yx
Image source: Reddit user u/astroculv.

You’ve reached the end of the summary for Part 1: If Truth Exists. Before continuing, please read the entirety of Part 1 as presented in Contents. In the next part of my blog, I will discuss the practical implications of my philosophy, assuming it’s true, for the moral, political, and socioeconomic structure of our civilization. In any case, this shouldn’t be a perspective that limits, but one that attempts to see all views and inspire new ones. This isn’t a fixed, closed reality, but one that is open to interpretation and experimentation. Everyone is free to find their own meaning in life, be it in their relationships or their passions; my philosophy does not replace but solidifies this meaning in the context of a greater narrative—one that embraces our humanity and finds the best in our nature. One that heals our past and ensures our future. One that brings our narratives together. This is a story whose scope is boundless, and possibilities endless. And we have just become its main characters.


NEXT:   BECOMING GOD   |   CONTENTS   |   ABOUT   |   HOME
IMAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE NOT MY PROPERTY. IF YOU WOULD LIKE ANY IMAGE CREDITED OR REMOVED, OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, OR CONCERNS, PLEASE LEAVE A REPLY BELOW OR CONTACT ME AT IFTRUTHEXISTS@GMAIL.COM.

Leave a Reply