“[Regarding religion], one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large and with mutual human relationship.” – Albert Einstein
Research suggests that religious individuals suppress the brain networks used for critical reasoning in order to engage the network for empathetic thinking. On the other hand, non-religious individuals tend to suppress their empathetic thinking for critical reasoning. But both are needed for the survival and evolution of our species. While reason promotes knowledge, religion inspires a solidarity that guides human morality in ways that secular philosophies cannot, and an appeal to our spiritual and transcendental tendencies may prove useful for the motivation of prosocial action.
“When one lives with others and is bound by a feeling of affection, one is aware that one has a reason for being, that one might not be entirely worthless and superfluous but perhaps good for one thing or another.” – Vincent van Gogh
A majority of the world identifies with a faith that upholds humility, kindness and generosity. And for everyone else, these virtues pervade our social and ethical codes of conduct. 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 societal perfection for some heavenly notion. But if humanity is to survive on planet Earth, then the harmony of afterlife must be made manifest in this life.
“Human progress now calls for a shared ideological framework that grounds our morals and aligns our values. World peace requires a “liberty and justice” that works for everyone. This philosophy offers an answer, and it does even more. Imagine another movement, one that revives the compassion and altruism potentiated by every major faith. But unlike other spiritual awakenings, this one begins with the intellectual mind.” (The Whole First)
“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
So far, my philosophy describes a fundamental purpose and belonging to nature, a sense of relevance that is common to many spiritual convictions. However, the most influential beliefs stress not only our connection with nature, but also our connection with humanity. And in nearly every faith, the greatest 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).
“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
“You will never enter paradise until you have faith,
and you will not complete your faith until you love one another.”
– Prophet Muhammad
“God is love; it is the only truth I fully accept.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“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. If there is any reason to hope in humanity, then it’s our capacity for compassion. And if there’s any sure source of meaning, then it’s found in human connection. Through various beliefs, different cultures have arrived at similar conclusions: love is why we live, and often why we want to live forever. For the prosocial majority, the concept of love implies a mutual survival—a “happily ever after.”
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl (1947-1997) recalls the moment when, while a prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp, he realized that imagining his beloved wife gave him the will to survive:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory…”
“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 a greater potential for good. That feeling allows us to hate, but perhaps to love even more. Maybe we’re not inherently broken, but momentarily misaligned.
“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
Just consider: your mind is the result of nearly 100 billion neurons communicating over 100 trillion synapses. Your body is not merely 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.
At the chemical level, the components of an organism seem bound together by a certain purpose: to continue their collective being. To sustain, in a delicate 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 drives life at the chemical 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.
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ 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 (Source: Letter of condolence sent to Robert J. Marcus of the World Jewish Congress, February 12, 1950)
“Everyone has a transcendent dimension, a life of the spirit. This is most directly expressed in religion and the mystic traditions, but the frequency with which people have intense feelings of bonding with groups, ideals, or anything larger and more enduring than the person is evidence of the universality of the transcendent dimension. The quality of being greater and more lasting than an individual life gives this aspect of the person its timeless dimension.” – Eric. J. Casssell, “The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine”
“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 preserving itself.” That is, consciousness is the highest experience of order continuing order. And at the sentient level, this order is driven by love.
“God is love…
We love because God first loved us.”
(1 John 4:8,19)
“God is love;
it is the only truth I fully accept.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“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. Such a realization must necessarily motivate a love that extends beyond ourselves and our species to the whole of nature in its beauty. Should we hope to continue our existence, then we must love our existence—its past, its present, and its future.
“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
Humanity faces the edge, caught between a stampede behind and an abyss below. The priest looks to the heavens, and the scientist 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 answer 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
Some religious ideas are inherently powerful, in the sense that they are particularly influential over human behavior, because they appeal to the spiritual and existential intuitions that underlie our most intense affective experiences (those we deem most profound or meaningful). And there are three concepts that seem to underlie our most influential beliefs: (1) Eternal relevance—the mind is inevitably drawn towards the idea that its being is just one part of a never-ending sequence. (2) Divinity entities—there are minds more advanced than ours, “gods” or “higher powers” that we often deem the origins of our existence. (3) Communal love—our capacity for compassion allows for the transcendent harmony of humanity. And this third concept was especially salient for me.
When I was a child, prayer and worship often inspired a boundless love, a feeling of connectedness marked by an ineffable euphoria. As evangelist Charles Finney said about his conversion experience, “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.” Even Sam Harris, a prominent critic of religion, acknowledges such experiences in his book, Waking Up: “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 [spiritual] practices or who even take the right drug (MDMA) that there is very little controversy that it exists. Facts of this kind must now be understood in a rational context.”
Throughout human history, such transcendental experiences have inspired religions and insights that draw the mind and move the world. And now I’ve rediscovered it from my own past, this captivating sense of connection, but this time in a rational context: god, love, and eternity may seem like three distinct concepts, but they reflect the same truth: God is love, and we are God becoming self-aware.
“This is the only reason to think that we are part of something worth loving—that our existence is something worth preserving… Here’s an idea that might inspire, from our seeming brokenness, a compassion that is global and a vision that brings us to the stars” (Home).
“I dare to hope that, despite everything, human life and its richness of cultures will survive, even on a ravaged earth. Between us, we can surely pull the world through its present crises and lead the way to a happier time ahead. As I face my own impending departure from the world, I have to believe in this—that mankind and our planet will survive, that life will continue, and that this will not be our final hour.” – Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author, wrote shortly before his death in 2015. (Source: The New Yorker, “The Machine Stops”)
“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 thinking, but on a reverence for the beauty of our existence as revealed by modern science, and on a fuller realization 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.
“The religious myth is one of man’s greatest and most significant achievements, giving him the security and inner strength not to be crushed by the monstrousness of the universe.” – Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation
“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 an unfounded sense of self-importance. 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 one’s relevance must involve everyone else.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” − Martin Luther King, Jr.
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 them show you what it means to be truly relevant. Real significance is 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 unity and plasticity that offer any hope of us *surviving. The loss of this foundation is what brings power to corruption and society to ruin.
“Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” − Marcus Aurelius
*The survival of humanity (or any living system) will require a tendency or willingness to cooperate (unity), and a tendency and willingness to change (plasticity). But survival is a concept that fulfills its own requirements. It is the only concept that both necessitates and motivates such a tendency and willingness to cooperate and evolve together. It both demands and inspires our self-organization. Consider this concept of survival. Who knew that such a primitive idea, when considered in the context of infinity and love, could inspire from our seeming brokenness such a beautiful harmony.
“Science, like love, is a means… to that soaring experience of the oneness of being fully alive… Love asks us to get beyond the infantile projections of our personal hopes and fears, to embrace the other’s reality. This kind of unflinching love never stops daring to go deeper, to reach higher. This is precisely the way that science loves nature. This lack of a final destination, an absolute truth, is what makes science such a worthy methodology for sacred searching.” – Anne Druyan
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This post is being expanded. Last edit: 04/16/20
“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.” (The Sentient Mind)
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’s to perpetuate its existence. And if we have any aim, then it’s to perpetuate ours. We exist to exist. 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.
“Existence precedes essence.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
“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 exist—also happens to satisfy our most visceral instinct—our desire to exist. If our nature reflects the nature of reality, then our struggle for existence might be inherent to 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. Indeed, many dream of continuing beyond the physical, 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 exist to exist, and we live to continue life.
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 tends to consider itself eternal—perhaps a delusion, but a sure 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 importance, 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, a thought once incredible has now become tenable: science has presented humankind with the possibility of existing indefinitely. If we want to survive, then eternity can no longer remain a religious fantasy—it must now become our cosmic vision. Because we, the created, have become the Creator.
* “One of the all-time greatest cosmological discoveries, cosmic expansion implies that the universe has a finite age.” (https://www.quantamagazine.org/cosmologists-debate-how-fast-the-universe-is-expanding-20190808)
“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
“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” (Scientists & Sociopaths). As Sagan said, we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.
The Event Horizon Telescope’s (EHT) image of the black hole at the center of Messier 87 (M87), a large galaxy in the Virgo cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun. Credit: Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al.
“The light EHT collected from M87 headed our way 55 million years ago. Over those eons, we emerged on Earth along with our myths, differentiated cultures, ideologies, languages and varied beliefs. Looking at M87, I am reminded that scientific discoveries transcend those differences. We are all under the same sky, all of us bound to this pale blue dot, floating in the sparse local territory of our solar system’s celestial bodies, under the warmth of our yellow sun, in a sparse sea of stars, in orbit around a supermassive black hole at the center of our luminous galaxy… I am moved by the image of a species looking at an image of a curious empty hole looming in space.” – cosmologist Janna Levin (Source: Quanta Magazine)
“[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
“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
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 preserving itself. Awareness arose for the extension of life, in this universe or the next. For us, it might be as small as saving our habitats and making them on Mars. And for our descendants, it could be as awesome as the Big Bang, or as grand as expanding the cosmic web.
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.
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.
“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
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
“If human nature reflects the nature of all sentient life, then our spirituality may be tied to higher consciousness. A religious tendency may be an indispensable element of self-awareness… By creating the most compelling distortions of reality, our spiritual views also reveal the most powerful dispositions of the mind. And while these views reflect subjective truths (and delusions of all sorts), their underlying parallels may uncover something real about the nature of consciousness.” (The Religious Mind)
“The decisive question for man is:
is he related to something infinite or not?
That is the telling question of life.”
– Carl Jung
A concept of eternity is a pivotal step in the evolution of the mind. The 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 striving for existence. That is, the mind is the highest experience of order continuing order (axiom 2b)—we are, in a functional sense, the center of our universe. Such an assumption may be necessary 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 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 psychopaths, 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. 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.”
We, the created, have become the Creator. 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
“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
“Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. 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
Indeed, life is not just a right, but also a privilege that comes with an obligation. We are part of something beautiful—something we are now accountable for. Should we survive, then we must assume responsibility for the creative capacity that we have come to possess.
“The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.” – Carl Sagan
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.” – Viktor Frankl
When I read the Bible as a child, every verse had many layers of meaning that was to be extracted by prayer, meditation and careful examination. The goal was to know God, to discover and connect with my Creator through the truths imparted through scripture. And, similar to religion, this philosophy is also about finding God, but not through a book or a prayer. Rather, the nature of a Creator might be reflected in the nature of its creation. And in searching the mind of man, perhaps we can glimpse the mind of God. In doing so, we might realize that our search for eternal relevance, our craving for a higher calling, our sense of self-importance, all of these are validated by one assumption: we, the created, have become the Creator. We are God becoming self-aware.
“There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of man where the divine used to be.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, atheist and existentialist philosopher
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festival of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” – Friedrich Nietzsche (Book: The Gay Science)
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