Archive for the 'Consciousness' Category

Is there Justice in Life?

 

peace and justice
                                Photo found here.

Big questions are those that are asked and answered by every person in every generation for as long as humans have been humans.

We do not tend to invent completely novel answers to these questions. Rather we shape our personal answers as we grow. We select and weave together the answers that resonate with our experience and acquired beliefs.

I woke up this morning thinking about this.  These are the answers that resonate with me:

Yes, there is Justice in Life.  

This is difficult or impossible to see for millions who are denied justice by others.   The tragic loss of justice must clearly remind us of how essential justice is for there to be life.

There are Laws of Nature, and if we act in accord with these our lives tend to be better than if we don’t.   Ultimately it is better to do good than to do bad. It is better to help others than to only use them.   It is better to forgive than to hold grudges and take reprisals.   It is better to love than to hate. It is better to avoid disease and the causes of disease; and likewise, to avoid negative habits and their causes. It is better to help those who are down rather than to say “They deserve it,” and walk away. Ultimately, Justice depends on how we treat each other.

Then why do bad things happen to good people?

Nature is complex, and the laws of nature interact with each other in almost infinitely complex ways.   We are not perfectly tuned into these laws and their interactions, and even if we have knowledge, the results are very hard to predict, or to influence with perfect precision.   But as we learn more our results are better, and we can avoid problems and we can help each other avoid problems.   And the more we continue to expand and share our knowledge, the more Justice we have.   Much of the suffering that occurs in the world is in fact due to one group or another grossly ignoring the laws of nature.   For example, only taking and hoarding, rather than sharing; only using rather than giving back and uplifting; only fighting back rather than looking for a new way.

Life is infinitely complex. We will not one day have all the details figured out, along with rational prescriptions for each possible complex chain of cause and effect.

And yet in the face of complexity it is possible to live simply while spontaneously increasing Justice in the world.

Living simply means to love, to forgive, to pay attention, to listen, and, in various expressions, to transcend our petty egos based on ‘me-first’ and ‘my group first’ – to build expanded egos that care for the good of all. These are ancient and true teachings from all cultures.

How to Create a Group Mind

What is required to create a group mind?

Where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?

Image

Healthy human minds have the ability to resolve disputes without animosity, without making, or defeating enemies.

Our brains and nervous systems are wired to gather as much data as the time and circumstances allow, and to then understand and evaluate a myriad of possibilities, risks, and opportunities, and then to come up with the best solution – that time and circumstances will allow.

This enables the owner of the mind (the person) to take action as quickly as needed, rather than wasting time and energy fighting internal battles for supremacy, inside her mind, or becoming frozen with fear of making a mistake – fear of losing.

A healthy mind welcomes and thrives on diversity of opinions, including contradictory ones.

Such a mind does this routinely and often without our conscious awareness, for example when we are listening to a voice that is difficult to hear, and trying to make sense of what is being said, and what the underlying meanings and implications are; or when we are looking at the sky for clues about the weather.

A healthy mind also consciously welcomes a diversity of data and opinions, for example, when participating in a valued and trusted team, working to find a solution to a complex problem.

A valued and trusted team is like a healthy mind.

In a healthy team, as in a healthy mind, there is no dread of differences, of complexity, of apparent contradictions, or of periods of uncertainty.   There is also a willingness to take action to test ideas before final acceptance or rejection of a possible interpretation or solution.  There is a strong sense of working together, rather than competing.

Yet in a team there can be a healthy sense of competition; which is healthy only so long as the competition does not become more important than working together to solve a common problem.

A healthy, highly-functioning team is an example of a group mind.

So, actually, we already know how to create group minds.  We do it all the time.  We use common purpose and common sense, management techniques, group facilitation methods, scientific procedures, and methods for publishing, distributing, sharing, testing, and comparing data and knowledge.   We now use the Internet, high-speed, intelligent communications technologies, social media, complex, and data-intensive analytics.

A healthy, highly-functioning community, society, nation or world are larger examples of a group mind.

However, such examples are often more aspirations rather than realities, especially as the scale increases.   But they are all possible.  Very possible.

Creating healthy, large-scale group minds is more difficult

The problem is lack of health.  Lack of wholeness.   A dysfunctional society, or group mind, is full of emotion-laden biases, fears, animosity, internal hostilities, greed, bitter or violent competitions (winner-take-all), or is simply deeply fragmented and incapable of making good decisions.  All of these traits are indicators of very unhealthy group minds – so unhealthy as to be called insane, broken.  So broken it doesn’t feel right to call them minds at all.

So to create a group mind it is really necessary to create a healthy group mind.

The path to healthy group minds has this kind of progression:

Listening, empathy, acceptance, mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual appreciation (love), collaboration (team-work), the ability to make whole-group decisions and take whole-group action even when there is uncertainty, the ability to adapt, grow, and prosper together.

The first step is simply listening.  All the rest of the steps are about harmonizing.

To be able to really listen is a sign of great mental and spiritual health.  To really listen, one has to step back from dearly-held positions (at least temporarily).

This is ultimately a deeply spiritual practice: “Letting go,” “Trusting God” “Trusting Life”, “Transcending the ego.,”  – ultimately caring more about the whole, and each other, rather than about our own little (but important) part.

For many (most) it is not at all easy.  But there are ways that we, together, can make it easier.

Part Two:  Imagine a Conversation that can amplify trust and collaboration, and involve millions…  coming in the near future.

A Long Affair with Three Big Ideas about Collective Consciousness

In thinking recently about what I like to do and think and talk about – for example, using and creating tools that enhance collective intelligence – I realized that my main interests have been pretty much the same for most of my adult life (about forty-five years) – and most of them were originally inspired by three Big Ideas that I came upon almost immediately after graduating from high school.

Of course my very earliest influences, from floating in the womb to end of high school also immensely affected me.  And my wife, and closest friends and family, and innumerable conversations and journeys have shaped me hugely, as well.  But the three Big Ideas gripped me and still grip me in their own special way.

The three big ideas were inspired and conveyed to me by two people and one group.  One of the people, Teilhard de Chardin, died when I was 7 years old and before I ever heard of him; the other, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a living saint whom I read about and then studied under; and the group was the Ecumenical Institute (EI), and it’s secular arm, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA).

Rob, my older brother and only sibling, introduced Teilhard to me in the summer of 1966 after I graduated from high school.  We had a summer job together in Winfield, Kansas shoveling grain during the wheat harvest.  When not working we would often go to the local library, where he showed me Teilhard’s book, The Phenonmenon of Man.  I have no idea how the little Winfield library happened to have that book (which was first published in English just a few years earlier).  But it did.   The book was densely written for paleontologists, biologists and other scientists, and was not easy to read.  But the ideas had a huge effect on me so I kept reading it here and there for quite a while.

Rob also introduced me to the EI / ICA a couple of years later, during my visits to see him in Chicago where he was interning with them.   And in 1970, after returning from six memorable months in Europe, my closest friends, John and Bev, introduced me to Transcendental Meditation and to Maharishi’s teaching.

So here is a summary of these three great and widely influential ideas that together combine in me to guide what I want most to do and be.  Continue reading ‘A Long Affair with Three Big Ideas about Collective Consciousness’

Existence, the Self, and Immortality

I recently finished reading David Brin’s latest novel:  Existence.   It is brimming with ideas – overflowing, entertaining, thought-provoking, and imagined in hugely creative and insightful detail.   See http://bit.ly/PfuFFh

It  explores acres of fascinating questions and hypotheses, including the possibility that in the near future (next 30 to 100 years) humans will be able to make copies of themselves.

This raises a question that I’ve been thinking about for a while, and that can only be answered by a thought-experiment.

Question: 

If you make fully-working and conscious copies of yourself, does that mean that you will continue to live through those copies?  – That you won’t die?

Additional Context:

Ray Kurzweil, important prophet of the Singularity, has said very emphatically that he wants to live forever, and that everyone who says that they “accept” death is kidding themselves.

Thought-experiment:

Well, let’s say that before you die you can upload all your DNA and your entire neural connectome, and whatever else would make  the upload into a complete working copy of you.

So then when the organic body you’ve been hanging out in for all these years dies, will the existence of the version of you that is created from all your data mean that you will not have died?

That is, will it be any different from what we now know as dying?

Here are more ruminations that can shed some light:

Let’s say you create 2 copies, or heck, 2000 copies of yourself.

Immediately after these copies are “activated” they will be identical to you – at the time the copy was made.  They will each “wake up” and for them at that moment it will be like having been asleep during the time between making the copy and activating it (waking it up).

But now they will each also start having new experiences, which will be entirely different.  Some of them will get sick, some of them will die, some will have good luck, some will not.

(And don’t forget they’ll all have to share your single set of possessions, relatives and friends and bank accounts as they gradually start differentiating and ‘making their own way in the world.’)

So how is this kind of “waking up” in a new copy of your body any different than waking up each morning (after some time of unconscious sleep) in your current body?

I’m not sure it is any different.

So, what that tells me is that if you die in your sleep it makes no difference to the copy of you that died, because that copy is now dead.   Other copies may continue to live, but that doesn’t change the fact that another copy of you died.

In other words – you who are now living in your mother-born body will not continue to exist – you will die – even if copies of you continue to live.   That is, those copies won’t really be you.  They will each have their own you.

So the tragedy of death isn’t really such a great tragedy to those who have died (as we all have said many times) – it is only an event that affects those who know you and continue to live.  That is, the copies can be some comfort (or maybe continued torment) to those who loved (or feared or disliked) you.

So why is our own personal death such a big deal?   Again, I think this thought-experiment shows that it is not.

People accept death for a number of reasons – most of which have to do with the fact that they identify with something larger than their own ego, mind, body and set of memories.  For example:

  • They believe they will live in heaven with God after they die.
  • They are able to directly experience their own inner Self as pure Consciousness which they experience as unbounded, unchanging, and as the source of all creativity and intelligence.
  • They have had some other but related type of mystical experience.
  • They’re inspired by children and continual new life and they’re willing to let others take their turn.  (They aren’t greedy.)
  • They accept death along with birth, sex, and the pursuit of knowledge and happiness – all as important parts of Life on Earth – and throughout the Universe.
  • They feel their life has been fulfilling and they’re ready to move on to whatever mystery awaits.

(This thought experiment also raises another metaphysical question:  What if your body and living mind is actually — startlingly to some —  associated with a soul that lives after death and is repeatedly reincarnated – or that goes finally to its reward, or elsewhere.

So, given the existence of a soul of some kind, will all the copies of you have to share the same soul?  If so, will the soul get confused when one or multiple copies of you die – e.g., not know when to reincarnate, or cause some mental/psychical instability in all the different copies? 

Or instead, will each new copy of you somehow automatically generate a new soul?  This question is in parenthesis because I know it isn’t so important to people who don’t believe in souls or reincarnation or heaven or hell.  But no one of us can really be sure, until you die, or maybe have a near-death experience.   So it’s definitely an interesting question to pose.  And I definitely don’t have a final answer to it.)

Two Remedies for Bad Thinking and other Bad Habits

Bad thinking is usually due to bad habits rather than to lack of ability.

This includes bad habits such as acting without thinking; accepting a “fact” or idea without independent verification; and taking in  news, ideas and interpretations only from sources with a  perspective that reinforces your own,  rather than differing from your perspectives or questioning them.

Such bad habits are correctable, and that’s encouraging.  However, if habits are deeply engrained they are hard to change.  Any habit can only weaken and leave if there is a will – motivated by an internal desire.

For deeply engrained habits, even a strong motivation isn’t enough for change.  A deeply engrained habit is no longer a habit, but an internal imperative which must be obeyed and can’t be ignored.  Such habits can become essential parts of individual and group identity.

There is hope, though, from at least two approaches.  Both of these approaches are methods to train the mind and produce clearer, broader thinking.

The first method is:  Regular exposure to other people one can respect, who have different ideas and behaviors, which they express and model well.  Having a motivation and an opportunity for exposure to new and different ideas and behaviors can begin to change even long-held habits of thinking.

The second method is less familiar to most people:  If people take up the regular habit of transcending – experiencing the silent, unbounded source of their own mind and being, then  life-restricting habits can begin to weaken.   There is plenty of evidence over the last several thousand years that this can actually work.  More recently, neurological, physiological, and other sociological evidence supports this approach.

Combine these two remedies – regular transcending and regular exposure to honest people with different perspectives – and even the most intractable bad habits will begin to loosen.

Collective vs. Collected Intelligence

There are two types of intelligence:  Collected and Collective.

There is no such thing as “all by yourself” intelligence.

“Collected intelligence” is when one person or group collects intelligence primarily for its own use and benefit.   It doesn’t require other people’s permission or even awareness that their data is being collected, or how it is being used.

“Collective intelligence” is intelligence collected from or contributed by many people who are aware (or have the ability to be aware) of what is being collected and how it is being used – and where those people have rights and abilities to use the intelligence for their own purposes,subject to agreed on constraints, privacy rights, etc.

Collective intelligence, according to this description, is absolutely required for reducing social fragmentation and for increasing social coherence, innovation, and prosperity for all.  Collective intelligence is also required for producing anything that could be called “collective consciousness.”

Collective intelligence can also be described as “connected intelligence” which might be a good idea, since many people still use the term “collective intelligence” when they really mean “collected intelligence.”

(For more thoughts, see  also 2008 post “When is Collective Intelligence also Collective Consciousness?“)

The Web of Meaning

“Meaning” is about causes and effects, attributes and relationships.   Meaning gives rise to all ideas of good and bad, help and harm, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, smart and dumb,  and context and relevance.

All meaning comes from a web of relationships.

Relationships exist in nature: expressed in the “laws of nature” and in and between all non-living substances and objects, and in and between all living beings, including relationships in and between our bodies, our ideas and minds, our societies and cultures and sub-cultures.

The combination of all webs, known and unknown, is called the World, the Universe.

An identity is defined by a particular combination of webs of relationship, which gives rise to a particular perspective.  “I” am one such perspective.  “You” are another.   The intersection  of my perspective and yours is our perspective.  Everything else is theirs, or unknown.

Words with essentially the same meaning as these have been expressed over and over, beginning no later than three thousand years ago.  More recently, similar ideas have been expressed by at least a few million people.

The ideas have been expressed in abstractions like these, and in rich, moving detail in myth, stories and reflections, in philosophies, religious texts, poems, novels, blog posts.  To some, abstractions are dry; to others they are juicy.   Having many expressions is vital.

What are the implications of this understanding?  What can we do and achieve with it?

An answer:  The more we understand this, individually and collectively, the more likely we will be to honor other perspectives, and to want to work together to come up with better perspectives, giving rise to better solutions.  Our future depends on this happening.

Is this true?

If so, what actions and transformations are necessary to bring this about?


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