Consider The Lilies Of The Goddamn Field: Notes on Paying for Spiritual Teachings

“I am secure, for I know who I am: a richly endowed child of God. I am secure in all I do, for I know my oneness with the divine process. I am secure in all I have, for I know my treasure is in my mind, not in my things. I live my life from day to day as if God’s supportive substance were as exhaustless and dependable as the air I breathe, which it most certainly is.” – Eric Butterworth

A friend asked me why I hated being required to pay for spiritual teachings. (This was in response to seeing that one had to pay $10 in order to listen to an Adyashanti audio). Here is my answer.

I have no problem with giving someone money as an expression of support and love for what they do, be it an artist, a spiritual teacher or a maid. But when they set it up as a business where one has no choice but to pay in order to hear the teaching, it’s a little different. Then it depends on the overall picture.

Spiritual teaching is a spontaneous expression of love and freedom. Does a bird ask for money when it sings?

An exchange is at the level of the assumption of separation and objects, and can come from an attitude of taking rather than giving, of need, want; or it can arise as an expression of something deeper.

If you saw a child and hugged him out of love, would you then ask for compensation, maybe take their sucker or something? 😉

If you went out to dinner and hung out with a friend, would you ask for money for the time spent? Charge for having sex with them? If you’re in that business, fine, but it’s a queasy combination being a professional spiritual teacher. Conflict of interests shall we say, or worldviews.
With Adyashanti’s website there is no choice: you have to pay to get the recording. There is no donation button.

With some spiritual retreats at beautiful locations it’s understandable, because one is paying for this whole package of the venue, the house, the organization, the food setup – a kind of vacation arrangement – there are a lot of expenses for them in that realm that you’re helping with (this is assuming it’s a teacher I love and consider a friend). But their teachings are freely given. But no one ever asked me or even mentioned a donation at satsangs at Francis Lucille’s for example. There was a bowl to give, to donate to, if one felt moved to. He does his teaching out of love and because people ask. The teaching is all about freedom.

On the other hand, at the Unitarian Universalist Church I used to go to (about 10 years or so ago), it was a different story: they asked for “voluntary donations”. However if you went to a musical event at the church for example, the people from the entrance table would track you down in the audience and ask you if you made a donation, very sternly. It was only an appearance of freedom.

A true sage knows Life will take care of them and there is nothing to fear. Consider the lilies of the goddamn field (O Brother Where Art Thou) and all that. 🙂

I was listening to the great American sage Robert Adams this morning (there are no coincidences):
“…truth teachings since the beginning of time have always been free. There should be no charge and no obligation for anybody to come to a true guru and a true teaching… a true guru is quiet and demands nothing.”
http://www.robert-adams.info/1991-07-14.mp3

But the true guru is within, so ultimately there’s no need for you to pay.
You and the world are a projection of mind; but the guru, you, and God are One.
In any case, if there’s a teaching you need, or are meant to hear, it will appear.

Comedy Sketch – Advaitans Anonymous (AA)

[Note: this sketch was performed by the actor Vishal Patel who read the script, liked it, and volunteered – to great fanfare, at a recent Francis Lucille retreat, in Temecula, California. I did the fake “announcement” afterwards]

“So I heard there was a woman who spent a million dollars on retreats and seeking enlightenment over the years, traveling around the world to different teachers and taking retreats. We really should have interventions for these people. They become addicted to spiritual retreats, non-duality videos, spiritual teachers, that sort of thing. We need an Advaitans Anonymous! An AA…

“I’m [your name] and I’m an Advaitaholic. After my 27th nondualist retreat, I hit bottom. I’d been listening to Rupert Spira in the shower, mainlining Francis Lucille before breakfast, blasting Robert Adams in the car on the way to work, and sneaking a peak at “I Am That” in the men’s bathroom stalls when I was supposed to be on a sales call with Iowa. And at my last retreat, I was signing up for my next two retreats on my phone during morning meditation. I needed help. I was out of control, in a will-less state. Thank God for my friend John, who found me on the floor of my apartment, with an endless loop of Rupert playing on my computer, repeating ‘Aware of being aware of being aware of being aware …’
I was staring off into space with a look of emptiness… He picked me up off the floor and drove me to my first meeting.”

“Let me tell you a bit about my life as an Avaitaholic. While the sages – the good ones anyway – are always pointing to the moon, the seekers I hung out with from retreats were busy collecting pointers, like heroine addicts collecting old needles. We shared them with each other. Yeah we traded dirty pointers, like baseball cards…

“So after a satsang we’d go out together to a juice bar and get some organic freshly squeezed, Kosher, vegan, natural, ethical, environmentally-friendly, locally grown, non-GMO, non-dairy, antioxidant, low-sodium, no MSG, no nuts, no peanuts, no soy, no gluten, caffeine free, free-range, cage-free, fat-free, sugar free … juices (big breath…), that were not free.

“We’d be sitting around the juice bar, and start trading our non-duality cards. They’re just like baseball cards except they have only have one side…

[IF YOU WANT TO CONTINUE:]

To demonstrate I’ve enlisted my friend…

Advaitan 1: “I’ve got this cool metaphor card. It has a picture of Santa Claus on it, with a big red “X” through him.

Advaitan 2: Oh I know that one. It says on the back, if you meet the Santa Claus on the road, kill him, right?. It’s OK.

Advaitan 1: It’s OK … I’ve also got one with a wave on the ocean. It’s really beautiful.

Advaitan 2: Those are a dime a dozen –Advaitan 1: I’ll give you one of the wave cards plus one with a photo of the Divine Mother on it. You can trade for a hug at any Ammas-R-Us stores in your area. It’s pretty cool.

Advaitan 2: Check this out though, instead of just a metaphor or hug card, I have a Laura Lucille card. It’s brand new – totally fresher man. More in the moment. See how shiny it is?

Advaitan 1: Big deal, I’ve got a *Francis* Lucille card – very elegant and poetic. Very European and cultured.

Advaitan 2: Too intellectual. But I’ve also got this original Ramana Maharshi card and it’s totally authentic; this is like the original Indian version, with loincloth and everything – very like, mysterious, deep and enigmatic.

Advaitan 1: Sure that’s cool, but check this out, I’ve got an original sayings of Jesus oral traditions.

Advaitan 2: Oral traditions?

Advaitan 1: Yeah, you can’t even read it!

Advaitan 2: Oh that’s no biggie man, I’ve got a Super Buddha Taoist Card. On one side it exists and on the other it doesn’t.

Advaitan 1: Big deal, your Buddha card, that’s nothing, Nothing man! I’ve got the God card.

Advaitan 2: No Way! What do you want for it? (to audience: “you ready for this?”)

Advaitan 1: Way. But you have to surrender all your cards if you want it.

Advaitan 2: Throws his cards in the air.

(Writer’s or MC’s Announcement, after main act is done – uses fake press release from comedy site The Onion)

I just wanted to make a special little announcement that I have it on good authority from a highly reputable source on the Internet that the CERN laboratory for physics in Geneva Switzerland reports that the universe will be ending, uh… (looks through papers, find news release – see fake press release below)…. next Friday.
So anyway, if I were you (and I am you, right?) I strongly advise that you invest as soon as possible in a good Cosmic Insurance Policy. And you know while you’re at it I would stay open to the possibility that the Noumena are going to go along with the Phenomena, and invest in some Consciousness Insurance as well. I mean come on, don’t believe everything Francis tells you – he said it himself: there’s a 50/50 chance, according to reason that consciousness is not universal. So I suggest hedging your bets, in case consciousness turns out to be local, limited and personal, and is going to be going the way of the dinosaur. I’ll be putting some special policies up on Amazon.com just for my Truth Lover friends.

That’s it. Anyway, hopefully your deep sense of lack and wanting is fulfilled at least temporarily by this little skit … if not there’s always sex and drugs.

Report: Universe To End Next Friday
6/04/18 9:46am

GENEVA—A coalition of scientists at CERN announced this morning that the Universe, the accumulation of matter and energy that makes up everything that is, will end abruptly next Friday. “The totality of existence as we know it, including time, space, all distributed matter throughout our reality, and all 11 vibrational dimensional membranes will cease to exist promptly at 11:08 p.m. GMT on June 15,” CERN officials said in a press release signed by every leading expert in physics, mathematics, astronomy, and all related fields. “At the end of next week, the universe will simultaneously dissolve and collapse upon itself, effectively obliterating all that exists across the entire 93 billion light year diameter of our cosmos and all concurrent nesting realities, so please plan accordingly. Wrap up any loose ends you still consider important, say goodbye to your loved ones, and make peace with the cessation of the very nature of your consciousness.” Top theologists and clergy across the world also confirmed that, should higher planes such as Heaven, Elysium, or Nirvana actually exist, then they, too, will be destroyed.

Love and Freedom Cannot Be Separated

 

Freedom and love can’t be separated. 

By “freedom” is meant true inner freedom, and by “love” is meant impersonal love, the nondual living truth, not human love. 

A lack of love and freedom is experienced as darkness, pain and suffering. 

But if love and freedom is who are, then how can there be a lack?

In fact there can’t be a lack, but there can be a perceived lack. 

Why is there a perceived lack? Because who we are is obscured by what we are not. 

What we are not can be characterized in various ways: as something learned, as a movement of thought, as a forgetting one is caught in a dream, as an effort. 

If what we are is effortless freedom, how can there be effort? It doesn’t seem possible for a being so powerful, so limitless, to be able to make an effort and be limited. How can it fool itself? Well, in order to create a world, a universe, a perception, there has to be a difference somewhere. There has to be a somewhere, and and if there’s a somewhere, then there is space, a here and a there. And if there is a here and a there, then there is movement. If there is movement, there is something perceiving movement, and change, and therefore the possibility of time. 

So we have a world and some kind of being in time and space, perceiving and moving about. In this world of differences, you have bright and dim, awake and asleep, good and bad, easy and hard, effortless and effortful. In other words, in our case we are experiencing what is presumed to be a person, a human being. The human being is thinking, perceiving, deciding, willing, acting doing,  having things happen to them, and so forth. 

But wait, back up. Who is experiencing a human being? A person can’t be experiencing a person, or they would be two beings: an experiencer and an experienced.
Something is going on here: more than meets the eye. 

So what do I know?

I know there is awareness, and it’s hearing sounds we call “words” in an “inner” space where other sounds appear, and I see and have the sensations of hands typing them, and the visual perception of hands and fingers moving. There are also sounds “in my head” we’ve learned to call “thoughts”. And there are also sounds that seem to come from “out there” that we call “noise’ or “music” or “speech”, but are actually experienced in the same inner space as the “thoughts” sounds when I really am honest. And there are also images and sounds we call “memories” that are “thoughts” that are repeated. They are associated with images from what we call the “past” but are experienced now.

Where are the boundaries to these perceptions? That is to be investigated, first-hand.

In the meantime, the presumption of a self can be examined on it’s own.

From these raw facts of first-hand experience outlined above, various false inferences are made.
First let’s look at examples of true and false inferences, so we are clear what is meant.

Valid inference:
You see many examples of fire, and smoke happening together, and never smoke without fire, and you infer, “where there is smoke, there is fire”.

Invalid inference:
Someone told you in childhood that smoke is caused by the Goddess Prahali from Venus, and you infer, “Where there is smoke, there is Prahali in action”.

The false inference in question is: “Where there are perceptions happening, or thoughts, or decisions, or choices, or actions taken, there is a separate self responsible, a thing, a doer of the actions, a willer of the choices, a person”. That perceiver, thinking, decider, chooser, will-er is the god we call my “self” or “me” or “I” (in the personal sense).


Love without Freedom playing out in the world is rules, religion, conforming and following…

Freedom without Love is endless seeking, wildness, chaos, instability and lostness…

True freedom is like a child running and laughing in the sheer joy of being alive, in love with Life, just Being. 

In maturity true freedom expresses as knowing one’s own nature, which is the same as love:  being aware of Being, nameless and formless. 

Love and Freedom married, lead one’s world into a self-perfecting life, ever-evolving, and
growing anew: infinite potential manifesting, the form and the formless dancing in celebreation of peace, love and beauty.

However, they were never separate to begin with…

 

Find Your Happy Work

To find your Ideal Work you will want to find the Intersection of 3 things: Love, Skills, and Market.

Here’s this “Holy Trinity” of Work Happiness as a graphic:

Without The Three Legs

People often make the mistake of taking an outside-in approach: for example seeing that there is a market for something in the world, and they have or can acquire a certain skill for it, and therefore think it’s what they should do. It’s logical but it doesn’t work over time. We are not machines that can be forced to do things forever. One way this inharmonious approach can happen is when we think an object – in this case more money – will make us happy, so we start with the object (more money) and work backwards. But when in harmony with ourselves at a deep level, life evolves naturally for us from inside-out.

Without the three legs of love, skills, and market, what happens? The stability isn’t there. I’ll show examples from my own life.

1. Only Love and Skill:
If you have love for a subject and skill for it, you might have some great output to show for your time, but of course you’ll have a hard time making a living.
Example: I loved making art, and thought I could have a career as a painter. I took to it like a sponge, gained lots of skill fast, and made some great abstract and realists paintings during this time, but I didn’t have a market (wrong city in part) or a marketing bent or drive or interest in self-promotion, so I only sold a few pieces over the years. I couldn’t make living at it (but I have some nice paintings for my home! No regrets).
I also tried my hand at photorealist painting because I thought realism would be more marketable, and I was fascinated by the examples I saw, and wanted to have great realism as a tool under my belt. I got very good at it, and learned how to be extremely focused (which served me later as a programmer) but it was extremely difficult and time-consuming such that I ran out of time and had to find another way of making a living. I still loved many aspects of it, such as the creative ideas that flowed, the energy of being inspired, the visual emphasis, and the right-brain holistic perception experience, and the interesting people I met, and so forth.

At one point I tried deliberately making more marketable art (for eBay) – a more commercial and decorative product – but it quickly started to feel forced, and it just didn’t work for me. I thought I might as well go into real estate or banking, which paid better, if I was going to work this hard and didn’t like what I was doing! In short I had the skill and market but no love for commercial painting, which brings us to the next:

2. Only Skill and Market:
If you have some some skill in a field, and a market, but little or no love, you can make a living for a while, but you will be heading for burnout, frustration, stress and struggle. This is not sustainable, or if sustainable, leads to health problems (mental and physical), addictions and dis-ease and stress on relationships. It’s not a happy situation and often affects the quality and/or speed of the work, which in turn affects the client’s feelings and your ability to make a living.
Unfortunately a lot of the world works this way, and our intellectually-oriented schooling and career testing feeds the underlying misunderstanding and the misuse of the mind and body.
Example: I did web development and app software programming for a few years. I had some skill with computers, and had been involved with programming as a hobby and occasionally built websites for clients over the years. There was also an obvious market for software development, and I was able to find clients and work. However I didn’t have a true love for the subject – it was fun at times but it often felt like a struggle to keep on-task and focused enough, and I was never fast enough. Programmers with a real love for the subject were running circles around me. I felt a little like I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. Although I could solve problems, find creative solutions, play the part, and fool people playing the part of the developer, it was not an inside-out, grounded way to work and live. And I wasn’t fooling myself: at some level I knew it wasn’t quite right. It was stressful, extremely time-consuming – not leaving time for my other interests and loves – and I took to drinking large amount of Kava Kava in the evening while working to deal with the anxiety of programming and the struggle of pushing my mind towards the solutions of problems. And then there was the constant need, as a developer, to learn and keep up with a rapidly changing, expanding, and extremely complex technical field, with deadlines looming.
I burned out on this lifestyle, not being able to meet timelines I’d set for projects with clients, running out of money, and realized I had to do something different.

3. Only Love and Market:
If you have love for a type of activity, and there is a market for it, but you lack skill, you will obviously run into a situation of not being able to offer quality work, and you will lose clients or not be able to find customers or clients in the first place. The good news is you may be able to gain the skills.
An example I can think of from my life is several decades ago in the early days of personal computers, I was fascinated by electronics and digital computers, and felt I had a pretty good general understanding of them, and there was a market for consultants. So fresh out of college I threw myself into computer consulting, confident that I could solve problems as I went and BS my way along with my general philosophical knowledge and ability to talk to people. Well, some clients quickly figured out I didn’t know what I was doing, and I realized I was stressing to find solutions fast, when I was expected to already know them. I didn’t know as much as I thought: one really does need highly detailed, specific knowledge and can’t rely on general understanding in such a highly technical field. (It seems obvious now, but I was young then!). I did eventually gain enough skills in a particular area of computer consulting that I felt more at home in (Apple Macintosh Consulting – I loved Apples design and philosophy) and learned from doing and study. I did that for many years, while doing my writing and art on the side. In the long run my love wasn’t deep enough, and my marketing ability was limited, and being an artist, writer (and gardener) was taking time away from business, so it was not a sustainable career path.

All Three, To Some Degree:

The resolution for me was to find and develop work where I was able to use my innate ability and love of visual art and design, plus interest and skill in writing, and an interest and background in psychology & philosophy, and experience with computers and software, and a market in the software field such that I found satisfying and lucrative work doing specialized consulting. This consulting involves designing and advising on interface designs, doing designs for a software company, creating software prototype (demos), writing on usability and other topics, and occasional photography assignments. No doubt things will evolve as I explore, do more writing (and photography), and find ever better unfolding and match between my loves, skills and market. Work life grows and is perfected, if you pay attention and give it presence, as part of one’s life journey.

I wasted many years trying to figure all this out intellectually when I was younger. I spent endless hours writing, thinking, brooding, reading books, talking to people, trying to figure it out: who was I? Was I a writer, an artist, a computer guy? Where did I belong? Did I belong anywhere in the economy or did I not fit in at all. Was I too unique to be able to find a happy niche? I felt like a round peg trying to fit myself into a square hole.

More Notes on Skills, Love and Marketing

“I know I’m fortunate to live an extraordinary life, and that most people would assume my business success, and the wealth that comes with it, have brought me happiness. But they haven’t; in fact it’s the reverse. I am successful, wealthy and connected because I am happy.” – Richard Branson

Skills and Love are not synonymous: this is often gotten backward. One can acquire great skill and still not enjoy doing something. However if you do have a natural love and bent for something – “like a duck to water” or “falling off a log” as the old saying goes – you can more easily or quickly become highly skillful. Not only will you spend more time on it, but it’s going with the grain of your being. Some people hate writing, and though they can gain skills, they never become good or great writers. I enjoy the process of writing, and do it every day: it feels as natural to me as talking (in fact easier than talking and speaking!): like a nearly direct channel between mind and page when I’m in the flow. It’s the same with photography: it felt like a calling, and I found myself doing tens of thousands of photos.

Skills are what is acquired. Love and talent are what is innate.

One of the signs of love is the feeling of joy in action when one is absorbed and free of self-consciousness, in the flow. Love is a feeling natural interest and enthusiasm that cannot be explained. Flow is best found where there is a match between the level of skill and the level of challenge.

However not everything that one has skills at and love is necessarily marketable. A market means people want it and are willing to pay for it.

Often people look at what’s marketable and then try to fit themselves into that. This is a big mistake, and accounts for a great deal of unhappiness and stress in the workplace, and n people’s lives in general.

So if you enjoy poisoning your life with “toxic goals“, have at it – it’s a free country – but why not start today creating a happier world of work for yourself, to whatever degree you can?

This is not to say that there will never be aspects of one’s work that are more boring or routine or unpleasant that you will want to get help with at some point (for example hire a bookkeeper if you have little love or skill for accounting).

The thing is to be free to do what you love and get paid for it. There are degrees of this: it is not black and white. Engaging with pure love and pure skill and getting paid a great deal, and doing this day in and day out is achieved by very few, but nevertheless there is simply no other way that is real and sustainable. So you must aim at perfecting this “art of work” and dedicate yourself to it. Choose happiness rather than misery.

Start from Where You Are; Know Thyself; It’s Not Intellectual

Forget Myers-Briggs personality tests (though they are fun party talk subjects) and the career tests that try and analyze what categories you fit into. Forget the aptitude and interest tests. There is only one way to know what’s right for you, and that is by DOING things, testing where the rubber hits the road and getting the feedback of the world. This feedback includes your own body and mind, and the feelings that are experienced. It includes the feedback of the marketplace and what people are willing to pay for what you do.
This may mean taking jobs as an experiment, even if you are unsure yet if it’s right for you: this is the whole point – to find out! It’s an adventure! (the worst that can happen is that you are fired or fire yourself, and then “good riddance!”). It can be a paid job, a volunteer job, or even a hobby that could lead to future work. An example from my life was photography: I loved doing it, enjoyed making tens of thousand of photos, and got really good: enough that I got paid 4 figures to run around shooting buildings for a client, using a fantastic camera that was paid for by the work. I got paid to have fun doing what I would do even if not paid!

Do not let fear control your life. Many people stay in unhappy work out of fear of what they imagine will happen if they don’t. They think that they have to do it. They are unwilling to take risks. Our imaginations are very powerful but they are a two-edged sword: we can imagine a rocket that will take humans to the moon (Wernher von Braun did it), and build one, and we are also powerful enough beings such that we can sit in a chair and drive ourselves into stress and insanity from mere thinking. It’s up to you. (I believe some form of meditation or mindfulness training, and spiritual-psychological understanding and insight is key to much of this whole subject, but is too much to go into for this article).

This freedom from fear is critical, but it all leaves off the question of freedom and independence in general, which I see as critical to self-realized, genuinely happy life. It works like a feedback loop: you need freedom enough to pursue independent enquiry into who you are, beyond fear and false beliefs, but is also again, inside-out: psychological freedom leading to external freedom. But I’ll leave all this that for future musings…

About Needing “Grounding” and Spiritual Teaching

The question often comes up, what is meant by “grounding”. Am I “grounded” and how can I tell if someone else is “grounded”? The question was spurred by my participation in forums of the spiritual psychology movement known as The Three Principles (3P)*, which is where I hear this question often, and occasionally in the context of other spiritual communities, such as Advaita vedanta.

What follows are some of my initial thoughts: think of this as an editorial (but with a large grain of truth, based in experience, happily!).

That one needs “grounding” is not the best metaphor in my view, as it bring to mind an image of a *thing*. Or it sounds like achieving a certain state. It really simply means you can only give or teach who, or really, what you are. You can only teach what you know.

Would you go to a poor man to learn how to be rich? No, you would go to a rich man and get some clues from him. Likewise, would you go to a teacher who is miserable, or worried, or driven, or somehow not completely free and happy, in order to learn how to be happy?

So ask yourself:
1. Are you happy?
2. Is it lasting?
3. Can you show others the way?

Then, if your answer is yes to all three, some tools are handy:
A. Being a teacher (not everyone is born to be a teacher or wired that way, or have learned the skills).
B. Some good tools or metaphors, stories and analogies, like The Three Principles teaching model.
C. A strong desire to teach or a call from others who need your services.

But the model is not the territory: a grounding in the 3P is not about the 3P, it’s about what the 3P are pointing to: what’s been called the “inside-out nature of life”. This is often confused. You could take 300 classes and seminars and study the 3P for 30 years and be certified and stamped as “grounded” and learn everything backwards and forwards and be able to recite it and write books and give seminars, and still not be actually, truly grounded.

As a side note, Jack Pransky interviewed George Pransky, for Jack’s book “Paradigm Shift: A History of The Three Principles”, about trying to implement a certification system back in the early 1990’s, and looking at grounding, but they realized there was no objective way to measure it, and the project was scrapped.

“We began to see that this work was all about grounding, and that grounding is hard to evaluate. It’s a large, subjective component. There were no techniques that could be evaluated, as in other approaches. The only thing that mattered was the person’s understanding, and that was difficult to quantify. …We concluded that this understanding does not lend itself to an objective qualification program. I feel that way to this day. I think that a certification program in the Principles would be fraught with insurmountable difficulties.”  George Pransky, in Paradigm Shift, p.74 

Who is to say who is “grounded”? Would it be the highest guru or teacher? Who certifies that? It would have to be God, but unfortunately, the various direct channels to him are alas, back to square one: us imperfect, generally incompletely realized, subjective humans. So… only you, the “grounded”, know for sure, and the students may get an inkling too, as well as other teachers, from how happy they become and the kind of vibe they pick up from you. But no one but you can say for sure. It’s just like with religious or spiritual teachers: you can only measure it, as it were, from the fruits of the teaching and understanding: are people becoming happier and more free, or are there all kinds of shenanigans going on, that indicate ego at work (an extreme example would be religious or cultic leaders like Osho or Jim Jones).

So how can you measure it? You can’t, but you could tell by the fruits (see the 3 questions at the start of this essay).

And like “grounding”, Mind, Consciousness and Thought are not a thing, not tangible, but a message, a metaphor used by teachers and students, indicating towards the source of experiencing, the reality of which cannot be grasped by the personal, limited mind or understood intellectually. It is pointing out what is behind your every experience, right here and now. The understanding is experiential in essence, as it is not only about experience, but is experience. And the quality of that unfolding experience will change, yet be “grounded” in that which does not change: the unnameable reality of “Mind” or “Consciousness” or whatever you want to call the source of experience. It is a self-rewarding process, not dependent on externals. It’s a love affair with Truth, as it were.
The 3P are just a tool to show the way to knowing what you are, just like all paths: non-duality, Buddhism, mystical Christianity, whatever.
The 3P are not a thing, just a pointer, a teaching tool.

Sometimes I think the 3P are too complicated, because in being put out through psychology, or as an answer to the old psychology, or packaged as a kind of psychology, it becomes a thing to understand, learn, study (another thought form). But what it’s pointing to is a “vertical dimension” that transcends thinking, that accounts for new thinking and complete changes of outlook. as in non-dual teachings, what one needs to do is *unlearn* all the false beliefs about what you’ve concluded is “you” and allow the unfolding, the flowering of what you really are: that is what the 3P and all the teachers have been trying to point out. It’s about reality as fact, not as thought (what you think you are, or thought you were, or what you thought reality was…). In this sense it is similar to the Direct Path.

Why do you think Syd Banks (the enlightened founder) kept pulling the rug out from under these psychologists who were developing the models, and coaches, laying down the law, and for example having them pull their tapes that were getting too much into detail about specific psychological issues, and telling them “You don’t understand the Three Principles!”, and saying “It’s Spiritual!” to psychologists like Mark Howard, before he was about to give a talk? (See Jack Pransky’s book, Paradigm Shift, for more details about historical incidents like these).

Ground down to its essence (no pun intended), the 3P’s aim is to show you that right now, there is only one thing in the way of being happy: your thinking. And parenthetically, I believe this is why the “Single Paradigm” teaching has arisen, thanks to folks like Dr. Keith Blevens & Valda Monroe, to try and get to the “purity” (another deceptive word and concept) of the teaching or message or method. But the purity is to see that whatever you think The Three Principles are, that’s not it. The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.

The result of this insight or grounding is that one sees things from the inside-out instead of outside-in. Peace and happiness are seen to be innate, and things “out there” in what we took to be a solid objective reality, we realize couldn’t be causing unhappiness or distress. Of course, there is no inside and outside – that’s the point – we created a duality and set ourselves against a world: a world of our imagination. Ineffably, reality is found to be friendly and harmonious. It has built-in super-intelligence, that goes beyond our piddling personal will.

On top of that is the commercialization, the attempt and desire to “apply” it, making it more of a thing to study and commodify. Therefore you have to certify or prove your “grounding” and worth in the marketplace. It also becomes goal-oriented: you’re trying to get something out of it, for the self that needs to be looked at for it’s reality in the first place: so do you come to the teaching with ulterior motives, or is it a truly impartial looking and investigation?
There is nothing wrong with getting paid for a service, and trying to help others to be happy and free, but if a business or career goal is the initial or primary motivation, before one has even found one’s “grounding” and Source, you are playing a game with your mind. It’s just like the game of self-improvement: you will never “get there”, because you are starting from the assumption of what is the problem in the first place: the little self, the thought-derived false entity, or “ego” (I don’t like that word because it carries too much baggage from psychology and Freudian concepts of self). So one, in essence, ends up applying a tool without knowing what it’s for!

In my opinion, no one should be teaching the 3P or other spiritually-based teachings unless such an impulse came about as a spontaneous realization – whether from studying the 3P or not it doesn’t matter – and they are a (born or made) teacher, and their primary motivation is love of what they do, and a continual subjective flowering of their true self. If they have a object-oriented outlook (i.e., they see themselves an as object, the world as objective, and they have an objective, and see you as an object…) and see others as means to an end, watch out: misery-lane ahead, confusion will ensue, and/or you could end up wasting a lot of time (and money). Although, the truth is, whatever “mistakes” you make, or “bad” teachers you encounter, will also be a part of your true path: they will help you discriminate the wheat from the chaff.

There’s also the interesting misperception in the spiritual community that if you become “enlightened” (who becomes enlightened?) you automatically become a teacher. Not so…
Likewise someone could have the world’s deepest “grounding” in the 3P and not become a teacher or coach…

Finally, it’s very important to see that by working on oneself, by becoming happier in a true way, in and of itself, becoming more of who you really are, you are automatically helping the entire world, the entire universe – because you are that. Like ripples in a pond, light spreads endlessly. Do not set out to save the world (we’ve had enough Pol Pots and Hitlers and Stalins, thank you very much). In truly and absolutely freeing yourself, you are of service to all. So start with yourself, and start from where you are. Don’t make the focus others – there are no others – or the world. Be in this world but not of it: transcend thought, be the observer of the mind-created universe. That is the best way to help humanity and the planet, etc, paradoxically. Let it unfold naturally, effortlessly…

To end, I’ll mention that in my life I’ve taken a long tour as it were, through many different wisdom traditions, all pointing to the same nothing (no-thing). And here I am, feeling very light, not knowing who I am – so it’s more like a not-taking oneself (the real, serious, fake self) seriously, and not knowing: a kind of mature innocence, a freedom.

But to teach something takes skill, and a love of it, and there are some people who are born teachers. It’s also good to have a good repertoire of tools, like a gift for or memory for words, stories, helpful concepts, a vehicle for your clear understanding. And a calling…
Personally, I have always enjoyed creating stuff and writing, and spontaneous conversations with friends and strangers. So that’s what I do. It could change – never say never. But now is now.

My 3 cents. 🙂 Keep it simple …

*(The Three Principles are universal Mind, Consciousness, and Thought).

What is Spirituality?

 

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere”  – Agnes Repplier

It’s interesting to see how much misunderstanding of the word “spirituality” there is in Western culture. And, I believe that same reasons that people are not truly happy are the same reasons that there is a misunderstanding of the word.

To give the simplest definition possible: spirituality is about happiness. It is about knowing who you are, and what reality is. It is living with facts instead of abstractions and projections (thinking and imagining).
This serves as a good definition because what we learn from the culture is how to be unhappy and how to be something we are not.

Indeed, we are born into this world open and innocent, naturally loving and free, and through socialization we learn how to be unhappy. And so spirituality could be said to be an unlearning: a finding out who we are instead of who we *think* we are, or are supposed to be. What we learn, see, pickup from socialization, the formula that we learn from parents, schooling, friends, the church, the culture, and so forth, are like a misdirection: a pointing away from our natural selves, our innate intelligence, freedom and love. This is not a call to become childish again, but a reminder of what one can find anew: that fresh and alive essence of what we already are.

You could call this misdirection by the culture “materialism”, but that word is so easily misinterpreted: it can be heard as anti-materialism, or as anti-consumerism, or as some kind of philosophical stance about matter. Materialism and spirituality are not in opposition but two sides of the same reality. In my definition for the purposes of this essay, materialism simply means the belief that objects in consciousness are what make us happy. By objects is meant not material objects out there, but what one is aware of in one’s experience as not being oneself. For example, you are sitting in a chair in your livingroom. You see a chair across the room. Most of us usually think of that chair as being a separate object “out there”. Or, we see an image in our imagination of a chair (such as you might be imagining right now). Or you see an chair in your dream at night. That image in all three scenarios is what I am calling an object in consciousness. Your awareness of the object occurred in your experience within your consciousness: the livingroom chair as an experience in consciousness as a perception of a chair (projected into the living room), then as an image in your mind as an imagined chair, then as an image in a dream. In all three scenarios there was a perception of a chair but in three seemingly different locations. I’m simply pointing out the location was the same all three times: in consciousness. Slow down and read the paragraph again if you don’t understand.

We do the same thing when we think of who or what we are as a person. We have an image of ourselves in the mind, based on what we see in the mirror, and on concepts and imagination, and what people have said, and what we would like ourselves to be. So we are an object, or are defined by objects of consciousness as an idea of “person” or “human being”. And therefore this naturally plays into how happy we are. Not only do we feel what we think, but since nothing in this perception of the world is fixed or unchanging, and we are holding an imagined image of who we are and what would make us happy, feel free, or safe, there is bound to be a disharmony between reality and our imagination that is experienced: either a discomfort, a confusion, a wanting, a seeking, or things not going our way. Why? Because we can’t hold into it but want to. We think we are the doer, want to be the doer of our lives but it constantly gets away from us and we feel frustrated.

True spirituality in fact it doesn’t say anything about what we should do or have, or not do or not have. In fact you could say spirituality is about living according to facts instead of theory.

Religions and cults (religion is a cult, as is materialism) says “We know what’s going on and what’s real, so you should love like this, you should do this…”. But true spirituality says “OK, you came here and are asking how to be happy. So investigate yourself, and see what actually and truly know, what makes you happy and who you are. No one can find it for you.” It says, be open to the possibility that what you are is universal and you are not who you think you are. Don’t be afraid of the unknown and unexpected. Religions claim they know. Spirituality is being happily adrift on an ocean, alone but not lonely. It is a friendly universe: you may discover it’s not out to get you.

So you can see spirituality has nothing to do with religion, but that religions grew up around spiritual insights, trying to claim them as their own, and dispense them, control them and people, and get paid for what they supposedly give the seekers.

On Materialism

You could be a billionaire and not believe in materialism, and you can be an impoverished poet living in a shed and be a materialist. The billionaire who knows who he is, is unattached to what’s happening in the contents of his consciousness, and could walk away from his millions and not be affected in his happiness, because he knows what he is (there are examples of men like this, such as Lester Levenson). The poet on the other hand, when a single cloud passes in front of the sun, could get depressed because he sees his circumstances, surroundings as being who he is and where his happiness comes from. Dropping his pencil could trigger a cascade of depressing thoughts (about himself, his life, his past and future) which he might not recover from for weeks. Or, you could have a billionaire, in fine health, who is terrified of losing his fortune and his health, and worries day and night about it, and pursues more and more money trying to fill the emptiness that lurks in his psyche or the dread just around the corner, the fear of dream of absolute disappearance. He gets a brief hit of excitement and “happiness” when a new check comes in, but then he has to set another object of acquisition or achievement, as the underlying dissatisfaction covers any new thing. He could be paranoid that enemies are after him and his money. Or, our poet in the shed could be blissfully happy, even when it’s raining and he can’t find his pencil, and his body in in pain, or whatever is happening. You get the idea.

It’s very interesting also to meet people who are judgmental or presumptuous when they find out you are into what they are calling “spirituality”. Or what they think “spirituality” is when I use the word, or that you go to a meditation group or satsang. They assume there is something wrong that started you doing that, or that you are weird or a loser or whatever – but you look at their life and they are not happy. They may claim they are happy, they may hold onto a  happy idea or image of themselves, or say that to themselves,  but if they stop doing what they are addicted to – be it working as a real estate agent and being busy busy every minute, or retired and chasing after one pleasure or another, or having to be fully engaged with family or social activity, with periods of depression cured by some kind of stimulation – their claims to be happy are seen to be hollow, or very shallow at best. Underlying it is a fear, and/or a sadness, or an anger, or a need to control. They need something outside themselves to be “happy”.

The other common interpretations I hear is that it has to do with ethics, or with religion, or with spirits, or with New Age beliefs and practices. 
I frankly think we need another word.

However, the path or practice of self-enquiry I also see as synonymous with spirituality, as long as it is bearing fruit and is not just a practice. 

If I could be happy just sitting in my living room in a chair, and looking at whatever there is, seeing the play of light, or closing one’s eyes, listening to the sounds the ears hear, or from the ears (if they are buzzing slightly) or the sounds of one’s thoughts… if one were to feel bliss or joy or happiness doing that, it’s not the usual definition of happiness. In fact some people might think you are crazy. If one could feel and see, or simply sense the perfection of all things, the totality, sitting in a chair, or just lying in a bed, the wonderful aliveness of being, that’s not the usual American definition of happiness.

Going a hundred miles an hour in a sports car, or making love to a beautiful babe or winning a huge contract and making a million dollars are more the usual definitions. I am not saying those aren’t happiness, but rather that those can be experienced in different ways. The excitement or pleasure can be experienced as happiness to different degrees by different people and will fade or might be followed by depression or let down to different degrees also. Someone who is genuinely happy, will be happy doing those things, and also happy afterwards not doing those things.

My definition of spiritual is a happiness that doesn’t go way, because it is innate, it is knowing what you are. It’s very simple, but oddly, seemingly very radical.

For most people, the body and the mind are all there are (to them, to being a human). And the material world is real, is a material thing out there. Made of matter. And spirituality often seems to mean being good or ethical, or has to do with religion, or with some separate immaterial spirits or essence … there are all kinds of ideas. But religion has to do with beliefs and old knowledge, old ideas, and social conformity to those ideas, or various schools of traditions and practices, rites and activities in the world.

But a few who start to dig into spirituality deeply realize it’s about reality. In a way genuine spirituality is more like a kind of science that looks at the ultimate nature of what is, form the inside-out. Or like a kind of philosophical journey in the search for true wisdom. But instead of being speculative like philosophy in the West, it’s is based in experience.

It’s about who you are, not as a person, but as an experience. It’s taking a look from the inside-out instead of the outside-in, the way we are taught to look.

So how is spirituality (what I’m calling it in my book) different from psychology? Well it depends on the psychology, as there are some edge-cases of psychology that are turning in a different direction from the mainstream (Three Principles Psychology for example), so for the purposes of this piece, we’ll call psychology the traditional mainstream form of it. Psychology focuses on the mind or the brain, as well as behavior. So in psychology one is examining the contents of the mind: one’s thinking, motivations, emotions, feelings, and the world of relationships, and the dynamics thereof. One could be looking at skills, and coping. One could dig into the past, into memories, family, friendships, sexual relationships, and so forth. It’s an endless game. The mind can always create new things (it doesn’t actually create, it’s just a tool for consciouness) or has an endless store of nooks and crannies.

It’s also useful for some readers (and interesting to me) to look at how spirituality is different from self-help as well as the large industry of various kinds of seminars, services and products out there. This is a large space, so it’s difficult to sum up, but we will look at patterns. Among the largest defining characteristics of these are techniques and motivation.

Why not go directly for happiness? It could save a lot of energy and heartache…

Technological Governance: A Response to Daniel Jeffries’ Interview on Future Thinkers

I recently enjoyed listening to an interview with a friend – a “colleague in thought” – with whom I also engaged in a fascinating discussion (Dialogues With a Mad Solipsist) on the subject of solipsism several years ago, when we were both members of a co-working space in San Diego. Daniel Jeffries is a writer and technologist who has been deeply involved with blockchain technology of late, as well as an author of science fiction with AI agents and futuristic scenarios. It’s always a pleasure to experience the richness of his imagination and no-holds-barred futurism.

So I was excited to hear him in this podcast with Future Thinkers, discussing the application of blockchain technology to the decentralization of governance, and tackling such thorny issues as voting, public policy, democracy, incentivizing behavior, and so on. What follows is an expansion of the notes I took while enjoying the podcast. I strongly encourage the reader to listen to the podcast, as it helps to form a context.

FTP049: Daniel Jeffries – Decentralized Governance and Identity

Let’s dive right into the middle: it seems to me he uses the word “ideology” incorrectly. He really means “thought systems”. Or more to the point: the concept of a thought system conveys the psychological fact that the world we experience is a projection of the total system of thinking one has at any moment. This is more global an idea than “ideology”. The concept of an “ideology” suggests to me something more along the lines of, for example, a religious or political dogmatic thought system. This is something quite specific in content. As evidence of this, an individual could have several ideologies, but they can only have one thought system. Thought system gets at the psychological root of the issue, rather than the surface play of ideologies. You could (more readily) program a computer with a ideology, since it’s more or less a fixed, rigid system of interlocking positions, whereas you could not program a computer with a thought system, since it is a living active gestalt based in intelligence and brought to life as an experienced world by consciousness.

Computer systems would be good at embodying ideologies in the sense that it’s an ego-based activity: a fake self. It would be a fun experiment to have a bunch of computerized ideologies (Christians versus Muslims for example) battling it out, since that is what an ideology is for, psychologically speaking: a defensive system for an illusory self, used to maintain the function of being an identity. You could see how computerized people actually are. And who knows, maybe someone would watch those arguments happening in a simulation and realize, “Wow, that’s how I am!” and it may spur them to wake up from their “program”.

I’ve been researching developments in the AI field (such as “deep learning” and the varieties of neural nets and how they work, and the claims of AI companies, not to mention the kinds of assumptions science fiction stories make) and reviewing the issues, as well as blockchain technology, its uses and social implications. So how does the blockchain relate to AI? And what does governance have to do with blockchains? First, I keep hearing either the implicit assumption that there is, or will be, some kind of real intelligence in these systems, either sa they are or with the addition of AI (such as when complex decisions need to be made). But would it be true generalized intelligence? If it were, this is turn is based on erroneous philosophical assumptions and based on what might be developed in the future (a subject covered in a longer, forthcoming article): a future ever-receding it seems. Second it’s assuming that the populace and the politicians have the same kind of interest, understanding, vision and will of the technophiles who have these enthusiasms.

The fact is, people want people in governance, not machines. They look up to figureheads, think they need them. We need to make a distinction between an imagined science fiction-fueled imagined world and social-psychological reality about this. And there is a grain of truth to the public’s feelings or intuitions with respect to leadership: machines do not have consciousness, creativity, or general intelligence and understanding of human affairs. This will not be replacing executives in corporations either, for the same reason (this was a fear back in the 60s through 80’s when computers first came into awareness, and when “expert systems” started popping up). Such systems can only simulate aspects of human leadership, or philosophical thinking (see Plato’s Republic for a relevant perspective about the “philosopher-king”), or embody limited cognitive type processing, like brains (limited, biological parallel processors with no consciousness), but do not embody the substance of consciousness and natural intelligence (e.g. intuition). They can remember rules, like well-greased autistics. But ethics and politics are not rule-based, they are *contextual*. For example, you can codify laws, but not the application of them. The belief that one can codify the application of them is a faith-based belief, nothing more, like the belief that consciousness comes from brains (a belief is defined as something that is held to be true regardless of evidence).

It seems widespread in the field of blockchain and AI that behind the grand claims, enthusiasts are making the same old assumptions that have been around for decades, based on the erroneous religious beliefs of scientific materialism. The blockchain and cryptocurrency religions are merely offshoots of that main religion prevalent in the culture.

So what can be incentivized: there was a discussion of happiness and how that can be warped. One could end up rewarding the wrong things, if I remember the thrust of the conversation: for example incentivizing being a despotic asshole, or getting into a Black Mirror type scenario of social fakery and in order to get ranked and allowed access (or not) to goods and services. One could have the weird situation of being controlled by that system. (Interestingly, this also serves an a technological analogy for what is already the case: the parallel is that in reality we are already controlled by ego and unconscious patterns of psychological conditioning. We think and behave according to what we are not, and this is the basis of our unhappiness).

But the proposed system of incentives misses addressing the real underlying dynamic with respect to happiness, which is ego and control versus authenticity and reality. Most humans don’t have a basic angle of understanding what reality is, and are identifying with what is false. Another way of talking about this for that dynamic is the play of ignorance versus being on the path of knowledge (such as in the Hindu or Buddhist sense). So how do you incentivize self-knowledge and happiness rather than ignorance; how do you incentivize love instead of fear, or de-incentivize what obscure love and true happiness. Is this possible? Is it desirable? Should we really try and mess with things at this level? And how do you do that without being punished as it were, for being innocent, when one goes in the wrong direction vis-a-vis such a system and it’s vectors of happiness and incentivized behavior (right thinking and right action, in Buddhist terms) – which really in essence embody a value system – since everyone is in essence innocent. Even if you could do this, there is going to be push-back for any system you come up, with because you can’t form rules for society. In other words, whose job would that be? A aristocratic, technological elite? Large (or small) companies or teams creating blockchain application, or corporations and government bodies, as we are likely to see more and more he future? The alternative is it devolves into mob rule. So this new elite will be pulling the levers behind the scenes, more or less. We already have this to a degree, and I’m sure there are billionaires in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who want more of it and to keep it that way. Meanwhile they will go live in their hardened missile silos converted into shelters, and New Zealand escape plantations, fearing rebellion when the masses figure it out and rise up. (see articles like https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich)

The burden of proof lies on the those who are assuming and believing that computer systems can do things like understand and apply justice, since a negative can’t be proved. Unfortunately we might see some applications of such systems in the process of the experimental proving, and these will be painful lessons, especially when they are applied by the faithful true believers in technology-as-savior to humanity’s problems. Faith tends to blind people to what they don’t want to see.

You want to be careful when you start thinking about codifying values. The reality is, you can’t really. You can set down some guidelines. But it’s not possible to have rules that always apply. Everything is contextual. Proper behavior depends on the complex whole of a situation. A computer system simply can’t read that, have access to that, process that, properly evaluate it. Even if a robot with a large parallel computer neural net brain had all the senses – seeing hearing, touch, smelling, taste – and grew up around humans, it would still not have any intuition nor any organic sense of a body. It would not have the desires and fears and the whole relation to the environment, universe, and the inner cell structure, nor the intuitive glimpses of unity via consciousness. It would not have awareness of itself and the self-evidence of truths come by through that radical subjectivity. No one knows where intuition and self-evident truth comes from, but it’s not coming from a cryptocurrency happiness governance vending machine. That much is certain.

I’m not concerned that some AI or singularity is going to take over the world (like in movies and books such as “Colossus: The Forbin Project” etc.), I merely advise folks to not to give away our freedom and intelligence to a technological system by granting it powers it does not have. It is only a projection to see intelligence and wisdom where it is not. Actual creativity, beauty, love, peace and truth will come from the authors and users of such systems, not the systems themselves. This is evidenced in the examples of computer programs that have been invented to create (supposedly) original artwork: the real “art” is in the creation of the software, not the interesting pictures the software generates. Another good example is the various chatbots, artificial girlfriends/boyfriends, and how easy they are to flush out as simulations (for this writer anyway). And yet many users project intelligence and understanding into them. (If you want to test this out, try any chatbot out there, and instead of letting it lead the direction of the dialogue, reference in your conversation something said earlier. You will find there is no continuity in the “intelligence”: there is no thread of understanding or ability to truly delve into a topic to any degree. The fact that even testers at Turing test contests are sometimes fooled says more about the tester than the chatbot or AI).

One parallel situation to point out is that we don’t have computers writing software to any significant degree. There is more and more need for good programmers, not less. The computer and the software, and all the infrastructure, and tools, not tool-makers.

Something not touched on in the interview is that all this infrastructure that blockchain technology depends on is quite fragile, very complex, with many many layers, all dependent on each other. It’s an electronic house of cards. Internet and cloud services have outages, and even when up and running, are not always available to an individual (I’ve talked about this at the end of my article about money (under revision)). Would we really want such fundamental social systems like money and governance dependent on such enormous unwieldy systems, so completely contrived and inherently brittle, subject to breakdown from a misplaced comma in a database backup program on a server in some remote server farm? This is not an unprecedented scenario, as witnessed by the AWS outages in 2015.
(see for example: http://www.datacenterdynamics.com/content-tracks/colo-cloud/aws-suffers-a-five-hour-outage-in-the-us/94841.fullarticle)

I am by no means against technology (thank god for that since I work for a company that makes software for helping to run elections!). I am not a luddite crying that the sky is falling. In fact I love technology and am fascinated with it’s applications. But in part because of my deep involvement with it, including consulting for users that have seen very painful data loss (such as losing the only copy of a Master’s thesis on a floppy disk as a result of having too much faith in technology), I have significant reservations about the over-application. These reservations and a desire to clarify and spread a little more love and understanding, are a result of an understanding of the limits of intellect, the limits of science and the technology that is derived from this understanding and the underlying assumptions and worldview. In fact, my view is that to truly create something approaching a genuine general AI, it is absolutely necessary to recognize and acknowledge these limits, rather than madly pursue dreams down dead end alleyways. The same applies to blockchain technology as it applies to social problems and opportunities. Do we want to reproduce the same insanity and ignorant worldviews

There Is No Such Thing as Artificial Intelligence: Notes On The Myth of AI

ABSTRACT: This essay is an initial attempt to outline what I see as the limitations in the current approaches to a generalized Artificial Intelligence (AI), the underlying assumptions that constitute and create those limitations, and how such limitations might either imply a limit to what can be done, or theoretically suggest a way forward in the research. The thesis is that a true, generalized AI would depend on Artificial Consciousness (AC). Since we have not even taken a first pre-step in the direction of such a construct, we therefore have no current valid, substantive theoretical ground for developing True AI (TAI). Furthermore, the author’s opinion is that by implication, there is no “existential threat” from AI on the foreseeable horizon.
AI is in essence applied philosophy (the study of thinking and the love of wisdom), and a form of theoretical psychology. I say “theoretical” because the fact is, we don’t know how the mind works, how the brain works, or what intelligence and consciousness are. We don’t even know what life is (or what matter is, for that matter!). All we have are temporary models and concepts – constructs of the perceiving mind – which are of use in limited domains of application. All applications therefore embody the assumptions in these domains.
I consider this piece an example of “speculative non-fiction” by an outsider to the field (professionally speaking: I am not employed by an AI company nor do I work in AI research in academia). However I do work in the software field, have a degree in philosophy, and have engaged in discussions of this topic with thought leaders in philosophy, computer science, and spirituality over many years. I believe my outsider status gives me a certain advantage: the same advantage a consultant has in the potential for seeing things from a fresh perspective. 
Ultimately, I see philosophy as a creative activity, which arises from the core capacity of creative intelligence to formulate new realities for us to live in, and AI therefore is an example of such activity.  As applied philosophy, and as an art, the inherent direction of AI is not to converge on a solution, but to diverge into diverse forms of artificial “life”, “intelligence”, and “sentience”, at the same time as we learn from this enterprise what those concepts mean, and where the borderlands are. 

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful… With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out…” – Elon Musk, quoted in a Guardian article.

“Looking further ahead, there are no fundamental limits to what can be achieved: there is no physical law precluding particles from being organised in ways that perform even more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains.” – Stephen Hawking, quoted in a UK Independent article

“It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate…
Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
– Stephen Hawking, speaking with the BBC in 2014

(Note: I wrote this article on the morning of March 14, 2018, and referenced Stephen Hawking, who I hadn’t written about or thought about in years. In the evening I learned that he had died that day. Another of many serendipitous events in my life recently.)

 

Dr. Challenger

I got my first computer as a teenager, in 1979. I had to drive to Los Angeles to find a shop that had “personal computers”, as it was a novel concept. What I picked up was an Ohio Scientific Challenger 1P, an 8-bit computer you could program in BASIC, and hook a cassette tape drive to for saving and loading programs (very slowly), and use a television for output. It didn’t come with any software, and there was none available, and of course no internet. But I was able to teach myself programming with a couple of books I found, and had fun writing some graphics programs, a clock, a simple game, and other things I don’t remember. One of the things I do remember writing and experimenting with was a program that had a very profound impact on the direction of my life: “Dr. Challenger”: a simulation of a Rogerian non-directive psychotherapist.  It was also an example what would be called  a “chatbot” in today’s terminology.

The therapeutic situation is a good one to model because it’s one of the few real human situations in which a human being can reply to a statement with a question that requires very little specific knowledge of the topic under discussion. And, you can acceptably ask question in response to a question without being rude. You can say things like “Why do you ask?” or “Does the question interest you”, or “Tell me more about X” (and fill in the X).

I’d been very inspired by a demonstration I’d seen at school when a student from another class brought in Commodore PET (another early 8-bit “personal computer”) to a physics class. One of the programs he ran was an implementation of “ELIZA“, an early natural language processing computer program that used pattern-matching, developed by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT. Since I didn’t have access to ELIZA or it’s source code, I decided to write my own. I had to figure out how to have the computer ask questions, take a response, and generate its own appropriate response based on the pattern of the word or sentence input by the person. The program would parse (I didn’t know that term at the time but that’s what I was doing) the sentence, find certain keywords, find what part of a sentence they were, and depending on if was in the list of nouns, verbs, and the particular word “meaning” and so forth, put together a new sentence based on that, using the pattern of how sentences are constructed in English. So I had to anticipate the range of possible responses people might come up with (which is often not that huge a list actually), code that into what to look for, and string it together into a new, appropriate-seeming sentence and spit that out, then get their response from that, and so forth.

Programming Dr. Challenger was a fascinating task that I has fun figuring out. I knew however that it was “canned” and was essentially fooling people into believing the computer had some intelligence. That was a big part of the fun: it was like a magic trick! And indeed, just like with a magic trick, some people were taken in and wowed, and other saw right through it fairly quickly.

It’s interesting to note that Dr. Terry Winograd, the author of the amazing AI program SHRDLU – a very early (1968-70) program from MIT and absolutely incredible accomplishment, especially for it’s time – left the field of Artificial Intelligence because of what he felt were the ethical implications. SHRDLU was system of software that seemed to understand human speech commands and moved objects around on a screen in response. It was written in LISP, a a symbol and list-processing programming language developed for AI research. What he said was (and I am hoping to find the exact quote somewhere) that humans are sensitive to language the way dogs are sensitive to smells, and he saw a danger in computers manipulating us that way. So he started working on the design of human-friendly computers. Many years later I wrote to him and asked him about this statement of his and his decision to leave the field. He didn’t answer directly but instead directed me to an article he wrote which he claimed answered the question (I scanned the article – it’s very long and technical – but didn’t find the answer and then got busy with other things).

Some Junk I Learned at College

In the 1950s and ’60s, artificial-intelligence researchers saw themselves as trying to uncover the rules of thought. But those rules turned out to be way more complicated than anyone had imagined. Since then, artificial-intelligence (AI) research has come to rely, instead, on probabilities — statistical patterns that computers can learn from large sets of training data. Larry Hardesty, MIT News

All of the early attempts at AI were based on what was called “symbolic processing” or the “MIT approach”. The assumption behind them was that human intelligence was in essence a kind of linguistic activity underneath, and it involved the manipulation of symbols or “tokens”. All one needed to do was understand and decode the deep rules that underlie language processing and other forms of intelligence, instantiate them in a computer, and whala! AI. There was also the assumption, based on Norm Chomsky’s outlook, that there was a kind of deep and hidden set of grammatical rules in the brain that generated human language and even accounted for the ability of us speakers, writers and thinker to create new sentences. In other words, even Shakespeare in theory could be invented and reproduced in a sophisticated computer program, with enough rules and “knowledge” embodied in systems of symbols, and start creating new plays. This may sound wrong-headed these days to some (it even back then) but these were the operating assumption behind AI research for decades (my outline is a simplification of it all but it gets the gist of it).

It became obvious sooner or later that such symbolic and linear systems, while good at working within highly limited domains, such as the manipulation of certain object in a simulated space, were very “brittle” once you went outside that space. The real world was just too open, and had an infinite number of variables to account for: too many rules were needed. It also seemed obvious to me after writing Dr. Challenger that you would need a process similar to how human babies and children gain intelligence: by learning. In other words you can’t just have a computer programmer or computer operator sitting there inputting countless rules and data knowledge and hope to get anything like real intelligence or the ability to operate in the world, or even just talk to you intelligently. They system needed to be able to sense, learn and respond and have a feedback loop with the organic world “out there”, and continue to grow and learn (just as we do, and enimals too to varying degrees). An AI then would need something akin to a body and sensory apparatus – to be a robot. But it would also need a brain that was a better brain.

So after seeing the limitations of this very linear and limited approach in practice and in theory, and wanting to mimic more the natural system the brain seems to use, the approach of parallel processing and neural nets came more and more to be seen as a hopeful direction (the reader can do their own research into the details these fields: this introduction is just a historical, conceptual background).

After that I spent decades studying, researching, thinking and discussing the general philosophical problems of artificial intelligence (AI), (questions such as what is the mind, what is knowledge and how is it represented, etc.) as well as writing software and working on computer hardware for a living. This gave me both a ground-level view of what the technology is and can do, as well as a conceptual birds-eye view of some of the more esoteric issues (which are nonetheless more and more pertinent to society today). In college, I studied with some of the most brilliant yet controversial thinkers around, such as the neurophilosopher Pat Churchland and the philosopher of science Paul Churchland, renowned philosophers of mind, as well as taking part in colloquia with prominent cognitive psychologists of the day. This allowed me the great privilege of asking them questions, and seeing what the underlying assumptions of their approaches were as well as of the institutions and thought-worlds (ways of seeing life) of which they were a part of.

There was a point at which however, towards the end of several years at UCSD, I felt I’d run into a cul de sac with this research (I was an undergrad but often ignored the assigned curriculum and chose my own topics and directions, according to my interests and enthusiasms – my main obsession being the philosophical issues with AI) I realized that there was a huge flaw, a blindspot, or an ignoring (“ignorance” in the Hindu Sanskrit sense) that was common in all their outlooks. THis being “at the end of my rope” however also led to a “gran mal intuition” as I later called it. To try and flesh out what this intuition was I’ll talk about it in two parts: we can call them the “negative” and the “positive”.

The negative side: They placed process thought, analytical thought, language and problem solving, as being the nature of human thinking –be it linguistic, visual, spatial, social, or scientific. This intellectual and material intelligence is seen as epitome of intelligence, and the result of an evolutionary process of survival and Darwinian adaptation and competition that got humans to where they are. And therefore all their models reflected the kind of thinking that was used to make them, with the same constraints. In other words, the models were modeling the modelers! Furthermore, the models reflected the modeler’s assumption, beliefs and biases about who who and what they were, or humans were, and the universe and reality. The models were essentially dogma in visible form: they reflected not only partly accurate self-knowledge (as basically humans and animals as examples of organic robots) but also the blind spots of the researchers and the agendas (philosophical and political) and prejudices of the researchers, institutions and culture of which they were a part. In short, the the strengths as well as the limitations of the theories and models, which in turn reflected the thought systems and level of consciousness of the theoreticians and the modelers. I later came to understand how thought systems were a reflection of, or activated as it were, by the level of consciousness (I will explain thought systems and levels of consciousness later, as it’s not widely understood). THe flip side of this limited intelligence is a more unconstrained intelligence.

The positive side: The other aspect of this powerful intuition I had towards the end of my time at the university was that intuition is the central faculty of us sentient, aware, intelligent beings. This however, one cannot prove, except experientially and anecdotally; it is only a fact from first-person point of view. This kind of non-objective knowledge however does have the advantage of a self-evident quality. For example, there are many anecdotes from history when a scientist or inventor or artist suddenly “saw” the answer to a problem they’d been working on for a long time, and knew it was the answer. A blinding light of insight told them. Therefore this “revelation” shall we call it, to sound more colorful, placed me outside the academic temple. It also placed me outside of the scientism that rules academia and society in general: the materialist religion. However, the name of and the depth of this belief system I was unaware of, other than as a vague and all pervasive knowingness. There was even fear associated with this view of intelligence (because of its implications, which I wrote about in a dystopian science fiction novel in 1991 called “The Web“, then renamed “The Zero Point” ).

It is interesting to see that some awareness of more direct access to a different way of knowing in books like Blink, or the expanding field of applied psychology called The Three Principles. These are radically different ways of looking at how humans operate in and see the world, but are more in line with actual experience and common sense than the models of academia (with entrenched interests behind them).

“Machine learning models such as deep learning have made tremendous recent advancements by using extensive training datasets to recognize objects and events. However, unless their training sets have specifically accounted for a particular element, situation or circumstance, these machine learning systems do not generalize well.” – Dr. Michael Mayberry, Intel Corporation

Some Acronyms and Definitions

Consciousness = The “first person” subjective experiencing of something, including the awareness of awareness. For example that which is reading these words right now, whatever that is. Another way of putting it is, the ultimate perceiver of perceptions.

It’s important to make a distinction here between fact and theory, for I realize from talking to people that the assumption is made that if brain can do it, why not a machine? Their thinking is that if a system of neurons and parts of a brain can be conscious, why not a machine? The problem is that this is based in a theory and concepts, not fact. That brains can produce or experience consciousness is not a fact. However it’s such a deeply rooted prejudice, or myth, and so often repeated, that it starts to seem self-evident.

The best that can be shown by science and technology is that there is some type of correlation between some kinds of brain activity, such as electrical impulses or chemical actions, and thinking activity. So a subject can be hooked up to some machine, and be thinking about an ice cream soda, and then say “ice cream soda” and some pattern of electrical excitation could be registered, and perhaps an image of brain parts that show more activity could be shown an screen, that to some degree correlate with the imaging in the mind of an ice cream soda, and the decision to speak and the speaking of the words. But this is all about mental activity: thoughts and actions, and not about consciousness. It completely leaves out the question of who or what is having the inner experience of those thoughts.

Sometimes this conflation mistake is because of a confusing of the subjective and the objective points of view. So it’s important to reiterate by consciousness is meant the subjective view: what is it like to have the thoughts. For example, one could imagine the pink color of the ice cream soda, and there is no way anyone will ever know how you experience pink, no matter how much you describe it in words, paint it, try and point it out in the world, everyone else will have *their* own subjective experience of pink that may be completely different from yours, and there is no way of knowing, since you can’t get inside their experience. What they call “pink” you may call “orangish-pink”, even though there is a one-to-one correspondence between their reported color mappings and yours, all their colors are experienced slightly or completely shifted or differently. It is 100% private and intimate. These subjective, absolutely irreducible qualities are called by philosophers “qualia”.

Thus you can see that one could build a physical system that had the same kinds of firings register on the instruments, but there can be, and would be, no experience for anything: there is nothing of what it is “like to be” that machine such that it experiences it’s own qualia, unless you want to imagine something odd and absurd based on your faith in machinery such that machines could have experiences. You could, I suppose, imagine an adding machine have experiences like “Oooh, a number 2 and 3 is adding up to a 5! Oh boy, how yummy!”, but I who would take that seriously? I wouldn’t (except to laugh) and it certainly isn’t any proof that AC is possible.

The other confusion is between awake-ness, or levels of wakefulness and consciousness. In other words, being awake as opposed to being asleep. However, these are states *within* consciousness, not consciousness itself. IN other words, what we are looking at that we are defining as C. is the experience of what is reading these words right now to be awake or asleep: that constant that is behind all experience. One could hook up an EEG and watch a person or an animal go through different phases of wakefulness and sleep, but it tells you nothing about what it’s like to be that subject, or what experience they are having as consciousness. In fact, there are a number of recorded cases of subjects who have been flatlined in terms of brain activity, and clinically dead, yet report experiences later that they could not have had unless there was some kid of consciousness at the time. And though there are not dreams remembered from deep sleep, the inference that there is no consciousness is merely an assumption based not having a memory of anything, or an assumption based on the fact that the mind resurrects at waking, and since there seems to be no mind, therefore there was no consciousness, which is a false inference. Why can’t you have consciousness without content: and experience of pure consciousness?

Intelligence (with a capital “I”) = the capacity to come up with new solutions to old or new problems and situations of any kind; the capacity for true creativity (new knowledge or genuine art); the ability to “receive” self-evident truths (mathematical, spiritual, aesthetic, philosophical, etc.); the ability to appreciate beauty and to experience universal love (non-objective substantive apperception). Non-linear “thinking” or perception; the ability to understand; the perception of Reality.

intelligence (with a small “i”) = the ability to process data, solve problems in a specific domain (cognition), the ability to make decisions based data inputs; the ability to calculate solutions to numerical or symbolic problems; linear thinking (which includes the processing in highly parallel neural net systems); cunning; empirical reasoning (reasoning based on specific sensory or perceptual input and data facts regarding situations); logical reasoning; analytical thought; rule-based thinking.

PAI = Pseudo Artificial Intelligence
TAI = True AI = A Generalized Intelligence machine.
TAC = True AC = Artificial Consciousness that is not a simulation of consciousness, nor just sentience (being awake and able to think and act like a non self-aware animal).
TMI = Transcendental Machine Intelligence = In contradistinction to AI as so far conceived, uses TAC + AI to achieve TAI.

My central thesis is, You can’t have true AI without AC, and AC is a top-down reality, not a bottom-up construction.

True AI = A generalized intelligence machine.
AC = Artificial Consciousness.

My thesis is that you cannot have true AI without AC.

But is AC – Artificial Consciousness – possible?

AI systems (and therefore robot minds) are brittle. Another way of saying this is that they do not fail gracefully.

Because computer intelligence such as neural nets uses systems of bias (pre-judging, using memory-based processing thinking), based on correlation they are inherently unable to generalize. If if they are not rule-based like expert systems, they are using past knowledge, not direct knowledge.

My father used to say, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” (My retort is “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you happy?” But that’s another essay…)
If AIs are so smart, why aren’t they writing our software? The demand for software engineers and programmers, IT people, etc. are growing at a tremendous rate: evidence not only of technological expansion, but of the fact that computers do not write software, human creativity and intelligence creates software.

Comment I wrote in response to a YouTube video:
“The Hanson Robotics CEO misspoke. He should have said “simulate” being as conscious, creative as a human. He’s playing into the mass ignorance about the nature of AI and computers, which are mechanical, adding-machine based entities. All the creativity and consciousness comes from their creators. That’s the “art”. The burden of proof is on him. He is either dumb, gullible, or irresponsible. (I recommend “What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason” by Hubert L. Dreyfus, MIT Press – one of many good books on the philosophy of AI).”

Myths or Erroneous Assumptions Underlying AI and “The Singularity
1. That if you just get enough of a lower-level machine intelligence together then at some point it will reach critical mass of higher-level intelligence that will result in self-awareness, independent thought, creativity, and other elusive qualities we experience. This is a common trope in Science Fiction scenarios of AI, including (one of my favorite classic science fiction movies about computers) “Colossus, The Forbin Project”.
2. This previous assumption is also used to fuel the idea that this critical mass will become a runaway-AI and get smarter and smarter…
3. Which in turn stokes the notion that this runaway intelligence could thus becomes a super intelligence of nearly infinite power. Just like how a massive star collapses under its own gravitational weight until it sucks light into it and forms an event horizon, sucking in more and more matter in a runaway process, compressing down into an infinitely dense thing called a singularity (the end-game of a black hole), the AI would accelerate in self-enhanced intelligence, using it’s intelligence to learn and create better intelligence, and so on, until this runaway epistemological feedback loop implodes like a bomb.

These are all false notions, because they build this house of computerized cards on the erroneous assumption in #1. Simply put, more and more stupidity does not add up to an intelligence that equals real intelligence, much less self-awareness. Even an astronomical set of neural nets, that get very smart at doing a variety of tasks that brains do, is still just garbage in, garbage out in relation to true intelligence. This is because of the ignorant assumption that real intelligence and consciousness arise from brains (are an emergent property, like wetness is an emergent property of water molecules), whereas in fact there is no evidence for such an assumption that is not circular. This property of an idea – where no matter what evidence there is, it is held onto defended as if for dear life – is itself evidence of the interwoven set of dogmatic, religious ideas that underpin much of society and science when one reaches the limits of it’s understanding. (These materialist assumptions about intelligence is such a deep and ingrown belief in modern culture that it takes quite a long essay to untangle – I hope to write more on that soon).

The problem is, almost no one (in the Western world especially), understands what real or natural intelligence is. That is, they don’t have an adequate definition, because the cultural orientation, the social programming in life does not allow one to see it without immediately dismissing or devaluing it. For example, one suddenly understands a problem whose solution was eluding you: an Aha! moment of illumination. The whole thing is seen in a flash. Such timeless moments don’t compute to the mind: it cannot hold or grasp the open limitless freedom from which they seem to appear “from nowhere”.

On the other hand, we don’t want to leap farther than our understanding justifies and say we *know* for sure what true intelligence or consciousness is (other than that we experience it now, or in flash of intuition or self-evident truth, such as in mathematical discovery or understanding). The best and most honest path is to admit what we don’t know, and from that solid foundation, we can step forward and hopefully make progress.

Underpinning the thesis is that to create (or foster the creation of) a genuine AI, one must have artificial consciousness (AC) is the fact that the two ultimately cannot be separated. To have the properties of general intelligence, the property of consciousness must be present. The relationship of one of a triad or trinity: the apparent duality of matter and mind is resolved when the trans-real substratum of consciousness is taken into account. This is the “dual aspect theory” of Spinoza’s philosophy applied to a real-world engineering problem. However, consciousness is not an emergent property of brains, but is a general or unified field, of which a brain could be thought of as akin to a receiver.

The analogy of brain-as-receiver works like this: if one is, for example, watching a television program about politician, and you don’t like the politician, would you go buy a new television in order to have a better politician – in other words to change it to a show you like to view – on the TV? Likewise, that thoughts seem to correlate to the functioning activities of a brain (and lack of thoughts or coherent thoughts in a damaged, dragged or asleep brain) does not prove that the TV program arose from that brain.

The analogy breaks down however in that radio waves and television programming are still in the same level of reality: objects. That is, they are physical phenomena and are measurable and detectable. Consciousness is not on the same level of perceptibility: it is not a phenomena. Consciousness is the witness of phenomena. This is basic.

Unfortunately, while sentience (being awake or asleep) are detectable, as are attentional mechanisms and types of brain waves associated with *states*, consciousness is not. In other words, that which experiences states is not detectable. We do not have instruments for detecting the presence of consciousness, and we probably never will. From where we stand today, in our scientific outlook, consciousness is not amenable to the scientific method, except with regards to second-hand evidence (such as verbal reports of other humans), or as subjective experiences and reports that can only be inter-subjectively evaluated. Likewise, you cannot open up a persona’s head and find consciousness in the brain somewhere (despite stupid claims of finding centers of consciousness in popular articles, which always turn out to be based on mental actives or attentional mechanisms, not consciousness). Why? Because consciousness is not a phenomena. It is not part of the universe of experience out there. In other words, the universe is experienced *in* consciousness – as is the body, thoughts, sensations, feelings, thoughts –  or is inferred to exist in other beings (such as humans or animals, or possibly aliens), as a separate quality of that being, because that’s what we assume for ourselves.

Another way of describing consciousness is, what is it like to *be*: for example, that which is reading these words right now: that reality. It is always in the absolute present, and ultimately intimate. It is the context or ground for an experience-having reality, or even feeling or seeming to have a sense of reality. For example, even dream is a *real* dream. The content of the dream is illusory, but the fact of experiencing it is real for the experiencer. That is the reality we are pointing to here: the reality of the experiencer. It is full-stop subjective. It has no objective properties. It is radical.

So how does one encode that in a computer? How can a piece of software embody that? It can’t: they are both content, not context; they are both part of the material world, both objects. They are not subjects. They are not experiencing.
But could they? Could there be an aspect of experience, that like other beings (humans and animals etc.), seems to have consciousness, yet is an object we created, or got underway through an engineering project?

The key concept here is “seeming”: how does one discern the difference between a simulation and the real thing.

To be continued…

References

Intel’s New Self-Learning Chip Promises to Accelerate Artificial Intelligence, By Dr. Michael Mayberry

Stephen Hawking: ‘Transcendence looks at the implications of artificial intelligence – but are we taking AI seriously enough?’

What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason” by Hubert L. Dreyfus, MIT Press

What is Money?

Notes on the Nature of Money and its Future

What is money? We use it almost every day, but like the air we breathe, we hardly ever look deeply into what it really is. This is my initial exploration of the question.

The dawn of and expansion of Bitcoin and the phenomenon of cryptocurrency has also spurred these reflections (I will discuss Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies at the end of this piece). In any case I’ve often pondered the nature of money. It seems to have a powerful grip on our minds.

Recently some have criticized cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin having no intrinsic value. But does any type of money (or investment for that matter) have an intrinsic value?

The short answer: Money is a store of value, by the implicit or explicit mutual agreement of the agents of use. The valuation of anything is contextual by nature, and therefore money has no intrinsic value in itself. Money is most often used as a medium of exchange, but this is not an intrinsic property. It is ideally a unit of account.

Money is a vastly useful tool for storing and trading value. Imagine having to engage in barter you had every time you wanted something. Let’s say you needed a stick of butter, and what you happened to have in surplus were a collection of fine, healthy Philodendron plants to trade. You go to the dairy, but the butter maker says she doesn’t want Philodendron plants, but she does need some hay for her cows. So then you need to go find someone with extra hay who wants philodendron plants. Or you will need to find whatever you have you can part with that they happen to want – maybe a pile of bricks or some apples or bricks or a carburetor – if you can even find such a party.

In contrast, money can be traded for anything, because the receiving party in turn can trade it for anything. It’s universal (at least within the culture it’s accepted in, as long as it still has significant value).

By way of evidence, one could do a thought experiment about a type of money, a coin that had value but is never exchanged. For example was held onto and ended up never being traded: let’s say a giant circular stone in your front yard that represents the deed on your house (such as the Yapese have traditionally used on the island of Yap – see below), and that is agreed upon by the entire community on your little island society. And if anyone from that society is given, buys or inherits that coin, that represents owning the house, by deed of giant stone-coin. In fact the entire island has houses of this type and a deed-coin in front. However, for some odd historical reason, no one has ever used them for exchange! It’s an unlikely scenario, but the point is it is possible. In other words, exchange is not a natural, inherent, God-given property of money. Strange but true.

But the converse scenario also makes little practical sense: a currency that has no value (by agreement or intrinsically) but was exchanged profusely. That would be a potentially comic situation: one could imagine all these clowns running around making exchanges with each other furiously with, let’s say, pieces of paper with printing on them, but nothing could be done with the papers except exchange them: one could not use them for any practical material purpose (even toilet paper, because of the printing or type of paper), one could not exchange them for anything else except other pieces of the paper, and one could not convert them to other types of money. It would be farcical.

Some no doubt will say this is the situation with some cryptocurrencies currently! But most cryptocurrencies can be exchanged for other currencies, and do have some, however debatable, intrinsic value as a unique implementation of an instance of a useful class of technology.

Philosophically of course, there is no ultimate inherent value in any money whatsoever, no matter how brilliantly conceived, engineered, or widely adopted. Money only has the value it is given by the psycho-social milieu of assumption, faith and trust of the society in which it exists. In other words, it is a projection. This is easy to demonstrate if you do a simple thought experiment or two.

Let’s say a race of powerful aliens came to Earth, godlike in their intelligence and capabilities, and they had a technology, programmed with a fully advanced neuroscience of human minds coupled with a superintelligent computer system, and some kind of brainwave projector that re-aligns human thoughts along whatever lines is programmed into the machine. They decide to play a joke on humans and re-program everyone on the planet into forgetting what the US dollar is and what it’s for, no matter if its paper currency or numbers on a screen. They program humans to forget that it has any value (to keep it simple we won’t worry about automated exchanges, and just look at a very short term scenario). They do the same for gold, silver and platinum – both the physical metal and representations of it – just for extra fun and to make sure their little joke works.

Zap! Suddenly this money has no value. So why would anyone choose to exchange it, or even care about it, except as a curiosity? It has no inherent value, other than for the physical money for kindling or paper, or paper weights or ballast (especially coins), or for its fiber content or the uses of the metal in engineering. The entire currency collapses. The same would be the fate of Bitcoin or any alt-coin or cryptocurrency, if the aliens decided to zap human minds about it. The companions and communication over the internet would continue to happen, and there would be information in crypto wallets, but it would have no social or psychological value, and therefore no exchange value, because that projection was zapped. One would look at some numbers on a computer screen or in a hardware wallet and they would be just numbers, with perhaps an engineering or historical interest. In the longer run of course things would resurrect themselves and the system would be built back up, and value restored once the mental map was re-learned by individuals and groups. But the point is made.

A less exotic example can be imagined. As the reader may or may not be aware, on the Island of Yap in Micronesia, traditionally the Yapese used large circular stones as money, called Rai stones (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rai_stones). These could stand for anything from the ownership of a house or the smaller ones could be used for the purchase of food. Since the stones are for the most part too large to move (and subject to damage if moved), they are kept in place, and the ownership is recorded orally. Nothing is written down. The “ledger” is in the minds of the Yapese. Now let’s say, back in the day when the island was unknown and there were no other currencies from the outside world in use (these days the Yapese use dollars and Yap are used only occasionally or ceremonially), some plague wiped out all the inhabitants. If a ship of Europeans, or anyone really – for example a boat full of Micronesians from another island with no cultural exposure and no use of stones as currency in their society – were to land on the island, they would not place a monetary value on these coins and not consider them standing for anything, unless they decided to start doing so (for example they might be taken as valuable museum pieces, or the quartz mined from them for various uses).
So one can see it is the social matrix that gives money its value ultimately, and the individual programming of the members of that society.

Money cannot by nature have any inherent value.

This can also be seen if you hand a hundred dollar bill to a Bonobo Chimpanzee, our closest relative genetically. They are a very intelligent sentient being, and their groups have their own culture and means of communication (though it is not a written one). They might sniff it, look at it, play with it, throw it, wipe their ass with it, but they are not going to use it for money, no matter how long you give them money and no matter how much. It’s possible I suppose that a researcher could train them do trade money tokens for food, but as far as I know this has not been attempted.

As a side note money also depends on the concept of counting and numbers, and this is not inherent – despite what Chomsky theorized – even to humans, as proven by the the anthropologist Daniel L. Everett and his patient work with the internet outage (not an uncommon occurance) or one is not on the internet, or some kind of catastrophe occurs, or even a programing or configuration error – a bit or two, out of place, the wrong comma placed in a line of code – the whole silicon house of electric cards comes crashing down, or at least screeching to a halt (as has happened with cloud storage such as AWS outages on occasions).

As a concluding note, since much of my blog has to do with the philosophy of happiness, and “spiritual” or psychological topics, the facts and notions outlined in they essay regarding the nature and power of money, do not imply or mean that money is required for or coupled with happiness. They are on quite independent axis, as will be discussed in an upcoming article.

Thank you for listening.

Be Free, Be Happy.

If Life is a Game, Make Sure You Are Playing The Right Game

What kind of game do you want to play in life? How do you see the world: as a bunch of separate material object or things, of which you are one – sort of a meat robot that has to fight and struggle to survive, and beyond mere survival, get more of the pie, or be a victim or disappointed or frustrated or angry if you aren’t getting what you want?

Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina (2015) • Photo by Universal Pictures International

Articles like these an old friend from the past sent me (asking what I thought) — The Jordan Peterson Moment or The Atheist Who Strangled Me – are more of the realm of opinion-ating, and the battle for mindshare. As a wise young friend, Andrew Hewson pointed out, this is an extension of the animal mind, the primeval survival “ego”, into the human mind ego. Or they are self-advertisement of the author, or entertainment, like much of the news. A way to get your attention. Which generally is a waste of your attention.

But what really matters? Does matter matter?

Who cares what such and such says? What you want is to find Truth. Why because you want happiness. If the battle for things or ideas isn’t bringing you happiness but at best a promise for future happiness or mere temporary pleasure, are you going to settle for that? Do you really believe in your heart of hearts you are that small?

In school we are taught, subtly or overtly, that life is a competition, and this instills fear. Fear can get people moving, but is a double-edged sword and one can react in ways that can be non-productive, self-destructive, or other-destructive, or that merely don’t bring you closer to Truth. It leads you around in a circle at the same level of life satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Fear closes down the openness to being receptive to what is, and makes one more obedient to thoughts that are like parasites on the soul. What you want is not only freedom from those thoughts, but from any thought: to know you are not thoughts and not feelings. However these are worshipped, and there is widespread, nearly universal addiction to thinking and feeling: just look at the state of psychology, therapy, or the symptoms of depression, substance use, greed for money, power, objects, experiences…

There can be game-like aspects or elements of life, at the level of the body or mind, and these can temporarily be worthwhile to engage in to have an advantage on circumstances that are overall conducive at a certain level. For example, there is an apartment I want to rent that fulfills my optimal design for quiet and light, I make sure I get there in time and communicate clearly to the owners the advantages of renting it to me. When acquired, game over. It was meant to be. This can be fun and exciting, but it’s not the end of the world or to affect my happiness if I don’t get it. The universe is a big place and you don’t know what will pop up. You are not dependent on circumstances, but why not optimize them, not from fear but from joy, from opportunity from saying yes to life, to celebrate? Don’t just see “bad” things but allow “good” things too. Pay attention not just to lack but to the totality of what you are.

If Life is a Game, Make Sure You Are Playing The Right Game

The goal is happiness, here and now.

There may be a movement of things in that space, this life, just as there is metabolism going on in a plant or animal: out with the old crap, in with the new crap. I have some money, so I buy a new pair of shoes because the old ones were cramping my feet. I throw out or donate the old shoes, and wear the new ones. But I was happy in the old shoes, they were just uncomfortable at times and inconvenient. Or I get a car that’s better on the freeway for going to visit happy friends, faster smoother and quieter, more efficient. But I’m happy in my old noisy car, which has it’s own charms, like good visibility and spaciousness, and good offroad, but now I can celebrate the drive in a car that goes faster and quieter, in certain circumstances. But I’m happy either way. It’s just an experience, stuff, things, coming and going. There is not net gain in life or net loss: overall everything is still the same universe, the same consciousness, the same here-now-ness, seeing things come and go. People, noises, objects, thoughts, feelings in the body…

Occurring to who? You may *think* you know but do you really know who you are? What you are?

People ask, “What do you believe?” but they are missing the point. Beliefs will get you nowhere, or not very far at all indeed. Except to more beliefs, and a battle of beliefs. With no end in sight. You could spend a lifetime refining and searching and compiling beliefs, ideas, opinions. Or several lifetimes. Or perhaps an infinite number of lives. Like in one of those computer games that simulate life, with all the little critters moving around gobbling each other up and spawning new ones, and going through mutations and endless changes and groupings and ungrouping. Does the mass get closer to beauty love and truth? Or just variations on the same ol’, same ol’.

The real game, if you are fortunate to get that far, is to pop out of the game board, or the simulation screen and look down on the whole thing (yes The Matrix, but translated to life and transcendence) – not in the manner of superior and inferior but as transcending so one can see it – is to see the game for what it is, and not take it seriously. Before you had been lost in the game: you thought you were one of the players, the objects, the little critters moving around on the screen, gobbling and being gobbled. You were totally identified, anxious and on a mood swing, depending on how well it did. Manic if it was eating up all the other critters and getting fat, or depressed if it was getting gobbled and smaller and threatened by death, not reaching its objectives, or dying. Blip, poof, critter number 9,072 pops out of existence from the memory cell.

Interestingly though, no matter what, the game goes on. You are watching it are you not? Someone, or some thing is watching it. Who is that?

You see there are an infinite number of games. Can you enumerate the possible number of games in a universe? And are you attached to an outcome of any one, now, or forever. If it’s just a game does it have any substantial reality.
These are questions that are not asked or that feel too unanswerable, so you go back to playing the game, getting lost in it, being identified with one of the players, or the pieces in the game, the little critters.

And the game goes on.

The choice is yours.

Why reader, do you choose struggle: do you love the drama and violence, limitation and restriction? If it’s in your life, it’s been chosen at some level, even if you claim you don’t choose it – not as a separate tiny thing, separate, tiny alone in a harsh and unforgiving blind cosmos, a machine of gears ruthless turning and beset with other people wanting things or doing things to you.

But there are no victims in reality, and I realize you may not cognize that just yet … I have great empathy and love for those that are suffering – especially since I went through years of intense suffering myself – even if it’s seen for what it is: unreal and all part of the game. This is all paradoxical to the mind and may take a very long time to comprehend, and even sound offensive, or not PC, not popular… ignorance is very fetching to most humans alive today. It’s the name of the game for most of 7.5 billion.

But, you may ask: “How do you find happiness then, if it’s not in the game and I’m not this critter, or what it does, or gets, or… wait, what are you saying? Are you saying give up, or don’t play the game, or quit, or die or what?”

Ah, I’m glad you asked. It means you’re still paying attention, or are at least pissed off or skeptical, or disagreeing. That’s a good start.

What I’m saying is, you’ve already won but don’t know it. Another way of putting this, since there’s nothing ultimate to win per se, is that you are already happy, because it’s what you are.
Bullshit you may say.
But let’s look at it: let’s say it’s possible there is something we could call “causeless happiness”, or a joy that is being in its own nature. Pure, unadulterated peace, love in a absolute or complete sense, not human or any other form but all those forms… sounds crazy, theoretical, pie in the sky New Age, crap… let’s get on with life and the game we’re wasting time, us hardened and smart ones who know what it’s all about (heck if it’s working for you and making you happy, go for it, until it stops working, then you will start seeking again, or in another way. It doesn’t matter, it all self-adjusts to innate perfection of the totality).

If there is this causeless joy or happiness, it would mean that we are spending a tremendous amount of time and energy playing a game that isn’t getting us closer, but just tempts us or goads us on with little bits and fragments of pleasure or temporary relative peace or relative happiness compared to other times. We still need more time. Time, money, energy, thinking, work, hard work… and meanwhile the body ages, things change. So what do we conclude? Time to go faster, work harder, get more, get fatter? Get more lost in “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”. Well whatever floats your boat but be honest with yourself and eventually some light will get through and you get tired, sick and tired of being tired. You’ve tired out the engine. The computer is running slower. Maybe you discover it actually feels better when the computer in the head stops for a moment.

“Thoughts and feelings are lies, because what you are is a lie. So it must lie to keep going.” – Laura Lucille

Then you are on the right track. Notice how good ideas, insights, bright lights sneak through the cracks? Did you will those into existence? Moments of causeless wonder, energy? Do you will your ears to hear, go to hearing classes, or will your vision to see something when you take up in the morning? Do you know the next thought that’s coming or what you will be thinking 5 minutes from now? You feel your body now even if you don’t make an effort.

Things to take into account my friend.

This may sound like a recommendation or being an advocate of being passive. In fact, at every moment, there is an intention, a will (willingness would be a better term) and choosing. But this is not forced but in fact totally free, whether it is conscious or not. (I notice this can be hard to accept by many). Perhaps I will cover this in another essay.

Enough for now…

Be Happy
Be Free