[ExI] The meaning of life? Let's solve this together, once and for all! ; )

Jason Resch jasonresch at gmail.com
Fri Oct 20 17:46:39 UTC 2023

+ Extropy

On Fri, Oct 20, 2023 at 12:45 PM Jason Resch <jasonresch at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Sun, Oct 1, 2023 at 1:13 PM <efc at swisscows.email> wrote:
>> Good evening Jason,
>> On Fri, 29 Sep 2023, Jason Resch wrote:
>> >       Interesting! I think we might have a first point of divergence
>> here.
>> >       When it comes to the meaning of life, I'm not so interested
>> actually in
>> >       the reason. That is a question I leave to science as in what's the
>> >       reason I am here, evolution, reproduction etc.
>> >
>> >       Purpose, could also stray close to science, as in propagating
>> genes, but
>> >       purpose could also be given a deeper meaning I think, so this is
>> getting
>> >       closer.
>> >
>> >       When it comes to value, I think it would be interesting to see
>> how value
>> >       is measured and in what "currency"?
>> >
>> > Some have come up with the term "utils" (or alternatively hedons,
>> utiles, utilons).
>> Well, those are all good in that they do not have any connotations like
>> currency, but I still wonder about how they would be quantified.
>> >       When I think about meaning of life, I think about something which
>> gives
>> >       me a deep sense of connection to the universe, it could be an over
>> >       arching theme of my life, perhaps an ultimate quest or journey
>> which
>> >       fills my life with significance. (I tried on purpose to not use
>> the
>> >       words value or purpose here, so see if you can perhaps find a
>> better
>> >       word in english for me to use.)
>> >
>> >       I also distinguish between levels of meaning. The paragraph above
>> is the
>> >       "ultimate" or final deep seated meaning that transforms the way
>> you
>> >       live. There is also a more mundande level of meaning to me, such
>> as
>> >       evolution, propagating genes, provide for my family, being a
>> positive
>> >       and contributing part of our global economy and thus on a tiny
>> level
>> >       making life better for everyone.
>> >
>> >       Those types of meaning, I consider philosophical chicken soup.
>> It's nice
>> >       to say, it's nice to think about, but I wouldn't say that any of
>> those
>> >       things fundamentally shift the way I live my life. They are kind
>> of
>> >       "bolted on" a lifestyle that I was given by my culture and
>> parents. So
>> >       perhaps a benefit by verbalizing them, is that my life, given
>> those
>> >       reasons as a backdrop, might be lived more consciously than just
>> going
>> >       through the motions and not thinking about how, what you do,
>> contributes
>> >       to the rest of humanity and the world we're in.
>> >
>> >       Do I make any sense?
>> >
>> > I think I see what you are pointing at.
>> >
>> > Is it what the Dzogchen seek? Is it God-Realization? Is it the
>> experience of Ego Death?
>> I don't know, but I think it could be the same experience regardless of
>> if it is called mystical union, god-realization, ego-death, or
>> enlightement. That's my theory at least.
>> I always assumed, that this would be the top of Maslows scale, but
>> perhaps it could be argued that this is a difference scale? Or do you
>> think it is related? Thinking about what I read and seen about saints,
>> it certainly seems like the ultimate and supreme experience for them, so
>> that would perhaps indicate that it does belong to the scale.
>> > I think what is common in all of these is transcending the illusion of
>> the self as one small part of existence, and expanding one's
>> > self-identification to the whole, or the all. This, as you say, can
>> rewrite, or transform one's approach to life, interaction with
>> > others, and perhaps make one more "selfless."
>> I wonder if expanding ones range of consciousness or expanding ones
>> quality of consciousness might be a better way to describe it? Illusion
>> and union to me is very imprecise, but I don't know if anyone ever
>> managed to capture what happens in the brain at the moment of
>> enlightenment. I'm fairly sure that psilocybin trips have been captured,
>> but are those smaller intensity examples on the same scale as the
>> ultimate union, or is the ultimate union something different? I have no
>> idea, but I think it is very interesting to think about.
>> >       > states of awareness / consciousness. Those things that are
>> "instrumentally meaningful" are valuable only in so far as
>> >       their potential
>> >       > to affect states of consciousness.
>> >
>> >       Isn't "valuable only in so far as their potential to affect
>> states of
>> >       consciousness" a truism?
>> >
>> > I think so. But it is a clarifying truism, and one that often goes not
>> directly acknowledged.
>> Fair point!
>> >       By the fact that we are physical beings with
>> >       conscisoussness, wouldn't that mean everything is meaningful?
>> >
>> > I think there is some meaning (value) in every conscious experience
>> (which may be regarded as negative or positive, on the whole).
>> You mean value in terms of realizing meaning? That all experiences
>> detract or add to the final goal of realizing meaning?
>> >       I agree to the extent that realizing deep seated meaning and
>> values, is
>> >       a mental process, fed with impressions and experiences from the
>> physical
>> >       world, or perhaps, not even that. It could be argued that some
>> actually
>> >       starve the mind of impressions and experiences to find their deep
>> seated
>> >       meaning.
>> >
>> > Yes, perhaps this is why some use meditation or sensory deprivation as
>> a path to bring about such an experience of the kind you
>> > allude to.
>> That would be my theory.
>> >       > If we accept this premise, then the question is somewhat
>> simplified. What are the desirous states of consciousness that
>> >       we seek?
>> >
>> >       Yes, and how (if at all?) can these states be induced in a human
>> being
>> >       in a reliable way, to enrich that persons life?
>> >
>> > I can't speak to the reliability, but these are often mentioned:
>> >  *  Stroke and Traumatic Brain Injury
>> >  *  Transcranial Stimulation
>> >  *  Meditation
>> >  *  Sensory Deprivation
>> >  *  Fasting
>> >  *  Psychedelics / Entheogens
>> >  *  Thought
>> >  *  Koans
>> >  *  Action
>> Good list! I would add spontaneous enlightement as well, although very
>> rare. I also wonder if near-death experiences would add anything to
>> this? But I guess that is to be found under stroke/traumatic brain
>> injry.
>> In terms of meditation I would add the distinction:
>> * Cataphatic (imaging God, imagination or words) – e.g., The Spiritual
>>    Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich, Francis of
>>    Assisi; and
>> * Apophatic (imageless, stillness, and wordlessness) – inspired by the
>>    writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, which forms the basis of
>>    Eastern Orthodox mysticism and hesychasm, and became influential in
>>    western Catholic mysticism from the 12th century AD onward, as in The
>>    Cloud of Unknowing and Meister Eckhart.[69]
>> Urban T. Holmes III categorized mystical theology in terms of whether it
>> focuses on illuminating the mind, which Holmes refers to as speculative
>> practice, or the heart/emotions, which he calls affective practice.
>> Combining the speculative/affective scale with the apophatic/cataphatic
>> scale allows for a range of categories:[70]
>>      Rationalism = Cataphatic and speculative
>>      Pietism = Cataphatic and affective
>>      Encratism = Apophatic and speculative
>>      Quietism = Apophatic and affective
>> When it comes to psychedelics, what I wonder about is how exact the
>> mapping of compound to effect is?
>> I heard that some people get hooked on the mystical experience and come
>> back to psychedelics again and again and that in turn makes me wonder
>> about how healthy that behaviour is, vs a more "natural" way to achieve
>> the experience.
>> >       I agree. For me, essential meaning is a deel personal question. I
>> do
>> >       however believe that the process of finding or reaching this
>> state can
>> >       be fed by philosophy and science. I think that exploring theories
>> beyond
>> >       our world could lead one to make the necessary connections in the
>> brain,
>> >       that inspires one to deeper meaning.
>> >
>> >       So yes, it is deeply subjective, yet I think that actions and
>> thoughts
>> >       can influence the process so it is not completely devoid of
>> tangible
>> >       starting points.
>> >
>> > I do think certain thought patterns/ideas can help bring about the
>> experience. For example, meditating deeply on the question of how
>> > one came to exist. Or even watching a movie like "The Prestige" which
>> is about what one experiences when duplicated. I think reading
>> > Arnold Zuboff's arguments in "One self: the logic of experience" can be
>> helpful as well, but all of these can only "bring the horse
>> > to the water", so to speak. It is up to the person to do the drinking.
>> Agreed!
>> >       >       But for me, that is not Meaning with a capital m. All the
>> previous levels in
>> >       >       Maslows pyramid contribute to a good life, but at the top
>> with have the
>> >       >       mystical self-actualization, and I am somewhat attracted
>> to the earth (or
>> >       >       universe) shattering realizations of a union with the
>> universe that the mystics
>> >       >       talk about.
>> >       >
>> >       > Or as variously described as:
>> >       > Moksha
>> >       > Nirvana
>> >       > Enlightenment
>> >
>> >       Yes. But I'm not happy with the religious overtones,
>> >
>> > While these terms are used in various religions, I don't find these
>> particularly religious concepts, rather, they represent the
>> > common mystic teaching, which is almost universal across societies and
>> times (the perennial philosophy). Which I think is what you
>> > allude to as the origin of religion, the fundamental experience itself.
>> True. Well, I guess it is mostly individual. To me, they bring
>> connotations of Hinduism, Buddhism and Zen. But as you say, referring to
>> the same underlying experience.
>> >       and I wonder if it
>> >       is possible to achieve such a state outside of a religious
>> tradition, or
>> >       if the tradition is necessary for achievement of that state?
>> >
>> > I think it's quite possible to experience it outside of a religious
>> tradition.
>> Have you ever heard about it or read a book that discusses that theme?
> I can't say I have read a book about this as a theme, but I have seen
> multiple independent people report their own experience of it, for example:
> "Enlightenment came to me suddenly and unexpectedly one afternoon in March
> when I was walking up to the school notice board to see whether my name was
> on the list for tomorrow’s football game. I was not on the list. And in a
> blinding flash of inner light I saw the answer to both my problems, the
> problem of war and the problem of injustice. The answer was amazingly
> simple. I called it Cosmic Unity. Cosmic Unity said: There is only one of
> us. We are all the same person. I am you and I am Winston Churchill and
> Hitler and Gandhi and everybody. There is no problem of injustice because
> your sufferings are also mine. There will be no problem of war as soon as
> you understand that in killing me you are only killing yourself."
> -- Freeman Dyson <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson> in “*Disturbing
> The Universe
> <https://books.google.com/books/about/Disturbing_the_Universe.html?id=toXgAAAAMAAJ>*”
> (1979)
>> I would be very interested if such a spontaneous experience caused a
>> non-religious person to become religious, or if it somehow detracted
>> from the experience, or what fundamental changes in that persons life
>> resulted from it.
>> Coming from a religious framework might give you some conceptual tools
>> to analyze or deal with the experience. Not having that framework, I
>> wonder if a person creates their own, or if the experience fades to a
>> pleasant memory?
>> I vaguely remember watching a documentary about mycologist Paul Stamets
>> where he talked about a mushroom induced experience, but I don't know if
>> he had any religious upbringing or not.
> This also seems quite common as reported by those who have had near death
> experiences, and the profound effect that has on individuals who experience
> it. There are several youtube channels dedicated to interviewing those who
> have had such experiences.
>> >       I don't know if it is true or not, but wasn't the Buddha agnostic
>> on the
>> >       question of gods?
>> >
>> > It varies a bit depending on which sect of Buddhism you emphasize, but
>> there is, nonetheless, a general agreement that mind is what
>> > is primarily behind everything. Here are some passages that show the
>> spectrum of Buddhist thinking on the question:
>> >
>> > "All the phenomena of existence have mind as their precursor, mind as
>> their supreme leader, and of mind are they made."
>> > -- Gautama Buddha in “The Dhammapada” (c. 500 B.C.)
>> Ahh, perhaps time to whip out the old Dhammapada again? =) Too bad it is
>> in a box in my attic in Sweden, but good old internet to the rescue!
>> > "I am the essence of all phenomena; nothing exists that is not my
>> essence. […] Everything inanimate is my essence. Everything that
>> > lives is my essence. All the habitats and the beings living therein are
>> my essence. Nothing exists that is not my essence because I
>> > am the universal root: there is nothing that is not contained in me.
>> […] All that manifests from my Body, my Voice, and my Mind
>> > springs from my essence, is re-absorbed in it, and is nothing other
>> than my essence."
>> > -- Kulayarāja Tantra 55.1 (c. 850 A.D.)
>> >
>> > Both of these passages place mind at the base of reality. But Tibetan
>> Buddhism describes this "pure and total consciousness" as the
>> > "supreme source" from which everything emanates, and thus you might
>> identify this almost like "God", perhaps more of the flavor of
>> > Atman of Hinduism.
>> >
>> > I think there is much we can learn from the study of old
>> ideas, whatever their source. Rather than trying to rediscover everything
>> > from scratch, people have recorded their thoughts and ideas going back
>> thousands of years, covering many billions of lives.
>> Agreed! In some cases the ancients where quite right in their guesses
>> although they did not have the framework. Then we rediscover it and also
>> discover why and how it connect to everything else. I wonder how much
>> there is left in these ancient traditions that will be confirmed by
>> science?
>> >       Might it be possible to distill those concepts into a more
>> neutral or
>> >       descriptive one, and distill the various techniques of achieving
>> it for
>> >       people to try?
>> >
>> > Probably. But I don't know whether that would be better or worse.
>> We'll probably only know when we actually do try. See point above about
>> people getting addicted to union through psychedelics and keep going
>> back.
>> >       Will that be in any way beneficial and enriching for people, or,
>> would
>> >       it risk people getting addicted to the experience to the
>> detriment of
>> >       "normal" society?
>> >
>> > I think experiments that have looked at giving ordinary people mystical
>> experiences, have generally reported it as a profound
>> > positive impact on their life.
>> I vaguely remember results ranging from nothing, to nice to have, to
>> profound positive impact. But I do not remember any reasoning about why
>> some had profound experiences while other nothing at all. Mental or
>> biological setup? Aptitute? Placebo? Luck?
>> >       > Which I would say, is understanding who you really are.
>> >
>> >       What do we mean when we ask who we are?
>> >
>> > This gets back to our discussion on personal identity.
>> > What experiences are ours. Why was "I" born as this person? Am "I" only
>> this person? Am I the universe experiencing all lives, but
>> > only in a position to know one at a time? etc.
>> > Have you seen The Egg?
>> True! No, haven't seen. Do you have a link?
> I included the link in my original e-mail. Perhaps your email client does
> not show links?
> In any case, here is the URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6fcK_fRYaI
>> >       I don't know if I agree with the definition of absence of pain or
>> not,
>> >       but I do agree that it is a much better definition than
>> "pleasure". Is
>> >       contentment the absence of pain? Or is it more?
>> >
>> > Dictionary.com gives "the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease
>> of mind."
>> > Ease of mind, I would say, is more or less the same as an "absence of
>> pain in the body and of trouble in the soul."
>> Got it.
>> >       > Yes happiness or contentment are good. Epicurus defined it
>> negatively, in terms of absence of pain and suffering, which
>> >       I think is
>> >       > close to the same thing as contentment.
>> >
>> >       Ah, you answered my question above. To me as a non-native english
>> >       speaker, it feels as if there is a difference between contentment
>> and
>> >       absence of pain. I think perhaps the reason could be that I have
>> a worse
>> >       grasp of the nuances of the language, and perhaps, the culture I
>> grew up
>> >       in (swedish)?
>> >
>> > Contentment I think often bears a connotation of "mild happiness".
>> That would match my own feeling when I here contentment. I personally
>> also add a time dimension, where contentment is a longer lasting feeling
>> than joy or happiness, which for me, personally, are more peak
>> experiences.
>> >       Why would I be made happier if I had a way to create (and this is
>> just a
>> >       thought experiment) small, happy consciousnesses without being
>> able to
>> >       improve my own position?
>> >
>> > It's not that you would be made happier by creating more experiences.
>> Rather, it's that all conscious life regards having more
>> > positive experiences as better than fewer conscious experiences.
>> Ah ok, I misunderstood. One more clarifying question, what do you mean
>> when you say more positive experiences vs fewer conscious experiences?
>> You are comparing positive vs conscious but positive is also conscious?
>> > For the same reason that I hope you would see the destruction of Earth
>> as a negative: the continuance of consciousness life on earth
>> > is regarded as a "good thing" because it allows for more conscious
>> experiences to be created.
>> Maybe. A nr of theoretical thought experiments can be made up where the
>> destruction of Earth might actually be a good thing. I also do lean more
>> toward quality than quantity, because if more conscious experiences are
>> created but do end up in suffering, then perhaps it wasn't so good after
>> all? But in order to avoid the utilitarian trap, I prefer to focus on
>> individual meaning instead of groups of additive carriers of meaning and
>> positivity.
>> >       Sounds depressing to me that my life function
>> >       would be to create life, instead of living the life I have.
>> >
>> > That's not your life function, it's a universal value that more
>> experiences are better than fewer ones (when the experiences
>> > themselves are not negative ones). For example, I think anyone not in
>> pain or suffering tends to prefer continued life (for example)
>> How would you say the it is a universal value? I can see how it would be
>> an individual value, but a collective and universal one, I'm not so
>> sure. Imagine that I live on planet A, by myself, and I have a good
>> life. Regardless of is person B on planet B lives and has a good life or
>> not, I'll never know, and I don't think the universe will care much
>> either. I do agree that I'm having a good life, and that's great, and I
>> do agree that person B is having a good life, and that is great too. But
>> person B:s life, on planet B, doesn't really affect the meaning of my
>> life lived in planet A.
>> I think I'm misunderstanding you here.
> When I say it is a universal value, I mean it is a personal value for each
> individual conscious being for themselves (rather than something
> necessarily felt for all others in the universe). So it is universal only
> in the sense that all conscious life forms in the universe share that value.
>> >       Maybe we should focus on quality and not quantity? Maybe there is
>> no
>> >       inherent benefit in just quantity?
>> >
>> > I think some balance is needed. Otherwise we are led to extremes like a
>> single mind having a permanent heroin high, or something like
>> > that. Likewise the value for variety, rather than just quantity or
>> quality.
>> Yes, that is true. Many are the theoretical thought examples which
>> crush most, if not all, ethical theories. ;)
> I came across this recently, which I found interesting. At least, it seems
> like an entirely novel basis for morality/ethics:
> https://philarchive.org/archive/ARNMAW
> Jason
>> Best regards,
>> Daniel
>> >       > The trajectory of life, everywhere and anywhere in the universe
>> will, I think, follow this trajectory. We are, as
>> >       conscious beings,
>> >       > on a course to fill the universe with consciousness for the
>> purposes of realizing as many states of consciousness as
>> >       possible, to
>> >       > eliminate suffering and pain, and promote the creation of
>> positive experiences for all conscience beings.
>> >       > It may make little difference whether it is us or our machine
>> descendents that are in control, for I think all
>> >       conscious beings
>> >       > possess these goals, by virtue of the fact that they are
>> conscious, and will deduce logically that all utility comes
>> >       felt states of
>> >       > consciousness (just as humans have been deducing for centuries).
>> >
>> >       Best regards,
>> >       Daniel
>> >
>> >
>> > Best,
>> >
>> > Jason
>> >
>> >
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