Category Archives: Psychology

The Fear of A.I. & The “Human” Condition

There are endless doomsday scenarios that people become obsessed with and frightened by. From global warming to the fear of an apocalyptic artificial intelligence take over. These fears are justifiable, we should be cautious and strive to overcome these potential dangers but should also understand what’s at the heart of these fears.

The latest doomsday scenario is the fear of artificial intelligence. Bill Gates, Steven Hawkings, and Elon Musk have made headlines with their warnings about the dangers of A.I. However, many A.I. experts are in disagreement with this theoretical scenario, which has sparked debate. Mark Zuckerberg entered the debate in disagreement with Musk, believing it to be irresponsible to spread doom and gloom without fully grasping the situation. Musk says Zuckerburg has a limited understanding of A.I. but A.I. experts appear to side with Zuckerberg.

In response to Musk’s warning, Pedro Domingos, a professor at the University of Washington who works on machine learning, has said, “Many of us have tried to educate him and others like him about real vs. imaginary dangers of AI, but apparently none of it has made a dent”.

Gates, Hawkings, Musk, and Zuckerberg are not A.I. experts. Undoubtedly, they are versed in the subject but if people insist on using the appeal to authority fallacy, they should go to the experts on A.I., who have varied perspectives on the matter, none of which are as simplistic as a full-blown A.I. take-over that will “end humanity”. Of course, we should be cautious, but not irresponsibly dramatic.

To be clear, Gates, Hawkings, and Musk are not outright asserting that A.I. will end humanity, they are simply acknowledging the potential dangers of it. Unfortunately, apocalyptic headlines are great click-bait, so people highlight the negative doomsday scenario while forgetting the positive-transformative scenario, which they have all mentioned as well.

Ray Kurzweil, who has an astonishing prediction accuracy of 86%, believes we should not fear artificial intelligence since it will be slowly integrated into our society, in various sectors and competing groups and therefore, no single group or sector would control or become controlled by A.I.

The reality of A.I. is more complicated than people realize. For example, we could see a state ruled with A.I. by choice, rogue A.I. that steals control of an area, A.I. that sides with human interests, and perhaps even civil wars among A.I. The “human” role in this won’t be quite human, either. By the time A.I. is that complex, we’ll have a large variety of bio-enhancements that change our view of what it means to be human in the first place.

These end game fears reveal a misconception we have about ourselves. We perceive ourselves as separate from that which we create and have evolved from but we’re actually the continuation of a bigger process.

If we are separated as commonly perceived, at what point did we become human and at what point did humanity become humanity? The answer is that there was no defining moment at which we became what we are. We weren’t suddenly homo-sapiens, just as we weren’t suddenly Neanderthals, suddenly the basic oceanic life forms that we evolved from, nor the basic compounds that collided with Earth or the stars which those compounds came from. Likewise, the implications of A.I. and the singularity are not suddenly what we’ll become. It’s all a part of the same overarching process and it should not be feared nor thought of as an end to humanity.

As hippie-dippie and new-age as it may sound, we are connected to the cosmos and we are the cosmos. The cosmos created a way to see its reflection, slowly evolving into its own introspection. Just as we were once an oblivious baby, we learned to read and write, to understand our surroundings and it’s not unreasonable to think that the universe is doing the same thing in a more complex way that’s simply more difficult for us to understand.

“Man know thyself; then thou shalt know the Universe and God” — Plato

The struggle that grips us and perhaps the cosmos itself is not the fear of it ever ending but the fear of our own reflection, the complexity, and depth of it all; the struggle of “to be or not to be”. Every day, we wake up and yearn for something more, wishing we could manifest all that we dream of and yet, it would be terrifying to step into a world in which we‘re literally capable of anything, practically destroying what makes it desirable in the first place.

It’s not the “human” condition, it’s the cosmic condition. It’s the struggle and strife of it, the balancing act and introspection of it, that gives life meaning.

“It is precisely the godlike in ourselves that we are ambivalent about, fascinated by and fearful of, motivated to and defensive against. This is one aspect of the basic human predicament, that we are simultaneously worms and gods.” — Abraham Maslow

The Leadership Facade & Initiatory Act

From our favorite sports stars, music idols, to leading politicians, we accept a strange facade; the idea that someone just as fallible as we are has transcended our own capability. By accepting this, we surrender to the facade of leadership and become convinced that only they can do or be something which we cannot. It is, therefore, no wonder that so many accept the path of vicariousness and knowingly accept government ineptitude.

According to anthropologist Ernest Becker, the reason we are willing to surrender and accept the leadership role of another is because we allow ourselves to become seduced by their status since “they do not have the conflicts that we have; we admire their equanimity where we feel shame and humility… the leader wipes out fear and permits everyone to feel omnipotent.”[1]

In Fritz Redl’s perspective on leadership, he believed the importance of leadership was in “the simple fact that it was he who performed the “initiatory act” when no one else had the daring to do it. Redl calls this beautifully the “magic of the initiatory act.” This initiatory act can be anything from swearing to sex or murder.” [2]

The initiatory act can work in many ways. For example, if an employee takes one more sick day off than allowed but isn’t punished then suddenly, several other employees will do the same. The employee commits the initiatory act and thus empowers the other employees to challenge the power dynamic of the employer. After all, what are they going to do, fire them all? On a more positive note, it was once considered impossible to complete a four-minute mile but once it was finally completed, many other runners were suddenly breaking this supposedly impossible task, too. [3]

It would appear that someone committing the initiatory act almost magically makes it possible for others to do the same or allows them to be complacent within the comfort provided through the leadership asserted in the act. For most, the empowerment of the act is mostly superficial and does not confer any tangible power but in some cases, such as the four-minute mile, it does through belief and inspiration. That is, after all, what leaders of our world provide to us, a sense of belief and inspiration in the direction that things are being taken or are promised to be taken.

Understanding this facade of leadership and the initiatory act can be very empowering and enlightening in your personal life. You will find that so often, all it takes is enough bravery to do a particular thing for it to suddenly and almost magically become possible and acceptable. If you learn how to wield the initiatory act in a responsible way then you’ll find yourself the confident and active force in an often insecure and very passive world.

References:

1. Becker, Ernest., The Denial of Death, pg.135

2. Ibid., pg. 135

3. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-four-minute-mile

The Shamanic Jesus of The Gospel of Thomas

“One mind there is, but under it two principles contend.” – Philip K. Dick Tractates Cryptica Scriptura

The process of deciding what constitutes Christian doctrine and what are the remnants of previous traditions was summed up well by Elaine Pagels when she writes in Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, What survived as orthodox Christianity did so by suppressing and forcibly eliminating a lot of other material.”

This can often be revelatory for those who believe that Christianity today exists in the same form as in its first centuries.

This position is also expounded upon by Earl Doherty in his book The Jesus Puzzle and in his argument that a wisdom tradition existed and influenced the development of early Christianity, “…but in conjunction with the Greek Logos concept in the Hellenistic tradition of the period. Indeed, even Jewish personified Wisdom by Paul’s time had been influenced by the Greek Logos, as we can see in the Hellenistic Judaism of Philo and an Alexandrian document about to be examined.” (1.)

The Gospel of Thomas has perplexed scholars and believers alike since its discovery as part of the Nag Hammadi texts in 1945. We also have fragments dating back even earlier coming from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri in Egypt. Arguments have raged as to whether the sayings encompass traditional Christian thought at all, and even Gnostics have expressed doubt when the sayings are included in generalizations as being Gnostic, Christian or Platonic.

Scholars now believe that the original, core sayings were composed somewhere between 40AD and 140 AD which could in effect place them even earlier than the canonical Gospels. Perhaps the truth of the matter can be reconciled for now by the thinking of Robert Van Voorst who believes that although it could have been written down in the 2nd century, the oral tradition on which it is based is much older. (2.)

Of course, this leaves conventional Christianity in somewhat of a bind as The Gospel of Thomas has Jesus making some very unusual statements more in line with Hermetic or alchemical thinking. In fact, some of the sayings from the Gospel of Thomas are positively shamanistic: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

If these sayings attributed to Jesus were from older more ancient traditions then they should encompass a philosophy that was already known and existent at the time. They should reflect esoteric thinking which we now understand to have been part of mystery schools and oral spirituality.

Writing in The Pagan Christ, Tom Harpur describes the tradition as thus, “Many of them were pre-existent, pre-historic, and therefore certainly pre-Christian. They were collections of Egyptian, Hebrew and Gnostic sayings, and therefore cannot stand on their own as evidence that the Jesus of the Gospels ever lived as a man or teacher.”

He goes on to write, “These sayings were all oral teachings in the ancient Mysteries ages before they were written down.” (3.)

So, what can we glean from the Gospel of Thomas that might be construed as older, as shamanic and reflecting the mysticism of the mystery traditions?

Quite a lot, in actual fact.

We can find examples of the holographic nature of reality which shaman describe. We can find descriptions of the Hermetic and alchemical ‘as above, so below’ maxim and we can find specific instruction to go within in order to find the eternal.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that, as Andrew Phillip Smith writes in The Secret History of the Gnostics, “All of the surviving copies of Thomas, in Greek and Coptic, were found in Egypt.” (4.)

Could The Gospel of Thomas incorporate a much earlier alchemical and shamanistic world view which informed the esoteric thinking of ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean region?

After all, the word alchemy comes from the term Al Khem which means ‘Black Earth’ and was the ancient name for Egypt.

One of the most enigmatic sayings from The Gospel of Thomas and a good example of the parallels with the shamanic world view is saying number 22.

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”


They said to him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom.”

Here we have a clear example of a mystery teaching incorporated into Thomas and a saying that links us back to the ancient Pyramid Texts. This notion of the unification of opposites incorporates the ‘great work’ of alchemy and the goal of enlightenment which is the transformation of the self.

Another major and overlooked parallel is described by Jeremy Naydler in Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts when he writes, “Unlike historically more recent, and therefore more familiar, accounts of visionary mystics, the Pyramid Texts do not have a narrative form.” (5.)

This has been one of the frustrations for Christian scholars who struggle to find uniformity in the Gospel of Thomas. Maybe the solution is to forget about linear uniformity altogether and accept that this collection contains sayings from various traditions which, over time, were placed together in order to suit the groups who read them.

When scholars struggle with saying 114 from Thomas and try to overcome its misogynistic appearance perhaps a return to the esoteric and alchemical subtext may untangle the transformative secret of its words.

“Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “See, I am going to attract her to make her male so that she too might become a living spirit that resembles you males. For every female (element) that makes itself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 We can then understand the saying as something that hints at inner polarities coming together and intimations of the same unification as saying 22.

But is there a lineage that can connect such teachings?

Maybe part of the solution lies with the Mandaeans, who claim descent from Seth, son of Adam and as Gerard Russell writes in Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, “…connect the present day with the distant pre-Christian past, the funerary banquet of the Mithraists and the Egyptians, and the teachings of the Manichees.” (6.)

But if we accept, as Jeremy Naydler argues, that The Pyramid Texts were not funerary at all, then the Mandaean ceremonies, which are still secret, may be about something else entirely, where the soul is not transformed after death, but while the person is still living.

This then echoes many of the unification themes in Thomas and provides a link between the shamanism of Egyptian mysticism and a Gnostic sect who trace their origins to the Middle East and ancient Babylon at the time when The Pyramid Texts were written.

In the Pyramid Texts, Osiris must die in order for Horus to be born, but Horus is Osiris in the same way as the female is made male and the two are made one, and the inside like the outside as we read in the Thomas sayings.

As Naydler goes on to say about the Pyramid Texts transformative exegesis, “Only when it is seen that the two gods can also correspond to two different existential phases, or states of consciousness, of one and the same king, is it possible to grasp the potential initiatory significance of their relationship.

Of course, the persecution of various groups and sects meant that many esoteric teachings became lost and fragmented over time. The amalgamation and mistranslations make it difficult to arrive at any certainties. However, as new scholarship is continuing to find, there is a deeply rooted relationship between Gnosticism, Hermeticism and new revelations about Egypt’s shamanic mysticism.

 

“Do not be unaware of me O God,

Know me, for I know you.

Do not be unaware of me, O God.

Of me, it is said: “The transitory one.”

Do not be unaware of me, O Ra.

Know me, for I know you.

Do not be unaware of me, O Ra.

Of me, it is said: “Great One who is destroyed.”

                    Utterance 45. The Pyramid Texts.

 

Jesus said, “Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.”

The Gospel of Thomas. Saying Number 5.

 

This brings uncomfortable reassessments in some instances but it also allows us to believe that something timeless and transformative has been at the root of spiritual traditions around the world.

Sometimes the cultural and ceremonial differences have masked this very truth but sometimes it has been the very exploration of these differences which has uncovered the common shamanic essence.

 

© David Halpin 05/02/2016

 

http://vridar.org/2012/07/23/28-earl-dohertys-response-to-bart-ehrmans-case-against-mythicism-part-28-g-a-wells/

Van Voorst, Robert (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidence. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. p. 189.

The Pagan Christ Tom Harpur P140

The Secret History of the Gnostics Andrew Phillip Smith P.73

Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts Jeremy Naydler P. 311

Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms. Gerard Russell

Resurrecting Medusa

For thousands of years, the symbol of the Medusa was used to represent the power of fear and the knowledge that we can, by approaching our fears in an enlightened state of mind, find a way to overcome them.

However, for a brief time, in the first half of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud seemed to turn an archaic myth on its head, if you’ll excuse the pun, and render its transformative motifs into something far more repressive.

In his poorly argued essay, Medusa’s Head, Freud declared the Medusa to be a symbol of castration. He cites the decapitation of the mythic female figure as a response to a male’s first sight of female genitals and the resulting emasculation anxiety. (1.)

This particular view has been rejected today and in particular by feminist writers and thinkers who, rightly, argue that Freud was reducing the Medusa to a visual construct for men, with no integrity or role in her own right.

Obviously, we can find all kinds of phallic symbolism in the Medusa, from snakes to her power to ‘stiffen’ and this falls into Freud’s obsession with penis-envy. However, Freud himself seems to be unsure of how to prove his own theory, writing in Medusa’s Head that, “In order seriously to substantiate this interpretation it would be necessary to investigate the origin of this isolated symbol of horror in Greek mythology as well as parallels to it in other mythologies.” (2.)

Perhaps Freud’s failing is best summed up by Freudian scholar and Professor of philosophy at Lakehead University, Todd Dufresne when he writes, “… it is psychoanalysis itself that has infected the Western soul with penis envy, oedipal conflicts, death drives and so on. For these ideas are not given to, and cannot be found in, the world. They must be created.” (3.)

When we return to the original myth we discover that the role of the Medusa does not end with her beheading. In fact, it is only through her death that Perseus discovers the gifts hidden within the Gorgon.

This is also what Freud failed to take account of and, perhaps, deliberately overlooked in order to try and substantiate his theory.

So, who is the Medusa and what was her original role? We might be surprised to learn that the Medusa is most likely a Greek version of The Green Man.

The Green Man is a nature deity usually portrayed with vines emerging from his head and this compares well to the Medusa and her snake hair. (4.) (5.) His first incarnation was as Osiris, who was portrayed as being green skinned, just as the Medusa, and was representative of the primal logos. Logos has been mistranslated as meaning word, but in fact, it’s true descriptive is ratio or pattern, linking it more to the Tao rather than the anthropomorphized Christian meaning.

We can now reassess the Greek myth and begin to understand its true lesson.

On the surface, Perseus must find a way to slay something whose direct gaze will turn a person into stone. Immediately, we are given a hint about the archaic, yet well-observed psychology at work in the story. What we are being told is that sometimes a fear is best overcome by guile and an unorthodox approach, rather than a direct confrontation.

The Greek gods can be seen as representations of the mind, and in this context, the gifts they give Perseus are then allegorical, psychological tactics.

These gifts consist of Athena’s mirrored shield, a cloak of invisibility from Hades, winged sandals from Hermes and a sword from Hephaestus.

In archaic symbolism, these represent the same aspects of gnosis and the attributes of mind needed to overcome a fear or blockage in our spiritual progress.

With the mirrored shield Perseus is showing us that we must find a new angle to approach our fear; sometimes face to face confrontation is useless and we must learn to find a new perspective which gives us an advantage we were previously unaware of.

The winged sandals represent the opportunity for lateral thinking: Hermes is the messenger of the higher mind which overlooks all things, so allowing Perseus to take flight means to break from the used paths of before and compliment the perspective of Athena’s shield.

The sword has been a symbol of direct action and force of will in almost every culture and, the god Hephaestus, who made the sword, is often given the epithet Polumetis, which means crafty or shrewd.

Finally, Perseus is given the gift of invisibility. Interestingly, this may be based on the syncretism of Greco-Buddhist philosophies which had begun as far back as the 5th century BC in Hellenistic cultures. (6.)

In this instance, the concept of invisibility is directly related to the prevalent Orphic or Asclepian practice of incubation meditation, where a seeker would remove themselves from all sensory stimulation in order to receive the communication of the gods or higher mind.

All of these gifts represent alternative ways of thinking which can be utilized in order to progress past fear.

In his philosophical work In the Dark Places of Wisdom, Peter Kingsley writes of the secret Pythagorean meditation techniques, saying, “That’s the real reason for the stillness practiced in incubation. It was a method for coming as close as possible to the divine world.” and, “For the stillness itself was something that belonged to the heroes and the gods. (7.)

So, Perseus, representing the self that must grow past its fear, is equipped to overcome the Medusa by utilizing the gods, or higher mind, of which he is a part and which was always the potential of the self.

When Perseus has conquered his fear he has moved onto a new stage in his psychological evolution. This is shown by the two ‘brothers’ who spring forth from the dead Medusa’s body; Pegasus, the winged horse, and Chrysaor, a youth who carries a golden sword.

We see that what is overcome is also transformed: Pegasus and Chrysaor being symbolic of the ability to think from a higher perspective and to discern with a new sharpness.

Of course, these myths are profound not just because they contain psychological wisdom but also the macroscopic, universal wisdom of the ages. By understanding how these myths speak to us, we can see past the literalism and cultural motifs and apply the esoteric lessons and gnosis that they have always contained.

 

David Halpin. © 19/12/2015

 

  1. Sigmund Freud. On Sexuality P311.
  2. Sigmund Freud. Medusa’s Head (Das Medusenhaupt, 1922)
  3. http://articles.latimes.com/2004/feb/18/opinion/oe-dufresne18
  4. The Mythic Forest, the Green Man and the Spirit of Nature: The Re-emergence he Spirit of Nature from Ancient Times into Modern Society. Gary R. Varner (P.129.)
  5. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/picture/2012/jul/25/gorgon-s-head-british-art
  6. Foltz, Religions of the Silk Road, p. 43
  7. Peter Kingsley. In the Dark Places of Wisdom. (P 186.)

Resisting the temptations of inner weakness

Have you ever disagreed with the majority but publicly conformed to the popular opinion regardless? Have you ever given into peer pressure, had sex with someone you shouldn’t have, felt ashamed to own your personal taste, given into emotional vampirism, or wrongly allowed someone to make you feel ashamed or guilty?

If you’ve experienced those things, it’s a consequence of abandoning your integrity. Of course, it happens. We’re fallible beings and those mistakes often teach us the most about ourselves but that’s precisely the point. We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. That’s where integrity makes the difference.

Giving into these temptations of inner weakness are a detriment to the world. People will literally abandon all that is good and true for a sense of self-righteousness or belonging. That’s what the Asch Conformity experiment and the Milgram experiment show us, that people are completely willing to betray their own conscience.

When you have a strong sense of integrity you value yourself enough to remove those unhealthy situations from your life by resisting them. Instead of succumbing to emotional vampirism, you cut it off. Instead of abandoning your beliefs, you stand by them. That’s the power of integrity, which carves the path to personal liberty.

It only takes practice in order to become more comfortable with resisting. Remember the saying, “neurons that fire together wire together” and learn to train your brain to resist inner weakness.

The next time you feel strongly about something, stand by that belief instead of conforming to the majority if they so happen to disagree. If someone tries to guilt trip you, confront them about it and let them know that you’re willing to cut that type of unhealthy negativity out of your life. If you’ve convinced yourself that you’re a sex addict or a drug addict, challenge that belief. Instead of giving into everyone and everything, try to resist it for once. That’s the key. Resist anything that compromises the depths of your character.

The more you practice resisting that weakness and urge to fold under pressure, the better you become at resisting it and establishing a true sense of integrity.

It’s our ability to rise above our own fallibility that makes us special and powerful. That’s the idea. That’s the goal.

 

Internal Wisdom & The Initiatory Act

As a boy, I use to run around the woods surrounding my home. I was exploring, looking under rocks, under fallen trees, and inside of caves. I was searching for something. I didn’t know what it was but I knew in my heart and soul that it was out there and that I would find it. There was a mystical feeling to that search and a yearning that refused to let it die. Hours would pass in those woods and yet, I couldn’t find what it was until later in my life.

As it turns out, the solution was internal and not external. It’s strange, you could spend a lifetime searching on the outside for what’s inside. It’s so typical and instinctual, that we look for validation through external means, which is only a reflection of our internal dilemma.

“A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

Freemasonry helped identify what I was searching for. Freemasonry, like many orders founded on the ancient Mysteries, will show you the door but only you can open it.

If you’ve ever been to the House of the Temple, the headquarters of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in Washington, DC, you may have noticed a throne that says, “Know Thyself.”

SONY DSC
Image Attribution: PheonixMasonry

Freemasonry led me to the understanding that it was myself and my own internal wisdom that I was searching for. That was the answer.

 “Know thyself and thou shalt know the universe and god.” — Pythagoras

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