Thursday, February 28, 2013

Gods Who Hunger

Scriptural/Transhumanist Speculations on the Universe Part 5

Of the state of the gods are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Gods who hunger and thirst

The gods hunger and thirst after righteousness. From the temple-centric perspective I don't see much that adds to other verses in these chapters. Gods want to keep the promises they have made, they have the meekness and humility to learn what those promises are, and they hunger and thirst to fulfill the promises. We've already identified this integrity as important. The promise that comes with hungering and thirsting after righteousness is likely significant, but I don't feel like there is a strong constraint on reality I can draw from it. If we identify the Holy Ghost as the witness of truth, then perhaps an intense, ceaseless, primal drive to devour truth can be claimed as a characteristic of the gods. This is an uncomfortable idea for one who would claim that all truth can, at least theoretically, be known in some absolutist sense, so perhaps identifying gods who hunger and thirst eternally--as part of their very being, or state--does tell us something about the cosmos.

Eternal Progression is Eternal Learning

It's time for my first speculative proposal about the cosmos and not just what questions the Beatitudes suggest we should be asking. What can we say about a cosmos where it is a reproductive advantage to hunger and thirst after the sources of truth? If this hungering and thirsting is truly the state of the gods, then it isn't something with an end. If some absolute sum of all truth, or even some absolute understanding of all laws that govern all of the cosmos could be achieved, given enough time and mental capacity, then there would be no need for a god to continue in a state of hungering and thirsting after that as yet unproven (unwitnessed by the Holy Ghost or another testament of truth) truth. This state would not really be the state of the gods, but only a preparatory state. God would not hunger and thirst in this way. Accepting that God does hunger and thirst implies some mind-boggling things about the cosmos. There must be more possible laws governing worlds that can be than any god or group of gods can fully explore and understand. But we can make a claim even stronger than that. Not only is it a cosmos with so many dimensions of complexity that the gods can't comprehend it fully, it is so complex that the gods must continue to learn about what they don't know or they will be eclipsed reproductively. It is not possible to become the fastest reproducing gods in the cosmos by finding a single strategy that works best and then ceasing to experiment. If gods could figure out the best way to reproduce, all possible gods would converge on that method, and they would not need to hunger and thirst after more truth. In fact, hungering and thirsting after more truth--beyond what is needed to run this optimal reproductive scheme--would potentially be a waste of resources that could be better spent on other parts of the scheme, and at best would allow gods who don't hunger and thirst to reproduce equally as quickly as those who continue to hunger and thirst. The cosmos hungering and thirsting gods implies is possibly of infinite dimensional complexity--at least of greater dimensional complexity that the learning capacity of the gods.

If you are having troubles visualizing these dimensions of complexity, or asking yourself how it can be that God can be all powerful or all knowing yet be limited and eternally progressing in knowledge, besides suggesting that you might look into the origins of and alternative definitions of the words omniscient and omnipotent (and even omnipresent), I would refer you to the diagram above for a possible analogy. All of human experience, influence, and knowledge, including the knowledge that we will have and have lost, might be represented by one dimension. Admittedly this is a large dimension, and we can think of it as a line headed out toward infinity. If gods are able to experience or influence a class of things that are beyond any possibility of humanity (in our current state) ever knowing--some examples might be gods possessing some additional sense or living in dimensions of space or time that we do not experience--then gods could appear unlimited (or selectively unlimited) within our single dimension. Even if humanity could partially access this second dimension, the gods could still know, do, or be infinitely more, but this totality would still be limited to two dimensions. If all that was, is, or might be encompasses even one more dimension inaccessible, or only partially accessible, to the gods, then it is fairly trivial to conceive of gods that are infinite and all powerful (relative to current human perception), unchanging (if they have optimized certain traits for reproductive success), and eternally progressing (if there is greater knowledge or other traits that have not yet been or can never be optimized).

I see a couple of weaknesses in my reasoning. The first is theological. I have made a jump equating righteousness with a knowledge of truth. I'm not sure this is justified, but I think it can be argued convincingly that a continued search for truth is part of the keeping of one's covenants. The second is the assumption that the continued search for truth is directly related to reproductive success. It is possible that it is not a direct component to continually increasing reproductive rates. It is possible that it is simply a necessary characteristic to stave off boredom when one lives forever so as to prevent one from existential suicide, or that it serves another purpose I have not imagined. It is possible that the truths sought are not about the laws of the cosmos, but are interpersonal truths that come from ever-expanding relationships, and have nothing to do with learning in the sense that we seek to learn physics or chemistry or math. I think these are both weaknesses that need more exploration, and I'd love to hear my readers' thoughts.

Additional Note: From Who Shall Ascend: "Alma understood that the fruit of the tree of life and the waters of life were both the blessing to the righteous and the product of their own righteousness." I thought this observation was moving. There are indications in reference to metaphors of hungering and thirsting that say this hungering and thirsting will have an end, seemingly never to return. The never to return part seems inconsistent with a God that has made as yet unfulfilled covenants, but I can't dismiss it, yet.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Scriptural/Transhumanist Speculations on the Universe Part 4

Of the state of the gods are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Earthly meekness projected into the heavens

God is meek. This is rather remarkable, and seems to me good reason to throw out a variety of absurd, stereotypical assumptions about God both within and without Mormonism. However, it does lead to some new problems. We clearly can't apply every common definition of meek to the gods. Whatever definition we use must be one that can be applied to the rulers of worlds. Somehow meekness must be possible while also wielding immense power. One way this can be explained was shared by Christ himself when he said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." This meekness is at least a willingness of God to share with us the work that has to be done to become gods ourselves. This isn't a God who says, I'm past that stage, and now it's up to you to sort things out yourselves. Here are the physics and chemistry labs, with all the equipment, supplies, and instruments. You've got brains. Good luck--and by the way, if you blow everything up, including yourselves, you've got only yourselves to blame. I gave you all the tools, it's not my fault if you didn't take the time to figure out how to use them right!

I know this idea of an involved God is a big sticking point, for many, but I believe it is an essential part of understanding the Mormon Transhumanist cosmos. In this cosmos, we aren't talking about a God that does things because they are arbitrarily good, or punishes things because they are arbitrarily evil. We are talking about gods who have arrived at what is good and evil through an evolutionary process, themselves. Good things are the things that lead to cosmic evolutionary success. Evil is what interferes with radical flourishing. This is a fundamental assumption of my exploration which may very well be wrong, but I don't know how to avoid it. So it appears we have a cosmos where gods in later stages have greater reproductive success when they are involved in the lives of their offspring and relatives in earlier stages of godhood. But God must be involved meekly. Somehow the invitation to share a yoke is the most effective way.

I also see an additional way God is meek. He allows that the meek will inherit the earth. I think for years I read that as the meek will get to live on this earth in a future, more perfect state, while the proud aren't going to have a place on it. The problem with that is I can't think of another time we use the word inherit to mean something so passive. When you inherit something, it is yours. It is your responsibility. It is yours to dispose of as you will. In this case, the meek aren't going to inherit the earth because God dies. So God plans to willingly relinquish something he created and ruled over to another group of people. Once again I have to ask, in what kind of cosmos is this advantageous?

Heavenly meekness brought to earth

I've struggled with the temple-centric definition of meekness. In short, the meek are those who keep the covenants they made with God and with their fellow travelers toward godhood. This includes promises made before we entered this mortal stage of existence, and which we cannot remember. It is true for those who have had mystical experiences teaching them what promises they made before this life, and true for those who remain ignorant of them. While I find this view emotionally rewarding and inspiring in my own life to help me find joy in doing good, I find it intellectually difficult. It lends itself to a kind of circular reasoning that implies that what I do is good if I promised it to God, and the only way I can know it is through subjective experience with God, so it's good if God tells me it's good. I have a whole list of problems with this line of reasoning, most of them boiling down to it's so easy to self-deceive and justify harm with it (or even extreme evil). However, there is an element that is very much worth our consideration--God keeps his promises. We can identify many cases in this world where breaking promises leads to various kinds of success. Often it leads to the most success when almost everyone else around you is keeping their promises. This kind of integrity comes up again, and without the code words of the temple history, later in the Sermon on the Mount. How does it lead to radical reproductive success?

Clarification on cosmic reproduction and the nature of God

Throughout this exploration I have used biological terminology to describe the success of the gods. Something the reader should keep in mind is that these terms are not necessarily being used in strict, biological ways. An easy way to err in this exploration is for me to assume I know something about how the gods reproduce. The only assumption I'm making is that they do reproduce (and that individuality of some kind is maintained throughout existence). I also am using the language of Mormonism, and to some extent Christianity at large, in referring to one, male God of this earth even though it is clear that my reasoning most naturally leads to the conclusion of many Gods of this and other earths. I do this intentionally for two reasons, I am writing primarily for a Mormon audience, and it is part of how the scriptures I am using as my foundation are written (the third reason is that it will take me great effort to overcome the thought processes shaped by the language of my youth, and I'm not yet convinced of the need to change certain parts of them). There is a definite anthropocentric, anthropomorphic, and patriarchal viewpoint from which this exploration begins. I have no intention of departing from the anthropocentric. I am unconcerned about the anthropomorphic--I think there are interesting reasons to speculate that some degree of anthropomorphism could be associated with gods, but the actual form of our godly bodies is not very important to this exploration. When I say I believe God has a body of flesh and bone that looks like a mans, I am saying that God's body is at least that. I expect it is much, much more, and that how we perceive God is both literally and figuratively a matter of perspective. As regards the patriarchal viewpoint, I have begun to think this is a cultural artifact of our mortal societies, and that there are hints throughout the scriptures that God is willing to lead us away from patriarchy and its abuses toward a Zion that is of one heart and one mind--not one male heart and one male mind--just as fast as we are willing to go there. Unfortunately, we haven't shown a willingness to move very fast. I suppose that's a draw of Transhumanism for me--there is great optimism that we can change. Even if the majority of us Transhumanist are anti-social male chauvinists who unintentionally project male-centric visions of future bliss onto humanity, most of us don't really want that. We hope that we can develop a more perfect view before that future day arrives.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mourning, Mortality and Mutability

Scriptural/Transhumanist Speculations on the Universe Part 3

Mourning as a sign of empathy and imagination

Of the state of the gods are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted (3 Nephi 12:4)

How does mourning make one like God? Equally importantly, how does mourning make God God? What evolutionary advantage could it give? One answer to that seems obvious to me--a strong sense of empathy is a characteristic of humanity, and it has likely contributed to the vast societal accomplishments of humanity. Mourning is a sign of empathy and imagination. The God of Mormonism is one who weeps at the suffering of His children (Moses 7:28-32) We know of one universe where empathy and imagination engender evolutionary success, so it isn't such a stretch to imagine a cosmos where this same traits are beneficial to flourishing. On the other hand, insects are extremely successful, and many microorganisms are extremely successful, and I am unaware of a highly developed sense of empathy or imagination in them. The importance of mourning has interesting possibilities for constraining our view of the cosmos.

Mourning as an evidence of the mutability of self and of different stages of existence

The temple-centric view of mourning is quite different from, but I don't think exclusive of, my simpler view. As a very brief summary (see Who Shall Ascend pp. 940-4 for a more extensive summary), those who mourn are the dead who await the resurrection. They have knowledge of the limits of their current state, and they look forward to being comforted. The comfort that awaits is an empowerment, not just a pat on the back, a hug, or a kind word. In my understanding of Mormon theology, achieving godhood is an eternal progression, but it is not a continuous progression. Birth into this life is a discontinuous change. Death from this mortality is another discontinuity. There are explicitly mentioned discontinuities previous to this life, and others yet in our future, as well as strong hints of even more. To identify a few that will be familiar to Mormons, we were intelligences and then spirits, we are now mortals, we will be post-mortal spirits, then terrestrial beings, then angels and gods, and these are just the explicitly named stages. In what cosmos is this kind of stepwise progression advantageous? This line of reasoning becomes most fruitful when we examine what we know about this particular stage--the only one about which we, as a group, have anything approaching objectively certain knowledge.

So mourning adds more constraining characteristics--there are evolutionary advantages from empathy and imagination among gods, and from progressing to godhood through discontinuous, sometimes limited stages.

Author's note: While all respectful discussion is welcome, I particularly would like to request comments from anyone who has corrections or clarifications for my Mormon theology, as this is admittedly a Mormon exploration of a Transhumanist cosmos.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Problems Identifying Godly Attributes from Scripture

Scriptural/Transhumanist Speculations on the Universe Part 2

In beginning my explorations of how the attributes of God might inform my understanding of the nature of the universe when combined with an evolutionary perspective of godhood, I immediately encountered a possibly insurmountable obstacle--defining attributes of God. I think I shouldn't have been surprised by this. People have been arguing about what we can know about God for millennia, and the arguments exist within every religion, not just among proponents of different religions or philosophies. Consequently, for this exploration to go forward, I'm going to have to make a lot of decisions. If you care to suggest other interpretations that I overlook, please do, and we can see if they provide further insight.

Here are my first, stumbling attempts to examine the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 3 Nephi 12, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible). I think the evidence is convincing that many parts of this sermon refer back to early (and modern) temple rites, and that specific meanings of phrases can be given within this context (Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, 2009, LeGrand L. Baker and Stephen D. Ricks). Both within and outside of this temple context, I have found the Sermon on the Mount both rich in meaning and ambiguous to the point of inapplicability for drawing any specific conclusions about the nature of reality. I will attempt to illustrate some of that and see if there are any conclusions that remain with some firmness after acknowledging the limits of my understanding.

Attributes that are praised or commanded

  • being poor in spirit (promises reward)
  • mourning (promises reward)
  • meekness (promises reward)
  • hungering and thirsting after righteousness (promises reward)
  • mercy (promises reward)
  • pureness in heart (promises reward)
  • peacemaking (promises reward)
  • being persecuted for righteousness sake (praised)
  • integrity between what we teach and do (counseled)
  • anger (condemned)
  • ridicule of others (condemned)
  • allowing others to remain offended (condemned)
  • reconciliation (commanded)
  • agreeing with our adversaries quickly (commanded)
  • adultery and lusting (condemned)
  • loss of a valuable part of our body is preferable to entertaining some moral failings
  • integrity between communication and deed (reemphasized)
  • not resisting evil (commanded)
  • doing good to and loving those who wrong us (commanded)
  • doing good without acknowledgement (praised)
  • forgiveness of all (commanded)
  • laying up treasures on earth (condemned)
  • laying up treasures in heaven (commanded)
  • dividing your loyalty (condemned)

The Beatitudes

That I should consider the Beatitudes as part of my exploration receives support from the Anchor Bible translation of Matthew. A footnote indicates that Blessed indicated "of the state of the gods" (cited in Who Shall Ascend, pp. 925-6. Subsequent, temple-centric definitions of Beatitudes are my own summaries from this source, pp. 925-75. Discussion regarding definitions is mine). So if one who is poor in spirit is enjoying the state of the gods, this suggests that the gods are poor, or humble, in spirit. The beatitude goes so far as to say that heaven will belong to the the poor in spirit, not that they belong in it. The Book of Mormon makes an interesting addition here: "blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me. . . ." We are blessed to be in the state of the gods if we are humble AND come to God. Now iterate this thought--who does God come to? Could it be that to be a god, God was humble and came to his own God? Is this chain of connectedness a necessary part of godhood? I think it shows up repeatedly in this sermon if we accept an evolutionary view of gods and then try to make sense of various verses. I'll point it out again when I see it.

Since I'm not sure what exactly poor in spirit means. One possible translation is "Those living in uprightness, or 'perfection.'" A chain of reasoning could be followed from this back to claiming that those who do what they covenant to do (here and previous to this life) will become gods, and this integrity between word and deed comes up specifically later, so I won't address it further here. But humility is an idea that is here, and is frequently repeated in the scriptures in various contexts. Gods are humble. In what cosmos is humility an advantageous trait? I'll save this answer for later (when I have one to propose), but here are traits one and two--humility and connectedness to other gods.

That's it for my writing time for today. On to mourning and meekness, next.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Transhumanist Speculation from the Beatitudes, Part 1

I'm not fundamentally interested in proving the existence of God. I recently learned that I've been too strongly influenced by postmodern views of knowledge to feel that it is even possible to prove this kind of truth--we can only approximate truth, and even that claim is suspect and depends on having an agreed upon context. On the other hand, I am interested in becoming a god. I can't think of anything more beautiful or inspiring than the thought of becoming like Christ. In my best moments, I really want to bless all humanity, all humanity yet to be, and all humanity that has ever been. I always think the power and understanding to create worlds would be awesome. Living, learning, and loving forever sound pretty great, too. I've been asking myself what lessons I can learn by combining my faiths. I believe in evolution. If you've read past posts, you might see that I believe in it enough to think it is responsible for the existence of God, and defines some of His most likely characteristics--but this is all based on a debatable set of assumptions. I would like to turn my reasoning around. I would like to start with what I think I know about God, and what I think has been revealed about what it takes to become a god, combine that with my very Mormon belief in naturalistic, evolved gods (not common in Mormonism, but definitely a view constructed from statements made by LDS prophets), and see what it teaches me about what the cosmos is like. I will likely engage in circular reasoning. I will likely digress into sermonizing at times. It might take one blog post or a lifetime of discussion of minutiae. I will probably find that not one of my thoughts is original. With that in mind, you are welcome to join me in my explorations.

My first step is selecting revelations that I consider relevant to the nature of God. I'm not going to include anything that seems likely to apply only to this mortal life, or anything outside of my personal influence to shape. I am thinking I will start with:
  • The beatitudes
  • The two great commandments
  • Doctrine and Covenants 121 on how God has instructed that His power be exercised
  • The Law of  Consecration and descriptions of Zion societies
I'm not sure what order I'll take them in, and I would welcome suggestions of other passages I should consider.

The Mormon Transhumanist Association describes itself as ". . . promot[ing] radical flourishing in creativity and compassion through technology and religion. . . ." Some of us understand this radical flourishing as including immortality and eternal propagation of humanity through creation of new worlds. I believe we are to build Zion. I believe we are to become friends of Christ and gods ourselves. I believe God wants us to flourish radically, and that Christ has taught us many things about what characteristics we must develop in order to achieve this end. These characteristics will not lead to radical flourishing in every conceivable universe. In some universes, nothing we do will lead to flourishing. In others, selfishness or manipulation might lead to the most radical flourishing. In yet others there is nothing you can do to influence anything. But if radical flourishing is what made God God, then God is trying to pass on His success--after all, that is what defines success in evolutionary terms. If we have real knowledge from God about characteristics that entail success, then we also have knowledge of what the cosmos isn't like. Any conception of existence that would make a competing trait optimal can't be the universe God inhabits, or He would cease to be almighty God. As a corollary, where science and religion agree about characteristics needed for radical flourishing, we might do well to pay attention and prioritize their development. If God can cease to be God, I imagine it must be pretty easy for us to miss that trajectory, having never been there to start with.