Hacking the Root Problem

Note: This essay was started during the days following Trump's election. We are now a year into that cancer, and it just keeps growing and metastastizing. I am not writing to contribute to the hand wringing. I've been trying for the past 25 years to communicate one very simple point. I believe it to underlie Trump's election, in the sense that it would have opposed our descent to that level. But I also think that it could have, and still might, offer so much more.

Keith Sewell, www.poppersinversion.org

The fruits of Truth

I will be trying in this essay, as I did in my recent book, to communicate that we have only one really serious problem. One underlying problem that supports and maintains most of the easier ones that we can all see and agree on; even including our vulnerability to being conned by self-aggrandizing charlatans. The 'most' is important here. I will not be pushing a utopia recipe. There is a very relevant line in the original radio broadcast version of Douglass Adams' 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy'. The Infinite Improbability Drive spaceship Heart of Gold has just reentered normal probability space. The crew has stopped morphing into giant mushrooms and pink polygons, and the dulcet voice of the ship's computer comes over the PA system with: 'Standard probability reality has been restored. Any further problems that you now experience should be treated as real, and your own.' I would like to help us towards that position; so not to eliminate our intrinsic problems, but merely the large additional ones that I believe we've been creating. To do this I will need to challenge some very deeply held assumptions. Assumptions that have been foundational to our thinking for as far into the past as we can penetrate, and so may seem too many to be unquestionable. Please try to defer that judgment for a few pages, and allow me a little rope.

The most basic core assumption that I must dispute is that our minds can have direct knowledge of reality. At first glance this seems too obviously correct to warrant further discussion. The sum of 2 and 2 is of course 4, and we can of course see pairs and quads in reality, so the equivalence statement must surely contain direct knowledge. We can likewise see snow, and what color it is; so in what sense can our statement 'snow is white' not be a direct statement of reality? We can even see the assumption to be deeply incorporated into all of our languages; most obviously, in their universal inclusion of an analog for English's 'truth'. We can see that what we have been meaning by 'truth' — to the extent that we have been meaning anything both coherent and non-redundant — is exactly 'the actual state of reality', or 'reality as it is'. So now, and after that mind dump of common sense support for our possession-of-truth assumption, could it possibly be wrong?

I will be trying to show here that it has always been wrong, and that our maintenance of an error at this foundational epistemic[1] level has been our root problem. This essay will be about demonstrating the problem, and then showing how it has been causing our more superficial and generally acknowledged ones. But first, what about the immediate and slam-dunk objection that a species as magnificently successful as ours just couldn't have been propagating such a fundamental error? That whatever we've been doing, it has been working too well to even possibly be wrong.

Let me concede that our assumed possession of 'reality as it is' knowledge has been on-balance adaptive, so far, for beings with minds like ours. But then, and to flesh out those implied caveats: I mean by 'adaptive' only that it has been helping us to maximize our numbers; to the possible detriment, wherever in conflict, of all other aspects of human thriving and quality of life. I mean by 'so far' exactly the ominous implication that that phrase often carries. And I mean by 'beings with minds like ours' that we have been, throughout our cognitive developmental history, thinking primarily from our ancient limbic system brain and mind levels. I will consider the implications of that in just a moment.

First, for an opening look at the case against what we appear to have been meaning by 'truth': We know that all of the most basic units from which we must construct our higher level thoughts and statements, even including those of mathematics, come from our own minds. We can actually watch ourselves creating them. We can see that our languages differ across modern cultures, and have been changing in all of our cultures through time. We know that even our numbers are comparatively recent, and non-universal. None of us had them 8000 years ago, and our remnant Paleolithic cultures are still managing quite well without them. We also know that our minds are able to sample reality through only a few, and relatively narrow, sensory windows. Through our eyes: a small and specific band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Through our ears: a similarly limited band of the physical vibration spectrum. Through our olfactory receptors: a pathetically small range of molecules and with poor resolution by the standards of most other life on our planet. I will grant that we have been able, through science, to enormously extend our senses during the past 300 years. But we can see that for the vast majority of our developmental history all of our incoming data has been, through its selection bias, intrinsically anthropic. Beyond that, and through its processing in our brains, I think that the idea of any of it emerging into our consciousnesses as the actual state of reality becomes even more deeply implausible.

We have become increasingly aware during the past hundred years — and most sharply during the past decade, through the research of Donald Hoffman and his students at UC Irvine[2] — that accurate representation of the world is at best the secondary purpose of the reality models that our brains have been constructing. Their primary purpose is, and has always been, optimum propagation of our genes. Our survival to reproductive age, and our effectiveness in helping a maximum number of our own children to do likewise. At first consideration these two purposes would seem to be at least aligned; a more accurate picture of the world enabling more effective gene propagation. But, as I will now show, this has been largely wishful thinking.

We know that we are only recently — and even now, superficially — rational creatures. Our traditional strong suspicions on this have recently been confirmed through the findings of James MacKillop[3], Ming Hsu[4], and others, which show that most of our brains' important decisions are not even made in the higher and frontal locations where we do our symbolic and conscious thinking[5]. We can now use high resolution EEG and fMRI scanning to actually watch these decisions being made first in our ancient sub-conscious 'limbic system' brain locations[6], and then being passed to our self-conscious rational locations for justification and strategic execution. Jonathan Haidt's analogy[7] of a rider on an elephant — with our modern/rational/self-aware minds as the rider, and our ancient/emotional/sub-conscious minds as the elephant — is apt. The rider can exercise some influence; but wherever the elephant really wants to go, it goes.

Mahout riding an elephant

© Noppadol Wongtrangan | Dreamstime.com

From the above observations — (1) That even the most fundamental divisions that we must use for construction of all of our higher level thoughts and statements are intrinsically anthropic. (2) That optimized gene propagation, rather than accuracy of representation of reality, has always been our main selective driver for development of brains, and thereby minds. (3) That even our modern brains are still doing their dominant 'thinking' from their ancient pre-rational levels — I do not believe that we can any longer maintain with intellectual honesty our ancient 'truth' pretense; that some of our knowledge proposals are qualitatively better than the rest in representing the actual state of reality. But then, perhaps I am maligning truth; using my insistence on this strong/qualitative interpretation to set it up as a straw man. Perhaps maintenance of such a pretense isn't really what we have been using our 'truth' concept for. My problem is that if it isn't, then I can't understand what else we might have been doing. I can find no other non-redundant usage for 'truth'.

Let me show this through a little thought experiment.

We must have initial 'reasons' (in the broadest sense) for embracing as knowledge everything that we do so embrace. If, as an American child, my American father wants to pass me some emotionally attractive but objectively weak proposals — for example, about America being in certain respects the greatest nation in our planet's history — then I will be strongly inclined to believe him. But he can offer such proposals, and I can accept them, without recourse to truth. Children's minds are receptive to damn near anything that their parents earnestly tell them. I can buy my dad's proposals merely from the basis of his authority; his having lived longer and gained more experience of the world than I. And having bought them thus — on the basis of his merely human and so, as we both understand, potentially fallible authority — I can change them whenever more compelling evidence requires me to do so. This is not, analytically, the case if he presents them and I accept them as a qualitatively better kind of knowledge; as, per my implication above, 'the truth'.'

But then what about the opposite (objective) end of our knowledge propagation spectrum? What about proposals that we can directly ground in our on-demand-repeatable physical observations? Don't we need our 'truth' concept for propagation of those? If my dad wants to tell me about gravity, mass, buoyancy, or the inverse square law, then he can simply say 'X (g, m, b, i, or whatever) is observable'. I can argue, but if so then he can physically demonstrate X to me. He can stand with me on the snowfield and say 'Okay Keith, all BS aside, what color can you see it to be?' What we can see (as opposed to what we've been taught, for reasons that I'll come to in a moment) is that our whole knowledge propagation spectrum - from its extreme subjective to its extreme objective ends - really can be maintained without any reference to truth. The thought of doing so may not immediately fire us with enthusiasm, just as the thought of giving up heroin apparently fails to do that for most long-term heroin addicts. But few of us would accept that as a strong argument for remaining addicted.

To clarify this point once more; as the whole remainder of my thesis will rest on it: If I embrace X as knowledge because I've seen it with my own eyes then I can do so elegantly and sufficiently from just that basis; and if because my dad, whom I trust, has passed it to me, then from that basis; and if because I read it in what seemed to me to be an honest and well researched book, then from that basis. Moreover, I can pass any of my proposals to you from exactly this same basis. I can give you my own explicit, merely human, reasons for embracing any X whatsoever. I can do this right up front, as in 'X is observable', or 'X is audible', or 'X is indicated by the preponderance of the evidence', etc.; or I can do it by implication, in saying only 'X', or 'I believe X', but with the understanding between us that I will give you my reasons immediately upon request.

If we can do this, and can see that we have always been able to do it, then for what additional purpose have we been maintaining our 'truth' concept? If we have been maintaining it as an independent and more powerful basis for our propagation of X than 'X is observable', or similar, then I hope that we can now see our pretense of possession of any such basis to have always been absurd. But if we have been maintaining it as anything less than this then I think we can see 'truth' to have always been redundant. We would, in that case, always have had more explicit, honest and informative concepts for our propagation of X. From this understanding our 'truth' concept may indeed have been adaptively and emotionally seductive. It may always have felt great in our minds and on our tongues. But it has also been, at our deepest accessible level, utterly irrational.

With this groundwork in place, let me now return to the three caveats in my concession that our pretense of knowing 'truth' has been adaptive:

1. 'Adaptive' only means that it has been increasing our ability to increase. And there are now — with over 7 billion of us, and still rapidly rising[8] — quite a few who are starting to suspect that both we and the rest of our biosphere might have benefitted from our leveling off at around 2 billion. To sharpen this point: 'Adaptive' carries no implications for individual or social quality of life, or even for our future survival. Evolution doesn't 'care' if most of its products' lives are nasty brutish and short. A terrible and fundamental error that had been rendering life 'a veil of tears' for most of us throughout our developmental history, and that was now pushing us inexorably over a species-dieback cliff, but that had also been facilitating our raising of more offspring, would have been adaptive. [And, as an irresistible aside; it would now be so deeply foundational to our all of our higher level thinking that a person trying to point it out to others would be in the difficult position of a fish trying to point out a problem with the water to other fish].

2. 'So far' does not necessarily mean anything more comforting than in the old joke about the guy who has jumped from a 100 story building and shouts, as he passes the lower floors, that it feels great so far.

3. 'Beings with minds like ours' suggests that we should finally recognize the influence of a more powerful determinant than apparent reality correspondence on our selection of proposals as knowledge. We can now understand that being collectively wrong has in general been more adaptive than being right; provided only that we have been wrong in ways that have been appealing to our dominant limbic system mind levels, and so have been facilitating our formation of large and militarily efficient social groups. Trivially, any five people who are united by their emotionally seductive belief that the universe rotates around their own little planet can kill — and thereby adaptively gain the resources of — a single person who has figured out that it doesn't. To expand on this: Clans, tribes, and eventually even nation-states that have been united by relatively more powerful (socially bonding, hierarchically organizing, militarily optimizing) systems of emotionally appealing nonsense have consistently been able to out compete their in-other-respects-saner neighbors. If — as Jonathan Haidt suggests, and our recent fMRI brain studies strongly support — our 'elephants' have been substantially in charge, then 'adaptive' has been mainly about our creation of the most effective belief systems for uniting elephants. So what if they've been absurd and vastly destructive. They've been working, so we've had to use them.

But of course this can't be the whole story. Better objective knowledge has admittedly also been adaptive. 30,000 years ago better techniques for flint working, tanning/preservation of animal hides and construction of temporary shelters presumably gave some hunter gatherer clans a competitive edge over others. 6,000 years ago better techniques of water management, grain agriculture and animal husbandry allowed some city-states to raise larger armies and thereby defeat and absorb their neighbors. At present our small group of nation states that were most directly impacted by the European Enlightenment, and so assumed an early lead in modern science and technology, are still able to impose their geopolitical wills on the rest. My background position is thus that each of our two competitive bases for acceptance and propagation of proposals as knowledge has been adaptive.

The strange new proposal that I'm trying to communicate here is that we can best understand our entire history of intellectual development to date as a desirable transition from primary dependence on our first basis to — potentially, and if we now so choose — primary dependence on our second. That yes, and of course, we can see our ancient pretense of being able to select and know 'truth' to have always been working. But that we can now understand from our more recently ascendant rational knowledge basis (most simply, our growing edifice of on-demand-repeatable physical observations) that our ancient basis has been maintaining some terrible and unnecessary collateral damage.

To be clear, I am not for exclusively switching from the former to the latter. I think that we have always used both, and always will. I am merely for elimination of the foundation level epistemic error through which we have been maintaining for the former an independent and dominant position. I am for giving up our illusion of possession of the qualitatively better kind of knowledge — 'truth' — from which we have legitimately been able to maintain so many of our emotionally seductive proposals in diametric opposition to reason. I think that our Haidtian elephants will still be able to exercise plenty of influence, even after our rejection of their independent pathway for doing so; and I agree strongly with my old mentor Richard Dawkins about the desirability of our 'unweaving rainbows'. I think that observably, demonstrably, increased objective knowledge also deepens and enriches our emotional and subjective lives. From that realization teaching our children proposals that are emotionally seductive and socially bonding, but that also stand in direct opposition to reason, has been a vast and sustained exercise in shooting ourselves in the feet. Our problem hasn't been too small to be easily grasped. It's been too large. It has been hiding in the plainest of plain sight.

We can now understand that we did not choose our ancient/initial knowledge basis (to recap: gene transmission optimizing emotional appeal). Evolution — which can proceed only from where it is, as in our five fingered hands, and the five 'fingered' flippers of seals and wings of birds — made the choice for us. But my suggestion herein is that we now should — and even more shockingly, that we actually could — finally make our own choice. We could stop kidding ourselves about being primarily rational, and actually become so. We could stop passing rationally absurd proposals to our children as examples of a special and better kind of knowledge, and start telling them instead merely what we believe, from our own intellectually honest reasons for initially embracing those beliefs. I think that this simple change — our explicit abandonment of thinking, speaking and writing about 'truth', thereby forcing us to fall back on our more honestly 'merely human', and so challengeable, knowledge justifications — would immediately start to undermine the worst of our species' ancient and intractable problems. We would finally be able to start talking to each other deeply and honestly, with everything on the table. Not, from my side, with 'everything but my truths', and from your side, 'everything but your truths'. I am certainly not trying to imply that this change will be easy. I am merely struggling to communicate that it has at last become, during about our past 100 years, possible. As my book explains in far greater detail, we now have all of the needed intellectual pieces in place; if we can just find the courage to assemble them and look honestly at the picture that they form.

To jump back to the position of 'What we've been doing must be right, as it has so obviously been adaptive': Many of us have already woken up to the point of no longer really wanting what evolution 'wants'. We do not want to keep obediently ratcheting up our consumer technology, and stress levels, and interdependent complexity of extractive mechanisms for the conversion of ever more our planet's resources into more human beings. And we especially don't want what we can see to be the inevitable end of this road; when the desperate juggler on the tightrope and unicycle finally can't handle that one more tossed up plate and the whole enterprise comes crashing down in a massive species dieback.

Juggler on tightrope

© Art Glazer / Illustration Source

Think this unlikely? Reread Jarred Diamond's 'Collapse', and then take a look at how much more specialized, complex, interdependent and overextended our world's systems for water, food and energy extraction have now become. Take a good look at our rising thermometers and sea levels, and disappearing glaciers and aquifers. Take a look at our acidifying oceans, and dying coral reefs. We've seen what is coming many times on limited and localized scales, and we can see our dangerous propensity for collective denial of such looming catastrophes through our series of burst financial bubbles. They all look great, with only fools and alarmists being able to think otherwise; right up to the moment when their bubbles pop. And then we all stand there blinking at each other like awakening sleepers, trying to figure out how we could possibly have been stupid enough to have ignored all those glaring warning signs. I think that a massive dieback is precisely what evolution, through our 'truth' concept, is now driving us towards. My proposal herein is for our flipping the switch, at our deepest accessible epistemic level, to wrest control of the steering wheel away from evolution. No species in our planet's history has ever achieved this. But if we could now just find the intellectual courage; the final willingness to choose reason over our emotionally seductive but objectively absurd 'truth' illusion and its dependent proposals, we could.

We can see that we are still using 'truth' to pass to our children proposals that stand in direct opposition to their development of reason; and thereby, to their capacities for facing unpalatable facts and reaching agreement on effective solutions. We are maintaining proposals that both we and our children can see to be mutually exclusive, and to be excluded by our entire edifice of physical observation grounded knowledge. So how, from that precedent, can we blame them for declining to see problems like anthropogenic climate change and dangerously increasing social inequality? In general our children don't do what we say; they do what we do. And we have been consistently showing them, for thousands of generations, that desire based rejection of physical observation grounded reason is legitimate. 'Truth' is, most simply, the concept through we have been propagating that legitimacy.

To leave our theoretical basement and move up to some specifics: If our world was created by the Supernatural Being of the Quran then it cannot also have been created by the very different Supernatural Being of the Bible. And its creation by any Supernatural Being fully excludes all of our scientific origin assumptions. We can thereby see ourselves to be, in effect, using 'truth' to sabotage our children's minds. We are using it — from all of our religious, cultural, ethnic and national in-group positions — to pass to our children the specific irrational proposals that will best mold them into effective cogs for the perpetuation of those positions. As already admitted, this has indeed been marvelous for our playing out ever larger and more complex versions of the five earth-centric universe guys being able to adaptively kill and despoil the sun centered solar system guy; but I'm trying to show here that it has been a lot less than marvelous for our development of reason to the point of being able to trust it, and so to the point of being able to follow it even against immediate emotional gratification where the two come into conflict.

The relatively few of us who have already started to develop some reservations about what we've been doing have been trying to bury them in mutual reassurance that it is harmless and/or inevitable; 'an intrinsic part of 'the human condition'', and 'you can't change human nature', and other such convenient evasions. But can we still honestly perpetuate these? In our world of ever more powerfully stimulated consumption, resource depletion and global warming, Trump and Kim Jong Un, Islamic jihad, Breitbart and Antifa, hasn't their price finally become just too steep?

To go ahead and call the spade a spade, we have been requiring our children to develop reason from the mission destructive base assumption of reality itself being irrational. We have not been passing them all of our ancient limbic system seductive stuff as tentative, conditional 'merely human' knowledge. We've been using our illusion of possession of a qualitatively better kind of knowledge ('truth') to pass this stuff to them (all of our stuff about loving paternal sky gods who preferentially favor them and their/our little in-group, and the innate superiority of our ethnic and cultural delineators) as the actual state of reality. As the way that the world damn well is. Reason can now show us that it isn't; that it never has been, and that our pretending it to be has been fabulously destructive.

If even the small percentage of us who would now claim reason as our primary knowledge determinant finally become willing to start 'living out the full meaning of our creed' then we will begin a vast positive change. If we embrace first our repeatable physical observations, and then only such of our ancient and traditionally 'truth' propagated proposals as can still be maintained without truth (so, without direct controversion of our physical observations) then we will start to undermine truth's adaptive but more deeply toxic feedback loop.

To come all the way up to some of our most absurd present 'truth' examples, and so demonstrate my claimed 'direct controversion': We know, through what we can collectively see to be our most powerful and reliable way of knowing, that events like walking on water, and/or turning it into wine, and/or reanimating and flying up into the sky after having been dead for three days, don't happen. Their happening would directly controvert our entire edifice of repeatable physical observation grounded knowledge (science). Yet approximately 25% of our planet's population believes in a supernatural being whose existence is logically predicated on these events having happened. Another 20% believes in a logically exclusive[9] supernatural being whose existence is predicated on angelic dictation to a previously illiterate man in a mountain cave, and a later nocturnal flight on a winged horse to Jerusalem. All of our supernatural authoritarian belief systems — as are still cumulatively being embraced by about 85% of our species — are predicated on the actual occurrence of their founding supernatural events. We cannot, coherently, maintain the systems without the events; as we can see the events to have supplied our sole initial justification for acceptance of the systems. And if we are willing to abandon even coherence then only wishful thinking remains. We will continue to believe most deeply — and yes, admittedly, short term adaptively — whatever the strongest or most charismatic among us can coerce or hoodwink the rest into believing. We will remain as we have always been, rationally crippled and tragically gullible; unable to understand or thereby effectively mitigate any of the ancient brain bugs that our priests and politicians have become so skillful at exploiting. Is that now and still, at this late hour, acceptable?

I think that I can best conclude this essay by appending pieces from two previous ones. I've been suggesting throughout that we can clearly see ourselves to have never really had the independent knowledge basis from which we have been maintaining our ancient limbic system seductive authoritarian belief systems; and so, that we should finally reject both our illusion of possession of that basis and those systems. But many will object to this from one or both of the following: (A) That the systems have been functioning in all of our societies as important motivators for altruism, morality and social cohesion, (B) that merely rational/observable reality is just too harsh for most people to accept. [That many of us are psychologically incapable of living without the comfort and guidance provided by our irrational systems.] I think that both objections are at least substantially addressed by my following two pieces. The first is a long footnote from my book's lead essay; the second is the whole of the book's very brief final essay.

1. (Footnote to Leaving Truth)

The powerful link between reason and morality is captured in the succinct formulation of the golden rule that we now attribute to Mahatma Gandhi: 'Be the change that you would see in the world'. The beauty of this version goes deeper than its brevity. It lies in its inclusion of a rational motive. If we believe - as I do - that an effective majority of us would list substantially the same points as 'changes that we would see in the world', then not to go ahead and implement these immediately in our own behavior seems logically absurd; like beating ourselves over the head with a brick. We can never know how well our immoral behavior (that which hurts others, or other life) will turn out for us. Perhaps it will be detected, and we will be shunned or punished. Or perhaps its prize will turn out to be less sweet than we had hoped. But we can know for certain that it will immediately make the world slightly less 'as we would see it'; and that if many others also do the evil that we are contemplating (As, from our own example, how could we then gainsay them?) it will make it very much less; for us as well as for them.

Reason's choice here is therefore crystal clear. A 'no brainer', if reason in that brain has been allowed to grow straight and strong.

I will try to show in the remainder of these essays that our present choice, if we can finally summon the intellectual courage and faith in both reality and ourselves to be able to grasp it, could be to openly repudiate the supposedly better knowledge basis ('truth') through which we have observably been maintaining our reason-antithetical negative feedback loop (acceptance of absurd proposals as reality <--> reason sabotage). Like our old cartoon character Popeye, we have always had in reason a superb fighter; one who could win. But I will show in these essays that we have been using the feedback loop to keep him sedated and bound, in order to protect so many of our species childhood's emotionally and politically seductive little fairytales. To admit it yet again, the fairytales have been working. They have indeed been comforting us, and uniting us into large cohesive groups that can be controlled with militarily deadly efficiency by our alpha males. But they have also been maintaining vast inequality in all of our societies, keeping our societies effectively at each other's throats, and keeping us too irrational to be able to deal with our now rapidly escalating 'problems of the commons'. Our Haidtian elephants are not going to drag us out of this. Love is not 'all we need'. We are now facing problems that strong and mature reason can solve quite easily, but that our elephants cannot even comprehend. So with the sand running low in our hourglass, and all the constrictions of E. O. Wilson's 'bottleneck'[10] now closing in around us, I must ask in advance from all who will be able to grasp this book's simple but horribly counterintuitive main thesis to help me cut reason's bonds. Help me throw Popeye the can of spinach. Stop thinking, talking and writing about 'truth', and start helping those around you to also flip this foundation level epistemic switch.'

2. Spirituality sans Theism

This very short essay was originally written as an online forum reply to a theist who had posted a variant of their ancient dead horse: 'We humans need religion for our spiritual development.' I recommended the following instead:

First: learn science. Drink as deeply as you can from the lake of all that we now know about how ancient, enormous, complex and beautiful physical reality can be seen — rather than merely imagined — to be.

Now go out alone into nature. To a deserted beach, or the high desert, or a mountaintop. Think about where all of that more-beautiful-than-you-could-ever-have-dreamt-up reality stops, and 'you' start. Think about your defining skin, the top layer of which is dead and continually sloughing off cells. At what point do these cease to be you? Think about your blood, which was water yesterday and will be urine tomorrow. Try to find the clear points of those transitions. Think about the oxygen that you are now absorbing from your inhaled air, and the CO2 that you are exhaling. At what point does the former become you, and the latter cease to be you? As it passes through your nostrils, or into your lungs? As it diffuses into solution across your alveolar membranes? Or perhaps as it enters, in your cells, into the chemical reactions of respiration? Think about your experience of who you are. Are the thoughts, dreams and ideas that define 'you' merely your own? How many of them did you create, and how many will die with you?

Now think about your deepest division. The one that directly supports your experience of self-consciousness. Who maintains that, and for what purpose? Is it reality rejecting you? Is it really, in any coherent sense, external? Or is it merely your own adaptively powerful assumption of a position from which knowledge can be held? And as you get the right answer to this go ahead and let it, and all of the rest of your self-maintained divisions, fall away. Let your consciousness flow out in all directions. Down into your soil, and the teaming life therein. Out into all of your winds and waters, and rocks and ice, and creatures and processes of joy and pain. And if you're in the high desert at night, then on out across your billions of light years, and back through eons of time. Through other life on other worlds, and the births and deaths of solar systems and galaxies. Feel it all. Remember at last, and in your bones, who and what you really are. You won't be able to function in this state. You won't be able to do a damn thing, because with all divisions dismissed the limited little entity that can make decisions, and so 'do things', will no longer exist.

Eventually, prosaic biology will supervene. You'll need to pee or you'll get thirsty or cold. Through one path or another the familiar little game of normal consciousness will reassert itself. But you can carry back into this your memory of the deeper game. You can maintain an awareness of it just beneath and all around you, as you resume your exciting role of being a vulnerable little spark of consciousness in a vast and indifferent universe. You can know both that return to the deeper game is possible, as and when you really need it, and that you will return to it for sure as/when your divisions collapse again in death.

Having even once experienced this, you will be able to see clearly the worth of all of our parochial little theisms. How inadequate they are in relation to the magnificent thing that they presume to represent. And also how irrelevant they are to all that we understand as morality. Compassion, altruism, and reverence for life will now be intrinsic to who you are, rather than needing to be mandated from without by an authoritarian deity. They are in fact an inseparable part of the deeper and stronger game.

My suggestions from inclusion of those two pieces are (A) that reason may be a more powerful motivator for good than can now be easily grasped by people whose minds have been truth-poisoned from birth against it, and (B) that reality as seen through reason's lens may not be quite the frightful monster that our competitive 'truth' based systems have been making it out to be. That these systems have been, in effect, crippling our minds and then supplying crutches. My main suggestion herein is for our cessation of the crippling.

To conclude, I believe that reason and truth are ultimately a zero sum game. That we can clearly see from the former that we have never honestly had the latter. I will concede that our truth illusion may have been inevitable during our species' childhood, but I think that we now have both the rational/intellectual wherewithal[11] and the necessity for growing up fast. We can finally understand truth to have never been more than an illusion; and I don't think that we will be able to emerge as children from the minefield of convergent problems into which it has now lead us. We can understand ourselves to have had, prior to the rise of science, no viable alternative to our emotionally seductive irrational knowledge systems. No large and beautiful edifice of directly observation grounded knowledge within which strong and mature reason could therefore develop, and from which we could then finally challenge and reject at least the most egregious of our irrational systems. But we can see that we do have now, within science, exactly such an alternative. It has already united our Haidtian 'riders', across all of our planet's national cultural and ethnic barriers, to a degree that would be unthinkable for any irrational system. And it has the potential, as has already been shown by those who love it[12], to unite even our 'elephants'. I am therefore suggesting that we can most powerfully accelerate its change in our world by formally rejecting our reason-antithetical independent knowledge basis, 'truth'; and by using this rejection to relaunch our European Enlightenment attack on all of the systems of feel-good authoritarian irrationality for whose propagation we have been maintaining truth.

For more on the nuts and bolts of this (how it could be done, and how spread outwards from our present nucleus of receptive freethinkers and atheists) please visit my website, at www.poppersinversion.org, or read my book, Leaving Truth.


1. I mean by epistemic: 'In consideration of our selection criteria for knowledge'. Or with more precision: 'In consideration of the tests or procedures through which we distinguish the small set of proposals that we accept as knowledge from the infinitely larger set of all coherent proposals'. ^^

2. "Do we see reality as it is?", Donald Hoffman TED talk. ^^

3. Researchers Pinpoint Brain's Decision-Making Network ^^

4. Study links honesty to prefrontal region of the brain. ^^

5. In general, the frontal area of brain's cortex (outer layer). Most particularly, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and lateral frontal pole. ^^

6. In general, our inner and posterior brain structures. Most particularly, an area of the inner cortex called the insula. ^^

7. Introduced in Prof. Haidt's 'The Happiness Hypothesis', then further developed in 'The Righteous Mind'. ^^

8. Before reaching for 'the demographic transition', or admittedly vast mitigation — for this as for so many of our other problems — of educating and empowering women, check our best current population growth projections for Africa. It, alone, now looks set to push our planet's human population rapidly past the 10 billion mark. ^^

9. Both of these, and most of the rest, specifically claim to be The Only One. ^^

10. A central analogy of E. O. Wilson's 'The Future of Life'. Professor Wilson likens our present convergence of potentially reinforcing disaster scenarios (still exponential population growth + climate destabilization + biodiversity loss + exhaustion of non-renewable resources and unsustainable utilization of renewables) to a steadily narrowing bottleneck; in which our options will continue to deteriorate, and we will inevitably pass through a significant dieback period. How significant (how many of us, and how much of the rest of our biosphere will make it through the bottleneck) will depend mainly on the quality and consensus of our decisions during the next couple of decades. In a perhaps more familiar analogy: The frog is now starting to cook in the beaker. It is not 'going to happen soon'. It's happening. But because the cooking is on a time and complexity scale for which evolution has not prepared our minds, most of us just can't see it. If we meekly accept that; if we wait until the process has gone so far as to be undeniable by minds whose deep desire is to deny it then - with the unfortunate 30-year inertial time lag that is also built into the system - we really may not make it out. ^^

11. My book, 'Leaving Truth', provides a lot more background on this. ^^

12. We have had beautiful and passionate science writing for at least as far back as 1839, when Darwin wrote his 'Voyage of the Beagle'. The old stereotype of the emotionally impoverished 'cold hearted' scientist is observably nothing but a consolation illusion for the scientifically illiterate. It quickly dissipates from contact with the writings of Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, Timothy Ferris, Loren Isley, Stephen J. Gould, Carl Safina, E. O. Wilson, Bryan Green, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Caleb Scharf, and dozens more. It has also been directly addressed, and elegantly demolished, by two of Richard Dawkins' books: 'Unweaving The Rainbow', and 'The Greatest Show on Earth'. ^^