Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Book of Cosmism: Introduction

(Now that I have taken on the rather challenging task of creating a religion for the next billion years and beyond, I am taking the obvious first step of writing the Book of Cosmism.  Here is the introduction, to give you some idea of the Book's tone and contents.  If I don't lose my religious zeal, I hope to have the Book completed, published and available at Amazon well before our planet becomes an uninhabitable desert due to the runaway greenhouse effect.

Note: now that my mind has become totally consumed by the Cosmism meme, I will probably be posting at my new blog, The Cosmist, for the foreseeable future.  If this idea interests you, please go there and subscribe, or better yet, post your thoughts and help me develop this idea further!)




Dedicated to our incredible, improbable earthly biosphere, by whose striving we have come to know the vastness of the universe.  May we carry your progeny ever outward from our blue cradle and breathe life into the Cosmos.


Introduction:

"Teetering here on the fulcrum of destiny stands our own bemused species. The future of the universe hinges on what we do next. If we take up the sacred fire, and stride forth into space as the torchbearers of Life, this universe will be aborning. If we carry the green fire-brand from star to star, and ignite around each a conflagration of vitality, we can trigger a Universal metamorphosis. Because of us, the barren dusts of a million billion worlds will coil up into the pulsing magic forms of animate matter. Because of us, landscapes of radiation blasted waste, will be miraculously transmuted: slag will become soil, grass will sprout, flowers will bloom, and forests will spring up in once sterile places. Ice, hard as iron, will melt and trickle into pools where starfish, anemones, and seashells dwell — a whole frozen universe will thaw and transmogrify, from howling desolation to blossoming paradise. Dust into Life; the very alchemy of God." –Marshall T. Savage

This book is an attempt to found a cosmic religion for the next billion years and beyond: the religion of Cosmism.  This is not a book of dogma, but a spiritual guidebook to help us find our way in this amazing Cosmos of ten billion trillion suns for as long as we, and it, may last.

I truly believe that the Cosmist perspective I will describe in these pages is necessary for our continued survival and well-being as a species.  For we are living at a critical moment in human history, when mankind is finally emerging from ancestral ignorance into the light of a global scientific civilization.  It is an extremely perilous passage, and the outcome is very much in doubt.  Modernity is beset by powerful forces of religious, tribal, cultural and biological conservatism which threaten to plunge our planet into a new dark age.  If Cosmists do not prevail against these backward-lookers, our species will likely fail its one shot at becoming progenitors of life throughout the Cosmos.  We will face a long descent back to our cradle in the Olduvai, followed by extinction.

We who look to the future with infinite dreams must therefore be strong in our convictions in these perilous times.  I offer this book in hopes of strengthening those convictions and inspiring readers to take up arms in this great holy war for the future of humanity.  I suspect we will know the outcome of this epochal struggle by the end of the current century – perhaps within most of our lifetimes.  The fate of intelligent life on this planet, and perhaps in our entire galaxy and beyond, depends powerfully on what the next few generations of human beings choose to believe about our place in the Cosmos.

My initial inspiration for Cosmism came to me in early 2011, while I was watching an episode of the television series “Cosmos” on YouTube.  The words of the late, great Carl Sagan affected me deeply, and I had what could only be described as a religious revelation.  It suddenly dawned on me, listening to the words of this great and visionary man, that this was the perspective human beings would need to adopt if our civilization was to continue to progress and prosper indefinitely into the future.  In the days and weeks that followed, I took Sagan’s teachings a step further, incorporated ideas of other cosmic visionaries, along with a few of my own, and before long had arrived at Cosmism.

It may be said that Cosmism has a god, a creation myth, prophets and commandments; it contains visions of apocalypse, the millenium, transcendence and ultimate destiny.  Yet for all that, Cosmism has no supernatural element, no appeals to miracles, divine entities, souls, heaven or hell.  Cosmism is a rational religion which will appeal even (or perhaps especially) to the scientific atheist.

In recent centuries our scientific understanding of the universe has expanded far beyond anything imagined by previous civilizations.  Yet somehow our dominant religions remain those of pre-scientific Iron Age tribes whose horizons in space and time were microscopic compared to our own.  The Book of Cosmism is an attempt to bring religion into the modern world by establishing a new cosmic worldview consistent with the awesome scale and scope of our scientific knowledge.  Cosmism aims to be a religion not for this millenium or this planet alone, but for the untold billions of years and trillions of worlds yet to be explored.

Cosmic Wonders and Horrors

I've been feverishly browsing astronomy sites in recent days, my mind in a state of rapture at the endless beauty and strangeness of the Cosmos.  Sometimes I feel like a character in a Lovecraft story, delving into otherworldly realms that threaten my sanity and offer new cosmic wonders and horrors at every turn.

It strikes me that in an age of space telescopes and internet, a new artistic sensibility is dawning.  I'd like to think of astro-photographs like these as the highest form of Cosmist art -- not works of men or gods, but of the source of all creation: the universe.  Surely these images surpass the most sublime and surreal imaginings of our species' greatest artistic geniuses!



The cosmic big brother of the Norway spirals?  No, it's the death spiral of a star!



Some vast extraterrestrial engineering marvel that proves we're not alone?  It's still a mystery, but it's probably just gas and dust around a binary star.



The cosmic Eye of Sauron watching over the universe?  No, it's an angry red galaxy.



The idiot god Azathoth come to doom another galaxy?  No, it's Hanny's Voorwerp!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Our Place in the Universe

Behold, fellow primates of planet Earth, orbiting a yellow dwarf star in the Orion arm of the Milky Way galaxy: our true place in the Cosmos!




Surely this video must fill you with a sense of religious awe! What need have we for puny old myths when we have such astronomical facts?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Spreading the Cosmist Gospel

After my recent announcement of the launch of a new religion for the next astronomical aeon, I was both pleased and dismayed to discover that the idea of Cosmism has been around for a while.  Apparently the computer scientist and Singularitarian Hugo de Garis, as well as a group of early 20th century Russian thinkers, have already used the term for a similar philosophy.

Here is how Wikipedia describes De Garis' Cosmism:

Cosmism is a moral philosophy that favours building or growing strong artificial intelligence and ultimately leaving Earth to the Terrans, who oppose this path for humanity. The first half of the book describes technologies which he believes will make it possible for computers to be billions or trillions of times more intelligent than humans. He predicts that as artificial intelligence improves and becomes progressively more human-like, differing views will begin to emerge regarding how far such research should be allowed to proceed. Cosmists will foresee the massive, truly astronomical potential of substrate-independent cognition, and will therefore advocate unlimited growth in the designated fields, in the hopes that "super intelligent" machines might one day colonise the universe. It is this "cosmic" view of history, in which the fate of one single species, on one single planet, is seen as insignificant next to the fate of the known universe, that gives the Cosmists their name.
De Garis envisions an apocalyptic global war between Cosmists and Terrans to decide the fate of Earth-based life.  De Garis tends to side with the Cosmists, even though they threaten to exterminate humanity, for the same reason I do: it's probably our only way to prevent long-term extinction.

Here is how Wikipedia describes Russian Cosmism:
"Cosmism ... came to be applied to "the poetry of such writers as Mikhail Gerasimov and Vladimir Kirillov...: emotional paeans to physical labor, machines, and the collective of industrial workers ... organized around the image of the universal 'Proletarian,' who strides forth from the earth to conquer planets and stars ... Tsiolkovsky believed that colonizing space would lead to the perfection ofthe human race, with immortality and a carefree existence."

I'm not terribly interested in proletariat revolutions, but apparently the great rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky belonged to the Russian Cosmist school of thought, so that's a pretty good endorsement as far as I'm concerned.

My vision of Cosmism is somewhat different, in that I imagine a universe-worshipping cosmic religion which seeks to know all things about and achieve greater unity with the Cosmos.  This will likely lead to superintelligences colonizing the universe, but that is not the essential tenet.  Even in a Stone Age society there could be Cosmists perhaps somewhat like the builders of Stonehenge or the Mayan astronomer-priests.  Note also that de Garis' Cosmism is entirely fictional; my Cosmism is an attempt to create a real modern religion.

It's interesting to see how the outlines of a future Cosmist-Terran war may already be taking shape in the blogosphere.  Two of my favorite "doomer" blogs, the Archdruid Report and Nature Bats Last, are good examples of proto-Terran thinking.  As a Cosmist evangelist, I have already begun spreading the gospel of Cosmist doom and salvation, as in these two posts: 

(Posted at http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/01/secret-of-herding-cats.html 

I'm a little surprised this was posted; the Archdruid has very little tolerance for posts that question his basic narrative of an inevitable and imminent decline to a new dark age.  John Michael Greer is a strange case; an extremely perceptive and intelligent fellow who favors rolling back the Enlightenment and creating a magical, medieval, Tolkienesque society which never existed and never will.  Oh well, I guess we all live by different myths.  Greer has this bizarre idea that we can get to the Shire without passing through some nightmarish Mad Max world, or maybe he thinks that is a price we must pay to escape the horrors of our technological civilization.  Never mind the fact that billions of people would have to die and suffer in horrific ways to make his fantasy world possible.  To me this is dangerous insanity!)

Well given a choice between a “democratic” long descent into poverty and diminished technology vs. a shiny high tech authoritarian regime, I’m pretty sure the large majority of people are going to choose the latter.  It’s the underlying myths that decide the issue; if you believe technological civilization is the only route to an unlimited future among the stars and have that as your highest aspiration, you will sacrifice almost anything to maintain your civilization. 

The problem is not that our technological civilization is inherently bad, but that it needs a larger cosmic vision beyond global capitalist consumerism to survive.  Such a perspective has been available for many decades, at least since the Apollo project, but it just hasn’t been widely adopted.  Go back and watch Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” or his warnings about the greenhouse effect from decades ago, or read what Fred Hoyle was saying in the 1960’s about our “one shot” at advanced civilization given our rapid exhaustion of planetary resources.  This is the perspective that I favor, rather than accepting a disempowered society with the contracted worldview of previous centuries.

With a cosmic perspective and our scientific knowledge, there is good reason to believe we can solve our resource extraction and environmental problems.  If we must sacrifice a few notions of democracy and freedom inherited from some long-gone 18th century American milieu along the way, then so be it.  The larger myths of cosmic “manifest destiny” are ultimately more powerful than capitalism or even democracy, and seem to me to be the most attractive alternative to a long (or short) descent into a dark age, meaningless consumerism or theocracy. 


Posted at http://guymcpherson.com/2011/01/lessons-on-living/#comment-15216

My friends, there are perhaps ten billion trillion suns in the universe, but we are the only known intelligent life form. Step back a moment from your microcosmic dramas and ponder this fact, then ask yourself if you are so willing to give up on the incredible gift of knowledge modern civilization has given you to return to the ignorance of your cradle in the Olduvai.

Our civilization has given us the knowledge of how hostile is our universe, and how certain is our cosmic doom if we stay here in our earthly cradle. What is ultimately being proposed by the pessimists is a suicide of the most epic proportions, far beyond anything seen in nature. There is no need to appeal to God to see how misguided such a willful disempowerment would be; a simple appeal to rational survival instinct in the face of our cosmic predicament should persuade you that we must keep pushing forward. The fate of intelligent life in the universe may literally be at stake right here, right now!

Well that’s the best I can do folks — if that doesn’t persuade you of the pro-civilization position I guess nothing will. In any case, cheer up! We are a young species and our adventures in the cosmos have just begun. A still more glorious dawn awaits!

http://seanstrange.blogspot.com/2011/01/still-more-glorious-dawn-awaits.html

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cosmism: the Religion of the Future?

My friends, I am inspired!  I have had a vision in recent days, of a religion for the next
billion years and beyond, which I am tentatively calling “Cosmism”.  Cosmism will be a cosmic religion in the ancient tradition of the builders of Stonehenge, Giza and Tikal; a return to the sense of awe and wonder that once inspired men to erect great monuments when they looked up at the sky.  Yet Cosmism will not be based on any kind of supernatural mythology, but on a strictly scientific understanding of our incredibly vast and awe-inspiring universe, and of our future place within it.

My idea comes from a realization that human beings will probably always need some kind of religion to inspire them to great things and to prevent them from succumbing to nihilism. If the religions they have aren’t satisfactory, they will invent new ones. The problem with our ancestral religions is they are myopic, archaic and obviously absurd. Our understanding of the universe has expanded so far beyond the worldviews of Iron Age tribes that it’s incredible to me that their myths still persist. A basic familiarity with modern astronomy, with its world-destroying asteroids, comets, black holes, supernovae and gamma ray bursts will quickly disabuse you of the idea that there is a God who takes a personal interest in our fate. The universe is clearly an incredibly vast and indifferent void. But what of our need for religion?

After meditating on this problem I may have come up with a solution: a new cosmic religion which even (or perhaps especially) a scientific atheist can subscribe to. My inspirations are the great cosmic visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein. The basic idea of Cosmism is that the universe itself is a kind of god, its study is an act of worship, and man is destined to become the ancestor of god-like beings who will spread out to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, harnessing the energy of entire galaxies and bringing life and intelligence to billions of dead worlds.

There are many prophets of Cosmism; here are some quotes from a few of them which capture its spirit:
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity.”  –Albert Einstein
"How is it that hardly any major religion has looked and science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?' Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge." –Carl Sagan
"Teetering here on the fulcrum of destiny stands our own bemused species. The future of the universe hinges on what we do next. If we take up the sacred fire, and stride forth into space as the torchbearers of Life, this universe will be aborning. If we carry the green fire-brand from star to star, and ignite around each a conflagration of vitality, we can trigger a Universal metamorphosis. Because of us, the barren dusts of a million billion worlds will coil up into the pulsing magic forms of animate matter. Because of us, landscapes of radiation blasted waste, will be miraculously transmuted: Slag will become soil, grass will sprout, flowers will bloom, and forests will spring up in once sterile places. Ice, hard as iron, will melt and trickle into pools where starfish, anemones, and seashells dwell — a whole frozen universe will thaw and transmogrify, from howling desolation to blossoming paradise. Dust into Life; the very alchemy of God". –Marshall T. Savage
"One thing seems certain. Our galaxy is now in the brief springtime of its life—a springtime made glorious by such brilliant blue-white stars as Vega and Sirius, and, on a more humble scale, our own Sun. Not until all these have flamed through their incandescent youth, in a few fleeting billions of years, will the real history of the universe begin.

It will be a history illuminated only by the reds and infrareds of dully glowing stars that would be almost invisible to our eyes; yet the sombre hues of that all-but-eternal universe may be full of colour and beauty to whatever strange beings have adapted to it. They will know that before them lie, not the millions of years in which we measure eras of geology, nor the billions of years which span the past lives of the stars, but years to be counted literally in the trillions.

They will have time enough, in those endless aeons, to attempt all things, and to gather all knowledge. They will be like gods, because no gods imagined by our minds have ever possessed the powers they will command. But for all that, they may envy us, basking in the bright afterglow of creation; for we knew the universe when it was young." –Arthur C. Clarke
“The rash assertion that 'God made man in His own image' is ticking like a time bomb at the foundation of many faiths, and as the hierarchy of the universe is disclosed to us, we may have to recognize this chilling truth: if there are any gods whose chief concern is man, they cannot be very important gods.” –Arthur C. Clarke
“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos, in which we float, like a mote of dust, in the morning sky.”  –Carl Sagan
“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. From it we have learned most of what we know. Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting. The ocean calls.” –Carl Sagan

"We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow biological evolution. There is no reason to think that the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation."  –Carl Sagan
"Boiled down to one sentence, my message is the unbounded prodigality of life and the consequent unboundedness of human destiny. As a working hypothesis to explain the riddle of our existence, I propose that our universe is the most interesting of all possible universes, and our fate as human beings is to make it so." –Freeman Dyson
"It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned." –Fred Hoyle

To paint a clearer picture of this religion in practice, imagine a Cosmist “priest” (Cosmologist?  Astronomer?) dressed in a black robe adorned with stars and galaxies, holding a service in a temple called an "Observatory".  Ideally, the service would take place outdoors on a clear night, against a backdrop of the Milky Way.  Astronomical images are shown on a huge screen, and a sermon is read which features interesting scientific developments, facts about the Cosmos and inspirational words from prophets like Clarke and Sagan. Perhaps a clip from "Cosmos" is shown, or videos such as those embedded below.  The "Glorious Dawn" video would be a nice way to begin or end the festivities, with a celebratory sing-along.  Members of the congregation might come up to the front to take part in some kind of ritual, such as entering a mock spaceship that symbolically takes them to the stars.  Maybe the best way to describe a Cosmist service would be to imagine a mass, a rave and an astronomy lecture combined into one awesome cosmic-religious experience!











Maybe a religion like Cosmism already exists, I don’t know.  The Singularitarianism of Ray Kurzweil has some similarities to what I am proposing, but seems mostly concerned with an approaching singularity driven by transhumanist technology and superhuman artificial intelligence.  Cosmism is more interested in what happens after such a singularity.  If we really are fast approaching a point of human obsolescence and technological transcendence, I would hope that the superior beings who come after us will adopt a belief system similar to Cosmism, which inspires them to some unimaginable, god-like future among the ten billion trillion suns of our universe.

In a world ravaged by archaic holy wars and ideological battles for the hearts and minds of men, isn’t it time the scientifically informed became more poetic and prophetic?  Rather than simply saying “no” to all gods and religions like the New Atheists do, wouldn’t their cause be better served by putting forth a positive vision which can inspire humanity to far greater heights than those imagined by the adherents of the absurdly provincial ancestral religions?  Isn't it time we embraced Einstein's "cosmic religion"?

(Note: I am just some crazy blogger with a lot of wacky ideas; I have few resources other than my imagination.  But I am quite serious about launching the religion of Cosmism.  If anyone reading this shares my passion and has resources or skills that could be helpful in this cause, please contact me and let's see what we can create!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Still More Glorious Dawn Awaits


The sky calls to us
If we do not destroy ourselves
We will one day
Venture to the stars
A still more glorious dawn awaits
Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise
A morning filled with 400 billion suns
The rising of the Milky Way

Upon reflection, I think the primary reason our current cultural and political milieu fills me with so much pessimism is its almost total lack of a cosmic vision.  It still begins and ends with nations, tribes and absurdly myopic myths rooted in Iron Age cultures that knew nothing of the true vastness of our universe.  At best it offers a tepid globalism that attempts to place commerce and economics on an altar as our species' highest source of inspiration.  Where are the great men of vision today who offer more than this the Carl Sagans and Arthur C. Clarkes who imagine an unlimited future among the stars?  Where are the builders of our Cosmic Culture?

How slowly we progress as a species!  When I read the words of visionary writers from seven or eight decades ago like Lovecraft, Stapledon, Asimov and Clarke, I am struck by how little the awesome scale of modern scientific thinking has yet penetrated the public imagination or affected our prevailing myths.  True, we have had Star Trek, 2001, Apollo and Cosmos in the intervening years.  But those too are decades old, while today we seem more mired than ever in our myriad terrestrial dramas.  

Where is the cosmic-religious dimension to modern life?  Certainly the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Mayans incorporated their celestial truths more directly into their daily lives than do we in the 21st century.  Are the heavens to be nothing but a hazy ceiling over our earthly metropolises, unseen and forgotten by the busy citizens below?  Are they to be reduced to mere bits in the databases of our information society?  Even as the boundaries of the known universe continue to expand, are we content to retreat ever further into microcosmic virtual worlds of pure fantasy?  Meanwhile, in the world outside, our planet faces unprecedented perils of our own making, and the cosmic doomsday clock continues to count down.  Surely we must do better than this!

But can we do better?  Has the truth about our perilous position in the cosmos become too immense and too frightful for us to face?  Are our minds, evolved to meet the microcosmic exigencies of survival upon the African plain, too small and too weak to embrace the stark macrocosmic truths that our sciences have so recently gleaned?  Are we doomed to flee, as in Lovecraft’s famous prophecy, into the peace and safety of a new dark age?
"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

Is there a plausible alternative to such a bleak vision?  Is there anything we humans can hope to do that is significant on the unimaginably vast scale of the cosmos?  Is there any reason at all for optimism toward the human enterprise?

Perhaps not for the foreseeable future, but what of our distant, post-human descendants – beings who might exceed us in intelligence and power as we exceed the cockroach or the protozoa?  Might they be capable of traversing intergalactic space and bending the universe to their wills like gods?  Might they harness the energy of entire galaxies, bring life and intelligence to billions of dead worlds, and explore the outermost limits of accessible reality?

If we accept this as a possibility – and our current scientific understanding does not preclude it – then the answer to my first question is an emphatic yes!  For if we are to be the ancestors of future demigods, we must first survive.  We must avoid both the self-destruction which looms ever closer on the horizon, and the cosmic annihilation which doomed so many species before us.  An asteroid might do to us what was done to the dinosaurs, or a gamma ray burst might incinerate us at any moment without warning.  In a billion years the Earth is expected to become an uninhabitable desert due to the warming sun; our galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy in 3 to 5 billion years, with presumably catastrophic consequences; a black hole might swallow us up before that.  The only hope for long-term survival in such a hostile universe lies in interstellar space, in propagating intelligent life across the galaxy and beyond. 

But we might have only one shot at achieving this as explained by the visionary astrophysicist Fred Hoyle in 1964:
"We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites [necessary for maintaining a high-level civilization] so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only."
As we begin to exhaust many of these physical prerequisites, and run up against the environmental consequences of consuming them so rapidly, it seems that the stakes of our civilization's global gamble couldn't be higher.  The fate of intelligent life in the universe may literally be at stake right here, right now!  Fortunately, a rational analysis of the problems suggests that there are solutions to our resource extraction challenges if we have the will to do what is necessary. 

What's more, the extraterrestrial environment is so hostile that to leave Earth in a serious way will probably require us to move beyond our primate physiologies into more flexible transhuman forms.  This means genetic modification, or some kind of instantiation into cybernetic bodies; it also means that all the old anthropocentric assumptions will have to be discarded, and along with them the religious and humanistic values that viewed man as a being created in the image of God or as the measure of all things.  

This, therefore, must be the starting point of any new myths we create: an understanding of both the vastness of the cosmic ocean and of the urgent need to expand our civilization into its waters, even if it means abandoning our very humanity.  I find such a perspective as inspiring as it is humbling and terrifying, and believe it must be adopted species-wide if we are to avoid being snuffed out soon in our earthly cradle.  I also believe humanity is ready for this cosmic vision ready to leave behind its tired old ancestral myths and move beyond our terrestrial birthplace like an insect shedding its imago.  For despite my frequent pessimism, I choose to believe, like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, that a still more glorious dawn awaits us!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean

If you have never seen the incredible series Cosmos, or like me, watched it many years ago but have forgotten its magic, I encourage you to watch it again on YouTube. If a new dark age should descend upon us and our Alexandrias once again burn, we can remember Cosmos as one of the high points of our civilization. I don't know about you, but for me this show is a religious experience, and the words of the late, great Carl Sagan bring tears to my eyes...
"We have a choice: we can enhance life and come to know the universe that made us, or we can squander our 15 billion-year heritage in meaningless self-destruction. What happens in the first second of the next cosmic year depends on what we do, here and now, with our intelligence and our knowledge of the cosmos."












Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dispatches from the Void

My mind is currently infected by the lethal mental virus of Cosmicism, which is perhaps the most bracing form of nihilism in existence.  I sometimes think I could stare into the unimaginably vast abyss that is our universe all day long without flinching, though the effort might rob me of my sanity.  While my mind is still relatively intact, I will continue to make periodic dispatches from the Void such as these:


Posted at http://exiledonline.com/mark-ames-rants-on-msnbcs-the-dylan-ratigan-show-beware-of-dr-von-hayeks-austerity-snake-oil/comment-page-1/#comment-26931:

As a nihilist, I love the Exiled and Mark Ames and am pleased to see his rather cadaverous face on my TV screen.  Ames is living proof that the truth is toxic; he is like a character out of an H. P. Lovecraft story, always on the verge of losing his sanity, a man who has gazed into the abyss too long to remain publicly respectable.  I would like to see Mark do something really spectacular as a fitting climax to his life’s work, some Scanners-style head explosion or Omen III shotgun suicide on live TV.  Think seriously about it Ames; this MSNBC gig could be your route to dark sainthood and immortality.


Posted at http://secretsun.blogspot.com/2011/01/year-of-thinking-magically-results.html:

Speaking for myself, 2010 was “the year of thinking magically” and 2011 will be “the year of thinking cosmically”.  As interesting as people like Alan Moore, Philip K. Dick and Carl Jung are, I’ve become more and more convinced that the real prophet of our age is H. P. Lovecraft.  His cosmic truth is so challenging, so stark and so mind-blowing that few are even willing to go there.  The vast majority of us would rather believe in the consolation of gods or magic than confront the awesome void that our universe appears to be, and the possibility that truth is toxic to the human mind.

I totally sympathize with this reluctance; I think the magic of people like Moore is basically an attempt to fill this void with artistic creation, but it doesn’t change the underlying emptiness.  Lao-Tzu arrived at similar conclusions twenty-five hundred years ago, and perhaps with China’s rise we will see a greater acceptance of this profound view of reality after the rather horrific detour the Abrahamic faiths have taken us on.


Posted at http://www.realitysandwich.com/wade_davis_altered_states#comment-103792:

For [Cosmic Void]’s sake, no more attacks on the “myopic Western mind”!  This web site and nearly everyone writing here are products of the West, so please let’s not be delusional!  The West gave us every one of your favorite psychedelic prophets, not the East, Islam or any other culture you can name.  There is nothing myopic about a culture that has expanded human horizons beyond all others with our science and technology!

My other problem with these “Reality Sandwich” narratives is they seem to suggest, not unlike the Christians and the Muslims, that there is a higher truth that only an initiated few are privy to.  Yet this truth is never named or demonstrated, it is only hinted at in vague, rather meaningless language.  Until something more convincing than “I took ayahuasca, I vomited and shit and something weird happened in my head” is offered, I remain radically skeptical.

The default cosmic truth is that we inhabit a universe of unimaginable vastness, that everything we value will soon perish by entropy, and there are no gods to save any of it.  Truly, the Cosmicism of Lovecraft and the Cosmology of Hawking are far stranger and more mind-blowing than any drug-addled claim of an Amazonian Shaman or a California hippie.  I don’t say all this to be intentionally offensive, but to simply call bullshit on much of what passes for profundity here.  From my perspective it is all very microscopic and delusional.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Purpose of Life, Take Two!

OK I think I’ve finally arrived at the ultimate, irrefutable philosophy of life, the universe and everything.  This one supercedes my previous purpose of life, which was a nice try but, I think, an epic fail.  You might want to stop reading now if you have a weak mind or a tenuous grip on your sanity.

First, the bad news: the human species will eventually go extinct like any other, earth’s biosphere will perish, our sun will burn out, our galaxy will collide with another one or be swallowed by a super-massive black hole, the universe will end in heat death, and there are no gods to save any of it.  Our consciousness and all our creations are doomed by entropy to perish before long.  Human life is therefore utterly absurd, insignificant and without purpose.

Now for the good news: life is absurd! Do what thou wilt! There is no hell awaiting you, and there are absolutely no limits to what you can do except whatever inviolable laws of the universe may exist! Even reason is just another false god you can reject if you want to. Be a madman, a muslim, a christian, a Cthulhu cultist, a nihilist, a sinner or a saint; practice a different religion every day of the week, or none at all – it doesn’t matter, because the universe just doesn’t care!

OK, that’s a wrap! Unless I missed something, I think we can safely abolish all religion and philosophy from this moment onward – problem solved. Weeeeeeeee!!


Note: after a lifetime of studying these matters and finding no answers, I went back and reread H.P. Lovecraft recently and it all clicked. Basically I've restated Cosmicism, which is a philosophy he invented. It's not the same as standard atheism, because most atheists (like Richard Dawkins and friends) worship at the altar of rationality, and seem to have inflated ideas of humanity's importance. Cosmicism has no such illusions, and recognizes our total insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things – including our rational minds – as the central fact of our existence.

As a practical matter, the problem with Cosmicism is that it tends to drive people insane; they may start behaving like the cultists in Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu":
"That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom."
Cosmicism is obviously not a philosophy for the faint of heart or mind, having zero evolutionary utility or consolation value, but it should be quite a fun creed to live by for as long as your puny existence lasts!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Eternal Specter of Fascism


Since I’ve recently been accused of being a fascist (and not for the first time), I did a little self-reflection and concluded that, yes, I probably am that.  And so, I suspect, are you, if you are honest with yourself and possess any degree of self-awareness.  Allow me to explain...

Ever since adolescence I have been acutely aware that our glorious species is, for the most part, a vast troop of self-deluding monkeys who, despite our overgrown neocortexes, are still largely driven by hundred million year old lizard brain impulses.  Perhaps I had an advantage over others in perceiving this fact, in that for medical reasons I did not hit puberty until I was 21 and a junior in collegean age at which I was presumably a bit more self-aware than most adolescents.  During my accelerated transformation from boy to man, the change in consciousness which testosterone triggered in me made my true nature frighteningly clear, and by extension, I understood the frightening nature of all men.

Modern civilizations have created an elaborate apparatus to moderate, harness and control our primal energies, but it remains a rather thin layer atop a dark sea of prehuman imperatives.  Sigmund Freud called this sea the “Id”, which is in a constant battle with the ego and super-ego for cognitive control.  Aldous Huxley pointed out that every human being is both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, owing to our brain’s evolutionary trifurcation into the lower reptilian and limbic complexes and the higher neocortex.  Each of us is in a very real physiological sense a split personality, and our conscious, rational mind is just one of these personalities, scarcely aware of what the other ones are doing.

What does all this have to do with fascism?  Everything!  For what is politics, after all, but an expression of collective human psychology?  Using Huxley’s Jekyll and Hyde model, what we might call “rational liberalism” is essentially the political expression of our cerebral Dr. Jekyll minds.  This part of ourselves finds political expression in the ideals of the Enlightenment, in notions of democracy, equality, the rule of law and progress.  It is the politics of such modern cerebral rationalists as David Brin and Barack Obama.

On the other hand, our reptilian Mr. Hyde minds express themselves politically in war, racism, slavery, xenophobia and genocide – all the old evils that the progressives have been so hard at work trying to eradicate in recent centuries.  The poster child for modern reptilian politics is, of course, Adolph Hitler.  Notice an interesting correlation here: just as our reptilian brains are much older than our cerebral brains, so too are the political institutions of war and tribalism much older than our recent regime of democracy and the rule of law.  Progressive politics, like the cerebral cortex, is a thin layer that sits atop a deep ocean of violent and regressive political instincts.

That this political layer is very thin should be obvious from recent historical examples.  The outbreak of fascism and Nazism in the 1930’s in the heart of Europe – home of the most advanced civilizations in the world at the time – was nothing more than a resurfacing of our reptilian impulses en masse.  War, eugenics, racism and genocide became state policy in many places for a decade or more, giving us a brief glimpse of what Mr. Hyde politics looks like in a 20th century setting.  The results were devastating for everyone involved, but the reptilian fascists were eventually defeated.  The cerebral progressives breathed a huge sigh of relief, then set about creating institutions which would ensure that such an outbreak never again plagued mankind.

What I find both amusing and disturbing is to hear modern progressives trying to dismiss the phenomenon of 20th century fascism with smug moralization or shallow rationalization.  By doing so, they are trivializing what is a very deep and seductive tendency within us all.  Human beings did not get where we are today merely by cooperating with our fellow man for the common good; we are the heirs of a legacy of tribal genocide, conquest and rape that stretches back to the dawn of proto-humanity.  This is who we are, at the deepest psychological level.  When you strip away our liberal conditioning, each of us has an inner fascist looking for any opportunity to break free and start cracking heads with a femur club.  There is no changing this fact, short of re-engineering ourselves chemically or genetically.  In an evolutionary sense it may even be a losing battle, in that the fascist thugs will probably always out-breed the progressive nerds.

Liberals today are therefore engaged in a never ending campaign to contain our fascist impulses via the powerful indoctrination tools of mass media, education and popular culture.  So our world grows ever more artificial and engineered, a Brave New World of electronic soma administered from birth to neuter the beast called man.  But if this Matrix should ever fail as it did in the 1930's and as it is threatening to do today in the face of economic collapse, climate change, peak oil and other Malthusian afflictions – then the fascists who are currently languishing in the prisons of politically correct civilization will take advantage of the chaos to break their chains, and like Tamerlane and Genghis Khan of old, they will rampage across the earth, leaving razed cities, piles of skulls and impregnated women in their wake.
Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.” –Robert E. Howard, Beyond the Black River