We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Monday, November 29, 2010

21st Century Spirituality

Spiritual framework that will fill the vacuum of meaning in the Western world should be compatible with psychological diversity of human beings (their brain architecture). Hinduism may provide some insights on bridging the past with pre-singularity world of the future.

Every major socioeconomic transition creates a belief vacuum that is often rapidly filled with grassroots seeking of meaning. Western leaderships are still in the process of formulating a replacement for Christian, communist, nationalist, (and these days neoliberal) belief structures. This means that the following few decades will see a great burst of spiritual experimentation before world's elites successfully overcome their nihilism and agree on something to push from the top down. Until then, ordinary people will have their own parallel struggles with nihilism that go through various conventional attempts of physical escapism, hedonistic escapism, relying on emotional snakeoil salesmen, and escapism through embrace of older fads and norms (imitating the wealthier strugglers by indulging in eastern religions, new age, esoteric traditions, etc).

Something will emerge as dominant due to the sheer necessity of belief for the herd's survival. What complicates the matter is the great cultural and psychological splintering of the world due to mass communication and compartmentalization. Whatever dominant belief structure emerges, it must have both a unifying base for harmonious international/intercultural relations while allowing and enabling for the expression of the great pluralism of the world. Before anybody can say that procedural democratic functioning satisfies all of this, I would say that the belief structure should have a common goal in mind, something to look forward to (the next free and fair election doesn't exactly cut it emotionally). Monetary acquisition also appears rather ineffective against nihilism.

There are a number of grand semi-tangible goals that may step in as the time goes on (singularity, space exploration, world peace, etc). Grand goals are general enough that they don't stifle the seeking of smaller individual goals and don't infringe on the various journeys to get there.

When discussing spirituality and non-organized personal religious world systems, it is important to keep in mind the different emotional needs of various breeds of homo sapiens. (As in previous articles, I will use Myers-Brigg personalities as rough guides to neurologically diverse types of humans.) This automatically hints that although there may be thousands of ways to seek one's own unique spiritual fulfillment, the ways will tend to cluster based on brain architecture among almost 7 billion people. This clustering serves as a general midpoint between infinite ways of seeking and one singular way (which, if it existed, would be expressed spontaneously in a roughly identical organized religious format across the planet).

Working with MBTI typology, we see that the number of spiritual path clusters can range from 4 major vague ones to up to 32 ultra defined ones. Interestingly enough, Maslow's description of self-actualization can provide hints when a certain type of human is on the right spiritual path.

In addition to satisfying a) "what a man can be he must be" 
self-actualizing individuals experience a higher frequency of  

b) "The mystic experience, the oceanic feeling...`peak' experiences or times of intense emotions in which they transcend self. During it, they experience feelings of ecstasy, awe, and wonder with feelings of limitless horizons opening up, feelings of unlimited power and at the same time feelings of being more helpless than ever before. The experience ends with the conviction that something extremely important and valuable has happened so that the person is to some extent transformed and strengthened by the experience that has a carry-over into everyday life."

This definitely sounds like emotional fulfillment typically associated with spiritual experience or awakening. We can conclude that natural abilities of a certain psychological type coming together in a highly pleasurable and empowering way is one of the signs that one is on the right spiritual path. Obviously there may also be an environmental aesthetic triggers such as a certain landscape or a strong sensory overload. The self-actualization trigger however is unique to a specific breed of human and leads to interesting as well as troubling conclusions.

If a naturally aggressive quick reflex human is more likely to get his or her peak/mystic state on the battlefield or the sports arena, then high energy/violent competition becomes a spiritual path. This may strike one as odd considering the popular cultural association of spirituality with calm and gentle INFP/INFJ new agers. But wait there's more. Intuitive thinkers (NTs) may fill the spiritual vacuum from helping along technological progress, intuitive feelers (NFs) from idealism, SFJs from caring for others, and so on. The domineering personality types could thus be on their spiritual emotionally satisfying path when exploiting/commanding fellow human beings.

What emerges is an intuitively common sense yet somewhat unpleasant throwback to the polytheism (or polyspirituality) of the ancients. Certain warlike deities that one wouldn't invite to a dinner party have been a constant throughout every region of the globe. Yet it seems polytheism or polyspirituality are the most compatible with reality of a pluralistic human society. This is in part demonstrated by the great amount of force and time that was necessary to eliminate polytheism in the western world and the remarkable perseverance of polytheism on the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism has survived (although in a very distorted corrupted form) 3 major attacks against it so far:

1) Indian elites becoming Buddhist and pushing it from the top down (a form of psychological therapy for the wealthy who are not fulfilled through hedonistic indulgence).

2) Long term rule by Muslim invaders who otherwise successfully converted large swaths of Eurasian landmass.

3) Long term occupation by Christian Western forces who brought along different materialist economic thought systems as well

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Part of the explanation of this incredible durability is that Hinduism took into account the psychological differences that exist within a population and provided the emotionally satisfying theistic outlets for these differences. Regardless of your personality, you can find a deity right for you. In addition, Hinduism did unify the deities into one harmonious cloth, allowed for addition of new ones, and appears the most compatible with the increasingly popular transhumanist trends in the Western world. Transhumanists and singularitarians are notorious for being excited over the great potential diversity of forms that may be possible in the future.

I am not suggesting that Hinduism should be the cure for the Western world (as it succumbs to nihilism and confusion over the failure of its economic structure). I am saying that it may provide some insights on how to combine the secular goal based singularitarian thinking (a.k.a. rapture for atheists) with an emotionally satisfying framework for physiologically diverse individuals ("we all have an important role to play in bringing about the future by following our own  semi-unique spiritual path"). Even the aggressive and domineering personality types can be made useful on the road to the singularity through compartmentalizing their competitive natures via some socially safe release valve. As people in the West succumb to aimlessness, it is not too late to start thinking about an emotionally fulfilling and innovative bridge from the past to the future (before the rich, spiritual charlatans, or cultural reactionaries provide one for us).

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