Thoughts And Ideas
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Thoughts And Ideas

On Spiritual Revelations and the Likes

An attempt to provide a rudimentary scientific explanation

Willing to sacrifice what is most cherished to us as an imprint of the relentless drive to greatness (Abraham tries to sacrifice Isaac to God)

A rather simplistic representation of human thinking reveals two fundamentally ‘opposed’ modes:

  1. The Focused Mode: essentially the mode that we are in when we are intensely concentrated on something, which reaches its height in Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of the flow.
  2. The Diffused Mode: a more relaxed thinking style related to a set of neural resting states, which reaches its height in creative geniuses, e.g. Einstein’s famous cliche: “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

I contend that the so-called spiritual revelations, which are the cornerstone of every religion, are essentially simply eureka moments of the diffused mode of thinking, which the spiritually inclined individual falsely attributes to divine inspiration.

The Diffused Mode of Thinking

Nietzsche’s stone where the book of books as far as there also ever was a king of kings that is, “Also sprach Zarathustra”, was first conceived.

An instructive analogy to describe these two modes of thinking might be the flashlight metaphor.

The diffused mode of thinking would here be likened to a flashlight that is casting its light very broadly over an area but not strongly in any one part of it. Thus, one has a broad view of every chunk (pieces of information bound together through meaning or use) of knowledge in one’s memory but not deep access to any of it.

We basically tap into it when we aren’t doing any real focused work: walking, lying still on the bed, showering, jogging, and so on.

The focused mode would then be the flashlight whose light is cast very strongly in a single area but very weakly elsewhere. Thus one is able to go deeply into one family of related chunks of memory but sacrifices in this process the grand overview of all.

The idea here is that one learns about the world and its domains in one’s focused mode of thinking and comes up with new ideas in one’s diffused mode of thinking. It goes without saying that the background work that one has to do with one’s focused mode of thinking in order to reach the level capable that the diffused one can return to the child who creates, is truly enormous.

Popular culture would refer to it as the 10.000 hours rule. Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that this is merely a prerequisite and not a mandated consequence. Indeed, as the power-law would have it, only a chosen few are, as a rule, destined to become ripe enough for great, simple ideas to come to them through the diffused mode of thinking.

Like the man said

Knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.

Perhaps the most famous example of the diffused mode of thinking is Archimedes' story. Asked by the king to determine whether the crown was pure gold and having once pondered on the problem he solved it later while taking a bath.

Salvador Dali also made extensive use of his diffused mode of thinking to come up with new ideas for his paintings. His technique was simple: Having already done some ground, focused work, and equipped with a key in his hand, he’d relax in his chair and let his mind roam free. As he’d slip into the unconscious and started to fall asleep, the key would fall from his hand down to the ground and the clatter would wake him up. Thereafter, having taken hold of precious ideas from his diffused mode of thinking, he’d go once again back into focused work.

Darwin and Schopenhauer also knew the benefits of the diffused mode of thinking, with the latter tenaciously clinging to his daily walk even under harsh weather conditions and the former having his famous ‘sandwalk’.

As a matter of fact, this is how any human being who created any new values got their ideas.

Now (and here is where we find the connection to spiritual revelations ) due to the tremendous role of customs in human development as well as their nature, the diffused mode of thinking has almost always been confused with divine inspiration in our species’ long prehistory and history.

When one comes up with (or rather ‘gets a’) new idea in any field of human endeavor whatsoever, it is not one’s own idea. Indeed who would be mad and pretentious enough to break custom? Such defiance would imply the complete annihilation of the community.

No, it is rather, the tribe’s idols and spirits or divine beings who inspired this individual to this or that particular idea: man is a means for divine intervention, and in latter, fairer ages, a vessel so to speak for God’s light in the world.

Indeed, Nietzsche instructs us:

The free human being is immoral because in all things he is determined to depend upon himself and not upon a tradition: in all the original conditions of mankind, ‘evil’ signifies the same as ‘individual’, ‘free’, ‘capricious’, ‘unusual’, ‘unforseen’, ‘incalculable’. … If an action is performed not because tradition commands it but for other motives, it is called immoral. … Tradition demands one observe prescriptions without thinking of oneself as an individual.

This is key: every single piece of human knowledge and value had to exist inside customs and every individual unconditionally obeyed these customs. Violating and infinitely worse, changing customs was tantamount to disaster. Hence every new idea that might come up from the individual had to enter from the divine realm.

Nietzsche continues:

Originally, therefore, everything was custom, and whoever wanted to elevate himself above it had to become lawgiver and medicine man and a kind of demo-god: that is to say, he had to make customs — a dreadful, mortally dangerous thing! … Everywhere that a community, and consequently a morality of custom exists, the idea also predominates that punishment for breaches of custom will fall before all on the community… Every individual action, every individual mode of thought arouses dread; it is impossible to compute what precisely the rarer, choicer, more original spirits in the whole course of history have had to suffer through being felt as evil and dangerous, indeed through feeling themselves to be so.

Finally:

Under the dominion of the morality of custom, originality of every kind has acquired a bad conscience; the sky above the best men is for this reason to this very moment gloomier than it need be.

Hence the default and deeply ingrained instinctual response to what we can now scientifically term as ‘the diffused mode of thinking’ — which milks its host with ground-breaking ideas — was for most of history, to attribute these ideas to the realm of the divine. What is more important, the host themselves thought of these ideas, indeed sincerely believed them, to be divinely inspired. Only in such a way could new ideas enter the stiff, unchanging, and eternal traditions of the community.

The Birth of Religions

Admittedly, monotheistic religions are two or three ladders higher than the above-mentioned customs but the fundamental way of feeling remains the same or more specifically, a slight sublimation of what was described above.

The essential point is, the core idea that inspired every teacher of morals to found a slightly improved and different version of everyday rules to guide their communities and more broadly, their nation, (in other words, a new religion), was a product of their diffused mode of thinking. And that the hosts had to interpret such a way of thinking as being divinely inspired.

Such teachers of morals are simply men of genius like in any other field of human endeavor: provided that 1001 other uncanny conditions are met, and one’s focused mode has labored year after year into one’s specific domain, the diffused mode of thinking, will in due time, give you that simple cornerstone idea that will lay the foundations to a new religion.

So to sum up, these spiritual leaders, being spiritually inclined and having once had their eureka moment at some point in their life interpret such moments as originating in the realm of the divine and this owning to unconscious impulses ingrained very deeply into the human psyche.

Let us now look into some instances of such spiritual revelations.

Zoroaster

Ich lehre euch den Übermensch. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? (Zoroaster on the left from the School of Athens)

Zoroaster, the founder of what is now widely considered the world’s first monotheistic religion, and perhaps most famously credited with the development of the concepts of ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’, had been a priest for at least half of his life when at the age of 30 he experienced his revelation: On the riverbank, he saw Vohu Manah (Good Purpose) who taught him about Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) and five other radiant figures.

He continued to have more revelations until he became aware of the existence of destructive spirits like Angra Mainyu and the ‘opposing’ concepts of Asha (order) and Druj (deception). It didn’t take him much longer to then become a preacher of Asha and create his small ‘book’ of rules, which became a revolutionary idea in human spirituality and especially influenced Abrahamic religions.

Now, while it is easy for us to brush off the inception of this religion and its revelations, due to a superior training in scientific thinking as granted to us simply by being born in such a late time of human civilization, I believe that Zoroaster really did have that encounter with Vohu Manah.

We must remember that in such remote eras of human civilization, indeed of us still being infants in this regard, when a more fragile way of thinking (or rather, fragile poetic thinking), not based on carefully walking in the broad daylight when one’s foot feels strong and secure in the ground but rather walking in misty and dark nooks, interpreting one’s diffused mode of thinking as being divinely inspired, indeed hallucinating as seeing divine, shiny beings, was the rule and not the exception.

Indeed Tesla as deep into our civilization as the 20th century solemnly declared:

My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe, there is core from which we obtain knowledge, strength, and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of the core, but I know that it exists.

Which essentially is just a sublimation of Zoroaster’s divine being. Needless to say, not all individuals are capable of such revelations. They are rather only reserved to those geniuses with abundant imagination and a poetic way of thinking.

Finally, note that the revelations did not come one Monday morning while Zoroaster was studying scriptures, they rather came on the riverbank, i.e. in a set of the neural resting states, the hallmark of the diffused mode of thinking.

More examples

Hong Xiuquan had his religious revelations while convalescing from a mental breakdown. Make no mistake about his importance: The only reason his spiritual teachings didn’t ever take off is due to technical difficulties.

God appeared to Moses on Mount Horeb as a burning bush and commanded him to free his people from slavery and reclaim the land of Canaan.

Again, ‘God’ appears while on a walk in the mountains, typically diffused mode territory. This is then embellished and interpreted accordingly. What is most noteworthy and key here is that, again, the individual himself sincerely and naively falls for these interpretations of their own thinking.

God first talked to the prophet Isaiah while he was walking up and down in his study room.

Jesus appeared to Paul while he was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus, reportedly even striking him temporarily blind.

The angel Gabriel first appeared to Mohammed in a cave, while he was praying or about to.

And to conclude with two interpretations from the world of science, where these interpretations, precisely because they are rather the exception, serve to further betray the tremendous archetypal influence of early human mores on the way how thinking works:

Descartes, a focal figure of philosophical rationalism and a scientist in his own right, claimed that he formulated analytical geometry and the kernel of his philosophy after a ‘divine spirit’ appeared to him in three dreams during a sojourn in a hot room having been previously exposed to the harsh winter cold.

Ramanujan another genius of the highest order in mathematics, confused his diffused mode ideas as being divinely inspired going as far as to declare that an equation was meaningless to him unless it expressed a thought of God.

Incidentally, from this discussion, it follows that spiritual revelations and the founding of new religions must have become statistically very rare — if not to say bordering to the impossible — phenomena in the 21st century, and this is because of the huge cement of scientific thinking in humanity during the latter half of the previous century which will also, perhaps, finally culminate with the advent of the overman in this century.

Thanks for reading.

As always, constructive criticism and discussion of any kind are highly appreciated. Remember what physics teaches us: One’s goal is to be less wrong about everything.

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