The Elephant Sun God
An Icon for the Concept of God
One way to succinctly frame the message of the Unified Theory of Knowledge is via the saying, “Marry the Coin to the Tree in the Garden under God.” The referents here are the iQuad Coin, which is a new framework for the human psyche or soul, the Tree of Knowledge System which is a coherent scientific, naturalistic ontology, the Garden of UTOK, which is a network of ideas that represents wise living, and, finally, there is the Elephant Sun God (ESG). This blog elaborates on what the ESG represents.
Clarifying My Personal Beliefs
Because we are talking about God, the first thing I should do is be clear about my metaphysical, spiritual, and religious commitments. Grounded in UTOK, I consider myself an (a) agnostic; (b) atheistic; (c) syntheist who is oriented toward cultivating a transcendent naturalism. Let me unpack this, so you have a clear sense of what it means. It is relevant because the fastest growing sect in the population are “nones,” meaning that they have no specific religious orientation, and my strong suspicion is that if “nones” knew about UTOK and its transcendent naturalist approach to life, many would sign on.
Let’s start with agnosticism. Agnosticism means to not know, to be uncertain, or to not know if one believes in something or not. For me, being agnostic in this context references my not knowing and having uncertainty about the ultimate essence of the universe, and what might be in it. In other words, I am not a fundamentalist, and I do not claim to know what this is all about at its foundational core. I identify as a scientist, and this stance is very much aligned with the philosophy of science, especially given our current state of knowledge.
As for atheism, I am “a — theistic” with regards to current concrete and literal religious versions of God I have seen. The prefix ‘a’ here means without or not (as in amoral or apolitical) and ‘theism’ means belief in a personal God. Thus, for me, ‘atheism’ literally means I am without a belief in a personal God that cares about me and my struggles, and I do not have a personal relationship with God.
In 2014 I characterized my beliefs just this way in this Psychology Today essay, “Why I am an agnostic atheist.” I became a syntheist via my exposure to the philosopher Alexander Bard, especially the book he co-authored with Jan Söderqvist, Syntheism: Creating God in the Internet Age. As the name suggests, syntheism refers to framing God as something that humanity creates.
Although my views overlap significantly with Bard’s, as is demonstrated in this podcast, there are some important differences in our views. The way I frame syntheism is to state with conviction the following: I believe in the concept of God. This assertion plays on the word belief in two ways. First, it asserts the rather uncontroversial claim that the concept has played a major role in human history. Consider, for example, Aslan’s argument that the concept of God may be central in the generation of human civilizations. Regardless of the veracity of this argument, the more general point is that the concept of God plays a huge role in the lives of the vast majority of people who have lived on this planet.
The second meaning is what differentiates me from the New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. They argue that the concept of God has done much ill, that it inevitably does much ill, and that it is childish or even delusional to believe in God. In contrast, I align more with the view taken by the philosopher Quentin Meillassoux, who argued that “God is a concept far too important to leave to the religious.”
I think it is important to not see this just as a modern twist. In her book, The Case for God (2009), Karen Armstrong argues that, for the ancients, the concept of God did not describe a concrete entity that either exists or does not. Rather, she argues that they thought of God as that which you approach as you engage in artful religious practices that enable a subjective sense of spiritual transcendence, and that we should think about God similarly.
On Being Oriented Toward a Transcendent Naturalism
This brings me to what I mean by being a sacred or transcendent naturalist. I believe that there is only one world, and that it is a world that has evolved naturally. I see myself as a “complexity bubble” that consists of Energy-Information patterns on the planes of Matter-Object, Life-Organism, Mind-Animal, and Culture-Person. When I die my complexity bubble will “pop,” such that I will no longer be living, minded, or self-conscious.
The fact that my complexity bubble that grants me subjective conscious experience and self-conscious awareness of being is nothing short of a miracle. It amazes me that I can be “one” with my soul/psyche, and each day I have moments of awe, wonder, humility, and gratitude. When I consider how most atoms are organized across the universe (i.e., the 99.9999999999999+% that is dead matter), I simply can’t believe that my little baton of Energy-Information has these properties. In short, I am deeply thankful for whatever forces gave rise to my experience of being.
In addition to my love for my soul, I have also had moments of spiritual transcendence, where my center of perceiving the world shifted from my own egoic concerns to the transpersonal domain. That is, I have had states where my felt sense of being transcended myself and grew to include a sense of oneness with the universe. For example, in October into November of 2020, I had one such mode of being that lasted a couple of weeks, such that I felt my existence was a beam of “wisdom energy.” (Here is a podcast on that experience and the concept).
In that state, I was oriented toward something, I felt aligned to something, I felt a part of something, and I was drawn to something larger and better than myself. Something transcendent, something good, true, and beautiful. The omega point of ultimate concern that drew me to be wiser, better, and more loving is the Elephant Sun God (ESG). Or, more accurately, the ESG is the icon I developed for that felt sense of simultaneously being in the world and at one with it.
I developed the concept of the ESG a year or so prior to my transcendent wisdom energy experience. I used to to end an open letter I wrote to humanity back in 2019, as I was experiencing a shift in my worldview and moving from my traditional home in academia into exploring more futuristic visions for how society might evolve and how UTOK might play a role. For reasons I will not get into, having the ESG as an iconic representation for the concept of God played a role in the logic that enabled my psyche to achieve wisdom energy. The short version is that I was toggling back-and-forth between the Big Bang Energy Information as the ultimate substantial source and the concept of God as our ultimate concern, and the result was an “is-ought” fusion of “Bang-God-Soul” in the form of wisdom energy.
The Meaning and the Symbolism of the ESG
With this background on the ESG, let’s break down its basic meaning. First, it is an icon, not an idol. Put differently, there is no magic here and we are not praying to this symbol or submitting to it literally. Consistent with this, I encourage folks to consider what might be an icon for the concept of God that they would feel attached to.
Second, as this background suggests, the icon represents a placeholder for the concept of God as Karen Armstrong defined it. Namely, God is defined as that which you move toward as you experience a subjective state of transcendence. This is how the ESG connects to your soul.
Third, the soul — which I align with your personal psyche — often expands into spirit, which is a higher order perspective on the world. That is, the ESG is “above” the psyche. And to join with it in part means to break free of one’s egoic perspective, join it with other perspectives, and ultimately with all other perspectives, creating a multiplicity-unity dialectic.
Fourth, the icon represents what Paul Tillich called the “ultimate concern”. The ultimate concern transcends us into a passionate, intuitive embrace of the ultimate. To see this, consider what draws you into the purpose of your life and what gives it ultimate meaning. It is the felt sense of what you are “supposed to be doing” or what you are striving toward or your core potential. In this way, the ESG connects to what Corbin called the “divine double”.
Fifth, the icon represents what I sometimes refer to as the “negentropic transcendentals” of goodness, truth, and beauty. I call them negentropic because they relate to the kinds of properties of being in the world that allow for increasing degrees of complexification. To see this, consider how degradation and defamation, the spreading of lies, and acts of evil all are highly entropic; that is, they induce chaos and destruction that undermines flourishing.
With this background in place, we are finally at a place to clarify the actual symbolism of the ESG. The ESG is an amalgamation of three different concepts.
The first basic idea is to frame the sun as God, which is a common concept in many cultures. The ESG is specifically drawn from the Egyptian Sun God Ra, who is generally considered the most important of the Egyptian gods. Ra is the god of the sun, as well as order, the sky, and kings. He represents light, power, and the origins of all things.
The second concept that I am drawing from is Ganesha. Ganesha is a prominent Hindu god, who is often featured with an elephant head. Ganesha is the god of wisdom and the intellect, as well as the god of removal of obstacles and of good fortune. He also represents beginnings and is honored in many festivals of renewal.
The third referent is the elephant in the poem by John Godfrey Saxe of the six blind men who happen upon an elephant, such that each grabs a part and claims to have “seen” the essence. If you look closely in the standard ESG icon, you see that it is an elephant made up of those parts (e.g., the trunk is a snake, the side is a wall, the legs are tree trunks).
This metaphor has significant relevance to me and my work on the unification of psychology. The opening chapter of my first book is titled From Racing Horses to Seeing the Elephant, and it explicates how we can shift our lenses from all the various competing schools of thought in psychology into a metatheoretical lens that allows the key insights to be assimilated and integrated into a coherent whole.
We can consider the ESG icon to be a metamodern symbol. That is, it is simultaneously sincere and ironic, and it is situated to both include and transcend oral-indigenous, traditional, modern and postmodern sensibilities. It is meant to symbolize our embeddedness in nature (i.e., our dependence on the sun and earth and our connection with other living creatures like elephants), and our historical lineage of justification that stretches from traditional societies in the Bronze Age into the Axial Age into modern science and into a postmodern, pluralistic, contextualized view. The metamodern sensibility is coherent, integrated, and pluralistic, which is situated against the current chaotic, fragmented pluralism that characterizes our current knowledge systems.
The ESG is an icon in UTOK that symbolizes a metamodern conception of a God we create that orients us toward the transcendent, as we simultaneously remain grounded in naturalism. It can be viewed from many different angles through many different lenses, but the central essence is a negentropic attractor that resides in the interplay and overlap of the transcendentals (i.e., goodness, truth, and beauty). Placed above the Garden of UTOK, is serves as an orienting beacon for wise living. If we return to the UTOK saying that began this essay, the message is that we need to understand our unique, qualitative souls in relationship to the behaviors in nature mapped by science to obtain right relationship to what is. We also need to cultivate wise living in relation to what ought to be, for ourselves, our families, our groups, and humanity at large, as well as for nature, the planet, and the universe as a whole. In short, we need to marry the Coin to the Tree in the Garden under God.