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A Non-Spiritual Explanation for Spiritual Experiences

One of my favorite contemporary thinkers is a guy named Jordan Peterson. He’s mostly a psychologist and deals with a lot of work around “Archetypes”. Throughout our human evolution we have noticed characteristic patterns, and group those together into abstract mental images. So like when I say, The Trickster, you intuitively think of a set of characteristics that make up this archetype. Be it lying, stealing, joking around, etc. The evolutionary aspect is very important here. Not only have we evolved to understand archetypes of people but archetypes of events (birth, death, etc), and archetypes of myths, narratives and symbols (resurrection, The Hero’s Journey, lions as a symbol for strength, etc). Deep in out psychology there are “spiritual” symbols and experiences waiting to be tapped into when the moment is right. I don’t mean these things are ideas shared from a god or whatever. They can have purely physical explanations. One example Peterson brings up, is the commonality of symbols in ancient religions all around the world. Both European and South Americans cultures shared the symbol of a tree connecting heaven and earth, with a snake circling around it. Sometimes this included a hell aspect below the tree. The easiest explanation is to consider that most of our evolutionary history was literally that. Our ancestors lived in trees. The heaven of sorts was near the top of the tree. That’s where all the socialization and eating happened. With the ground of the tree being the dangerous place filled with snakes and lions. You can see how generations of animals evolving in these situations would start to develop these archetypal associations. The early animals that survived would have to have had instincts deep down inside them, that made them see the tree as good and the snakes below as risks. Any animal that didn’t would have been bread out of the gene pool pretty quick. These instincts would have obviously stuck around in our evolution. They become more of an abstract association. You don’t need to be presented with a reason for thinking of the world as a tree connected to heaven and hell. You just have to have the subconscious instincts. This offers up a pretty thorough explanation for a lot of spiritual phenomenon. When people enter into hallucinations, they often see the same symbols and archetypes as other people. Not because there are literal demons and ghosts to see. More because these ideas are deep in our psyche and can come out at times when they are triggered.
How exactly we trigger these spiritual things to come out is important to address. The human mind is very complex and still misunderstood. However I have some personal experiences and ideas that might help us flesh this out. I’ve had sessions of prayer that were so moving and powerful that it could be explained as spiritual. Moments that brought me to tears. I don’t think it was because I was actually interacting with God. A more simple explanation would be to write it off as just normal brain chemistry interactions. These moments only ever happened when there was psychological priming. It could be a lack of sleep from staying up late at night, causing my brain to amplify my emotions and induce minor hallucinations. If I already believe (and i did at the time) that God exists and that I’m interacting with him, then it makes sense that in a vulnerable mental state, I start to fill in the gaps of my experience with my assumptions on God. I’ve noticed too, that often spiritual experiences happen in spiritual places while doing spiritual things. Maybe you’re listening to a great worship song that is touching you deeply. You zone out into this song. You dance wildly, spinning in circles and doing repetitive, almost animalistic actions. Or maybe in a more traditional church you find yourself standing up and sitting down in rapid succession. What if these are the exact things that prime us to have intense feelings of being possessed by the holy spirit? Cults are well aware that they can trick people by psychological priming them to have spiritual experiences. In the 80’s there was a cult that almost took over a huge voting block in Oregon. The Rajneeshpuram. There’s a Netflix doc on this. It’s great and worth watching. The videos of their initiation process show people dancing wildly, screaming, singing and spinning in circles. This lowered a lot of their psychological barricades. Weakening the mind’s ability to tell fact from fiction. If followed by a sermon like lecture from a charming and wise old man, it makes sense were a defenseless mind might start to believe nearly anything said.
The mind is so sensitive. Even the chemical interaction of what food you eat that day, can have notable impacts on your psyche. Drugs like DMT can induce amazingly visual hallucinations tapping into the dreaming parts of your brain. Ingesting chemicals can be a simple explanation for a lot of spiritual phenomenon. If you dig around demonology reports, drugs are extremely common. People attempting to summon a demon almost always have ingested some sort of drug first.
If we can explain away an experience with basic psychology, why bother to complicate our metaphysics with things like gods and ghosts? With all these insights, it’s hard to see where there’s room left for legitimately spiritual experiences. When you have a spiritual experience, remain skeptical. Do no attribute to a God what could be easily explained with simple psychology.

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Isaac Morehouse and Entrepreneurship as a Libertarian Tactic

One of the most life changing conversations I ever had, was with a man named Isaac Morehouse. He runs a company called Praxis, which offers young professionals an apprenticeship at a startup. Included in the program is an online bootcamp filled with resources for becoming as productive and skilled as possible. Isaac has some really interesting ideas about the world. Most intriguing to me, has been his thoughts on using entrepreneurship as a sort of tool for social and political change. He gives a lecture about his life journey leading up to starting Praxis. He frames it as a story of discovering tactics for changing the world. He started his journey as many others do, seeking to help people directly through tactics like missionary work. He began to seek out longer lasting and larger scale solutions to the world’s problems. He moved into politics, only to find it as cartoonish-ly evil and inefficient as our movies make it look. He joined organizations to spread education and books. This too was a disappointment. He found that his impact was much smaller than me hoped. Eventually Isaac had a realization. He noticed that political change was a lagging indicator of social trends. He noticed that policy and politicians moved slower than culture. He noticed that attempting to change the world through a top down approach, using education and political action, was only looking at part of the picture. His great discovery, was an often overlooked strategy for political change. The tactic of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship drives cultural change from the button up. It starts with people’s wants and desires, appealing to them through the creation of value. Consider the need for liberating the taxi market. Anyone who’s ridden in a taxi, understands that the system could be better. They might not understand how things like taxi medallions limit competition and thus cause bad quality service. They might not understand how taxi companies build unions and lobby local governments for favor. However anyone can certainly understand that taxis need improvement. Instead of trying to explain to them the economics of the situation, or inspire them go and out and protest, there is the entrepreneurial tactic. All one need to do is invest in something like Uber and suddenly the incentives are in place for problems to be solved. This doesn’t mean Uber is a perfect company by any means. Simply that Uber illustrates how building a business and creating value for customers helps solve major problems.
This sort of principle can be applied on a much large scale for political change. Such a tactic could be applied to systems like the federal reserve. One might know that having centralized banks controlling interest rates can cause problems.  This can inspire a desire to protest for End The Fed, campaign for Ron Paul for even throw a damn brick through the Fed’s windows. However, like the taxi question, there are more profitable ways to solve this problem. Through innovations like cryptocurrencies, we change the incentives for how governments handle the monetary supply. Consumers have more than one option for doing commerce. If The Fed wants to not be eaten up by its competitors, they have to make the USD better and better.
This insight of entrepreneurship as a political tactic, seems to be a major trend in contemporary libertarian philosophy and the broader movement. Younger libertarians have lost interest in student activist organizations and traditional party politics. Libertarianism has always hat tipped the entrepreneur and understood her impact in the economy. However, thinkers like Isaac Morehouse are making entrepreneurship the center focus of libertarian thought. Teaching us that it can be used to make liberty happen here and now.
Freedom may only be a few good business ideas a way. Those who want to change the world would benefit from learning that.

Toxic Masculinity is a Useful Concept

As is the problem with all politically charged language, Toxic Masculinity, is a concept that can be used in subtly different ways. Some seem to use Toxic Masculinity as a broad criticism of masculinity in general. They label all conceptions of manhood as toxic. A lot of people see this usage and totally write off the concept of Toxic Masculinity altogether. A reasonable position to take, if that was the only way to use the ideas. However, a more useful conception serves as a criticism of a specific corrupted type of masculinity. Let’s start by understanding where exactly this concept comes from. Back in the 80s, there was a group of male Jungians called the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement. Jungian psychology has an emphasis on mental archetypes. Particularly notable, are the archetypes that relate to gender. The MMM was concerned that masculinity was heading in a destructive direction, away from the ideal masculine archetypes. They coined this idea of Toxic Masculinity, in order to identify conceptions of masculinity that were… well… toxic. Some examples are masculinity that emphasizes violence in inappropriate situations. A tyrannical masculinity that abandons self-responsibility and seeks power and abuse for an irrational selfish gain. Michael Messner, a significant figure in this movement, once gave a lecture about how putting too much emphasis on the Warrior Archetype contributes to an epidemic of rape. This usage of Toxic Masculinity certainly has its merits. It helps us identify things that healthy masculinity should seek to criticize. It also prompts us to ponder the value in some of the Feminist criticism of male power in society. This isn’t the article to argue about the exact level of male dominance that is healthy. However, one can easily see where some institutions are incentivizing men to gain power through sociopathic means. Governments are the perfect example of this. A man who wants to gain political power over his community taps into dangerous tendencies. He learns to be dishonest and manipulative, wielding his masculine power of leadership in an unhealthy way.
For those worried that some people are completely abandoning masculinity, that’s a fine worry. The MMM was also concerned with men who lost touch with their masculinity and have became possessed by feminine archetypes. However, the language around Toxic Masculinity may just be the very thing that saves men from these negative behaviors. It is valuable to ponder on its use and ask what ways our own masculinity may be toxic.

For further exploration check out King, Warrior, Magicain, Lover, a book that dives deeper into masculine arehcetypes and healthy manhood.

A Lazy Man’s Guide To Self-Improvment

Hate yourself? Wanna be less shitty? Good for you! Like most going on this journey, there’s a good chance you’re not sure where to start. Maybe all the normal self-help advice just seem too hard. If you’re starting from zero, a lot of self-improvement tactics can feel inaccessible. They come with high costs in time, money and energy. Fortunately, there are easier, low-cost things you can do. Little tools to increase your confidence, be more productive and just be a better person. Here’s a list of 11 simple ways to improve your life. A lazy man’s guide to self-improvement. I’ve personally done a lot of these and can, at least anecdotally, vouch for their value. Some of them are inspired by advice by friends like Isaac Morehouse or books like Six PIllars of Self Esteem

1) Look in the mirror while naked for 10 minutes straight every day

I don’t think there’s a better way to deal with negative body image than just diving into it head first. Force yourself to look in the mirror, really look at yourself. The goal here isn’t necessarily to make yourself love your body. Instead, you want to just acknowledge the reality of it. Neither changing your body or learning to love it can begin without first accepting what your body really is.

2) Read a chapter of a book once a week

When was the last time you actually read a book?  42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. Even if you just read one book a year, maybe just a chapter a week, you would be better off than an absurdly large amount of people. You want to be more interesting you gotta have interesting things to talk about. If you wanna be smarter you need to engage your brain in ways like reading. Consume as much content as you can. If you just don’t enjoy reading, consider picking up some graphic novels or diving into audio books.

3) Write one blog post once a week

Writing has similar positive effects as reading. It challenges your mind in a way that doesn’t always happen during the day to day grind. Keeping a blog can be a great way to collect your thoughts. It can be written like a diary or used as a medium for exploring ideas. One blog post a week is super accessible. It doesn’t have to be a huge essay. You could write one or two paragraphs about an idea you had. Or maybe write a review of your favorite album. You may find yourself with the feeling along the lines of, “No one cares what I have to say. Who I am to publish a blog? Who would even read that?”. Ignore that. The writing is about you, not the audience. Besides, you will be surprised how many people actually find your content enjoyable

4) Work out twice a week

I know this is one of the harder tasks on this list. However, if you can manage to did it, just twice a week, you WILL feel better about yourself. You will sleep better, you will look better, your posture will improve. This is hard as hell for some, but it is probably the most valuable habit you can develop. Set up a simple routine. Maybe start with a small set number of pushups and pull ups and adjust as you go. If you can track down some cheap weights, start lifting.

5) Clean your room

This is extremely useful if you’re trying to add more structure to your life. It’s great if you want to develop more conscientiousness, meaning the ability to be more organized and responsible overall. Your room can be understood as a reflection of your inner world. If you wanna stop being so messy in your relationships, job, etc. Learn to stop being messy in your immediate surroundings. If you can at least make your bed every day, you’ll find yourself coming home to knowing you’ve accomplished at least one thing.

6) Learn an instrument

Study after study has shown that learning an instrument is one of the best things you can do to exercise your brain. It can help you become more creative and more in tune with your emotions. Music can also help you understand the world in a more analytical way. As you dive into music theory you may discover an interest in mathematics and logic. Sound hard and unlazy? Trying picking up simple instruments like the ukulele. They’re cheap and don’t have too many strings.

7) Take regular showers

If you have gone through any serious depressions, I’m sure you know that taking a shower can be difficult at times. Self-care becomes an afterthought to the dominant desire to stay alive. If you can muster the energy, force yourself to shower every day. A clean feelings body can make a clean feeling mind. Especially cold showers. To quote this article about why cold showers are beneficial, “This is because wet and cold causes our surface vessels to vasoconstrict (tighten up) making blood move from the surface of your body to the core, as a means to conserve heat. Not only does it conserve heat,  it also reflexively bathes the brain and vital organs in fresh blood. This movement will bring nutrition, oxygen and also help gently detoxify the area.”

8) Go to bed one hour earlier

Everyone needs more sleep. You probably spend that last hour on your phone anyway.  Some people think if they aren’t pushing themselves to stay up an extra hour to work, then they are missing out on productivity. There’s often an error in this thinking. It’s very likely the quality of your work per minute will go down. Often getting that extra hour is the difference when being semi-productive and fully productive. If you have troubling falling asleep, consider using some sort of red tint on your phone screen. The blue lights in computers and phones can cause our brains to stay awake.

9) Use an alarm clock on your days off

If you understand that getting more sleep is important, you should also try to understand how important consistent sleeping schedules can be. If you use an alarm on the weekdays, it can be very beneficial to continue that use over the weekend. This will help keep your sleeping schedule consistent. You’ll probably stop hating Mondays too, as you won’t be so jarred awake by the alarm.

10) Hug your friends more

Particularly men can benefit from this advice. There is evidence that the lack of physical touch for men is literally killing them. Increasing chances of heart problems and mental issues. There was once a time where men touching each other in platonic intimate ways was not so rare. I hope to see a return to that. Hug your bros and tell them you love them.

11) Add educational content to your meme consumption

Pretty much everyone wastes time scrolling their Facebook feed for memes or watching random youtube videos. It can be a good idea to cut back on social media. Alternatively, you can just make your social media usage more productive. If every other meme or video is educational, then you’re on the path to learning new things. Maybe like a philosophy meme page and google all the new phrases that come up. Sub to a youtube channel that does an in-depth analysis of your favorite films. You can literally learn through shitposting.

 

Alright, you lazy fuck. You can tackle at least one of these this month. Shoot me an email if this was helpful at all. gabrieljmitchell@gmail.com

5 Tips for Good Conversation

I recently got home from an adventure at Praxis Weekend. It was a gathering of many great minds and hearts all sharing a desire for creating value in the world. Amazing people means amazing conversations and chances to connect on a deep emotional level. It was especially interesting to see the development of my own social skills. I used to be such an awkward kid. It took a lot of willpower and good parenting to get me to even look people in the eyes. Yet, over this weekend I seemed to have left a very meaning impact on everyone I spoke with. I found it easy to dive straight into an intimate connection. It’s undeniable that part of this is just the amazingness of the praxis community. However, even given the quality of my conversation partners, there was certainly a collection of conscious actions I took to get the most out of my one on ones. Here is a list of 5 tips anyone can use to have good conversations.

Prepare Bold Questions

Small talk is fucking stupid. Just don’t do it. Start strong. Find a question that will rip past their social barriers to look deep into their soul. Questions like “what sort of things make you feel alive?” “What’s the hardest part about pursuing your personal passion?”. You want to ask questions that lead to an insight on their essence. Get a greater understanding of who they are and what they value at a deep level. Remain fluid and prepared for any conversation, but it can be helpful to prepare a handful of big questions that are broad enough to ask anyone.

Give Your Full Attention

People can tell when you’re not truly interested in what they have to say. Your body language communicates so much. If you are distracted or not totally invested it will be obvious. Eye contact is probably the most important part of this. You may also want to face your body directly at your conversation partner. Avoid looking at your phone or getting caught in several different conversations at one.

Thread The Conversation

Threading is the concept of maintaining free-flow in a conversation by being aware of the many possible directions it can go. When they say something like “I started working at this company so I could get a better grasp of marketing in the health industry”, you’re given many different avenues to go down. You could ask them about how they landed the job. You could ask them their favorite parts of working the health industry. You could also ask them why they want to get into marketing. This insight empowers you to direct the conversation to some degree, focusing on things that you also find interesting. Being aware of conversational threading also means making sure your statements have many possible threads. Keep your statements complex enough to lead to several possible questions. When done right you can literally keep the talk going all night.

Go From Cold to Warm Conversation

Cold conversation is about getting basic facts, such as learning where they work and where they live. Warm conversation is more focused on intimacy and emotions. A good conversation has both but will usually weigh towards the warm side. Everyone at the party already asked them where they work, you should be the one to ask them what part of that job makes them feel most alive.

End on a High Note

The last moments of a conversation can set the emotional tone for their memory. Even if you’ve realized you hate this person or you’ve been disagreeing all night, it will be valuable to end on something positive. Tell this person how much you’ve enjoyed the conversation. Tell them you appreciate who they are and value your friendship with them. Touch can also be extremely useful here. A tasteful hug or a hand placed on their shoulder will reassure them that you were genuinely interested. My favorite thing is to give a nice long hug, look them in the eyes as I pull back and say “I love you and I appreciate this conversation”. As I am genuine when I say it, it certainly seems to leave an impact.