The New Enlightenment


At the end of the dark ages, an extraordinary leap in human consciousness came about. This was the Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason. The human race went from looking to religion to explain how the world works, to looking to science. Since then, religion has gradually been losing its grip on the hearts and minds of humans. But we have become increasingly soulless. Egoism is not only seen as natural but even lauded as an ideal. And as is becoming increasingly evident, our planet Earth is not going to be able to sustain eight billion egoists.

Now another momentous change is beginning. We stand on the brink of a fundamental change to our understanding of reality. When the paradoxes of the new physics are unravelled they show we have been living under two false assumptions of extraordinary significance. The first is the nature of the world, and the second is the nature of ourselves. As described in The Personal World, the relative world in which one lives is determinate, real, only where one has observed it. And one is deeply connected with this world. As described in The New Empowerment, from this it follows automatically that confirmation bias alters what becomes real in the personal world. The utterly unexpected implication is that ‘karma’ is a real phenomenon. And this means that the new age now unfolding has the potential to reinstate the morality of enlightened self-interest without the dogma of religion.

Practical Morality

In a primitive culture, cooperation and mutual support are naturally required for success in the close-knit group, giving rise to the cohesion essential for survival. Then, as large, diverse, social structures developed in the world of civilisation and science, religion took up the imperative of maintaining guidelines of human action. Love thy neighbour as thyself. This was far from fully successful, but religion is now in decline. And the moral guidelines have been largely abandoned, even by many who self-identify as religious.

In the absence of religion, morality is simply a practical set of guidelines to further social cooperation. With the atomisation of the culture in the Internet age, we are seeing the consequences of the increasing breakdown of this vital component of society enacted. A vast tide of egoism and separatism has grown, and thus the ever-increasing likelihood of self-annihilation. Collectively, the human culture is exhibiting the hallmark symptom of severe clinical depression – contemplating suicide.

Evolution

What can be done? As stated by Alexander King, a pioneering environmentalist:

Any durable solution to [humanity’s] external and internal problems can only come from evolution beyond the egoism that motivates every individual. The wisdom we desperately require can only come through inner transformation. … This seems the only hope of breaking the impasse of both great danger and great promise, in which mankind is presently constrained. (2006, 22)

But as he also points out:

All religions have, in their purest aspirations, attempted to induce such a change, with very little success.

In other words, caring about others cannot be instilled by decree. But the new worldview produces the cultural transformation we so desperately need. In the personal world ‘karma’ is not just a myth but a fully operational principle.

Karma is a principle of cause and effect in spiritual traditions where the things you do to others in some way ‘happen back to you’, seemingly out of the blue. As you sow in life, so you reap. The strange attractors generated by your unconscious expectations explain exactly why this would indeed be the case. As you go through life, you are constantly observing the kinds of actions you perform, and thus the kinds of events you yourself are bringing about. These things become unconscious expectations. This leads to confirmation bias, and thus strange attractors are generated. As a result the unconscious expectations are fulfilled in reality. And thus karma operates

The overall tendencies are what constitute the karma, beneficial or otherwise. Good deeds improve the quality of the personal world. It becomes more ‘like that’ all over because observations of this kind are more likely. The opposite is equally the case. So this means that ‘enlightened self-interest’, doing well by doing good, is a fundamental requirement for skilful, intelligent life and true success.

In this case it becomes clear what most of us have been doing wrong, and how to do it right. Positive expectation is everything, but ‘right action’ is absolutely essential. The Buddhist Eightfold Path is the instruction manual for exactly this kind of world. This is how to live long and prosper in a personal world. In a nutshell, ‘enlightened self-interest’, doing well by doing good, is the only sanity. It seems the great religions have been on the right track here.

Survival

Our modern civilisation has drifted a long way from these ideals of enlightened self-interest. And as we are beginning to realise, this is a catastrophic loss. As environmental advocate Gus Speth famously said:

I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. (2013)

But in the light of the concepts presented here we actually do. Karma is a real phenomenon, and in this case the moral imperative of the great religions is restored. Without the dogma.

The selfishness, greed and apathy that Speth decries are egoism in action. This is what it looks like in practice. But in the personal world, the only sane and sensible approach to life is taking the other people in the world into account, at least in principle. The fundamental norm of altruism in society is reborn. Enlightened self-interest is the only intelligent approach to life, on a purely selfish basis. A new intelligence emerges.

In the modern world egoism is even considered by many to be not only natural but good. But in the personal world it becomes clear that egoism is always ultimately disastrous for the person. So we would all want to be ‘spiritual’, altruistic because we very much want to operate enlightened self-interest. We would see clearly that this is what makes good the tendencies, the karma. The communal instinct is what gave our human race the unique level of coordination to develop civilisation, and the power to take over the planet. If we can accept the new worldview implied by our best science, we can regenerate this power and our human race might actually live long and prosper.