Modern Metaphor

A metaphor only works when we can relate to what’s being compared. This is why many of us in the modern world can’t relate to ancient spiritual teachings. The messages may be true, but the metaphors are meaningless. This was my problem until I stumbled onto an updated metaphor, simulation-theory, that says existence is comprised of a computer program in which everything is mere flickering pixels. For me at least, this modern metaphor makes sense.

People that propose simulation-theory don’t always tout it as a spiritual idea, but at its core, it most certainly is. Like any religion, it can provide a comforting backstory for our earthly existence, it can explain different phenomena in our surroundings, and it can be used to construct meaning for ourselves, allowing us to find fulfilling roles within an otherwise meaningless world.

The funny thing is, once I began to embrace the concept of virtuality, all the ancient spiritual stuff started making sense. I now have a working metaphor by which I can relate to what they were saying. Aha! As someone that could not previously grasp spirituality in any form, I can tell you that the before and after is remarkable. The answers were there, I just didn’t get it.

What all these teachings are trying to say, from ancient to new-age, is to be your authentic self, play the role of you but without the fear. The “you” shrouded in anxiety is a selfish beast that feels besieged by danger, thus ready to lash out. But the actual you is a character in a game that’s here to fulfill his role with dignity and grace. The role of you has already been written, just play along.

A game without obstacles isn’t worth playing. So in life, we really do want problems to solve. The trick is in embracing those problems, not lamenting their existence. Furthermore, we get to pick from a menu of options. Whatever issue we focus on becomes ours. We don’t necessarily have to accept every problem that crosses our path — we can pick some while ignoring others, or at least focus on the aspects we prefer.

Now, do unenlightened anxious people distort religion due to their fear and feelings of lack? Yes. There’s no limit to what a confused mind might manifest. So religion can certainly suffer from corruption, which is why it might be good to start anew every once in awhile. Religions are simply collections of ideas that remind us we have nothing to fear. With an appropriate religion tailored to our tastes, our minds are able to rest upon answers that satisfy our existential angst.

Evolutionary Perspective

I am speaking from the perspective I developed growing up: that the world is a naturally occurring mass forged from the fires of hydrogen and molten compression followed by a lengthy progression. A world where life is created through random chance and death comes just as indiscriminately. A land of intense competition where lifeforms struggle to survive.

I maintained that perspective for several decades in fact. At least where I was from, it seemed the standard opinion of the day. I dismissed contemporary opponents of that idea as backward brutes clinging to primitive ideas, simple-minded folk refusing to accept the clearcut evidence before them. And I thought people of ages past were just as primitive in their superstitions.

But eventually I found this perspective too dour. Survival of the fittest is a stress-inducing concept. If you’re not strong enough, you’ve no right to live. And even if you make it through one competition, an endless succession of challengers await. Then there’s diseases just waiting to ravage the body, micro-organisms constantly trying to consume us from within. And of course there’s the randomness of accidents that can alter our course forever.

So I just couldn’t maintain that perspective anymore, it was too hard and I gave up. But as mentioned, I did not grow up with a religious background, the iconography and ideas seemed foreign and off-putting to me. So when I heard about the simulation theory, that this life is likely a computer simulation, a virtual-reality, things started to make sense. Aha, I get it.

By seeing the world from this computer generated perspective, I could suddenly understand what much of the religious stuff meant. I could see that humanity has been discussing this exact topic in every age, yet they used imagery and analogies that made sense in their time. In our time, for those of us immersed in technology, virtual-reality becomes a more relatable example.

So when I looked at the world from a viewpoint of virtuality, writings such as the Dhammapada, the Bhagavad Gita, and the book of Matthew in the Bible made sense. They too discussed the nonmaterial nature of this world. Philosophers have also been pondering this matter ad infinitum. It’s quite clear that something artificial is going on here and that people have always noticed.

Yet, there appears to be little consensus. Everyone has their own opinion about what’s going on. This is likely because the world actively obfuscates its foundation, preventing inhabitants from staring too long in a single spot lest they figure it out. My own assumption is that the world performs this concealment benevolently as a means to entertain its audience.

And that’s how someone with an irreligious background came to embrace the spiritual nature of existence. I’ve gone 180 degrees in fact, from believing only in what my senses could perceive to believing my senses perceive no truth at all. Life is a fictional experience, a dream-world, a funhouse built for fright and delight.

And when I embraced the virtual nature of reality, life got easier. A lot easier. I stopped worrying for instance. I don’t concern myself with mysterious medical issues or impending doom of any sort. I don’t need to struggle or even compete. I do what makes me happy while attempting to create a pleasant atmosphere for those around me. Everything I had feared existed solely within my imagination, I just changed my focus and started concentrating on the things I enjoy. And lo and behold, life was much easier than I ever thought.

Old-time Religion

Many grow up within a stifling religious atmosphere and reject religion out of anger or protest. Many reject religion based on observation of adherents and their unappealing behavior or practices. Many view “God” through a pop-culture characterization (such as a Zeus-like man draped in white on a throne atop a bed of clouds), and find the concept bizarre and therefore reject religion.

If religion is so rejectable, why should it exist at all? What religion does is provide answers to unanswerable questions. Although these answers don’t represent absolute truth, we can believe them anyway in order to stop our minds from incessantly searching. If every time something troubling occurs, we search the world for why, we’d never move on, we’d be stuck in an endless loop of anxious inquiry. Religion simply provides the mind with a way to stop this loop by providing simplistic finite answers to potentially infinite questions.

So the problem is not religion itself, as it’s a useful tool for coping with life. The problem lies with the institutionalization of religion, when it’s formalized and incorporated into society. To be meaningful, religion cannot be forced upon people, it must be discovered from within, and applied personally. Another problem with institutionalization, is how it locks religion into a specific time and setting, with old-fashioned symbolism, not allowing it to progress with the age it’s in.

For instance, we might think of God as the force underlying existence. What created all this? God. Why is life the way it is? God. God can be a comforting idea, providing relief during a chaotic life. We might be relived to believe something is in charge, directing our lives in an ultimately positive way. Because we don’t understand the mechanism of existence, and because we simply want to get on with our day, we can end the debate in our head by accepting that “God did this for a good reason that will be appreciated in the long-term”.

What about worshipping God? Worshipping God is simply the appreciation of life. It’s a sentiment such as, “I’m thankful for existing in this realm rather than not existing in a void of nothingness.” Or, “Hey it looks like a lot of work went into creating this place, nice job!” It’s also having the courtesy not to denigrate life when things don’t go as expected. It’s viewing life as a gift given personally to us, something best accepted graciously, whether wanted or not.

Again, religion itself is not an evil force in the world, but merely a tool that can be misunderstood and misused. From early on I had rejected religion in its entirety, failing to perceive its underlying utility. It wasn’t until the stressors of life added up that I sought an end to the constant anxiety. I came to realize that a satisfied mind requires a pleasant interpretation of the world. In that way, religion is just a pre-packaged story we feed to our restlessly questioning mind so it can rest.

Ape or Alien

So either I’m a deluded ape created by chance and led by instinct through random interactions — or I’m a purposefully dumbed-down other-worldly observer experiencing life through the mind of an Earth-creature. And what’s unclear in either scenario is whether the self-aware watcher has any significant influence over outcomes.

For the first part of my life, the ape option seemed the most probable answer, it was tangible, I could directly perceive that I was a quasi-ape on a rotating rock. But after living life a bit more, it became apparent how hazy and undefinable everything was, that what you see is not always what you get — and it became plausible that life could be deliberately deceptive, an illusion.

The more I’ve witnessed, the less randomness seems likely — the silly little dramas of life appear to perpetuate intentionally, with no lessons learnt despite their frequency. Even the central insight I’ve gleaned after a few decades of life is merely the “unknowableness” of life — I’ve learnt that life is unlearnable.

And yet I persist in my attempts to figure out life. I don’t know why of course, but it seems an interesting mystery at least. But why should it be a mystery, why isn’t it obvious? Seems suspicious, no? And a related insight I’ve gleaned is this: don’t take life seriously, as I have no idea what’s going on here — it may just be make-believe, so there’s no sense in getting worked-up over it.

Ubiquitous Religion

When reflecting upon our own existence, we’re perplexed: who am I, where am I, why am I here, why is it unpleasant? It is discomforting to lack these answers. Answers exist, but they’re unverifiable. So in order to accept a particular answer, we must do so with faith, trusting without proof. To feel the comfort of having our questions answered, this trust is necessary.

We can’t simply believe in nothing because our mind will always seek to fill the void. So it’s advantageous to keep our mind filled with ideas that elevate rather than depress. This is the realm of religion, a set of ideas that help us relate to our existence, filling in the blanks, and therefore providing comfort.

Whether labeled as religion or not, every mind is filled with unprovable ideas accepted on faith. We all adopt ideas that help us explain, and deal with, life. So even in the modern era, religion fulfills the same role it’s had in every age.

Religion is often thought of as primitive, creepy, foolish, and fraudulent — and while some implementations may fit these descriptors, the underlying concept is merely an explanation of our existence. And as can happen with any idea, some explanations become antiquated, no longer satisfying, retained by tradition instead of suitability.

Deceptive Appearances

If life is exactly as it appears to be, then one would expect life to be more easily defined — the answers of life should be in plain sight. But, life seems to become less definable the more it’s examined — alleged answers only lead to more questions.

Therefore, life cannot be what it appears to be simply because its appearance defies definition — life cannot be accurately described. Ask a hundred random people what life is, and receive a hundred varied answers. If life was obvious, we’d all have the exact same answer, over every generation. But, even our own answer changes over time.

On Life

Growing up, I defined reality by scientism and atheism. In other words, I held the conviction that science was the most authoritative worldview, and I believed scientists had all the answers, or were at least close enough. And as far as religion, it just wasn’t a part of my upbringing, it was rarely mentioned. I was not overly hostile towards religion, but I did believe it to be irrational.

At some point along the way, I developed a deep dissatisfaction with life. To try and overcome this unpleasant sensation, I investigated life itself, which led to an examination of my own thoughts about life. After scrutinizing the way in which I viewed the world, I noticed errors in logic as well as many unprovable beliefs.

I had thought I held an irreproachable worldview based upon the concrete foundation of science — I considered myself a “realist” and a skeptic. But it turned out that I was just a pessimist, clinging to irrationally negative beliefs. In other words, I thought I had a rock-solid view of reality, but I was just maintaining an unsatisfying set of unprovable beliefs.

After the realization that I didn’t know reality, I tried searching for it, but couldn’t find it. It seemed as if a concrete reality couldn’t be found, absolute truth being elusive and always out of reach. And because of this, I was without a solid foundation on which to construct a new worldview.

But if the foundation of existence is unknowable, then there is no logical foundation for fear or anger or hatred or selfishness — or anything. In other words, I don’t know enough about life to get upset. Should I be scared right now? I don’t know. Should I be mad at what just happened? I don’t know. Should I be offended? I don’t know. Did I just lose something? I literally don’t know.

With the foundation of life unprovable, the world becomes a silly little place in which I can’t help but smile at the absurdity. And I don’t mean this pejoratively, I genuinely appreciate the show. What else would I be doing if not for my Earthbound existence?

And as a participant in life, my mind still craves beliefs and explanations, so I cultivate only the most pleasing varieties. Because all beliefs are essentially unprovable, I found it logical to maintain the most satisfying beliefs possible. But I do so lightheartedly, adapting them as necessary and pruning the negative bits. And because of all this, I appreciate more, I’m more satisfied, and I smile more.