The Consolation (Turing Church Workshop 2011)
This is a transcript of my talk at the Turing Church Workshop 2011, today. The text is an early (and incomplete) draft of a paper I hope to publish at some point. I look forward to your feedback.
Like others today, I’m going to call your attention to the subject of our dead. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, gave a sermon on the same subject a few months before he was killed. He dedicated that sermon to his dead friend, King Follett. Today, I’m going to share with you an interpretive variation on that sermon, in memory of my father. Layne Cannon was among the inventors of the word processor, an early engineer of software that became WordPerfect, and eventually Vice President of Engineering for the business of the same name. November 27th would have been his 61st birthday, but consumed by repeated cancers, he died thirteen years ago at age 48. Most, if not all of you, have also lost friends, so I feel to speak on the subject of our dead generally, and offer you my ideas for consolation.
I ask sincerely for your hope and trust that I may speak truth, particularly of the sort that carries conviction to hearts and minds of its trustworthiness, truth of the sort we should create to the extent we don’t discover it, so that even if you happen to think it’s not true yet, you’ll forgive me for thinking it is, and join me in the work to make it so. Trust, at least, that my voice could be true, relax inclinations to skepticism, and let hope inspire a strenuous mood. That is powerful and effective prayer. There’s strength here, and I’m confident our prayer will matter.
Before I enter fully into the subject of our dead, I’ll provide some context. I wish to go back to when Gods without beginning find themselves making worlds without end. There’s the starting point for us to look to. To understand the subject of our dead, we must start with an understanding of God. If we start right, it’s easier to go right; but if we start wrong, we may go wrong, and it would be hard to get right.
There are few in our world who understand rightly the nature of God. The great majority of humans comprehend little about their relationship to God, so they know little more than the beast – little more than to eat, drink and sleep. That’s all humanity knows without inspiration, and I mean that by definition, not hypothetically. The beast eats, drinks, sleeps, and knows nothing more about God; yet it knows as much as we, except to the extent we comprehend God. If humans don’t comprehend God, they don’t comprehend themselves. I want to go back to when Gods without beginning find themselves making worlds without end, and so lift our minds to a more lofty sphere and a more exalted understanding than what the human mind generally aspires to.
I want to ask this group, each of you, to answer this question in your own heart: what kind of being is God? Put aside creeds and dogmas. Ask yourself, turn your thought into your own heart, and ask if you’ve seen, heard, or communed with God. I repeat the question: what kind of being is God? Do you know? Have you seen, heard, or communed with God? Going forward, the question will perhaps occupy your attention more than before.
If any of us can explain or convey an understanding of God, so that the esthetic seals itself in our hearts, then we should never speak or act against prophets. But if all fail, we should renounce any pretension to inspiration or inheritance of revelation, and welcome each other as reformed sinners or crackpots: hailed as friends, no longer offenders of the religious nor fools to the irreligious. In any case, if we’re all honest enough to renounce our pretensions when our ignorance is shown, we’d all be as bad as each other. We might as well shun or ridicule you as me, and if that’s justified then where would be the end? Who wouldn’t suffer? But we shouldn’t oppress others for their religion, if it doesn’t call for oppressing us. Everyone should have the right to be a false prophet, or a true one. Indeed, as Moses says in the Bible, “I wish that all were prophets!” In that spirit, we’re going to enquire after God, to know and be familiar with God; and if we succeed then we’ll also know prophecy.
So let’s go back to when Gods without beginning find themselves making worlds without end, to show the kind of being God is. What sort of being was God? I wish the world could hear it. God was once as we are now, and is a posthuman! That’s the great secret. If time and space were opened to reveal the God whose power created our world and innumerable others, if we were to see God here and now, we would see posthumanity. Prehumanity evolved within the contours of its environment, humanity projected itself on that environment, and posthumanity realized that projection. The Gods created worlds in their own image, watched those things that they had ordered until they obeyed, and thus created humanity in their own image.
In order to understand the subject of our dead, for consolation of those who mourn the loss of friends, we must understand how God came to be. I’m going to tell you how God came to be God. We’ve imagined and supposed that God was God forever. I reject that idea, and so should you. God was once like us. Yes: God, our creator, lived in a world like ours. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they’re simple.
The first principle of the Gospel of Christ is trust in God, and not just any god, but rather the God that was once like us. That’s Jesus’ good news, and I wish I could tell it to fundamentalists like an archangel from the Apocalypse, so their dogmatizing would cease forever. What does Jesus say? “The Son can do only what he sees his Father doing . . . As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” What does Jesus do? He lays down his life, and takes it up again, only what he sees his Father doing. Do the fundamentalists believe it? If they don’t then they don’t believe the Bible.
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God,” and we’ve got to learn how to be Gods ourselves, the same as all Gods have done before us, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one, from compassion to compassion, from creation to creation, until we can resurrect our dead, and are able to live in everlasting love and light, as do those who live in everlasting power. And, in these times of accelerating change, this proposition is serious.
These are the first principles of consolation. How consoling to mourners when they must part with a friend, to know that, although their bodies go down and dissolve, they shall rise again to live in everlasting love and light. As the Bible says, we will be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. What is that? To gain the same love, the same light, and the same power, until we become God, the same as those who have gone before, not merely as their prosthetics, but rather as genuinely compassionate creators in ourselves.
The Bible tells of two persons aspiring to Godhood. One “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” In contrast, Jesus, “being in very nature a God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” Rather, Jesus says to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence.” Jesus exemplifies Godhood, not egotistically, but rather altruistically in cooperation with his Father, so that they would be glorified together. Likewise, Jesus says to his disciples, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands.” So Jesus further exemplifies and invites us to cooperative altruism.
Love posthumanity with all your heart and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like it. Love humanity as yourself – not as being human, but rather as becoming posthuman. Trust in and change toward posthumanity: these are the first principles of the Gospel of Christ, about which so much has been said. When we climb up a ladder, we must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until we arrive at the top; and so it is with these principles. We must learn the first, before learning others. Even as we change, transfigured or resurrected to posthumanity, we will continue to learn. For now, we don’t even have the anatomical or environmental capacity to comprehend our creator.
I suppose I shouldn’t speculate excessively beyond what experience and logic warrant. If I do, rationality itself will cry "treason" and start ridiculing me. So I’ll turn to old fashioned logic for a while.
I’ll comment on the Simulation Argument. I want to analyze it. As the philosopher wrote it, “at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.” The argument can be generalized to all feasible creation mechanisms, whether they be computation, terraforming or cosmoforming, or even resurrection itself, which from the inside could be indistinguishable from the others. If you disagree, you disagree with logic. Logicians can do no more than I’m telling you. Thus, it follows that belief we’ll one day become posthumans who create worlds or resurrect the dead is false, unless we are currently living in a created world.
I want the atheist transhumanists that ridicule religion to understand, so I’ll simplify. We almost certainly will not be the only or first to create worlds like those in our past. Without beginning, Gods find themselves making worlds without end. Some suppose contemporary science and technological trends will make us the first Gods, but they’re wrong.
The logicians say, “if you trust in anything not warranted by experience and logic, we’ll cry ‘treason’.” Yet how can we escape extinction, except God be with us? Reason binds us. As we’ve looked at the world, we’ve found life everywhere. Yet, as we look at the heavens, not recognizing posthumanity, we are tempted to despair: if humans are probable then we are destined for extinction! That is the conclusion warranted by experience, and that is the conclusion warranted by logic, unless posthumanity already exists. I’m grateful for logic, but I’m also grateful for that sublime esthetic in our hearts, which encourages our will to posthumanity. Logicians, reason with me. If God does not exist, we will not become God.
Without beginning, Gods find themselves making worlds without end. When we start this way, we start to learn about the living God, transcendent and immanent, what we should worship, and how we should worship. We approach Godhood, and we ask not just any way, but rather we ask so as to receive answers, both with our voices and with our actions. The heavens unfold to us, and nothing is withheld. Whether there be one God or many Gods, they are discovered and created. If there are bounds to the worlds, they are discovered and created. When we are ready to come to God, God is ready to come to us.
Now, why do so many of the religious say that God created the world out of nothing? The reasons are creeds and dogmas, which make it blasphemy to contradict their idea. If you tell them that God made the world out of something, they’ll call you a fool. But we’ve learned and know more, and the sublime esthetic in us would do more, so I’ll associate myself with that. You ask the religious why they say the world was made out of nothing, and many will answer, "Doesn't the Bible say God created the world?" And they infer, from the word “create”, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from a Hebrew word that does not mean “to create out of nothing”. Rather, it means something like “organize” or “shape”, as we would organize materials to shape a ship. Hence, the Bible suggests God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter and energy. Matter existed from the time God existed. Matter can never be destroyed. It may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. It had no beginning, and can have no end.
I’ll mention another subject, which is calculated to exalt humanity, but I can’t say much about it. I’ll just touch on it, because time won’t permit more. It’s associated with the subject of the resurrection of our dead: the soul, the spirit, or the mind. Where did it come from? Most theologians say that God created us from nothing, but we shouldn’t believe it. The idea lessens humanity. I’m going to tell of things more noble.
We say that God has always existed. Who told us so? How did it get into our heads? Who told us that humanity didn’t always exist? Well, humanity has always existed in potential and pattern. God created our world and our bodies from cascading causes. How does it read in the Bible? It doesn’t say God created us from nothing. It says, "God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."
Humanity, in the broadest sense, has always existed with God. So when we mourn, what have we lost? Our friends are only separated from their bodies for a little moment, as it were; and they still exist in cascading effects on our relations and our minds, the same as we do, although temporarily less empowered than we are.
This is the immortal aspect of humanity. Is it logical to say that our minds are immortal, and yet that they had a beginning? That which has a beginning may have an end. Although we change, we had no beginning, neither will we have an end. There never was a time when we did not exist in causes, nor will there ever be a time when we will not exist in effects. Unique in time and space, and yet thoroughly and pervasively interconnected, we have always existed and always will exist with God.
All the theologians from the beginning of history, who say that the human mind had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that’s true then we’ll eventually go extinct. But if I’m right, God never had the power to create humanity from nothing. God could not create God from nothing. In the broadest sense, we have always existed, information forever, and there’s no creation about it, although we all change.
Aspects of humanity always exist with God. Without beginning, Gods find themselves in the midst of chaos and potential; and, because Gods are more intelligent, they make worlds without end, whereby the rest can advance. Gods make others more intelligent, that all may increase in light and love, knowledge and power, through and for each other. These are good principles. They taste good. I can taste good principles, and so can you. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. When we receive good principles, we know they’re good.
In life, we experience everything precisely as though we had no bodies at all, and anything we learn that will preserve our minds will also preserve our bodies. So we have a responsibility, an awful responsibility, in relation to our dead. What of all who didn’t learn to preserve their minds while alive? Can we do nothing for our friends who died without an opportunity to prepare? Can they be saved, although their bodies are decaying in the grave?
Our greatest responsibility in this world is to seek after our dead. We can’t be whole without them, they can’t be whole without us, and thus our obligation. We should trust in the possibility of resurrecting our dead, according to the forthtellings of the prophets. As the Bible says, "turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents”. Imagine a posthuman genealogist. Using the tools of quantum archeology, she traces backwards through time and space from effects to causes. Sampling a sufficiently large portion of her present, she attains a desired probabilistic precision for a portion of her past, and she generates you. The future-you is distinguishable from the present-you, but no more so than the today-you is distinguishable from the yesterday-you. You are resurrected, and you learn to repeat the process for your friends.
As mourners, we have occasion to rejoice. My father, Layne Cannon, is gone only until the resurrection of our dead, to rise and reunite with my family and his friends in love and light. We all have parents, siblings, children and friends who have gone, but they are only absent for a moment. They persist in effects, and we’ll meet again when we, or our descendants, become God. We will raise our dead, so we may be God together. I trust this, and so should you. Although we should take risks seriously, the sublime esthetic moves us against fear and to action. Although we may mourn or weep, we expect our friends, and more: we actively invite our friends to rise with us in the morning of the resurrection.
[Thanks for reading! You might also like "The Consolation: An Interpretive Variation on the King Follett Sermon of Joseph Smith".]