Monthly Archives: September 2011

Religion as Programming – Literally

Tonight is the Jewish New Year, and I may or may not go to services. Many years ago during college, I decided to attend Yom Kippur services to please my father, and we were denied entry because we had not ordered tickets, and sent to a basement as “second class Jews.” My father was incensed, and when he retired in La Jolla he told me that his synagogue was the beach, the ocean, and the sun.

He had a very difficult life, and he attributed his survival to a faith in something higher. I have spent a great deal of my life seeking the same level of peace by searching for meaning—or something Higher—intellectually. Recently I investigated the mystical aspects of Judaism by attending some lectures on Kabbalah, and noticed a tremendous resonance between its teachings and the concepts of eastern religions and some modern belief systems that talk about a conscious awareness at the root of life that needs to be felt with the heart. This seems to be a common theme in ancient cultures. (The image above is the Kabbalah “Tree of Life” symbol)

Here is Wikipedia’s description of the three levels of the human soul according to Jewish mysticism:
 “The Kabbalah posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru’ach, and neshamah. The nefesh is found in all humans, and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one’s physical and psychological nature. The next two parts of the soul are not implanted at birth, but can be developed over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually. A common way of explaining the three parts of the soul is as follows:

  • Nefesh (נפש): the lower part, or “animal part”, of the soul. It is linked to instincts and bodily cravings.
  • Ruach (רוח): the middle soul, the “spirit”. It contains the moral
    virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.
  • Neshamah (נשמה): the higher soul, or “super-soul”. This separates man from all other life-forms. It is related to the intellect and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided at birth and allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God.”

The question arises, how does one connect to such a higher level of soul—once one suspects or acknowledges its existence? I was intrigued that some of the methods mentioned in Kabbalah lectures were similar to meditation.

And this teaching is reminiscent of many ancient teachings, including Gnostic Christianity and the concepts of Gurdjieff, and even the Egyptians. I have long been fascinated by ancient civilizations and tales of extraterrestrials, but as I’ve written before, with the advancement in genetics in particular, we don’t have to go to other galaxies or find UFOs to connect with higher intelligence – it’s right there inside us – in our DNA/code.

I have suggested that the ability to literally “copy and paste” the symbolic meaning of Life – DNA code – from one species to another and have it express the “nature” (properties) of the donor in the host organism means that something conceptual (not just material) is moving from one into the other – the mind or consciousness of Life is being transferred. I compare this to the creation of computer software by us, in which the conceptual intentions of thousands of programmers can become manifest energetically through a set of coded instructions, which can interact with the environment (us as end users).

Because the Jewish holidays this year begin tonight, I thought I would approach the notion of religion or God from a similar perspective. In many cultures or traditions God is a concept that fills a deep need or void; in fact some neuroscientists have speculated that there is a “God circuit” or religious area of our brain.

But what if we begin to think in programming terms of God as a “variable” – essentially a placeholder for the concept of I Don’t Know. For most people, it needs to remain a mystery.

Ironically, or coincidentally, the name for God in Hebrew is “Adonai” – it almost sounds like “I don’t know.”

How does a variable work in software? The programmer can “declare” a word as a variable – for example – First_Name might be the name of a “string” variable (holding text) so that when a visitor to a web site fills out a form, the word “First_Name” literally holds the value he or she types in, so that First_Name = John or Mary.

Another type of value that can be declared as a variable is a number. So then when the user fills in his or her age or date of birth, the number is calculated and entered into the program as it “runs” (lives energetically as a manifestation of programming intention) and now Age may equal 44, or 32, or 90. It is a matter of its interaction with the end user, or in the case of DNA, with the “world”.

Incredibly we now know that DNA operates just like computer software, conveying meaning through a set of symbols that work in organic molecules instead of silicon chips.

But to me, this process of manifesting an idea energetically through an intelligent set of instructions—as it works literally in the same way within our cells—again suggests that something profoundly significant is happening in all organic life which we have taken for granted: we are literally the manifestation of an idea or very complex set of concepts.

Epigenetics has expanded our understanding of DNA so that we now know that if we remove it from a cell, it still “lives” – the energy that expresses itself through the instructions in our genes continues to flow (and as we have seen a new set of instructions can be “copied and pasted” and the organism will still “work” – as a new species with different properties.

This has made it apparent that we are not determined by our DNA, but rather that how our genes “express” is a function of the interaction between them and the environment (forces or energies) flowing through us—including our thoughts and patterns of conditioning.

So that what is in effect “natural” becomes not just the result of materialistic determinism, but rather part of a much more complex and in fact “conceptual” set of processes which we barely understand.

The instruction set (DNA), in its very manifestation of meaning points to a higher level of intelligence—not just complexity—at work energetically beyond our ordinary awareness.

Such a concept – call it mind, consciousness or God, have proven inconvenient for conventional science, but they are now finding their way into biology, physics on the quantum level, astronomy and even philosophy.

But what are we to make of the undeniable FACT that programming, similar to what we have created in its image, is at work within our very cells? Where and what is the energy behind such a process? Is an understanding even possible solely (or “soully”) through the intellect? Or does it require a measure of contemplation, reverence and awe for something Higher—as some of my brethren may experience during services this evening?

While many may follow ancient rituals by rote, others may be moved to a sense of something deeper and far more profound—which is currently only on the periphery of scientific inquiry.

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Wake Up Call: Why I’m Writing This

Today a lot of people are suffering—studies suggest that one in nine Americans are depressed. And in fact many have lost their jobs and homes, and these are traumatic experiences that can shake anyone’s foundations.

But I can speak from personal experience when I say that many of us are also the victims of a deeply conditioned set of beliefs that are now being challenged, and our suffering is not only the result of our actual circumstances, but rather conflicts within us about what the point of anything may be.

Another study has shown that people in developed nations suffer from depression more than poor nations; some of this may be attributed to the fact that “advanced” nations have more of an infrastructure and interest in even analyzing such facts—and the time and resources to do it.

But I believe that the crux of the matter (crux presumably being a word related to crucible) is related to the famous parable of Jesus that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to achieve the Kingdom of Heaven.

The reasons I am putting forth here are two: first those who are in advanced countries and not completely preoccupied with just surviving have developed an expectation of prosperity, which when threatened, leads to tremendous anxiety. In our country people who today have no job or home just a few years ago had both, plus all of the “things” that were supposed to bring them meaning—cars, boats, flat screen TVs, stereos, vacations, and so on.

The second reason is that people in advanced countries and our own population in particular have been “educated”, or conditioned, into a reality that simply takes existence for granted—we seem to be here to consume and live without thinking much if at all about what the nature of Nature may be.

In fact, our science tells us directly that questions about meaning, consciousness, existence, and our own participation in “what is” are unanswerable and meaningless. Our brains are used only for calculating how to survive and thrive—to build roads and bridges, go to the moon, cure disease—but not really to reflect or consider our relationship to what was here before we ever arrived.

The immense power of the scientific prejudice that we don’t need to know or wonder “why,” just worry about “how,” has led to the dominance of a technology that now contributes to our feelings of powerlessness. We spend hours on the phone with faceless technocrats to fix mistakes in our credit, banking, billing and other critical matters, and even if we talk to a human, they are working from a script written by lawyers and accountants.

Douglas Rushkoff has cautioned about this aspect of our reality in a book called Program or be Programmed, in which he urges people to understand the nature of brute technology for its own sake and how programming can literally operate to strip us of the ability to exercise control over our lives.

And programming has its effect not just externally, in our ability enjoy life and be free of constraints of bureaucracy, but also internally in the way we have become conditioned to believe that we have the correct perspective and knowledge of how things “should be” – and when reality deviates, we suffer.

I had a personal experience several years ago when two of my most fundamental beliefs about my financial stability and my emotional ability to live alone and apart were challenged to the core.

My first reaction was a deep fear—like the foundation or floor of my existence was suddenly taken away and I was in a sort of free fall.

I’ve been helped enormously by a deeper, more profound insight into the fact that much of what we think we “know” is in fact wrong.

Writers like Eckhart Tolle have convinced many of us that our talking minds (the Ego) are not free, but in fact conditioned to believe we know how things should be. His concept is that when we fight with the present moment—how things are—we suffer.

Again, this suffering is not because of the circumstances themselves—some of which can be dire to be sure—but rather because we have a false set of expectations, deeply programmed and conditioned, about how things ought to work out for us.

Byron Katie puts it well, she says, “when you argue with reality you lose at least 100% of the time.”

When my beliefs were suddenly exposed as wrong and my fear came up, it was my mind itself which was able to make a bit of a leap, using the ideas in the first entry in this blog, to recognize that I am not the center of the universe, but rather that I was subject to a set of programs that worked like computer software or an operating system.

And, what’s more, all of life was programmed the same way, according to a set of instructions or commands that came into being before our “civilization” ever existed. Life has an intelligence beyond my own limited mental understanding or conditioning.

Remember that it takes supercomputers to decode the genome – or our code or set of instructions—and that’s just the code. The energies or programs that run according to these instructions, through us and around us, are infinitely more vast and powerful than anything created by Apple or Microsoft.

This enabled me to take a step back from the many assumptions I carried around about the nature of reality, and how things “should be” and recognize that they were mainly beliefs based on other peoples’ ideas—other people who may have meant well but who knew no more than I did.

Please understand that this is not an argument for complete passivity or total surrender to “fate.”

First of all, coming to this perspective is a daily practice and a choice—it takes effort to notice and understand, for example, that the noise being made by the leaf blower isn’t there to annoy me—I just happen to be there.

In fact, nothing is about “me” in truth, because most of what I think “I am” is a set of beliefs that I’ve adopted from my culture—and the most massive belief is that what I experience every day is significant beyond my own emotional realm, and that nothing higher, more intelligent or greater really exists or matters.

And I can’t just decide to discard these beliefs. They are in fact “my programs” and a living part of my own reality, which I also need to understand, accept, and perhaps even embrace.

 

Life suddenly got a lot harder for many of us for whom it had been relatively easy (even if we didn’t realize it at the time). But we need to remain aware that we have the capacity to see it in perspective as it really is, and not the way we may have been conditioned to expect it to be.

If We Can Copy and Paste Life—What Does It Mean?

I’ve taught quite a few people how to embed a video into a web page or blog as a means of creating compelling content for their social interactions online; in fact I’ve featured the process in webinars which drew upwards of 1000 attendees.

The process essentially is to copy and paste a block of “code” – a segment of computer instructions written in English – from a video hosting site like YouTube into the HTML panel for the destination page.

HTML is the coding language of the Internet and instructs the web browser what to display on screen when a web page loads. Once the code for the page includes the proper syntax for the “embed” tag that points to the video, that video will display when the page loads.

Here you can see a block of embed code from You Tube pasted into a post for Blogger, Google’s blogging program—in the HTML tab—so that it will display in the blog page as shown on the right.

Coincidentally a few weeks ago, Sixty Minutes did a segment in which they showed exactly the same process—used to revive extinct or endangered animals

Essentially the DNA of the endangered species is “copied and pasted” into the egg of a host animal that is similar in type. The only difference from the YouTube embed code is that DNA is made up only of combinations and syntaxes represented by the letters ACTG, not the entire English language.

As I’ve noted in the past, geneticists like Juan Enriquez, whose video I mentioned from TED, make no distinction between the way computer code operates and instructs, for example, a web browser, and how genetic code works with Life.

* * *

Here is the relevant portion of the article about the Sixty Minutes piece:

On the day we visited, they were laparoscopically removing eggs from an ordinary housecat, then sending the eggs down the hall to have the housecat DNA literally sucked out of them.

“What she’s doing is she’s removing the DNA from this domestic cat egg. And she can see it by what we call fluorescing it,” Dresser explained, while observing the procedure with Stahl. “It becomes just very blue, and so now she knows where it is. And now you’ll see her go in there and be able to remove it.”

Once the housecat DNA is deposited outside of the egg, they will replace it with the DNA of an endangered Arabian sandcat, a completely different species, gathered from a tiny piece of skin.

“And there you see it being inserted into the domestic cat egg,” Dresser explained.

“And you made that from just skin?” Stahl asked.

“Just from skin cells, right,” Dresser said.

An electrical impulse starts the egg dividing, and if all goes as planned, the now sandcat embryo will be put back into the domestic cat to grow to term.

* * *

Now, for most of us, copy and paste is a process we have used and understand.

So for those of us who use computers and the Internet every day, how do we react when see that the language of programming literally runs within Life?

For me, when I first encountered this fact, as a tech writer, it opened me up profoundly to a completely different view of life.

After all, programs on the Internet, Blogger, Google, YouTube, and on your desktop; for example Microsoft Word which I am using to write this, were created not my one person, but by enormous teams of programmers who planned, wrote, and implemented their code to achieve a specific set of purposes.

In reality, this code take electrical impulses, like the ones used to jump start the division of the egg of the Arabian sandcat inside its new host—but in the case of computer code it uses the electricity and silicon chips in the machine to manifest the ideas of the programmers—based on the interaction of the software with the end user.

In the case of Life, the interaction is much more complex because it involves the brain, and the entire cosmos or environment with which the “software” interacts. In his book The Biology of Belief rogue biologist Bruce Lipton identifies the cell membrane as the “computer chip” that literally processes the information from the environment—a process that forms the basis for the new science of epigenetics.

It also means we are not determined by our DNA code—genes express due to environmental, cognitive and other factors, but that the essential code itself—the combination A,C,T,G referenced chemicals that comprise the potential or blueprint for all living things—works like the code in your PC and responds to “user input.”

If I replace the embed code in the web page with a different set of symbols—I get a different video.

If I replace the DNA code of a house cat with that of an Arabian sandcat, that’s what I get.

In both cases the final outcome is an expression of a set of symbols—an idea in the mind of a set of programmers in the case of computers—and inevitably in the case of Life…

What?

Unlike some, I don’t see this as an argument for Intelligent Design or fundamentalism of any sort.

To me, the answer to this question, at this point is, I Don’t Know.

As I said, for me it is a powerful opening to the realization that life is far more than the merely random events that seem to happen through cause and effect, but rather that just as there is in your PC or laptop, there is an intelligent energy or software that is beneath or within the fabric of Life – or indeed is Life itself.

Certainly the recent advances in quantum physics and neuroscience also suggest, indeed they proclaim, that mental and subatomic phenomena are not simple cause and effect processes, but rather that the presence of an Observer or participant is fundamental to their nature.

So far, we have attributed the property of higher intelligence only to ourselves, and perhaps dolphins and whales, connecting it somehow only to our brains, which seem to host such mental activity exclusively.

And, we speculate about finding it on other planets or in other galaxies.

But if we understand that the same principles that we have come to know through our own experience with computers, the actual working of software—the ability to cut and paste symbolic representations to effect both electronic and natural expressions and manifestations—then it becomes clear that somehow a higher intelligence is at work in our cells.

For one thing, decoding the DNA within us has taken supercomputers to do the sequencing.

It is the expression of an immensely vast conglomeration of potentialities and variables—even for a one celled creature (some of whom have more genetic material within them than humans).

Moreover of the DNA already sequenced, a large portion is called “junk DNA”—but that’s because we don’t know what it does or expresses.

Some modern thinkers, like Eckhart Tolle, have said literally that a far higher intelligence than our own runs our digestive system, nervous system, respiration, and so on.

Conventional scientists will argue that DNA “evolved” as life formed billions of years ago from organic molecules.

It is clear that the mutation and changes in DNA, over millions of years, have produced many different species, most of them extinct.

But if DNA is software ask yourself this: could software “evolve” out of an “uninspired” organic molecule—or is the notion of manifesting an idea through a set of coded instructions a function of consciousness of some kind?

In other words, a mind – a term much of science finds extremely inconvenient—because a mind is not mere processing—but the capacity to conceive and manifest an intentional idea through mental activity.

How do we know that mind exists in nature, even if science finds the concept problematic? Because we experience it each moment we’re alive.

And now that we have created software (in our image), and have found it in nature and within ourselves we might say that consciousness is the intelligent energy behind the software of Life.