At the start of the text we are introduced to Kai, god king and emperor, and master of mystic magic powers. It would appear for a very brief moment thAt the start of the text we are introduced to Kai, god king and emperor, and master of mystic magic powers. It would appear for a very brief moment that we are in a typical fantasy novel. However, immediately we are informed that we are actually in a society that has embraced a form of utilitarian philosophy, namely: the greatest good is accomplished by creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, using the fewest resources. This is something I would generally agree with, depending on how happiness is defined. But they have also concluded that the best way to accomplish this goal, is to remove people's brains at birth, and place them in a small jar, and wire their neutral connections up to an incredibly lifelike simulation, tailored to the emerging personality of each person, similar to what we saw in the Matrix movies.
This is why Kai has achieved all these grand seeming things, and has these apparently magical powers. That was the world created for him, tailored to his nature and personality.
The remainder of the book is a philosophical exploration of the consequences of these two ideas, utilitarianism and VR simulation. However, by exploiting them through the feelings of people actually in the simulations, the discussion is no longer so sterile and intellectual. We FEEL annoyed at the situation when they do, and we question it's wisdom when they do, because of their believable experiences in the situation.
The problem, is that the idea isn't trivially dismissed, and there are broader implications for everything from modern video games, for authors telling fictional stories (like the author of this book is doing), and even for theology, God, and the problem of pain.
What is real? What is a fantasy? Are simulated AI entities conscious? Are they “real”? What makes a good story? Does a good story need conflict? What is the difference between real achievements and simulated ones? What makes a good game that people want to play? What makes good life, a life worth living? Is it similar to what makes a game worth playing? Or a story worth telling? How is it different? What is the nature of challenge, opposition, and difficulty in our feelings that life is worth living? Do we need a chance to fail, in order to feel like our accomplishments meant anything? Do people need to feel special to have a life of purpose? Or do they need interactions with their equal peers? Are these two ideas in conflict? How? Can we interact with equals and still feel special? How should that conflict be balanced?
Ultimately… how can people find meaning and purpose in their lives? That's the central question the story asks. And it doesn't give any trite or easy answers.
But it does make me think, hard, about existential questions that I find to be the most rewarding and challenging questions we can ask. ...more
I highly recommend Stephen Batchelor's excellent book "Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening" to anyone struggling to find peaceI highly recommend Stephen Batchelor's excellent book "Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening" to anyone struggling to find peace and meaning in life without any reference to a belief in the super natural. Stephen Batchelor is an atheist. But he also admits, frankly, to being an atheist Buddhist (a member of a religion), and finds nothing incompatible in those claims. This book does an excellent job describing a form of Buddhism that can be practiced without any supernatural or dogmatic beliefs. It is an excellent work on how to synthesize Buddhism with a lack of belief in the supernatural.
Batchelor finds Buddhism completely compatible with a non-belief in the super natural elements of reincarnation and Karma, and suggests that a modern Buddhist could theoretically reject those elements of the earlier tradition. He reminds his readers that the Buddha himself suggested that we need not accept everything in his tradition to be a Buddhist, and that the central teachings of the Buddha involved the nature of suffering, and the mechanisms whereby we may overcome suffering. The other elements such as reincarnation and karma have always been considered as appendages to the core teachings, appendages that Batchelor suggests we can reject if we so choose, while remaining within the large umbrella of Buddhism.
However, he also outlines a way of viewing those ideas without reference to any sort of un-scientific world view. After all, we are all dying and being reborn in some ways every moment of our lives (which can be viewed as a form of reincarnation), and there is a sense in which things have natural consequences, (which can be viewed as a non super natural version of the law of karma).
Batchelor's book is related to Sam Harris' book "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion" (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...). However, Batchelor spends less time than Harris in off topic railings against the foolishness of every other religion but his. Batchelor also seems to recognize (in a way that Harris does not) that spirituality also needs community (the Sangha). And that once you add the Sangha to spirituality, the result is religion. So, instead of advocating for spirituality without religion (as Harris does), he instead advocates for religion (Buddhism) without dogmatic beliefs in the supernatural.
What Harris does best is provide an insider's view of how neuroscience relates to the practice. And what Batchelor does best, is describe how to actually practice and participate in a religion (Buddhism) without reference to any super natural belief....more
This book had some truly excellent information on the neuroscience of mindfulness and the self. What Harris does, perhaps better than others around hiThis book had some truly excellent information on the neuroscience of mindfulness and the self. What Harris does, perhaps better than others around him, is talk about the relationship between neuroscience and his spiritual practice. Harris' book is worth reading for those insights alone.
However, I would have preferred more neuroscience, and more actual mental instruction, and far fewer personal musings. Also, Sam Harris' eternal rants against religion were completely off topic for this book, and quickly got old.
Harris also fails to realize that community is also an important aspect of successful spirituality. The 3 gifts of Buddhism are the Buddha (the example, that gives us hope that we can improve), the Dharma (the teachings that help us find awakening), and the Sangha (the community that we strive for awakening with). Once you add the Sangha to the mix of spirituality he is advocating, the result IS religion. Although this is mostly just a matter of definitions, I would have vastly preferred him to speak about religion without dogma, or religion without belief. Because if you just have spirituality without community, you are missing a huge part of the equation. And if you do have spirituality and community, the result is a religion, just not one with the many problems with dogmatic religions that he loves to point out. Those problems aren't problems with religion necessarily, but with the specific dogmatic religions that he so despises (sometimes with cause).
In that vein, I also highly recommend Stephen Batchelor's excellent book "Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening" (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9...). Stephen Batchelor is also an atheist, like Harris. But he also admits, frankly, to being an atheist Buddhist (a member of a religion), and finds nothing incompatible in those claims. That book spends less time off topic railing against the follies of other religions, and spends more time talking about how to practice a form of Buddhism (similar to the one actually recommended by Harris), without any form of supernatural or dogmatic beliefs. It is an excellent work on how to synthesize Buddhism with a lack of belief in the supernatural. ...more
If everyone read and applied the teachings in this book, the world would be a very very different place. These practices don't require that you acceptIf everyone read and applied the teachings in this book, the world would be a very very different place. These practices don't require that you accept any religious dogma, nor do they require that you reject whatever you may currently believe about God or the soul. Rather, they provide a set of techniques, things you can actually do, and try out for yourself. Those that try these things out, almost universally conclude that they are happier, more joyful, and more content afterwards.
This book is for everyone. I highly recommend it. Whatever your religious beliefs are, this will make you better....more
This is currently the best resource for the issues of homosexuality in the LDS context. I recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in the issueThis is currently the best resource for the issues of homosexuality in the LDS context. I recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in the issue....more