Faith Through Nihilism

To most people, there are only two options: inherent belief to human purpose in the universe, or an absence of anything resembling purpose or belief. The latter are commonly called nihilists.

A sensible version of nihilism cuts to its core, which is distrust of all things perceived through the human mind:

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence.

The fundamental separation here occurs through the recognition that values, communication and truth are proxies or intermediates for reality. Our brains will recognize conclusions about the world, encode them in tokens and share them with others, but then the tokens become more important than results in reality. The same happens with money, popularity, religion and systems of control.

For this reason, nihilism is not what most people think it is, which is giving up on knowing reality at all or caring about the consequences of our actions. Instead, it is a refusal to let the human symbols for reality supersede reality itself, a condition known as solipsism which is the root of most common human errors.

Since most people are solipsistic, they want an excuse to give up on reality itself, not its proxies. They do this by strengthening the proxies instead of focusing on reality, or cause-effect results in the world outside our heads. One way to do this is a fanatical “anti-relativism” that emphasizes devotional truths, but the other is fatalism, or proclaiming that all reality is pointless except that in the human mind.

The kiddie form of nihilism arises from this, and ends up being a brew of individualism and anarchism, or essentially an individual without obligations to be correct in his or her statements. This allows the individual to justify inaction and selfishness as some form of “higher truth.”

And so, what does nihilism say about faith? First, it rejects the idea of any belief; in other words, there must be a source of spiritual understanding based on the world and its patterns, much as we know anything else. Next, this spiritual understanding cannot be communicated, only achieved by those who go along the path of cumulative learning.

Nihilism thus rejects exoteric faiths, or those based on the idea that we can communicate metaphysical or spiritual understanding through tokens, or that faith can be adopted on that basis. Religious texts can inform our understanding, but the source of the understanding comes from finding similarities between what is there and what exists in the world.

The root of metaphysics through nihilism is the same radical skepticism toward humanity that is found in most religious texts. Most humans, being monkeys plus language, have low capacity for analytical thinking or any real passion. Instead, they focus on the ego, externalizing choice to factors such as bodily impulses, socializing with others, and following what the group does.

An examination of the external world however reveals a potent clue: patterns, not physical matter, rule the day. That is: matter arranged in patterns has properties beyond its immediate physical presence, and these patterns can appear in different forms of matter and have the same effect, which means that patterns are more important than materiality.

The classic example of this is a chair. It can be made out of wood, stone, metal, plastic or even human bones, and still serves the same function. The design of the chair — four legs, a platform and a back — is where the magic lies, not in the plastic or bone. In the same way, forms of organization of groups or ideas have greater power than what they are written on or the tokens used. The idea is all.

From this realization comes the first honest spirituality. When life is seen in terms of patterns, those patterns can be compared and arranged, showing how reality is structured. This is separate from purpose, because that is a choice of the individual human, but those choices reflect the moral composition, intelligence and honesty of those individuals.

In turn, this places an emphasis on thought, or at least thought that is consistent with the world around it, making it a continuation of the world in the mind. Here a fine line arises: the world is thought, but not just any thought, since most human thought is a closed-circuit feedback loop of the impulses of the body and ego, and unrelated to the broader world.

When one sees the world as thought, something better than inherent purpose emerges: a sense that the world is calculating, or transacting change toward an ongoing end like evolution itself. Our thoughts take the same pattern, which is that many options emerge and are slowly whittled down to a final model, which is then refined qualitatively or in terms of degree of efficiency, accuracy and elegance.

At that point, the world takes on a new perspective. Instead of the world being the cause of thoughts, thoughts — or the evolution thereof — are the cause of the world, and it reveals its tendencies toward beauty and goodness through the seemingly endless creativity of nature and the many possibilities it gives us.

Through eyes that have realized this truth, a forest becomes not just an object of beauty, but a sense of beauty joined to function, revealing a pattern of thought that emphasizes something we can only call holiness. It takes us beyond the requirements of mere utilitarianism and shows us that the universe points in a different direction, toward an experience of greatness and existential pleasure.

With that, we realize that life has given us a clue: it is not random after all, nor is it ugly. Instead, it is us that are ugly. We resist a world that would push us to greater heights because we fear losing control. And yet, the world tries for beauty, which is how we know that we are immortal and that striving for excellence is worthy. Only then do we join the eternal pattern of our cosmos.

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13 Responses to “Faith Through Nihilism”

  1. -A says:

    I have brought this up before and you posted a link that was interesting but not what I was talking about. Have you given any further thought into what was called “transcendental physics” in the late nineties and early oughts? There were two physicists who claimed that they had trigonometric and calculus based proof that consciousness is a thermodynamic. I hate that I can’t remember them or their work but, I let it sit in a favorites folder for a long time and that computer has since been long fried because my apartment and my power source just did not get along.

    Also, have you encountered any interesting groups of people who work with this idea? Perhaps who consider (generally though not totally sans the liberalism) a central consciousness? I ask because you talk very similarly to a group I have in mind in this article. I had to break away though, I just did not agree with their politics and that killed it. Also, they were very existentialist.

    • This fellow?

      It will be very hard to find “evidence” or “proof” of such things, as they will occur through multiple layers of inference, but if this fellow is on point his work is worth investigating.

      It might make sense to mention here that William S. Burroughs was the first writer, to me at least, who made this connection…

      • Avraham Rosenblum says:

        Mainly a waste of time. I knew one fellow, George Ryazanov with a GUT based on a different idea which also located some effect in the mind. But it had Lorentz violation and so I dropped the subject and also deleted the files. Still the idea were intriguing. Mainly it was a four worlds idea of time entropy, minus time minus entropy, time minus entropy and minus time+ entropy. It was a elegant theory and sometimes I regret deleting it. Other times I am grateful to the good Lord for helping me not waste any time on it.

      • -A says:

        His website is very different now but I think this indeed might be him.

        • Avraham Rosenblum says:

          George Ryazanov was a genius. The things that were impressive were the fact that he could derive the mas of the electron with his theory. But I simply lost patience with him and decided it was on the wrong track though I can imagine at some future date his ideas might be helpful. The basic idea was two arrows of time and two arrows of entropy would provide results that two arrows of time by themselves could not provide.

    • JPW says:

      So should thinking hard enough to give you a headache also lead to a fever?

  2. Svmmoned says:

    Should be added to the list of most important writings on this blog as a strikingly clear and somehow graphic summary of your nihilism.

  3. Elenka says:

    Thank you for the summary of your book. I am sufficiently intrigued to buy a copy and read it. I am working backwards, having started by reading your articles on this website every morning, finding here a genuine alternative to the official narrative and opining chatter of cyberspace. However, Brett, these are elegant and difficult concepts (do those go together?) so please continue to explain your thought! I suspect there are many of us who are desperate for a new lens through which to see, and understand.

    • I appreciate your readership. You correctly intuit that nihilism is a “new lens” for those of us who want to escape from modernity. Our assumptions at a basic level are skewed in a direction that prevents us from returning to realism from our humanistic flight of fancy, and the result is that we are (figuratively) blind to necessary choices.

  4. missy says:

    This is similar to Mahayana Buddhism and Theosophy which I find make the most sense. If any one wants to obtain proof, I would suggest astral projection. The spirit world is what allows for manifestation of the physical world. Now why are we caught in this terrible mess right now where we are facing the end of our country and race and how does that pertain to our spirituality… I’m sure a process is at play here, probably self discovery of who we are and what we want.

  5. Avraham Rosenblum says:

    He did not submit his ideas to any journal. And he had an experiment done at HU where he claimed his predictions were validated. But the experiment was not done under supervision. He also had religious ideas mixed up in the whole thing. I hope his papers were saved somewhere because they had a lot of interesting results. He called it “Heavenly Physics.”

  6. Avraham Rosenblum says:

    I looked at the web site that Brett Stevens linked to and George Ryazanov is different. In any case, the one linked seems very crackpot. George was different. He might have been wrong but he was no crackpot. He was working in the Landau Institute and was well known. He was invited to speak at the Sacharov memorial lectures. What seems to make him wrong in my opinion is that he view is classical. And we know from Bell that nature violates determinism and objectivity both. If I had presented him with this problem I imagine he might have found some way around it. But to me this means that we must go with String Theory and if there is any value in George’s ideas, it will have to be found in that context. [In any case I just learned that he died in Princeton so that probably means that his son still has his papers.–which is good.]

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