Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.
History's first utopia shows how far we've come.
- Plato's "Republic" is the first utopian novel, complete with an ideal city—the Kallipolis.
- The totalitarian leanings of the Kallipolis have lead many thinkers to move in the opposite direction since then.
- Even if we don't like it, having to explain why we don't is a useful exercise.
Putting smart people in charge<p> Most utopian literature starts with trying to answer the "what is the ideal society" question. "Republic" begins by trying to answer the question: "What is justice and is it good for a person to be just?" This is a very big question, and Plato answers it through analogy via his main character Socrates. He suggests that justice in the ideal city is akin to justice in a person and that by understanding justice on the large, easy to see scale, we can understand it in the smaller. </p><p> The city, dubbed the Kallipolis, would be governed by <em>Philosopher-Kings</em>. Selected for their wisdom, these rulers would be educated for 50 years before taking control of the city. Guided by their understanding of the good, the just, and how to achieve it, they would drive the city towards peace and prosperity. </p><p>Men and women would be treated equally, as Plato can find no reason why either sex is fundamentally unable to do what the other can within reasonable limits. All children would be given a quality education suitable to their natural talents. <br> <br> All of this is geared towards creating the best city possible, with high overall happiness, virtue, and harmony. </p>
This sounds great! How does it work?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/cVLpdzhcU0g" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>It works through an increasingly totalitarian series of laws and regulations that keep the city as a whole functioning with little regard for the stated desires of the populace. While many of the specifics are left unstated, what is said is plenty. <br> <br> The city features a rigidly enforced caste system, with no social movement possible for adults. However, their children may be promoted or demoted based on how they do in school. The guardian and warrior class that rules and defends the city will be without personal and private property but will live in communal abodes thanks to taxes collected from the lower classes. All the rulers will be chosen from this class. <br> </p><p> Speaking of children, families would no longer exist as single units; instead, children produced by state-sanctioned marriages will be reared by the state. Alongside this will be a eugenics system featuring the infanticide of the children of "inferior parents" or any "defective" baby. Rigged lotteries will be used to assure lower quality parents don't contaminate the bloodlines of higher quality stock. <strong><br> <br> </strong>To assure that the truth is respected, all the poets will be sent into exile. All works of culture, from plays to bedtime stories, will be approved by the rulers. Naturally, these rulers are the only people capable of grasping "truth" rather than cheap imitations of it.</p><p>The system's endurance is made possible using a "noble lie," assuring the common people that souls come in varieties. The philosopher kings have golden souls, their aids and warriors have silver ones, and the farmers, laborers, and craftsman are metaphysically made of brass and iron. The lie includes the warning that everything will fall apart if people of the wrong build are put in charge. <br> <br> Oh, and it is doomed to eventual failure as Plato suggests all political regimes are. <br> <br> Sounds pleasant, doesn't it?</p>
Historian Rutger Bregman argues that the persistent theory that most people are monsters is just wrong.
- How have humans managed to accomplish significantly more than any other species on the planet? Historian Rutger Bregman believes the quality that makes us special is that we "evolved to work together and to cooperate on a scale that no other species in the whole animal kingdom has been able to do."
- Pushing back against the millennia-old idea that humans are inherently evil beneath their civilized surface, which is known as 'veneer theory', Bregman says that it's humanity's cooperative spirit and sense of brotherhood that leads us to do cruel deeds. "Most atrocities are committed in the name of loyalty, and in the name of friendship, and in the name of helping your people," he tells Big Think. "That is what's so disturbing."
- The false assumption that people are evil or inherently selfish has an effect on the way we design various elements of our societies and structures. If we designed on the assumption that we are collaborative instead, we could avoid the "self-fulfilling prophecy" of selfishness.
In "The Immortality Key," Brian Muraresku speculates that the Eucharist could have once been more colorful.
The Connection Psychedelics Have to Early Christianity, Christmas<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="72275b24cf5d5ef9a42648bd565da0e0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/XS5qjEXS6oM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Muraresku was drawn into this research due to the mystical concept of dying before dying, as expressed during the Mysteries of Eleusis. He uncovered parallel narratives while conducting research with God's librarian in the Vatican Secret Archives—a research trip few people ever have an opportunity to experience.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is something preserved in St. Paul's monastery, for example: <em>if you die before you die, you won't die when you die</em>. That's the key. It's not psychedelics; it's not drugs. It's this concept of navigating the liminal space between what you and I are doing right now, and dreaming, and death. In that state, the mystics tell us, is the potential to grasp a very different view of reality."</p><p>Something funny happened on the way to the Archives, however. Muraresku, who has never taken a psychedelic drug, read about terminally-ill patients <a href="https://maps.org/news/multimedia-library/3012-how-psychedelic-drugs-can-help-patients-face-death" target="_blank">having a similar revelation</a> after ingesting psilocybin. "Dying before dying" succinctly describes what they felt; the overwhelming sensations prepared them to actually die with confidence and grace. Could this be the same experience discovered by initiates at Eleusis and, later, early Christians? </p><p>The key to immortality might be dying before dying, and psychedelics appear to be one method for unlocking this mystery. </p><p>Muraresku spends the bulk of 400 pages chasing down archaeological and scriptural evidence for spiked wine. The wine and wafer of today is a far cry from the <em>kukeon</em> of the ancient Greeks, drunk by pilgrims, who were given the title <em>epoptes</em>, "the one who has seen it all." That's a heavy ask for a grape. </p><p>But if you were to mix that grape with blue water lily (with its psychoactive compounds, apomorphine and nuciferin), henbane, lizards—ancestral food choices that put Brooklyn hipsters to shame—or ergot, the fungal disease that gives LSD its kick, you might just "see it all." As Muraresku points out, the Greek language is descriptively rich and extensive, yet these philosophers somehow never invented a word for "alcohol." Their chalices weren't for wine alone. </p>
The Telesterion at the Archaeological site of Eleusis ( or "Elefsis) or "Elefsina", Attica, Greece
Credit: Iraklis Milas / Adobe Stock<p>While he calls psychedelics "just one, perhaps very tiny piece" of early Christian rituals, it could be an essential one. Sadly, archaeochemistry isn't the most funded discipline, especially after asking the Vatican to hand over guarded relics in hopes of discovering trace amounts of psychedelics. And yet, even with those restrictions, Muraresku gains access to the Vatican Secret Archives and jet sets with a sympathetic Father Francis through the Louvre and Rome in search of potential connections in the literature and art.</p><p>There are plenty. While the gospel writers were busy writing what would become the world's most lasting bestseller, Dioscorides was penning his unforgettable recipe book, "Da meteria medica." The five-volume drug manual's influence lasted for 1,500 years before Renaissance botanists usurped his reign. Regardless, Dioscorides included cocktails spiked with plants, herbs, and toxins, some of which inspire a hallucinogenic—some would say religious—sentiment.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's no mistake that the Eucharist is described as the 'drug of immortality' by the early Church fathers because there was this sense of really sophisticated botanical understanding that goes all the way back to Homer. Obviously, it goes back a lot further, and so part of the reason I wrote the book is to show people that within Western civilization—at its roots, in fact—is this very pharmacopoeia. This tradition was certainly there, and it begs the question of how prevalent and widespread it really was."</p><p>Add to this already riveting tale the fact that the gatekeepers of Eleusis were women—a practice Christianity abandoned. Women were likely the distributors of the spiked beverages that helped initiates "see it all." Modern precedent exists, though not in American Christianity. The Western world was introduced to psilocybin after R Gordon Wasson sat in on a ceremony led by the <em>curandera</em> María Sabina. Likewise, ayahuasca is called "godmother" for a reason.</p><p>We live in a world that went from honoring goddesses to hunting witches, though we shouldn't glorify ancient Greece. The first democracy didn't allow women to vote and likely didn't let them partake in epic plays. Men performed as women in the Tragedies. Highborn women often become slaves in these plays, such as with Cassandra, Hecuba, and Tecmessa. Misogyny is ancient. While Greek city folk were jacked up on testosterone, Eleusis offered a different landscape. </p><p>Regardless, Christian leaders exiled women from both leadership and ritual. While in the Archives, Muraresku found evidence of at least 45,000 so-called witches being executed, with "countless more" tortured or imprisoned. The patriarchy initiated a pattern:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"[The leadership] wasn't just trying to rid Christianity of folk healers. It was trying to erase a system of knowledge that had survived for centuries in the shadows." </p>