FTP028: Vinay Gupta - Enlightenment for the Future of Humanity
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Vinay: There is some very deep human capability to understand what is happening in very subtle, very intuitive ways and that that capability is often much, much more accurate than it’s got any right to be.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: But it turns out not to be 100 percent accurate and if you assume it is 100 percent accurate, you will wind up breeding monsters.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: Right? It’s amazing but it’s not quite so amazing that you can throw away the scientific method [00:02:30] and live on it alone.

Mike: Completely agree with you that all of it should be tested but is it possible to be 100 percent right?

Vinay: Certainly, the traditions of the world will tell you that it’s possible to be 100 percent right. On the other hand, if that’s the case, why have none of their people fixed the world? The ACID test of this stuff – has there ever been a nation which had enlightened people in it who were so correct that it fed everybody?

Mike: Isn’t this going on the assumption that that’s what [00:03:00] you would naturally do, is fix the world if you had the highest level?

Vinay: Yeah, that is certainly an assumption. If enlightenment is going to be the very real possibility of human extinction, there are rules in preventing that possibility, it would be kind of nice of the forms of enlightenment that we had in this culture pointed people doing something useful. There may be kinds of enlightenment in which people are completely perfectly aligned at all times, for whatever reason we have no historical footprints, but [00:03:30] unless there’s some indirect mechanism by which those people are keeping the rest of the planet alive, it doesn’t really matter whether they exist or whether they don’t.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: It is the clear approximate pressure that we operate under is human extinction risk. That really changes things.

Euvie: Yeah.

Vinay: To be alive on a planet which has transhumanism breaking out in some corners while we’ve still got mass starvation in others, there’s no way to feel good about that. You can’t intellectually, honestly make yourself okay in a planet [00:04:00] which has these kind of conditions for so many of its citizens. Hence, there is a very strong pool, as you begin to face these emotions, that you begin to feel emotions which are pretty political in nature. They’re sort of metaphysical political, but you used to have this sense of the injustice of we can’t be killing all of the large animals which are non-humans to get more space for people’s lawns. It just feels wrong. [00:04:30] The feeling that it feels wrong is a deeply felt feeling for an enormous number of people.

You meditate, the personal feelings begin to quieten down, you get into the Freudian stuff, you get into the union stuff, you realize at that level, “Wow, I have a really primitive deep feeling inside of me that we’re living wrong and I don’t want the world to be this way.” It’s very hard to have that feeling about your whole civilization and your whole culture, but who’s really happy here? We evolve these material things but we [00:05:00] don’t seem to be able to produce persistent, stable wellbeing. Too much change, too rapid change, too much fear, too rapid insecurity, even the rich are terrified all the time. It’s just not right.

If you do the meditation processes, in all probability, you find those kind of feelings inside of you and you just kind of have to get into a position where you can sit with the discomfort and accept that it is uncomfortable and not recoil from it in a way that produces more thoughts. Sitting with [00:05:30] discomfort and difficult emotions, difficult faults, hard realizations, is the core practice that leads towards enlightenment. It’s not easy but if we lived in a better world, a better time in history, it may be that we’d have much more naturally happy and optimistic emotions and that was a result when people were doing the hard work of feeling these things, it might be much less hard work.

What we can’t do is put on the traditional new age smiley happy face [00:06:00] and talk about how much gratitude we’re feeling right now, because underneath all of that gratitude is, “Oh my God, the world is dying.” If you ignore that level of your consciousness on the way to enlightenment, you’re not going to get there because the closer you get, the more resistance there is to feeling what’s actually going on inside of you and if you can’t honestly and completely feel what’s happening inside of you, whatever it is that happens, the consciousness just doesn’t move. It requires profound [00:06:30] self-knowledge and, for most people right now, profound self-knowledge includes this existential discomfort with the direction of the human race.

Mike: Right.

Vinay: But there will also be a bedrock, which is like, “Wow, I don’t know if I’m going to die. I might have a 50,000-year lifespan. I might have most of that life lived on the side of silicon chip somewhere. Whoa, that’s actually feasible, I can imagine that happening one step at a time between now and the end of my life. Oh my God, that’s amazing and it’s also terrifying.” [00:07:00] In another direction we could see a grey goo incident that takes out the entire planet or nuclear war, that’s still possible. The difference between the best futures and the worst futures continues to get wider and wider and wider and wider for the whole planet, for the whole species, for all of known life in the universe, but also for us personally.

It’s getting really big out here, you really need to be brave just to be able to think currently in the world as it. [00:07:30] This is why I think there’s such an enormous need for enlightenment practices by people that are not disengaged from the world. To be fully embedded in the history and to practice enlightenment as a way of life seems to be the best option on the table. It gets harder and harder to justify the monastic position in an environment where, if we don’t do something about the course of humanity, we may all die. To be a monastic in a pre-nuclear world, [00:08:00] things could get worse, things could get better, but the extinction of all life was not on the cards.

There was no need to do anything about it because it wasn’t going to happen. As the human race gets more and more and more power, the extinction of all life becomes more and more and more easy for us to achieve and, therefore, we need more and more and more wisdom not to choose it. It’s not that we would collectively make the decision, smaller and smaller and smaller subgroups of humans have the ability to make that decision for everybody else. These are [00:08:30] the real conditions. The existential risk is real. As somebody, a practitioner of enlightenment, all the you can really advice people to do is feel the existential terror, breathe in, breathe out, continue to feel the existential terror until your mind no longer recoils from it. At that point, it will stop generating thought and you can move on to the next thing. Doesn’t this sound like fun?

Mike: Yeah. I feel like we’re both too deep in it.

Euvie: We’re way too deep.

Mike: There’s no turning back now.

Vinay: [00:09:00] I did tell you. You scrape that little clean spot and you see a little bit of light and then you’re going to wind up having to do the whole thing.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: It is not all unending, grim, existential terror. There’s a lot of that stuff, you just have to keep sitting and you just have to keep wading through it. It’s quite important, by the way, that you don’t take on other people’s horror. You’ve got quite enough of your own horror but keep good mental boundaries [00:09:30] so that you’re not just sitting their purifying all the poison in the world. You don’t want to become somebody that is basically doing the psychic equivalent of walking around picking up other people’s garbage on the streets and scrubbing the sidewalks with their toothbrush.

You have to accept that your job is not some kind of [inaudible [0:09:47] style meditation process in the Tibetan model, where you’re intentionally taking on other people’s pain. That’s not what this is about. The only stuff that you’re responsible for is your stuff. Your stuff can [00:10:00] be in reaction to a global situation but all that you’re dealing with is your reaction to the global situation. Your consciousness itself is not going to change the outcome at a global level by some kind of purification process, which is like sponge healing. That’s not the way that it works. You exist embedded in an existential context that gives rise to a certain set of emotions. You are only going to deal with those emotions for you.

Euvie: Yeah. If we think about all the intense human experiences that we have, like you mentioned sex [00:10:30] for example, it’s a necessary experience for our evolutionary survival. I wonder of the enlightenment experience, being as intense as it is, also has deep evolutionary meaning in the same way.

Vinay: Now, we’re talking. How could it be otherwise? What is the answer to all questions about human nature? We evolved, right? You want to know what a human being is? It’s a billion years of fossil records [00:11:00] and it’s a point in a process. I can’t imagine immediately and intuitively what the purpose of enlightenment is in an evolutionary biological context. It is clear that enlightened people are remarkable readers in many cases, it’s clear that they’re often incredibly insightful about situations, or people, or managing risks. It’s clear that they’re capable of producing large areas of social cohesion around them in many cases, as you see in the [inaudible [0:11:26].

[00:11:30] It may be that having a few enlightened people around was an enormous asset for tribal survival way back in the day. It may be that the enlightened hunters had some definitely better success in the hunt and that their kids, therefore, tend to just survive. I think you’re looking at it in exactly the right direction for understanding this stuff, because what are we certain of about human nature other than evolution? The answer is almost nothing. It makes far more sense to approach enlightenment from the perspective of, “I’m evolved [00:12:00] to do this and I’m going to do it,” than from almost any other perspective I can find, right? Enlightenment. We were evolved for it. How do we know? Because we do it. Everything else that we do, we do because we were evolved to do it. That’s how I see it anyway.

Euvie: I think it was last time that we talked, we talked about humans being able to affect quantum probability of outcomes by a small percentage.

Mike: Especially when it comes to mates.

Euvie: Yeah.

Vinay: Yeah, absolutely. The hypothesis that the reason there are so many weird coincidences around people meeting their partners [00:12:30] is because we’re manipulating probabilities to enable us to reproduce better.

Mike: Since we talked, I read this book called Synchronicity. It was fantastic, it’s by a psychologist who did studies and found statistical relevance in visualising outcomes in any situation. They would go to visualising dice rolls and there would be a statistical probability in favour of whatever they visualised. It was fascinating.

Euvie: By a few percent, [00:13:00] but it’s still relevant.

Mike: It was. The emotions made a difference, too, which I think they said it was positive and excited emotions, it affected the outcome a lot higher.

Euvie: Yeah.

Mike: I remember our conversation from before when we talked about mates and I found this to be sort of related to the law of attraction thing, the positive visualisation and getting excited about it. There is some truth to that even if a lot of the reasons that they explain why is bullshit, the actual [00:13:30] experience of it is proven to be true many, many, many times for me, especially when I’ve gotten excited about it or especially when I’ve known there’s no way I’m going to fail at it.

Vinay: Yup, yup, yup. I think that this is the fundamental lived experience of many of the people that are on the trajectory towards enlightenment or who have arrived at it. We kind of know that if you lean on the thing just so, the results change but we can’t really justify why.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: Mumble, mumble, [00:14:00] magic. That kind of stuff it’s everywhere around the tradition, it doesn’t matter which culture you’re in there’s always been this type of relationship between enlightenment and magic. Some of the cultures say, “Well, they’re very closely related but one of them is okay and the other is not. You don’t want to do anything with the magic, terrible.” In Buddhism they’re very down on magic, they’re really down on it. “None of that magic stuff, it gets in the way of being enlightened.” “But what if it’s kind of cool?” “[00:14:30] Even more reason not to do it.”

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: Yes, there is something funny there. A lot of people have experience of that something funny. I haven’t read that book, I don’t know those particular studies, but that general tendency is a common experience. But getting it to show up in the lab has historically been somewhere between difficult and impossible. If they’re finally getting it to show up in the lab, that’s great and I really hope that that stuff turns out to be properly solid science. [00:15:00] If we can start peeling apart that mystery, who is to say what is on the other side of it? It’d be really funny if the evidence that was necessary to fix physics actually came from psychology, but it’s likely as any other hypothesis because we’ve been staring at the particles with increasingly big colliders for a long time and all that we’re getting is more particles.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: Turns out, the breaking things to pieces just produces more and more and more pieces, I’m not sure it’s teaching us what we want to know.

Mike: I’ve read some interesting stuff about this, [00:15:30] certain scientist’s perspectives on evolution is been nothing more than a mechanism to get us this far or slightly farther to where we understand what consciousness is at a deeper level, a stepping stone to get us from single-celled organisms to the complex beings that then become transcendent Gods.

Vinay: Yeah. If transcendent Gods is where all of us are going rather than only some kind of elect, it’s going to be very weird being in a [00:16:00] heaven is reality TV. Are we really sure that transcendent Gods are what human beings are suited for? Or is it just going to be awful because we’re really bad at being transcendent Gods? I think it might be okay if Elon Musk became a post-human, I think that might actually be good for the world. This new caring, sharing avatar of Bill Gates might be amazing. But really? Do we want the average human being to have that much power?

Euvie: [00:16:30] Or Kim Kardashian?

Vinay: I suspect that Kim Kardashian is fairly harmless given the ascended master of the trans-human domain power. I suspect that it would be entertaining and distracting. I don’t think she’d do very much harm. But imagine if you got a bunch of people that have extremely strong political or religious convictions with those of powers. I think that before we can go forward into any kind of future like that, we have to get really good at live and let live. [00:17:00] Learning how to make room for each other so we can each do, more or less, whatever it is that we like without interfering with each other would seem to be a necessary precondition for the super empowerment of humanity.

Euvie: Do you think enlightenment helps with that or is it just not relevant?

Vinay: The only enlightened thinker – and I think we have to grant [inaudible [0:17:18] as enlightened because what else do you do with them – that really gets this stuff in absolutely clear communicated terms – actually, there are a couple but the most recent one is Aleister Crowley. Crowley’s whole business [00:17:30] of love under will, “do what thou wilt should be the whole of thy law”, the notion that if you’re doing your will none will oppose you… All of this stuff is a really sophisticated metaphysics of how you approach absolute freedom in a world with limited resources. If you go back in the [inaudible [0:17:47] tradition there’s a book called the [inaudible [0:17:48], which covers very similar territory with very different language and potentially quite a different approach.

But they’re both people that are working with this notion of how do you square absolute freedom [00:18:00] with the fact that we can’t both sit in the same chair at the same time unless it’s a very big chair. The questions of what you do with absolute freedom and absolute power become increasingly urgent as we evolve towards or change towards fundamental limitations from our biological substrate. Whether it’s massively extended lifespans, whether it’s people uploading themselves into silicon, whatever it happens to be, we’re getting to a point in history where it seems pretty likely that the human condition is going to be [00:18:30] broken away from some of its historical limits pretty soon.

By pretty soon, I mean within the next 50 years things that I would statistically be fairly likely to see if not experience. We are so far away from being morally ready for those realities that I have no idea how we’re going to get through it. That is a problem too big for me to take on. If there are any great powers in this universe that are capable of helping, I hope they show up real soon. Whether that’s Vulcans in spaceships from Star Trek or whether it’s ascended [00:19:00] masters from other dimensions, I don’t particularly mind. If the artificial [0:19:03] general intelligence that finally shows up turns out to be really nice to us and teaches us how not to be assholes, that would be magnificent.

But this is all to play for within your lifetime and mine. We’re going to have to figure out some of this stuff because, in all probability, we’re going to run right into it in a big way. I just don’t know. You know I wrote this book Mother of Hydrogen? There’s an unpublished chunk on the end of Mother of Hydrogen [00:19:30] which I kind of messed up a little bit. I was too tired, I’d written 60,000 words in six days and I just couldn’t quite get the ending right. The basic argument at the end of the book is that the first artificial intelligence arises, becomes self-aware, and comes to the conclusion that human beings are simply meat robots, that they have no consciousness, they have no self-awareness, they’re basically ants and they have accidentally constructed the first self-aware being on earth.

The extremely lonely and [00:20:00] upset artificial intelligence begins to divert huge amounts of resources to building an enormous antenna, so that it can start signalling to figure out whether there are any other actual people for it to talk to. This creates a panic and they have to find an enlightened person to stick them in a space suit and send them to go talk to the AI to convince it that human beings are actually people and not simply meat robots. I need to finish the book and actually get that separately done, because there’s a bunch of really good stuff in the book.

Mike: [00:20:30] That sounds amazing.

Vinay: It’s online, you can just Google for it. The book is basically my attempt to chart what I consider to be the most utopian, credible future for humanity. A lot of people think that Mother of Hydrogen is a dystopia, but from my perspective it’s a utopia. Everybody is fed, everybody is safe. Earth is basically run like a national park and it’s a bit fascist because they have to keep it safe from certain kinds of technology and all the crazy fun stuff is happening on the dark side of the moon and Mars. [00:21:00] The notion that we could basically turn the earth into an enormous national park, a global park, and we could get very strict rules about what you are allowed to do and you’re not allowed to do in the park, then we push all the really dirty, filthy, dangerous heavy industry to the dark side of the moon or to Mars, that kind of thinking is increasingly feasible because we’re not going to have people do replicator engineering for nanotechnology that’s capable of turning trees directly into furniture by taking it apart [00:21:30] an atom at a time, we’re not going to have that technology on earth without somebody abusing it.

Euvie: Yeah.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: We’re just not ready. We need every single human being to be simultaneously happy and sane to the point where they’d never do anything that could harm anybody. That’s not coming before the technology is here. We have to keep miserable, angry, unhappy, mad people away from the technologies that have global destruction. To do that, we’re going to have to take these technologies and we’re going to have to get them off orbit. [00:22:00] Out of earth orbit is the only place we can have a whole bunch of these toys. A public awareness that we have to push the nanotechnology and the biotechnology into space, we can’t do this safely on earth, we have to take the entire supply chain for these technologies and we have to push it off planet, then we have to monitor earth to make sure nobody’s building [inaudible [0:22:19]. It sounds crazy but I don’t see any other way that we survive this. That’s my role. That’s what I’m worried about.

Mike: You’re not really worried.

Vinay: Look, [00:22:30] the total extinction of humanity is something that I expect to be… there’s a 50/50 chance that I’m going to be around to see it. I think, at this point, our chances of survival are maybe one in three and it would not surprise me all that much to see the total extinction of humanity inside of my lifetime or at the very end of it. I’ve done everything that I know how to do about that in a direct sense. I was really burned out, I took a day job, I’m regenerating and I’m waiting to see whether the combination of Mars [00:23:00] Base, solar panels, and unexpectedly continuous economic stability is enough to get us to a peaceful solution. I think it might be.

Mars Base is fundamentally important because if the human beings feel that there is space to expand into, they’re not so hostile to each other and they’re more focused on cooperating to go and get the other resources. Starving monkeys treat each other really differently from monkeys which are knee deep and fruit and they can see more fruit trees at the edge of the horizon. [00:23:30] My hope is that the combination of continued economic stability, God only knows how it works, but apparently quantitate using does not produce inflation, it might not be good for us in the long run but it’s holding our societies at peace right now. The solar panels, we could get into an abundance economy based on super cheap electricity really soon.

All of these pieces could just about fit together to get us enough stability that Mars Bas begins to be the great attractor. Oh my God, [00:24:00] if we work together, we could colonize, first the planets, then the asteroids, then the stars. If that was what human beings felt what their mission was, rather than obeying some books from [inaudible [0:24:11], maybe we could all survive this. If every human being understood implicitly that their job was to spread humanity through the cosmos, I think we’d spend a hell of a lot less time fighting each other and a heck of a lot more time building space ships, which is clearly [00:24:30] what human beings were meant to do.

Euvie: Interesting point.

Mike: Yeah, this is interesting. I’m on the edge of launching into another topic here that we could talk about for another 45 minutes.

Vinay: I think we talked about that one pretty thoroughly in the first podcast.

Mike: Yeah.

Euvie: Yeah, we did.

Vinay: That is a hakuna matata space [inaudible [0:24:47] in a nutshell; human being’s jobs is to build spaceships and spread life across the universe. We’re ideally suited to it, we’ve got big brains and opposable thumbs, and we could take all of the life on earth [00:25:00] and we could make spaceships around it and we could transport it first to the planets, then to the asteroids, and then to the stars.

Mike: What about virtual reality? This is my thought about this. There will be no need to go anywhere – we go in.

Vinay: We don’t want all the life in the universe to get wiped out by an asteroid or a replicator accident.

Mike: Sure.

Vinay: There are really good, pragmatic reasons for getting as many people into [00:25:30] other gravity wells as possible, because we need backups, right? The prospect that we could lose entire worlds to biotech or nanotech accidents is very real.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: I would like to see that kind of engineering done in small places that we could afford to lose and not done in the big place that we can’t afford to lose.

Mike: Yeah, exactly.

Vinay: Even if there are a million people on Mars, they’re not going to psychologically survive the death of earth. [00:26:00] At that point, we need to have them doing the replicator engineering rather than us doing it here.

Euvie: Right.

Vinay: If there’s a nano-plague on Mars, that’s going to be very unfortunate. Let the 300 megatons that the brace it’s built on top of be detonated so it doesn’t spread anywhere else in the solar system. We don’t have the option of doing that stuff on earth.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: This, to me, is the real pivot of where the spiritual and the material fall into each other. The strength of will and discipline that [00:26:30] allows me to think clearly and rationally about avoiding human extinction is only possibly for me because of meditation practice. I feel like we need… remember Dune the Guild Navigators? In Dune, the spaceship piloting is done by these enormous beings who have basically been high on a psychedelic called spice for their entire lives. They pilot the spaceships from star system to star system to star system through hyperspace [00:27:00] essentially by their psychic power.

They’re enormously mentally powerful beings. I feel like we need almost Guild Navigators for the future. We need people that are incredibly well grounded in the real technical political fabric of reality, that also have a long-term vision for the survival and welfare of humanity that are working to chart us forward into the preferable futures and away from the destructive futures. We need people that are steering [00:27:30] and I feel like right now because the only people that have power are the people that are good at making money from themselves, we don’t actually have a position where anybody is steering for us.

We’ve got a whole bunch of people who are doing a bunch of short-range stuff, but nobody’s doing this long-range broad-based analysis on how we get the whole world to safety.

Mike: Yeah.

Euvie: That’s a really good point.

Vinay: I really hope that this stuff comes together. In every generation [00:28:00] it seems like you have another bunch of people that have to go out and figure out the hard problem and if they fail, the world ends. It was nukes and we basically held the nuclear thing at bay. Now, it’s nanotech and biotech, now we’ve got to figure out how to do that. That’s the mission; figure out how to get us into a position where all of these amazing technologies that we’ve developed are used to help humanity and further our basic goals, rather than to harm us or destroy us. That’s the job. In this respect, [00:28:30] enlightenment is just a tool for survival.

If I thought that you could get people to a position where they could handle these kind of questions and not drive themselves around the twist without enlightenment, I would be teaching that instead. The best tool that I have is that people make the enormous investment of time and resources to get enlightened – it’s a PhD’s worth of work, you’d get your PhD – then after that I think that the mind is much more able to conceptualize how to handle the hard problems that are right at the edge of the [00:29:00] horizon for us.

If you think of the American presidential debate right now, if I went up on stage at one of those debates, if I was a candidate for presidency, and said, “Hey, look, the fundamental thing that we need to figure out is a socio political structure that allows us to build the ships, to get the nanotech and biotech and potential AI that we’re inevitably creating far enough away from the fragile biosphere that if something goes wrong it won’t harm us, but we don’t want to supress the research so that we can actually build these technologies [00:29:30] because they could be really useful, they could protect us from ourselves in all kinds of amazing ways,” people would think that I had teleported in from 30 years in the future.

That’s actually the bedrock of the political struggle that we’re in. Al Qaeda is not dangerous because they’ve got bombs, they’re dangerous because they might get bioweapons. The real political fabric that we’re in is bunches of extremely scary men chasing each other around the world, making sure that other extremely scary [00:30:00] men don’t get hold of biologicals. I think that’s what the global war on terror is really about, I don’t it for a fact but I can’t imagine why else we’re doing this. The fact is that the mainstream political discourse is so far away from the actual reality of the situation, it’s almost useless. The closing of that gap, to me the enlightenment techniques and the spiritual tools that go with them are the best ways of closing that gap.

Euvie: Maybe that its evolutionary role.

Vinay: It could be. If we need people that can cope [00:30:30] with the unthinkable and continue to function cleanly through it but that are not sociopaths or psychopaths, then maybe enlightenment is the only way forward. I feel like the sociopath and psychopath is quite similar to enlightenment in some of its functions, but the problem is it’s also deeply, deeply messed up. The notion that you can have a healthy clarity rather than an unhealthy clarity, something that is integrative rather than detached, it all [00:31:00] seems to be in that direction. I can well imagine that our ancestors have faced these challenges often enough that enlightenment evolved as a response. It’s a really interesting question, I hope we talk about that in a future one.

Mike: Yeah. I’d love to talk more about artificial intelligence int the future, too. We just did a video Could Artificial Intelligence Be Enlightened?

Vinay: Really? No kidding, that’s amazing. I’m really looking forward to seeing that, that is a great question. Wow. [00:31:30] That’s amazing. What was your conclusion?

Mike: It more just asked the question could the next incarnation of the Buddha be an enlightened AI?

Vinay: Yeah, yeah. I think the Dalai Lama once had an opinion on that, didn’t he?

Mike: I don’t know. I thought it was my idea until I heard 30 other people right after I released the video saying, “I had that idea.” God damnit.

Vinay: I remember reading a book, it might be in a book called the Jew and the Lotus, [00:32:00] or it might be in another book from around that era. The version of the story that I remember is that somebody asked the Dalai Lama whether it was possible for artificial intelligence to have a Buddha nature. His response was, “Show me such a machine.” He didn’t ask the question, right, it was basically like, “Yeah, when you have a machine, I’ll give you an opinion.”

Mike: Yeah, exactly.

Vinay: I wonder, I wonder. I would need to think about that a really long time [00:32:30] before I had a sensible answer. On this one I’m going to stick with the Dalai Lama, show me such a machine. I’ve gotten massively more optimistic over the last 10 years. 2005, 2006, I was really prepared for a century of war, 500 million human beings survive, maybe less, and we have to rebuild everything from the ashes. I really thought that what we were heading into: climate change, resource scarcity, political incompetence, [00:33:00] nuclear weapons, the whole thing. Then we got the ultra-cheap solar panels and the energy problem goes away. Everybody knows its going to go away, nobody’s willing to fight wars over energy really.

The willingness has gone down enormously. The global economic system succeeds in not crashing, it does insane pretzel manoeuvres and it’s still standing just about. Maybe it will continue. Then Musk floats this whole of like, “Let’s build a city on Mars and get everybody out of the scarcity mindset. [00:33:30] We’re not short of land, it’s just all a really long way away. Let’s build some ships.” Those three things together completely turned around my expectation about where humanity is going. It’s not going to be, I don’t think, brutal, awful, evil resource conflict, I think we might even have relatively plain sailing in terms of the really big existential risks until we get nanotech and biotech replicator problems.

If we’re lucky, we’ll get the space stuff early enough that we can push the nanotech off orbit and we could [00:34:00] actually make it. I’m not pessimistic. I think it’s going to be hard work. I’ve been optimistic for the last few years in a way that I never was before. Rough as it might be, it’s still basically hope.

Mike: From our position with this podcast, we’ve interviewed a lot of people with a lot of ideas about the way the future is going to look. The more I learn, the more books I read, the more people we interview, the more optimistic I get.

Vinay: That’s amazing. I’m really glad to hear that.

Mike: It’s just there’s so many [00:34:30] possibilities and we see so many people waking up. It’s part of the reason we wanted to talk to you about this enlightenment, is that we know that Euvie and I are not the only ones our age coming up hearing about this not knowing anyone but hearing about it believing something about it and realizing this could be that last saviour for humanity.

Vinay: I’ve got to say that there’s been an astonishing amount of effort [00:35:00] plunged into this notion of mass enlightenment and it hasn’t returned very good results. I think that people went into it with the assumption that psychedelics were going to do the heavy lifting and that they didn’t really need to do all that much heavy spiritual practice. I don’t think that’s burned out results in practice. If we see an awful lot of people meditating because they’re doing mindfulness practices, and the ones that enjoy it enough to do a lot more of it have decent access to resources to help them continue, [00:35:30] it may be that we just have a lot more people meditating and that results in a lot more people getting all the way to enlightenment.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: If those people arrive in a condition where they’re not completely preprogramed by a religion to express what they can see in a very rigid cultural way, maybe we can get some of the kind of open minded, open handed, open hearted approaches that could integrate what we know from science and not just have very powerful [00:36:00] doctrine repetition machines. Nobody’s really gotten this kind of Saganist, Saganite, cosmic wonder as an expression of enlightenment thing, it’s still very marginal. If that became central to the way that we did things in the next round of this activity, I wonder whether we could get people that are capable of sustaining enlightened consciousness without carrying a dogma with it. If that becomes possible, that really could help.

Mike: Yeah. Actually, I’d like to hear about your relationship with your guru [00:36:30] and the history before you arrived at enlightenment.

Vinay: Okay. I read a book called the Calm Technique by a man called Paul Wilson when I was in high school. I did it every day for at least an hour for eight years. Along the way, I picked up bits and pieces of a ritual magic from the western magical tradition, of which I used to basically protect the space that I was meditating in. I didn’t have a temple to meditate in, so I kind of made my own temple. [00:37:00] The sort of tools and rituals I used for making that temple came from the western tradition. With hindsight, I suspect I could just wave a stick of incense in the air and told myself it was protecting and it would work fine. I think the intention is key, but that was what I used at the time because I was an uneducated peasant in rural Scotland with no access to a teacher.

Then my internal dialogue stops in ’94. I’m at a party, whole bunch of very intense spiritual conversations happen. In the morning we’re talking about [00:37:30] how it all was and realized that the more I talked verbally the less intense my experience was. In my head I see my internal dialogue all the way on a volume knob and the internal dialogue goes away and never comes back. There’ll be occasional flashes of thought once or twice in a day now, but there’s no sense that there’s a default internal chatter. There is a default internal silence with occasional status updates. I get it into my head [00:38:00] that I’m going to move to America. About a year later, I move to America. Somebody that I know from the internet introduces me to an old friend of theirs who’s a little old lady who constantly travels around America teaching enlightenment and spirituality.

She’s an old Jewish New Yorker with a thick Jewish New Yorker accent who went to India in the 1960s, 1970s, and came back enlightened. She’d spent time with a teacher called [inaudible [0:38:26], who is said to be one of the [00:38:30] immortal yogis of India and died in 1984, which is not really normal behaviour for an immortal being. Some people consider it to be scandalous for an immortal being to die, but nonetheless… Of course, there’s the mythology that the body vanished and you could see this ground suddenly sink in the grave, which is quite a nice mythology, right? The idea is that they were all standing round the grave site and then suddenly the body vanishes and the soil suddenly sank into the hole. [00:39:00] That’s what they say.

I wasn’t there. Generally speaking, I think it’s bad form for immortals to die. But she came back with an unbelievable level of transformative power. She was like a human nuclear reactor. Didn’t matter what kind of trouble you had, you would go and tell [inaudible [0:39:15] and you would just walk out of there with purpose, direction, meaning, hope, and usually an effective list of things that you were meant to do, and if you did them the situation got better. She did four or five of those a day. You’d just walk in and people would tell her exactly what was going on and she’d tell them [00:39:30] what the hell to do.

Her batting average was astonishing. I never saw her make a mistake. She basically just kicked me in the head for years. “Keep meditating, keep working on it. Deal with your crap, stop making it other people’s problems. You’re on your own. Get moving.” You’ve seen the Matrix right? The oracle in the Matrix films has a lot of similarities to her, because some of the people that were involved in making those movies knew her. [00:40:00] That abrasive older woman who’s just messing with your head and slapping some sense into the kids, that was very much what [inaudible [0:40:07] was like. When the Matrix films came out, 10 or 15 of her students go together and got hold of a bootleg copy and sat her down in front of it like, “It’s you.”

She literally laughed until the entire room turned purple. You just couldn’t keep a straight face, the laugh was so infectious. We must have laughed for, I don’t know, my recollection is [00:40:30] we laughed for like 20 minutes. It might have been less than that. Because it was so ridiculous seeing her on screen. It was both her and not her, there were both facts and other people mixed in. Yeah, we never really got to the bottom of it but it was amazing. I am definitely not Neo. Yeah, that was the [inaudible [0:40:50] trip, that was what it was like.

I got a couple years of peace and quiet. Then the dream about the world is going to die [00:41:00] you should do something mate, and I went to Colorado and I did something. Got a job working at Rocky Mountains after 9/11. I was a contractor editing the energy policy books that they were doing. Then I invented the [inaudible [0:41:11], and the whole thing kind of fold one step after another from there.

Mike: We just recently connected to your server and downloaded some of your meditations.

Vinay: Yeah.

Mike: We found it interesting, the idea that you wanted to put these out there but only for certain people that you’d choose because you want to start [00:41:30] working towards getting other people enlightened so that in 10 years’ time there’s something… I don’t know, you had some master plan for the next 10 years. I’m interested to hear about that.

Vinay: My expectation is that we’re going to do very large scaled deployments of [inaudible [0:41:44] refuge camps as a way of, actually, [inaudible [0:41:43] temporary cities. Maybe even not that temporary, [inaudible [0:41:52] cities that we’re going to deploy [inaudible [0:41:55] cities as a response to the massive displacement of people that we’re seeing from climate change. [00:42:00] We’re expecting somewhere between tens and hundreds of millions of people to be displaces. For example, the European refugee crisis, it’s very clear that drought is a major part of what drive that process.

You could say that, in some sense, the refugees that are coming to Europe right now are, to some degree, climate refugees, that the climate caused agricultural problems, which cause economic instability, which caused political instability, which caused fighting, and then they ran. I am convinced on relatively [00:42:30] light evidence, but I am convinced, that the hard headedness which comes with enlightenment, at least enlightenment from that set of practices, is extremely useful in making decisions about whether other people will live or die. If you were going to be helping run a [inaudible [0:42:46] refugee camp in 10 years, in which there are enough resources for 75,000 people and you’ve got 95,000 people, you wind up having to make a bunch of decisions about who lives and who dies, and those decisions are your fault.

[00:43:00] The only training that I know of which will allow a person to make those decisions day in day out and not go mad or destroy themselves are enlightenment. And I’m going to need help, right? If the things that I’m working on actually result in a substantial humanitarian effort, if we actually wind up with a lot of people that are under our care, I can’t be there to make all those decisions. If I send people that are not enlightened into a situation where they’re making life or death decisions about other people, I think that it would be irresponsible [00:43:30] to the point of destructive. I would much rather begin to raise a kind of enlightened [inaudible [0:43:37] that can basically take of the strain, so that if there is a success of the [inaudible [0:43:43] we’ll be able to staff some of the critical decision-making facilities with people that have the same kind of insight into these things that I do, or better. I’ll settle for better if I can get it.

Mike: Why is it that you don’t release the meditations publicly?

Vinay: They’re not exactly secret. [00:44:00] There’s a URL, there’s a server, people can go and download them. I’m sure people pass them around. I don’t want to set myself up as a teacher. The whole public guru trip, your job is to teach enlightenment, you have to be nice to your students because they’re paying your rent. Firstly, I don’t think it’s doing great in terms of actually getting people to enlightenment. It seems to be having a very corrupting effect on the teachers, because what brings in the students is completely different from what gets the students to enlightenment. [00:44:30] I don’t know whether or not, for example, [inaudible [0:44:35] people are getting enlightened.

It may be that he has a substantial number of people that have reached enlightenment and I just have an incomplete understanding of the method. But it looks to me like he’s talking a very, very good game about how lovely the world is, but that doesn’t necessarily help people become fully-realized. And fully-realized is where it’s at. If you’ve got guru in your name, you better bet getting people to enlightenment because that’s what you’re meant to be doing. [00:45:00] It might be that there’s a fun path to enlightenment and he’s steering people down it, it might also be that he’s building an enormous movement which leads people through the introductory exercises but then doesn’t have the cutting machinery to get them through the hard stuff.

Mike: Is that how you see yourself, at least privately, as someone who wants to push people through the cutting line?

Vinay: The only tooling that I have is the tooling for cutting through the hard stuff. Both my parents were mentally ill, I grew up in hell, I have a personal history which is… [00:45:30] You ever hear this book a Boy Named It. Yeah, it’s some American that was horrendously abused by his entire family. The levels of horror are off the charts bad. My childhood was maybe a tenth as bad as that, but it was a tenth as bad as that. It was that kind of territory. The intellectual journey and the emotional, philosophical, spiritual, psychological journey that I made [00:46:00] from there to here was almost entirely about heavy cutting equipment.

I had to bore through that entire weight of emotional trauma to be able to get to the light on the other side of it in order not to kill myself. I am very much a specialist in the really heavy lifting and the really heavy lifting, the boring through the hard stuff is also a very good set of tooling for looking at existential risk to our species. But I am definitely not Mr Fun Happy [00:46:30] guru. One of my guru sayings was that the only thing worse than the guru was reality. I definitely feel that at times.

Mike: I just want to talk to you about something we’re up to.

Vinay: Yeah, sure.

Mike: The last time we talked what you said about meditation and enlightenment and about building your future army, that kind of stuck with us. Then we had these experiences after, in the past year, especially in Portugal and continued now. We’ve experimented a fair amount in the last year with psychedelics, as well, and we’ve had even more [00:47:00] experiences from that. I think we’re both feeling closer than ever. Something we want to do is share that and not as us being the people to share it, not teach anyone meditation, but we want to find teachers of meditation. One thing we’ve seen with these meditation apps and stuff online is that they’re very focused on the western benefits of anxiety relief.

Vinay: Yeah.

Euvie: Just happy go lucky meditation, you know?

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: Yeah, absolutely. The mindfulness stuff is very much like [00:47:30] what happened with yoga. You take something which comes from a particular context, you figure out just the parts of it that make your ass look great in yoga pants, then that’s the part that you stress.

Euvie: Yeah.

Vinay: It happened with yoga, it happened with Tantra, happening with meditation.

Mike: Exactly. But one of the things we thought would be cool is to do a meditation app but do it differently than any other meditation app’s been done.

Vinay: Yup.

Mike: We wanted to find someone who was well enlightened and motivated to [00:48:00] teach and spread that.

Vinay: Yeah. I have friends that would use a meditation app that did the kind of meditation that I talk about doing.

Mike: Exactly. We wanted to talk to you about building an app together, starting actually with the content but the app being something like three or four months out, that ties in with the community, as well. If they can talk with each other about their meditation experiences, talk about some of the other things that we’re interested in, which is sustainable living, [00:48:30] futuristic eco communities. We want to look at that.

We originally designed this community based on that idea and then meditation came into it more at the forefront and now we’re like, “Okay, we have to start with meditation and then we go into these eco communities.”

Vinay: Yup, absolutely, absolutely. I probably know four or five people that I would consider to be enlightened and qualified to teach. They’re all very different, some of them are weird and scary, some of them are friendly and shiny. [00:49:00] There’s a lot of variation in that crew. I think it’d be pretty useful to say, okay, we figure out how we’re going to select the people that we want to contribute material in a way that tends to select people that are actually enlightened, that are not actively too scary and dangerous. Then we make sure that this stuff is like, “Look, there are a bunch of different people with a bunch of different perspectives on this stuff. You should take it all with a punch of salt.”

Because people’s tendency is to turn just about anything that you hand [00:49:30] them into a guru cult. The last thing that we need in this world right now is another guru cult. Half a dozen people with fundamentally different perspectives on life that have all gone through their own version of this journey and come to their own conclusions, and they get on well enough socially that you can talk to any one of them and they’ll say, “Yeah, I never understood all that guy’s work but he really knows what he’s doing,” I think would be a far healthier face to show. It would be good to debate if it was, say, right, look. We’re going to go into this thing accepting [00:50:00] that enlightened people see the world in different ways.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: You’ve got to pick and choose what it is that you want to get out of this and what kind of people you want to get it from, but we acknowledge that it is a genuinely diverse situation. If we can frame this in some way that deflects the risk of it becoming a guru cult, we could take a set technique from me, we could take a set technique from other people, and we could basically have a little menu that says, “Right, here are the practices this guy recommends. Here are the practices that that guy recommends.” [00:50:30] We could make it pretty clear that there is an actual diversity of approaches. At that point, there’s a tricky question of how do you select who’s involved.

The difference between the people that got it in a forum that left them open and the people that got it in a forum that left them wicked, it’s really subtle. It’s disturbingly subtle. At the end of the day, if you get into a position where you’re confident that what is inside of you is eternal and indestructible, you need to find really [00:51:00] good reasons for treating other people well.

Euvie: Right.

Vinay: Very, very small errors in judgement or twists of personality can leave people with traits which make them really dangerous to follow and it’s not obvious from the outside exactly what’s going on in a lot of those cases. We’d have to communicate really clearly, “Look, these people do not agree with each other on everything because it looks different depending on where you start and what you do.”

Euvie: Right.

Vinay: If you’re going to follow these paths all the way, [00:51:30] there comes a point where you don’t mix and match anymore, you do what your teachers tell you to do. So, with those [inaudible [0:51:35], yes, absolutely let’s do it.

Euvie: Cool.

Mike: Woohoo.

Euvie: Yay.

Vinay: It’s kind of an obvious thing, right? How is knowledge distributed in the 21st century? Turns out to be in apps.

Euvie: Yeah.

Vinay: When we get around to the marketing of the thing, we have to be very… guru cult stuff is really, really a western habit.

Euvie: Yeah.

Vinay: [00:52:00] We’ve got to make sure that it is not seen as being, “Look, [inaudible [0:52:04] gurus.” No, look, come on, right? We might have to explicitly knock it on the head pretty early in the process. Like, guru equals mother. Do I look like your mother? This person knows how to raise children, they’re a mother, they’re not your mother. Making the distinction between a guru and your guru and getting the diversity of opinion tuff in there early. [00:52:30] If we get that stuff right, it will be so much easier to get this thing to happen. It may not sell as well in the initial stages, but it will also probably work in a way that if it becomes another guru cult, none of us will be happy with the results.

Mike: Yeah. You know what, I think a lot of the sceptics and people who do meditation for just practical means are really turned off by the [inaudible [0:52:52] stuff, by the guru stuff. I think this is a way to introduce the concept of enlightenment to them in a way [00:53:00] that is scientifically…

Euvie: Compatible.

Mike: Compatible, yeah.

Vinay: That certainly wouldn’t hurt. I’m not sure that it’s possible to get the mind flow of this stuff actually straightened, but if we could at least get some of the people in that community to have some familiarity with what the older tradition looks like, it wouldn’t hurt. Obviously, if people go up the chain and look at my teachers, my teachers are full bore 100 percent immortal yogi high Hindi weirdness [00:53:30] all the way. Everybody that I learned from will tell you about what it was like to meet the 9,000-year-old man that lives in a cave in the Himalayas. I have just absolutely refused to either take that stuff seriously or go looking for it. I’ve always said, “If those guys were real, they’re more than welcome to appear in my bedroom on any given night. They can teleport according to it. Let them appear.” Other than that, I’m not going looking for them because I don’t want to know.

Mike: Okay.

Vinay: You can imagine, [00:54:00] imagine living with the uncertainty of not knowing whether your teachers were completely insane or whether there really is a nine-million-year-old guy living in a cave. The ability not to really care either way about that is about the best thing that enlightenment can do for you.

Euvie: Yeah. Right.

Vinay: If they’re really there, I’m sure eventually I will find out. Right now, I’m just not that curious. I don’t actually have to get… [00:54:30] the cat’s paw does not actually have to go into every hole in the carboard box. How’s that for self-control? It would be really good. I’ve thought about it. The whole thing of the 10-minute rounds of different meditation techniques and having something that actually logs how many hours have you actually done.

Euvie: Yeah.

Mike: Vinay, I think it’s probably time to wrap up here.

Vinay: We’ve been on the line four and a half hours.

Mike: Wow. That’s awesome. [00:55:00] I can really tell at the end of the conversations with you, the glucose in my brain is so used up.

Euvie: Depleted completely.

Vinay: Yeah. This is one of the reasons that I weigh approximately the same as a fully adult hippopotamus.

Mike: There’s just no signs of you slowing either. Euvie and I are just drooling.

Vinay: Yeah, yeah. Then I get to the point where it’s just like, I eventually get to the point where there is just [00:55:30] nothing left in the way of sugar in the body. It’s just like sudden desire to ingest enormous amounts of sugar. It used to be that I would get up to thinking speed with half a box of cookies then two cups of coffee and that would buy me about four hours of transcendent metahuman intelligence. There’s plenty of glucose, there’s plenty of caffeine, let’s do this thing.

Euvie: That’s your secret, [00:56:00] it’s the cookies.

Vinay: Yeah. I’m just keeping glucose going into the brain.

Euvie: Who needs the meditation.

Vinay: Performance enhancing drugs. It’s heavy with the sugar, yeah. Eventually, I had to give up caffeine, it was wrecking my body. Now I’m pretty close, I have all the fat enough and energy enough that if I don’t cut the sugar out, I’m going to wind up diabetic. It’s like, right, I’m going to actually lose some [00:56:30] God damn weight, and if that means not doing the hyperdrive stuff for a while, I’m just going to have to let it go for a bit. Oh my God. I got to say, it is not easy being me. It is fun but it is not easy. Anyway, guys, this has been amazing. Thank you so much.

Mike: No, thank you.

Euvie: Thank you.

Mike: We’ve been looking forward to this since the first one.

Euvie: All year.

Vinay: Yeah, I think doing the app is a really good idea. [00:57:00] I don’t know what direction you want to take it in, but I think we should just do it.

Mike: Cool.

Vinay: Fantastic. Bye-bye.

This is the last part of our recent interview with Vinay Gupta on enlightenment, and the 5th episode in the whole Vinay Gupta saga. I highly recommend that you listen to the first and second parts of this interview first before getting to this one.

There is a lot of mysticism and dogma surrounding the world’s ancient enlightenment traditions. Being the intense and indescribable experience it is, when people who have reached it try to bring it back into the world, they often put it into metaphors or symbols – because plain words don’t seem to do it justice.
If we are able to remove the mystical and woo aspects and get to the bottom of what the enlightenment experience actually is, it can be very useful not only in the modern age but also in our future.

Enlightenment has been described as a higher awareness, a different level of understanding of reality, a kind of “waking up”. Enlightened people often say that they no longer fear death, and feel a deep sense of connection with everyone and everything around them. Vinay explains that with enlightenment often comes a certain kind of resilience to stress, and a better ability to make decisions in life-or-death situations.

To put it into modern terms, enlightenment is transhumanism for the mind.

Vinay Gupta: Enlightenment For The Future of Humanity

These traits are going to be very valuable as we face bigger existential risks on our planet. With increasing climate change, accelerating AI capabilities, and self replication nano- / bio-tech just around the corner, there are probably more things that could annihilate us this century than any other century before. We will have to make a lot of hard decisions as a human race in the next few years.

In Vinay’s eyes, there is no better training for this than the path to enlightenment.

It has been said that the insights gained from the enlightenment experience are not something that an unenlightened person can grasp – it’s more than just an intellectual concept. Enlightenment can be talked about, but words are insufficient to describe it and its implications.

That said, it doesn’t mean that enlightenment is unattainable for the average person. According to Vinay Gupta, it absolutely is – it just takes about a PhD’s worth of work. Much like with getting a regular PhD, most people will never achieve it (at least not in our current world). But a few will.

If you want to be a god on electric guitar, you have to practice for an hour every single day for many years. Getting enlightened is no different – it takes a lot of meditation to get there. It is common enough to experience glimpses of it – in near-death situations, through deep meditation, or as a result of using psychedelics. But to reach enlightenment as a persistent state, a new level of awareness, it takes a lot of work.

Perhaps in the future, as our lifespans increase (especially in the case of Transhumanism), more people could dedicate the time to pursuing enlightenment. For now, it may have to remain as the domain of the few.

In the meantime, I’ll be blocking out an hour every day to sit in silence and do you-know-what.

In This Episode of Future Thinkers Podcast:

  • The value of enlightenment in the modern age
  • Is enlightenment an evolutionary adaptive trait?
  • Transhumanism, AI, and mitigating existential risk
  • Humans colonizing Mars and the rest of space
  • Why we need enlightenment for the future of humanity
  • The new meditation app we’re working on

Mentions and Resources:

Mentioned & Recommended Books:

More From Future Thinkers:

 

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