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InternetThe Internet

Lorin Friesen, August 2016

Marshall McLuhan said that ‘the medium is the message’. This essay will look at the message that is implicitly conveyed by the medium of computers and the Internet.

A book naturally conveys the concept of a rational general theory. A rational general theory could be compared to a brick building. The mental bricks of solid Perceiver facts are combined to form a solid structure and Teacher thought comes up with a simple verbal theory that can explain the structure. Similarly, a book conveys a unified theme by arranging words into the structure the sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, and then makes these words solid by putting them down on paper. If the concept of God emerges when a sufficiently theory applies to personal identity, then the medium of a book naturally conveys the concept of a rational God. This implicit message can be either reinforced or contradicted by the content of the book.

Books are becoming obsolete. Therefore, I have often wondered what will take the place of the book. This essay will examine the suitability of the medium of computers and the Internet for conveying a message about God. We will not be looking at the explicit content of the Internet but rather at the implicit message that is being conveyed by the structure of computers and the Internet. (This topic was discussed briefly in a previous essay.)

Three stages of Transformation

The human mind is often compared to a computer, and knowledge about computers can be used to understand how the mind functions. This is useful, but has its limitations. One primary limitation is that humans have feelings while computers do not. Therefore, the popular assumption is that constructing an artificial human mind out of a computer would create a person without feelings. But a human without personal emotions is a psychopath, while a person who lacks feelings of physical pain will naturally destroy his physical body.

This essay will take a more general approach. We will compare the internal process of programming the mind to reach wholeness with the process of creating a society that is wholly interconnected by computers. This will lead us to a new way of studying and analyzing morality.

Mental symmetry suggests that the process of transforming the mind can be divided into three stages:

1) Personal honesty. The goal of this first stage is to replace self-deception with an accurate understanding of personal identity. This first stage is needed because every person grows up with a mind that is governed by childish MMNs. (Mental networks are described in another essay.) The end result of the first stage is the TMN of an understanding of how the mind works. This will express itself as a concept of God, because a concept of God emerges whenever a sufficiently general theory applies to personal identity.

In the first stage, God is viewed as someone ‘out there’ that one studies while living in normal life.

2) Righteousness. Righteousness can be defined as behavior that is guided by the TMN of a concept of God. The first stage generated a concept of God. The second stage allows behavior to be guided by this concept of God. This second stage is only possible if one goes beyond viewing theories as merely structures composed of words to viewing theories as verbal descriptions of ‘how things work’. Thomas Kuhn has stated that this distinction describes the primary difference between philosophy and science. Philosophy uses words to construct a logical understanding, while science builds its understanding upon natural processes.

In the second stage, God is viewed as an alternative guide for doing things.

3) Rebirth. As one continues to behave in a righteous manner, this will gradually build up an internal grid of behavior that is held together by a TMN of general understanding. In the third stage, MMNs of childish identity fall apart and become reborn within this grid of behavior. This third stage is only possible if one goes beyond following God in a selfless manner, to following God in order to experience the personal benefits of following God. That is because MMNs of personal identity can only live within a grid of understanding if this grid includes personal identity.

In the third stage, God is viewed as a rational basis for existence.

Modern society has gone through a similar three stages in its relationship with the computer:

1) Computer research: The goal of this first stage was to understand how one can design a computer to function and interact in a rational manner. Most of the fundamental research on computer architecture and programming was done in the 1950s-70s. For instance, the Internet began as the ARPANET, which was designed in the 1960s and first built in the 1970s. Android, the operating system that runs on most smart phones today, is a version of Linux, which is a copy of Unix, which was initially developed in the 1960s to run on mainframe computers. Similarly, e-mail, instant messaging, filesharing, and passwords were all pioneered in the 1960s by MIT’s CTSS. Likewise, the design of most computers was initially proposed by Turing in 1936 and von Neumann in 1945, and elaborated by Brooks in the 1960s. Since then, computers have become far more complicated and miniaturized, but the basic underlying architecture remains the same.

This research was needed because ideas about intelligence had become clouded with many misconceptions over the centuries. Therefore, the first stage of computer development consisted primarily of gaining a rational understanding of what it means to construct an ‘artificial mind’.

During this first stage, computers were marvelous devices that existed ‘out there’ in research labs and universities, and they were viewed typically as massive machines in central laboratories controlling entire countries.

2) Computer development: The primary focus then turned from gaining an understanding of computation to building devices that could run computer programs. A computer program takes the rigorous logic of analytic philosophy and views it as a set of instructions that tell a computer what to do. Notice two major features of righteousness: First, righteousness is only possible if theory goes beyond words to a description of how things work. Similarly, this second stage of computer development only became possible as computers became capable of transforming words into behavior. The understanding of computing that was gained in the first stage turned in the second stage into a description of how computers behave. Second, righteousness describes a form of behavior that is totally different than normal human behavior. Humans are normally guided by MMNs of identity, culture, and personal taste. A computer, in contrast, is guided by the TMN of a general understanding, as expressed by its instruction set. Thus, as was mentioned at the beginning of this essay, a computer is viewed as free of emotion because it is not guided by personal Mercy emotions (generated by MMNs) the way that a human is. However, a computer is implicitly guided by Teacher emotions of order-within-complexity, because everything that a computer does can be summarized by the ‘general theory’ of its instruction set.

The primary focus during the second stage was upon building more powerful computers that were more capable of carrying out instructions. This progress has been summarized by what is known as Moore’s law, which predicted that the complexity of integrated circuits would double about every two years. Moore first proposed this ‘law’ in 1965, and progress has followed his predictions for about 50 years. This exponential growth of capability will end around 2025.

During this second stage, computers turned into tools, making it possible to do something by computer rather than by hand. For instance, many businesses bought the Apple II computer because it was capable of running the spreadsheet program Visicalc: “The program went on sale in November 1979 and was a big hit. It retailed for US$100 and sold so well that many dealers started bundling the Apple II with VisiCalc. The success of VisiCalc turned Apple into a successful company, selling tens of thousands of the pricey 32 KB Apple IIs to businesses that wanted them only for the spreadsheet.”

3) Ubiquitous computers: We now live in a world that is filled with interconnected computers. For instance, it is estimated that approximately 9 billion devices were connected to the Internet in 2012. Instead of buying PCs that sit on a desk which can be used as tools, people are now buying smart phones and tablets that are always connected which can be taken along wherever one goes.

Moving from the second stage of righteousness to the third stage of rebirth is only possible if the mind contains an integrated network of righteous actions that extend to include personnel identity. Similarly, it is only possible to live within a world of computers because computers are interconnected through a worldwide Internet, and this network of connections can be accessed anywhere by small computers that can be carried anywhere.

During this third stage, the human world is filled with computers and computers are viewed as portals to virtual worlds.

This extensive similarity between the internal path of personal transformation and the external path of computerization has major moral implications, because the increasingly computerized social environment will naturally drive people to think and behave in a manner that is compatible with mental wholeness, while people are still being internally driven by inadequate mental networks to behave in a manner that is not mentally whole. This is creating major collisions between the internal and the external. Because the external realm of computers has been transformed, these major collisions are understood and described by those who work with computers. But this understanding is incomplete, because the transformation that has been generated by computers is also incomplete. In response, most of those who set the moral standards for society, who do not understand computers, are reacting strongly in an instinctive manner to try to control something that threatens to overturn established standards of society.

Before continuing, I need to re-emphasize there we are looking here at implicit message that is being conveyed by the structure of computers and the Internet and not at the explicit content that is contained on the Internet. McLuhan may have overstated the situation when he said that the medium is the message, but a medium does contain an implicit message which will naturally shape the message that is being conveyed by that medium. The medium of a book will implicitly convey the message of an integrated rational understanding. This essay will examine the message that is implicitly been conveyed by the medium of the Internet, and compare this with the implicit message conveyed by the common religious attitudes of fundamentalism and mysticism.

Implicit Moral Attributes of The Internet

God integrates content. The primary feature of most organized religions is the belief that God is beyond rational thought. This concept of a transcendent God defines mysticism, lies at the heart of Jewish Kabbalah, drives Orthodox Christianity, and is an implicit assumption of most theologians. The mental concept of a God of mysticism emerges naturally when overgeneralization in Teacher thought is combined with identification in Mercy thought. Saying this more simply, the belief that ‘all is one’ is combined with ‘I am one with the cosmos’. When a mystical concept of God turns into a TMN, then there is a strong emotional drive to insist that God should not be associated with content.

Mysticism cannot handle details, but rather insists that everything has its ultimate source in a God of oneness who cannot be divided into any components. For instance, “The Kabbalah describes God as Ein Sof, which in Hebrew means ‘without end.’… God is termed Bal Tachlis -- He is not bound in any way. This doesn’t just mean that His powers are not limited in any way, but, more deeply, that we cannot contrast God with any experience known to humanity… The same is true of God’s essence. No amount of comparison, illustration, or metaphor will bring His reality closer to our understanding. He is simply Ein Sof -- indefinable, period.”

In contrast, the primary concept conveyed by the Internet is that universality integrates content that is intimately connected with human reality. The Internet is not just a single sheet of blank white paper, as mysticism views God. Instead, it is an integrated network of an incredibly vast array of information. And this information is not just abstract logic but rather is full of ‘comparison, illustration, and metaphor’.

A mystical concept of God emerges naturally when factual content is limited. Overgeneralization makes sweeping statements. Facts limit sweeping statements. If factual knowledge is limited, then it is easy to make sweeping statements. A mystical concept of God is based in the ultimate sweeping statement, such as ‘All is one’, and the mind can only make such a sweeping statement if all facts are eliminated. One sees this, for instance, in the Buddhist teaching that reality is ultimately illusion. Mysticism leads to the feeling that one is having a personal encounter with God, but this feeling will be stated using vague platitudes without adding specific details.

In contrast, the Internet contains facts; it is full of facts; it is overflowing with facts. As of August 30, 2016, the indexed Web contains at least 4.71 billion pages. Many of these facts may be inaccurate, but they are still stated as facts and not as vague platitudes combined with a mystical feeling. Thus, the Internet by its very nature implicitly teaches the concept that God is a God of content and not a God of mysticism.

I am not suggesting by any means that all of the content on the Internet is ‘godly’. However, we are not looking here at the quality of the content but rather at the existence of content. Over the years, I have found that the biggest obstacle to my research is the assumption that God transcends human rational thought. In blunt terms, the average person, including the average theologian and philosopher, is convinced that my research must be wrong because God transcends rational thought, and must be meaningless because rational understanding does not lead to a knowledge of God. The Internet implicitly conveys the concept that God and content belong together.

Unfortunately, those who control the media would prefer an Internet of feel-good vague impressions, with stories about celebrities and videos of cats, flowing in a homogeneous manner from official mouthpieces, rather than an Internet of uncomfortable and diverse facts erupting from countless sources.

Words are universal. The fundamentalist mindset believes that truth is based in the MMNs of people with emotional status. In other words, every message has its source in some messenger. The transformed mind, in contrast, uses words to build general theories. Therefore, words will be mentally associated with universal understanding in Teacher thought rather than with specific people in Mercy thought.

The conflict between these two mindsets is illustrated by what is known as the Streisand effect: “The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet… It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently drew further public attention to it. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters to suppress numbers, files, and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.”

Notice the precise nature of the conflict. People who do not understand the nature of computers are focusing internally upon the messenger, trying to suppress unwanted information by personally attacking people who are believed to be the source of this information. However, the universal nature of the physical Internet means that all information is potentially universal. Therefore, trying to suppress information merely attracts attention to it, which makes this information more widely known. Saying this another way, the Internet illustrates what it means to live physically within a grid of interconnected telecommunications held together by a universal Teacher theory of intelligent computing devices, but people do not comprehend internally what it means for personal identity to live within a grid of interconnected rational thought held together by a universal Teacher theory of God.

Righteousness also exhibits generality. Righteousness describes Server actions that are guided by Teacher understanding. People usually give specific instructions, such as ‘mow my lawn’ or ‘take out the garbage’. That is because people are finite individuals represented by MMNs within Mercy thought. Righteousness is not limited to specific actions but rather describes the manner in which one performs many actions.

This confusion between specific and general often shows up when people are searching for the ‘will of God’, because people expect God to give them specific instructions, such as telling them what university to attend, what career to pursue, or what person to marry. But the ‘will of God’ impacts personal behavior at a more general level. Following the will of God means behaving in a manner that is guided by a general understanding of how things work. Instead of telling a person which university to attend, it guide the way that one deals with education. Instead of telling a person what job to do, it guides the type of jobs that a person will take as well as the manner in which one performs a job. Similarly, the will of God impacts the way that one interacts with one’s spouse, and not the specific person that one marries.

Computers have created a physical world of devices that are guided by righteousness rather than by specific instructions. Machines used to carry out specific functions, such as mowing a lawn, or tuning into a radio station. Computers, in contrast, are general-purpose devices. For instance, a software radio can be reprogrammed to act like many different radios. In the past, one could build a radio that would only be capable of turning into specific radio stations. But a computer by its very nature is a general purpose device that cannot be limited to any specific function.

For those who are not familiar with how computers function, one could compare programming a computer to talking in a language. Using this analogy, a computer that understands ‘French’ will not understand ‘English’. Rules of grammar do not limit what a person may say but rather determine the way that a person must say something. Similarly, as long as one follows the proper ‘rules of grammar’ when writing computer code, then one can instruct a computer to carry out a wide range of functions. Righteousness also functions at the level of ‘grammar’. A concept of God that is based in Teacher thought will guide the way that a person thinks and behaves, while giving a person substantial freedom in choosing which specific actions to do.

Cory Doctorow explains what this means in a perceptive article: “Today we have marketing departments that say things such as ‘we don’t need computers, we need appliances. Make me a computer that doesn’t run every program, just a program that does this specialized task, like streaming audio, or routing packets, or playing Xbox games, and make sure it doesn’t run programs that I haven’t authorized that might undermine our profits… We don’t know how to build a general-purpose computer that is capable of running any program except for some program that we don’t like, is prohibited by law, or which loses us money.”

This leads to a major conflict between the specific thinking of people and the general capabilities of computers. Legislators pass laws ordering that computers only be used to do certain things and not do other things, but a computer follows righteousness. Like the will of God, a computer guides actions in a general manner and cannot be limited to specific instructions.

God deals with metadata. Many people would respond by suggesting that they have experienced a ‘leading of God’ in which they have felt guided to carry out specific actions. However, I suggest that one needs to distinguish between data and metadata. This distinction became widely known when Edward Snowden described the extent to which governments spy on their people. A Wired article explained that “The first news story to break based on the Snowden documents described how the NSA collects the cell phone call records of every American. One government defense, and a sound bite repeated ever since, is that the data they collected is ‘only metadata.’ The intended point was that the NSA wasn’t collecting the words we said during our phone conversations, only the phone numbers of the two parties, and the date, time, and duration of the call. This seemed to mollify many people, but it shouldn’t have.” Using an analogy, the NSA does not open your letters and read the contents. Instead, it merely observes the names and addresses on the envelopes. However, “metadata reveals what and who we’re interested in and what’s important to us, no matter how private. It provides a window into our personalities. It provides a detailed summary of what’s happening to us at any point in time. One experiment from Stanford University examined the phone metadata of about 500 volunteers over several months. The personal nature of what the researchers could deduce from the metadata surprised even them.”

Looking at only one envelope does not tell very much. But one can learn a lot by examining many envelopes for common patterns. Similarly, metadata has become meaningful because 1) people now do so many things on the Internet and 2) computers can mine all of this metadata for common patterns.

Turning now to the Bible, the apostle Paul says that “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:26-28). Romans 5-8 describes a sequence of personal transformation, and the verses that we have quoted occur at the end of this sequence, during the third stage of rebirth. Paul begins by describing a new form of interaction between the Holy Spirit and God that is indicative of this third stage. Paul then says that God works at the metadata level by ‘causing all things to work together’. God is not telling people what to do, but rather creating order by connecting things together. Similarly, mining metadata ignores what people are doing while searching for order in the way that things connect together. Paul says that this connecting is not happening for everyone but rather for ‘those who are called according to His purpose’. Similarly, the metadata mining does not happen for everyone but rather for those who function within the world of interconnected computers.

That brings us back to the contrast between transformed technology and childish minds. The purpose of most metadata mining is not to generate Teacher order by ‘causing all things to work together for good’ but rather to impose the MMNs of some country or power group upon the rest of the population, or to improve the MMN of some economic bottom line through the use of targeted advertising. This is summarized by the saying, ‘If you’re not paying for it, you become the product’.

Mining metadata is a powerful tool that is not necessarily evil, and it emerges naturally when MMNs of personal identity become reborn within a grid of rational Teacher thought. However, when people are driven internally by childish MMNs of culture, dominance, and personal status, then there will be a natural drive to misuse metadata for the purpose of evil.

Time is fundamental. We live in a world composed of physical objects. Science, in contrast, looks beyond the world of physical objects to the hidden realm of time and process. Saying this another way, science goes beyond merely describing something to understanding how it works. Similarly, the theory of mental symmetry attempts to go beyond merely describing human personality to coming up with mechanisms that explain how the mind works. In a similar manner, righteousness goes beyond childish behavior by being guided by the TMN of an understanding of how God acts rather than being driven by childish MMNs.

Computers lead naturally to an emphasis upon time and Server sequences. We saw at the beginning of this essay that the development of modern computers can be subdivided into three stages, corresponding to the three stages of personal salvation. I lived through the second computer stage of ‘righteousness’ and one of the dominant issues during that period was time: how can one get a faster computer that takes less time to run a program. Time is no longer an issue for the average person because personal computers are now fast enough to run most programs. For instance, the computer that I now use (in 2016) is about one million times faster than my first computer, which was an Apple II.

Now that computers can create virtual worlds, the primacy of time has re-entered in another way. Everything in a virtual world is artificial—except for time. One constructs artificial buildings in artificial cities using artificial tools purchased with artificial money, and one acquires artificial skills by performing artificial tasks, but this process takes real time, because the time that is spent playing a game cannot be spent performing another activity. It is a real cost. Therefore, many games allow one to use real money to shorten the real time that is required.

Similarly, I keep discovering that there is no such thing as instant personal transformation. ‘Asking Jesus into your heart’ may lead to the formation of a new mental network within the mind, but this mental network still has to be nourished and developed before it becomes capable of truly transforming personal character. In contrast, a society that is driven by childish MMNs will continually seek instantaneous change and pursue instantaneous solutions. This is illustrated by the countless ads that promise to deliver instant solutions or else teach some skill in ‘five easy steps’.

Again we see that computers and the Internet naturally teach a fundamental concept that the childish mind tries to ignore.

Laws are universal. This is related to the concept of righteousness discussed earlier. When Perceiver truth is based in MMNs of personal status, it is natural for a person or group that is a source of law to think that either it is above the law or that the law does not apply to it.

In the same way that a computer is a general purpose device they cannot be limited to performing only one function, it is not possible for a computer to perform a function for only one person and not for another. But governments continually think that it is possible to set up a computer with a backdoor that only government officials can access and not anyone else, because government officials with childish minds assume that the source of law is above the law. But it is not possible for a person to be above the law of computers. That is because computers are guided by the TMN of an instruction set that applies to everyone.

This issue is currently being hotly debated , with governments demanding backdoor access to computers, and computer experts insisting that this will weaken computer security for everyone. One of the major problems is that if a government-controlled key to the back door is lost or leaked, then everyone will have access, including criminals and opposing governments. And because information is universal on the Internet, once a secret key is leaked, then knowledge of this key can pass immediately everyone.

This happened in 2010, when a master key for DVDs was leaked and immediately spread through the Internet. These leaks can happen very easily. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security requires that all luggage locks be capable of being opened by a set of master keys possessed only by the DHS. However, all it took was one picture of a DHS official holding up these master keys to eliminate the security. Even though this picture was taken down from the Internet almost immediately after it was posted, the Streisand effect guaranteed that this picture would spread, and a group of security enthusiasts turned these pictures into CAD files that anyone can use to make real keys, and now everyone has access to the master keys that unlock every luggage lock.

Information cannot be owned. A physical object such as a car or a book occupies a specific location in space. If a car is parked on my driveway, then it is not parked on the driveway of my neighbor. Similarly, if my friend has my book, then I do not have this book. Because physical objects occupy specific locations, they can be owned. If I own a car, for instance, then this means that I have permission to park and drive the car wherever I wish, while others do not have permission to use my car. Ownership of physical objects is a foundational concept of a law-abiding society. But information is not a physical object. If my neighbor owns a car that I want, then the only two options are for me to steal the car from my neighbor or for someone to make another car so that we can both own cars. Factories can minimize the cost of making more cars, but it still takes time, raw material, and effort to make each car. Information is not a physical object, but can be be represented physically by arranging physical matter in a specific manner. For instance, any song or book can be stored as information on a DVD or memory card, and the only physical difference between one item and another is the arrangement of ‘0’s and ‘1’s on the card.

When my car is taken from my driveway, then it is no longer in my driveway. It is gone. But when information is copied, then the original still exists. A childish mindset that thinks in terms of MMNs will interpret everything in terms of concrete experiences and concrete objects, and this mindset will insist that copying is the same as stealing. Copying without permission may be wrong, but it is not theft. Theft is defined as “the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.” Notice that the personal property is being removed and that the rightful owner is being deprived of this property. Copying does not remove the personal property or deprive the rightful owner of this property.

It used to be possible to pretend that information could be owned because it took time and effort to produce another copy of information. This started to change with the invention of the printing press: “The immediate effect of the printing press was to multiply the output and cut the costs of books. It thus made information available to a much larger segment of the population who were, of course, eager for information of any variety. Libraries could now store greater quantities of information at much lower cost.” The cost of storing information has now been reduced to the point where multiple copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica can be stored on a memory card that costs a few dollars and can be hidden within a hollow nickel. Similarly, the Internet has cut the cost of copying information, as well as the time taken to copy information, to essentially nothing.

Turning now to religion, many religious groups view themselves as sources of truth that have a monopoly on truth. This describes the mindset of fundamentalism. If Perceiver truth is based in MMNs of personal status, then the group that respects the right experts possesses truth while other groups that respect the wrong experts do not possess truth. In contrast, a fact is universally true if this fact can be found everywhere. The idea that true moral truth is by nature universal is described by Kant’s categorical imperative, which states that an action is morally good if it is possible for everyone to carry out this action: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

This does not mean that sources of truth are automatically wrong or that one should not learn from respected authorities. Instead, it means that one can test truth by translating it from one context to another in order to see if the same general principle applies. Most of my research in the last few years has consisted of translating the concept of mental symmetry into the language of other systems. For instance, this essay is translating between mental symmetry and the development of computers. This translation becomes easiest when the cost of owning and copying information is minimal. Going further, Internet search engines such as Google make it trivial to compare one context with another in order to look for common principles, while automatic machine translation now makes it possible to translate instantaneously and reasonably accurately between one language and another.

I am not trying to build a religion upon the ability to copy information, or suggesting that one should copy information without reimbursing the person who originally created or discovered this information. Instead, I am pointing out that the childish mind will naturally think that truth is owned by people and groups, while computers and the Internet implicitly teach that truth describes universal principles that are revealed by comparing one situation to another, and translating one language to another. Saying this another way, the childish mind bases truth in MMNs of personal authority, while the transformed mind bases truth in TMNs of general understanding.

Major battles are currently being fought over precisely this issue. I am not exactly sure what the solution is. However, I suggest that there is no solution as long as the physical world has been transformed by interconnected computers while people’s minds remain untransformed, because childish MMNs will motivate people to act in a manner that is diametrically opposed to the TMN of rational interconnected computers.

I also know that combining information with personal identity is part of the solution, because information that applies to personal identity has a cost and it must be owned. For instance, it costs almost nothing to find a digital copy of a math textbook and download it onto my computer. But it costs a lot of time and effort to internalize that information and acquire the skill of solving math problems. And the cost is even higher when learning facts about personal identity. For instance, one of the first steps in recovering from addiction is the seemingly simple step of accepting the fact that one is an addict. This fact may be a trivial piece of information for someone else, but it carries with it a great emotional cost for the addict himself.

Everyone can know God directly without needing human middlemen. This is related to the previous point. Fundamentalism may state that truth ultimately comes from the all-important person of God, but one cannot see God the way that one sees a physical person. Therefore, truth that claims to be from God will usually be ‘translated’ by people with emotional status who claim to represent God.

Similarly, those who get rich from information have not generally tended to be the sources or creators of information but rather the transmitters of information. For instance, Hollywood is infamous for its ‘creative’ accounting practices, which ensure that it gets rich at the expense of actors. Recording companies are also well-known for ripping off musicians, to the extent that one famous singer declared that ‘record contracts are slavery’. Similarly, companies that publish academic journals charge astronomical fees for accessing papers that are edited by others for free which describe research that was done and paid for by others. The common thread is that those who transmit information are getting rich at the expense of those who are sources of information, while at the same time claiming to represent these sources of information.

This type of misrepresentation was possible when it took effort to copy and distribute information. But computers and the Internet now make it possible to copy and distribute information at almost no cost. In simple terms, there is no need for a middleman when any person sitting at a computer can get information directly from the source with the click of a button.

A similar transition to accessing God without a human middleman is found in the Biblical description of the new covenant: “‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:33-34). Notice how each person is receiving truth directly from God. There is no longer a need for human middlemen to go around claiming to speak for God, because everyone knows God regardless of personal status.

Similarly, there is no longer a need for purveyors of information to act as middlemen, because everyone now has direct access to information. For instance, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which was first published in 1768 and was regarded as one of the most respected transmitters of information, stopped printing encyclopedias in 2010, and the Wikipedia page that gives a complete list of Encyclopedia topics is now officially obsolete.

I am not suggesting that the Internet is the ‘new covenant’. Instead, I am suggesting that computers and the Internet lead implicitly to a mindset that is compatible with a new covenant in which everyone has direct access to God within Teacher thought. Looking at this cognitively, everyone can have direct access to God because the character of God is revealed through universal principles that describe ‘how the mind works’ and ‘how the natural world functions’, and everyone can learn directly about these universal principles because everyone has a mind and everyone lives in the natural world.

Notice that there still is an intermediary and there still is information. Thus, this does not describe mysticism in which one has merely the feeling of having a direct encounter with a God who transcends information. However, users of information are being connected directly with sources of information through the structure of the Internet without having to go through exploiting human middlemen.

Middlemen who convey information are currently doing everything in their power to maintain a stranglehold upon information. For instance, “Every time the first Mickey cartoons creep towards the public domain, Disney’s powerful lobbyists spring into action, lobbying Congress for a retrospective term-extension on copyright, which means that works that have already been created are awarded longer copyright terms.” Thus, not only are middlemen trying to claim that they own information, but they are doing their best to pass laws that ensure that they continue to own this information. It is obvious that such copyright extensions do not benefit the creators of information for the simple reason that copyright now extends long beyond the death of the writer or artist.

Computer Viruses and Evil

Evil is more than just a painful or harmful experience. Rather, evil is a living system that generates painful experiences. Using cognitive language, I suggest that evil is driven by mental networks. Similarly, people often complain that the Internet is full of evil content. However, I suggest that one can gain a better understanding of the nature of evil by looking beyond the content to the computer programs that generate content. Saying this more specifically, I suggest that computer viruses reveal the nature of evil.

The nature of evil: A computer virus has the following traits: 1) It is a program. It is not something magical or different, but rather follows the instruction set of a computer just like any other program. 2) It hides itself. A normal program informs the user when it is installed and when it is running. A virus installs itself without informing the user and tries to run in the background without noticing. 3) It installs itself through deception. A normal program openly describes its features. A virus gets a person to inadvertently install it by pretending to be what it is not. 4) It overrides free will. A person can choose to install, run, exit, and uninstall a normal program. A virus will do its best to override free will by installing without permission, running automatically, continuing to run, and continuing to remain installed. 5) It runs in an isolated way. Normal computer programs cooperate with one another and exchange information. A computer virus tries to keep separate from other programs. 6) It is controlled by some other person. While a virus resists being controlled by the person sitting at the computer, it is usually designed to be remotely controlled by someone else. 7) It benefits another person. The goal of a normal person is to assist the user of the computer. The goal of a virus is to help someone else. 8) It damages the software or the computer. A computer virus becomes debilitating to the extent that it slows down a computer and corrupts files. In the extreme, it may grab total control of the computer and prevent anything else from running, or encrypt or delete important files. It is also possible, though rare, for computer viruses to result in physical destruction, or even death.

Turning now to the mind, when truth is based in MMNs with emotional status, then good and evil will also tend to be defined in terms of MMNs. Experiences that are related to the wrong MMNs will be regarded as evil while experiences that are related to the right MMNs will be regarded as good. For an extreme example, killing will be regarded as good if it is motivated by the MMNs of one’s country, while helping a person will be regarded as evil if it is related to MMNs of opposing cultures and countries.

It is interesting that there are limits to this definition because killing a child is almost universally regarded as evil. Soldiers find it difficult to kill children, and even prison inmates will attack convicted pedophiles and child killers . This tells us that we implicitly know that existing societal standards of morality are inadequate. The childish mind is regarded as a paragon of virtue precisely because it is still innocent and has not yet been corrupted by ‘normal’ life.

A computer virus illustrates a different definition of evil. Mental networks are the mental equivalent of computer programs. A program runs when it is selected; a mental network guides thought and behavior when it is triggered. As far as I can tell, the mind cannot exist without mental networks. Mental networks drive the mind, while core mental networks hold the mind together. Similarly, a computer cannot exist without computer programs. Computer programs determine what a computer does, while the computer program of an operating system defines the basic behavior of a computer. Thus, we see that 1) Evil is not something unique or different but rather is driven by mental networks just as normal behavior is driven by mental networks. Continuing with the list:

2) Evil is secret. Evil tends to hide itself while good is open. Even when evil is blatantly open, as in the case of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, there is still a major element of secrecy. Nazi concentration camps were hidden from the German population, and arriving prisoners were told that they were going to the showers, and not that they were about to be exterminated. Similarly, most victims of Stalinism were taken away in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. While one cannot state categorically that secrecy is evil, one can definitely say that evil prefers secrecy and darkness. In the words of Jesus, “everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:20-21).

3) Evil usually begins with deception. For instance, smoking does not attract new users by showing pictures of lung cancer. Instead, from 1954 – 1999 smoking advertised itself with images of the Marlboro man: “The images initially featured rugged men portrayed in a variety of roles but later primarily featured a rugged cowboy or cowboys, in nature with a cigarette.” However, these were deceptive images because “A number of models who have portrayed the Marlboro Man have died of smoking-related diseases.”

4) Evil overrides free will. This is illustrated by addiction. The drug addict seldom chooses to take drugs. Instead, he is driven by an irresistible urge to take drugs, and he cannot choose to ignore this urge. Cognitively speaking, a mental network is being triggered, and a person can do nothing to prevent this mental network from imposing its structure upon the mind.

In the same way that the persistency of a computer virus usually becomes apparent only when one attempts to uninstall a virus, so the extent to which a bad habit overrides free will usually becomes apparent only when one attempts to break this habit. Cognitively speaking, triggered mental networks need to experience consistent input to survive. If a mental network is triggered and one does not behave in a manner that is consistent with this mental network, then the mental network will start to fall apart and it will generate a strong urge to experience compatible input. This also becomes apparent when attempting to break a habit.

It is common today to define morality solely in terms of free will. Almost anything is regarded as good if a person chooses to do it of his own free will without being forced by someone else. However, we are now beginning to see that an emphasis upon pure free will actually leads to the curtailment of free will. That is because choice always occurs within the context of mental networks. A person has maximum free will when the mind contains conflicting mental networks, just as the free choice of a democracy is most meaningful when one can choose between political parties with significantly different agendas. The recent emphasis upon free will occurred within a society that was struggling in abstract thought between the rational thinking of scientific thought and the questioning of postmodern thought, and in concrete thought between traditional norms and personal freedom. This struggle made free will possible, but now that postmodern thought and personal freedom have largely won the battle what has been achieved is not free will but rather the feeling of free will. People continue to talk about personal freedom, but one finds that people are not being given the intellectual freedom to question the new norms of society while the average person lacks the ability to choose to act in a way that violates these new norms. That brings us to the next point.

5) Evil is small-minded. One can see this trait in the typical drug addict. When an addict needs a fix, then nothing matters except finding drugs. Similarly, as the first World War progressed, the entire economy of the Western world became dominated by a single-minded fixation upon making weapons. Looking at this from a personal level, if the economy were to collapse, then existence for the average individual would become reduced to the single goal of staying alive and finding the next meal. This is explored in the first episode of the Connection series by James Burke.

We all live within the physical prison of Earth, but we do not consider it to be a prison because Earth is large. However, when a person is restricted to a certain building, then we consider such a person to be imprisoned. Similarly, everyone is addicted in the sense of being driven inescapably by core mental networks. But we don’t consider ourselves to be addicted because our core mental networks allow us to do a wide variety of things within society. But when a person is driven by core mental networks that provide very few options, then we consider such a person to be addicted. This narrowing of focus is a characteristic of evil.

One might think that tolerance is the best way to avoid a narrow prison, but I suggest that this is not the case. That is because both the mind and the world are guided by inescapable principles of how things work. This principle is obvious when working with computers. Suppose that a computer programmer is tolerant and allows any instructions to be run on a computer. The end result will not be the wide world of a well-designed operating system but rather the very limited world of a crashed computer. In order to have a wide world on a computer, one must respect the instruction set of that computer. Similarly, in order to have a wide world of core mental networks, one must respect the structure of the mind. This principle becomes obvious when dealing with the universal laws of nature. Pure tolerance gives a person freedom to do whatever they want, including playing on a busy street, or touching live electrical wires. This type of tolerance leads very quickly to a limited world, because violating the laws of nature leads to natural consequences that will limit one’s options.

6) Evil is controlled by others. A computer virus functions only for the benefit of someone else, and not for the benefit of the person using the computer. A similar situation exists with mental networks. When a mental network is triggered, then it will impose its structure upon the mind. But there is no guarantee that this structure will lead to well-being. For instance, in World War I, religious and political authority figures were represented as powerful MMNs within the minds of the average person. Therefore, when the representatives of God and country called for citizens toenlist in the Army, then people were driven by MMNs to obey. But the results werenot good for many who enlisted. Instead, “On the 1st July 1916 hundreds of thousands of inexperienced British volunteers - Kitchener’s Army advanced across the mud of no-man’s land. Wave after wave of then were mown down by German machine guns which pre-attack barrages had failed to silence. By the end of the first day 40 000 men were maimed and 20 000 killed in the single largest disaster in British military history. By November 1916, the gains were minimal, the slaughter almost incomprehensible.” Using computer language,, these individuals had been mentally infected by a computer virus which functioned solely for the benefit of someone else. In retrospect, we recognize that this describes evil.

That brings us to the topic of self-denial. Christianity has historically regarded self-denial as one of the ultimate signs of goodness. An attitude of religious self-denial will naturally emerge when God is represented by a powerful MMN in Mercy thought. That is because emotional importance is a relative standard. If the MMN that represents God has great status, then this implies that the MMNs that represent identity have low emotional status. Therefore, following God will automatically be interpreted as denying self.

We saw earlier that it is easy for following God to turn into following middlemen who claim to speak for God. This means that religious self-denial is vulnerable to being hijacked by middlemen, who can use their status to transform the message of God into a message of personal destruction that benefits only the middlemen. As the example of Lord Kitchener’s army shows, those who practice religious self-denial make great cannon fodder. But we have also seen that everyone grows up with a mind driven by childish MMNs. Thus, self needs to be transformed, and one can only acquire a new identity by letting go of the existing identity. And when is letting go of existing identity, then it will feel—and appear—as if one is denying self.

Saying this in more detail, religious self-denial is not inherently evil, but it creates an environment that allows evil to function. Suppose that I feel that I am nothing compared to God. I will feel that it is my duty to deny myself and focus upon God. I will also feel that God far exceeds my puny abilities to be able to comprehend his nature. Therefore, I will naturally try to learn how I should deny myself by listening to experts who claim to speak for God. Unfortunately, there have always been evil people who are more than willing to claim to be the voice of God and tell me how I should deny myself—for their benefit. And because I feel that I should follow God without trying to protect myself, I will not examine the personal implications of following the commands of those who claim to speak for God. That is why religious self-denial makes good cannon fodder. Using computer language, religious self-denial is liking running computer programs from the Internet without using a virus checker to check these programs.

I suggest that the Internet provides an illustration of how these various elements interact. In order to access the Internet, one must have a functioning computer and this computer must be connected to the Internet. These two requirements can be stated in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow said that the highest need is for self-actualization, which is typically defined as ‘the full realization of one’s potential’, which could be compared to a computer that is functioning properly. Maslow added that self-actualization is something that varies from one individual to another: “Individuals may perceive or focus on this need very specifically. For example, one individual may have the strong desire to become an ideal parent. In another, the desire may be expressed athletically.” Using computers as an analogy, one may purchase a computer that is similar to many other computers, but as one personally uses and customizes this computer, it acquires an individuality that express one’s specific needs.

Wikipedia adds that “In his later years, Maslow explored a further dimension of needs, while criticizing his own vision on self-actualization. The self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality.” Using computer language, Maslow realized that computers can fulfill a higher need by becoming interconnected to form an Internet. Maslow defined this higher need, as most individuals do, in terms of the self-denial of altruism and the mysticism of spirituality. Altruism is inadequate because it views God from a Mercy perspective, while mysticism is inadequate because it uses Teacher overgeneralization to form a concept of God.

I suggest that the Internet provides a better illustration of this ‘higher goal’. There is a deep need for a person to be part of something that is bigger than oneself. In order to meet this need, each computer must individually reach its potential and then go beyond itself by becoming connected to the Internet. I am not suggesting that God is nothing more than the sum of people’s concepts of God. But I am suggesting that God does not ‘do things by magic’, but rather works through people, which means that the impact that God can have is in some way limited by people’s concepts of God. In the words of the apostle Paul, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20). On the one hand, God’s abilities far exceed human conceptions, but on the other hand this power still has to be channeled through individual humans. Similarly, the Internet has led to capabilities that are ‘abundantly beyond all that anyone asked or thought’, but these capabilities use specific computers that are connected to the Internet and are limited by the capabilities of these computers.

Going further, one common method of protecting a computer from viruses is by ensuring that it has no connection to the Internet. This is known as air gapping a computer. Similarly, the disastrous self-denial of the two world wars was followed by an emphasis on individuality. As the Wikipedia article on the ‘me generation’ explains, “The development of a youth culture focusing so heavily on self-fulfillment was also perhaps a reaction against the traits that characterized the older generation, which had grown up during the Great Depression. That generation had learned values associated with self-sacrifice. The deprivations of the Depression had taught that generation to work hard, save money and not spend it; to cherish family and community ties. Loyalty to institutions, traditional religious faiths, and other common bonds were what that generation considered to be the cultural foundations of their country. Baby boomers gradually abandoned those values in large numbers, a development that was entrenched during the 1970s.” Disconnecting a computer from the Internet may be an effective way of avoiding computer viruses but it also removes that computer from the world of the Internet. Similarly, focusing upon individuality may protect a person from the abuses of self-denial but it also eliminates the possibility of participating in something that is larger than oneself.

Most computers users have concluded that the advantages of being connected to the Internet outweigh the risk of getting a computer virus. In other words, the benefits of being part of something that is bigger than oneself outweigh the risk of being taken advantage of by others. Looking at this more specifically, every computer acquires its operating system from somewhere else, often downloaded from the Internet. Similarly, every human acquires an initial collection of core mental networks from parents and other authority figures, and there is no guarantee that these initial mental networks are healthy or beneficial. But a computer will not run without an operating system. Similarly, a human cannot function without an initial set of core mental networks. And both of these must be acquired from elsewhere. The same principle applies to new programs, as well as updates to existing programs. The average person does not write his own programs but rather downloads them from the Internet. Likewise, if one wishes to grow as an individual or develop new skills, then one must go beyond individuality to learning from others.

Vulnerability to computer viruses can be minimized in three ways: The first way is by becoming aware of what is known as social engineering, which gets a person to install a computer virus through pretense, often by pretending to be some legitimate business or authority, pretending to be a friend, or provoking feelings of compassion. Cognitively speaking, the mind uses MMNs to represent people, and the mind also uses these MMNs to recognize people. For instance, I recognize my friend Fred when I receive input that matches the structure of the MMN within my mind that represents Fred. Pretense provides false input that appears to match the identity of one of these MMNs.

This risk can be minimized by using rational thought to evaluate MMNs. For instance, if one receives an email that claims to be from Fred, one does not accept this email without thinking but rather examines it to see if it is what it claims to be. But using rational thought to evaluate subjective MMNs is precisely what has become taboo in today’s postmodern world. Everyone’s personal tastes are supposed to be accepted as legitimate without critical analysis.

Restating this in religious terms, one can protect oneself from personal abuse by evaluating the personal character of those who claim to speak for God.

A second way to minimize risk is by installing security updates. Computer viruses usually install themselves by taking advantage of errors in computer programming. Using cognitive language, a computer program is an example of Teacher order-within-complexity, because many individual computer instructions are being combined to perform general functions. Teacher thought wants a general rule to apply everywhere. When a computer program has a bug, then this means that the general function of the program has broken down. For the average consumer, fixing a computer bug usually involves downloading an update off the Internet, which is itself a security risk, because computer viruses can masquerade as security updates.

Restating this in religious terms, one can protect oneself from personal abuse by learning more about the character of God. However, one must be careful that one is actually learning about the character of God and not just being deceived by the words of those who claim to speak for God.

A third way to minimize risk is through the use of passwords. I talked earlier about personalizing computers. The first way that one usually personalizes a program or computer is by entering a password that is known to oneself but not to others. In order to be effective, a password must be unique. Similarly, an effective way of protecting oneself from being manipulated by others is by becoming unique. Cognitively speaking, middlemen manipulate people by triggering common MMNs of culture and religion. A person becomes unique by developing mental networks that are slightly different than the standard mental networks of culture, which automatically makes that person less susceptible to being manipulated by those who press the ‘hot buttons’ of society.

7) Evil benefits only another person. We saw this principle when looking at the first World War. The average life expectancy for a junior officer in the trenches was six weeks. This article tries to explain what motivated these junior officers: “There was nothing noble about death, not once you had seen a man ripped open by a shrapnel fragment, scrabbling round in the blood and dirt to try and push his intestines back in. So what possessed them? How could these young officers have been so unflinching in the face of battle? Lewis-Stempel’s search for answers has produced a harrowing but engrossing meditation on a national tragedy which still lingers to the fourth generation. It began with their upbringing, of course. These were mostly boarding school-educated children brought up in a regime of muscular-Christianity, team games, cold showers and immersion in history and the classics. They read Henty and Kipling and the famous-Newbolt poem with the line, ‘Play up, play up, and play the game!’. They knew that King and Country were in peril: if the Kaiser seized the French and Belgian coastlines he would control the Channel, Britain’s lifeline… In the front-line trenches the greatest fear of these lieutenants and captains was that they might not match up to those paragons of history and fiction. When the time came it was the fear of cowardice, of showing fear before their men that drove them on.”

In short, they were driven by ‘computer viruses’ (mental networks of evil) implanted in their minds by authority figures to face agonizing death in order to benefit ‘God and country’. These implanted networks were stronger than the fear of having one’s guts spilled out into the dirt.

I have mentioned that fundamentalism leads naturally to an attitude of self-denial, and Christianity has historically viewed the death of Jesus on the cross as the supreme example of religious self-denial. How does one distinguish this self-denial from evil?

The three stages of personal salvation temporarily turn away from reality in order to return to reality at a higher level. This is similar to leaving the real world to attend school in order to get an education so that one can get a better job. Thus, the focus is not upon the self-denial of attending school but rather upon the ultimate benefit of graduating and getting a good job. Applying this to our definition of evil, evil benefits only another person, while transformation goes through temporary deprivation in order to experience lasting benefits.

The Bible describes the death of Jesus in terms of focusing upon the final benefit: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2). Notice how Jesus ‘endured the cross’ motivated by ‘the joy set before him’. The ‘cloud of witnesses’ is described in the previous chapter: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:13-16). Notice how these individuals were also motivated by the positive goal of living in a better place, and not by the negative goal of ‘dying for God and country’. They also were not driven to ‘look good’ in front of their fellows, but rather were willing to be ‘strangers and exiles on earth’.

But how does one distinguish the individual who is ‘seeking a heavenly country’ from the Muslim suicide bomber who is motivated by the promise of 72 virgins in heaven? I am sure that many of the soldiers in World War I believed that they would be rewarded in heaven for their sacrifice to God and country.

This is a question that I have had to face personally. My ultimate goal in following mental symmetry is to develop all of my mind in order to experience the personal benefits of mental wholeness. However, for decades I have found myself in the situation of not ‘receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.’ Therefore, I increasingly find myself in the predicament of having to choose between submitting to the semi-insanity of present society or else believing that there is a God who will eventually reward me from heaven. I state this using clinical language, but I assure you that this choice involves deep emotions as well as extensive self-questioning.

What keeps me going is a rational understanding of how the mind works. My hope is not based upon some obscure reference to 72 virgins, which could be a mistranslation of 72 white raisins. Instead, both observation and understanding keep reinforcing the conclusion that the price of mental incompleteness that one must pay to get ahead in current society is not worth the benefits. In other words, I am not seeking a fantasy but rather a ‘better country’. Going further, the extensive correspondence between what the theory of mental symmetry explains and what the content of the Christian Bible says gives me reasonable confidence that there is a real God who corresponds to the mental concept of God that has formed within my mind as a result of following mental symmetry. Again, I need to emphasize that there is extensive emotion and self-questioning behind this clinical language.

Finally, I have been attempting to act in a manner that is consistent with the way that one would act in a better country. Instead of merely fantasizing about an alternate reality, I have tried to practice the skills that would be required to live in such a better country. This is quite different than the Muslim suicide bomber who ‘prepares’ for an eternity of love by making war. If the goal of the suicide bomber is to live in an eternity of love and peace, then why doesn’t the jihadist prepare for this eternity by learning to practice love and peace here on earth?

Fundamentalism will create Platonic forms of ideal perfection within Mercy thought. But because these Platonic forms come from the words of a special book, there will be no connection between these internal images of perfection and physical reality. For instance, the Wikipedia article on Houri describes the type of virgin after which the suicide bomber seeks: “Other details of the houris that have been pointed out by Sunni scholars include that the houris would not urinate, defecate, become pregnant or menstruate. It has also been said that all houris are ‘transparent to the marrow of their bones’, ‘eternally young’, ‘hairless except the eyebrows and the head’, ‘pure’ and ‘beautiful’.” When there is no mental connection between ‘heavenly perfection’ and physical reality, then it is easy for those who claim to speak for God to associate these images of heavenly perfection with earthly actions of grotesque self-destruction.

Computers lead naturally to a different mindset. Science is based in the discovery that mathematical equations can be used to predict how the real world will behave. And computers are superb at carrying out mathematical calculations. Thus it is natural for computers to be used to simulate reality. For instance, Microsoft first sold a program to simulate flying an airplane back in 1982, two years before introducing the first version of Windows. Similarly, one of the best-selling games in computer history is the Civilization series, in which one simulates the path of human history.

Applying this to the concept of ‘being rewarded by God in heaven’, I have mentioned that a concept of God emerges when a sufficiently general theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. Christianity teaches that the disembodied mind can go to heaven to live with God after death. Cognitively speaking, a Teacher understanding of the nature of God is causing Platonic forms of perfection to emerge within Mercy thought and a person is mentally living within the ‘heaven’ of these Platonic forms. The average person today regards this type of thinking as irrational fantasy, but the individual who immerses himself in a computer video game is mentally doing precisely the same thing: A computer is executing a program based upon a Teacher understanding of ‘how the world works’ within the ‘heavenly realm’ of words and equations, and this program is creating images of reality upon a computer screen that are like real life but more perfect and ideal. The computer user then mentally pretends that he is some avatar living within these computer generated images of reality.

Hoping that one will be rewarded by God in heaven takes this one step further: 1) Mentally living within a computer generated simulation of reality here on earth is extended to believing that the disembodied mind can live within a God-generated simulation of reality called heaven. 2) Using computer simulations to predict and prepare for future reality is extended to believing that the ‘virtual reality’ of heaven is a preparation for a future reality of ‘heaven on earth’. 3) Using computer simulations to help design a better world is extended to following God in order to ‘seek a better country’.

Thus, the idea of being rewarded by God in heaven becomes a natural extension of using rational thought to create a better world rather than a fantasy that has nothing to do with reality.

This leads to the following view of heaven and hell: Computers can be used to simulate all kinds of virtual realities, from paradise to post-apocalyptic horror. If a person feels emotionally driven to immerse himself within computer simulations of hell-on-earth, then it is rational to assume that this person as a disembodied mind would feel the same emotional drive to become immersed within a real hell. This is similar to Swedenborg’s idea that a person chooses to go to hell guided by core mental networks, and is not condemned to hell in some arbitrary fashion by God. (I think that this concept makes both rational and scriptural sense. I do not agree with all of Swedenborg’s concepts.)

8) Evil damages the software of the mind or the hardware of the physical body. War is the most obvious example of this principle. As this scientific paper summarizes, “Among the consequences of war, the impact on the mental health of the civilian population is one of the most significant. Studies of the general population show a definite increase in the incidence and prevalence of mental disorders.” Military veterans often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Going further, we all know that war causes death and physical damage. Stating this in scientific language, “War has a catastrophic effect on the health and well being of nations. Studies have shown that conflict situations cause more mortality and disability than any major disease. War destroys communities and families and often disrupts the development of the social and economic fabric of nations. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as reduction in material and human capital. Death as a result of wars is simply the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Other consequences, besides death, are not well documented. They include endemic poverty, malnutrition, disability, economic/ social decline and psychosocial illness, to mention only a few.”

It is intuitively obvious that war is evil, and it should not be necessary to quote from scientific papers to back up this claim. However, the two countries that have been regarded as the most Christian in recent history have both regarded war as something normal and expected. The first country is Great Britain: “During its history, British forces or forces with a British mandate have invaded, had some control over or fought conflicts in 171 of the world's 193 countries that are currently UN member states, or nine out of ten of all countries (or 89% of UN Nations).” Similarly, the United States has been at war for 222 years, which is 93% of its existence, and Wikipedia provides a list of the American wars.

Looking at this cognitively, I suggest that the method of basing truth in MMNs of personal importance will overwhelm any message that is being proclaimed. The New Testament contains many statements about God being love and loving one’s enemies, but if belief in the Bible is based in MMNs of respect for God, religious authorities, or religious rituals, then ideas such as ‘we are good and others are bad’, ‘we have truth and others do not’, and ‘we need to use force to impose truth on others’ will naturally take precedence over any biblical statements regarding love. Saying this bluntly, the method of fundamentalism will naturally contradict the biblical message of love, while the method of the Internet is implicitly consistent with the biblical message of love.

A distinction needs to be made between love and unconditional love, because it has become popular to say that ‘God loves everyone unconditionally’. The secular version of this is the belief that every lifestyle needs to be affirmed and applauded. I suggest that ‘unconditional love’ is a natural byproduct of mysticism, because both mysticism and unconditional love make sweeping statements that ignore facts, guided by positive emotions.

Computers and the Internet, in contrast, to lead implicitly to a functional definition of love, because the goal is for each computer to function properly, and for computers to interact in a beneficial manner. Unconditional love suppresses content. It gives a gold star to everyone regardless of what they say or do; it clicks automatically on every link without thinking. In contrast, functional love requires a knowledge of what benefits or harms a person—or computer.

I am not suggesting that the Internet is morally good, because much of the content of the Internet is not good. Rather, I am suggesting that living in a world surrounded by computers leads implicitly to a mindset that resonates with morality, while mysticism leads implicitly to a mindset that opposes morality and fundamentalism leads implicitly to a twisted morality. Going further, I have found that the majority of Christians who claim to believe in the Bible will reject or ignore the theory of mental symmetry, even though it is consistent in detail with the content of the Bible, because it violates either the attitude of fundamentalism or the mindset of mysticism. Thus, while the content of the Internet is often radically opposed to the content of the Bible, it appears that the structure of computers and the Internet is more consistent with the message of Christianity than the methods of either fundamentalism or mysticism. And I have consistently found that when push comes to shove, method trumps message.

Who is Evil?

We have seen that evil can be defined as a kind of mental computer virus that attempts to control people by implanting fragmented mental networks within their minds. Who is the source of this evil? One can answer it this question in two ways, first by looking at a segment of society that attempts to control individuals by implanting mental networks within the mind, and second by looking at the segment of society that is the primary source of computer viruses. The answer in both cases is revealing.

Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, invented the field of public relations. In his words, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.” Bernays manipulated public opinion by acting as a middleman who claimed to speak on behalf of societally accepted sources of truth while actually modifying the message for his own benefit: “One of Bernays’ favorite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the indirect use of ‘third party authorities’ to plead his clients’ causes. ‘If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.’” Bernays did not eliminate painful MMNs but instead emphasized them in order to manipulate people: “Bernays used the ‘Freudian theory’ to deal with the public's conception of communism, as he believed that we should not be easing the public’s fear of communism, but rather promote that fear and play with the public’s emotions of it. This theory was so powerful that it became a weapon of its own during the Cold War.”

Bernays’ fundamental assumption was that people are emotionally controlled by a ruling elite that secretly manipulates MMNs of society. “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of... In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

In conclusion, these quotes describe most of the attributes of evil that were mentioned in the previous section. And the Wikipedia article from which we have quoted explicitly connects Bernays’ methods with evil: “Bernays’ celebration of propaganda helped define public relations, but it did not win the industry many friends. In a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter described Bernays and Ivy Lee as ‘professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism and self-interest’. History showed the flaw in Bernays’ identification of the ‘manipulation of the masses’—as a natural and necessary feature of a democratic society—when the fascist rise to power in Germany demonstrated that propaganda could be used to subvert democracy as easily as it could be used to ‘resolve conflict’.”

Turning now from humans to computers, the primary source of computer viruses used to be criminals, but the most highly crafted computer viruses are now being written by governments. For instance, the US has accused the Chinese government of hacking into American computers. Similarly, the major source of cybercrime appears to be Russian ex-KGB officials: “Organized cybercrime is a truly international affair, but the most advanced attacks tend to stem from Russia. The Russian mob is incredibly talented for a reason: After the Iron Curtain lifted in the 1990s, a number of ex-KGB cyberspies realized they could use their expert skills and training to make money off of the hacked information they had previously been retrieving for government espionage purposes. Former spies grouped together to form the Russian Business Network, a criminal enterprise that is capable of some truly scary attacks. It’s just one of many organized cybercriminal organizations, but it’s one of the oldest and the largest.” And in 2012, it became apparent that the US government also writes computer viruses, and that the NSA has infected over 50,000 computer networks worldwide. And with typical capitalist efficiency, the NSA has put together an automated system that is capable of infecting millions of computers with computer viruses.

In addition, the NSA and other similar spying organizations exhibit as organizations the qualities of evil that were described previously: 1) They function like normal government organizations carrying out normal programs. 2) They hide their existence from public view. 3) They operate through deception. 4) They override the free will of a democracy by functioning without normal government oversight. 5) They function as isolated entities outside of normal government cooperation. 6) They are under the control of individuals who are not democratically elected. 7) It is becoming apparent that their primary goal is not to serve the average citizen. 8) Their primary mission is to infiltrate, corrupt, damage, and destroy.

Statements such as these used to be dismissed as the hyperbole of what is colloquially known as tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. However, since the revelations of Edward Snowden, it has become apparent that these are accurate statements. I grew up during the Cold War, when those who lived in the West could state with reasonable accuracy that evil resided within the Soviet hegemony. However, we now know that evil is also deeply embedded within Western society.

Looking at this cognitively, a mind that is guided by childish MMNs will naturally divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’, labeling ‘us’ as good and ‘them’ as evil. The original mandate of secret government agencies such as the NSA was to protect ‘us’ and attack ‘them’ without having to worry about legality or morality. The end result has turned out to be organized evil. Thus, it appears that the very concept of swearing ultimate loyalty to some state is inherently evil.

I am not suggesting that it is wrong to be a citizen of some country or that all countries should amalgamate to form a single world government. As Arnold Toynbee stated many years ago, diversity is a sign of growth while uniformity is a sign of decay. National sovereignty also makes it possible for citizens to escape corruption in one country by emigrating to other countries. My background is Mennonite, and Mennonites have done this for centuries.

It is also important to support the economy, social fabric, and personal well-being of the country in which one is resident. I lived in South Korea for several years, and Koreans consider ‘made in Korea’ to be something that is good for the country which needs to be pursued. Compare this with America, where leaders talk a lot about patriotism while simultaneously hollowing out the local economy through outsourcing and ruining the economy through foreign wars.

Instead, I suggest that one needs to follow the implicit example of the Internet, which is composed of individual unique computers that each function well, which cooperate in an interconnected manner to produce something that is greater than the sum of the parts, without being controlled by some single central human authority. (The average person probably does not and that “No one person, company, organization or government runs the Internet. It is a globally distributed network comprising many voluntarily interconnected autonomous networks. It operates without a central governing body.”)

Pornography

It is estimated that 4 ½ % of the websites visited on the Internet involve pornography. The most popular ‘adult entertainment site’ has 4.4 billion views a month. It may be fine to talk in some theoretical manner about the connection between the Internet and personal transformation, but what about all of the pornography on the Internet?

Internet pornography is a major problem, especially the ease with which children can access images that are not just inappropriate but degrading, and I do not want to minimize this problem. However, it is important to realize that one is dealing with powerful forces who are willing to use underhanded tactics to further their own aims. For instance, I would have hoped that Mennonites would not stoop to such low levels, but in 2012 Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tried to pass a bill legalizing government spying on the Internet by “accusing anyone who opposes their bill to give police new powers to monitor the Internet of supporting child pornography.” Similarly in Britain , “Internet users are being spied on in their own home as the Government uses the threat of terrorism and the spread of child pornography to justify launching a dramatic expansion of surveillance society, according to a leading academic.”More recently, “Planned surveillance laws in the UK are ‘totalitarian’ and the bulk collection of people’s data makes people ‘more vulnerable’ to terrorist attacks, a National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower has said.”

In other words, the actual choice is not between pornography and no pornography but rather between pornography and government surveillance. Doctorow describes this further in the article that was quoted at the beginning of this essay: “There will be programs that run on general-purpose computers, and peripherals, that will freak even me out. So I can believe that people who advocate for limiting general-purpose computers will find a receptive audience. But just as we saw with the copyright wars, banning certain instructions, protocols or messages will be wholly ineffective as a means of prevention and remedy. As we saw in the copyright wars, all attempts at controlling PCs will converge on rootkits, and all attempts at controlling the Internet will converge on surveillance and censorship.”

Therefore, I would like to step back and examine this problem from a cognitive perspective, as we have done in the rest of this essay. I have referred several times to ‘childish MMNs’. Every person grows up with a mind that is built upon childish MMNs. These form automatically as experiences of pain and pleasure from the physical body form mental networks of emotional experiences within Mercy thought. The end result is that every person is naturally driven by feelings that include hedonism, idolatry, fear, hero worship, cultural superiority, racism, and violence: Hedonism seeks MMNs that come from physical pleasure, idolatry gives emotional status to MMNs based in physical objects, fear avoids triggering MMNs created by traumatic experiences, hero worship gives emotional status to MMNs that represent important people, cultural superiority rejects MMNs that are different than mine, racism bases emotional status of personal MMNs upon physical appearance, while violence tries to eliminate unwanted MMNs by attacking people associated with these MMNs.

The problem is neither Mercy thought nor the physical body. Instead, the problem is that Mercy thought acquires MMNs directly from the physical body without gaining the mental content that is required for long-term enjoyment. This leads to temporary fulfillment that does not last. The goal, I suggest, is not to eliminate pleasure but rather to have pleasure that lasts, that increases personal sensitivity, and that builds up, rather than merely temporary pleasure that tears down and desensitizes. (I look at sexuality from a cognitive perspective in another essay.)

One might ask why God would create humans with such a fatal flaw, but I suggest that there is no alternative. If the human mind is to start functioning, then the physical body must impose emotional content upon the mind. Saying this another way, the mind cannot exist without a set of core mental networks. The mind must acquire its initial set of core mental networks from some external source. The human mind acquires its first set of core mental networks from the physical body. This guarantees that the mind will function, but it also guarantees that the mind will function inadequately, which means that every person needs to experience personal transformation in order to replace these inadequate MMNs with more adequate ones.

This leads us to the rather strange conclusion that Internet pornography is the right kind of problem, because it focuses directly upon the source of the human sin nature. It is easy when dealing with the sin nature to focus upon symptoms while ignoring the root cause. For instance, Islam deals with problems of male lust by forcing women to cover their bodies. But covering up a woman’s body does not eliminate male lust. Six of the top eight porn searching countries in the world are Muslim states. Quoting from one Muslim website, “The fact that Muslim countries dominate the list for pornography searches is alarming in itself, but when you add in the data for the child, animal and homosexual sex searches, it paints quite a disgusting picture of the state of the islamic world.”

The real problem is not that women have beautiful bodies, but rather that men (and women) have dirty minds. Internet pornography puts a spotlight upon the root problem because the temptation is not to have sex with one’s physical body, but rather to fill one’s mind with images of beauty and sexuality. This is a personal temptation that occurs in the privacy of one’s own home. And it involves programming the mind with input from the physical body.

Reiterating, I am not suggesting that Internet pornography is good. Rather, I am pointing out that it does a good job of revealing the core of the human sin nature. Humans are adept at using religious language to avoid moral issues. For instance, my grandfather received a very Christian sounding letter from Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the Kaiser who sent millions of German citizens to their death. Internet pornography bypasses all of these rationalizations and tempts a person at the core of the sin nature. It reveals to a person what he—or she—is really like inside. And what emerges is usually not a pretty picture—literally. One can see this by examining how high fashion has progressed in the last hundred years. Fashion used to emphasize beauty and elegance. Most modern fashion is now ugly, and the typical fashion model no longer smiles but rather glares.

Pornography also does a good job of revealing inadequate methods of dealing with morality. We have already seen that the Muslim method of taboos no longer works. Taboos work because a mental network will only attempt to impose its structure upon the mind when it is triggered. Therefore, if one can prevent the environment from triggering undesired mental networks, then one can stop bad habits from being carried out. But this method does not work with Internet pornography because 1) the physical nature of sexual desire ensures that mental networks will form, and 2) the universality of information on the Internet, as illustrated by the Streisand effect, ensures that these mental networks will be triggered. (A taboo tries to prevent a mental network from being triggered. Castration and female circumcision try to prevent mental networks of sexual desire from forming.)

Fundamentalism is also incapable of dealing with Internet pornography, because fundamentalism suppresses childish MMNs rather than transforming self. As we have seen, fundamentalism leads naturally to fervor, in which one focuses upon the MMN representing God, and self-denial, in which one does not focus upon the MMN that represents self. Mount Athos provides an extreme illustration of religious fervor and self-denial, because all women, including female animals, have been banned from this peninsula of Greek orthodox monasteries since 1046. Fundamentalism is a good starting point, because one needs to stop following childish MMNs, but personal desires must eventually be transformed and not just suppressed.

A general attitude of trying to avoid the topic of sexual desire is still prevalent today. In the words of one evangelical Christian article, “‘It would be easier to have a drinking problem than a porn problem in the Church,’ Wilkinson says. He sees Christians as being particularly ill-equipped to deal with the problem. ‘In Canadian Christianity we’re not transparent enough. That makes us vulnerable to a problem like this that needs to be discussed.’ Laura Kalmar, editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald, agrees. ‘When someone confesses to alcoholism, we have a place to send them: Alcoholics Anonymous. But when someone confesses to porn addiction, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to talk about sex in the church.’ Gowe – who reports approaching Christian leaders who are still incredulous about the widespread nature of the problem – says the first step is getting out of denial. ‘We need to educate ourselves and realize that we’re in a crisis. Some Christian leaders don’t want to talk about the problem because they are embarrassed to do so or because it’s quite likely they are struggling themselves.’”

One common fundamentalist method of dealing with Internet pornography is accountability, in which one’s browsing history is automatically shared with friends and family. The intent may be noble but notice what is mentally in charge. The individual who is practicing accountability is being mentally ruled by MMNs of loved ones and culture. Accountability to MMNs is effective; it is the primary method used to by society to impose morality. But it can also lead to horrific results. For instance, we saw earlier that British soldiers were driven by feelings of accountability to head over the top and die in agony. In contrast, the goal of personal transformation is to replace emotional bondage to MMNs of culture and authority with the righteousness of being guided by the TMN of a mental concept of God. MMNs of culture and authority can change; they have changed dramatically over the last few years. The righteousness of God does not change, because it is expressed through universal principles of how things work.

I am not suggesting as many do that “what we do in bed is nobody’s business, and especially not the business of the government.” What a person does in bed, as well as what a person does on the Internet, will have a major impact upon society because it feeds the core MMNs that ultimately shape the behavior of people and society. Instead, I have found that mental symmetry provides a way of addressing core issues without falling into the trap of accountability. For instance, instead of telling others that ‘I have a problem with anger’, one can discuss the problems that Perceiver persons have dealing with anger. The problem of anger is still being addressed, but the discussion is being guided by the TMN of understanding how Perceiver persons think, rather than focusing upon my personal MMNs of anger, combined with the MMN that represents the person to whom I am confessing my anger. Saying this symbolically, instead of wallowing in personal filth, one is shining the light of understanding. Using psychological language, one does not want to become codependent upon the addictions of others. Confession to another person is essential when one has wronged that person. But if there is no privacy, then there can be no individuality.

Mysticism is also inherently inadequate for dealing with Internet pornography. One can understand why this is the case by looking at how the mind appreciates beauty. Most of the attributes of female beauty trigger positive Teacher emotions, such as integrated curves, elegance, smooth movement, symmetry, and the golden mean. Going further, female thought emphasizes the emotional processing of Teacher and Mercy thought, while male thought emphasizes the factual thinking of Perceiver thought and Server thought. Sex integrates these two sides to human thought at a physical level, leading to strong Teacher emotions of order-within-complexity.

Mysticism combines overgeneralization in Teacher thought with identification in Mercy thought. Saying this another way, mysticism ignores facts about identity and reality in order to emotionally identify with internally generated potent Teacher emotion. Similarly, pornography ignores facts about identity and reality in order to emotionally identify with externally generated potent Teacher emotion. Stated bluntly, I suggest that mysticism could be described as a form of spiritual pornography, because in both cases one is attempting to identify internally in an inappropriate manner with a personal being who exudes Teacher emotions. Looking at this more personally, it is often difficult to distinguish between ‘Christian’ songs of praise and worship and pop songs about love, because in both cases one finds intimacy without limitations.

Sex does have a spiritual side, because it is an interaction between mental networks of personal identity at a deep level, and the spiritual realm appears to interact with the human realm through mental networks. The problem lies in adding a spiritual dimension in a manner that ignores personal content. Mysticism interacts with God in an emotional manner that ignores factual and personal content. Similarly, pornography interacts with the image of a person in an emotional manner that ignores factual and personal content about that person.

In conclusion, I suggest that the ultimate problem is not pornography on the Internet, but rather that minds are driven by childish MMNs, and pornography is revealing this underlying problem. I also suggest that taboos, mysticism, and fundamentalism are inadequate methods of dealing with pornography. Instead, the only long-term solution appears to be personal transformation, and the structure of the Internet is compatible with this long-term solution.

One final point. Personal experience, cognitive analysis, and Christian theology all lead me to the conclusion that God considers free will to be important. The Internet reduces the question of free will to its essence: What will I fill my mind with? Which desires will I feed? Will I click on information that leads in the direction of mental wholeness, or will I fill my mind with frivolity, degradation, and fragmentation? As someone has said, “You are free to choose, but you are not free to alter the consequences of your decisions.”

We began this essay by asking what could replace the book as a medium for transmitting a message of personal transformation. We have seen that the structure of computers and the Internet is implicitly consistent with the message of personal transformation. Thus, I would like to finish this essay with a prediction. If the universe is ruled by a God who is trying to bring individuals and society through the path of personal transformation, then it makes sense that God will take steps to protect the freedom of the Internet as well as use the Internet as a medium of divine revelation.