Aliens, Technology, & Religion | Diana Walsh Pasulka on the Lex Fridman Podcast

Key Takeaways

  • Attempting to prove and understand the ultimate, objective reality of the universe is largely futile 
    • A more practical and reasonable question to ask is whether our beliefs accurately map our observations of reality
  • Diana has noticed that people who genuinely believe they have experienced extraterrestrial life don’t like to share their experiences because of the ridicule anyone who makes those types of claims receive
  • In purely practical terms, religion is an evolutionary advantage
    • “How do we survive together as cultures that don’t clash? Well we have to have a belief structure that allows us to and I think religions function that way.” – Diana Pasulka
  • “The world is much more mysterious than we think it is. There are more mysteries in this life than your philosophy provides for.” Diana Pasulka
  • Many people part of the space program claimed to have been in contact with non-human intelligence and received “downloads of information” which they then used to create familiar technologies which have been introduced to the public
  • “Nietzsche was basically making a historical statement by ‘God is dead’” – Diana Pasulka
    • “He’s making a historical statement that at that point in time with science just getting better and industrialization happening the idea of this thing beyond what we know beyond as material reality is dead. This substrate of Western civilization is dead.
  • Technogenesis: the idea that as humanity engages with technology that technology will engage back change humanity and both will evolve together in a feedback loop
    • This is in line with Diana’s belief that humans don’t merely “use” technology because technology also profoundly impacts us
    • “We might be evolving in ways that we can’t possibly perceive”Lex Fridman
  • The everyday technology we interact with already profoundly affects us in subtle ways without us knowing 

Intro

  • Diana Walsh Pasulka is an author and a professor of philosophy and religion at The University of North Carolina Wilmington
    • It might also be beneficial context to know she is a practicing Roman Catholic
  • Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

Books Mentioned

Understanding Objective Reality

  • The idea that what we experience as reality might not be real is thousands of years old and is referred to as external world skepticism
    • We largely trust our physical senses to comprehend the world but there are obvious limitations to this 
  • Attempting to prove and understand the ultimate, objective reality of the universe is largely futile 
    • A more practical and reasonable question to ask is whether our beliefs accurately map our observations of reality 
  • “Can we get beliefs that actually correspond to reality? Not in any precise way, but in approximate ways.” – Diana Pasulka
    • A modern idea is the attempt to understand the objective nature of reality through science and data
    • After acquiring data we then approximate beliefs that most closely reflect the data and this approximation is constantly in flux as we learn more
  • Diana believes we are very far from fully understanding reality and that there are fundamental forces that are beyond human comprehension

Immanuel Kant

  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher whose highly influential works make him one of the bedrocks of Western philosophy
  • In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant also wondered about objective reality by asking, “Can we know the thing-in-itself?”
    • “He basically has this long question “can we know what’s real?” And then 1000 pages later: “No.”Diana Pasulka 
    • “Can we have some kind of intense, almost-mystical knowing of ‘it’ and I would say that’s where religion comes in” – Diana Pasulka

Historical Analysis

  • The idea of canceling historical figures is foolish at best because history is there for us to learn from
  • Lex sees an issue in both people who religiously worship or dogmatically dismiss certain historical figures 
    • It’s strange to him that one has to ask why we can’t have intellectual analysis without descending into emotional battles 
  • History doesn’t give you any trigger warnings
    • The accounts some primary sources give are so horrific that Diana sometimes has to put them down for a while and do something else

Plato

  • Philosophers try not to differentiate between myths and religions because what we call myths are some people’s religions and others would classify our religions as myths
    • Plato himself said that the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks are simply myths continuing in the tradition of his teacher Socrates
    • Plato did believe in a divine, though, referred to as “the One” and believed in the existence of souls 
  • Plato’s theory of forms is the idea that there are “forms” which are the nonphysical, true essences of all things from tables to colors to people that exist in a higher dimension
    • In this sense, every physical table is merely an instantiation of the idea of a table, and that this idea of a table does exist in some abstract dimension where things like numbers also exist in their true form 

Practical Consequences of Beliefs

  • Christian martyrs who died under the Roman Empire are a testament to the power of beliefs
    • They were willing to die extremely gruesome and painful deaths because they wholeheartedly believed
  • Diana has noticed that people who genuinely believe they have experienced extraterrestrial life don’t like to share their experiences because of the ridicule anyone who makes those types of claims receive
  • “A lie told often enough becomes the truth” – Vladimir Lenin

Purpose of Religions

  • Secularization thesis: the theory that as society becomes more rational and technology evolves we will become less religious over time
    • This has been found to be untrue as the world is still very religious, but why?
  • In purely practical terms, religion is an evolutionary advantage
    • “How do we survive together as cultures that don’t clash? Well we have to have a belief structure that allows us to and I think religions function that way.” – Diana Pasulka
  • “There’s nothing more powerful than religion to get people to act” – Diana Pasulka
    • “When religions become narrativized by different institutions that’s when you’re in danger of getting propaganda”

Aliens

  • “Belief in non-human intelligence, or ET’s, or UFO’s is a new form of religion” – Diana Pasulka
    • This is reflected in ideas such as the technological singularity where Ray Kurzweil says, “I felt it before I even understood it”
  • “The world is much more mysterious than we think it is. There are more mysteries in this life than your philosophy provides for.” Diana Pasulka
  • “If we’re in contact with non-human intelligence we’re mostly likely in contact with its technology” – Diana Pasulka
    • It’s much easier to send robots to Mars than go ourselves
  • “I knew the government was part of the situation, I just didn’t know how much” – Diana Pasulka
    • “The founders of the calculations that got us up into space, the rocket scientists basically were doing some pretty weird rituals and doing religious things” 
    • Many people part of the space program claimed to have been in contact with non-human intelligence and received “downloads of information” which they then used to create familiar technologies that have been introduced to the public

“God is dead”

  • “There was only one Christian and he died on the cross”Friedrich Nietzsche 
  • “Nietzsche was basically making a historical statement by ‘God is dead’” – Diana Pasulka
    • “He’s making a historical statement that at that point in time with science just getting better and industrialization happening the idea of this thing beyond what we know beyond as material reality is dead. This substrate of Western civilization is dead.
    • “With that comes the Übermensch, which is the Superhuman”
  • “The basic anchor for Western society is now gone”  – Diana Pasulka
    • It is the task of the Übermensch to create a new, post-Christian system of values as the foundation of society 

Technology of Tomorrow

  • There are already some who worship AI and it is certainly very plausible that humanity might worship a super-intelligent AI in the future
  • There is another belief that technology is a form of humanity that people will eventually evolve with
    • “We might be evolving in ways that we can’t possibly perceive”Lex Fridman
  • Technogenesis: the idea that as humanity engages with technology that technology will engage back change humanity and both will evolve together in a feedback loop
    • This is in line with Diana’s belief that humans don’t merely “use” technology because technology also profoundly impacts us
  • When Diana worked as a history consultant in the making of The Conjuring she saw in the editing process that the filmmakers test scenes with sample audiences and only include those which create the most physical arousal
    • The implication is that the everyday technology we interact with already profoundly affects us in subtle ways without us knowing 
    • These same methods are employed in video games, social media, and the news
  • Diana believes the idea behind Neuralink, of humans symbiotically linking themselves with technology, is inevitable 

The Wired

  • If all our thoughts and memories are seemingly abstract information then why do we need our physical bodies?
  • Diana views it as impossible to live as information outside of physical reality 
    • Ultimately all thoughts and communication is tied to the material world 
    • Even if the idea of Platonic forms is true, there still exists the physical manifestations of those abstract forms
  • If we upload our consciousness into computers, the information still resides within physical hardware
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