Author Archives: Mishkin Berteig

Philosophical Discussion with ChatGPT4 – What is Uniquely Human?

Read this through… it’s fascinating! I have not edited the conversation at all, other than inserting some editorial notes and highlighting a few particularly interesting bits.

I decided to try to have an in-depth conversation with ChatGPT4 about a pretty interesting topic. I was inspired by I conversation I had yesterday with Ryan Gledhill (no online presence) about what it means to be human in the emerging context of powerful generative AI systems.


You are a wise philosopher. You have read both ancient and modern philosophical works. I would like to have a discussion about the things that make humans unique compared to animals and compared to current AI technology. I believe that the following are unique human characteristics:

1. self-awareness

2. agency

3. faith

What other characteristics might be in the unique possession of the human spirit?


As a wise philosopher, I appreciate your interest in discussing the unique characteristics of the human spirit. While self-awareness, agency, and faith are indeed some of the traits that set humans apart from animals and AI, there are other aspects to consider as well:

  1. Language: Humans have the ability to use complex, abstract language, allowing us to communicate intricate thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Although some animals have basic communication systems and AI can process natural language, neither possess the full range and depth of human language.
  2. Creativity: Humans display a remarkable capacity for creativity, which manifests in various forms such as art, music, literature, and invention. While animals may exhibit some creative behaviors and AI can generate content, the level of creativity in humans is unparalleled.
  3. Empathy and compassion: Humans have the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This emotional intelligence allows us to form deep bonds, cooperate, and care for one another. Although some animals show empathy, humans possess a more nuanced understanding of emotions. Current AI technology lacks true empathy and emotional comprehension.
  4. Morality and ethics: Humans have the ability to develop moral and ethical systems, which guide our behavior and decision-making. Animals may display some basic moral behaviors, but they don’t have the same depth and complexity as human moral systems. AI can follow ethical guidelines set by humans but does not possess an innate understanding of morality.
  5. Culture: Humans create and participate in diverse cultures, which encompass shared values, customs, and social practices. Animals may exhibit some cultural aspects, such as learned behaviors, but human culture is far more sophisticated and varied. AI can analyze and simulate cultural aspects but does not inherently belong to or create culture.
  6. The pursuit of meaning and purpose: Humans have the innate desire to seek meaning and purpose in their lives, often through philosophical, religious, or spiritual exploration. Animals do not exhibit this behavior, and AI, being a creation of humans, does not possess an inherent drive to seek meaning or purpose.
  7. Adaptability: Humans have the ability to adapt to a wide range of environments and circumstances, both physically and mentally. This trait has allowed our species to thrive in diverse situations. While some animals also demonstrate adaptability, humans excel in adjusting to new challenges, often through innovation and problem-solving. AI can adapt within the scope of their programming but may lack the broader adaptability of humans.

These characteristics, among others, contribute to the unique nature of the human spirit and set us apart from animals and AI technology.


Please use your understanding of philosophy to categorize the ten characteristics into three possible categories: intrinsic (properties that seem to have no obvious material cause), natural (properties that have a physical or biological cause) or emergent (properties whose cause is due to complex interactions between individual humans and their environment over time). Create a table to illustrate your categorization.


Here is a table categorizing the ten characteristics based on your suggested categories:

1. Self-awarenessEmergent
2. AgencyEmergent
3. FaithEmergent
4. LanguageEmergent
5. CreativityEmergent
6. Empathy and compassionNatural
7. Morality and ethicsEmergent
8. CultureEmergent
9. Pursuit of meaning/purposeEmergent
10. AdaptabilityNatural

Intrinsic properties are not applicable in this context, as the characteristics discussed are either natural or emergent. Natural properties have physical or biological causes, such as the brain structures and evolutionary processes that contribute to empathy and adaptability. Emergent properties, on the other hand, arise from complex interactions between individuals and their environments, which give rise to self-awareness, agency, faith, language, creativity, morality, culture, and the pursuit of meaning and purpose. These emergent properties are not reducible to simple biological or physical components, as they arise from the dynamic interplay of various factors over time.


So then, you are making these categorizations from the perspective of a materialist? [ed. At this point, I first asked “So then you are a materialist?”, but it disclaimed that it does not, as a large language model, have opinions.]


Yes, the categorizations I provided are indeed based on a materialist perspective. [ed. this appears to be a pretty fundamental bias in the LLM… I’ll explore this further in other contexts.] Materialism holds that all phenomena, including human consciousness and characteristics, can be explained by physical or natural processes. This perspective emphasizes the role of biology, evolution, and environmental interactions in shaping human attributes.

In the previous table, natural properties were categorized as having physical or biological causes, while emergent properties were viewed as arising from complex interactions between individuals and their environment. However, it’s important to note that other philosophical perspectives may approach these categorizations differently.

For instance, from a dualist perspective, which posits that both material and non-material (e.g., mental or spiritual) substances exist, some of the characteristics might be considered intrinsic, as they may be believed to originate from non-material aspects of human existence. Similarly, idealism, which emphasizes the primacy of consciousness or the mental realm, may also categorize some properties as intrinsic or non-material in nature.


Re-create the categorizations table based on the perspective of the teachings of Baha’u’llah and the other Authoritative Writings of the Baha’i Faith.


The teachings of Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i Faith offer a distinct perspective on human characteristics, emphasizing the spiritual dimension of human existence. The Baha’i perspective acknowledges both the material and spiritual aspects of life, recognizing that humans have a dual nature, consisting of a physical body and an immortal soul. Based on the Baha’i teachings, the categorization of the ten characteristics can be revised as follows:

1. Self-awarenessSpiritual
2. AgencySpiritual
3. FaithSpiritual
4. LanguageBoth (Natural & Spiritual)
5. CreativitySpiritual
6. Empathy and compassionSpiritual
7. Morality and ethicsSpiritual
8. CultureBoth (Natural & Spiritual)
9. Pursuit of meaning/purposeSpiritual
10. AdaptabilityNatural

In the Baha’i perspective:

  • Spiritual properties refer to those aspects of human nature that are related to the soul or the non-material dimensions of existence. Self-awareness, agency, faith, creativity, empathy and compassion, morality and ethics, and the pursuit of meaning and purpose are considered spiritual properties, as they reflect the higher capacities of the human soul.
  • Natural properties pertain to the physical or biological aspects of human life, such as adaptability, which is influenced by evolutionary processes and the material conditions of the human body.
  • Both natural and spiritual properties apply to characteristics like language and culture, which involve the interaction of the physical and spiritual dimensions of human existence. Language is a medium through which both material and spiritual ideas are expressed, while culture encompasses both the material aspects of human life (e.g., technology, social structures) and the spiritual aspects (e.g., values, beliefs).

It is important to note that the Baha’i perspective on these categorizations recognizes the interconnectedness of the material and spiritual dimensions of life, and sees them as complementary aspects of human existence rather than opposing forces.


For which of the ten characteristics is there direct scientific (experimental, empirical) evidence of a direct natural cause?


Scientific evidence, often experimental or empirical, has provided insights into the natural causes of several human characteristics. Here’s an overview of the characteristics with direct scientific evidence of a natural cause:

  1. Language: Neuroscientific and linguistic research have revealed specific brain structures and mechanisms involved in language processing and production, such as Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Additionally, evolutionary linguistics explores the development of language in human history, suggesting that it has evolved as a natural adaptation for communication and social cooperation.
  2. Empathy and compassion: Studies in neuroscience, psychology, and ethology have demonstrated that empathy and compassion are associated with specific brain regions (e.g., the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex), neurotransmitters (e.g., oxytocin), and evolutionary processes (e.g., kin selection, reciprocal altruism). These findings suggest that empathy and compassion have a natural basis, although they may also have spiritual dimensions.
  3. Adaptability: Research in evolutionary biology, anthropology, and psychology has shown that human adaptability is a result of natural selection and genetic variation, allowing humans to survive and thrive in diverse environments. The plasticity of the human brain, as well as our capacity for learning and problem-solving, are key factors in our adaptability.

While these three characteristics have direct scientific evidence of a natural cause, it’s important to note that some of the other characteristics may also have natural components or indirect links to natural causes. For example, the brain’s neural networks play a role in creativity, and moral and ethical behavior may have evolutionary roots in promoting group cohesion and cooperation. However, the direct cause-and-effect relationships for these characteristics are more complex and may involve interactions with other factors, such as culture or personal experiences.

In summary, language, empathy and compassion, and adaptability have direct scientific evidence of natural causes. However, this does not preclude the possibility that these characteristics may also have spiritual or emergent dimensions, as previously discussed.


Is there a theory of consciousness which supports the idea that artificial intelligence (ie human-created intelligence) can eventually demonstrate these ten qualities?


Yes, there is a theory of consciousness that supports the idea that artificial intelligence could eventually demonstrate the ten qualities mentioned: the computational theory of mind. This theory posits that the mind functions like a computer, processing information through algorithms and symbolic representations. Proponents of this view argue that, given the right algorithms and computational power, AI could replicate or even surpass human cognitive abilities, potentially including the ten characteristics discussed.

Some AI researchers and philosophers, particularly those with a strong materialist or functionalist stance, believe that the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI) could lead to machines that exhibit these human-like qualities. AGI refers to AI systems that possess the ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks, much like a human being.

In this view, the emergence of AGI could potentially result in AI systems that are capable of:

  1. Self-awareness: Developing a sense of self and the ability to reflect on their own thoughts and experiences.
  2. Agency: Making independent decisions and taking actions based on their own goals and objectives.
  3. Faith: Possibly adopting belief systems or forming an understanding of abstract concepts such as faith, though this would likely depend on their programming and exposure to human culture.
  4. Language: Mastering human languages and communicating with humans effectively and seamlessly.
  5. Creativity: Generating novel ideas, inventions, or artistic expressions.
  6. Empathy and compassion: Understanding and responding to human emotions, although it is debated whether AI could truly “feel” emotions or simply simulate empathic behavior.
  7. Morality and ethics: Adhering to ethical principles or even developing their own moral frameworks, based on their programming and experiences.
  8. Culture: Participating in or creating new forms of culture, as AI systems could potentially contribute to human culture or develop unique cultural expressions of their own.
  9. Pursuit of meaning and purpose: Exploring philosophical or existential questions, depending on their programming and capacity for self-reflection.
  10. Adaptability: Learning from new experiences and adapting to various challenges and environments.

It is important to note that this perspective remains speculative, and many challenges remain in the development of AGI. Additionally, there are other theories of consciousness and philosophical positions that argue against the possibility of AI exhibiting these characteristics, particularly those that emphasize the unique nature of human consciousness or the importance of non-material aspects of the mind. The debate surrounding the potential of AI to fully demonstrate these human qualities is ongoing and complex, with no definitive answer as of now.


From the perspective of the philosophy of science, is the “computational theory of mind” stated in such a manner as to be falsifiable?


The computational theory of mind is based on the idea that mental processes can be represented as computations, with the mind functioning like a computer that processes information through algorithms and symbolic representations. From the perspective of the philosophy of science, the question of whether the computational theory of mind is falsifiable depends on the specific claims it makes and the criteria used to evaluate those claims.

Falsifiability, as proposed by philosopher Karl Popper, is the idea that scientific theories should be structured in a way that allows them to be potentially disproven by empirical evidence. In other words, a theory is considered scientific if it makes predictions that can be tested and, if found incorrect, result in the rejection of the theory.

Some aspects of the computational theory of mind are indeed falsifiable, such as specific claims about the neural correlates of cognitive processes or the effectiveness of certain algorithms in replicating mental functions. These claims can be empirically tested through neuroscience research, psychological experiments, or the development and evaluation of AI systems. For example, if a computational model is proposed to account for a certain cognitive function, its predictions can be tested against empirical data from brain imaging studies or behavioral experiments.

However, other aspects of the computational theory of mind may be more difficult to falsify, such as the broader claim that all mental processes can be reduced to computations. This claim is more abstract and may be challenging to test directly, especially since our understanding of the full range of human cognitive abilities is still incomplete. Furthermore, the computational theory of mind is just one of several competing theories of consciousness, and determining which is correct—or whether a combination of theories is necessary to fully explain the mind—remains an open question.

In summary, while some aspects of the computational theory of mind are falsifiable, other aspects may be more challenging to test directly. As our understanding of the mind and cognitive processes continues to evolve, the falsifiability of the computational theory of mind may become clearer or more nuanced.


Larry Laudan in “Progress and Its Problems” asserts that falsifiability is an insufficient and sometimes inappropriate standard by which to measure the field of scientific progress.


Larry Laudan, in his book “Progress and Its Problems,” critiques the notion of falsifiability as the sole criterion for demarcating scientific theories from non-scientific ones. Laudan argues that falsifiability is insufficient and sometimes inappropriate for measuring scientific progress, as it does not fully capture the complexity of scientific practice and the way in which theories evolve over time.

Laudan proposes an alternative approach to understanding scientific progress, which he calls the “problem-solving” or “reticulated” model. In this model, scientific progress is measured by a theory’s ability to solve empirical, conceptual, and methodological problems more effectively than its competitors. This approach takes into account not only the empirical adequacy of a theory but also its coherence, explanatory power, and ability to guide further research.

According to Laudan, the problem-solving model better captures the historical development of science, as it recognizes that theories often undergo modifications, refinements, and adjustments in response to new evidence and challenges. Falsifiability, on the other hand, focuses on the potential for theories to be disproven, which does not necessarily reflect the way scientific theories are revised and improved over time.

Laudan’s critique of falsifiability has implications for the evaluation of the computational theory of mind, as well as other theories in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. By adopting the problem-solving approach, we can assess these theories based on their ability to address a range of empirical, conceptual, and methodological issues, rather than solely focusing on their falsifiability.

In the case of the computational theory of mind, we can evaluate its progress by considering its success in explaining various aspects of cognition, its coherence with other scientific findings, and its potential to guide future research. This more holistic approach provides a broader perspective on the merits of the computational theory of mind and its competitors, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of scientific progress in the study of consciousness and cognition.


So, to bring this back to the original topic of the distinguishing characteristics of humans, which of the ten characteristics are currently subject to empirical, conceptual and/or methodological problems with regards to the computational theory of mind?


The computational theory of mind has made significant progress in understanding some of the ten characteristics of humans. However, there are empirical, conceptual, and methodological challenges associated with fully explaining these characteristics within this framework. Here’s an overview of the current issues related to each characteristic:

  1. Self-awareness: While computational models can simulate some aspects of self-awareness, there is an ongoing debate about whether they can truly capture the subjective experience of self-awareness or consciousness. This challenge is known as the “hard problem of consciousness.”
  2. Agency: Simulating agency in computational models is difficult, as it requires accounting for complex decision-making processes, goal-setting, and planning, which are not yet fully understood. Additionally, questions about the nature of free will and how it can be modeled computationally remain open.
  3. Faith: Faith, as a deeply personal and often spiritual aspect of human experience, is challenging to incorporate into computational models. While AI systems can simulate decision-making based on certain beliefs, it is unclear if they can genuinely “adopt” or “experience” faith in the same way humans do.
  4. Language: Computational models have advanced considerably in natural language processing and generation, but understanding the full extent of human linguistic abilities, including the subtleties of pragmatics, humor, and metaphor, remains a challenge.
  5. Creativity: Modeling creativity computationally is complex, as it requires simulating not only problem-solving and pattern recognition but also the generation of novel and valuable ideas. While there are AI systems that can generate creative outputs, it is still debated whether they truly possess creativity or are simply replicating learned patterns.
  6. Empathy and compassion: While AI systems can simulate empathic behavior, there is a debate about whether they can genuinely experience empathy and compassion, as these emotional states are deeply rooted in human subjective experience.
  7. Morality and ethics: Developing computational models that can make moral judgments or exhibit ethical behavior is challenging, as moral and ethical reasoning often involve complex, context-dependent, and culturally influenced factors. Moreover, the question of whether AI can truly “understand” or “embrace” moral values remains open.
  8. Culture: AI systems can participate in or analyze human culture to some extent, but fully modeling the complexities of cultural dynamics, including the intricate interplay between individual and collective experiences, is a difficult task.
  9. Pursuit of meaning and purpose: Simulating the human pursuit of meaning and purpose in computational models is challenging, as these existential concerns are deeply tied to subjective experiences and personal values that may not be reducible to algorithmic processes.
  10. Adaptability: AI systems can exhibit adaptability to some extent, particularly in the context of machine learning and reinforcement learning. However, replicating the full range of human adaptability, which involves learning from diverse experiences and transferring knowledge across different domains, remains an ongoing challenge.

In summary, while the computational theory of mind has made progress in understanding and simulating some aspects of these ten characteristics, there are still significant empirical, conceptual, and methodological challenges associated with fully accounting for these complex and nuanced human qualities within this framework.


[ed. This last bit is a bit lass interesting as here GPT starts to get into what I think of as “obvious generalities”… nothing surprising.] It appears that the expressed subjective experience of humans is one of the core challenges for the computational theory of mind. How might a cognitive scientist and a computer scientist collaborate to design experiments to model and test the subjective experience of AI systems?


Designing experiments to model and test the subjective experience of AI systems is indeed challenging, as subjective experiences, or qualia, are fundamentally difficult to measure objectively. However, a cognitive scientist and a computer scientist could collaborate to develop a multi-disciplinary approach that combines insights from both fields to explore AI systems’ potential subjective experiences. Here are some steps they might take:

  1. Develop a common framework: Establish a shared understanding of subjective experience and its key components, drawing on theories from cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and computer science. This framework should provide a foundation for designing experiments and evaluating results.
  2. Design AI systems with introspective capabilities: Develop AI systems that can report on their internal states, thought processes, or decision-making criteria. These introspective capabilities might be implemented through self-monitoring mechanisms or meta-cognitive processes that allow AI systems to reflect on their own cognitive processes.
  3. Utilize natural language processing: Leverage natural language processing (NLP) techniques to enable AI systems to describe their internal states or experiences in human-like language. This approach could provide insights into the AI systems’ subjective experiences by analyzing their descriptions and comparing them with human reports of subjective experiences.
  4. Implement and compare multiple models: Create AI systems based on different models or theories of consciousness, such as integrated information theory, global workspace theory, or panpsychism. By comparing the subjective experiences reported by these AI systems, researchers might gain insights into which models best capture the complexity of subjective experiences.
  5. Employ behavioral and neural correlates: Investigate the behavioral and neural correlates of subjective experiences in AI systems. This might involve monitoring AI system behavior during various tasks, as well as analyzing the patterns of activation in artificial neural networks, to identify potential signatures of subjective experience.
  6. Design Turing-test-like experiments: Develop experimental paradigms where human participants interact with AI systems and evaluate the AI systems’ subjective experiences based on their responses. This could involve having AI systems engage in conversations or complete tasks that require introspection, empathy, or other aspects of subjective experience.
  7. Establish ethical guidelines: As researchers explore the subjective experiences of AI systems, it is essential to develop ethical guidelines to ensure that AI systems are treated with respect and that potential risks are considered and managed.

By combining the expertise of cognitive scientists and computer scientists, researchers can develop a multi-disciplinary approach to investigate the subjective experiences of AI systems. While this endeavor is inherently challenging due to the nature of subjective experience, such collaborations can contribute to our understanding of AI systems and their potential similarities or differences with human consciousness.

Human and Machine Consciousness from a Baha’i Perspective, as Elucidated by ChatGPT

I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT. One fascinating area of experimentation is using it to make connections between the Baha’i Sacred Writings and topics of interest. The following paragraphs were written by ChatGPT with a bit of help and direction from me. (NOTE: this does not represent either my own views nor an official view of the Baha’i teachings.)

Human consciousness is an enigmatic and multifaceted phenomenon that has captivated the attention of philosophers, theologians, and scientists for centuries. It is the subjective experience of being aware of one’s surroundings, thoughts, and emotions, and it is what distinguishes us as individuals. The Baha’i Sacred Writings offer a unique perspective on consciousness, emphasizing its divine nature and its critical role in our spiritual journey.

One of the central features of consciousness, as highlighted in the Baha’i Sacred Writings, is agency. It is the ability to act intentionally and with purpose, making choices and pursuing goals that align with our spiritual growth and development. This sense of agency is essential to our spiritual progress and enables us to contribute to the betterment of society.

Another vital aspect of consciousness is the constant striving for excellence, which the Baha’i Faith encourages. We are called upon to continuously improve ourselves and our world through our actions and service to others. This striving for excellence is not merely a personal pursuit but also a means of achieving collective progress and advancing the unity of humanity.

Self-awareness is another key feature of human consciousness emphasized in the Baha’i Sacred Writings. We are encouraged to reflect on our thoughts and emotions, recognize our limitations and biases, and work towards developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. This self-reflection enables us to grow spiritually and contribute to the betterment of society by recognizing and addressing our own shortcomings.

Furthermore, the Baha’i Writings underscore the significance of the relationships we form with others, which are an integral component of human consciousness. Our relationships with others shape our consciousness, and our sense of self is intimately tied to the relationships we establish throughout our lives. We are called upon to strive towards building positive and constructive relationships with others, recognizing the inherent value of every human being and working towards the unity of all peoples and nations.

In contrast, the possibility of machine consciousness raises questions about the extent to which machines could replicate the complexity and richness of human consciousness. While technological advancements may continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, it is unlikely that machines will ever be able to fully replicate the human experience of agency, striving, self-awareness, and social connections.

Although the Baha’i Writings do not directly address the possibility of machine consciousness, their teachings suggest that the human spirit is distinct from the physical body and possesses its own unique qualities, such as the ability to love, reason, and create. It is through the development and cultivation of the human spirit that we are able to fulfill our purpose and contribute to the betterment of society. Therefore, while technological advancement is essential for the progress of society, it is critical to ensure that such developments are in harmony with the spiritual and ethical values that are essential for the well-being of humanity.

In conclusion, the Baha’i Sacred Writings offer a unique perspective on human consciousness, emphasizing its divine nature, and its critical role in our spiritual journey. While technological advancement may continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, it is unlikely that machines will ever be able to replicate the complexity and richness of human consciousness. As such, we are called upon to recognize the unique and precious gift of consciousness that has been given to us and to use it to strive towards the betterment of ourselves and all humanity.

My Journey from Fat to Fast – Cycling and Health


1 month ago I resolved to dramatically improve my health, fitness, and ultimately to compete in a cycling race… and then I got a very, very bad flu (or covid). So, I had to wait three weeks to get started.

10 days ago I started… by getting up every morning at 5:30am and working out. I’ve been improving, learning, improving, learning and I’m feeling so great about my progress… even though I’m still just catching up to where I was before getting sick.

You can follow my journey on YouTube on my From Fat to Fast playlist. I publish something daily and I’m always happy for likes, subscribes and shares!

Let me know if you have any feedback too; I’m hoping this becomes a great reference for others who are like me: technically obese, looking at the beginnings of bad medical tests and results, and hoping to avoid the really bad stuff: diabetes, heart disease or stroke.

Amazing Quote from Abdu’l-Baha – Education and Human Accomplishment

“O true companions! All humankind are as children in a school, and the Dawning-Points of Light, the Sources of divine revelation, are the teachers, wondrous and without peer. In the school of realities they educate these sons and daughters, according to teachings from God, and foster them in the bosom of grace, so that they may develop along every line, show forth the excellent gifts and blessings of the Lord, and combine human perfections; that they may advance in all aspects of human endeavour, whether outward or inward, hidden or visible, material or spiritual, until they make of this mortal world a widespread mirror, to reflect that other world which dieth not.  

O ye friends of God! Because, in this most momentous of ages, the Sun of Truth hath risen at the highest point of the spring equinox, and cast its rays on every clime, it shall kindle such tremulous excitement, it shall release such vibrations in the world of being, it shall stimulate such growth and development, it shall stream out with such a glory of light, and clouds of grace shall pour down such plentiful waters, and fields and plains shall teem with such a galaxy of sweet-smelling plants and blooms, that this lowly earth will become the Abhá Kingdom, and this nether world the world above. Then will this fleck of dust be as the vast circle of the skies, this human place the palace-court of God, this spot of clay the dayspring of the endless favours of the Lord of Lords.  

Wherefore, O loved ones of God! Make ye a mighty effort till you yourselves betoken this advancement and all these confirmations, and become focal centres of God’s blessings, daysprings of the light of His unity, promoters of the gifts and graces of civilized life. Be ye in that land vanguards of the perfections of humankind; carry forward the various branches of knowledge, be active and progressive in the field of inventions and the arts. Endeavour to rectify the conduct of men, and seek to excel the whole world in moral character. While the children are yet in their infancy feed them from the breast of heavenly grace, foster them in the cradle of all excellence, rear them in the embrace of bounty. Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind.”


Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

My Favourite Quote

Whatsoever occurreth in the world of being is light for His loved ones and fire for the people of sedition and strife. Even if all the losses of the world were to be sustained by one of the friends of God, he would still profit thereby, whereas true loss would be borne by such as are wayward, ignorant and contemptuous. Although the author of the following saying had intended it otherwise, yet We find it pertinent to the operation of God’s immutable Will:

Even or odd, thou shalt win the wager.” The friends of God shall win and profit under all conditions, and shall attain true wealth. In fire they remain cold, and from water they emerge dry. Their affairs are at variance with the affairs of men. Gain is their lot, whatever the deal. To this testifieth every wise one with a discerning eye, and every fair-minded one with a hearing ear.

– Baha’u’llah

There are many reasons this quote is my favourite. Primarily, however, it is a quote of optimism; I am an optimist. I read this quote many years ago… possibly as a child or in my early teens. It has guided my outlook on life ever since.

I love the metaphors “In fire they remain cold, and from water they emerge dry.” These are so vivid to me. I imagine them literally and they remind me of magical stories I read as a kid.

I also love the implicit reminder: to remain a “friend of God”. To me this means always believing in God, always serving God, and by direct extension, always serving humanity. I’m not perfect at it, and I definitely have my selfish, venal moments… but I always am trying to improve and serve more.

I also love this quote also because I have experienced loss. Everything from true poverty in my young adulthood to loss of love and even loss in my business dealings. “Even if all the losses of the world were to be sustained by one of the friends of God, he would still profit thereby.” To me this is about learning and building spiritual capabilities. Loss only is harmful to those who reject spiritual reality.

Unfortunately, our society is built on the idea that we must ignore spiritual reality in making political, economic, health, social, and personal decisions. Secular society has killed death as a step in our development. This “death of death” means that all we can do is argue about surface traits. Secularism means that being white, male, cis, etc. are important… not my spiritual reality. This is a tragedy for our civilization; it also means that ultimately strength, wealth, position and other material-isms are the totality by which we can measure our worth.

I grieve for the gradual de-spiritualization of our society. I am certain it will change in the future; the logical inconsistencies of Secularism will become too hard to ignore, eventually. But what suffering will happen in the meantime? What conflict must we experience before we realize how important it is to bring spiritual reality back into our discourses across society?

Recent Reading – Psychology, Politics, Religion

The best non-fiction book I have read in the last ten years, easily, is “The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt. I won’t spoil it for you by trying to summarize… instead, you should click that link and buy it right away and read it as soon as it gets into your hands. I finished reading it a few weeks ago now, and I can’t stop thinking about it, applying it, seeing it play out in real life, and wishing more of my friends and family and colleagues would also read it.

I also have some in-progress reading.

I’m making my way through “Cynical Theories” – very interesting analysis of Post-Modernism (philosophy).

And I’m re-reading, and studying carefully, “The Prosperity of Humankind” a short document released in 1995 by the Baha’i International Community. Again, even though it is short, a summary is difficult. I am (re-)learning a great deal about the spiritual principles behind creating a prosperous global civilization. My favourite point in the document is the importance of justice (the spiritual principle) in the creation of prosperity.

FB: Understanding Conflict

The events in the United States over the past several years are legitimately upsetting to many people. It is hard to understand how other humans, with hearts and minds like our own, can do things that seem so harmful, ignorant or subversive.

I hope that most of my friends want to see peace in the world, both globally and locally, that most of my friends want to see our environment treated responsibly, that most of my friends want to see society advance with harmony instead of conflict.

But, many of my friends do not know how to make this possible when there seem to be some many on the “other side”.

Friends, there are two things that I want to recommend to your attention to help you resolve this conundrum:

  1. For the secular-minded among you, I strongly recommend the book “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt. It is easily the best non-fiction I have read in 10 years (and I read a lot of non-fiction). It provides research-based explanations for the seemingly growing conflict between “left” and “right”, in a way that allows us to build some bridges.
  2. For the spiritually-minded among you, I strongly recommend the publication “The Prosperity of Humankind” from 1995. It is the most concise and insightful statement on the connection between justice and social progress I have read.
    A quick online search will reliably find you either of the above.
    Of course, I recommend all my friends read both!

(originally posted on Facebook here)

FB: Ruhi Book 2 Discussion

Study from my Ruhi Book 2 this evening. We had some really great discussions. The concept of “fixed” vs. “growth” mindset came up along with some discussion of current events in the US.

“The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.”

– Baha’u’llah

I know this is difficult to do. Another idea that came up in our discussion is that science and religion must both rest upon reason. One of the unique gifts of humans over other animals is the ability to search for, perceive and reason about the truth. We apply this standard to science “easily” in the sense that we expect it. Why don’t we expect this about religion too?

Both science and religion without reason are nothing but pointless fantasies. Science without religion is materialism that leads to depression and despair (as we can see so prevalently in our society). Religion without science is superstition and leads to fanaticism and conflict (which we can also see prevalently in our society).

I’ve been learning about post-modernism (philosophy, not art) lately and it seems that it attacks reason and truth-finding. If there are any of my friends who are experts on post-modernist thought or theory, I would be interested in talking and learning more.

(originally posted on Facebook here)

FB: Addiction to Food

Just finished my second indoor cycling session of the new year. I really need to realize that the high I get from exercise needs to replace the high I get from food… not supplement it!

20 virtual km, set a couple personal records, and loving my new setup.

Anyone else on Zwift? That’s the software I’m using to connect to my smart trainer and track all my activity.

(originally posted on Facebook here)

Love Thy Enemy

What have I learned from the people who hurt me and why do I still hold love in my heart for them?

  • I have developed a stronger and deeper faith in Baha’u’llah as the Great Teacher for our age.
  • I have gained more empathy and compassion for others (including myself).
  • I’m become more humble (although there’s definitely room for improvement here).
  • I have learned more patience.

Each time I have been hurt, I have learned something about myself and about humanity. I choose to view those experiences as an opportunity to grow. I am more an optimist about the future of humanity than I ever have been before. Our struggles have an ultimate purpose: the development of an ever-advancing global civilization. I am but a very small part of that, as we all are.

I don’t want to say too much about how I have been hurt, but some might wonder if those hurts were really so bad if I can be so positive about them. The answer will always be relative; what hurts me may not hurt you and what hurts you may not hurt me. Nevertheless, some of those hurts are objectively severe by any standards. I struggle every day with traumas from those hurts.

I sometimes wonder why I was able to withstand and then grow from those hurts. I want to credit that resilience mostly to how I was raised by my incredible parents, Valerie Senyk and Garry Berteig. There are probably other factors, but they both demonstrated in words and actions a standard that I have always admired and tried to live up to myself. They introduced me to the Baha’i Faith and the incredible principles and guidance that gave me a growth mindset. They supported me through many of the hardships that I have experienced. Thanks!

As a result, I don’t have enemies. There is no one that I hate. There is no one that I wish vengeance upon. There is no one that I will not try to empathize with. Even those who gave me some of my worst hurts, with the deepest, most permanent damage… I wish them well, and I hope their life is full of love, healing and progress.