The religion of the future


Jina, Zora

CSH: Scientological counseling is just as effective as Freudian and Rogerian. Why? Because it turns out that they did a meta-analysis of journal articles that measure the efficacy of different schools of psychology—CBT, Rogerian, Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian—all the different schools. They tried to see which one was most effective.

These systems have different models, and each system uses the model as part of its therapy: “We are doing therapy Tech T because we believe in model M.” When you go to a Freudian, he’s going to bring you into the Freudian vocabulary and the Freudian metaphysics of ego-superego-id, none of which actually exist, except as concepts that we agree upon, in language.

When you enter a therapeutic system, you learn the vocabulary of its model, you agree to language yourself according to this vocabulary. Then you become treatable by manipulation. When you agree to identify yourself with the model, you become manipulatable through talk. Because you’ve agreed to identify yourself with the terms of the system, you can use the system now to change the self.

It turns out that the model is completely irrelevant and that only that that matters is that you’re with someone, making eye-contact, being close, having a caring conversation, and someone is paying attention to you. The model is all bullshit.

[No system has more intense listening and eye contact than Scientology. Have you seen Tom Cruise talking at the camera? Lidless unblinking white balls of frozen mania. His eyes are popping with hungry and fearless intensity.]

Systems that use their model as part of the therapy are called insight oriented therapy. These systems believe that if you understand your nature, then you’ll be freer, stronger, better. If you have insight into the way your really work and who you really are, then you’ll be more powerful, no longer be a slave of habit, and just kind of transcend your robot nature. Just by seeing your true nature. If you really understand what you’re like, you’re a lot better off.

Zora: Damn it!

CSH: And that turns out to be absolute horseshit.

Zora: Really!?

CSH: All the models are fictions. The only thing that matters in the therapy is having someone give you a lot of attention. That’s the therapeutic part. So the models are all bullshit. Which means that Scientology is vindicated. Because if the metaphor is irrelevant, then why no go for the most fun metaphor?

Zora: Which is?

CSH: I mean—if the efficacy of the game is in the interaction you’re having with the people, then why not make the game as fun as possible? Scientology is more fun than Freudian psychoanalysis. Because you’re holding cans that are connected to a needle, creating a wonderfully effective prop-placebo. You believe—that you are releasing charge, decreasing the mental mass and energy of your mind, exteriorizing your Thetan. They use physics and engineering metaphors as the vocabulary of self and then they hook you up to a machine that measures your liberation.

So why not make the religion as fun as possible, and fill it with as many Epcot and Disney props as you can muster? Which they’ve now done with their SuperPowers building.

Zora: SuperPowers building?

CSH: Yeah. They built a building that looks like the inside of Star Trek TNG. By sitting in special chairs and hooking your body up to special machines and doing special exercises, you will activate all 57 of your perceptics. The ability to smell more smells, see more colors, to do this and that. (This training was originally meant for staff only—to super-charge staff who had not made it up the Bridge. But of course it’s being sold to the general public for a lot of money to step inside this Epcotesque entertainment building disguised as a science lab from the future.)

So that’s the way to do it. Make your religion as science-fictiony, wild, and fun as possible—because the model doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you have someone listening to you, talking with you, and making eye-contact with you. Now that we know that, why not make up something fun and crazy? We should be artistic and flamboyant in our religion-making.

The placebo effect still works even if you know it’s a placebo. Researchers gave people pills to treat their irritable bowl syndrome. They were placebos—sugar pills. They didn’t do anything. “This pill will help your IBS. By the way, it doesn’t do anything.” They told the patients they were receiving a placebo and their stomachs still obeyed.

Even if you know it’s a placebo, the placebo can still cure you, physically. So why not make the placebo as fun as possible? It’s effective no matter what. All you need is agreement and someone paying attention to you. If you have agreement and attention, we can say,

You are a Coke bottle. And you are floating in an ocean of piss. And the way Coke bottles escape the piss ocean is by turning it into gold. Do this visualization, and your life in this illusory world will be sublime.

And it works. Why? Because you’re with someone who is paying attention to you and being intimate with you—and because you believe in the placebo. When the Coke bottle transforms piss into gold, you’ll get that job, seduce that beloved, become smarter.

So that’s how these self-help systems/religions work. Well, if that’s the case, why not make one that’s really interesting, flamboyant, and maybe even uses empirically verified psychological interventions that actually do do things. Because there are some activities that actually do things. They’re called effective (or evidence-based) psychological interventions. Academics know what they are.

So in my religion, our Bible will be composed of nothing but actual journal articles from the PubMed database. So you could never refute us. You could never say that our system doesn’t work because everything that we do is something that has been empirically verified. It would be indefeasible.

Zora: I don’t think academic journals know everything.

CSH: Well, yes do they do. Peer reviewed controlled experimentation is our highest standard. A result that’s printed in a journal is subject to peer review and possible refutation.

Zora: But people who write for academic journals are flawed and they don’t know everything …

CSH: That’s fine. That will come out because of peer review.

Zora: Yeah, but even their peers don’t know everything.

CSH: Yeah, but that’s the best that we have. The best that we have for human knowledge is peer review and empirical method, hypothetical-deductive method. You have a hypothesis, you test it against nature, nature either slaps it down or verifies it. Then arises the question, as you pointed out: Is it repeatable? Then you have other people repeat it. If they can’t repeat it, it’s bullshit.

But the nice thing about our competitive research system is that other people are happy to look for flaws. Because that’s how you make a name in academia. So it’s the best system—people are motivated to check other people’s theories.

So religion should have that as its standard. It should say something like,

We know that when someone does this Intervention A (say, suffer on a Stairmaster at level 7 for 20 minutes 90 minutes after lunch), that they release more dopamine in these centers, or that these centers light-up on a PET, or that respondents report being happier—with statistical significance p and for roughly N% of people. If an intervention passes the truth test, we adopt it into our Bible as a DRILL.

[The religion of the future will contain the following ingredients:

  1. Utilize role playing. Maximize the exploitation of social reality for character building. Intentional socialization of others.
  2. Maximize the exploration of the placebo effect generally. Since placebos still work even when we know about them, KSW is hereby cancelled.
  3. Utilize all effective interventions.
  4. Compare like-type interventions for efficacy. If DRILL A and DRILL B both claim to flatten social anxiety, find of way of measuring social anxiety and then compare the damn things. Keep everything that boosts above baseline, but rank these.
  5. Get over reading mythology or divine-man homages written by followers, or maybe even hired guns (like the author of what we call the Gospel of Luke).]

Wouldn’t that be the best religion? The one that just collected every good, effective exercise?

Zora: I think so. Although I would say that people like something fixed that they can believe in. But I think you’re on to something.

CSH: We have something fixed! The scientific method. The scientific method is our unchanging anchor. Our abstract:

We believe in the scientific method and the democratic peer review process. This is our foundation of truth. And because our principle can itself be an object of inquiry inside a democratic community we fractally abide by this principle. Fractal empirical method is also open to empirical refutation of itself. Fallibility may itself be false, but fallibility is the only position that allows for that.

So let’s call the religion Empirical Fallibilism. Our motto:

Always open to revision.

[God loving us so much he killed his own child is a very touching and inspiring story, and a brilliant way to spin the disaster the befell Jesus’ plan to welcome a cloud-riding superhero and his own coronation to the throne of Israel. But we can do better.]

All you have to do is win a market! Now—can you market Empirical Fallibilism to be as sexy as suicidal Islam? Can you?

Zora: Sigh. You think suicide is sexy.

CSH: Suicidal Islam is very sexy. It’s attracting people. It looks noble. It’s romantic. And it oozes with “we take this seriously,” making it anti-postmodern and unavoidably attractive. We’re attracted to events where the stakes are high. People who end their lives for an idea probably believe in it.

Humans are attracted (and this important in the history of Christianity) to suicidal people because they are puzzles. We’re all interested in knowing what’s going on in the suicidal person’s mind. The act of suicide is strong evidence that its executor has had an encounter with something special. When someone happily commits suicide, that’s strong evidence that this person has encountered an interesting idea.

So when we see people committing suicide for a system, it gives the system gravity.

Zona: And also insanity.

CSH: Rational survivalists and maximin theorists will disapprove of that. But people who care about Truth (capital T) will join. Nothing is stronger evidence that you’ve encountered the truth than joyful suicide.

When you see someone blow himself up happily, you think, “Wow! He’s really secured his after-death scenario.”

Zora: Good point.