Though many rationalists might not like to think so, embracing reason is much like embracing a religious faith. Just as one may be “born again” into a new religious worldview, when one embraces reason, one’s worldview is radically transformed.Things which our “natural”, instinctive minds take for granted must be re-examined in the light of reason, and conventional wisdom, folk beliefs and superstitions abandoned if they don’t stand up to rational scrutiny. Since the Enlightenment, Western civilization as a whole has done this, gradually abandoning its faith in the old religions and traditions which had sustained it for centuries.
On a personal level, embracing reason may require a new way of life — at least it should, if one takes philosophy seriously. Rational thinking is a discipline, just as bible study is a discipline; it requires a reordering of your mind in order to divide the world into that which is true and that which is not true, and these truths have practical consequences. The primary tools of this discipline are logic, mathematics and the scientific method.
However, I would like to posit that this noble and fruitful discipline, which we might call the Way of Reason, is not the final word in human mental evolution. I would like to propose that the next step in our mental development should be the Way of Kolinahr, which combines reason with non-emotion, meditation and self-mastery.
Why should already rational people embrace something like Kolinahr? Here are four reasons:
The Inside View: Since the Enlightenment, Western philosophy has been focused on the “outside view”, the world of objective, external phenomena, but has lacked an advanced meditative or introspective tradition. The study of the mind “from the inside” has been neglected in the West in comparison to Eastern traditions such as Buddhism, which have developed intricate, empirical models of consciousness that aren’t amenable to the scientific method. I believe it is time for rationalists to embrace meditation and the inner life fully, by studying the techniques developed by the Eastern masters. As Sam Harris has pointed out, many truths about ourselves may never be understood scientifically, and can only be discovered by introspection. This kind of introspection is one of the pillars of Kolinahr.
Mastering Emotions: While it may sound rather extreme, I believe emotions are a vestige of our paleomammalian brains which are no longer necessary for human survival or progress. In the ancestral world, the animal passions which allowed us to succeed in hunting, fighting or mating are precisely the things which may destroy us in a technological age. To avoid this, I believe mankind needs to either be replaced by machines entirely or become more machine-like by mastering our emotions. This is another pillar of Kolinahr.
A New Monasticism: The Enlightenment has done much to diminish the influence of religion, and this is on the whole a good thing. However, there are a few aspects of religion that I believe are worth preserving. In particular, the monastic tradition, with its orders of highly dedicated and trained monks who live according to principles, think on larger time scales, pass on their knowledge and act as spiritual role models for society is something I believe the modern world is in dire need of. Humanity today seems to lack great models of spiritual and intellectual rigor and commitment, and the results are plain to see all around us. Nor are academics an adequate replacement for monastics, since they are beholden to the “profane” world of the industrial educational system. A true monastic order dedicated to the Way of Kolinahr, holding retreats and counseling for those who seek them out, could offer powerful new role models and sources of knowledge for mankind.
Revival of Philosophy: Western philosophy seems to have become an obscure, academic discipline with little relevance to modern life. This has left a great void which religions and irrational ideologies may exploit, to the detriment of society. To prevent the rise of such unreason, philosophy needs to escape from the stifling confines of academia and become a total way of life, as it was for the Socratics, the Stoics and the Skeptics. The Kolinahru should be philosopher-monks who live their philosophy every day, rather than just lecturing about it.
To summarize, what I am proposing is that while the Enlightenment was an important first step on the path to pure logic, it was far from complete. What is needed now is Enlightenment 2.0, which goes much further in promoting a total way of life that can reason, introspect, master emotions and supplant the legacy religions, while maintaining some of their more useful features. What is needed now is Kolinahr.