Modernity and Freemasonry
Modernity is part of the genetic capital of Freemasonry.
WARNING: Modernity has become a controversial subject; we use it in the sense of "contemporaneity"!
Imagine, that today, a philosophical movement is created with a Nobel Prize in Mathematics and several high level researchers: well that is exactly what happened with the creation of the Grand Lodge of England under the impulse of a skewer of high level scientists of the Royal Society with at their head Isaac Newton!
Unfortunately, this scientific connotation present at the time of the emergence of Freemasonry has not been confirmed as it could have been.
In spite of everything, this "genetic" impregnation is very present and the interest of the Freemasons for the future of our humanity is a reality.
Modernity is also present by the will of the lodges to take into account the societal evolutions; all this is done slowly but the future is promising.
Three topics are included in this chapter:
a societal evolution with the admission of women
a scientific revolution that will surely interfere with the Masonic approach: the discovery of neuronal plasticity;
inventions related to artificial intelligence that herald the era of transhumanism, to be followed by post-humanism.
Female presence and gender diversity
The observation of the events which have marked the history of Masonic lodges since their creation at the end of the 17th century until today shows that Masonic practice is constantly evolving; this evolution is not regular, nor total; some lodges evolve, others refuse.
The first evolution concerned the rites; relatively simple at the time of the creation of the first lodges, the rites became more complex, rites were created, some were organized to try to influence the functioning of the obediences.
There was also the sociological evolution with an important recruitment in the XVIIIth century in the middle of the Nobility followed by a relative democratization which led to a certain sociology of obediences recruiting most often in the middle and upper social classes.
In Europe, the shock of the abandonment of the reference to the Great Architect of the Universe by the famous 1877 convent of the GODF signed another evolution allowing non-believers to have their recognized places within the lodges.
This "revolution" gave birth to another one that is less talked about but is very real: it is the freedom of interpretation of symbols; this freedom sometimes gives the impression that we say everything and its opposite concerning symbolic objects that should have the function of bringing a collective coherence. But at least everyone can benefit from this.
But the most beautiful evolution of the Masonic landscape remains in my opinion the feminine appropriation of the feminine dynamic.
As we can imagine, this was not done easily and today still, we feel that resistance persists.
It took exceptional women such as Maria Deraismes (1828-1894), who founded Human Rights in 1893, or Anne-Marie Gentily (1882-1972), who was at the origin of the Women's Masonic Union of France created after the 2nd World War.
And, icing on the cake, the freedom left to the GODF lodges to initiate or affiliate women by decision of the convents of 2009 and 2015.
The humming of some lodges does not always allow us to perceive what evolves in the Masonic atmosphere and historians will surely be able in the next century to better explain the process but I am convinced that this female appropriation of the Masonic practice will mark and generate another way of seeing Freemasonry as a social institution.
I am not convinced that the current debate on gender mix or specificity with their corollaries mixed or sexist lodges (feminine or masculine) is very important: gender mix has every chance of imposing itself as the norm while letting sexist lodges function; these are still justified today by fears and prejudices that may have had a justification in the context of a macho society; but in a few decades, this will only be an old memory.
For the reality that is emerging is that of a real female authority on the decision-making process, including in the operation of the lodges.
Without dwelling on assumptions about what the future of future generations will be, I would like to celebrate all these sisters who keep their workshops alive and who radiate by their qualities, the Masonic ideal.
Of course, nothing is easy, everything is fragile, and the inevitable complexities of the collective experience show that it is sometimes enough to see little to see an outfit slip and leave this feeling of incompleteness that hurts!
I also regret the abandonment of the feminine gender in Human Rights and in some lodges; beyond the "ugliness" of certain masculine words when they are attributed to women, I find the process akin to a concession of procedure to an underlying machismo. It is a pity!
Anyway, women in lodges and in general female lodges, are beginning to know how to appropriate the rituals and especially the management of the Masonic group, also know how to be authentic and true, finally know how to combine the necessary authority and the subtlety of tact and measure.
To such an extent that it is not rare to see masons belonging to "regular" lodges come to be impregnated from time to time with this invigorating and regenerating atmosphere before returning to conformist workshops working more on habits than on a surge of faith and hope.
Neuronal plasticity and the biochemical bases of thought
"Neuroplasticity - or neuronal plasticity - can be defined as the set of manifestations reflecting the ability of neurons to modify and remodel themselves throughout life. All these mechanisms contribute to the adaptation of neurons to a highly changing molecular, cellular and functional environment and consequently to functional modifications" sources: http://www.neuroplasticite.com/
Long research work carried out in the second half of the 20th century brought to light this property of the neuron.
The immediate consequence of this discovery is first of all to know that we all have a great deal of leeway to increase our cognitive abilities. This generality is of course found in the medical field but also in all human activities.
At the same time, other discoveries have been made concerning the role of mediators in the functioning of thought and the influence of certain traditional practices on cerebral functioning: in the latter case, the work carried out in the United States and France on meditation.
These recent discoveries will have an influence on the way we approach symbolic thinking and we will come back to this.
You are an insulin-dependent diabetic: we have installed a mini insulin pump for you that is capable in real time of analysing your needs and adapting the delivery of the dose you need!
Your child is 6,000 km away from home on a school trip and you are able to "converse" with him without a phone or other skype without the need to speak; all this because you both have a thought integrator in your brain lobe that is able to decode and transmit via a communications network.
You are dressed in an Italian dressing room and you are able to understand and speak to express yourself in fluent Italian; all this because a chip has been inserted in your brain allowing you to speak all the languages of the world!
You are late for an outfit and you had to convey the apologies of a sister who had asked you to do so: with the simple thought of sending an sms to the brother secretary who will receive it on his connected watch and who will be able to excuse the sister as planned!
Here are some simple and concrete examples of what transhumanism is capable of conceiving to transform the human being!
As entropy refers to the mechanism of interactions of the elements of a set, Max More defined (Max More - 1998 - "The Extropian Principles") extropy to conceptualize the intervention of a mechanism external to the organism capable of helping it to regulate itself and to potentiate its competencies. From extropy to transhumanism, there is only an extension of the basic concept.
Overall, transhumanism is a simple idea based on the most recent scientific knowledge (from nanotechnology to brain biology) that allows us to imagine the craziest processes to make the living being immortal or almost immortal!
Is that a good, is that a bad? Eternal questions that human beings ask themselves in the face of modernity! Too late, it's gone and we'll have to deal with it !
Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.
- Max More (1990) More info on http://whatistranshumanism.org/
An example of the use of artificial intelligence in war strategy!
When everything can be turned upside down with...
Preamble of the essay: People are getting restless, the use of violence becomes a commonplace mode of social relations and meanwhile, little geniuses are getting active! To understand what is in the making, we propose a board that a sister presented in her dressing room!
For the past 2 or 3 years I had been regularly seeing articles on this subject in scientific journals.
In 2015 there was an open letter warning against transhumanism, signed by a thousand scientists from around the world including the physicist Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk creator of Paypal and Tesla AI specialist who has a project of colonization on Mars, Bill Gates creator of Microsoft, the geneticist Axel Kahn to name only the best known. This is what made me look more closely at what at first seemed to me a sweet utopia. And I discovered a much more complex problem than I had initially imagined.
What is it? It's an international current of thought that has a great project to improve the human species on all physical, intellectual, emotional and moral levels through advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cognitive sciences called NBIC. It also considers certain aspects of the human condition such as disability, disease and aging to be unnecessary and undesirable.
Historically, transhumanism was born in the USA in 1957 with Julian Huxley and the American cyberculture, it is then synonymous with human improvement and refers to the humanism of the 18th century. Today there are multiple transhumanist currents but two dominate:
and the singularitarians
The Extropians, have a doctrine created in 1990 by the philosopher Max More who gave the main lines of reflection in 1998. The transhuman citizen is an autonomous being who belongs to no one else but himself, who alone decides what modifications he wishes to make to his brain, DNA or body, in the course of scientific advances, considering that disease and ageing are not a fatality. They consider that the end of natural selection, which no longer exists in man, must be overcome, since it protects himself from his environment and ensures the viability of individuals who would have been eliminated in the past, resulting in the progressive degradation of the human genome. They want to fight against a genetic lottery that unfairly distributes natural qualities and diseases. A new technique called CRISPR-case9 allows DNA to be inserted, removed and corrected in a simple and effective way and an analysis of our genome will cost less than 100 euros in a year or two. Everyone will be able to know the diseases they may have and intervene before, like Angelina Jolie who had both breasts removed to avoid cancer. The same technique could allow the reconstruction of dangerous viruses or bacteria for terrorist purposes. Just as reconstructive surgery gave rise to cosmetic surgery, DNA modifications repairing genetic abnormalities will become tools for human enhancement. But altering a human's DNA will affect all his descendants. Other tools are being studied: Stem cells that could regenerate our aging or sick organs, nanodrugs capable of carrying an active agent inside the body to sick cells (the first will be available this year), microscopic surgical robots are being tested in mice; the artificial heart already exists even if it is not yet perfectly developed, the pancreas, the kidney and the lung are coming soon; and what about the lightning progress on prostheses that can even be manufactured with the help of a 3D printer; recently a young woman benefited from a prosthesis directly controlled by thought. The first cyborg (machine man) was an American painter and composer Neil Harbisson who suffers from daltonism. In 2004, he had an antenna implanted in his skull that transforms light waves into sound waves; he still can't see colours but he can hear them. The risk, in the long run, is that some people may want to replace their limbs or certain organs with much more efficient prostheses to acquire new abilities.
A second movement, The Singularitarians go even further. Singularity is a futuristic concept: it is the moment when the machine would be able to surpass man, to reprogram itself to increase its capacities to infinity, or even to acquire a consciousness... The pope of this movement Ray Kurzweil, who has become one of the leaders of Google, believes that this moment will occur around 2035. In 2009, he created the University of the Singularity hosted by NASA. His stated goal: to find the world's best students and top executives to teach them about emerging technologies and increase their performance through technology to solve the world's big problems. A branch has been created in France.
The dream of the singularitarians is the lengthening of life and even immortality. There is important research in the world to discover the secret of certain phenomena of nature, animal or vegetable almost immortal hoping to transmit their properties to man. The first step will be the extension of life, they predict 20 more years in 2050.
What will become of the pension systems?
Will there be generational conflicts?
Will it be necessary to regulate births to avoid overpopulation?
So there are several programs around the world to colonize Mars: programs of NASA, Tesla, China, a Russian billionaire.
But it is in artificial intelligence that these transhumanists put all their hopes. They envisage very seriously a digital immortality based on the transfer of an individual's consciousness into a computer medium because they believe that consciousness can be digitized and to this end they demand that there are rights for robots as there are human rights. And many projects are moving in this direction, including publicly funded projects such as the European Human Brain project. An American has given himself until 2045 to succeed in storing people's personalities and then implanting them in an artificial body once they are dead. Delusional?
Algorithms used in artificial intelligence take on a new dimension, especially self-learning algorithms called deep learning, which learn from our contact. This is the case of expert systems that use the knowledge and ways of functioning of international experts on a given subject and which result in a "super expert".
Robots that learn in contact with humans, capable of dialogue and having the appearance of humans are currently being experimented, they are intended to accompany the elderly or children. There is also learning software that can be adapted to each learner. These uses are very interesting. But sometimes the situation gets out of hand.
For example, the artificial intelligence Tay of Microsoft, supposed to learn from its exchanges with twitter users, has demonstrated its ability to utter Nazi, racist and anti-Semitic remarks after being targeted by a group of ill-intentioned Internet users. And some experiments are very worrying, such as this Chinese software that is supposed to identify potential criminals by face. And what about military research on "killer robots" that will be able to detect targets to be shot down on their own based on criteria they have been given.
In fact, the U.S. Army is considering replacing its soldiers with robots. It is this military research that triggered the open letter I mentioned in my introduction, and some fear that the "2001 Space Odyssey" scenario may become a reality.
Here are two quotes:
"To succeed in creating a strong artificial intelligence would be a great event in the history of mankind but it could also be the last one" (Stephen Hawking).
"If I had to guess what poses the greatest threat to our existence, I'd probably say artificial intelligence." (Elon Musk)
Other transhumanist movements exist all over the world and factions are organizing around political platforms. There is a French movement created in 2007 called Technoprog. It claims to be a technoprogressive transhumanism attentive to democracy, justice and social harmony by allowing access to new technologies to all, refusing a two-speed humanity. But many think that French transhumanists are extremely naive.
Who finances research in artificial intelligence, DNA, regenerative medicine? In priority the GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple), start-ups, NASA, China, South Korea, American, Russian, Chinese, Indian billionaires....
Google has become Alphabet after buying many start-ups and laboratories specializing in AI or DNA research and the largest companies manufacturing robots.
AliBaba, the Chinese competitor of Amazon and Google, which also buys many new technology companies all over the world is becoming a gigantic group; created in 2005, it already weighs 250 billion dollars. Problem: how to enforce ethical laws on these very powerful groups when the states cannot even make them pay taxes?
In fact, one American has plans to create an island off the coast of California, outside territorial waters, to escape both ethics committees and taxes. What's more, they own the social networks and can convince public opinion, by highlighting medical advances, that their research is for the good of humanity.
There is indeed an International Bioethics Committee, an offshoot of UNESCO, which published a report in 2015 stressing that gene therapy is undoubtedly one of the most promising undertakings of science for the good of all humanity; but that this revolution seems to require special precautions and raises serious concerns, particularly if the engineering of the human genome were to introduce hereditary modifications which would be transmitted to future generations. It also warns of the risks of eugenics. In 1997, this Committee published a Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights containing some thirty articles, twenty of which begin with the words "States should take steps to...".
This clearly shows the difficulty of establishing universal standards in bioethics that respect human rights, dignity and freedom for all and reconcile the enormous differences in culture, for example between the Western world, which advocates individual freedom, and Asia and Africa, which are much more oriented towards the collective.
Moreover, progress is so rapid that legislation cannot keep up. A few examples from the last 4 months: the Chinese have just genetically modified 20 human embryos, which is forbidden in most Western countries.
He was transferred human genes into a cow to produce milk equivalent to human milk. A baby was just born in Mexico with three biological parents, the third having donated part of his genetic heritage; another was born in the Ukraine. A Japanese researcher has just created a chimera, i.e. an embryo half human half pig implanted in a sow; gestation was stopped after 4 weeks; he carried out this experiment in the USA because it was forbidden in Japan; the aim, laudable in itself, is to create human organs for transplants; will we one day see a piglet resembling a human?
But ethical barriers are breaking down in our country too: for example, GPA is forbidden in France but the children born from this procedure have been recognized by the courts, which means that GPA is authorized for those who can afford it; another example: in December 2016 a court authorized parents to keep the umbilical cord cells of their child who is genetically at high risk of pancreatic cancer. Today these cells are used to treat acute leukaemia and can only come from anonymous donations. The court has therefore just set a precedent that could become a precedent.
What is the problem? Quite simply, if you become the owner of a body part, then it becomes marketable. It is clear that national legislation no longer makes sense, it is too easy to circumvent by those who can afford it.
Can we stop this research? Certainly not, it is too late and is it desirable? In the space of a century, infant mortality has fallen considerably, medicine has made immense progress, life expectancy has increased enormously, world hunger and poverty have been greatly reduced, and since 1945 the number of war deaths has fallen, even if we are not always aware of this progress. The new technologies will certainly make it possible to solve the major problems of our time: incurable diseases, the depollution of the seas, the advance of deserts, the water problem, world hunger, etc., but for this to happen we will need a strong political and international will and a regulatory force to avoid the worst abuses. Utopian?
The world is in full mutation and a mutation 100 times faster than the industrial revolution of the XIXth century and it is certain that the man of 2050 will not be the man of today, better or worse? We will have to change the way we live, learn, work and even think. It will be necessary to review all our systems of initial and continuing training as well as the organisation of work and all our social systems. Humanity is like a coin on the edge, it can tip either to the right or to the wrong side, and to tip to the right side it will be necessary to combine, in my view, technology, economics, international political will and spirituality. And what can we personally do apart from staying alert and holding our values high? I don't have the answer.
Rituals put to the test of modernity
The great majority of Masonic rituals date from the 18th and 19th centuries; the authors are sometimes known.
On a basic framework, they propose variations that affect the vocabulary used or the number of degrees. All Masonic rituals are part of the Judeo-Christian spiritualist thought with sometimes a religious syncretism that allows borrowings from the occult, the Egyptian religion, the Kabbalah, even spiritism!
The use of the rituals by the lodges shows a very great variation of practices with many liberties taken either on the follow-up of the texts or on their interpretations!
Modern and contemporary knowledge would impose a rewriting! Several rituals could thus be proposed to take into account the will of the lodges to work on a more coherent rite! But, there is a real "reluctance" to induce a change.
Subjects related to the problems of modernity:
(developments to come)
- Modernity and human progress?
- Are Masonic rites compatible with modernity?
- Is modernity going to be accompanied by other ways of working as a mason?
- How to integrate digital into the lodge operation?
- The refusal or denial of modernity!
Other approaches to the subject
- TRADITION ET MODERNITÉ by Jérôme Touzalin
- L’INITIATION MAÇONNIQUE ENTRE TRADITION ET MODERNITÉ by Yves Hivert-Messeca
- Âge maçonnique et modernité, ou l’âge du désir à l’actualité de la fonction symbolique
by Ingrid Chapard
- Spiritualité et modernisme