Spiritual vs. Religious.


I’m spending a lot of time lately working on and thinking about my own spiritual path.
I’m a noob at this, and have lots to learn. Don’t expect soul shattering Oprah moments from me.
But I am enjoying the journey and it’s been top of mind for me for a while.
Thus, It’s likely going to result in more than a few blog posts; So let me get the back story out of the way.

Big disclaimer:
I am but one contributor to this site.
I speak for no one but myself.

For a very long time I’ve been dissatisfied with the most obvious spirituality choices presented to me as a westerner:

  • Pick an organized flavor of the Christian religion
  • Be a new age metaphysical type
  • Give up on any notion of a spiritual practice

Organized religion in general seems, to me, to be more about mankind than any higher power. The dogma, rituals, the very beliefs that one is expected to adopt, have been created by man; Fallible, confused, fearful, and power-hungry man.
Humankind which has no capability of actually conceiving the nature of a higher power, has crafted the vast majority of content we are expected to simply accept. How does that make sense?

New age metaphysical types are, in many ways, at the opposite end of the same spectrum. They have a few nuggets of wisdom to share, but for the most part they’ve co-opted those nuggets from eastern schools of thought and packaged them up in bite sized chunks that feel new to us westerners. Beyond that… I’m not convinced they are any better off than organized religion. They’re simply less organized.

The true and valuable message of spiritual progress has been lost thanks to centuries of politics, fear, and at times simple guess work.

None of the resulting text, ritual, or dogma has seemed to actually do much for me. It perhaps gave me something to read, something to be judged on, something to be guilty of when I fall short, and something to fear if I could somehow mange to offend an infinitely more powerful and eternal higher power.

How does any of THAT help me become a better person? A better husband? A better father?
How does it help me deal with the stresses of life in a more compassionate way?
In my experience – it doesn’t.

Some would say that religion gives plenty of ways to be a better person/husband/father/etc.
I respectfully disagree. It may outline the attributes of a better person/husband/father but it doesn’t really help me become one. It usually boils down to outlining end points, not mapping the journey.
Do/don’t do this – or else.
Believe this – or else.
Everyone else in the world is wrong, and perhaps evil.

So… for a long time I’ve been looking for something more focused on the how-to of spiritual betterment.
And my current work with the Buddhist teachings have me very optimistic. It is this path I’ll be talking about for a while.

I hear you saying “Buddhist?? How is that less problematic than anything else in your anti-religion rant above?”
(Seriously I can actually HEAR some of you saying this. – how do you do that?!)

On the face of it… your point would be well made.
Over the thousands of years since the Buddha was alive his teachings have been morphed and co-opted into religions with as much human based dogma and guess work as any.

There’s a reason I used the words “Buddhist teachings” vs. “Buddhism”.
Taking the core teachings OUT of any religious context has been a powerful experience for me. It is this separation of Spirituality and Religion that has finally started to fill the gap for me.

Indeed the original teachings of the Buddha were entirely non-theistic. The Buddha was just a man. He taught TECHNIQUES (actual practicable techniques) that help one become more compassionate. They help one become more selfless, help one deal more elegantly with the stresses of everyday life.

The practice of these “Buddhist teachings” are completely compatible with any belief system – or the lack of one. It’s simply not concerned with God. It’s concerned with dealing with life in the here and now. It’s not designed to explain the universe, or outline a belief system. It neither requires nor shuns any particular faith.

It is showing great promise for me as the how-to guide I’ve been looking for.

So as I explore this, it’s a near certainty that I’m gonna blog about it.
Here’s the deal: We need not agree on all things.
Further; I admit I may not always have all the info – I’m learning after all.
Having said that… I welcome and look forward to any thoughtful comments.

Google’s Awesome AI work.


Whether you are a fan/user of Android, Apple, whatever… I’d bet we’d end up in agreement that, putting aside the merit of phones & devices for a moment, Google is more likely to usher us into an era of Artificial Intelligence than almost anyone else.

I mean honestly the Google Now service (while far from AI) is already so great.
At the time of this writing it beats Siri without even trying.

Here’s an example of coolness that happens all the time through Google Now – that would have seemed like magic not too long ago.

I recently booked a hotel room for a business trip.
I used my company’s travel site to do this.
Days later I got in my car and said “OK, Google. I need directions to my hotel.”
And BAM! – directions to my recently booked hotel popped up on my phone’s navigation app.

The ability to do that speaks to the reach google has across multiple systems more than it does some magical bit of AI code. Google Now heard my question and then searched my gmail inbox for the most recent hotel confirmation email.

Simple. Easy.
For it and for me. I didn’t have to do anything extra.
And it was fast.

It was pretty fraking great.
But it wasn’t true AI.

When it comes to winning the race to a truly intelligent system… Google simply has more assets at it’s disposal.

  • They have the knowledge graph.
  • They acquired Metaweb and it’s “database of things”
  • They have countless web queries allowing them to analyze how people think when they’re looking for something
  • They have countless web queries showing what people in certain regions/demographics/etc are interested in at any given moment.
  • They acquired DeepMind, a company devoted to artificial intelligence.
  • They acquired several robotics companies (Boston Dynamics and Schaft Inc. are a couple of the big ones)
  • And they have Ray Kurzweil running the show.

And I recently read an article about a new and potentially powerful asset… the Knowledge Vault.

Whereas the aforementioned  knowledge graph is a large and very valuable database of facts and answers – it’s a database that was curated if not populated entirely by humans. The Knowledge Vault though will not need any human to teach it… it will learn on it’s own.

Knowledge Vault automatically gathers information from across the Internet using bots and interprets the results to build a base of facts. It has already put together over a billion of them, with nearly 300 million considered “confident facts” with over a 90 percent chance of being true.

– source: AndroidPolice.com

It’s important to keep in mind these numbers really don’t add up to anything terribly intelligent. It’s only usually right 30% of the time.

Equally important; We aren’t sure how far off it is the 70% of the time it’s doesn’t even make it to usually right.
Is it close?
Is it  just fundamentally wrong, or is it taking as true all the crazy and wrong stuff it finds out there?
(like roughly half the humans on facebook.)

These are important considerations for sure.
But… we must also remember that it’s learning on it’s own, and it’s doing it with advantage of all the assets Google’s ecosystem can provide.

The folks at androidpolice.com consider what a system like this could mean for the Google Now service:

This could result in an improved Google Now experience. Instead of asking the service simple questions – such as, “What is the weather?” – you would theoretically be able to ask it something more complex, like “Why is the weather like this in my area?

Truly cool.
But beyond Google Now it has powerful implications.

Multi-part questions like that are key ways humans like Ray Kurzweil weed out “chat bots” that try to take on the turing test. Here’s a telling exchange between Ray and the chat bot “Eugene Goostman” that claimed to pass the turing test.

Ray Kurzweil: I live in the capital of the country that built the great wall.
Eugene: Tell me more about Capital. I like to learn about different places!

– source: Kurzeil.net

When we get to a place where multi-part questions like this can be answered by a computer system – on the fly – without having a hard coded, and human built fact matrix in place… things are going to get interesting real fast.

It may start with better search and truly capable digital assistants, but it won’t stop there. Great things will  start to happen. Scary things may also happen.
Best of all… Great Scary things will start to happen.


hello-mattI thought it a good idea to open the site with a quick welcome message.
If you’d like to hear more about WHY the blog exists, and what it’s trying to do… you should check out the “About” page.
Here I’d like to set expectations, and give a quick tutorial how to use the site.

The first thing you should know…
I like the ellipsis… a lot. I don’t use is correctly either.
I’ve tried to care about this, but I just don’t seem able. Enjoy.

But I’m not the only person that will be posting here.
Other contributors may have more respect for the ellipsis… but they surely won’t love it like I do.
If you’re interested in who might be posting here check out the “Who’s Who” page.
The team may grow (or shrink) over time. No one is REQUIRED to post, but listed on that page are the people who may.

We (the contributors to this site) are … people.
We blog about things we are interested in, but that doesn’t make us gurus.
I for example will likely be blogging a lot in the Spirituality category for a while; Something that I’m perhaps not terribly qualified to do when compared to the Pope or Dali Lama. I am in fact a spiritual noob by almost any objective measure. It is however something I’m spending a lot time thinking about, so expect that to translate to my blog topics.
Bottom Line: This is a blog in the grand old tradition of the medium.

Probably the biggest thing you should know…
is that we want this blog to be a joy both to read, and to create.
Lots of posts being pushed out just because it’s 8am isn’t what we’re after. We want our posts to be worth reading, even if that means a less than regular cadence. Also, we are all humans; with friends, families, jobs, pet projects, etc.
We will not allow this blog to become a chore. If we can’t enjoy it neither will you.
I created a venn digram to help illustrate this, but was told that perhaps I needed a vacation.

So welcome.
If you’re reading this – I am very pleased to have you here. Please enjoy, and let us know you’re here.
Comment, share, or visit us in our dreams.
(seriously – that would be cool.)