Allah said, “Descend as enemies to each other. You will find in the earth a residence and provision for your appointed stay.”  Quran (7:24)

Nietzsche argued if there is no God then morality does not exist, and humans “make” their own morality. This creation of individualistic morality is fairly evident in the modern Western world. It is based on hedonistic desire and degeneracy, the “self”.

We said, “O Adam, dwell with your mate in paradise, and eat thereof freely whenever you wish; but do not approach this tree, lest you should be among the wrongdoers.” Quran (2:35)

To understand the graveness of pursuing worldly desire and pursuit of self-pleasure, let us first visit the account of Adam, Eve, and the Forbidden Tree to surgically break down the inclinations of the human mind. Allah created Adam in his image. He then created Eve from Adam’s rib and tells them to enjoy the wonders of the Garden of Paradise. He tells them there is just one rule to living in that Garden, and that is not to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The two obey His word, until Satan tempts them to eat from the tree, stating: ‘Your Lord has only forbidden you from this tree lest you should become angels, or lest you become immortal.’ Quran (7:20)

Adam & Eve follow suit, and after eating the fruit, are awakened to a new reality. Thus he brought about their fall by deception. So, when they tasted of the tree, their nakedness became exposed to them, and they began to stitch over themselves with the leaves of paradise. Their Lord called out to them, ‘Did I not forbid you from that tree, and tell you, ‘‘Satan is indeed your manifest enemy?’  Quran (7:22) The account of Adam & Eve points to the inherent proclivity of human beings to fall into selfish desire. Adam was promised immortal life, free of worry and burden. So then, why the allure of a fruit hanging from a tree to risk it all? Adam and Eve’s salivary response to the fruit is a demonstration of “the never-ending chase” of self-gratification. Better yet, it can be viewed as the Brownian motion of ricocheting from one “high” to the next in search of purpose and fulfillment.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that every person possesses three “inalienable rights” — “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. This phrase rolls off people’s tongues 247 years later, devoid of meaning. The wise Thomas Jefferson strategically took the phrase “pursuit of happiness” from John Locke while writing the Declaration of Independence and placed it last in the collective. Time and time again, this pursuit has been interpreted as hedonism and avoidance of pain/distress. A journey of self-centered degeneracy. The Founding Fathers were wealthy by the standards of 1776. Have you ever stopped to wonder why there is no mention of “material prosperity”? Now, in no way are we contesting against pursuing financial freedom or glorifying poverty. But one thing is clear, the Founders indirectly provided a juxtaposition of the factors providing “meaning” to society and “material gain” by not mentioning the latter at all.

“And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion”

Quran (57:20) Islam poses a pragmatic truth in explaining our finite time on Earth. Death is inevitable and this makes worldly pleasure temporary. No amount of wealth, status, power, or longevity hacks can save any human being. Alexander the Great had three wishes on his deathbed when he fell ill. One of them was to leave both of his hands hanging outside of the coffin. He wanted people to know that despite all of the wealth and power he acquired, he departed the world in the same condition he came into existence. We come into this world empty-handed and will leave the same. A purpose rooted in anything tied to the temporary i.e. money, power, women, etc. will always lead to disappointment.

I have put my trust in Allah, Who is my Lord and your Lord. There is no moving creature which He does not hold by its forelock. Surely, My Lord is on the straight path.  Quran (11:56)

The “forelock” in this quote is referring to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is referred to in the Quran multiple times whenever the act of intentional lying is mentioned. Dissecting the anatomy of the brain reveals a heavy bias in the mass of the frontal lobe. This area of the brain provides us with the ability to use rationality and deploy analytical skills. One may argue then, why emotions have not been completely weeded out by the process of natural selection. The fact of the matter is that emotions have been identified by the adaptive process to provide a net positive impact on the continuation of the human species. Experts in the field of neurology argue that depression is merely the brain’s way of protecting an individual from risky and hopeless situations.

“For countless generations, our biochemical system adapted to increasing our chances of survival and reproduction, not our happiness. The biochemical system rewards actions conducive to survival and reproduction with pleasant sensations. But these are only an ephemeral sales gimmick.”  —  Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus

The limbic system, also identified as the “monkey brain” is just as the name suggests, absent of all logic. This is the part of the brain that overrides the decision-making, rational, pre-frontal cortex when one feels a wave of emotions. The limbic system is essentially present to protect when one senses danger in any sense (fight or flight response is triggered) as well as being the brain’s reward pathway. Posing the notion of happiness as being an abstract idea may seem purely negative. However, thinking about this further leads to the consolation that the feeling of being dissatisfied is a fluctuation that makes one human.

At a surface level, the groundwork has been laid to understand the nature of the human mind and the constant search for purpose, fulfillment, happiness, etc. All these ideas in a vacuum along with the accompanied journey of cognitive mindfulness may provide the bearer with a powerful arsenal of tools. Enter the brainwashing of modern-day consumerism, heavily pushed political agendas, mass censorship, and the all-powerful engineered grip of social media via dopamine manipulation and society is left with the inability to use individualistic thinking. This leads to the perpetuation of dangerous ideas (such as materialism, hedonism), failure to engage in logical discourse without the fear of being antagonized, herd thinking, weaker minds, and ultimately, the devolution of society.

“Zina (Fornication) will become widespread” (Sahih Bukhari, Vol 1: book 3: 80),

“A man will pass by the grave of another and wish he was in the latter’s place (Sahih Bukhari, Vol 9: book 88: 237)

“Wine (intoxicants, alcohol) will be drunk in great quantities” (Sahih Bukhari, Vol 1: book 3: 80).

Not much needs to be stated to provide further context. Fornication, alcohol & drug addiction, and suicide rates are at an all-time high. Pairing the unexamined mind with a purpose rooted in worldly desire has a high potential of leading to catastrophe with one of the outcomes being modern-day slavery i.e., a vicious cycle of feeling unfulfilled and continuing to seek validation through a forced rat race to fuel a purposeless life filled with consumption.

The Proposed Framework for Cognitive Freedom

The following is a proposed framework for aiding in the attempt of breaking the shackles:

“We did not create the heaven and the earth and everything between them in vain. That is the assumption of those who disbelieve,” Quran (38:27)

Existential angst is inherently present in human beings if the purpose does not transcend impermanent parameters, this angst will tirelessly chip away at your consciousness. Seek purpose that is rooted in belief & faith.

  • Actively seek challenges and obstacles to overcome with the context of providing meaning to the “suffering”. Any unintended hardship can be dealt with the same way (by giving it meaning).
  • Understand that the brain is a poor judge of “good” and “bad” events as it is merely focused on the comparison of desired reality vs. perceived reality (both of which are assumed) to discern between “good” and “bad” external events.
  • Study the self and become a master of your cognition. Understand the wiring of the software.
  • Seek experiences and/or pursue the learning of skills that provide a “state of flow”. Pursue this state vehemently.
  • Nurture individualistic thinking and grow the ability to rationally break down opposing ideas and thought processes while separating emotion.
  • Become a master of emotional control. This does not mean to be devoid of emotion. It means to have the ability to feel emotions and recognize them for what they are. · Seek excellence in the optimization of physical health. Cherish the vessel through which life is experienced.
  • Practice mindfulness i.e., practice the ability to periodically dial back the time horizon to the present moment.
  • Study cognitive biases and work on the ability to identify and then re-frame “faulty” mental frameworks you might have.
  • Pursue the “ideal self” — What does your ideal self look like (in every form)? How would your ideal self react? What are your values? Why are these values important to you?

The examples provided herein — The Original Sin, The Declaration of Independence, and an overview of the design of the human mind, juxtaposed with the teachings of the Quran and Prophet (ﷺ) all highlight the incessant need for purpose and the elusiveness of fulfillment. Modern-day society is creating a pressure cooker of societal cognitive devolution that is preying on the inherent search for fulfillment of the unexamined mind with a purpose that is rooted in worldly desire.

To traverse the arduous path to freedom of thought, it is vital to understand and acknowledge the current push towards self-gratitude, hedonism & materialism. This must be counter-acted with a purpose rooted in faith that life on earth is a temporary illusion and an all-encompassing, sole pursuit of worldly pleasures is but a never-ending chase of emptiness.

Stoic posts @Stoiiic