How to Think Like God: A Swedish Twitter University Course, Steve Fuller

I have recently published a piece arguing that the aphorism provides the prehistory of the tweet. Its origin lies in the following: On Christmas Day 2011, I conducted what turned out to be the penultimate ‘course’ at ‘Svenska Twitteruniversitetet’ (‘Swedish Twitter University’). Twitter was only in its fifth year and still operating on a 140-character per tweet basis. The ‘University’ was itself operative only from October 2011 to February 2012. Yet in that brief period it received considerable publicity, including an interview in Financial Times Deutschland with its founder Marcus Nilsson. Nilsson describes the concept here … [please read below the rest of the article].

Image credit: Ted Van Pelt via Flickr / Creative Commons

Article Citation:

Fuller, Steve. 2022. “How to Think Like God: A Swedish Twitter University Course.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (8): 90-92.

🔹 The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers.

The tweet-based courses were conducted in real time, during which lecturers also had to deal with audience interventions, all the while keeping the thread going with hashtags – in my case, #STU11. This meant (at least in my case) that not all the tweets were registered properly – two went missing. You can find a record of the experience here. In what follows, the tweets are presented as I intended them, including the two unintentionally omitted (numbers 9 and 15) and the three intentionally omitted, which I then list at the end.

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Thanks, Marcus, for allowing me to talk about God on Xmas Day. This is the best day of the year to think hard about this topic!

I will lay out the first 12 tweets and then stop to respond to comments but of course comment whenever you wish.

I will then lay out the final 13 tweets and continue discussing until it looks like everyone has gone home.

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1. The lecture is in two halves: (1) Why we need to think like God. (2) Some tips on how to do it.

2. My conception of God is that of Abraham, filtered through Augustine: i.e. we are created in God’s ‘image and likeness’.

3. New Atheists free ride on this conception of God: without it there would be no grounds for asserting any human privilege or confidence.

4. Darwin the anti-humanist realized this, since for him all species are equal under natural selection, which always has the last laugh.

5. (TH Huxley interestingly addressed the problem: Science, law and medicine aim to defer or counter natural selection:

6. For all of reality to be ‘intelligible’, as science presupposes, it must exist in a way that our minds can fathom. We must somehow think like its creator.

7. It’s much more than saying a creative deity moves in mysterious ways to make things as they are, to which we then adapt as we can.

8. Without universal intelligibility, science is risky nonsense. Our animal existence would be more secure if we were more down to earth – but we’re not.

9. In an eco-friendly world, all of cutting-edge physics – from space travel to atom smashers – would be consigned to science fiction.

10. Yet we not only act on those universe-spanning ideas — we grant them enormous cultural significance: physics = gold standard of knowledge.

11. And we’ve made most progress in understanding life by treating biology as if it were divine technology.

12. Darwin wouldn’t buy the idea of genetic code, let alone genetic engineering. Too anthropomorphic. Yet these ideas work.

13. Here are some tips to think like God in my sense. It’s how we became modern. (Take that, Latour!)

14. Take words and numbers extremely literally as expressions of the divine logos and hence the basis for reconstructing the world.

15. Biblical fundamentalism set the precedent for science’s own fetish of formulas, jargon and code: the ‘two books’ of Bacon and Galileo.

16. All of God’s properties are simply indefinitely extended versions of our own. Were they not, the idea of ‘distance’ from God would make no sense.

17. What’s hard to imagine is that all the virtues should be concentrated in one divine being. In humans, they’re clearly distributed.

18. What we see in temporal terms, God sees all at once. God’s apparent indifference is simply patience.

19. God appears evil when we fail to see the higher good an event serves. We do evil when we act like God and fail.

20. Unfortunately, we only live up to our Abrahamic heritage when try to act like God, which makes our own evil inevitable.

21. Newton was right: God’s infinity = equidistance from all times and places. ‘The view from nowhere’.

22. Modernity is about simulating Newton’s God in our own fallible but corrigible way: we treat past and future as equally knowable.

23. Traditional societies treat the past as solid knowledge and fear the future if it doesn’t repeat the past — aka induction.

24. Modern societies are less sure about the past but more confident about the future as a work in progress, ripe for experimentation and risk-taking.

25. If you want to follow up the above line of argument, I recommend my book: Finis.

Tweets Intentionally Omitted

• The risks and suffering we’ve submitted the planet in the name of science is best explained as our trying to reconnect with God, where Earth is a mere means.

• This point is best seen by imagining various decision points in history and ask why it went one way rather than another, knowing only what the deciders knew.

• People have been lured more by a different and dangerous future than secure past performance: hence, the appeal of Popper’s falsificationism as an excuse to think otherwise.

Author Information:

Steve Fuller,, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick.

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