The Sociocultural Mind

The Sociocultural Mind

One of the charming peculiarities of modern Western culture -- and especially American culture, which I've lived in most of my life, and which has played a pivotal role in the development of humanity's advanced technologies -- is its emphasis on the individual rather than the social group.

And yet, if you took a human infant and raised them isolated from culture, what would they be? A primitive being, not so different from an ape. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, without appropriate social interaction in early childhood, humans never develop full linguistic and cognitive abilitites. And in most cases, people cut off from social interaction for more than a few years wind up going mad.

The truth is that human society and culture are a vast meta-mind with greater computational power, insight and complexity than any individual human mind.

So far as we can tell, the emergent mind of human society currently lacks the level of global coherence that an individual human mind has. There's no theater of reflective social consciousness. But even if so, human society contains a huge number of complex high-level self-organizing patterns, that course through all us individuals, and guide us in multiple ways, many of which our selves and deliberative consciousnesses are barely or un aware.

The Inescapability of Culture

Technological and cultural progress have largely been driven by individuals who deviate from social norms -- who push beyond their society and culture, often suffering greatly for this.

But yet, the directions that they're pushing in, the ideas and movements they're pushing forward, are invariably defined in terms of human culture and society. We, as humans, simply don't know anything else.

Chinese, aboriginal and American culture (to pluck three random examples) may seem wildly different to us -- but of course, in the bigger space of all possible modes of sociocultural interaction, they're really mightily mutually similar.

It's possible that some radically different culture and set of mind-states could be implemented in a set of interacting human brains and bodies ... but we have no way of discovering that, because a culture is not something one person can build on their own, nor something that a group of people can simply get together and spontaneously create. It's far bigger and more complex and subtle than that.

Rebellion as Conformity

In the end the existence of rebellious individuals pushing beyond the norms is "just" a mechanism that modern society and culture uses to grow, extend and expand itself. Those of us who act as rebels, are following the deep self-organizing patterns of the sociocultural order just as thoroughly as those who act as conformists. This wouldn't have been so true for some wild-eyed rebel emerging in a steady-state culture like aboriginal culture ... but it's very true now, given that modern culture relies on ongoing rebellion to generate the constant stream of scientific, cultural and aesthetic advance on which it's predicated.

Rational, orderly-looking growth curves like the ones Ray Kurzweil draws, projecting the advances of various technologies, already factor in the likelihood of a large number of individuals risking (and in many cases suffering) ostracism to spend their lives promoting ideas that their peers consider moronic, maniacal and/or misguided.

Sociocultural Self-transcendence

The modern sociocultural mind has a pattern of violating and transcending itself.

That is: it creates dilemmas, then advances in such a way as to obsolete them ... and in the process it creates new dilemmas, etc.

While Hegel and Marx's sociology made a lot of errors, it did get this general pattern of "dialectical advance" about right. They saw how society advances to obsolete dilemmas -- e.g. the dilemma of feudal lords versus vassals was obsoleted via the industrial revolution. Which in turn led to new dilemmas to be obsoleted.

Cosmism itself exemplifies this self-violating/self-transcending aspect of the modern sociocultural mind: it both violates and emerges from the dominating patterns in modern society and culture.

And it seems likely that this overall pattern is going to lead to the ultimate and thorough transcendence of the modern sociocultural mind -- as it pushes us humans (who compose its "cells") to fundamentally modify or replace our physical substrates ... a move that will dramatically transform the nature of the sociocultural mind we compose.

The individual mind and the socio-mind will transcend together.

The dilemmas of "individual versus society" and "mind versus body", which lie at the root of many of our contemporary social and psychological problems, are likely to soon get obsoleted -- and replaced with other, more advanced dilemmas! As a part of the natural growth of the thought process of the social mind with which we all, as individuals, interpenetrate.


  1. The example problems you refer to are already obsolete among libertarian minds, although your points are interesting. I think the construct of "the state" is not long of this earth (unless Freitas's "What Price Freedom?" is correct in its worst fears). But that means conflict, because the individuals who comprise the state have a vested interest in theft. Possibly, there will be an "unbrella culture" that respects the rights of individuals, who then form micro cultures (or not) within that culture. Notice that now, there is nowhere on earth a rebel (especially one who opposes "mala prohibita" tyranny) can go, and be treated with basic human respect and individual rights.

  2. In the eyes of the mental health profession, from whom I have been privileged to receive treatment on several occasions, we all need to perform "reality testing" through communication with others. This idea that we need to air personal ideas and occasionally prune them if they seem "off" after sharing them is a necessary one if madness is a risk. I wonder, though, if it can be taken too far since original ideas will often meet censure. I guess we have to balance our unique originality and the way it needs to mesh with society at large.