What Is Cosmism?

Cosmism: a practical philosophy focused on exploring, understanding and enjoying the cosmos, in its inner, outer and social aspects

Cosmism advocates
  • pursuing joy, growth and freedom for oneself and all beings
  • ongoingly, actively seeking to better understand the universe in its multiple aspects, from a variety of perspectives
  • taking nothing as axiomatic and accepting all ideas, beliefs and habits as open to revision based on thought, dialogue and experience

The word "Cosmism" has been used by others in the past in various ways, all of them related to and fairly harmonious with the sense in which I mean it here ... but in this Manifesto I'm largely ignoring the particulars of these prior uses.

My goal in this Manifesto is to clearly and simply articulate my own take on Cosmism -- that is: the particular flavor of Cosmism that I find most sympathetic.

I've said Cosmism is a practical philosophy. What I mean by a "practical philosophy" is, in essence, a world-view and value-system -- but one that, in addition to containing abstract understanding, provides concrete guidance to the issues we face in our lives.

Like any other world-view and/or value system, Cosmism is not something that can be scientifically or mathematically proven to be "correct"; it is something that an individual or group may adopt, or not. Obviously I think Cosmism worthy of adoption, or I wouldn't be writing a Manifesto about it.

Not only do I think Cosmism is a Good Thing in a general sense -- I think it will become increasingly relevant in the next years, decades and centuries as technology advances, as the "human world" we take for granted is replaced with a succession of radically different realities.

The currently standard world-views and value-systems will, I suggest, not only fail to survive this transition, but -- worse yet -- fail terribly as guides as we pass through it. Cosmism is far better suited to guide us as these changes unfold.

Dedication: to Valentin Turchin

This Manifesto is dedicated to Valentin Turchin (1931 – 2010), a great Soviet-American scientist and futurist visionary who died the year it was completed.

I'm sorry Val never got to read this Manifesto, as I'm sure he would have enjoyed it. He would have agreed with most of it, and had insightful and entertaining arguments to make about the rest. While I never explicitly discussed "Cosmism" with him, I have rarely met anyone more Cosmist in their attitudes, through and through.

As a cybernetician and computer scientist, Val's contributions were numerous, including the Refal programming language, the theory of metasystem transitions and the notion of supercompilation. He was a pioneer of Artificial Intelligence and one of the visionaries at the basis of the Global brain idea.

And his book The Phenomenon of Science, written in the 1960s, is one of the most elegant statements of Cosmist scientific philosophy ever written.

I was privileged to know Val in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when we both lived in North Jersey, in the context of collaborating with him on the commercialization of his supercompilation technology. Our discussions on supercompilation, immortality, AI, the philosophy of mathematics and other topics were among the most memorable I've had with anyone.

The death of great minds like Val is one of the absurd horrors that Cosmist philosophy hopes to abolish via scientific and technological advance.

The Phenomenon of Science closes with the following words:

“We have constructed a beautiful and majestic edifice of science. Its fine-laced linguistic constructions soar high into the sky. But direct your gaze to the space between the pillars, arches, and floors, beyond them, off into the void. Look more carefully, and there in the distance, in the black depth, you will see someone's green eyes staring. It is the Secret, looking at you.”

Singularity, Transcension and All That

It appears likely to many knowledgeable people -- including me -- that advanced science and technology will soon allow our minds to expand far beyond the limitations of the human brain architecture that has historically supported them.

I won't take up space repeating the evidence for this assertion here: Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near and Broderick's The Spike are good places to start if somehow you've found this Manifesto without first being familiar with the canon of modern futurism.

Cosmism would be an interesting and relevant philosophy even without this dawning technological Singularity/Transcension.

However, these probable impending events make Cosmism more appealing -- for the reason that the alternative philosophies more prevalent among the human race at the current time, are deeply incompatible with the changes are coming.

Cosmism provides a world-view and value-system that makes sense in the human world now, and will continue to make sense as the practical world advances, even as some of us leave our human bodies and brains behind and explore new ways of existing and interacting.

Quite possibly once we become advanced enough, Cosmism will appear to us roughly equally silly as all other "legacy human" philosophies. If so, then I doubt I will be shedding any tears for it at that stage! But quite possibly I will be happy that it proved adequate to help nurse us through the transition to our next phase of being. (Although, even if some continuous evolute of mine is around at that time, it's unclear whether it will still identify itself as being the same "self" or mind as Ben Goertzel circa 2010!)

If your main interest is in Cosmist views of future technologies may wish to skip toward the middle of the Manifesto where they're explicitly treated. But eventually you'll probably want to look back at the earlier parts which outline the philosophical foundation on which the later more tech-focused discussions are based.

Every one of the radical future technologies dawning has profound philosophical implications, going beyond what is explored in SF movies and all but the most profound SF books. Understanding these technologies and what they will do and what they will mean requires taking a deep look at the nature of the mind and the universe.

Just as the Internet is about people as much as it is about wires and bits and protocols, the new technologies dawning are about mind and reality as much as they are about AI algorithms, engineered gene sequences and nanodevices.

Understanding artificial intelligence -- and the sense in which it may be sentient -- requires us to look deeply into the nature of mind and awareness.

Understanding brain-computer interfacing requires us to deeply understand the mind and the self, and their relation to other minds and to physical reality.

Understanding the emerging global brain requires us to understand the nature of mind and society in a way that goes beyond the models we conventionally use, which are based on current biological brains and societies that will soon be dramatically augmented or transcended.

Understanding immortality and the issues associated with it requires an understanding of self and identity -- of what is a "self" that it might be immortal.

Exploring the various possible means to immortality -- including uploading and other forms of cyberimmortality -- requires an understanding of the relations between minds and bodies.

Understanding what advanced unified physics might mean requires deeply understanding the nature of physical reality, including subtle issues like the relation between reality and simulation.

Understanding what virtual realities or inexpensive molecular assemblers would mean for human or more advanced forms of life and mind, again requires a profound understanding of the interrelation of mind, reality and society.

Understanding what sorts of alien minds we might discover -- elsewhere in the physical universe, in other "dimensions" or potentially right here on Earth -- requires a deep understanding of mind, reality and their relationship.

Thinking about these possibilities from a purely technological perspective is inadequate and may perhaps be dangerously misleading. These possibilities must be considered very deeply from a perspective of pragmatic philosophy, if one is to have any real hope of understanding and approaching them in a useful way. That is one of the key things that Cosmism, as I interpret and pursue it here, attempts to do.

So, in the first N sections of this Manifesto I'm going to delve fairly deep into what will seem like abstract philosophical considerations. But it all will get pulled back into the practical by the end.

Ten Cosmist Convictions (Mostly by Giulio Prisco)

Giulio Prisco, on the mailing list of a group called the "Order of Cosmic Engineers", posted a wonderful "mini-manifesto" listing principles of the OCE.

I have edited and extended his list slightly, without altering its spirit, to obtain the following, which may serve as a reasonable preface to this Manifesto:

Ten Cosmist Convictions

1) Humans will merge with technology, to a rapidly increasing extent. This is a new phase of the evolution of our species, just picking up speed about now. The divide between natural and artificial will blur, then disappear. Some of us will continue to be humans, but with a radically expanded and always growing range of available options, and radically increased diversity and complexity. Others will grow into new forms of intelligence far beyond the human domain.

2) We will develop sentient AI and mind uploading technology. Mind uploading technology will permit an indefinite lifespan to those who choose to leave biology behind and upload. Some uploaded humans will choose to merge with each other and with AIs. This will require reformulations of current notions of self, but we will be able to cope.

3) We will spread to the stars and roam the universe. We will meet and merge with other species out there. We may roam to other dimensions of existence as well, beyond the ones of which we're currently aware.

4) We will develop interoperable synthetic realities (virtual worlds) able to support sentience. Some uploads will choose to live in virtual worlds. The divide between physical and synthetic realities will blur, then disappear.

5) We will develop spacetime engineering and scientific "future magic" much beyond our current understanding and imagination.

6) Spacetime engineering and future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions -- and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Eventually we will be able to resurrect the dead by "copying them to the future".

7) Intelligent life will become the main factor in the evolution of the cosmos, and steer it toward an intended path.

8) Radical technological advances will reduce material scarcity drastically, so that abundances of wealth, growth and experience will be available to all minds who so desire. New systems of self-regulation will emerge to mitigate the possibility of mind-creation running amok and exhausting the ample resources of the cosmos.

9) New ethical systems will emerge, based on principles including the spread of joy, growth and freedom through the universe, as well as new principles we cannot yet imagine

10) All these changes will fundamentally improve the subjective and social experience of humans and our creations and successors, leading to states of individual and shared awareness possessing depth, breadth and wonder far beyond that accessible to "legacy humans"

Giulio made the following comment on the use of the word "will" in the above principles:

" ... 'will' is not used in the sense of inevitability, but in the sense of intention: we want to do this, we are confident that we can do it, and we will do our f**king best to do it."

Who Is This Book For?

The book is for everyone who likes thinking and understanding -- of course. For everyone who wants to understand their world, their mind, or their future.

But it will go down most easily for the reader who's already absorbed a bit of technofuturism -- perhaps from reading modern SF writers like Vinge or Stephenson or Stross; or perhaps from the nonfiction works of Kurzweil or Drexler or other futurist pundits.

There is a lot to say about Cosmism, but in writing this Manifesto I've aimed for compactness over completeness -- not only because I have a lot of other things to do than write manifestos, but also because I want to make sure the focus is on the essentials.

As a result of its compactness, this brief work is probably not too "novice-friendly" -- if you've not plunged into the early 21st century techno-futurist literature at all before, you may find it perplexing and opaque, and you may want to do some other reading first and come back to this a little later. Or not -- sometimes it's best to just plunge in!

No References!

In fact, the vast majority of ideas presented here are things I've written down before in one book, article, essay or another, over the years, often in much more depth than is done here. But most of those prior writings have been aimed at an academic audience; and I've sometimes felt that in those writings some of the core ideas have been expressed with inadequate clarity due to the various connections and complications elaborated therein. Sometimes there is power in simplicity.

There are many, many details pertaining to all the points raised here, and exploring them is critical -- but it's also critical to be clear on the fundamentals and not to get lost in the particulars.

In this spirit, you'll notice an absence of references and citations in this text. I know how to write in a fully-referenced academic style all too bloody well -- and this is intentionally not that kind of work. I'm not representing that every idea presented here is original. Some are original; many are not! Sometimes I mention another historical or contemporary thinker by name, when it seems particularly appropriate -- but these mentions are not particularly systematic and don't necessarily reflect the biggest influences or sources of the ideas given here.

My Hope

My hope is that you'll find the practical philosophy I articulate here not only interesting but also compelling. Cosmism isn't just about cool ideas that are fun to think, talk and write about. It's about actively trying to understand more, actively trying to grow and improve and collectively create a better cosmos, and all that good stuff...

As will become clear to you if you read the rest of this Manifesto, one aspect of Cosmism is, that, roughly speaking: the more sentient beings adopt Cosmist values, the better will Cosmist values be served.

Of course, I don't expect anyone to fully agree with everything I say here -- I myself, in a decade or a year or maybe even a month, may not agree with all of it!

However, if you agree with a substantial percentage of Cosmism as I articulate it here -- and more importantly, if you agree with the spirit in which these thoughts are offered -- then you are a Cosmist in the sense in which I mean the term.

A Brief History of "Cosmism"

The term "cosmism" seems to have originated with the Russian Cosmists, in the mid-1800's.

The most famous Russian Cosmist was Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who according to Wikipedia

believed that colonizing space would lead to the perfection of the human race, with immortality and a carefree existence. He also developed ideas of the "animated atom" (panpsychism), and "radiant mankind".

All this is generally conceptually harmonious with my use of the term here, though not precisely identical.

My friend and colleague Hugo de Garis has used the term Cosmist to refer to (again quoting the mighty Wikipedia)

a moral philosophy that favours building or growing strong artificial intelligence and ultimately leaving the planet Earth.... Cosmists will foresee the massive, truly astronomical potential of substrate-independent cognition, and will therefore advocate unlimited growth in the designated fields, in the hopes that "super intelligent" machines might one day colonise the universe. It is this "cosmic" view of history, in which the fate of one single species, on one single planet, is seen as insignificant next to the fate of the known universe, that gives the Cosmists their name.

Again this is generally harmonious with my use of the term here, though not precisely identical.

Different people have used the term Cosmism with different shades of meaning, but we're all pushing in the same general direction!

Cosmism as Old-Style Philosophy

While this Manifesto focuses on some highly modern (post-modern? post-postmodern?) ideas, in some ways it's quite old-fashioned.

It reflects an approach to philosophy that was more common before 1950, before philosophy become so academic and formal.

My methodology here is much like that of Nietzsche, or Schopenhauer, or Plato -- I'm presenting my overall understanding of life and the world, with a view toward practical guidance as well as conceptual understanding. Greatly inspired by the prior ideas of others, but also with a strong personal slant.

Robert Pirsig and Paul Feyerabend are two fairly recent philosophers who inspired me with their direct, "old fashioned" approach to philosophy -- writing simply rather than technically, and giving their holistic understanding rather than focusing on painstaking disection of micro-issues. I think we need more philosophy of their sort, which is one of the reasons I wrote this book.

Cosmism versus Academic Philosophy

Most of the "philosophy" done by professional philosophers today involves complex, abstract and refined approaches to deeply understanding particular aspects of the world, in a highly precise and intellectual way.

Cosmism does have this aspect -- but it's not the aspect I'm going to emphasize here. I will touch on abstract topics as necessary (especially in the first third of the text, in which I strive to articulate the deep conceptual foundations of Cosmism), but by and large I'll move past them fairly quickly to get on to more concrete stuff.

I'm going to mostly focus on Cosmism as a practical philosophy for living ... both now, and (especially) in the radically different future that we are creating with advanced science and technology.

Cosmism versus Religion

I have a lot of issues with the institution of "religion," but I have to give it one thing: unlike academic philosophy, it excels at providing people with practical guidance on how to approach their lives and themselves.

But none of the religions around today are going to be of much use as advanced technology unfolds. Heaven above and hell below are going to seem increasingly irrelevant as uploading, human-level AI, brain-computer interfaces and molecular assemblers unfold.

Cosmism is the practical philosophy I try to use to approach my own life and self -- and intend to use to face the very different situations that I may confront in the future -- and my point in writing this Manifesto is to share this practical philosophy with others, in a simple and explicit way.

Cosmism may seem an eccentric bundle of ideas right now -- but the relevance of the Cosmist perspective will become evident to more and more individuals as the next years, decades and centuries unfold.

Some Cosmist Principles

If my take on Cosmism could be fully summarized in a list of bullet points, I wouldn't write a whole manifesto about it -- I'd just write a few bullet points.

But, even so, it seems worthwhile to start with a few bullet points, just to whet your appetite for the more thorough and useful exposition to come.

Some of these bullets are rather abstract and may come across as gobbledygook. That is the risk of compressing things into bullet-point form. Read the full text of the Manifesto, think on it a bit, and hopefully you will see that all these things have simple, practical, everyday meanings.

The ten basic "Prisco Principles" I listed above are almost obvious to anyone of the "right" cast of mind. The principles I will list below are meatier, and not everyone who considers themselves a Cosmist will accept all of them! Maybe nobody except "early 21st century Ben Goertzel" accepts all of them!

There is no litmus test for Cosmism. These are no more and no less than some principles that are interesting and important to me, and seem close to the heart of Cosmism.

And so, without further ado, some Cosmist principles:
  • Panpsychism: There is a meaningful sense in which everything that exists has a form of "awareness" -- or at least "proto-awareness", as some would have it. In Peirce's terms, "Matter is mind hide-bound with habit."
  • The Universal Mind: Rhere is quite likely some meaningful sense in which the "universe as a whole" (an unclear concept!) has a form of awareness, though we humans likely cannot appreciate the nature of this awareness very thoroughly, any more than a bacterium can fully appreciate the nature of human awareness even as it resides in the human body
  • Patternism: One often-useful way to model the universe is as a collection of patterns, wherein each entity that exists is recognized by some agent as a pattern in some other entity (or set of entities)
  • Polyphonic reality: The notion of an "objective reality" is sometimes useful, but very often a more useful model of the universe is as a collection of overlapping, interpenetrating and intercreating subjective realities
  • Tendency to Take Habits: The universe appears to possess the property that, when patterns exist, they tend to continue ... much more than would be expected in a hypothetical random universe
  • Compassion is a critical principle of the universe, and is fundamentally an aspect of the Tendency to Take Habits (it's the spread of love and feeling from one mind to the next). Caring for other sentient beings (and if panpsychism is accepted, everything has a little bit of sentience!) is a critical aspect of evolving to the next levels beyond current human awareness and reality
  • Feeling and displaying compassion is important to the inner health and balance of a mind, as well as to the health and balance of the portion of the universe that mind is embedded in
  • Causation is not a fundamental aspect of the universe, but rather a tool used by minds to model portions of the universe
  • Deliberative, reflective consciousness is the specific form of "universal awareness" that arises in certain complex systems capable of advanced cognition
  • Goals are generally best understood, not as things that systems "have", but as tools for modeling what systems do. So, what goals a mind explicitly adopts is one question, but what goals the person is actually implicitly pursuing is often a more interesting question.
  • "Free will" is not "free" in the sense that people often consider it to be, yet there is a meaningful sense of agency and "natural autonomy" attached to entities in the universe, going beyond scientific distinctions of randomness versus determinism
  • Science is a powerful but limited tool: it is based on finite sets of finite-precision observations, and hence cannot be expected to explain the whole universe, at least not with out the help of auxiliary non-scientific assumptions.
  • Mathematics is a powerful but limited tool: it helps explicate your assumptions but doesn't tell you what these assumptions should be
  • Language is a powerful but limited tool: by its nature, consisting of finite combinations of tokens drawn from a finite alphabet, it may not be powerful enough to convey everything that exists in the mind of the communicator
  • The human "self" is a cognitive construct lacking the sort of fundamental reality that it habitually ascribes to itself
  • Society and culture provide us with most of what makes up our selves and our knowledge and our creativity -- but they also constrain us, often forcing a stultifying conformity. Ongoingly struggling with this dialectic is a critical aspect of the modern variant of the "self" construct.
  • There is no ideal human society given the constraints and habits of human brains. But as technology develops further, along with it will come the means to avoid many of the "discontents" that have arisen with civilization
  • Humans are more generally intelligent and more diversely and richly experience-capable than the animals from which they evolved; but it seems likely that we will create other sorts of minds whose intelligence and experience goes vastly beyond ours
  • It seems likely that any real-world general intelligence is going to have some form of emotions. But the human emotions are particularly primitive and difficult to control, compared to the emotions that future minds are likely to have. Gaining greater control over emotions is an important step in moving toward transhuman stages of evolution.
  • It is not necessary to abandon family, sex, money, work, raspberry-flavored dark chocolate and all the other rewarding aspects of human life in order to move effectively toward transhumanity. However, it is desirable to engage in these things reflectively, carefully making a conscious as well as unconscious balance between one's need to be human and one's need to transcend humanity
  • Various tools like meditation and psychedelic drugs may be helpful in transcending habitual thought patterns, bringing novel insights, and palliating problems connected with the limitations of constructs like self, will and reflective awareness. But they do not fully liberate the human mind from the restrictions imposed by human brain architecture. Future technologies may have the power to do so.
  • Whether the "laws" and nature of the universe can ever be comprehensively understood is unknown. But it seems wildly improbably that we humans are now anywhere remotely near a complete understanding
  • Whether or not transhuman minds now exist in the universe, or have ever existed in the universe in the past, current evidence suggests it will be possible to create them -- in effect to build "gods"
  • As well as building gods, it may be possible to become "gods." But this raises deep questions regarding how much, or how fast, a human mind can evolve without losing its fundamental sense of humanity or its individual identity
  • As we set about transforming ourselves and our world using advanced technology, many basic values are worth keeping in mind. Three of the more critical ones are Joy, Growth and Choice ... interpreted not only as personal goals, but also as goals for other sentient beings and for the cosmos.
  • When confronted with difficult situations in which the right path is unclear, a powerful approach is to obsolete the dilemma: use a change in technology or perspective to redefine the reality within which the dilemma exists. This may lead to new and different dilemmas, which is a natural aspect of the universe's growth process.
  • Battles with the "enemies" of Cosmism are probably not the best path to achieve Cosmist goals. The universe is richly interconnected and "Us versus Them" is often more realistically considered as "We versus Us." Struggles, including violent ones, are part of the natural order and can't be violated entirely ... but there are often other ways, sometimes less obvious to the human mind; and part of the Cosmist quest is to find mutually beneficial ways of moving forward.

Pattern Space and the Big Questions

Now, the preliminaries done with, we begin our journey into the particulars of Cosmism.

I will begin at a very abstract level -- giving Cosmist answers to some of the good old Big Questions about life, the universe and everything. But if such philosophical explorations are not to your taste, don't worry -- this is a short work, so in just a few pages, we'll be on to sex, drugs, uploading, superhuman AI, the future of society and a bunch of other juicy specifics. This Manifesto actually started out dealing only with those more specific topics, but I found that in order to discuss them in a coherent and unified way, it was necessary to give some deeper conceptual foundations first.

Let's get started with some small issues like

Where do we live? What are we made of?

Is there some sort of underlying, universal Cosmos in which both our minds and our bodies, and the various things we see and experience, reside?

Is the physical world we move around in "real" in any absolute sense? Or is it "just" some sort of simulation -- could we be living in a video game written by an alien computer programmer? (perhaps an amateurish, botched job produced by a young programming student just learning his chops?)

Of course questions like these are useful more for stimulating thought than for attracting definitive and final answers. These are issues minds will likely be exploring for as long as minds exist.

One interesting way of addressing the Big Questions is to begin from the perspective that: we live in a world of patterns.

There are disorganized, teeming stimuli or entities of various sorts ... and then there are patterns organizing these entities.

A pattern, most generically, is something that brings simplicity to a complex collection of entities ... it's a "representation as something simpler"

The physical world presents itself to the mind, in large part, as a collection of patterns.

The mind presents itself to itself, in large part, as a collection of patterns.

One often-useful way to model the world we live and exist in is as a pattern space.

Of course, there is nothing "objective" about a pattern though ... whether a given entity is a pattern in some set of other entities is really a matter that's up to the perceiving mind.

In other words: a pattern is a representation as something simpler ... but who or what judges the simplicity?

The cosmos is a space of interrelating entities, and individual minds are distinguished in large part by which entities they perceive as simpler than others, which largely determines which entities it sees as being patterns in which others.

This may seem a very abstract perspective, but it actually sheds a lot of light on various situations we encounter in our practical lives. Approach the various things you encounter and experience, in the world and in yourself, as if they're patterns of organization -- because that is largely what they are.

Many of the difficulties we have in life arise from unconsciously assuming that various things we encounter have some fictitious sort of absolute reality, going beyond the reality of pattern space.

"Everything is pattern" is not a panacea for cosmic understanding -- I will introduce some further dimensions a little later -- but it's a powerful perspective.

The Tendency to Take Habits

David Hume was the first Western philosopher to point out really clearly what is now called the "problem of induction" -- i.e. how is it we can assume that, just because the sun has risen every morning for the last thousand (or million) days, it will do so again tomorrow?

We can say it will continue because we have an intuition that patterns tend to continue -- but then how do we know that patterns tend to continue? We know because in the past we have observed that patterns tend to continue. But then how do we know that this past observation, which is itself a sort of pattern, will tend to continue?

Charles Peirce used the term "the tendency to take habits" to refer to the assumption that, in the universe we live in, patterns do tend to continue.

An implication is that our ability to predict the future is predicated on our ability to identify patterns.

And, digging a little deeper -- remember that pattern, in the view I've suggested above, is defined in terms of an assumed simplicity measure. This suggests that: For a mind to operate effectively, it needs to assume a simplicity measure for which, in its experience, the tendency to take habits holds true ...

We have the largely happy circumstance of living in a world where there are simplifications apparent from considering the past and the future together. We take this for granted but it's an important observation: without that, experience would be a lot of noise....

First, Second, Third

Viewing the world as a system of patterns yields copious insights -- but patterns aren't the whole story.

Patterns are relationships of a particular sort: a pattern is a relationship between one entity and a set of others, where the first is judged to represent and simplify the others.

The American philosopher Charles Peirce placed the "universe as a web of patternment relationships" perspective in a broader context by introducing the basic philosophical categories called First, Second and Third.

First = pure, unprocessed Being

Second = reaction ... the raw feeling of one thing having impact on another

Third = relationship (the raw material for pattern: patternment is a particular, critical kind of relationship)

One can also push further than Peirce did, following other thinkers like Jung and Buckminster Fuller, and posit categories like

Fourth = synergy ... networks of relationships spawning new relationships

In this perspective the view of Cosmos as pattern-space is the perspective of Thirdness.

Isn't This Just a Bunch of Abstract Nonsense?

This sort of abstract categorization of Cosmos doesn't do much in itself ... but it provides a general perspective that can be useful for addressing concrete issues.

We will use this categorial perspective to approach the topics of awareness and consciousness ... which are critical to various issues that will confront us as technology develops, such as immortality, AI and uploading.

Philosophy pursued in the absence of practical issues tends to become verbal or intellectual gamesmanship.

Practical issues pursued in the absence of appropriate philosophy tend to lead to various sorts of confusion -- which can be fine; but given the sensitivity of the point in human history we're approaching, serious attempts at confusion-minimization seem indicated!

Awareness is Everywhere

The idea that some form of "awareness" is everywhere, pervading everything, was considered obvious by the preponderance of pre-civilized cultures, and is now considered obvious by most practitioners of Buddhist meditation and many other wisdom traditions.

However, modern Western culture has led to a world-view in which most of the universe is viewed as somehow "dead" while only certain particular systems are viewed as having "awareness."

This new view of awareness has led to all manner of conceptual problems which philosophers enjoy debating. But, panpsychism -- the old view that acknowledges awareness everywhere -- remains the only view of awareness that is not plagued by complex contradictions ... as well as being an obvious truth to intelligences in appropriate states of consciousness.

Clearly, there are differences between the manifestations of awareness in a rock, a human, a society, an ecosystem and a universe -- and these differences are worth attention and study. But we mustn't lose track of the universality and commonality of awareness.

Awareness as First

In Peircean terms, "raw awareness" is First. Saying that everything is aware is saying that everything can be viewed from the perspective of First.

When we view things from the perspective of Thirdness, relationship, then the difference between humans and rocks seems dramatic and significant. We humans host far more complex pattern-networks than rocks.

Yet from the First perspective, we're all just sparks of raw awareness -- people, rocks, equations, aliens from the 9th dimension... whatever.

Universal Mind

If awareness is immanent in everything, is it not immanent in the cosmos as a whole, as well?

Have we then reconstructed "God" within Cosmism?

This is a trick question, of course. "God" means many things to many people.

Some might say that I have found a strange path to "God," by way of Cosmism. Others would disagree, considering these philosophical thoughts unrelated to God or religious truth.

One thing is clear: The nature of the awareness of the cosmos remains largely unknown to us measly humans. Just as, in many religions, the nature of the "mind of God" is considered beyond human ken.

We may feel we have a sense of it, in certain states of awareness -- but then how can we truly know if we are connecting with the awareness of the whole, or just the awareness of a region of the cosmos much larger and more powerful than ourselves, yet miniscule compared with the whole thing?

Fortunately we don't need to answer this question. It is enough to expand our boundaries, to connect with mind that goes beyond us and to become more than we could previously understand or imagine.

We may approach the awareness of the cosmos incrementally through our ongoing growth, whether or not we ever get there (or whether "getting there" means anything).

Patterns All the Way Down!

You've probably heard the story...

The Eastern guru, holy lice in his beard and all, affirms that the earth is supported on the back of a tiger.

When asked what supports the tiger, he says it stands upon an elephant.

When asked what supports the elephant he says it is a giant turtle.

When asked, finally, what supports the giant turtle, he is briefly taken aback ... but quickly replies "Ah, after that it's turtles all the way down."

(According my son Zebulon, after a few billion turtles, one comes to an enchilada, and after that it's enchiladas all the way down -- but that's the same basic idea.)

The Peircean view of the universe as Third is much like this amusing parable.

In the realm of Third, it's patterns all the way down!

There are patterns ... but these patterns must be patterns of arrangement of something, of some "substrate."

But of what does this substrate consist? This substrate only enters into the realm of Third insofar as it presents itself as a set of observed patterns.

But, patterns in what?

These must be patterns in some substrate.

Or is it patterns all the way down?!

In the realm of science, the recursion ends with observations that are commonly accepted within some community. Some Master Dataset is accepted by a community as constituting valid observations, and then patterns are recognized in this dataset.

But the recognition of these commonly accepted observations as patterns in individual sense-data -- this is where the "patterns all the way down" bottomless recursion is pushed, in the case of science.

You never reach a solid reality whose existence is just known ... not in the realm of Third. Because the only thing that is known is relationship, and a relationship must be a relationship among some entities. But if these entities are part of the realm of Third, then ... etc.

First and Second, in a sense, might seem to bottom out the recursion -- but they don't really, because they are a different order of being.

The nature of life is that we just keep discovering relations among relations among relations ... and relations beneath relations beneath relations ... and never get to a fundamental reality underneath. We may get to things that seem fundamental -- but how can we ever really know?

This fundamental bottomlessness of the realm of pattern and relationship underlies a lot of other issues that will occur a little later in these pages, including the possibility that our reality is in some sense a "simulation", and the notion of the universe as a multiverse or multi-multi-...-multiverse.

Turtles on turtles on ... turtles on turtles; patterns in patterns ... in patterns in patterns.

Mathematically one can only model this kind of recursion using obscure constructs like hypersets.

But experientially they are not hard to appreciate, if one avoids being caught up in "naive realist" perspectives that hold there is some absolute reality bottoming out the hierarchy/heterarchy of relationships.

Is Our World a "Simulation"?

Now let us shift, step by step, from general Cosmist philosophy to Cosmist views of coming technologies....

Anyone exposed to modern science fiction movies or novels must have asked themselves: Could we be living in a "simulation" world, like the world in the film The Matrix?

Of course we could be.

But one thing to notice about the situation in that movie is: the only reason it made any difference to the characters that their world was a simulation, was that there was a way out ... into some other reality beyond the simulation, in which the simulation could be viewed as a simulation.

In fact, the concept of "simulation" is too limiting.... A "simulation" is a copy of something else, and that's not really what we're worried about when we talk about our world being a simulation. What is really at issue is whether our universe is a pliable, manipulable, adjustable external system from someone else's perspective. Whether its apparently fundamental properties could be changed by some entity who lives outside it. In the rest of this chapter I will use "simulation" to mean "pliable, manipulable, adjustable external system for someone."

To say our world is a "simulation" in the commonly-used sense is, in essence, to say: there is another perspective from which the patterns that we observe as invariably true (that constitute our "objective world") are in fact pliable and manipulable, able to be changed around in various ways. And this must not be a purely theoretical perspective; it must be possible for some intelligent being to make use of this manipulability by changing around the nature of our world or some similar world, causing it to become a different sort of world.

In principle, there is no way for us to know whether our world is a simulation or not. And, estimating the odds is mainly an exercise in futility, given our current level of knowledge.

But, it is not unreasonable to expect that becoming more intelligent and/or exploring more and more of our universe, could enable us to understand this possibility better -- and maybe, to perform some Matrix-like "level-jump" into some perspective from which our world is a manipulable, pliable simulation.

But what are the odds that the perspective from which our world is a simulation is very similar to our own world? This is also hard to answer. Maybe the perspective or "universe" from which our world is a simulation is wholly different from our own perspectives as residents of this universe. We might not even recognize it as a "world" at all, if we were to encounter it.

Just as the realm of Third is patterns all the way down, the universe may well be simulations all the way down ... but this is only interesting if there is some practical way to access the simulations/realities at levels below ours in the posited hierarchy....

The Pattern of the Individual Intelligent Mind

If one views the world as patterns among patterns among patterns ... then each of us, as individual minds, must be viewed as a pattern as well!

What kinds of patterns are we?

There are many ways to answer this question; here I'll give one answer that has proved useful to me in my science and engineering work designing AI systems and analyzing human mind/brains -- and that seems to also tie in with what various wisdom traditions have said about the individual mind.

What is an Individual Mind?

An individual "mind", from the view of Third, can be thought of as the set of patterns associated with some intelligent system.

And what is an intelligent system?

An intelligent system can be thought of as: A system that is capable of achieving complex goals.

The broader the collection of goals the system can deal with, the more general its intelligence.

Subjectivity of Intelligence

"Achievement of complex goals" might seem a profoundly limited conceptualization of intelligence, given the limited role that explicit goal-achievement plays in real intelligences.

But if one thinks in terms of implicit goals -- the goals that a system looks to be working towards, based on what it is actually doing, regardless of how it conceptualized itself -- the perspective starts to seem more broadly applicable.

One arrives at the notion of an intelligent system as one that can sensibly viewed or modeled as seeking to achieve complex (implicit) goals in complex environments, using limited resources.

This emphasizes that intelligence is in the eye of the beholder -- because it takes some beholder to assess what are a system's implicit goals.

What looks intelligent to A may not look intelligent to B, depending on what implicit goals A and B respectively are able to recognize.

This characterization of intelligence highlights the vast variety of intelligent systems that are possible -- which derives from the vast variety of goals that may be pursued by different systems, in a vast variety of possible environments.

Generality of Intelligence

We humans have a certain degree of general intelligence -- but we are not wholly general minds. We are a wild mixture of general and specialized capability.

Our brain has limited capacity, so there are many things our brains -- in their current forms, or anything similar -- can never understand or do.

It seems unlikely that any absolutely general intelligence can ever be created using a finite amount of (computational or energetic) resources. Any finite system is going to have some biases to its intelligence -- some goals and environments it does better on.

Much of human intelligence may be understood as adaptation to the specific bodies, goals and environments in which our minds evolved to operate -- though as we advance culturally, psychologically and technologically we are progressively generalizing our intelligence.

But our brain also has the capability to expand itself by augmenting its "hardware" infrastructure -- which means that, transhumanistically speaking, it's not so limited after all.

Given that we have the capability to flexibly self-modify, there are no clear limits to what we may become. Limits may be discovered as we progress. And, even if there are no limits to what we can become -- there may well be limits on how generally intelligent we may be come and still be considered human.

No Known Limits

Our individual minds may appear strictly limited -- if we view them from certain limited perspectives (the "consensus" perspective of modern Western society, for example.)

But such a perspective is itself a construct of the individual mind: it is something the individual mind learns and builds for itself, just as the individual mind builds its understanding of the "external world."

The wisest perspective is one in which individual mind and external reality create each other. This is the only view that reconciles the inner experience of existing, with the apparent presence of entities like rocks and snowstorms that are difficult to morph via mere power of thought.

As John Lilly eloquently put it:

"In the province of the mind,
in the inside reality,
what one believes to be true,
either is true or becomes true
within certain limits.
These limits are to be discovered
experimentally and experientially.
When so determined these limits are found to be
further beliefs to be transcended."

Mind, Body and World

The specific patterns that we are, as human minds, are intimately bound up with our human bodies, and with our ways of remembering and interacting with the world these bodies live in.

We are Embodied Minds

As minds that are associated with particular physical systems, we are closely tied to the sensors and actuators of these systems.

Jack Kerouac described himself as "just another soul trapped in a body" -- and I've often felt that way -- but it's not the whole story.

We think with our hearts, lungs, digestive systems and genitals and so forth -- not just with our brains. If you took a human brain and connected it to a different sort of body -- or left it to cognize in a void with no body -- it would fairly quickly self-organize into something radically different that would only marginally qualify as "human" or as "the same mind" that came before.

Varieties of Memory and Cognition

We are also minds devoted to sensing and acting in environments. In order to do this we remember the environments we've experienced. And importantly, we remember them in multiple ways:

  • sensorially
  • episodically: remembering the essence of experiences, even if we forget the sensory details
  • declaratively: abstracting general facts, beliefs and ideas from masses of (largely forgotten) experiences
  • procedurally: remembering how to do things, even if we don't exactly remember the why of all the steps we take
  • intentionally: we remember how we broke our goals into subgoals in various situations
  • attentionally: we remember what sorts of things merited our attention

Each of these kinds of memory constitutes a different kind of pattern, and is associated with different kinds of dynamics for pattern recognition, formation, and combination. For example,

  • declarative memory naturally ties in with reasoning
  • procedural memory naturally ties in with what the psychologists and engineers call "reinforcement learning" -- learning via getting reward and punishment signals, and automatically adjusting one's behavior accordingly
  • sensory memory (especially visual memory) naturally ties in with hierarchical structures for pattern recognition.

The human brain contains particular intelligent pattern manipulation dynamics corresponding to each memory type -- and AI systems may contain different dynamics serving similar purposes, with different strengths and/or weaknesses.

How much of this sort of humanlike brain architecture is specific to humanlike minds, and how much is characteristic of minds-in-general, is something we are still discovering.

Other sorts of minds, like those of cetaceans or distributed Internet intelligences, will likely still have memory and processing functions corresponding to the categories mentioned above -- but will likely carry out each of these functions very differently!

The Phenomenal Self

What is this thing called "self"? -- this inner image of "Ben Goertzel" that I carry around with me (that, in a sense, constitutes "me"), that I use to guide my actions and inferences and structure my memories?

It is nothing more or less than a habitual pattern of organization in the collection of patterns that is my mind ...

... which is correlated with certain habitual patterns of organization in the collection of patterns that is the mind of the portion of society I habitually associate with.

My "self" keeps telling itself that it is the mind associated with my body ... and in trying to make this story true, it usually succeeds to some degree of approximation (though rarely as high a degree as it thinks it does!) ... but ultimately it is not the mind associated with my body, it is just a portion of that mind which has some overall similarities to the whole.

Thomas Metzinger, in his wonderful "neurophilosophy" book Being No One, uses the intriguing term "phenomenal self" ...

Seeing the self as the self-constructed dynamical phenomenon it is, is one of the main insights that commonly results from meditation practice or psychedelic drug use.

The attachment of primal awareness to self is part of what characterizes our deliberative, reflective consciousness.

Self wishes and acts to preserve itself -- this is part of its nature ... and is also part of the intense aversion many humans feel toward death, and the intense drive some humans feel for immortality.

If the whole mind wants to be immortal, it will be partly satisfied by spawning children, writing books, and so forth -- things that extend the patterns constituting it further through time. (Woody Allen's charming quip "I don't want to be immortal through my works -- I want to be immortal through not dying" notwithstanding!)

If the self wants to be immortal, it doesn't really care much about offspring or literary works -- it just wants to keep churning along as a self-creating, self-persisting dynamical subsystem of the mind.

It is unclear the extent to which transhuman minds will have "selves" in the sense that we humans do. Part of "human selfness" seems to be an absurd overestimation, on the part of the self, of the degree to which the self approximates the whole mind. If this overestimation were eliminated, it's not clear how much of "human selfness" would be left. Some of us will likely find out ... ( -- although, the issue of whether it will be "us" that finds out, or some descendant of us, is precisely the question at hand!)

The Extended Self

Each self-model -- each phenomenal self -- has its own holism and integrity, yet also stands in containment and overlapping relations with a host of other selves.

An individual person has a localized self -- and also an extended self, which includes various aspects of the "inanimate" world they interact with, and also aspects of various people they interact with.

If you put me on a deserted island for 10 years, a lot of my self would disappear -- not just because it needs stimulation from others, but because my extended self actually resides collectively in my brain and body, in the brains and bodies of others, and in the environments I and these others habitually inhabit.

This is/was obvious to many other cultures, and feels slightly odd to some of us now only because we live in an unprecedentedly individualistic culture.

Both Objective and Subjective

So which is it -- are we

  • minds generated by physical bodies, living in a real physical world; or
  • minds that generate "body" and "physical world" as part of our thought-activity, and part of our coupling with other minds in the overall creative mind-field

Trick question, of course: It's not either/or!

Both perspectives are sensible and important, and Cosmism embraces both.

Mind is part of world; world is part of mind.

Subjectively, each of us in-some-sense "builds" the world ourselves, from our sense-perceptions -- but yet, isn't it amazing how this world we "build" takes on so many properties that we didn't explicitly put in? Clearly, although there's a sense in which the world is something my mind builds up from its perceptions, there is also something going on in the world beyond my individual self and what it could possibly make. It feels more accurate to say that there is some pattern or possibility field "out there", and my mind's activity uses its sense-perceptions as a seed out of which the world crystallizes, drawing in material from this field as it goes.

Objectively, on the other hand, each of our unique experience-streams seems to emerge from dynamics in particular hunks of physical tissue. Tweak the brain a bit, with a scalpel or a screwdriver or merely a little red pill, and the mind changes radically.

There's no contradiction between these two views. Together, let's use them together.

Mathematically, one can model this sort of "circular creation" using structures called hypersets. But one doesn't need fancy math to understand what's going on -- one simply needs to look openly at reality and experience, and not try to impose any particular perspective as primary.

Causality (A Convenient Construct)

We humans like to think in terms of causality ... but causality seems not to be an intrinsic aspect of the universe.

Rather, causality is something we impose on the universe so as to model it for various practical purposes. We do this both consciously and unconsciously.

Causality is Not Scientific

No currently accepted scientific theory makes use of the notion of causality. Scientists may interpret some math equations involved in a scientific theory to denote causality -- but unlike, say, "force" or "attraction", causality is not really part of the formal language of modern science.

Roughly, causality consists of "predictive implication, plus assumption of a causal mechanism."

Predictive implications are part of science: science can tell us "If X happens, then expect Y to happen with a certain probability." But science cannot tell us whether X is the "cause" of Y, versus them both habitually being part of some overall coordinated process.

Causality and Will

Our psychological use of causality is closely related to the feeling we have of "free will." Understanding causality as a construct leads quickly to understanding "free will" as a construct. The two constructs reinforce and help define each other.

On a psychological level, "X causes Y" often means something like "If I imagined myself in the position of X, then I could choose to have Y happen or not to have Y happen." So our intuition for causation often depends on our intuition for will.

On the other hand, the feeling of willing X to happen, is tied in with the feeling that there is some mental action (the "willing") which causes X to happen.

Will and causation are part of the same psychological complex. Which is a productive and helpful complex in many cases -- but is also founded on a generally unjustified assumption of the "willing or causing system" being cut off from the universe.

Our Minds are Enmeshed in the Cosmos

Cosmism accepts that individual minds are embedded in the cosmos, enmeshed in complex systems of influence they cannot fully understand. This means a mind cannot really tell if a given event is causal or not, even if that event occurs within that mind.

So assumptions of causation or willing may be useful tools in some context for some purposes -- but should be understood as pragmatic assumptions rather than objective, factual observations.

Natural Autonomy: Beyond the Illusion of Will

Nietzsche said that free will is like the commander who takes responsibility, after the fact, for the actions of his troops.

Modern brain science has proved him remarkably on-target: Gazzaniga's split-brain experiments, Benjamin Libet's work and a lot of other data shows that when we feel like we're making a free spontaneous decision, very often there's an unconscious brain process that has already made the decision beforehand.

So Are We All Just Automata?

So what does this mean? That we're all just automata, deterministically doing what the physics of our brains tells us, while deluding ourselves it's the result of some kind of mystical spontaneous conscious willing?

Not exactly.

Science's capability to model the universe is wonderful yet limited. Contemporary science's models of the universe in terms of deterministic and stochastic systems are not the universe itself, they're just the best models we have right now. (And these days they're not even a complete, consistent model of our current set of observations, since general relativity and quantum theory aren't unified!)

The evidence clearly shows that, when we feel our "willed decisions" are distinct, separate and detached from our unconscious dynamics, we're often at variance with neurophysiological reality.

But this does not imply that we're deterministic automata....

It does imply that we're more enmeshed in the universe than we generally realize -- specifically: that our deliberative, reflective consciousness is more enmeshed with our unconscious dynamics than we generally realize.

Intentionality Beyond the Illusion of Will

Might there be some meaningful sense of intentional action that doesn't equate with naive "free will"?

Yes, certainly.

But this meaningful sense of "intentional action" must encompass the enmeshed, complexly nonlinearly coupled nature of the mind and world.

I.e., it's not intentional action on the part of the deliberative, reflective consciousness as a detached system.

It's "intentional" action on the part of the cosmos, or a large hunk thereof, manifested in a way that focuses on one mind's deliberative, reflective consciousness (perhaps among other focii).

The "intentionality" involved then boils down to particular kinds of patternment in a sequence of actions.

For example -- among other aspects -- "choice-like" action-sequences tend to involve reductions of uncertainty -- reductions of "entropy" one might say ... collapses of wide ranges of options into narrower ranges.

When our deliberatively, reflectively conscious components play a focal role in an appropriately-patterned entropy-reducing dynamic in our local hunk of the cosmos, we feel like we're enacting "free will."

Natural Autonomy

Henrik Walter, in his book The Neurophilosophy of Free Will, develops some related ideas in a wonderfully clear way.

He decomposes the intuitive notion of free will into three aspects:

  1. Freedom: being able to do otherwise
  2. Intelligibility: being able to understand the reasons for one's actions
  3. Agency: being the originator of one's actions

He argues, as many others have done, that there is no way to salvage the three of these in their obvious forms, that is consistent with known physics and neuroscience. And he then argues for a notion of "natural autonomy," which replaces the first and third of these aspects with weaker things, but has the advantage of being compatible with known science.

He argues that "we possess natural autonomy when

  1. under very similar circumstances we could also do other than what we do (because of the chaotic nature of the brain)
  2. this choice is understandable (intelligible -- it is determined by past events, by immediate adaptation processes in the brain, and partially by our linguistically formed environment)
  3. it is authentic (when through reflection loops with emotional adjustments we can identify with that action)"

The way I think about this is that, in natural autonomy as opposed to free will,

  • Freedom is replaced with: being able to do otherwise in very similar circumstances
  • Agency is replaced with: emotionally identifying one's phenomenal self as closely dynamically coupled with the action

Another way to phrase this is: if an action is something that

  • depends sensitively on our internals, in the sense that slight variations in the environment or our internals could cause us to do something significantly different
  • we can at least roughly model and comprehend in a rational way, as a dynamical unfolding from precursors and environment into action was closely coupled with our holistic structure and dynamics, as modeled by our phenomenal self

then there is a sense in which "we own the action." And this sense of "ownership of an action" or "natural autonomy" is compatible with both classical and quantum physics, and with the known facts of neurobiology.

Perhaps "owning an action" can take the place of "willing an action" in the internal folk psychology of people who are not comfortable with the degree to which the classical notion of free will is illusory.

Another twist that Walter doesn't emphasize is that even actions which we do own, often

  • depend with some statistical predictability upon our internals, in the sense that agents with very similar internals and environments to us, have a distinct but not necessarily overwhelming probabilistic bias to take similar actions to us

This is important for reasoning rationally about our own past and future actions -- it means we can predict ourselves statistically even though we are naturally autonomous agents who own our own actions.

Free will is often closely tied with morality, and natural autonomy retains this. People who don't "take responsibility for their actions" in essence aren't accepting a close dynamical coupling between their phenomenal self and their actions. They aren't owning their actions, in the sense of natural autonomy -- they are modeling themselves as not being naturally autonomous systems, but rather as systems whose actions are relatively uncoupled with their phenomenal self, and perhaps coupled with other external forces instead.

None of this is terribly shocking or revolutionary-sounding -- but I think it's important nonetheless. What's important is that there are rational, sensible ways of thinking about ourselves and our decisions that don't require the illusion of free will, and also don't necessarily make us feel like meaningless, choiceless deterministic or stochastic automata.

Shaping and Flowing

We humans evolved to be as smart as we are, not just because of our brains, but also because of our hands.

We like to make stuff with our hands. We like to pick up sticks and bash things down. We like to build things out of sticks and blocks.

We like causing and building.

All this is very well -- but it provides dramatic habituation to our conceptual vocabulary.

We would do well to think a little less in terms of causing and building, and a little more in terms of shaping and flowing.

Instead of causing and willing things, we should more often think of ourselves as flowing along with broader processes with which we are correlated.

Instead of building things, we should more often think of ourselves as shaping and influencing ongoing processes.

This is not to say that shaping and flowing are invariably better concepts than causing and building. Just that we habitually overemphasize the latter and underemphasize the former. Other kinds of minds might have different biases.

These particular biases of ours go along with our general bias -- which is to some extent a human bias, and to some extent a modern-Western-culture bias -- to overemphasize our degree of separation from the cosmos with which we're enmeshed.

The Theater of Reflective, Deliberative Consciousness

In Orwell's Animal Farm, the ruling pigs famously change their slogan "All animals are equal" to "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Panpsychism accounts for the human experience of consciousness in a similar way: "All entities are aware, but some are more aware than others."

Or, just as much to the point: some are differently aware than others.

Every entity in the universe -- every pattern -- has some awareness, but each pattern manifests its awareness differently depending on its nature.

Our reflective, deliberative "theater of consciousness" is the way that primal awareness manifests itself in one part of our mind/brain.

As Bernard Baars has articulated nicely in his cognitive science work, this theater of consciousness integrates all the kinds of memory and processing that our minds do -- it's the "place" where "it all comes together." (I surround "place" with quotes because in the case of the human brain it's not a physical location -- it's an emergent dynamical pattern involving multiple regions, and different ones in different cases.)

According to panpsychism, the "unconscious" parts of your mind/brain are in fact "conscious" in their own ways -- but their own less-intense consciousness is only loosely coupled with that of your theater of reflective, deliberative consciousness.

Various practices such as meditation or psychedelic drug use may increase this coupling, so that the reflective, deliberative consciousness can become more closely coupled with the consciousness of the other parts of the mind/brain that normally appear to it as "unconscious."

None of this however should be taken to deny the specialness of the theater of reflective, deliberative consciousness. It's a wonderful phenomenon -- it's definitively, gloriously different than what takes place in rocks, atoms, molecules, clouds or even lizards. Puzzling out its structure and dynamics is an important task on which cognitive neuroscience is gradually making headway.

But, what makes this aspect of our minds special is not that it's the unique receptacle or source of awareness (it isn't ... nothing is).

The Theater of Reflective, Deliberative Consciousness as a Purposeful Iconoclast

Part of what characterizes the theater of reflective, deliberative consciousness is the special effort it makes to decouple itself from the unconscious. To an extent, it cuts itself off from perceiving the awareness of the other parts of the mind/brain, so it can carry out processing using processes that ignore these other parts.

The reflective/deliberative consciousness wants to gather some information from the unconscious, and then process it in an isolated way, because that way it can carry out special processes that wouldn't work otherwise.

Reflective/deliberative consciousness works in part by making near-exhaustive intercombinations of the small number of things in its focus at any given time. It couldn't do this if it opened up its scope too much, due to the limited amount of resources at its disposal.

So we have a very important theme here: limitation of resources is causing a system (the reflective/deliberative consciousness) to increase its degree of separateness, so as to enable it to achieve some goals better within the resources at its disposal. But these goals themselves have to do with persisting separateness (in this case the separateness of the organism associated with the mind containing the reflective/deliberative consciousness). Separateness spawns more separateness.

Separateness often makes things more interesting ... and often also less joyful ... a general theme to which I will return later.

Joy and Pain

Joy and pain as Firsts are, like all Firsts, raw and unanalyzable.

They simply are what they are.

Saying they are something else, is a matter of drawing relationships and patterns, and thus moves one into the realm of Third.

In the midst of a moment of joy or pain, analyses are irrelevant. The experience is what it is.

But from the point of view of planning our lives, relationship is important: we want to understand what is likely to bring joy or pain to ourselves or others, or to the world as a whole. And we want to understand what joy and pain are, in a relational sense. What kinds of organization-patterns are they?

They are emotion-patterns, yes. But they are simpler emotion-patterns than the other ones. They are not specific to humans or any kind of organism -- they are very generic patterns, infrastructural to the Cosmos.

Joy as Increasing Unity

Paulhan, a psychologist writing 100 years ago, had the very interesting insight that "happiness is the feeling of increasing order."

Joy is unity. Joy is togetherness. Joy is the gaps getting filled, so that there's no more emptiness craving to be sated, but everything is newly filled-up and satisfied.

Joy is the feeling of increasing unity.

Of course there is much more to the human experience of joy than this -- all human emotions are complex, multifaceted beasts. But this is part of it, and an important part: it's the pattern-space dynamic at the heart of joy.

Minds contain various expectations: meaning, they contain internal representations of patterns they would like to see emerge from their experience, and they seek out experiences that will cause these patterns to emerge.

When the seeking ends and the pattern emerges, there is a feeling of unity: the mind and the experience are bound together. Patternment has increased.

A body feels joy when patternment that is central to its function and integrity increases.

A self feels joy when patternment that is central to its function and integrity increases.

A mind feels joy when patternment that is central to its function and integrity increases.

What About Drugs?

What about the pleasure that comes from smoking crack, for example? Is this true joy?

It is, in fact, a brief rush of incredible unity. Everything flows together into one long joyous instant of raucous excitement.

Unfortunately it's short-lived -- and it's achieved by shutting down many important parts of the mind, so that the others can exist together in a unity of excitation.

During a crack high, parts of the mind are experiencing great joy, and other parts are effectively put to sleep.

This is different from some kinds of natural joy, in which all the parts of the mind and body are bound together in one joyful experience.

Joy and Growth

The role of increase in joy is worth reflecting on. We habituate quickly to new pleasures. Statistically, lottery winners are ecstatic for a while, but in the long run are no happier than others.

Stasis is not the path to joy. This simple fact becomes important when considering the various pathways open to humans as technology advances. There is more potential joy in developmental trajectories that lead to a continuing onset of new unities, than trajectories founded on "more of the same."

Joy and Pain

What about joy's opposite?

Pain, Paulhan notes, is the feeling of decreasing order: disharmony, disunity, the dissolution of patternment.

Of course, there is much more than this to the human experience of pain -- but, this is pain's pattern-space core.

From the perspective of a whole body, mind or self, pain and and pleasure are not necessarily opposites -- because these are all complex systems, and increasing disunity in one part can be coupled with increasing unity in another.

Complexity of Human Joy and Pain

Joy and pain are simpler than other emotions, at core -- but they also grow, within the human mind, into complex, coordinated systems.

There are neurological disorders which cause people to experience pain without the painful aspect. That is: they realize they are having a sensation identifiable as "pain," but there is no emotional component -- the pain doesn't seem to hurt!

What this indicates is that the sensation of the body being damaged (or the mind being damaged, in the case of psychic pain) is not quite the same thing as the negative emotional experience attached to this sensation! Ordinary human pain is the result of a complex coordination between sensation and emotion (and often cognition), but in these brain damaged individuals, the coordination is broken.

And something similar can happen with joy. Certain kinds of depression involve being happy but not enjoying it. The positive evaluation is there, but not the emotional component that's normally attached to it.

When the abstract structure of joy (increasing unity) or pain (decreasing unity) is allied with the emotional centers, then we have the typical, glorious human experience of joy or pain.


Emotions play an extremely important role in human mental life – and perhaps because of this, we are sometimes fascinated by the idea of intelligence without emotion. Like Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek, or Mr. Data in the newer Star Trek -- an alien and robot respectively, who are more intelligent than most humans yet lack the feeling-driven component of human behavior (Spock however is much more appealing and moving than Data, to most of us, precisely because he does have emotions, they're just generally repressed and not a controlling factor in his mind or life.)

But are emotionless intelligences really possible? To what extent is human emotion a consequence of our particular evolutionary heritage, and to what extent is it an aspect of Mind In General?

Clearly, much of human emotional life is distinctly human in nature, and not portable to systems without humanlike bodies. Furthermore, many problems in human psychology and society are caused by emotions run amok in various ways – so in respects it might seem desirable to create emotion-free AI’s one day.

But there are limits to the extent to which this will be possible. Emotions represent a critical part of mental process, and human emotions are merely one particular manifestation of a more general phenomenon – which must be manifested in some way in any mind.

The basic phenomenon of emotion is something that will exist in any mind that models itself as having some form of "free will", and may be conceptualized as

An emotion is a mental state that does not arise through a feeling of "will" or "autonomy", and is often accompanied by physiological changes

Human emotions are elaborations of this general “emotion” phenomenon in a peculiarly human way.

There are a few universal emotions – including happiness (and hence unhappiness) and pain – which any intelligent system with finite computational resources is bound to experience, to an extent. And then there are many species-specific emotions, which in the case of humans include rage, joy and lust and other related feelings.

Controlling our emotions is, by definition, never going to be fully possible. However one can certainly adopt a mental dynamic in which emotions are not the controlling factor -- in which spontaneous emotional arisings are incorporated in a high-level ratiocination process, and thus don't affect action on their own.

In other words: Spock is possible; Data probably not. Even a highly rational digital intelligence would probably be more Spock-like than Data-like, even if its flavors of emotion were less humanlike than Spock's.


We tend think about compassion on the level of individual selves and minds: Bob feels compassionate toward Jim because Jim lost his wife, or his wallet, etc. Bob sympathizes with Jim because he can internally, to a certain extent, "feel what Jim feels."

But it's often more useful to think of compassion on the level of patterns.

The pattern of "losing one's wife" exists in both Bob and Jim. Its instance in Bob and its instance in Jim have an intrinsic commonality -- and when these two instances of the same pattern come to interact with each other, a certain amount of joy ensues ... a certain amount of increasing unity.

Compassion is about minds adopting dynamics that allow their internal emotional patterns to unify with other "external" patterns.

It is about individual minds not standing in the way of pattern-dynamics that seek unity and joy.

The tricky thing here is that individual minds want to retain their individuality and integrity -- and if the patterns they contain grow too much unity with "outside" patterns, this isolated individuality may be threatened.

The dangers of too much compassion are well portrayed by Dostoevsky in The Idiot, via the tale of the protagonist Prince Myshkin -- who goes nuts because of feeling too much compassion for various individuals with contradictory desires, needs, ideas and goals.

There seem to be limits to the amount of compassion that a mind can possess and still retain its individuality and integrity. However, it seems that (unlike Myshkin) mighty few humans are pushing up against these limits in their actual lives!

And of course, transhuman minds will likely be capable of greater compassion than human minds. If they have more robust methods of maintaining their own integrity, then they will be able to give their cognitive and emotional patterns more freedom in growing unity with external patterns.

Should Compassion Be Maximized?

Should compassion be maximized? This is a subtle issue.

From the point of view of the individual, maximization of compassion would lead to the dissolution of the individual.

From the point of view of the cosmos, maximization of compassion would cause a huge burst of joy, as all the patterns inside various minds gained cross-mind unity.

But would the joy last? Joy is about increase of patternment. An interesting question about this hypothetical scenario of maximal compassion is: After every mind wholly opened up to every other mind and experienced this huge burst of compassion, would there still be a situation where new patterns and new unities would get created?

Perhaps some level of noncompassionateness -- some level of separation and disunity -- is needed in order to create a situation where new patterns can grow, so that the "unity gain" innate to joy can occur?

The Practical Upshot

We should be compassionate. We should open ourselves up to the world.

We should do this as much as we can without losing the internal unities that allow our minds to operate, to generate new patterns and new unities.

And we should seek to expand and strengthen our selves so as to enable ever-greater compassion.

Our selves and our theaters of reflective, deliberative consciousness are frustrating and even self-deluding in some regards -- but they are part of our mind architecture, they are part of what makes us us. At this stage in our development, they are what let us grow and generate new patterns. We can't get rid of them thoroughly without giving up our humanity, without sacrificing ourselves in a sudden and traumatic way.

Perhaps as transhumanist technology advances many of us will choose to give up our humanity, via various routes. Perhaps in doing so we will achieve greater levels of compassion and joy than any human can. But until that time, we have to play the dialectical game of allowing ourselves as much joy and compassion as we can while keeping our selves and our internal conscious theaters intact enough to allow us to function in our human domain.

This may sound like a frustrating conclusion, but the fact is that nearly no one pushes this limit. Quite surely, outside of fiction I've met very few individuals who experience so much compassion it impairs their ability to function!

Postscript by Samantha Atkins

Upon reading the above, Samantha Atkins commented as follows, reiterating the ideas based on her own experiences, and integrating several other themes touched on elsewhere in this Manifesto:

Everyone that has meditated or done certain drugs or just followed certain paths of reflection has dissolved the self in "Self", lost self in transpersonal pattern. It is only scary when you are paranoid that "you" will cease or not arise again. Everyone coming out of a psychedelic experience has watched the "self" reintegrate out of the seeming cosmic "not-self" -- a place where "self" doesn't seem relevant or even believable. You can even give a tweak here and there to "self" as it reconstructs. So what are we? Good question.


I think the dance from self to Self and back again, concurrently at different points of the cycle is a very much more realistic consciousness. It is neither easy or hard to achieve. It is hard to maintain and function adequately in all settings where only self is expected. Big compassion changes you fast. Even opening to just compassion/oneness/equal importance of a small group of people changes you a lot. There is a reason people that do that much go off to special places; and if they want to do it all the time they tend to stay there.


One thing I hope and suspect is that we learn that the limit on our own wealth/happiness/wellbeing is the asymptote of the maximal actualization of the highest potentials of all others. After all our selves all dance with, enliven, enrich, add value to our shared space and one another. Thus the maximization of all those others is the maximization of ourselves. This is hard to see within scarcity based thinking. But I think it is essential to see to ever really experience abundance, no matter how much we have.


I understand how to go to that level of compassion, all connection that impairs function. I have touched it, dipped into it, been attracted, been repelled, found it hard to keep an even keel in the everyday world. Mostly I was not willing to let go to the changes I felt happening and required to live there. Someday I may decide differently.


There may be no more confusingly, gloriously polysemous English word than "love."

Love of your country, love of your family, love of chocolate, of a favorite movie ... love of life ... passionate romantic sexual love ... love of God; pure love with no object ...

What does it mean?

Love has to do with empathy, but it's not the same -- you can empathize a lot with those you only love a little; and sometimes people display shockingly little empathy for those they love deeply...

According to the Beatles, "all you need is love" -- but according to Charles Bukowski, "love is a dog from hell."

What most of the varieties of "love" have in common is: Love is an emotion a mind has toward someone or something else, that is associated with experiences going beyond the self.

And if one wants to get metaphysical, then there's "universal love" -- the love of the Cosmos for itself! Whenever one part of the Cosmos is separated from another, there's a chance for those two parts to overcome their separateness via love.

Some of the particular varieties of love we humans experience may be inapplicable to transhuman minds -- and these love-specifics may change a great deal even for humans, as we modify and advance ourselves.

Minds without sexual reproduction and death wouldn't have the same kind of family love as we do -- let alone the complex beautiful mess of romance....

Don't necessarily expect Valentine's Day to continue past the Singularity!

But love itself -- emotion toward an Other, which brings us beyond our Self -- which extends our Self to encompass that Other -- love will almost surely survive, in any future that embraces joy, growth and choice. And not "just" universal love -- love between individual minds will almost surely exist, as long as individual minds do. Because minds do seek joy, growth and choice -- and love is an extraordinarily powerful way for a mind to grow beyond its self, experiencing a joy greater than it could have on its own....

Joy, Growth and Choice

What general values can we identify as important, beyond culture-specific or species-specific or otherwise context-specific moral codes or ethical values?

To put the question another way ... an earlier version of this Manifesto began with the definition

Cosmism: a practical philosophy centered on the effort to live one's life in a positive way, based on ongoingly, actively increasing one's understanding of the universe in its multiple aspects

Later this got modified into

Cosmism: a practical philosophy focused on exploring, understanding and enjoying the cosmos, in its inner, outer and social aspects

Cosmism advocates

  • pursuing joy, growth and freedom for oneself and all beings
  • ongoingly, actively seeking to better understand the universe in its multiple aspects, from a variety of perspectives
  • taking nothing as axiomatic and accepting all ideas, beliefs and habits as open to revision based on thought, dialogue and experience

One difference is that when I wrote the latter I decided to specify what I mean by "a positive way." I.e., I decided to get a little more concrete about the critical question of: what are the important values?

There are many Cosmist values, and it would be folly to attempt a definitive enumeration.

However, as reflected in the above proclamation, three values seem particularly essential to me: Joy, Growth, and Choice.

I''ve discussed these above, but will now revisit them from a "value-system" perspective.

Growth is perhaps the simplest: the creation of new patterns, out of old ones.

I don't want stasis. Nor degeneration. Some old patterns may need to cede to the new, but overall there should be an ongoing flowering of more and more new patterns.

Note that growth is not just the constant appearance of new patterns -- it implies some continuity, in which old patterns are expanded and improved, yielding new ones that go beyond them.

Joy I have analyzed as the feeling of increasing unity, togetherness, order.

We want more and more new patterns to be created and we want them to get bound together into unities and wholes, to have the joy of coming together.

We want there to be minds that can experience this joy -- the joy of coming together with their environments and each other.

Choice is the most complicated of the three values I've identified -- but it's also the only one that implies the existence of integral, individual minds in anything like the sense that humans have them.

You could have growth and joy in a cosmos without individuals -- but choice requires individual minds. Valuing choice means valuing individuals that decide. These individuals don't need to have illusions of all-powerful, unpredictable free will -- they may well be more realistic about understanding their choices as being associations between their internal dynamics and broader entropy-reducing dynamics in their region of the cosmos. But still they have their own intentionality.

Compassion, in this view, comes down to valuing joy, growth and choice in a way that goes beyond the boundaries of one's individual mind, body or self.

A cosmos of individuals, choosing their actions and experiencing joy, growing in a joyful growing cosmos -- this is close to being the crux of what Cosmism values.

Living life in a positive way: living life in a way that promotes and embodies universal joy, growth and choice.