RE: continuity of self [ was META: Sept. 11 and Singularity]

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sun Sep 15 2002 - 09:01:22 MDT

Samantha wrote:
> This is a very interesting point and one that I have pondered
> for some time now. As the level of general abundance through
> technology increases there is, imho, a non-zero probability that
> patterns of societal and individual consciousness may make a
> jump into a new state based around a different set of
> fundamental abundance vs. scarcity core reality assumptions. As
> the technology increases our abilities and the speed at which
> developments unfold, there is a magnifying of the effects of our
> individual and collective state of consciousness, it becomes
> increasingly crucial that consciousness itself is transformed
> using all means possible. Short of rewiring human brains,
> spirituality/philosophy/"consciousness raising" is the fastest
> way of effecting such change. You say that it doesn't seem to
> work out. But I have to ask, have we really tried in the modern
> context of abundance and its radically internal and external
> implications?

It's a worthy goal and a great thought.... I think that a nontrivial number
of people can be reached in this way, and that this is a good thing. But
I'm feeling doubtful that this kind of
spirituality/philosophy/"consciousness raising" is going to succeed broadly
throughout the human population, pre-Singularity. Rather, I'm guessing it
will be transhumans who display this "raised consciousness" you're talking

Of course, I could be wrong though; the future is notoriously difficult to
predict, given the irritating limitation in time-directionality that seems
to be built into our minds' perceptual apparatuses ;)

Part of my reasoning here is that I'm a "semi-hard takeoff" advocate.
Genuine consciousness-raising takes time, and it may well happen that by the
time abundance DOES trigger big changes in human psychology, real AI has
already happened and has begun leading the way...

Another part of my reasoning is that humans' biological wiring is very hard
to overcome. Hell, it's hard enough for me to raise MY OWN consciousness,
let alone that of others! By which I mean that the deep spiritual insights
that we're discussing in this thread, are by no means fully diffused thru my
personality. They exist in one part of my mind, and have had effects to
various extents on other parts....

As I've mentioned before, my wife is a Zen priest, and through this
relationship I've seen a fair number of people who are involved in trying to
raise their own and others' consciousnesses. Some really pure-minded,
exceptional people -- and also a LOT of examples of self-delusion!!

I wonder if humans are generally capable of reacting "rationally" to
abundance. I mean, look at the ghettos right now. In a sense, people
living in the ghettos of New York right now probably live better than
aristocrats 100 years ago, what with TV, radio computers, electric heat and
air conditioning, etc. But the "culture of poverty" has produced a lot of
angry and depressed people (though of course there are also plenty of
mentally healthy and happy people in such neighborhoods), turning to
dangerous drugs, etc. So far, abundance has not really been actively
perceived by the average human mind as abundance. Will this change when
abundance passes some threshold level? Or will our wiring for
status-seeking and personal-status-evaluation continue to play a leading

I think what you're saying could happen EVENTUALLY if we had a very soft
takeoff, perhaps the 100-year takeoff that Vinge alluded to in a talk
recently described on this list.... On the other hand, during that 100
years we could also see the human race wiped out by biological weapons
(which don't really work well at the moment, but will surely be perfected
as a technology within the next 10-20 years).

> What if you could get enough people en
> masse to step beyond scarcity thinking and begin thinking in
> terms of abundance and maximal development and well-being for
> everyone? It would be extremely and wonderfully powerful. It
> could turn the tide of a lot of dystopias and impending disasters.

It would be great, but, that seems to me to be an order of magnitude harder
problem than creating real AI !!!!!!

I'm afraid that humans aren't wired for the kind of "advanced consciousness"
you're advocating, so that getting more than a few statistical outliers in
neural space to think this way, is a hell of an uphill climb.

I understand that if this were the social norm, then those of us who are
*partly* "advanced" in our consciousness and partly just plain normal
selfish humans, would have a pressure in the good direction, as opposed to
the pressure culture exerts on us now.

So your idea is a beautiful one, but similar ideas haven't worked out at all
in human history so far. I'm all in favor of genuine efforts to make them
work, but my guess is still that transhumanity comes first, and peace and
higher consciousness (among many many other things, including new problems
we can't yet foresee!) come after...

Of course, we can't KNOW that transhumanity will bring peace and more
advanced consciousness (as opposed to just greater intelligence), but at
least we can say that the particular hankerings for violence and status that
are wired into the human brain will be transcended...

> Spiritual laws exist and are important truths of our existence
> and development. They are fundamental laws of that inner side
> of the balance. But they are much, much different from some
> hoary lists of "Thou Shall" and "Thou Shall Not".

And the human mind has proved fairly poor at accurately transmitting these
laws from generation to generation -- unlike math and scientific laws which
have been written down quite clearly. Spiritual laws seem to get mixed up
with all sorts of cultural and ritualistic stuff as they get transmitted
through the generations.

The impact of the ability to directly transmit hunks of mind from one mind
to another -- as in the Novamente "Psynese" mechanism -- on collective
spiritual progress cannot be underestimated.

> I think that at least some of us must devote our lives and best
> efforts to the work of transforming/transcending human
> consciousness and institutions. We can't put all our eggs into
> one basket. Nor do I think we can assume that humans can create
> a true Friendly AI seed without to a large extent raising our
> own consciousness. I think it is highly dangerous to believe
> we can do a mainly techological and super-rational end-run that
> will solve everything and keep us from the need for such efforts.
> If the Singularity does not come rapidly or does not "save us"
> quite like we hoped it would, then we may well not have time
> enough for the work at the consciousness level before we succeed
> in destroying ourselves.

Yes, I agree, these other kinds of work are also valuable.

Personally I find myself much more suited by nature to AI work than to
raising the consciousness of other humans... but my path is not for

While I don't feel at all certain that creating a human-friendly transhuman
AI will solve everything, I still feel this is the path most likely to
succeed. This is because I am a bit cynical about human neural hard-wiring.
We may see a tendency toward more advanced consciousness, but simultaneously
we will see a tendency toward more advanced and more easily deployed
massively destructive weapons technology (bio weapons and others).
Unfortunately I'm afraid the weapons progress may outpace the consciousness
progress, and so I'm hoping in my gut (and working to ensure that) the AI
progress will outpace either...

-- Ben G

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