A Cosmist Manifesto (Excerpt)
This is an excerpt (chapter) from A Cosmist Manifeso: Practical Philosophy for the Posthuman Age by Ben Goertzel, published by Humanity+ Press.
See also: A Cosmist Manifesto: An Advocacy
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 initially may come across fairly opaque. That is a 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 ideas have simple, practical, everyday meanings.
The ten basic “Prisco Principles” I listed above (ed: earlier in the book) 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” will ever accept 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:
1) 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.”
2) The Universal Mind: There 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
3) 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)
4) 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
5) 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
6) 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
7) 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
8) Causation is not a fundamental aspect of the universe, but rather a tool used by minds to model portions of the universe
9) Deliberative, reflective consciousness is the specific form of “universal awareness” that arises in certain complex systems capable of advanced cognition
10) 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.
11) “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
12) 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.
13) Mathematics is a powerful but limited tool: it helps explicate your assumptions but doesn’t tell you what these assumptions should be
14) 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
15) The human “self” is a cognitive construct lacking the sort of fundamental reality that it habitually ascribes to itself
16) 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.
17) 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
18) 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
19) It seems likely that any real-world general intelligence is going to have some form of emotions. But 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.
20) 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
21) 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.
22) 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
23) 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”
24) 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
25) 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.
26) 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.
27) 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 avoided 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.