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Compassion
Ben Goertzel   Mar 17, 2010   Cosmist Manifesto  

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 the minds containing patterns, adopting dynamics that allow these patterns to unify with other patterns that are “external” to the containing mind.

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

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 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 joy is about increase of patternment. The question is whether, after every mind wholly opened up to every other mind and experienced this burst of compassion, there would 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.

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.

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.

While this may sound like a frustrating conclusion, the fact is that nearly no one pushes this limit. As I said above, outside of fiction I’ve met very few individuals who experience so much compassion it impairs their ability to function!

This brief article is part of the overall Cosmist Manifesto.

Ben Goertzel Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, and founder and CEO of two computer science firms Novamente and Biomind, and of the non-profit Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute (agiri.org).



COMMENTS

Quote : “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 joy is about increase of patternment. The question is whether, after every mind wholly opened up to every other mind and experienced this burst of compassion, there would still be a situation where new patterns and new unities would get created.”

Are you proposing a kind of “joyous big bang”?


Quote : “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.”

Quote : “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.”

Spot on target! The dialectical game of individuality, of identity and of “Self” preservation is ultimately the preservation of the “ego”. Yes here we go again, “Self enquiry”, (yawns..), is the path to self-understanding and compassion and connectedness. And we must use the ego and “Self” determination, and rely upon our integrity to help us to the goal of self-understanding. Why was the Buddha not shaken and tempted from his meditation and final enlightenment? I would say that it was his “Self” determination, his freewill and his tenacity : his ego.

Some say this is wrong, that supporting or using the ego is like “using a thief to catch a thief”, yet this apparition of “Self” and it’s determination to freedom of will may be the only thing that “can” lead us to connectedness and final Moksha or Nirvana? Strangely enough this attribute, this notion of freewill inherent within the “Self” and its bonds of separation may be of no coincidence : maybe it is a true gift? - a rather spiritual point of view?

Those familiar with ACIM find themselves aligned to connectedness and the likes of final emancipation, yet do not view the ego can be a positive influence. It is true that the ego is at the root of our sufferings, yet is it the cause of our sufferings? ACIM has a remarkable tool to achieve “fast track compassion” - called forgiveness, (not a new idea). And total forgiveness leads to total compassion? Yet beware : one’s mind, (and its ego), is strong enough to delude even itself, and lead us away from rationality and into chaos.

In the meantime, the pursuit of self-understanding leads us naturally to material connectedness, and pushes the envelope to compassion between humans, if we so choose it that is?

“Unity is plural, and at minimum two.”
- Buckminster Fuller

“And of course, transhuman minds will likely be capable of greater compassion than human minds. “

I would posit that transhuman minds will likely be capable of greater everything than human minds, including those qualities that go against compassion. So, will it be a wash? I hope not.

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