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Work and Play
Ben Goertzel   Jun 17, 2010   Cosmist Manifesto  

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; but so does all play and no work.


Labor: the ongoing exertion of effort required to keep a living organism effectively functioning. Can bring great joy ... and pain ... is not intrinsically oriented toward growth. Will be increasingly obsoleted as technology advances.

Work: the creation of works ... the exertion of effort to make new things (which may be material, conceptual, social-relational, etc.) ... oriented toward growth as well as joy.

The mixture of work with labor characterizes the modern era, but the correlation of the two will decrease as technology advances.

Once work is separated from labor, what remains? Essentially, work as art-work and social communion ... the creation of scientific, mathematical, visual, engineering, architectural works, not to put food on the table, but to gain social relationships and most of all just for the feeling of doing it and the joy of getting it done.

Social action: the creation of works whose impact lies in the social realm ...

Hannah Arendt’s excellent book The Human Condition gives a rather clear and erudite exposition of the above categories.

She also makes the bold assertion that only through social action are people able to truly express freedom, and able to truly be human.

If one interprets “being human” as “contributing substantially to the collective, emergent mind of human society” then she is correct.

Is Labor Necessary?

Work and social action seem critical for advancing Cosmist values ... labor less and less so as technology advances.

Whether the human body needs some sort of labor to be joyful is another question—but if it does, one may view this as a shortcoming of the human body-mind rather than as an indication of the fundamental cosmic importance of labor.

According to what we know of physics, some entity must “labor” in some sense in order for physical dynamics to happen ... for metabolism to occur, for structures to get fabricated, etc.

But technology has the capability to push more and more of the labor onto entities with less and less intense sentience, away from entities with rich theaters of deliberative awareness and high levels of intelligence.

As our minds, society and technology advance, work and social action should become increasingly disssociated with labor—among humans and other intensely, deliberatively conscious beings we may create or evolve into.

If this doesn’t happen, it will probably mean we are handling our technological transcension in some profoundly wrong way.

The Power ... and Limitations ... of Play

And what of work’s sometime antonym, play?

Play: not just spontaneous joy-inducing activity ... much of play involves the pursuit of goals that are analogous to, but easier to achieve than, goals an intelligent system finds important. Via pursuing these analogous goals, the organism may learn something about how to achieve the real goals of interest. The joy of play comes from the intrinsic activity, but also from the analogical connection to important goals…

If you’re forever playing, and only playing, then play loses much of its meaning, which comes from its analogy to real-life goals.

Children can fully enjoy a life of pure play, because evolution has crafted their psychology to be “that of folks who will become adults.” But it’s famous how fast pure play grows boring for most early retirees.

For grown-ups, alternating play and work/social-action, with rich analogies growing and changing and binding the two realms of activity, is probably the most fulfilling way to live.

One could engineer a mind to enjoy an endless life-story of pure play without any need for work or social action. No doubt some human minds have self-organized into such a condition, already. But Cosmism views this as suboptimal: pure play will never lead to powerful growth. And without growth, ultimately, the scope of joy is limited—part of growth is the ability to experience more and more joy as one expands the scope of one’s capabilities and experiences.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; but so does all play and no work.

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 (


I live a life of all play and it’s boring me to death.

For me my work is my play. I can’t imagine anything more interesting or relaxing, invigorating, and play-like than my work. It is not imaginary play but real, and therefore much more interesting and surprising than any play with arbitrary, simple rules.

Am I an exception to the rule?

Mindworker, what is your work ?

Unfortunately, no one can be told what one’s Work is. You have to find it for yourself.

This reminds of an episode from star trek in which the crew encountered a race of aliens that no longer was able to reproduce, this forced them to kidnap children to raise on there own…

Well what’s relevant is that they had this machine that was able to “detect” what you were meant to do… If you were meant to play the piano it would encourage you to play regardless of your interest. They needed this device to help maximize the full potential of individual children. Over time as people learned to do what they where “born” to do all work tuned into play…

This leads me to wonder what if we learned to identify particular brain patterns and associate them with “jobs” the thought of doing anything out of the realm of fun may not be necessary as someone out there will find a task I find boring fun…

“Two-thirds of Britons want to change careers, as the extent of the nation’s job dissatisfaction is revealed”

“‘A large number of people are not being given the opportunity to live up to their potential at work, but just imagine the productivity gains that could be achieved if UK businesses stepped up their commitment to developing their employees’ skills’


Folks may be happier if they felt they had some choice and control in their careers, and also if they had enough flexible time, (work sharing?) to pursue their hobbies and other interests? How joyous could this scenario be?

Yet unfortunately, governments rely heavily on their tax collections, and thus generally people are forced to pursue work they do not necessarily want to do, and find it almost impossible to change careers or pursue further education in fields out side of their expertise. Some are lucky, some are not so. Strong character and tenacity helps when you chase your dreams.

Are there enough jobs in this world to fill for everyone, or for everyone to share? I think so. Capitalism = competitiveness, yet does it have to be this way? Striving to be the best is one thing yet does not necessarily mean we need to trample over all that are in our path does it?

So much appears to be set as stone, flexibility and adaptability is the key to happiness. Well that and also overcoming the cravings of “great expectations”. I always wanted to be a rock star, so what happened shit happens!

My final notion Get robots to collect the trash, and work in factories.. not humans!

Never is he more active than when he does nothing, never is he less alone than when he is by himself.

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