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The Turing Church and Open Source Religion: Ben Goertzel Interviews Giulio Prisco
Ben Goertzel   Dec 25, 2014   Ethical Technology  

In 2011 I — Ben Goertzel – interviewed physicist and futurist Giulio Prisco on his notion of  Technological Transcendence.  Since that time Giulio has been very active in developing these ideas further – and quite recently he has taken the initiative to start a “Turing Church” with an open-source spirit.   So it seemed time to have another conversation with Giulio on his Turing Church concept and plans, and what it may mean for the future of humanity, transhumanism and spirituality.

Our conversation follows:


In our  2011 interview I said: “I am not planning to develop the Turing Church into more than a discussion group. I may change my mind, but at this moment I prefer being an active member of existing spiritual groups. I am not really interested in becoming a leader, or a guru.”

I changed my mind because no existing group is covering all (and only) the ground that I want to cover. I will not be a guru, or a leader – leaders must be young, strong, beautiful, and charismatic, and I am none of that. I will act as an organizer, find other organizers, and launch The Turing Church.  See

One challenge is that I must work all the time to make a living, so that I don’t have all the free time that I wish to have. Another challenge is that there is no way to herd the cats in our “transhumanist” community (or whatever you want to call it) so that    they agree on precisely one and the same thing. There will always be different interpretations and heated arguments. Remember our aborted attempt to launch the late lamented “Order of Cosmic Engineers” a few years ago – though we shared the same loosely defined ideas, we couldn’t reach a detailed substantive agreement on what exactly the detailed version of our message should be.

So here I am with a compelling and harmonious set of beautiful ideas that I just love, and I wish to spread them as wide as possible so they can give to others the same happiness that they give to me. But I know that I wouldn’t be able to achieve “consensus” on the details, and I wouldn’t have time for that anyway. Depressing.

So I started to think about how to convert these weaknesses into strengths. In “A Cosmist Manifesto” you exhort to “obsolete the dilemma,” so I tried to find a way to obsolete both dilemmas at the same time. And here is how:

I offer my ideas as public domain starting points to tweak, modify, include in other works, repackage, extend horizontally and vertically, interpret, fork, and all the other buzzwords of the free software world. I hope that the ideas will be refined, adapted, and spread by others. The Turing Church is open and extensible, defined by coarsely defined and deliberately fuzzy core ideas, without central authorities, without an official doctrine, and with as many non-official interpretations as needed for our happiness and well-being. If you don’t like what I say, say it better. If you don’t like what I do, do it better. If you want leadership, lead.


Hmm, mostly this sounds great.  But I’m not so sure on the last bit…. Leadership is not so easy to come by, is it?

In the analogy with open source software, you have to remember that open source community building is its own art, see e.g. articles like these:

Just releasing code online as OSS doesn’t usually achieve anything. Recruiting developers and maintaining their enthusiasm is a major task. We’re not doing this all that well with OpenCog, and we’re thinking about how to do better in future with the limited resources at our disposal… so this is something I’ve been thinking about a fair bit lately…


I think the developers that this project is likely to attract initially are free thinkers and individualists who have a problem with authority (just like me). They can’t be motivated in a project that “belongs to others” with a hierarchy where others do all the important work and make all the decisions. But I think they can be motivated in a project that fully belongs to them.


Or maybe a freethinker/individualist will prefer make up something totally new rather than forking Giulio Prisco’s or Ben Goertzel’s perspective !!


Well, if I start a new software project, I think first of forking something that works. Why waste time reinventing the wheel? I am currently very much involved in the Bitcoin world, and I see examples of that every day.

Following up with the software analogy, The Turing Church isn’t open source software but free software, no strings attached. Open source projects need consistency, enforced by central management teams vulnerable to squabbles between egomaniacs who want to be the “authority” who decides what goes in and what stays out of the “official distribution,” but here there is no official distribution -rather, personal interpretations and tweaks are encouraged. The software / worldview / religion is free, just take it and do something good with it. If it isn’t good enough, extend or fork it. And please don’t ask if you can become a member – just be one.


Sure, all very cool 

As you know “free” and “open source” are not contradictory; most OSS is also free…. So a FOS religion is cool and fits in nicely with the ethos of lots of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software)


I insist on the difference between open source software and free software because I want to avoid a structural weakness of the open source way, which plagues many good projects. If there is no strong leadership, the project can be paralyzed by conflict between peers, each promoting his pet ideas and blocking those of the others (we have seen that happen with the Order of Cosmic Engineers). If there is strong leadership, the project can become ossified and stagnate because the leaders are strongly protective of the existing framework against all proposals for innovation. In our case, the only possible leader at this moment is me. But I havea problem with authority – I work well among peers, but not so in a hierarchical system. So the Turing Church will not have strong leadership, and the only way to go is to leave everyone free to experiment and innovate in any direction within a very loose framework.


What do you think of the “Consensus-Dictator-Fork” model, as described at this link.

That seems a fair description of how many OSS projects have worked,and it seems to me something that could work for an OS religion…

In the end it’s not so difficult from how some traditional religions haveevolved, right? – a branching tree of splinter groups, each withtheir own lineageof visionary leaders…


The “Consensus-Dictator-Fork” model, seems fair enough to me.Knowing that the minority will fork if no consensus is achieved stimulates the majority to find a mutually acceptable solution.But what I am saying is different – a mutually acceptable solution is NOT what I want here. If two ideas are good but incompatible (intrinsically incompatible or incompatible due to the personalities involved), they should be pursued in parallel by different teams, instead of being both weakened to make everyone happy.


Well I think that’s exactly what happens with OSS projects, though…

According to CCF, when incompatible ideas emerge and they’re bothstrongly enough held, a fork happens – and both ideas are pursued in parallel by different teams…


Yes, but in the CCF there are (or at least I read) hints that a compromise tradeoff should be pursued first, with the fork as a last resort if no consensus is found. In practice that means consensus on weakened versions of both positions, and I don’t think good ideas should be watered down to appease critics. Let 1000 flowers bloom.


Hmmm…In my experience with OpenCog, that’s not quite how it goes

In software, arriving at a mutually agreeable solution among parties with competing interests or ideas doesn’t have to mean “consensus on weakened versions of both positions” – it can mean finding a clever solution that satisfies both requirements, or finding the right abstraction that encompasses both specific suggestions, etc.

Maybe religion is less amenable to clever forms of finding mutually agreeable solutions though… I’m not sure. I’m reminded of Accelerando where there are companies whose corporate bylaws are scripted in python ;D … If religions are made abstract enough then they may be able to embody mutually agreeable solutions among different perspectives as subtly as software programs!

I agree that it’s often better not to average together competing views, just obtaining something boring and blah. It can be better to just let the different perspectives co-exist…

OTOH conceptual blending is also a powerful heuristic – finding a blend of the key aspects of two different perspectives can be one tool for creating exciting new things. Some even claim this sort of blending is the root of all creativity…


I am totally in favor of that – the Turing Church is nothing but an attempt to creatively blend science and religion. If one can persuade another that a new blended perspective and formulation can best serve the needs of both, great! What I am criticizing is using one’s status in a hierarchy to silence others’ ideas and force compliance.

Fragmentation – the unavoidable consequence – is a lesser evil than paralysis or stagnation (and, I believe, not an evil at all).


Well, getting peoples’ attention is hard in the modern world – it’s said that we live in an “attention economy”, right?

So the risk with your approach is that due to fragmentation, no Turing Church religious group will get enough momentum to accumulate a sizeable number of followers, so that the whole movement will have a very narrow and limited influence…


Well, isn’t that the case of beer as well? Probably no single brand has a huge number of faithful drinkers in the hundreds of millions,but the “movement” of beer drinkers as a whole is certainly big, and it has a wide influence. If I see somebody drinking cold beer in a hot summer evening, I am likely to want a beer too, but I will probably choose a different brand (because there are so many brands and everyone has his favorites). As things stand, I am not a faithful follower of _any_ particular brand, but I definitely like beer.


What do you think are the odds of this happening? How likely do you think it is that your Turing Church movement will grow into something with a large impact on the world?


I don’t know, but I think it’s an experiment worth trying. When the Turing Church will have a large impact on the world, most likely it won’t be called Turing Church anymore, and the world itself may be quite different from today’s world, but I think planting seeds is good (even if you don’t live long enough to harvest – this is for the long term).


Personally, I do feel pretty strongly that some sort ofspiritual/technological/scientific Cosmist perspective is going to become dominant as this century progresses… But it’s not clear to me whether little organizations and movements like we have today – Humanity+, Turing Church and what-not – are really going to have a significant impact on the spread of this perspective… Perhaps these little organizations are best seen as manifestations of the broader forces that are causing Transhumanist and Cosmist ideas to spread worldwide in all sorts of obvious and subtle ways…rather than as things that are going to have a large causal impact? I’m not sure…


In terms of organization, The Turing Church can be a self-organizing swarm built around the organizational principles outlined in RickFalkvinge‘s “Swarmwise – The Tactical Manual To Changing The World.” I think Swarmwise is a good starting point.


Hmmm interesting… so at this link about Swarmwise, I find”four criteria: tangible, credible, inclusive, and epic”. No doubt Turing Church is inclusive and epic. Is it tangible and credible? I think you’ve gone a long way toward making it credible, with your various writings on the topic – so congratulations on that! Tangible, I’m not sure. I think that one effective, impressive “working example” of a community of people bound together by a Turing Church style religion would go a loooong way toward making the ideas tangible…


That’s precisely what I wish to achieve! At this moment, there is one tangible benefit for those who train themselves to think my way – you stop fearing death, and you are not paralyzed by grief when you lose a loved one. Of course, I have no wish to die and I am extremely unhappy if I lose a loved one, but I see death in a cosmic context of universal resurrection, and I think some versions of me will be around to love some versions of my loved ones, someday. That gives inner peace.


Interesting. I personally don’t have a strong opinion on the likelihood of universal resurrection. So when a loved one dies I don’t take much comfort from that theoretical option. It may be that once the tech to make universal resurrection happencomes about, the desire to do so may be gone…


There is room in the Turing Church for many different opinions on resurrection and every other issue.

As you  yourself said once: “[S]omewhere in the intersection of accelerating change, subjective individual and social experience, and Web 2.0 tech, there probably lies a way to seed the self-organization of a Confederation of Cosmists, without the need for any guru at the center.”


Yes, I wrote that in A Cosmist Manifesto, and I still think it’s true….

Although I’ve also nursed the idea of creating a robot or chat-bot as a guru ;D … there’s definitely potential there… people do like having some concrete entity to serve as the focal point for their attentions and energies…

But in the era of online social networks and all that, one shouldn’t need a guru for a movement to arise.

Occupy admittedly tried and substantially didn’t succeed to create a leaderless political movement.  But that doesn’t mean the next attempt won’t work better.


I want to go back to “covering all (and only) the ground that I want to cover,” which is an important point. The ground that I do NOT want to cover is what I call “geography” and “zoning norms” (as opposed to”cosmology”). Geography includes the mythologies found in most religions, often aestethically pleasant and inspiring to some (but not to others), and perhaps not strictly necessary, and I consider the petty lifestyle prescriptions found in most religions as “zoning norms.” I want to focus on pure cosmology without geography and zoning norms.


One question is whether, given human psychology, these aspects (mythologies, lifestyle prescriptions) are SUCH useful tools for helping people grasp the more fundamental aspects of a wisdom tradition, that it’s better to include them than not, if one wants a wisdom tradition that people will actually pay attention to…


These aspects can be included, but not as part of the common core. Those who want to believe that the closest manifestation of the numinous is a black monolith orbiting Jupiter, and that the best way to feel the numinous is to use (or avoid) certain drugs, are perfectly free to form their own group to practice their own interpretation of the common core ideas. Then, time will tell which of many possible approaches work better.


Yeah, absolutely – let 1000 practices bloom, I’m all in favor of that!!


There has been a lot of discussion on the mailing lists about whether the Turing Church should be called a “Religion” with “Gods” and similar. My answer (which seems to me the only answer compatible with this framework) is that it’s entirely up to you. Call them Gods if you want, otherwise call them something else. The interpretation of the core cosmology is up to you.


I’m reminded of how in the first couple centuries post-Christ, there was a flourishing of different Gnostic sects…But then the most authoritarian one flourished best, because it was better-organized, and turned eventually into the Catholic church…

(to oversimplify juuuust a bit 

But anyway – so what is the core cosmology?


Here it is.  A simple, minimalist, compact cosmology, deliberately open to interpretation, and without geography or zoning laws:

  • We will go to the stars and find Gods, build Gods, become Gods, and resurrect the dead from the past with advanced science, space-time engineering and “time magic.”
  • God is emerging from the community of advanced forms of life and civilizations in the universe, and able to influence space-time events anywhere, anytime, including here and now.
  • God elevates love and compassion to the status of fundamental forces, key drivers for the evolution of the universe.

A more detailed version is in our “Ten Cosmist Convictions” in “A Cosmist Manifesto.

I designed a Turing Church logo, a stylized Life pattern. It’s one of the smallest infinite growth patterns in Life, that builds a stairway to infinity that looks like a stylized DNA helix (try it in Golly). All the symbology that I wanted to have is there. The Life pattern was found by Paul Callahan, but I use a specular reflection of the pattern to proceed up and forward (instead of up and back). If you don’t like my logo, guess what? Make a better one!

Also see:


Yes – absolutely!   These are all beautiful, wonderful thoughts that I share.

But still, my only worry would be — one could argue that most people are looking for more guidance than that.

The FOSR (free, open source religion) is great. But don’t you think it will be a specific elaboration of the FOSR into something concretely compelling and emotionally appealing – and effectively community-managed — that will really attract people en masse… Just as the Linux kernel itself only attracts a handful of hard-core nerds… but Ubuntu, by putting a fairly slick interface on top of Linux, managed to attract more of the masses…


I totally agree, but there is no Ubuntu without the Linux kernel. Let’s do the kernel first, to prepare the way for Ubuntu when its time comes.


Yeah – fair enough

I put a little thought myself, recently, into what kind of transhumanist organization might have a chance at really changing the world.   My idea was a bit like your Turing Church thinking, I’d say, but without the religious overtones.  Take a look at my (tongue-in-cheek, yet still somewhat serious) article on “Transforming Humanity” and tell me what you think.

Basically what I’m hypothesizing there is a global network of small “cells”, each one of which consists of a team of people working together to improve their minds in various dimensions: Compassion, Creativity, Leadership, Learning Ability, Mediation, Rationality and Well-Being.   There are specific, well-tested techniques for self-improvement in each of these areas.  The idea is to maximize the odds of an effective transhuman future, by becoming better and better people so as to be more able to collectively mediate the transition from humanity to transhumanity.

What I’m curious about, in the context of this dialogue, is if you see my suggestion there as fitting into the Turing Church scope or not?


Well, I have nothing against becoming a better person and I usually admire and support others’ attempts to becoming better persons. At the same time, I don’t believe in global Right and Truth in upper case, but only in many local rights and truths in lower case. Whether I am a better person today than ten years ago depends on my personal judgment, and same for you. I am very suspicious of sentences – and philosophies – that use the word “better” without specifying who is judging. All the things that you say, compassion and all that, make a lot of sense to me, but I don’t want people to improve their minds in the same way. I want everyone to improve their mind in their own way. I hope the network of small cells can still work in this case.


Yeah, I would suppose if a globally-distributed self-improvement movement as I described were started, it would lead to a flourishing diversity of self-improvement  methods.   That’s really the only way to find good methods of self-improvement, right?  Experimentally and evolutionarily.   I guess what I was getting at in that article is a sort of synergetic approach to self-expansion, including spiritual aspecs like you’re getting at with the Turing Church, plus more practical aspects of self-improvement with direct impact on everyday life.   But given the inclusiveness of your Turing Church vision, I guess something like this could interoperate with a Turing Church meta-community if such a thing got off the ground.

Moving on, then … a different – but related — sort of question is:  how do you see the sort of transhumanist-ish religion you envision spreading among the masses?  It seems there’s an appetite for self-improvement out there for a wide variety of reasons, which is one reason I think a movement like I described might take off.    But I’m wondering how likely is is for a new, science and tech oriented religion to take off, or by what methods it might most likely do so?   Traditional religion is gradually receding into the background in the developed world, arguably leaving a gap for Turing Church type religions to fill…  But how do you see this happening? How might it spread beyond the miniscule corner of the geek world that is the current transumanist community? The religion that are spreading fastest today is probably Islam, and especially flavors of Islam that are heavily non-Cosmist and very traditionalist in nature.  Speculation on possible “memetic epidemiological” routes for Turing Church type Cosmist religions would be very interesting to me…


I am too stupid to answer that million dollar question. That’s why I want to create a swarm, somebody in the swarm will be smarter than I and find the right ways. One perhaps relevant consideration is that we transhumanists have been unable to spread _even our own core ideas_ successfully, which may indicate our incapacity to sync with the majority of people and make our ideas sound appealing.


Yes. What has happened in the transhumanist community is that transhumanism is on the verge of being obsoleted as a movement by the near-mainstreaming of so many of its ideas…Ten years ago, saying AGI and life extension would be possible in our lifetimes, felt like being a lone visionary howling out in the wilderness

Now, “AGI and life extension will be possible in our lifetimes” is part of various major corporate marketing strategies…

Of course, the conferences and publications and other actions of transhumanists have paved the way for this mainstreaming, though – even though the credit for this is not usually explicitly given (partly just from inattention, partly because the mainstream folks pushing quasi-transhumanist ideas now don’t all want to be associated with socially-marginal stuff like the transhumanist movement…)


But the spirit of transhumanism follows the times and targets new heights when the previous (moving) targets have been achieved. So now that the mainstream zeitgeist understands that AGI and life extension are just a matter of time, we need to choose the next targets. Perhaps space colonization by uploads? My target, Fedorovian technological resurrection, is very long-term so it won’t be picked by Google anytime soon.


I dunno – you may be surprised ;D


Anyway, if we are John the Baptist waiting for Jesus, I don’t think Jesus will be a card-carrying transhumanist.  He, or she or whatever, is more likely to come from a different path, and be much younger than us.


Could be. Though wise old men have quite a track record as spiritual leaders as well. I have always imagined myself looking like Gandalf when I get old ;D – though this may be bypassed now, by immortality pills or mind uploading or whatever 


I think wise old men make excellent advisers but poor leaders. In general, I believe a social movement needs all sorts of persons and personalities.


And soon enough, ageless transhuman transpersonalities,  I suppose!

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 (


gotta be honest with you both, I do not think that the word “leader” coming from a futurist perspective is appropriate - in fact, i think that the concept or word “leader” is old fashioned nonsense for people with huge ego’s. So obviously, yes, it is very important that “open source” anything is available to the public - and as such, - democracy will mature.

@Kris, I personally agree with you in considering the word “leader” as “old fashioned nonsense for people with huge egos” that may well become obsolete in the future.

But we aren’t there yet, and I am very much afraid that most people still want and need leaders, better if “young, strong, beautiful, and charismatic” as I said (Jason, if you are reading this, I am thinking of you;-)

Don’t underestimate the unique ability of born leaders to attract and motivate followers and collaborators. For example, love him or hate him, our James Hughes is a natural leader. Lincoln Cannon is another natural leader.

Sooner or later we will be able to do without our leaders, but I am afraid we still need (and want) them. Therefore, since I am not a leader, I try to come up with distributed leadership schemes for the Turing Church, but I also hope that one or more natural leaders will emerge.

In Warren Bennis’s book, “On Becoming A Leader” he states the difficulty in defining leadership. Yet like beauty you know it when you see it. Leadership has negative connotations when demonstrated by charismatic individuals with big egos. Yet truly potent leaders are inspired by a much bigger vision.

Giulio, your vision seems pretty selfless to me. Perhaps the words you use to describe what you see need to be thought through as they have great power and need to be chosen carefully. Ideas acted upon begin to live and need other ideas as companions to help enhance the lives they are living. Memes are just as potent as genes and are gaining momentum as we move towards the super intelligence to come.

Great conversation, keep it up guys!

@Infin8one - yes, leadership is like beauty, or like Quality in Robert Pirsig, you know it when you see it but it’s difficult to define it with words.

Regarding the best words to describe a vision, a problem is that the words that work for a person may not work for another. I can find the perfect words… for a person very similar to me, with the same emotional triggers.

If there are many alternate formulations of a vision, by different persons with different words, it’s more likely that one of them will work for a given recipient.

On the other hand, some people seem gifted with the ability to find the right words for a wide range of different interlocutors and broad audiences.

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