Printed: 2019-06-16

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

IEET Link:

Civilizational Resilience and Limitless Modes of Consciousness

Edward Miller

Embrace Unity

February 06, 2009

Decentralization is the key to the survival of humanity. This should be common sense. We all know that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. There are many examples one could point to. With industrial farming we are now beginning to realize that monocultures are especially susceptible to disease or changes in the environment. Fitness is a fluid concept because environmental conditions are not static. This is true on a civilizational level as well.

Perhaps just as important as the objective structure of our communities is our subjective experience. As Descartes proved, the existence of subjective experience is the one philosophical certainty. Cogito Ergo Sum, “I think therefore I am.” This is the rational basis for the scientific method and epistemology, and is thus the integral feature of the human condition. When we begin to take control of subjective experience, we will shake the very core of our world(s), and we will experience virtually unlimited types of consciousness. As we enter into a post-scarcity era, increasingly the universe will be at the mercy of our aesthetic preferences.

By “taking control of our subjective experience,” I mean implementing a wide variety of enhancements to our minds and bodies. On the simplest of levels, we will gain manual control of the senses we already have. We will be able to play back, turn off, or magnify our senses as we see fit. We will also gain new senses: Infrared, Heat vision, Echolocation, Magnetic, you name it. Furthermore, we will be able to induce synaesthesia between both our original senses and these new senses. We are already able to induce autistic states, giving us similar capabilities to autistic savants, but on demand.  We will likely gain control over our perception of time, and as our intelligence and working memories are upgraded, new possibilities open up.

We could gain new aesthetic intuitions. Imagine if in addition to a supercharged working memory, we were able to grok computer programming syntax and parse millions of lines with ease. This could allow computer code to be judged by its aesthetic quality, much like a poem is. It has been said Ruby programming is much like haiku. What if all the programming rules of thumb regarding such things as top-down design, parallelism, and avoiding premature optimization became as instinctive as our appreciation of rhyming or symmetrical artwork? Of course those who prefer prematurely optimized, bottom-up, serial programming can go the Jack Kerouac route if they so choose.

There are enormous ethical implications of customized realities. As discussed in an earlier post, the functions of our tools can deductively impact our value systems in ways we may have difficulty predicting beforehand.  When the mechanical clock was invented by Benedictine monks, they thought it would be a tool to help them regulate their prayer schedules, but they ended up enabling modern capitalism with its regular production cycles, hourly wages, and meticulous concern with efficiency. Perhaps people with an overabundance of appreciation for vibrations will end up enabling some sort of social structure which creates injustices that could not possibly be forseen. Nevertheless, humanity has always trudged onward to new uncertain horizons. We couldn’t ban new technology even if we wanted to, but we can take our time to critically reflect on potential consequences.

Also as discussed earlier, as our level of customization of reality grows, so does our ability to filter the information we see. When we begin to radically alter our subjective experience, we risk cyberbalkanization on a more fundamental level than ever before. With our current mental architectures we already have great difficulty communicating with one another, and often come to the conclusion that those we are debating with must be from another planet. In the famous debate between Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, Dershowitz proclaimed that Noam must be from “Planet Chomsky.” Now, imagine what the disagreements may be like when we don’t even share the same perception of time, or if one person is harmonizing with cosmic vibrations while another is transfixed with stability. What will the outcome of such a situation look like? I believe I have a rough idea.

The forces of natural selection will work upon the different modes of consciousness, just as they do now with ideas in the form of memes. Those modes of consciousness which are good at crowding out others will become the dominant ones. Surely some of the most effective at replicating would be like the Borg, and demand assimilation. Yet, like our current world, the dominant type might not be totalitarian in nature, but merely demanding a standardized framework of communication. Tolerant empire-systems tend to fare better. The Roman Empire realized the futility of getting everyone to accept their one religion, and thus many religions thrived during most centuries of their reign. Even Ghengis Khan was noted for his tolerance of religious freedom. The modern capitalist world-system is exceedingly tolerant, and even the theocratic Saudi Arabia is now a member of the World Trade Organization. As long as one plays by the rules of the game of the dominant system, that system has no qualm, no matter what your beliefs.

In the case of Ghengis Khan, as long as you pay your taxes to the empire, you will be fine. In the case of the modern world-system, as long as your markets are open to foreign capital, you are fine. As Frederic Bastiat once remarked, “When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.” In the case of the consciousnesses of the future, I am assuming that the dominant mode of consciousness will just demand some minimal framework by which to interact with others. I am not saying that it is good that any particular consciousness framework will likely dominate, I’m just extrapolating what will likely be the case considering the law of natural selection.

Now, I would argue that in the interests of civilizational resiliency it is actually much better to allow a good deal of freedom in the modes of consciousness. This will keep us from becoming a homogeneous and vulnerable culture. While it makes the prospect for a universal utopia improbable, it also makes a universal dystopia improbable. What we will likely end up with is a multitude of weirdtopias. I look forward to the infinite variety of consciousnesses which await our species. It is the key to our long term survival, and these issues are likely more urgent than you think.

Edward Miller, a former intern of the IEET, is the Chief Information Officer of the Network for Open Scientific Innovation. He is a passionate advocate of Open Source development models. His blog, EmbraceUnity, deals with democracy, humanism, and sustainable development.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837