Oneness Plus Two Equals Six: An Essay by Extropia DaSilva

 Extropia DaSilva at Thinkers Another essay by the untiring Extropia for your pleasure! Enjoy — Gwyn

When two digital people meet for a chat in Second Life ®, there are at least six people involved in the conversation.

To help explain the reasoning behind that statement, I shall introduce a hypothetical digital person, known as ‘Digi’. Digi needs a friend, and so we need another digital person. Here comes one now. She is called ‘Tal’.

And then there were two.

In the essay ‘Virals And Definitives’, I explained that ‘some… see SL as most strongly linked with novels, theatres and movies… technologies that can organise patterns of information in such a way as to make you or I believe in the existence of somebody or something that does not necessarily exist in RL’. Just as every literary character owes its existence to an author, and every puppet requires a puppeteer, so behind a digital person we consider there to be someone out there somewhere in RL, typing away at a keyboard. Digi is no different. He knows there is a puppeteer working Tal, and Tal knows there is an author crafting Digi’s words and actions. Carrie Fisher once noted, ‘I am not famous; Princess Leia is’, drawing a line between her life and that of the iconic character she once performed. Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia are two different people. Something like this seperation exists between a digital person and its primary.

Two have become four, but we are still missing two other people.

But think about what has been happening in your mind as you read these words. You can hear a voice in your head. It is the voice of your inner self, the voice that subjectively expresses your thoughts. Only, the words you hear being spoken are not YOUR words. The thoughts those words convey are not YOUR thoughts. They are MY words expressing MY thoughts. I have used written language’s extraordinary capacity to trigger language circuits of the brain and in doing so I (in some sense) have become you, or, you have become me.

The same thing happens whenever Digi and Tal converse via text in SL. As Digi reads Tal’s words, language circuits in the primary’s brain are activated and, even if only partially, Digi is Tal (or Tal is Digi). Moreover, human brains are machines complex enough to have achieved stage 4 of Stephen M. Omohundro’s  5 stages of technology:

Stage 1: Inert systems, defined as anything that is not actively responsive to the environment.

Stage 2: Reactive systems, respond in different but rigid ways in the service of a goal.

Stage 3: Adaptive systems, change their responses according to fixed mechanisms.

Stage 4: Deliberative systems, can construct internal models of reality and choose actions by envisioning the consequences.

Stage 5: Self-Improving systems, can comprehensively redesign itself and is able to deliberate about the effects of self-modification.

In SL, the vast majority of objects are inert systems. After all, just about anybody can rez a few prims and combine them to produce an object that sits there and does nothing. (It might serve a useful purpose. A shoe is useful, but it is still an inert system). Reactive systems require a modicum of scripting talent. You might design a box that people step into that can act as an elevator to take them up and down to different levels of your store. Some companies like Daden Ltd have created automated avatars and other narrow AI applications that qualify as stage 3 technologies.

As for stage 4, the most advanced robots in the world are beginning to cross this threshhold, but we still have no technology that can match the human brain in terms of general intelligence. Digi’s primary’s brain is a machine capable of building internal models of the world, including models of people he has met (obviously, it can also model fantasy worlds and characters, or how else would fictional works exist?) Whenever Digi is in dialogue with Tal, he uses his internal model of Tal in order to determine the next best course of action.

Actually, it is only this internal model of Tal that Digi knows. The brain, after all, is not in direct contact with reality and everything that people normally consider to be ‘real’ is actually a simulation created by the mind, based on information gathered by the senses. Natural selection would have surely selected against incorrect models of reality, so it is safe to assume that much of what we believe to be real is indeed a very close approximation to actual reality. But it is also well-known that a person’s beliefs about Life, the Universe, and Everything are not always in agreement with other people’s, as any study of theoretical physics, or philosophy, or theology, will show.

Reality generates overwhelmingly more information than any one brain can hope to store and process. What an individual comes to believe in is shaped largely by the information they happen to have been exposed to, and the way they have been brought up to interpret that information. ‘Truth’ may be defined as ‘Whatever is actually the case’, but when someone declares something to be true, its is much more likely that they mean ‘this is compatible with my prejudices’.

Digi’s model of Tal is affected by the information that already resides in the primary’s mind. He cannot create a model of Tal that perfectly matches the model of Tal that is stored in Tal’s primary’s mind, because the two of them have not shared the same life experiences. Their past experiences were not so different that they cannot relate to each other, obviously, or else they would not be friends. But, strictly speaking, the Tal that Digi has come to know exists nowhere but in his mind. 

The brain of Digi’s primary therefore runs three models, three patterns of information that conscious awareness perceives as minds. One pattern becomes known as ‘I’, another as ‘Digi’, and the third as ‘Tal’. Where in the brain do concepts of self and the intentions of others, form? How are they formed in the first place? How, in other words, do we explain the mechanisms of the mind?

Beats me!

Steven Pinker began his book, ‘How The Mind Works’, by flatly stating ‘we don’t know how the mind works’ (the book goes on to argue that our understanding of the brain has progressed from a mystery, ‘not knowing what an explanation would even look like’, to a problem, ‘we may not have its solution, but we have insight… an inkling of what we are looking for’). Since we don’t know how the mind works, we might as well entertain several different states of mind for Digi…

About Extropia DaSilva

Taking today's technological proof-of-principles and theoretically expanding their potentials to imagine Sl-meets-The-Matrix is my bag, baby!

  • Angel Sunset

    ” To say we are on the verge of finally answering such questions may be arrogant…”

    The difference is, SL alows us a unique environment to run these models of “identity, mind and what IS this place anyhow” through the mill of experience.

    We probably won’t get a lot of publishable results, but I would think, a LOT of inner feeling of “Now I get it…”.

  • Prokofy Neva

    No, this is all an entire load of crap. I don’t have three minds talking on a telephone; I don’t therefore have them in SL. It’s merely a mode of communication and being that doesn’t change my essence.

    The real question is why the Extropians need to go into these awful contortions and dissect the human being in such brutal ways. It’s only in order to figure out how best to take power over this or that facet of human expression or essence. And that has to be just as brutally repelled.

    There are only two people in the conversation; indeed, one might argue that as their full attention isn’t always engaged, they are diminished or partial. Objects are just objects, and human beings have control over them — not visa versa. No excuse to pretend objects become minds so that those who made them can put others under their power against their will.

  • Extropia DaSilva

    ‘No, this is all an entire load of crap. I don’t have three minds talking on a telephone; I don’t therefore have them in SL. It’s merely a mode of communication and being that doesn’t change my essence’.

    But my essay was discussing digital people, not people like yourself. A digital person is somewhat like a literary character, or a character in a film. If Prokofy were a digital person, the RL person behind that character would ask ‘how would Prokofy respond in this situation?’ at all times while socialising in SL. But since Prokofy is not a digital person, I guess he just speaks his own mind.

    The comparison with a telephone is somewhat flawed. That is a means of communicating via voice. Obviously, you can communicate via voice in SL as well, but it goes beyond that. SL, primarily, is about communicating via shared experience, collaborative imagination. In that sense, it is more like a book or a film, which are means of communication that are just as easily applied to fictional narratives as they are to autobiographical narratives (and of course, one can blend the two which is what most people in SL do, I suspect).

    ‘Objects are just objects, and human beings have control over them — not visa versa.’

    But digital people are more than just objects. They are a modern twist on a very ancient human need, which is the motivation to construct fictional narratives. There has never been a culture in all of human history that did not indulge in storytelling, so it must be extremely important to that species.

    In fact, I conjecture that any technological species must necessarily be a storytelling species, since invention requires a mind that can model the world and conduct ‘what if’ experiments in its head. It requires a mind that can imagine something that does not exist, and how its environment would be affected if it did.

    People and technology share a symbiotic relationship (one cannot survive without the other). I suspect that much the same is true, regarding people and fictonal narratives. We would not be the people we are today without technology, nor would we be who we are today without our legends, mythologies, literary characters and movie icons.

    Pollinating insects and flowers. They too share a symbiotic relationship but which of the two dominates? One might think it has to be insects, since they have a brain and locomotion- both of which are not something that flowers possess. However, a flower is so compelling, so interesting, so alluring and attractive to a pollinating insect, that it has no choice but to perform services that are crucial to the flowers’ survival.

    Now consider a fictional character. It cannot exist unless a mind dreams it up, but what if that character is so interesting, so alluring, so compelling, that the author has no choice but to put pen to paper or log into an online world and carry on developing that character? A FAQ that is asked of authors is, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’, which implies their stories pre-exist in some form or other, waiting to be discovered. In a sense, this is true. Fictional narrartives pre-exist as patterns of information woven into the fabric of daily life. The author did not cause the story and its characters to appear out of nothing. Rather s/he perceived the patterns within the noise and reshaped them so that other minds could more easily perceive them. In doing so, maybe, the reworked patterns replicate as they are transmitted from mind to mind, brains doing work that is necessary for the reworked patterns’ persistance.

    ‘The real question is why the Extropians need to go into these awful contortions and dissect the human being in such brutal ways.’

    Because science and technology sometimes forces a species to re-examine its concept of itself and its place in the grand scheme of things. The telescope shattered the delusion that our planet has an exulted position in the universe. Darwinism showed us that we do not stand apart from the animal kingdom, but are deeply connected with it. We are now starting to see the bare beginnings of technologies that will shatter the illusion that there is a fundamental gap between the natural and technological, brains and computers, people and machines. Admittedly, technology as it exists today is still too crude to act as persuasive proof in the eyes of most people, but if our collective efforts should continue pushing the R+D curve in biotech, nanotech, information tech and cognitive sciences, eventually a re-examination of our current conceptions of what it means to be human and the nature of reality, must again be undertaken. Extropians are simply people who have decided there is no time like the present in which to conduct this re-examination.

  • Aliasi Stonebender

    I think your interpretation, Extropia, is only accurate if one is specifically playing a part not yourself. Otherwise, you might as well say that when I speak to you in real life, face to face, there are the apparent person I am speaking to, and whomever you ‘really’ consider yourself to be inside your head.

    Which is true in its way, but naming them as individuals is highly eccentric and probably not very accurate.

  • Extropia DaSilva

    ‘I think your interpretation, Extropia, is only accurate if one is specifically playing a part not yourself’.

    Yes, my essay was concerned only with digital people (and the meatbrains they currently use to process their patterns).

    ‘Otherwise, you might as well say that when I speak to you in real life, face to face, there are the apparent person I am speaking to, and whomever you ‘really’ consider yourself to be inside your head.

    Which is true in its way, but naming them as individuals is highly eccentric and probably not very accurate’.

    Rita Carter’s book (‘Multiplicity’) explains that there is something known as the ‘dissasociative spectrum’. This ranges from everyday ‘normal’ states such as neglect of background distractions and daydreaming, to chronic detachment (feeling detached from onesself is ‘depersonalization’, feeling detached from ones surroundings is ‘derealization’) and compartmentalization at the other end of the scale.

    To visualise a mind with compartmentalization, think of several rooms, seperate from each other, inside each of which there is a distinct person. Each person has no knowledge of the others existence. This complete seperation of personalities is also known as ‘multiple personality disorder’.

    In between ‘normal’ absorption/daydreaming states and disordered chronic detachment/compartmentalization states, there is something called ‘adaptive dissasociation’. Among other things, states-of-mind in this part of the spectrum experience ‘co-consciousness’. Whereas MPD can be likened to seperate, isolated rooms, co-consciousness is like a communal space in which several people live together, communicating with one another but believing themselves to be seperate individuals.

    Carter includes a transcript from someone with co-consciousness:

    ‘First thing we have to do each week is check the stock lists on the computer, and that is really painstaking, detailed stuff. Personally, I am hopeless at it but Immy is great at it…I like to spread the goods out so you can see at a glance what’s there, but P likes to do it more artistically…we can get locked into a tussle with, with me arranging them one way, then P sneaking back and rearranging them’.

    Is this person being ‘eccentric’ and ‘not very accurate’ when she gives her various states-of-mind individual names and speaks of them as if they were colleagues? I guess that is a matter of subjective opinion.

    In my 2008 Thinkers lecture, I pointed out that, up until fairly recently, ‘a person expected to lead the same life as their grandparents, and that their grandchildren would do likewise, and such expectations were largely fulfilled. A person would perform a single job for life. Surnames like ‘Smith’, ‘Taylor’ and ‘Wright’ all reflect an age when associating a person with the job they did was a good means of identification (‘Wright’ means ‘someone who does mechanical work’btw). This kind of lifestyle suited the personality types at the ‘normal’ (absorption/daydreaming) end of the spectrum.

    But I also pointed out that ‘old assumptions are changing. Where once lives were constrained by duty, custom and limited horizons, nowadays the notion of a job for life is increasingly obsolete. In ‘Tomorrow’s Children’, Susan Greenfield forsees a future in which ‘job descriptions could become so flexible as to be meaningless…flexibility in learning new skills and adapting to change will be the major requirement’.

    In the coming age of just-in-time operatives, geared toward the needs of just-in-time production, the mind’s capacity for personal metamorphosis may be encouraged to flourish as never before’.

    Perhaps, in our fast-changing times and with our ability to access online worlds which provide a represenation of physical space and embodiment that can be made somewhat distinct from our real bodies/environment, we shall see a shift towards the co-conscious range of the personality spectrum?

    It could be that, in the future, it will be people who believe they are individuals, one mind per brain, who are seen as somewhat abnormal?