Re: future technology as animism

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Sat Oct 06 2001 - 16:52:01 MDT

On Sat, Oct 06, 2001 at 02:56:06PM -0700, Reason wrote:
> Animism is the earliest form of religion. It stems from the human instinct
> to model everything as if it were another human. My take on this is that, as
> a child, the only way to learn to be human is to treat everything else as if
> it were human until proven wrong. This trait persists into adulthood. In
> primitive times, you can imagine people trying to understand any complex
> system (tree, river, weather, etc) by acting as though it had a human
> persona behind it. Coincidence and human nature being what it is, you can
> actually build up a nice self-consistant delusional world this way where
> it's hard to be proven wrong about what is controlling the river, weather,
> etc.

It could also be that we make use of a well-developed
human-modelling system: it evolved to deal with other humans in the
tribe, but it was so general it could be applied to model other
complex systems too. This exaption might have been a big step
upwards in intelligence: by treating external stuff as agents it
became possible to manipulate just like humans ("Fire *likes* to go
upwards and is fairly stupid, so if I angle the branch this way I
can carry it without being burned"). This overdeveloped
agent-modelling system is also a likely explanation for much

I wonder if there is another parallel modelling system beside the
agent modeller: linguistic modelling, which has be exapted into
mathematics and other formal systems. Maybe future forms of
intelligence amplification will mainly be about finding subsystems
of our thinking that can be extended by improved modelling,
offloading our working memory and general intelligence.

> This is why the future will resemble the animistic past. We will try to
> build a world that resonates with our preferences for memes, myths and
> stories. We will build spirits (AIs), we will try to become immortal
> (cryonics, any number of other potential technologies), we will attempt to
> transcent, to become Gods, heroes, kamis (uploading, inloading, outloading,
> etc).
> Yes, we will change our fundamental selves, but the initial builders of this
> posthuman world will be humans. Before the spirits and Gods are let go to th
> eir own devices, they will have been designed and built by humans and those
> close to humans.

I think this is spot on. There are of course other factors
affecting what gets built or not, but this is what we *like* to
build when we are not constrained in other ways. It will be
interesting to see how stable this template is when the fundamental
human condition (from which it was created from) changes - it is
likely that we and our mindchildren will then create new kinds of
myths, producing further changes.

> 5) The need for awe
> Humans have a need for awe, for something percieved as far greater than they
> are, something that touches them and speaks to them. This can be a God, the
> knowledge of how the stars work, QCD, an appreciation of the true size of
> the universe, etc, etc. It's another of those hardwired things in the human
> brain, although I really don't have a good hypothesis for the existence this
> one.
> An examination of my own thoughts and reactions shows that my astrophysical
> training has left me lacking in need for religious (or other artificial)
> sources of awe. Just thinking about the universe as it is understood today
> is enough of a "wow" moment. I suspect that this is one of the reasons for
> so many scientists being atheists. It can't just be astrophysics that
> provides good sources of awe.

In my case it is mathematics and biology, but the feeling is the
same: touching something greater, something immeasurably true,
powerful or elegant. My guess is that it is a reaction to
discovering an extreme power greater than oneself and integrating
it in one's worldview - a forced accomodation of one's schemas, but
often pleasurable because it is meaningful and will likely
influence future behaviour. It feels very dopaminergic :-)
> A consideration of any one of the postulated post-human futures in all its
> glory is pretty damn awe-inspiring too.

I guess a worthwile life goal would be to live a life so that every
moment would be awe inspiring to any previous self. Today I'm a
real scientist - that would have awed my childhood self. Tomorrow I
am hopefully posthuman, something that awes me now. After
posthumanity, I hope to strive for something even greater.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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