Response to: Superorganism and Singularity
Rafe’s post covers a rather speculative topic. I think it’s worth stress testing so I am going to play skeptic without revealing my actual position. But you can be assured that it’s at least somewhat nuanced.
Rafe knows more about this topic than I. In general, I tend to trust his judgment in areas where he is expert. But I want to make sure he’s devoted enough due diligence before reaching his conclusions. Thus the stress test.
First, I’m going to try to demolish his assertions within the conceptual confines of his own analogy. Then I’ll undermine the analogy. Finally, I’ll attack emergence itself as a concept with no predictive skill in this case.
Rafe makes an analogy to cells within a multicellular organism. How does this support the assertion that there will only be one superorganism and that we will need to subjugate our needs to its own? Obviously, there are many multicellular organisms. Certainly, there are many single-celled organisms that exist outside of multicelluar control today. So where is the evidence that there will be only one and that people won’t be able to opt out in a meaningful sense?
Now, I expect the answer to include the observation that this analogy is inadequately expressive. Exactly! So how can you predict anything? The major difference between humans and cells in this context is that they possess their own executive function. They are capable of formulating and pursuing independent long range goals. They are capable of independently applying Bayes Theorem to predict changes in their environment . I think this a point that Rafe needs to address further to back up his assertion that the higher level will be incomprehensible to the lower.
I contend that the superorganism has been gradually emerging for hundreds of years and that we have been gradually improving our understanding of it. My strawman superorganism is the economy, which invisibly coordinates the behavior of all participating actors. I’ll be the first to admit that our understanding of the macroeconomy leaves something to be desired, but we do understand a fair bit. Oh, and for those Greens out there who will ask, “But what about the global ecosystem?” I’m including “resource economics” in the definition of economics.
Local economies are becoming more and more linked, but it’s hard for me to see how this leads to an event horizon in and of itself. It’s also hard for me to see how “awareness” in the sense that we have it will exist. I think that you must add something along the lines of a technological singularity to end up with these two properties.
So what is the concept of emergence adding here? In terms of understanding how the superorganism functions, what does it add beyond economics? What additional predictions does it make and why? Moreover, how can one claim that exponential technological development is not a necessary conditions for the emergence of a higher level awareness? Is there some demonstration of the preconditions for emergence that excludes it?
These are all questions to which I would like better answers.