Mormon Projections on Superintelligent Communities
by Lincoln Cannon on 09 May 2018
Transhumanists, at least the more far-sighted among us, imagine the possibility that humanity will evolve into superintelligent capacities, indefinitely long lives, ethical and esthetic sensibilities that we cannot presently imagine, and perhaps even minds whose thoughts constitute nothing less than the creation of new worlds. But perhaps we don’t often enough or deeply enough consider pluralities of superhumanity. Perhaps the awe or bewilderment or exuberance of imagining one such being blinds or distracts us from considering communities of such beings.
The philosopher Nietzsche illustrated his imagination of super-moral-humanity in the character Zarathustra. After journeying through the world and gathering to his mountain-top cave all of the greatest, and yet all-too-human, persons that he could find, Zarathustra still could not endure their presence for long. In his re-evaluation of all values, it seems, there could be only one. Anything else just smells bad, and sickly. Maybe the tensions and conflicts between and within sublime minds are just too much, even for great philosophers, to stomach. Isn’t the creator of values supposed to be beyond the emotional burdens of inter-personal complexity? Aren’t gods and heavens supposed to transcend all suffering?
In the Mormon tradition, our scriptures depict God weeping in heaven. So it may not be the best religion for those who wish for ultimate respite. Of course, we still hear our brothers and sisters in the Church console each other, especially at funerals, with assertions like, “she’s gone to a better place, and someday you’ll join her.” But that’s not really Mormonism, at least not in any doctrinal sense. As our scriptures characterize it, death disempowers us, even taking away the capacity for the fulness of joy, which depends on physical embodiment. And the heavenly glories are not the place we go when we die, but rather are reserved for the resurrected. And so we return to God weeping in heaven. And why? Eternity weeps for love: for community.
Joseph Smith claimed that he always taught the plurality of Gods. He reasoned, to start with, that Christianity demands a plurality insofar as it ascribes Godhood to both the Father and the Son, with one, in the form of Jesus, speaking to the other, described as being in heaven. Joseph didn’t intend this as a rejection of their unity, but he didn’t see such unity as negating their plurality. And beyond that basic plurality, Joseph produced creation accounts that elaborated on Genesis and attributed creation to “gods,” plural. And he taught the early Mormons that we all should become gods (plural) the same as all other gods (plural) had done before. And what, then? Well, Joseph wrote, the same sociality will exist among us there as exists among us here, except that it will be combined with degrees of glory and intelligence that we don’t presently experience.
So Mormon Transhumanists, perhaps more than any other Transhumanists, are trained through a lifetime of relatively unique theological exposure, to think beyond the awe and bewilderment and exuberance of imagining any single superintelligence. We’re nearly compelled to imagine communities of superintelligences. And from there, it’s not long until some of us wonder, as my friend Randy Paul asked me recently by email: what would a superintelligent social psychology be?
What would superintelligent social psychology study? Of course we don’t have the anatomical capacity to answer that question as a superintelligence would. So the only thing we know for sure about our answer is that it’s wrong to at least some extent. But maybe it’s not such a bad start to begin with the same general answer we’d give if someone asked about the domain of normal human social psychology. What is that? Well, we might define it simply as the study of social interactions. And we might use that when approaching the notion of a superintelligent social psychology.
But we should be cautious. What constitutes a superintelligent community? What constitutes a superintelligent individual? Are they more fluid than human communities and individuals, by which I mean, might a community become an individual, and vice versa, in more pronounced ways than anything humans could do? Bizarre or not, I often imagine that you and I are now living in a world whose substrate is the anatomy of God, making us something like the thoughts or software of God. And what would that make God? A community? But I also imagine God to have a unified personality with capacity to interact like a human. So is God an individual? And it’s worth noting, for the Mormon, that these ideas reflect not only my impressions regarding the trajectory of technology, but also our scriptural tradition, which presents God in a more complex manner than we often give much attention to. So I imagine that the “social” and the “psyche” in a social psychology of superintelligent communities could be far more complex and dynamic than they are for humans.
Despite such complexities and dynamics, we might still be able to say some useful things about the social psychology of superintelligence, at least from a superficial vantage point that considers constraints on interactions among intelligences-in-general. Let’s say that intelligence-in-general is that which optimizes to achieve its goals across diverse situations.
We might first recognize, as philosopher Nick Bostrom points out, that the goals of an intelligence are largely orthogonal with its level of intelligence. In other words, levels of intelligence generally don’t correspond to particular goals, social or otherwise. I say “largely” and “generally” because there are surely still some important constraints based on the laws of physics and logic – for example, an intelligence cannot have a goal that is more complex than its own anatomy. But just as there is a diversity of goals in social interactions among humans, it seems reasonable to suppose that there would be a diversity of goals, even a greater diversity of goals, in social interactions among superintelligences.
Nick Bostrom also points out that, despite the general orthogonality of final goals, the instrumental goals of proximate intelligences tend to converge, at least insofar as the intelligences are required to compete or cooperate for resources. And this seems like particularly fertile ground for cultivating the young roots of a social psychology of superintelligent communities. On the one hand, it seems like they would have substantial incentive to protect themselves against any one proximate actor becoming excessively powerful, because that would make the actor increasingly unpredictable and dangerous. And on the other hand, it seems like they would have increasingly powerful incentive to cooperate, so as not to be perceived as a threat to the stability of the community.
Such ideas are at the heart of the Compassion Argument, which is one of two major sub-arguments in the New God Argument. The Compassion Argument makes three assumptions. The first is a trilemma, one of which must be true (or it’s a false assumption): EITHER humanity probably will become extinct before evolving into superhumanity, OR superhumanity probably would not have more decentralized destructive capacity than humanity has, OR superhumanity probably would be more compassionate than we are. This is essentially asserting that super-cooperation (compassion) is the most probable way for a superhuman community (a decentralized superintelligence) to survive its super-destructive capacities.
Intelligence is just power. It’s not inherently good or evil. So it can be used to help or hinder, create or destroy. Superintelligence is super power. And it can be used for super-creation or super-destruction. What stops a community of superintelligences from using their super power to destroy each other? Well, maybe they do tend to destroy each other, breaking down the community, and leaving fewer and more siloed and separated superintelligences, in which case it would be true that “superhumanity probably would not have more decentralized destructive capacity than humanity has.”
But the Compassion Argument explores the implication if the community does NOT break down, neither to an individual survivor nor to highly separated individuals. Its second assumption is that community persists, increasing its decentralization, while increasing in intelligence and consequent destructive capacity. What then? Take this toward the extreme. Imagine a community approaching full decentralization in which each member is approaching the power to destroy the entire community. What happens? Well, maybe one does destroy the community. In that case, it would be true that “humanity probably will become extinct before evolving into superhumanity.”
But again, the Compassion Argument explores the implication if the individuals do NOT destroy the community. What is required for a truly decentralized community to persist and grow, while intelligence persists and grows, both toward their extremes? Cooperation would be required, as the argument goes. Increasing decentralization would entail the probability of an increasing diversity of final goals. But the logical and physical constraints of proximity would also entail the probable necessity of an increasing cooperation on instrumental goals. And cooperation taken toward its extreme becomes practically indistinguishable from compassion, at least from the perspective of an outside observer.
Assuming it’s more than superficial, what would such compassion feel like? Or, as Randy put it to me: what is the inter-relationship, if any, between consciousness and superintelligence, particularly in community? I can only imagine that it would include that which is beyond BOTH the most sublime bliss AND the most heart-wrenching agony. Compassion, as humans experience it, already leads to both experiential extremes. And I see no reason to suppose greater capacities for compassion wouldn’t likewise lead experience beyond those extremes.
In the Christian tradition, we tell the story of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. And among Mormons, we esteem this even more highly than the crucifixion. As the story goes, Jesus suffers for the sins of the world, atoning, or reconciling humanity and divinity. There are many beautiful and useful figurative interpretations of this story, exemplifying the extent to which we might willingly sacrifice ourselves for reconciliation with each other and our projections of the divine.
But in the spirit of our current exploration of superhuman social psychology, let’s consider one possible literal interpretation of the story of Jesus in Gethsemane. Although speculative, it reflects aspects of scripture as well as oral cultural tradition among Mormons. Imagine that we live in a world that is fundamentally instrumented for experiential connection between itself and God, like the parts of your body are instrumented through nerves for experiential connection with your consciousness. And imagine that, in the garden, God changes something in Jesus (or Jesus completes some process of change he had already begun cultivating) such that Jesus becomes more fully conscious of the connection that exists between the world and God. The emotional spectrum comes flooding in, from joy to sorrow, from pleasure to pain, in diverse degrees and kinds, human and otherwise. It seems like severe psychological trauma or death would ensue for any normal human anatomy, but as the story goes, Jesus is divinely strengthened and endures.
The Christian and Mormon scriptural traditions include other stores of ecstatic experiences, mostly theophanies, during which prophets have similar experiences of transfiguration while enduring a heightened intimate acquaintance with the spectrum of experience throughout the creations of God. Notably, the Pearl of Great Price observes that Moses cannot endure the experience unless he is physically changed.
So returning to Randy’s question, what may be the relationship between consciousness and superintelligence within a superintelligent community? I like how these stories present the matter. And they give me pause. So often, among religious Transhumanists, we talk with excitement about theosis: our imagined divine potential. And with good faith, we imagine ourselves willing and able to reach toward that potential. I don’t want to undermine our faith. But I think it merits considerable reverence, and much more deliberation than we commonly give it in our excitement. In part, that’s because it’s not obvious that we’ll actually want everything it entails – the hard experience and the associated responsibilities.
Our God, our heaven, our Christ may be an easy burden insofar as the gift to us is concerned. But we’re invited, if we will, to do and be more. We’re invited to partake of the divine nature and to be joint heirs with Christ in the divine glory. But there’s a qualification! The invitation is there, only if we would also join in the suffering of reconciliation – the work of atonement. We’re invited to give back. It seems that the scriptures would communicate to us that Godhood entails real risk, far more sobering than anything we experience as humans. Do we really want it? Perhaps that’s one way to imagine the purpose of life, as an opportunity to demonstrate through our actions the extent to which we might desire to transform toward the divine. Christ is love. But for those who would be Christ, that love is hard – a courageous love, that knows as much of profound sorrow as it does of sublime joy.
Early Mormons practiced polygamy, or plural marriage. And many early Mormon leaders taught that embrace of this practice would be essential to the capacity to live in divine community. I think there’s something to their claim, but it’s not obvious. The reason it’s not obvious is because, as practiced, early Mormon polygamy was predominantly patriarchal, with multiple women married to one man. And many moderns focus on that patriarchal implementation with disdain, and rightly so, in my opinion. But if we can manage to look past the sexist implementation, imagining its rectification in a non-sexist implementation, something interesting presents itself.
Heaven, the divine community, as described in Joseph Smith’s writings, is not just one place. It’s innumerable worlds with diverse glories. Some are symbolized by the glory of stars: we call them Telestial worlds, and the Mormon temple ritual suggests that Earth is a Telestial world. Others are symbolized by the glory of the moon: we call them Terrestrial worlds, and Mormon scripture suggests Earth will become a Terrestrial world during the prophesied Millennium. Yet others are symbolized by the glory of the sun: we call them Celestial worlds, and scripture suggests Earth will become a Celestial world after the Millennium – and its inhabitants will learn of glories of yet higher orders.
Mormons scripture teaches that, within the Celestial heaven, there are multiple degrees. And as the scripture goes, attainment of the highest degree requires that one enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. Arguably, early Mormon leaders understood such marriage to require polygamy and not just monogamy, which they at times derided as not only inferior but actually conducive to social degradation. In any case, marriage, when successful, lends itself to cultivating intimate inter-personal relationships. And presumably, if successful, polygamy would lend itself to cultivating a broader set of such relationships. With that in mind, we might profitably look at the early Mormon advocacy of polygamy as pointing our minds beyond any temptation to satisfaction in any persistent narrowing of intimate relationships.
Oh my. No. I’m not advocating intimate promiscuity – sexual or otherwise. Neither were the early Mormons who practiced polygamy. Intimacy need not be narrow to avoid promiscuity – in fact, “intimate promiscuity” may be a contradiction in terms. And I’m not advocating polygamy as practiced by early Mormons. But I’m asking my fellow Mormons to think about the function of polygamy, consider whether and how its place in our history might be redeemed from being esteemed as nothing more than mere patriarchal sexual greed, and look at where that redemption may point our minds.
Imagine a superintelligent community. Imagine Gods sealed with each other in celestial glory. Imagine innumerable bodies capable of Atonement, as illustrated by the story of Jesus in the Bible. Imagine innumerable minds capable of experiential integration on a visceral level with all the world around them, and with each other! Marriage, it seems, would pale in comparison to the intimacy of such a community. So I can imagine that the early Mormon leaders were on to something, were inspired to some extent, when they suggested that those who would not embrace plural marriage would not be able to endure Celestial glory. I can imagine that they were beginning to understand aspects of the social psychology of a superintelligent community.
Again, as I mentioned early on, the only thing I know for sure when speculating about superintelligence, in community or otherwise, is that I’m wrong to some extent. But being wrong is the risk we take on our way to being right. So let’s speculate. Let’s imagine a superintelligent community. Maybe through that effort, combined with whatever sources of wisdom and inspiration we might gain along the way, we’ll learn more about how to change ourselves and our world to be a little more like the better versions of what we’ve imagined.