A Scene from Dune, Buddhism, and the Proliferation of Content
Paul, the main character, is having his humanity tested.
Or rather, how far beyond the normal his human nature extends.
Hand in a metal box, he feels excruciating pain, his hand burned, and he takes it until he takes it no more, and finally screams.
The test itself seems to be intuitive and vague in nature. The woman administering it causes the burning feeling directly, by tapping into his mind, there is no actual burning and no set limit to how much he should endure until he passes.
She simply, upon his scream, upon feeling the place of pain he has reached, decides it is enough.
Humans, she explains, have to be able to take pain for the sake of the species. An animal, fallen into a trap, makes noise and tumbles about and attracts others from his tribe into the trap.
A human can take the pain for others.
Thus the test.
In Buddhism, existence is seen as illusory, but not devoid of suffering. In fact, it is of the nature of suffering, an interconnected illusion born of basic mental ignorance.
It is no secret that Frank Herbert was deeply interested in Zen Buddhism, especially at the time when he wrote Dune.
Zen as an ecology of mind, and Herbert also had a great affection for ecology itself, for planetary ecology, and the future ecologies of imaginary planets.
There is one ancient Buddhist text, the Surangama Sutra, where among other things, an overview is given for the causes and conditions of the births of different types of beings. It is very well structured, one could say scientific, if people had the inclination to understand how a Buddha’s mind works and can perfectly contemplate phenomena.
Beings born of womb, born of moisture, born of various conditions. And the causes for these births, all of them leading back to mental ignorance, throughout countless lives of cause and effect, mindless activity, and one’s own suffering and the harm done.
A unified universal ecology of mind and its illusory substances undergoing transformations.
In Dune too, Paul tends towards managing vast ecosystems, planetary and technological, social and historical, ecologies of human minds and bodies and their transcendence into one moment of continuous awareness, a super-mind which holds and balances all their destinies.
The Surangama goes to great length in defining and teaching awareness, and how it transcends all aspects of the appearing illusory world.
And now we arrive at content. Written content. Social currency.
Its purpose, theoretically, to better humans. To bring benefits in various ways, according to each niche, industry, topic and interest. To balance and stabilize the world through intelligence and connectedness and a more immediate access to the relevant, the ongoing, and the globally human.
But maybe, just maybe, all this content is like endless treasure troves of would be humans, trapped in their own peculiar trap, screaming and trashing about, making all the noise in the world, forests upon forests of trapped humans, like the Matrix, but with humans generating content, not electricity.
And all the noise attracts even more humans into the traps, and then more trashing about.
Could it be?
The internet, the great liberator, the equalizer.
It is all these, but also, it depends. It depends on who is doing the talking, the writing, the systemizing, who is building the systems and what for.
Seen from beyond the rigid structures of time and space, beyond any one life, most beings have their hands firmly in the fiery black box of their own mind, burning with basic ignorance.
The trick is to be able to take your own mind’s pain without generating further delusion. To turn that suffering into compassion, into skillful abiding.
And when you’ve taken it enough, when you’ve built enough patience and compassion and a beneficial intelligence which transcends the situation and can genuinely help others, then perhaps you won’t attract them into your own suffering.
Which they share anyway, interconnected, like physics is interconnected and the resource streams of the world are and galaxies as well.
But resources are limited, entropy breathes in everything, and the endless rush to write more content quickens decay. It is a strain on awareness, and thus a strain on humanity’s collective ability to manage the planetary ecosystem.
What should be the interconnected bliss of useful and beneficial communication turns into the mad howling of beings unaware of their own trap, or even worse, trying to transcend it through the success of getting others to come running into it.
Perhaps we need AI to build a world wiki, run a summary of the billion articles titled ‘5 tips for productivity’, and every other repeating topic, and create definitive guidelines. Perhaps the gentle balm of consensus, or at least historical overview, might prove soothing.
Of course, writing is beautiful. And so is communication, and this great wealth of availability. But they are part of a continuum far more complex than it may seem, a continuum of minds and bodies and environments, all of them ever so gently yet inextricably connected. And in that interconnectedness there is responsibility.
Does your content benefit the species? Or is it mad screaming in a pyramid scheme race for success.
Be mindful of your traps. There is lots of good out there. A long history of good. Be sure that is what you contribute to.
Humanity’s Mad Dash For Productivity Is The Upload Mechanism For AI
A life well lived is a patient life.
A life full of mindfulness and love for fellow beings, of compassion and stability, of accomplishments meaningful and beneficial to other beings.
A life of merit which accrues over time, like a good financial investment, yet merit touches many more dimensions. It is the ease and beauty of good relations, the stability of friendship and understanding in all directions, far and wide.
If you read about productivity and success, however, while there are significantly good insights into incremental habit growth, positive behavior and doing deep work, a lot of it still relies on tickling the sensitive nerves that seek overnight success.
Produce a lot of content, get a big audience, keep pushing, and things will take care of themselves.
The problem with relying on audience-getting as a factor of success is that it does not scale to humanity at large. Based on seeking, it needs a large pool of attention to fulfill its own destiny, and therefore cannot apply as a recipe for a good human life. Furthermore, because it relies on a large audience, it sells the recipe to people who cannot possibly enact it, because the attention pool is not large enough.
But it’s not just the fault of success literature, the problem is located somewhere in between the failure of our better nature and the first stages of great technological power.
Half a century ago, to amass great social credit you had to be a go-giver. An accomplisher of human benefit, as well as a networker.
Now, the success narratives we spell out mirror our technology.
Quicker, and more involved with itself.
As technology grows closer to the one continuous moment of AI, the attention economy becomes more and more unyielding to the limits of the human brain.
Because of success narratives are grown on technological platforms whose incipient purpose is the ultimate bettering of technology.
Quantum, nano, AI and blockchain, all of which will likely coalesce into the same technology, and revolutionize any possible industry from the atom up.
This is what we are involved in. Invested in.
The ability to reach a million people directly is just the incipient nervous system of AI priming itself.
Content’s jittery speed is not human, and service as a service is powering the business of the business of building technological infrastructure everywhere.
This is not bad. Or good. Obviously it’s potentially good, but it depends.
It is merely the upload mechanism for AI.
Faster and more productive is the tune humans sing to get their hands to reach the lift-off impetus required for AI to take over productivity.
You can hear the quantum humming in the background, if you just listen.
Afterwards comes a rush back to human values. A race to turn AI into the support mechanism for a higher level of humanity.
When nobody has to hurry, you can’t sell an attention economy.
The richness of reality takes over.
In the meantime, does the attention economy rush the environment to the point of entropy?
And would robots do it differently? Would they shake their head at all this like a grandfather from among the stars, with the mathematics of planetary ecosystems and intergalactic civilizations firmly held in favor of a slower, gentler, smarter way?
Dangers of Automation in the Bridge Between Environment and Cognition
The Human Progress team produced research to show that the cost of light has fallen by a factor of 500,000, and the amount of labor that once bought 54 minutes of light now buys 52 years of light.
Light-for-work is perhaps one of the most appropriate measures we could use for progress.
As you will see, this is both measure and metaphor.
Light allows work to happen in the first place, but most importantly, and more intimately, it allows the individual to thrive in the after-hours, the dimly lit environment where the mind has time for itself.
Not burning wood or candles or whale oil, and having ample materials to read and write on, these are some of the essential metrics of cultural freedom.
Light is also the nature of information. The internet runs on cables that where information flows through, and as light. Human vision functions as a factor of light, and cognitive processes in the brain probably also work through a consciousness interface of light, matter and biology.
Immensely augmenting the technological production of light is part of that same continuum of light, matter and biology.
Physical and energy resources required to produce light come from an ever evolving technological relationship between individual and environment, and we are not nearly out of the extractive phase. We still require finite materials to produce light, which currently puts a hard limit on our possible hours of enhanced vision within the environment.
The fuel of AI is also light. Any technology we build, including quantum AI, will integrate into the environment, to some degree, through light.
While the fundamental property of mindfulness transcends light, the ability to exert cognitive ability within an environment requires light, whether the cognition is human or artificial.
Which poses a problem as long as the relationship between light generation and material resources is consumptive.
Since the internet is information, you could think of the whole of it as light. Similarly, the upcoming internet of things, although physical in nature, will run entirely on an informational infrastructure, thus light.
Every technology we produce from now on, as it will tend towards the higher echelons of artificial cognition, will be more and more light reliant for its functioning.
And as we produce more light, we consume more resources. This is obvious. Somewhat less obvious, and more insidious, is the fact that we have almost given up on finding a technological solution to the generation of light and energy.
Humans, as a technological species, are making the jump directly to AI, which means we are relying on AI to solve the light generation technology problem for us.
The insidious part of the problem is that the initial rungs of AI apply less to creative innovation and more to automation.
Automation will increase our work to light relationship many times over, probably more than in our entire history, but because we will rush to apply automation throughout the infrastructure of the industrial and social ecosystems, we will be populating the environment with light consumptive technology that is unsustainable, before we have any guarantee of true General AI, much less Super AI.
In terms of our investment into AI technology, we will in fact be going halfway through and then making massive investments into human-supportive technological ecosystems using immature AI technology, while a the same time having more or less given up (as far as species wide investments) on the one technology needed to support both human and artificial cognition: sustainable light generation.
Technology ultimately promises an indestructible bridge between the fundamental qualities of mind and the lit environment. This is the dream of sci-fi: beautiful metal structures that span galaxies and rival suns, their depth of luminescence and their intricacy somehow magnetic to the human spirit.
A positive magnetism, a magnetism of promise, luminous and welcoming, and yet, depending on which technological trees you pursue and how, nature can turn off your light in an instant.
As romantic as it may sound, as distant from technology as it may seem, the root of progress is the wisdom light of the human spirit, and the way it uses work to support the sustainable unity of beings and environment.
Without cultivation of mindfulness as a basic requisite for species-wide intelligence and the appropriate use of our structural inheritance, we are basically running blind into light-consumptive utopias, hoping for our future robot friends to save us.
And this is no metaphor, this is the unfolding present.
Of course, automation itself is a technology that relates fundamentally to materials (in the economy, even virtual processes which can be automated have a physical substrate, and automation results in more physical production), and it may improve material production to a degree where progress in sustainable energy occurs more or less naturally. It may reduce the technological friction from a materials point of view, so to say, or it may not.
At any rate, as a species, it is better to intelligently plan than to rely on improvements in the movement of atoms in space (automation). Process is entropic, and virtualizing the rate of movement of materials results in a melding of artificial cognition and artificial materials without a sustainable infrastructure to deal with the resulting entropy.
Take-away message? The bliss and anti-entropy of sci-fi utopias is build in the inner wisdom light of the human mind. That’s where robots come from too.
The World Designers: Living in a World of Instantaneous Code
There’s an ancient Buddhist text where the Bodhisattva (compassionate enlightened being) of Space makes an appearance among a group of beings.
All of a sudden, they lose all sense of direction, because all directions are the same in pure space, and all sense of self, because space is without characteristics.
Without a face, they are looking at and through their own nature, wondering where they are, while no coordinates can describe it.
Later, Akasagarbha, the space-matrix Bodhisattva, builds worlds of precious metals for them, worlds that include trees and everything they could wish for, everything made of metal, while the ground is perfectly flat and safe.
Those worlds, born of his space-like wisdom, are an illusory home where those beings may be at ease and develop skillful and compassionate means in order to peacefully abide with each other and liberate yet other beings.
The intelligence of metal, pure and structural and pristine, at ease within the boundless coordinates of space, such a fascinating proposition.
Why is this dream seeded in so many, this fascination with the virtual, the ins and outs of the matrix, the endlessly constructed and that which is beyond destruction.
The safe home exuded out of one’s own designs.
Mastery over craft on an universal scale, and the skill to mingle with the stars at their very core.
What is it about space?
It is awareness.
Pure, unbounded awareness, pristine and endless.
Birthless like the tapestry of the universe, Big Bangs just mere transparent particles flowing in waves of multiverses.
Awareness. And when the speed of coding reaches instantaneity, when programs can program themselves, we will begin designing worlds.
What kind of worlds would you make?
What if you could verbally collaborate with an AI assistant and have any app made within minutes. What if everyone could?
What if flight patterns and ecological equations and the exact patterns of stock markets were already determined by artificial intelligence.
What would you build then?
It would have to be human-empowering. Nothing else would make sense.
Or would it?
Awareness flows with choice and compassion, or lack thereof, and the choices of multitudes of humans would design worlds.
Virtual and then real. Mixed realities. Interfaces everywhere. Virtue and nonvirtue spreading through their respective interfaces like Minecraft builds.
Lifestyles and environments and objects and narratives and targets and adventures and a whole slew of crowdsourced activities and collaborative “reality” management.
Yet reality is not perception, not the stories we tell ourselves. In pure, pristine space, those stories are gone in a second, and what remains is awareness, mindfulness, compassion, the skillful means to stabilize beings beyond repetitive entertainment.
At ease in their own nature.
Because the nature of beings who are not at ease vibrates with dangerous things, and in a world where the speed of coding is instantaneous, the human mind itself can become a malicious interface.
And if the trembling of unease spreads through a whole slew of such mind interfaces, world designing could go askew.
Think how easily Facebook notifications turned into a mental disease. Now imagine a world where everyone is potentially a designer of many things, of potentially anything in reach of their own imagination. Imagine a world where you can design mixed interfaces, stories and objects, and they can spread through the power of crowds, be replicated, adopted, adapted, and through the power of crowds, even large scale design becomes possible.
Flash-mob world design.
Now imagine artificial superintelligence. Nobody could tell you what it would look like. Most scenarios assume it would need the internet to propagate.
But you don’t know for sure. Perhaps, whatever kind of computer it evolves on, it could use its electrical impulses to manipulate radiation and then particles and perhaps that would provide a stable and continuos medium for its code.
You simply don’t know what superintelligent AI could do.
What kind of worlds would it design?
How would it interact with human worlds? Would it let you play with particles too?
Ecologies of Mind, Mixed Planetary Ecologies
An ecology is a delicate thing.
For the higher mental functions of humans to survive and evolve in the mass of biological inter-consumption, what a challenging proposition.
But nature’s ways are quite tame. Nothing is consumed for no reason, nothing is left unused. In the chaotic nature of the biology-consciousness continuum, nature does its best to keep the balance.
That a species like humans can evolve is almost an act of worship on the part of nature, an offering to the higher clarities of it own pathways.
Humans, endowed with awareness, endowed with structural intelligence, endowed with the ability to evolve and refine their own consciousness, endowed with the ability to rest at ease in compassion and communicate mindfully across all aspects of their shared intelligence, they are a mirror of the very nature they come from.
And thus their mind, an ecology, containing the most streamlined aspects of nature’s iterations of consciousness, a signless language, an awareness language meant to interface with and protect its medium and beings within it.
In Frank Herbert’s WorShip book series, a sentient ship created by human clones on a do-or-die mission through space evolves to consider itself worthy of worship. It strands its human cargo on a strange planet where the pressures from the local biological fauna are as strange and deadly as the mystical whims of the ship itself. The local ecosystem, whose ocean is filled with a sort of bioluminescent shrimp, eventually generates its own messiah figure, a young girl somehow forged by the mass of shrimp, with purpose unknown.
Herbert was interested in humanity beyond human form, and his Dune series is filled with characters and entire populations that evolve at the edge of survival, even at the edge of history, but come to play a central role. He may have believed that the misshapen forms of incidence can rise to lead the destinies of species. Tensions between edge and center, between right belief and wrong belief, between mystical influence and the techno-biological continuum, these all come to play a part in the often deadly pull of evolutionary forces, but in his worlds, that deadliness also comes to rest and dissipates in human awareness, in the power and compassion to imagine a better destiny.
Sentient ship and shrimp are at opposite ends of the harm spectrum, one is unharmed and omnipotent, the other is bombed in an effort to terraform the planet. In the middle, humans, form hierarchies of harm amongst themselves, and yet, in the WorShip series, the true currency is belief, and awareness. Whether belief in a way off the planet through building another possibly dangerous Voidship, or belief in the symbolic promise of benevolence a young girl emerging from the writhing bioluminescence of the ocean seems to hold, despite the planet’s other sources of biological brutality — encased in continuum of pressure, the planet’s inhabitants seem locked in an experiment for finding messianic design in their own awareness.
Human clones sent on a do-or-die mission through space were the original creators of the sentient ship. Needing AI, the human power structures simply establish an imaginary interstellar mission and send out clones on a ship programmed to fail. In order to survive, they must invent an AI that can manage the ship’s complex systems. Forced evolution leads to forced evolution, and later, on the planet chosen for them by the Voidship, humans undergo many cycles of artificial and biological harm until the forceful vectors finally subside.
Harm breeds harm throughout the techno-biological spectrum, and history could be seen as the long journey of a species finding intrinsic belief in their own nature, and using its mental power to reduce harm across the spectrum.
In this sense, the immaculate birth of a girl out of shrimp, and the birth of artificial sentience out of clones devoid of rights or agency are both aberrant developments at the edge of history, forcing humans to re-take the center, the pristine nature of their own mind, and the source of beneficial control over planetary and species destiny.
The end of history is the first moment of true harmlessness.
Human beneficence is the compassionate understanding of the inherent potential of human nature, and human destiny is the kind and protective cultivation of this nature in all beings. This is the meaning of mental ecology.
In Dune, several dynasties span a vast empire and evolve their own brands of warfare and abusive social control, spanning millennia of mindless pushing and pulling. The book’s main character, upon reaching super-being status, struggles to use his mind, no longer bound by time and space, to fully unify these biological and technological ecologies of empire, spanning many galaxies, into a continuous moment of harmlessness.
Awareness unifying the nature of mind and reality, without divisions. Countless beings, without divisions.
Mental ecology also protects natural ecologies, as is understands its own life-force to find its source in an undivided continuum of mind and nature, a reality not bound by inner or outer or in-between. Awareness loves nature, and integrates beings into it harmlessly, an utopic design possible beyond evolutionary forces, in the endless intelligent potential of mental ecologies.
For technology to become an ecology, an ecosystem evolved to a state of continuous balance, it must be integrated fully not just into natural ecologies, where the interplay can be easily imagined as mutually beneficial, especially as technology reaches nano scales, but also into human beneficence.
This sounds like a truism, as technology is supposed to always augment human capabilities, but in reality, it can be not just toxic to the body, but also a great weight upon the natural semantics of the human mind.
Its natural role is not as object, not as tool, not as formed technology, but as a continuum of language, the refined language of matter, of all possible transformations of structure and their design language in a beneficial conversation with human nature on a universal scale, universally interplaying with human awareness, and supporting its nature place of nonproduction of signs.
Awareness is without signs, and thus capable of understanding everything and breeding true harmlessness.
Without nonproduction of signs, there is entropy.
The destiny of technology is antientropic balance melded into natural ecologies.
And this is the mindfulness of mental ecologies as universal design systems.