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Big Tech Totalitarianism and the "Poneric Telon"
Chris Langan on dual singularities and the coming reality split
Back in June and July I wrote a six-part review of Mattias Desmet’s Psychology of Totalitarianism. Perhaps his key point is that our technological societies have made themselves perfect hosts for totalitarianism. This was somewhat true in the twentieth century, as communism and Hitlerism made clear, but things have only gotten worse. Those outbreaks were more or less limited regionally, even if they were much more “successful” than any previous manifestation of the disease. But our current globalized and infotech-connected world raises the risk of a global or near-global totalitarianism, with a digitized Stasi of Black Mirror proportions.
Enterof CTMU (cognitive-theoretic model of the universe) fame. Langan is very smart, to understate the matter, and reading his more technical work can feel like bench-pressing twice your body weight using only your frontal cortex. His 2018 paper, “Metareligion as the Human Singularity,” is an easy read in comparison. One section in particular sparked a neuronal singularity in me. Maybe it will for you too.
Here’s a short clip in which he discusses the idea I have in mind: dual singularities.
I mentioned Langan in passing in my article on teleology. That article presented the idea of pathocracy as a telos or social archetype, latent within the “possibility space” of human nature and development.1 I first suggested this idea in my Desmet review as a kind of “emergent,” fractal social structure. This would be similar to how the structures and functions of chemical compounds are latent within the possibility spaces of the physical elements. Under the right conditions, these compounds will seemingly “emerge” into reality, which is really just a way of saying that when oxygen and hydrogen combine in a specific configuration, you will get water. When psychopaths do what they do in a political context, society structures itself in a similarly characteristic manner—the one Lobaczewski identified as pathocracy.
Some CTMU Concepts
What Lobaczewski does for p-words (pathocracy, ponerology, ponerogenesis, ponerogenic associations), Langan does for t-words. Telesis is the very real (but very non-physical) undifferentiated potential of the universe—raw creativity. Telic as an adjective refers to this primordial medium, which logically precedes any physical laws, definite information, or observable and intelligible objects. Those things are generated and co-evolve via a mutual feedback process called telic recursion, whereby potentiality defines and constricts actuality, and the actualities define and refine potentialities.
Thus, the “laws” and the objects which “obey” them develop and mutually refine themselves, by constantly referring back to each other, thus harmonizing the whole process. In this way, abstract possibilities and concrete actualities are intrinsically coupled or linked. The result: a finely tuned universe where everything fits and things work with enough consistency to allow scientists to make discoveries and implement their understanding in the form of technologies that make use of the principles discovered. This consistency is also the reason why your keys are where you left them—usually. It’s what makes science and life possible.
Telic recursion is also the source of novelty—new possibilities that are formed out of telesis as a result of this dynamic, recursive process. Telors are the actual agents that interact creatively with telesis—things like cells and humans. Telons are the telic potentials that are produced in this process, and which attract telors into new configurations. As Langan describes it, there is a “relievable stress” generated between the existing states of telors, and the syntax or rules governing their transition to new states. This is because telors have some degree of free will. They self-configure, and thus there will always be some degree of mismatch between the global telons and the telons resulting from the telors’ own independent telic recursion. This “stress” is relieved through the further generation of new telons.
Think of a complex system like the body, constantly adjusting to achieve a suitable equilibrium in order to maintain itself. It must make innumerable adjustments and adaptations to a constantly changing environment, thus relieving the “stress” produced by disequilibrium. Perfect equilibrium exists only as an abstract ideal which the body “aims” for.
In more technical language, the body self-selects states for itself (body temperature, biochemical balances, balance, pain avoidance, etc.) using a parameter that prioritizes life. This is what ultimate reality (God, the global telor) does, constantly adjusting the balance between global telons—the overall directionality and purpose of the cosmos—and individual telons—the self-chosen directions and purposes of individual telors. Langan calls the universal selection parameter “generalized utility”—that which is maximized during telic recursion.
Ok, consider that a “light workout” summary of some aspects of CTMU, which I hope I’ve done justice. It will provide background for my commentary on Langan’s dual singularities.
Battle of the Singularities
Langan begins by defining the term:
For present purposes, a “singularity” is a point at which a system must undergo a directional break, jump through a limit, or be redefined in order to survive regardless of how it may evolve before or after. Accordingly, it can be understood as a kind of systemic destiny, an inevitable convergence of possible paths or trajectories of systemic evolution. Paths converge on points, and where such a point marks a sharp change in the smooth overall trajectory of a system, it comprises a kind of systemic “metapoint” which can be seen as marking a systemic mutation or change of inertia. This provides a tentative mathematical conceptualization of “singularity” for social systems.
Langan doesn’t use any t-words here, but I think he is describing something like a social telon. Our current paths are converging; they are heading in a particular direction. As I described in my Desmet piece, this particular direction is shaped by many people all thinking the same way. This “way” can be described as materialistic, technocratic, atheistic, and scientistic, to pick just a handful. The limits inherent in these ways of thinking naturally result in limited choices of actions. And humanity’s resulting actions will produce certain results. There is a syntax governing all this. As Langan points out, it appears to be heading for a very specific result.
The related forms of dualism thus far discussed — Cartesian dualism, naturalism, NOMA [the “non-overlapping magisteria” of science and religion], and so on — are opposed to the human need for a coherent spiritual identity. This implies a bifurcation or divergence, a human evolutionary choice between two possible adaptations or destinies respectively corresponding to the anthropic and technological aspects of an impending “singular” transformation. Each possible destiny corresponds to the dominance of one aspect over the other, and may be associated with its own conventional type of singularity.
This is bigger than any given pathocracy. Or rather, perhaps it could be the ultimate form of pathocracy, historical pathocracies being only the pale shadows of a much more intense and all-encompassing singularity.
On one side is the Human Singularity, a mass realization of the expansive spiritual identity of the human species. Basically, this is the mass spiritual awakening that we have been led to expect by, e.g., certain currents in “New Age” thought. The prototype for this kind of singularity is the Omega Point of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, representing an evolutionary terminus and divine spiritual unification event through which mankind, and reality itself, will achieve “Christ-Consciousness” and be forever transformed. (After its introduction by Teilhard, the concept was developed by various authors, ironically including a few science-oriented, ostensibly tech-minded authors like Frank Tipler and David Deutsch.)
Or, as it used to be called, the Kingdom of God? Recall what I wrote here: “Some feel the pull toward a Kingdom of God, a spiritual unity embodying the highest values, others toward a Kingdom of Man, embodying pure egoism and material comfort. … Now imagine what the mirror image [of the socialist death cult] would look like … It might just look something like the Kingdom of God—something we have no tangible experience of, and which might turn out to be impossible on earth.”
On the other side is the Tech Singularity, seminally formulated by the celebrated mathematician John von Neumann as the approaching juncture at which “technological progress will become incomprehensively rapid and complicated”, prior to which “the ever-accelerating progress of technology ... gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity [italicized for emphasis] in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue” (Ulam, 1958). In short, von Neumann foresaw an uncontrollable technological quickening, a sudden acceleration of complexity followed by the transformation (or extinction) of humanity.
Most discussions of the Tech Singularity have been naive to the point of disingenuity, boiling down to starry-eyed encomiums to the power of human intelligence to inventively couple with reality on the physical level of being using technological marvels both real and imagined, including implants, prosthetics, genetic engineering, virtual realities, and above all, a merging of human intelligence with AI. The problem with such discussions is that they seem to inhabit a socioeconomic and political vacuum, whereas in fact, the singularity concept is fraught with worrisome complications involving economic and sociopolitical factors apart from which it cannot be properly evaluated.
The Human and Tech Singularities relate to each other by a kind of duality; the former is extended and spacelike, representing the even distribution of spiritual and intellectual resources over the whole of mankind, while the latter is a compact, pointlike concentration of all resources in the hands of just those who can afford full access to the best and most advanced technology. Being opposed to each other with respect to the distribution of the resources of social evolution, they are also opposed with respect to the structure of society; symmetric distribution of the capacity for effective governance corresponds to a social order based on individual freedom and responsibility, while extreme concentration of the means of governance leads to a centralized, hive-like system at the center of which resides an oligarchic concentration of wealth and power, with increasing scarcity elsewhere due to the addictive, self-reinforcing nature of privilege. (Note that this differs from the usual understanding of individualism, which is ordinarily associated with capitalism and juxtaposed with collectivism; in fact, both capitalism and collectivism, as they are monopolistically practiced on the national and global scales, lead to oligarchy and a loss of individuality for the vast majority of people. A Human Singularity is something else entirely, empowering individuals rather than facilitating their disempowerment.)
This is delicious stuff. In other words, the tech singularity is what I was writing about in my whole series on Shafarevich, though I didn’t have the word for it. In the context of that series, it is the goal to which so-called “socialist” utopians strive. It is the hive-mind telon.
The existence of two possible singularities presupposes a point of bifurcation or divergence beyond which the evolutionary momentum of mankind must carry it. Presently, all of the momentum belongs to the Tech Singularity; it is preferred by the financial, corporate, and governmental interests which drive the general economy. This momentum is reinforced by the seeming unavailability of alternatives, i.e., the nonexistence of any other track onto which society might be steered in order to escape an oligarchical AI lockdown. It is one thing for humankind to awaken en masse to its impending enslavement through a seemingly inevitable Tech Singularity; it is quite another to have a superior alternative clearly in view.
Reminder that Langan wrote the article a couple years before “lockdown” became a household word, and a global phenomenon.
In order to reach any alternate destination whatsoever, humanity must understand what has been driving it toward the Tech Singularity. At this point, the reason is clear: the virtually automatic concentration of wealth and power, which has been observed to occur under both capitalism and socialism, fractionates humanity into an overclass and an underclass between which all else is crushed out of existence as though by the jaws of a vise. That is, the top and bottom levels of society become the jaws of a vise which, due to the screwing down of the upper jaw against the anvil-like lower jaw, crushes the middle class and all meaningful competition out of existence, thus normalizing the hive through the economic, physical, and psychological standardization of its drones and workers.
For reasons that should by now be evident, let us call this process a “parasitic divergence” — i.e., an organized divergence of humanity into a parasitic overclass and a relatively impoverished underclass serving as its mind-controlled host, mirroring the gruesome effects of certain obligate parasites on the organisms they attack — and acknowledge that it is driven by the self-reinforcing and therefore accelerating acquisition of wealth, power, and technological control by the rich. Left to run away with itself, this process ultimately leads to a “singular” concentration of wealth and power ... a kind of sociopolitical-economic “black hole” that never stops gravitating. As the top jaw of the vise grows smaller, denser, and stronger, the bottom jaw grows larger and weaker; and as human utility becomes increasingly concentrated, every significant increase in the wealth of the overclass translates into a greater amount of misery for the underclass, arbitrarily diminishing the net utility of mankind.
If God likes coherence and generalized utility, what happens when telors fail to live coherently and to contribute overall utility to the cosmos? Presumably such experiments are snuffed out, like so many species “selected” out of existence. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a tech singularity will fail—at least anytime soon. Existence seems to make certain allowances for parasitic relationships.
There are probably limits as to how far such a dynamic can develop, however. If some global parasite were to starve the rest of the planet out of existence, to the extent that it could no longer even support itself, such a parasite would itself die. But if it can maintain a balance—just enough to keep the host alive so that it can drain its utility—it can survive and even thrive. Perhaps in such a case, the subjective telons of the parasitic-class telors carry enough “weight” to sustain them. The master-slave relationship may even provide them with a source of power, like a cosmic form of electricity theft or “cable hooking.”
In the case of pathocracy, Lobaczewski argues that it can only go on for so long before it is no longer able to sustain itself. The society of normal people eventually unifies to such an extent that it is able to reclaim power for itself—or the parasite burns with the husk of its host’s dead body. The jury’s out on whether the same dynamic will apply to the tech singularity, or whether it will “lock in” and sustain itself as a kind of hell on earth.
Parasitic divergences have occurred many times in history, but the present one is different. Due to the double whammy of globalization and powerful surveillance and coercion technology, the one now in progress is geographically ubiquitous and quite possibly irreversible. If humanity is to save itself from the insectile, hive-like future associated with a Tech Singularity, the Human Singularity must prevail, empowering mankind to exert sufficient control over the production, distribution, and application of technology to prevent its unlimited oligarchical abuse. To bring this about, it is not enough to merely distribute a cognitive avoidance mechanism out of which the moneyed elite can buy and bribe their way as usual, given the absence of a well-defined alternative direction in which humanity can proceed; rather, an alternative direction must be defined and universally distributed in cognitive and attitudinal form. In short, in order to have a meaningful mass awakening, the content of the awakening must be defined and distributed to the members of humanity, thus immunizing them against parasitic mind control. Because this content must be spiritual, the involvement of religion is unavoidable.
Coincidentally, this was exactly the type of solution Lobaczewski suggested for prior parasitic divergences (i.e. pathocracies). While he focused less on the religious aspect—though it was present—Lobaczewski too advocated for a clearly defined and universally distributed “cognitive and attitudinal form”—ponerology—which would act as an immunizing agent against the ponerogenesis of pathocracy.
Langan is thinking in a much wider sphere of cognitive inoculation: a common language of metareligion which would serve to spiritually unify humanity. As he puts it, the goal consists in “unifying internally consistent religions in a well-structured metareligion, i.e., a theological relationship among religions which provides their valid truth claims with logical support.” His proposed metalanguage is the CTMU, which will require some further effort to popularize and integrate with various religious traditions. I would only add that it wouldn’t hurt to include a ponerological component.
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A possibility space is just the abstract set of all possibilities for a given domain. For example the “possibility space” of 5-letter English words is a subset of the possibility space of all 5-letter combinations, most of which aren’t words.