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Ethics and Consciousness

Reproducing molecules have evolved to create the depth and richness of human consciousness. This is the most remarkable of scientific facts. Physical reality can evolve and transform to create exquisite ecstatic conscious experience with intrinsic meaning and value. The Totality Axiom and rules of consciousness establish a connection between mathematical structure and the meaning and value inherent in conscious experience. If these assumptions are correct, moving up the hierarchy of possible mathematical structures is to move up the hierarchy of possible conscious experience. This requires ever more complex levels of abstraction and self reflection and has the potential for ever deeper richer and more ecstatic experience. There is no finite limit to the depth and subtlety of possible conscious experience beyond that imposed by resource limits to diversity and concentration of resources. The universe may be potentially infinite.19 If so, whatever ecstatic wondrous experience any being ever experiences, is the merest hint of a shadow of what can be and that will always be the case.

There is nothing to suggest that evolution has reached the limit of possible consciousness, but it has reached a unique turning point. Evolution has created a mind that is coming to understand evolution and is developing the tools that could control it. That same mind has the capacity to change the world and destroy humanity. We are facing challenges, dangers and opportunities without precedent.

At the root of many of our most dangerous challenges, is a disconnect between the exponential expansion of the power of science and technology and the haphazard development of ethics and morality. The latter largely determines how we use the enormous capabilities technology is providing. Experiments and mathematics provide the objective guidance that allows science to make consistent progress which accumulates exponentially. This is in sharp contrast to the lack of an objective arbiter of morality and ethics. The Totality Axiom and the rules of consciousness, by connecting the meaning and value inherent in conscious experience to physical structure, may hold one key to creating an objective ethics with the capability to expand commensurate with the power of technology.

Attempts at building ethics based on the conscious experience of sentient beings are ancient. Buddhism is the most notable example. However, it muddies the waters with its concepts of karma, reincarnation and enlightenment. These echo the other wordily concepts of sin, heaven and hell in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Buddhism adds more ambiguity with its concept of not-self. This ambiguity may be appropriate for the level of scientific understanding that existed at the time Buddhism was emerging.20 It contrasts favorably with the literalism that is all too easy and frequent in the religions of the Abrahamic traditions and that often has destructive, dehumanizing consequences.

A recent example of ethics based on the conscious experience of sentient beings is the work of Peter Singer[25]. Singer's analytical utilitarian approach pays little attention to the transcendence that is central to many ethical systems.21

Applying mathematics to consciousness opens the possibility of refining and developing our understanding of meaning and value inherent in the evolving consciousness of sentient beings. Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, scientist, philosopher and panpsychist22 saw the evolution of complexity and the evolution of consciousness as ongoing and incomplete. De Chardin's concept of the `Noosphere or thinking envelope of the earth'[7, 210] is central to his vision.

Structurally and notwithstanding any impression or appearance to the contrary, man is at present engaged in a process within which (by the very use of his liberty--that is to say in order to survive and transcend) he is compelled (at least statistically) to an ever increasing biological self-unification. Therefore, right in front of us in time, a peak of hominization23 must necessarily exist--a peak which, to judge by the enormous quantity of unarranged humanity still all around us, must certainly lie very far above us in consciousness, if not so far from us in time as we might at first be tempted to suppose[7, 246].

De Chardin's intuition is taking shape through globalization and the Internet which can be thought of as the precursor of a global neural network that integrates human consciousness just as the human nervous system integrates the consciousness of cells.

The futurist and artificial intelligence researcher Ray Kurzweil, another panpsychist24, argues that the Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology in a book with this title[17]. Both men see the expanding evolution of consciousness as a physical process and a spiritual journey that connects with existing spiritual traditions25 and both focus on the concentration of resources necessary for the expansion of consciousness.

Kurzweil pursues his vision from a largely technological perspective. He sees direct neural connections to the Internet and a time (~2029) when `The majority of communication involving a human is between a human and a machine.'[17, 222] He expects much of the mass of the universe to be gradually converted to computation, intelligence and high level conscious awareness.

The Singularity, as we have discussed it in this book, does not achieve infinite levels of computation, memory or any other measurable attribute. But it certainly achieves vast levels of all of these qualities, including intelligence. With the reverse engineering of the human brain we will be able to apply the parallel, self-organizing, chaotic algorithms of human intelligence to enormously powerful computational substrates. This intelligence will then be in a position to improve its own design, both hardware and software, in a rapidly accelerating iterative process.

But there still appears to be a limit. The capacity of the universe to support intelligence appears to be only about 10^90 calculations per second, as I discussed in chapter 6.[19, 485-6]

Using human mental capacity26 (sped up by large factors through technology27) to improve itself will no doubt produce levels of self reflection, mental capacity and consciousness vastly exceeding unaided28 human capacity. However, unless this is done with ever expanding diversity, it will lead to a Gödelian limit infinitely far from what is possible.

De Chardin and Kurzweil both see a transcendent future implicit in physical reality. They are empiricists and intuitive visionaries. They focus on the expansion of consciousness through the concentration of resources. We need unity on a finite planet to preserve the environment and to establish and maintain the peaceful, productive and equitable societies essential for human progress. Within a global unity, ever expanding diversity is possible for a long time even on this finite planet.29 I suspect that we will be unable to achieve the necessary global unity in the absence of creating institutions to support the necessary diversity. The creative instincts are too deeply imbued in our genes and psyche to tolerate anything less.

Realistic monism, the Totality Axiom and the rules of consciousness, combined with our mathematical understanding, could be one starting point for an objective ethics that recognizes the inherent meaning and value in conscious experience today and facilitates the transcendent conscious reality we can become.


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