The Collective Unconscious, Quantum Mechanics And PSI

Appendix One: Agent Human, A Summary

Introduction To Agent Human: Consciousness At The Service Of The Group

The book describes the development of consciousness in animals and humans, demonstrating its causes and utility in social behaviour, and particularly the group behaviour of primates and Homo sapiens.

Agent Human is the first book which combines a rigorous treatment of the biological and behavioural underpinnings of consciousness with a comprehensive theory of human agency, thus allowing robust predictions of the future both of human society and of consciousness itself, the human species' greatest achievement.

Although the emergence of consciousness is initially described at an anatomical and neural level, supporting material is included to assist the general reader in understanding the technical details.

The human group, with its moral burden, was initially the means by which humans were able to develop society and culture; the process culminated in the emergence of the State, which is portrayed as a perversion of the natural, ethical 'groupishness' of humans. But the book shows how the Internet and the globalization of human society that it engenders will reclaim the moral high ground for individuals.

Individuality is seen as a social tool self-awareness emerged to allow the 'Human Agent' to function effectively in a group, social setting. But our felt conscious awareness is detached from the workings of the underlying human psyche; at a conscious level, we often deceive ourselves and others, for once valid evolutionary reasons. By now this does more harm than good but there is a way out!

Our self-awareness allows us to consider improving ourselves and the condition of the individual in society; and technology presents multiple opportunities for this. The book ends with an exploration of the future of consciousness, and by extension the future of people.

There are of course many books about consciousness, but they tend to focus on particular aspects: Texts which describe the neurological basis of consciousness – these are often impenetrable to the general reader; 'Dualist' approaches to the social, ethical and even religious dimensions of consciousness – these have largely been bypassed by cognitive science; Sociological or philosophical treatments of the behaviour of human beings – these hardly ever or never pay attention to the cognitive realities of the brain.

In general, existing books on consciousness fail to treat of the causes and purposes of consciousness, and so they are unable to construct a predictive theory of the future for consciousness. There are some honourable exceptions, but many of them were written years or even decades ago, and do not reflect modern cognitive scientific achievement.

Consciousness And The Human Group

In our evolutionary history, individual separateness in a physical sense is of very long standing, although some types of animal never developed it, or even abandoned it. So also is the division of individuals into two kinds, male and female. Other, physical distinctions exist among us, and play a role in mating or in survival, such as eye or skin colour, strength, height, and so on. Some mental attributes also go way back, perhaps, such as courage and propensity to nurture kin (most often children). Such attributes can be observed in many other species. But humans are unique among species in having developed a wide range of 'social' emotions and behaviours which are nonetheless genetically encoded just as much as height or eye colour.

Some of the more basic of these social emotions or behaviours also evolved among other species, such as ants or wolves, which are often termed 'social' species as a result; but the range and depth of human social emotions and behaviours far outstrips anything to be observed elsewhere, even among non-human primates, who evidently set out on the road we humans later followed.

Among the characteristic features of humans is also the set of cognitive abilities we call consciousness, including the ability to report to each other about our current state of mind through language. Conscious activity is a key contributor to the 'face' presented by an individual in a group. It is a major proposition of the book that consciousness as we humans experience it is a product of our social natures, perhaps even more epigenetic than genetic.

Many evolutionary biologists believe that consciousness arose or at least gained greater salience as a result of the demands posed by the group, accompanied by the emergence of individual personality and complex inter-personal behaviours. Although some primitive precursor of consciousness presumably originated way back in animal evolution, there's no doubt that cognitive power, and consciousness as part of that, expanded greatly with the arrival of social groups. Other things that happened during the same period (roughly speaking between 2m and 250,000 years ago) were the arrival of bi-pedality, the rapid enlargement of the human brain, and the development of communication techniques to supplement and then largely replace physical grooming as a means of social interaction, culminating in the development of language. All of these innovations are tied together in a complex web of cause and effect, whose details are much debated. But each one is eventually necessary to all the others; that too is not disputed.

Of course it seems to make sense that a wide repertoire of facial expressions (only humans have such complex facial muscles), emotional displays and meaningful sounds would have developed as part of living in a larger group of people, and especially so as that group began to display co-operative social behaviours such as those of the 'hunter-gatherer'. The larger group also saw the emergence of reciprocal altriusm and intentionality (an understanding of the 'otherness' of others), something which is the sine qua non of a human social group, and the emergence of 'social' emotions such as empathy, shame and love. Finally, a developing awareness of self (full-blown consciousness, in fact) allowed the individual to plan and undertake social interactions as an autonomous agent. This all meant increased cognitive demands on the brain, including the storage of massive quantities of information about other members of the group and interactions with them. Eventually there was some sort of limit on group size at around 150 individuals, thought to be linked to the cognitive capacity of the brain, which could no longer become bigger given the constraints of the birth canal in human females and the brain's own energetic requirements.

The larger, co-operative group was already effective enough for humans to compete successfully against rivals and enemies, both animal and Neanderthal. Nature was not tamed, but could be lived with. And with the development of the human social group came the emergence of morality as we now understand it. Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic) paints consciousness as being at the centre of the process by which the collective (the group in its most general sense) applies an ethical (moral) structure to its members.

Individuals do not in fact in the normal course of life make conscious distinctions between the origins of the rules they adhere to; this is a process that is carried out unconsciously, and it has a great deal to do with internal knowledge of group membership. There can be conflicts between group memberships, each with its distinct set of moral imperatives, and these sometimes require a conscious decision to be made between conflicting rules, or at least conscious awareness of a decision that has, perhaps, been made unconsciously. Such conflicts are rare, however. For the most part, people do accept sets of rules that are presented to them as the writ of the group, whether consciously or unconsciously, without enquiring too deeply into their legitimacy. This tendency to conform has evolutionary fitness, emerging as hierarchical group-centred living became the norm.

Up to this point, there is perhaps little for most people to disagree with; it is the next step that has some people sucking their teeth (facial emotional display). And the next step is to assert that human individuality as it is experienced by modern humans could not have existed (and could not have been perceived either by the individual or others) until the battery of group-centred human social attributes, often termed the social calculus, had emerged. It might be more accurate to call them 'cognitive' attributes, but in this group-oriented book they are treated as if they are indissolubly linked to social situations.

Social situations are of course not limited to those that might have existed during the evolution of early Homo sapiens, and the later history of human societies encompasses a host of 'cultural' innovations which are to be thought of as being passed from generation to generation through education or by being recorded outside the brain, in books, paintings or nowadays on the Internet.

The thesis of the book is that those genetically encoded human attributes that are expressed through individual personality evolved largely in a group environment, and that human individuality as it is experienced by a person has to be understood, and can mostly be described, in terms of group memberships. Put in another and more blatant way, individual personality and self-awareness are tools of groupishness (or groupedness) and developed because they had adaptive benefit.

What Is A Group Anyway?

In Agent Human, the word 'group' is frequently used to define a collection of people, each of whom can say, we XyXyXy-ers . . . They belong to the XyXyXy group. Evidently, this excludes animals, in the sense that a dog cannot say (and may or may not be able to think): 'We dogs like bones'.

Certainly it is not possible to deny the existence of groups among non-human organisms; they clearly exist, and were necessary precursors of the human group as it finally emerged. Groups pre-existed humans, and the early stages of the development of the human group took place among earlier types of organism.

A group in the human sense is a mental concept; it is something that a person feels that she belongs to, or, equally important, does not belong to. It isn't possible to talk about groups without accepting their exclusiveness alongside their inclusiveness. This feature of groups is an essential clue to their origins, and also arose among precursor species.

Given that the idea of 'groupedness' is very central to and deeply embedded in the human psyche, it is not surprising that there is an extensive range of dimensions on which humans can plot their affiliations. Men are a group. Women are a group. People are a group. Man-hating women are a group. Women-hating men are a group. Cat-lovers are a group. Chinese chefs are a group.

There are a lot of groups, and we all belong to lots of them. How many groups do you belong to? What part of you doesn't belong to a group? Ah, stop! You are a unique individual. Absolutely. You believe it, I believe it, everyone believes it. Of course. But again, what part of you doesn't belong to a group?

You are a Canadian (group) woman (group) and you are married (group) with children (group). You drive a car (group) but you also have a bicycle (group) and sometimes you even walk on the sidewalk (group). You have pets (group), you play netball (group), you are a lawyer (group), your family came from Kiev (group), you are a fan of Eminem (group), you are a lapsed (group) Orthodox Christian (group), you paint water-colours (group). You have a summer house (group) and it is on the lake (group).

But you are unique.

It's true that nobody else has exactly the same combination of group memberships as you do, you can easily agree, but of course that has got nothing to do with uniqueness. It is more a question of personality, perhaps, or of other, less definable characteristics. Eventually, for many people, it is a matter of 'soul'.

From an evolutionary point of view, however, there is no reason to suppose that individuals with distinct personalities would have any reason to exist in the absence of a forum in which individuality has value, meaning, that it somehow increases the 'inclusive fitness' (jargon for evolutionary adaptiveness) of its possessor. That was as true when the first sexual differentiation occurred among primitive worms as it is true today of the contribution made by the infinite gradations of the human personality to our complex society.

It is the task of the book, therefore, to chart the development of human individuality, itself deeply interwoven with the idea of the 'self' and of consciousness, but at every stage to insist on understanding the purposes of the gradual accretions of social complexity and cognitive power that have marked our progress, if such it is.

In fact, as seen from the perspective of a believer in the central importance of groups to human individuality, the message of the book is an immensely hopeful one for humans, because it provides both an explanation of the anomie or social divisiveness that is the curse of modern society and at the same time provides a cure for this social disease.

The book has a number of interlocking purposes and themes:

  • To describe the dominant influence of group membership ('groupishness') and the demands of social existence on the genetic evolution and more latterly the epigenetic development of the human psyche;
  • To track the development from earliest times of the cognitive assemblage we call consciousness and its anatomical basis in the brain, largely by means of a summary of state of the art research;
  • To present the evidence from evolutionary biology and other disciplines supporting the idea that human consciousness and 'selfhood' developed to support the role of individuals in groups, based by all means on previous cognitive and neural developments that allowed higher animals to plan and to behave appropriately with conspecifics.
  • To describe the development of modern society, its moral basis and the consciousness of its citizens from a 'groupish' perspective;
  • To speculate on the future of human consciousness in the context of advanced forms of 'machine' intelligence and the oncoming ability of humans to re-engineer their own psyches.

The Future For Human Consciousness

Sitting at her laptop while on holiday in the Cayman Islands, today's (or tomorrow's) economic actor can communicate with a group of the other members of an international share-buying club specializing in feminine health and beauty companies; can organize the participation of one of her children in a summer music camp in New England; can continue an extensive e-mail discussion with a group of intellectual property lawyers (our actor is one such, herself) aimed at influencing the next meeting of a sub-Committee of WIPO to change the wording of a proposed 'fair-use' exemption clause; can visit a user discussion forum to help a decision about whether to change her health insurance scheme; and, exhausted, can close down the miserable machine and thankfully join the rest of her family on the beach, her global credentials well and truly burnished for the day. Of course, she will still have her Blackberry with her, just in case . . .

Nowhere does the nation state feature in this admittedly very partial list of one individual's social and professional involvements. Every one of them is centred around a group of people making their own arrangements within global organizational and cultural structures. But this prescription for added groupishness a la Durkheim does not resolve the impasse caused by the confrontation between modern society and the unconscious, tethered to its collective roots. Spiritually, the lady on the beach is devastatingly alone.

For the moment skirting around the possibility that humans may eventually be able to choose types of psyche which are different from the one we now have (but see below), the options open to a member of contemporary society to resolve this dilemma might be listed as follows:

  • Accept the agenda of the individual versus the State;
  • Return to groupishness; or
  • Fully inhabit individuality with groupishness.

The first of these leads to lack of moral basis in life, due to the unsatisfactory moral leadership given by the State (it demands moral hegemony, but then behaves completely amorally in relation to its citizens, and fails to provide satisfactory models or moral teaching). The result is hoodies and the rest.

The second is very successful for those individuals who do it, but fails to address the pressing questions that are posed by humanity's progress. Examples of communities that have retreated to (or stayed in) past folkish social models are the Hutterites and the Amish. 'Revivalist' US religious communities probably fall into this bracket, as do activist organizations such as Al Quaede. Scientologists, nuns and monks are other examples of communities that solve the problems of modern society by ignoring them.

The third path seems to be the only possible one for an individual who wishes to be 'saved' from the moral desert of the modern world, while continuing to be a part of that world. It doesn't absolutely require a conscious decision to follow such a path, but is probably much more difficult without awareness of what is going on. It is difficult because it requires acceptance of the unconscious, group-based nature of one's psyche, which cannot easily be accessed by the enquiring conscious mind, but which informs the whole of the structure of the personality, especially as regards social dealings with the outside world.

The 'groupish' unconsciousness carries with it the moral burden of all the groups to which an individual belongs, even if part of this may have been contributed from external sources (from the 10 Commandments to the Code of Practice for Futures Traders to the rules of your golf club). In order for an individual to construct her own independent yet 'groupish' universe, it is necessary for the conscious mind, including the superego, to accept the body of these rules as a real and forceful part of the psyche. In history, few people have achieved this; but it is becoming easier because of better understanding of the workings of the mind and society. Nowadays a reasonably well-educated person is already a few steps up the ladder before they even start.

It needs to become the goal of society that all its members should fit this specification, unless they wish to follow the second path. The cop-out, the first path, should not be a permitted option, because that is what will lead to a permanent underclass, and nightmare visions like H G Wells's Eloi and Morlocks. It is quite surprising how many science fiction writers have imagined a 2-layer society of this kind; it is indeed one of the greatest dangers facing humans, but it can be avoided fairly easily as long as an inclusive agenda is adopted by those people who are in a position to influence the choices of individuals and their organizations.

This is not to say that lager and Little Britain are to be banned in favour of a diet of Chateau Petrus and The Art of Fugue. It is not necessary to be elitist in order to understand and participate in collective, 'groupish' activities and mind-sets.

The development of technologies permitting intensified communication between people, as outlined below, will also bring a need for improvement, in this case at the cognitive level. Internet-inspired collaborations affecting many aspects of life, some of them currently under nation state control, and the development of direct brain-to-brain or brain-to-robot communication, perhaps in shared cognitive spaces, will generate demand for faster and broader psychological performance. The development of the brain is guided by an intricate interaction between the genome and a child's environment, but beyond question, there will be ways in which dna can be changed to favour desired outcomes.

Humans will change themselves not just because they can, although that on its own makes it certain that they will, but because evolution hasn't finished with us, and never will, while we exist; because we seem unable to secure the good bits of human nature against the bad bits; because we may destroy ourselves if we don't change; and because we have allowed the Church and the State to relieve our 'souls' – for want of a better word – of moral responsibility.

It may be supposed that, towards the middle of the century, as improved medical techniques increasingly offer life chances to everyone regardless of genetic and environmental factors, Darwinian evolution will become less of a factor in pure 'survival of the fittest' terms. There is unlikely to be any cultural resistance to this trend.

Within the lifetime of today's children, there will be no part of the body which cannot be replaced or improved by a bionic or artificial biological or bio-electronic device; and some human faculties will routinely be enhanced by implants shortly after birth – hearing is the most obvious example with major improvements in the perceived frequency range and spatial discrimination. Direct manipulation of the genome will have removed the great majority of genetically-transmitted diseases; and babies will be 'designed' to an extent which would have seemed unacceptable even 20 years ago.

The future for Darwinian evolution of human cognitive faculties is a tougher nut to crack. There certainly is a premium on cognitive ability in the modern world, as there has been for thousands of years if not much longer, and on the conforming, cooperative and communicative behaviours that are required for group success. And no-one could pretend for a moment that the modern world is anything but more complex and more demanding cognitively than it used to be. The cult of individuality might be thought to work in the opposite direction, but that is a superficial view. At almost all points, the individual interacts with the modern world through the agency of groups: at school, in the office, in the army, in sport, in the pub. Even a person working in an intensely individual way, say, a top golfer, cannot succeed without her groupish 'support team', the approbation of her peers, and her fan club. And as pointed out in previous chapters, globalization and the Internet will increase, not reduce the opportunities for people to form like-minded groups.

All of this social complexity could be expected to work for greater cognitive social skills, although its impact on marriage and reproductive chances may be lessened by programmes aimed at reducing social disparities.

Bionic and genetic techniques to improve (artificially – whatever that means) cognitive performance may also tend to reduce the role of 'natural' Darwinian selection, although in terms of genetic results it may be hard to tell the difference between an improvement in neuronal memory functioning brought about by genetic manipulation and one brought about by failure to breed on the part of people whose memory skills are too poor to allow them to perform successfully in the world.

One particularly intriguing area is the access of consciousness to 'groupish' segments of the brain, that is the parts of the brain which hold knowledge of group memberships, relationships with other group members, and the sets of rules which govern those relationships. Many researchers have supposed that the enormous volume of this information was one of the main causes of increasing brain-size in early hominids. Although some of this information is available to consciousness, some of the time, most of it is hidden, although of course it is used all the time by the unconscious decision-making cognitive apparatus.

These and other re-engineerings of the internal workings of the brain are likely to be technically feasible by 2050, if not before, and alongside them will be opportunities for enlargement of a human's cognitive space through access to external electronic cognition. External memory (data-bases) was mentioned above, in the sense of a static store of information that would be available to the existing brain through wireless, magnetic or even cable communication.

Two-way communication between the human brain and external devices (and, indeed, other human brains) in a way that bypasses existing sensory channels seems a near-certainty within twenty years at the very outside, and probably much sooner. Once a human can communicate directly with the cognitive space of a quasi-human external device, or with other human psyches, immense possibilities open up for enhanced group activity. Humans are already well equipped by evolution to handle collective planning, analysis and behaviour; it will no doubt be a stretch for our current brains to encompass a dramatically wider set of cognitive inputs, enabling and even requiring faster mental processing, but there is no reason to suppose that we cannot learn and improve in this direction, as we have done in the past in other respects.

Self-deception is perhaps another matter. Although there evidently were benefits from the interlocking roles of consciousness and deception in the historical context of human social development, it is not clear that it is necessary or desirable for the situation to continue as it is. Humans seem to be born ready to deceive rather than ready to trust, and each individual goes through a long and difficult process of socialization and personal self-development in order to attain a reasonable level of openness, transparency and honesty in social dealings. Many people, perhaps most, never do.

It would arguably be an improvement to the human psyche to arrange better access for consciousness to those parts of the brain it cannot currently access, and to the processes that take place in them. That could include some parts of what we currently term the 'unconscious'. There may be occasions on which a more sentient human being might still choose to be deceptive – but many people might think it an improvement if hypocrisy, bigotry, snobbery and the like played a much less prominent role in human affairs, which is the likely result if people could be aware of the unconscious processes that cause them to dissemble – both to others and to themselves.

The Future For Human Brains

By, say, 2030, the functional cognitive structure of the human brain will be well understood, although some 'wiring diagrams' will not yet be mapped, not least because they are dynamic. The issue of the extent to which words are stored in terms of related images or non-linguistic patterns will have been resolved, and appropriate results will have followed in terms of robotic and bionic cognitive devices, and the control of them. The main lines of the cognitive structure of 'human-friendly' robots (ie robots which need to communicate in more than a superficial way with humans) will have been laid out.

During the period from 2030 to 2050, it is to be expected that humans will become able to communicate with quasi-human robotic intelligences using wireless or magnetic technologies, or just using a cable link, by-passing their normal sensory channels. It will probably be possible for a human to 'inhabit' a robot's psyche, using its consciousness, its cognitive tools and its sensory equipment as if they were her own. This probably sounds too visionary; but consider for a moment the experience of a surgeon remotely inspecting the inside of a coronary artery with an intelligent micro-camera. This already happens, and it is not such a major step to add further sensory equipment to the camera (heat sensors, say, haptic and olfactory antennae) and then cognitive facilities that would allow the instrument to begin to make its own decisions and carry out its own motor actions within limits set by the surgeon.

In fact it is already commonplace to view through the sensory apparatus of robotic devices. Houston inspects the shuttle for damage through remote cameras or through cameras held by astronauts; pilots have 'head-up' displays of telemetry or targets. The crucial step forward will be for such sensory information (not just visual) to be received directly by the brain. Experimental control of prosthetic limbs by thought processes has already been demonstrated, with a combination of nerve signals and electronic sensors; it is only a matter of time before the brain will be able to receive and work with information transmitted from remote sources – say, 2020. Shortly after that a human will be able to control a robot as if it was an organic extension of the human body; and by adding quasi-human cognitive abilities to the robot, an individual will be able to work in a sentient partnership with the robot. The robot at that point has in a real sense become a partial cognitive clone of the human, and many aspects of a human's daily life could be lived through such surrogate devices. The avoidance of physical risk is one obvious benefit, but there are many others, including that people would no longer need to travel.

It is more or less straightforward, if you are a believer, to imagine how parts of sensory awareness and certain types of cognitive activity (accessing a lexicon, for instance) could be migrated to an external device, but it requires a further leap of imagination to think that consciousness, based as it is on very deeply rooted representations, could be so migrated. But if sensory processing can be carried out in a remote device, why should not the representations (Edelman's global mappings, for instance) also migrate? Thus, bit by bit, the lower levels of consciousness (somatic responsiveness, categorizing responsiveness, etc, all as described in the early chapters of this book), could be reconstituted remotely and used by the human brain to construct the 'upper' levels of consciousness, culminating in self-awareness. Or it might be that the step-by-step building process might not be needed, and that elegant short cuts might be found towards the re-creation of self-awareness. For the purposes of this chapter, it is not even relevant: what matters is that the creation of remote, communicable, reportable self-awareness will happen; and that is the subject of the final section of the book.

Migrating Consciousness Into External Environments

Whether or not it does become possible for humans to migrate part or all of their cognitive and sensory apparatus (including levels of consciousness as described in this book), there are difficulties in reaching satisfactory names for such 'remote cognitive representations'. Conventionally they have been called robots; but the more 'human' they become, the less satisfactory that term comes to seem. The word 'avatar' is also not too satisfactory, since it carries with it the sense of being an artificial construct, whereas in most situations what is wanted, and will be provided, is a more or less faithful (if partial) version of the original. The word clone is also overlaid with a lot of extraneous meanings by now. So in Agent Human the term Remote Cognitive Representation (abbreviated to RCR) is used to describe a device or construct which faithfully represents all or part of an individual in a 'real' or virtual environment.

It is important to see that Remote Cognitive Representations (RCRs) will become the preferred method of interacting with other people (other RCRs no doubt) in a wide variety of situations, and to distinguish them from avatars as used in gaming or other imaginary (and often deceptive) situations. Right here we will skip over the difficulties of identification that will be raised by Remote Cognitive Representations. These are not different in kind from those that already exist as regards people, and they will be solved by the same types of method.

Apart their use in Virtual Internet Communities (VICs), Remote Cognitive Representations will be useful for business meetings between robots or in virtual 'rooms', for queuing, for attending conferences, if such still exist, for going to art galleries, concerts, plays, sporting events (and possibly for competing in some of them), for attending educational classrooms or lecture theatres. It will be seen that the Virtual Internet Community is in fact not to be thought of as just a playful Internet social environment – as RCRs become more powerful, the VIC will become the norm for many types of human private or business forum.

It is also clear that VICs allow an individual to become far more efficient, since she can be represented in multiple social settings simultaneously. The RCR which 'powers' the individual in the VIC can of course be given an amount of autonomy appropriate to a particular setting, so that the 'owner' becomes aware of the RCR's sensory and cognitive states only in pre-determined circumstances (quite like consciousness!), or of course at the behest of the owner. 95% of shopping, for instance, does not require a decision process from the owner and could easily be multi-tracked with other activities (child-minding, say).

So far, the RCR has been discussed as if its capabilities merely reflect a sub-set of its owner's chacteristics; but in reality the RCR will soon come to be capable of more, for instance by holding sets of data which cannot be accommodated in (or are not needed by) the owner's 'home' cognitive space. RCRs will also come to be able to pool the experience of groups of other owners and/or their RCRs. For this type of unit, the expression Remote Cognitive Collective (abbreviated RCC) is employed.

One way or another, the collective psyche which currently exists among groups of individuals at an unconscious level, as described by Jung and Neumann, will come to exist more transparently in the Remote Cognitive Collective. It's not possible to know, at present, whether Jung's 'collective unconscious' just means an understanding shared by a number of group members, or whether it refers to some sort of buried telepathic ability which humans have lost during the development of speech and visual, especially facial communication. Probably this question will be answered, along with many others, by neuroscientists during the next twenty years.

It is fascinating to speculate on the protocols which would be necessary to govern the awareness by individuals of the state of a Remote Cognitive Collective, and the rules to govern their active participation in what we must still call a meeting, although it wouldn't seem much like a meeting in the 'real world'. From one point of view it would be easier to communicate with the mental states of one's peers in such a meeting, since the RCC would hold data about the current cognitive state of participants in highly organised forms.

Remote Cognitive Collectives might develop as purely passive fora, to be inhabited as occasion demands by multiple individuals; but they will also probably come to have initiative and even perhaps personality on their own account. We could call this an 'active RCC', with autonomous tasks ranging from simple activities such as data collection to the representation of the collective will of the group as a quasi-human actor in relationships with other Remote Cognitive Representations, RCCs or individuals.

There are no theoretical limits to the 'size' of an RCC, and at the extreme it would be – will be – possible for large numbers of people to express their will (vote, for instance) through an RCC. External cognitive devices with which humans will learn to communicate will include robots, domestic control systems, teaching computers, electronic 'rooms' for group use in, eg, business activity, clubs of all kinds, and family forums.

Legitimate RCCs will have defences against infiltration, but in addition there will also be rogue RCCs, the equivalent of criminal gangs, formed for the purpose of terrorism or plain robbery and which disguise themselves as legitimate RCCs. However, the same techniques that human groups have developed through genetic and social evolution to maintain personal and group integrity will allow society to combat deception even in the very different circumstances of an electronic world.

The Internet is changing so fast that it is more vulnerable to fraud, deceit and pure destructiveness than an established technology such as telephone communication. In virtual reality, even with sensory contact, there are multiple ways to be deceived, robbed or killed. Given that direct connection with a Remote Cognitive Representation implies open-ness to any opportunistic virus which has already infiltrated the RCR, protecting oneself against damage is clearly going to be a major issue. A counterfeit thought can't perhaps do organic damage simply by masquerading as a piece of permitted sensory input – or can it? If it cloaks a biochemical recipe for neural poison, then one has subverted the blood/brain barrier, and organic brain death could be instant.

Such thoughts are scary; but in truth they are no more scary than blood transfusion, organ implantation, inoculation, and a host of other widely practiced invasive medical techniques which could have carried (and in many cases did carry) with them mortal dangers until they were fully understood.

The dangers will delay but not stop implementation of direct sensory communication and the use of RCRs or RCCs. Perhaps initially such possibly dangerous and ethically challenging technologies will be used therapeutically in life-threatening or other extreme situations, and only afterwards for more frivolous purposes. But there will always be an individual mad enough to want to try the next thing: once it has worked for Sir Richard Branson, it is OK for you!

And if Agent Human is right in supposing that technology will permit a great expansion of human inter-connectedness through the creation of shared or collective cognitive spaces, then that will force a rapid evolution of the necessary cognitive skills in which Darwinian and 'artificial' influences may be hard to disentangle.

Abandoning The Collective . . . . In Favour Of . . . . The Collective

The developments that have been sketched above evidently imply a far greater degree of trust and open communication between individuals than is now or ever has been the case; and this will have substantial implications for the organization of society, in ways which we can hardly begin to imagine. Some directions may be guessed at, though.

'People power'; something which was given a name in Poland as long ago as 1985, will become a forceful reality within the next fifty years. By 2050 it will be a rare event for a national or even an international organisation to be able to take a view which is significantly different from the prevailing, informed and instantly, even continuously available opinion of its constituent members. The logical extension of this is the introduction of real-time, continuous global issue voting using direct brain-to-RCC communication, bringing about the world's first ever truly democratic society.

There will be a ferocious argument over the issue of whether the individual consciousness should preserve its isolation from the deep-rooted collective unconscious when individuals began to take part in collective cognitive activity, or whether it is better to create pathways to the unconscious so that a fuller and more explicit version of each individual psyche could play its part in the collective experience. The issue of deception will play a major role, and the majority opinion will perhaps be that there is little point in recreating the highly deceptive social behaviours that characterize most human social groups in new fora designed to allow closer cooperation between people. It seems likely that a limited set of additional neural pathways, allowing conscious access to major parts of the unconscious, will be incorporated into the standard model of the human brain.

There will be an equally ferocious argument over whether the 'groupishness' of the human brain should be copied over into external brain representations in RCRs. Again, the likely outcome will perhaps be a general understanding that almost all of human society had been built on the basis of 'groupish' psychological mechanisms, and that therefore we should not try to tamper with the collective underpinnings of our psyches. Once it becomes clear that there aren't any technological limits to what a human can become, that immortality is available (at a price), and that people can make choices as to their life-style, appearance, location and psyche virtually at will throughout their lives (all of these things are likely to be true by say 2060), there will come to seem little point in tampering too much with the 'people' we are already familiar with. It will be widely agreed that it is just much safer to stick with what we already know, apart from the modifications to consciousness and some genetic 'tweaking' to reduce the incidence of anti-social and psychotic behaviour. Thus, the set of group-oriented social skills and behaviours which evolved in the early history of hominids, and which this book has constantly insisted lie at the core of our existence, will be preserved.

Within inevitable regulatory constraints, a world of RCRs and RCCs will offer a wild variety of different ways forward for humans, including:

  • Abandonment of bodies altogether. Evidently, this amounts to immortality, if indeed by then it has not been achieved in physical terms.
  • Abandonment of individuality in favour of collectivities.
  • Abandonment of multiple collectivities in favour of one collectivity.
  • The living of multiple simultaneous lives by one individual.
  • The creation of alternative psychical forms and bodies or societies to accommodate them (let's be a tiger today).

One of the easiest predictions is that people as individuals will continue to want to have fun, meaning that on-line gaming and social Virtual Internet Communities (VICs) will continue to test the boundaries of what is permissible. Once it is possible for an individual to be a tiger in a virtual jungle, to inflict and suffer injury, to hunt and kill (usually virtual) prey, and even to be (virtually) killed, is there any doubt that sites will provide such experiences? It is already there, in fact, at today's primitive level of technology. What is currently missing is the direct sensory link between the avatar (RCR) doing the experiencing and the owner's mind; and of course the fully-understood wiring diagram for a tiger's mind, or at least the parts of it that are needed for a hunt in the jungle.

People will also presumably be highly reluctant to give up the mating process, although it may come to be rationed in terms of population growth, if economics doesn't get there first, as seems more likely. Collective mating is not a very attractive thought; so we can expect to see the wooing and mating process become (in fact, remain) a prominent feature of VICs. The difference, evidently, will be that physical meeting will not be necessary in order to experience the various stages of a relationship; in fact, it would be possible to explore alternative personalities, not necessarily human, either, before finally adopting a particular personality (or physical form) for a permanent relationship.

 

 
 
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