The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Daniel Schmachtenberger. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Daniel Schmachtenberger, one of the deepest and best thinkers I know about how we build a better future for humanity. Daniel’s been on the show twice previously. Back in ep. seven, one of my earlier episodes, we talked about the future of technology. And then, on ep. 80, Daniel and I spent a good amount of time talking about better sensemaking. Today, we’re going to talk about the Consilience Project.
Jim: A new information service that Daniel and his associates have launched, you can think of it as one-part journalism and another part education. It’s really interesting and maybe something that can really change our world for the better. You can check it out at consilienceproject.org. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been an advisor to the Consilience Project since near the beginning. Welcome, Daniel.
Daniel: Hey, Jim, it’s good to be here and talking with you again.
Jim: One of the people I most enjoyed talking to in the world. So, it’s great to have you back. So, the Consilience Project, why and what?
Daniel: Yeah. So, I’m going to try to connect three things because it’s why and what are clear, but it’s a little bit abstract. So, the three things are the unique problems the world currently faces in an exponential tech, digital globalization world that it never faced previously, one. Two, the new problem-solving capacities the world needs to solve these kinds of problems.
Daniel: Factoring the complexity and scale, and speed, and nature of them, which means new institutions, new social institutions and governance capacity. And three, the cultural prerequisites for those new institutions and capacities to actually arise from the people as opposed to some people and be imposed on everyone else with the power that exponential tech makes possible for asymmetry.
Daniel: So, we say that ultimately, what the Consilience Project is trying to do is to support a new cultural renaissance or new cultural enlightenment, where people understand the uniqueness of the issues the world faces currently, well enough to develop in themselves and work to help develop in society. The capacities to make sense of the world, to communicate effectively with other people, to fundamentally develop the capacities, to develop and participate in new systems of problem-solving and governance.
Daniel: So, that those new institutions actually arise in a bottom-up way rather than an imposed way that are adequate to the problems we need to solve in time. So, that looks like, can we define the problem space well enough that it gives rise to design criteria for new systems so that people can start participating in what might the development of those new systems and new capacities look like?
Jim: So, how does it differ and how does it go beyond what we currently think of the role of the press and the role of continuing education?
Daniel: So, if we think about what the role of education and press in any society are, we can see that a society has a bunch of, any society or civilization from a tribal one to an empire, to a nation state has a bunch of activities that people need to do to maintain the civilization. So, the role of education is the development of those capacities, that the society needs to run in the population and the passing of them on generation to generation.
Daniel: Our colleagues, [Jack Stein 00:03:37] talks about it as civilizational autopoiesis. But there’s a unique set of roles for education in an open society, a democracy or republic relative to a closed society, where the people are not only developing some labor capacity or some market capacity, but also the capacity to participate in governance, if it is to be a government have formed by the people. So, there’s additional knowledge that they need to be able to engage in the issues that government is governing on.
Daniel: And so, both education in terms of how to understand and think about those things and then the Fourth Estate to be informed about what the current state of affairs are well enough that you could possibly have something like a government have formed by the people. There are uniquely higher levels of both of those that are required for an open society to function well than there are for a closed society.
Daniel: So, like what we’re doing here is not trying to replace or do the job of the Fourth Estate, which we couldn’t begin to do. It’s a humongous job, needs done by in lots of different ways, when you think about local news and news within specific domains and all like that. Nor are we going to try to do the job of public education or anything like that. We’re going to try to help in a series of more theoretical pieces help people understand what is the role of education for any civilization. Like understand that more fundamentally.
Daniel: What is the role of a Fourth Estate or the knowledge commons for any civilization? Specifically, what is it for an open civilization? How have both the educational system and the Fourth Estate eroded in the US and in the West over the last number of decades? What were the steps of them eroding? Show how the problem landscape has complexified.
Daniel: And people’s understanding and quality of civic discourse has decreased rather than increased, which means you don’t even really have the simulation of a republic anymore, only the story of it. But where almost no one understands the issues about which government is governing. And then, start to spec out. What would an adequate Fourth Estate? What would an adequate educational system for the future of the world we currently face, which is very different than the Founding Fathers faced or any previous civilization faced?
Daniel: So, for instance with regard to education, in a world post technological automation which is now inexorable in more and more domains, there’s a lot of jobs you don’t have to train the people to do. You program the machines to do them. In a world post information singularity, where people can’t process all the information to be subject matter experts in the same way. In a world post AI, what is the unique role of humans in that world?
Daniel: And what is education for humans in that world? To be able to have a synthetic intelligence. Meaning, synthesizing unique human intelligence with whatever the computational capacities are. So, what we’re trying to do is spec out these things. What are the fundamental institutions that make a civilization work? Why are the previous civilizations inadequate to the current problem scape? Whether we’re talking about feudalism or socialism, or communism, or capitalism, or whatever like we can show.
Daniel: When the Scottish Enlightenment was thinking about theory of markets, they didn’t have AI, drones and Facebook and the unique issues we have to face today. And we can show that the best version of theory of market still catastrophically fail under the current landscape, as do all of those other systems. So, we want to make sure that we understand them well enough that the meaningful insights are factored, right?
Daniel: The traditional side. But we also understand the novelty of the problem landscape, well enough to say what problem-solving capacities don’t exist there and what innovation in our social technology is required to adequately hold the power of our physical technology.
Jim: Yeah, it makes a whole lot of sense now. Let’s not underestimate the Founding Fathers, Madison and Jefferson in particular, and Franklin that democracy or they… actually, I didn’t like the word democracy, they talked about a republic, was only possible to the degree that you had educated citizenry and a press that could bring the issues honestly before the public. And so, they understood the fundamentals. On the other hand, your questions about scale and complexity are entirely right.
Jim: For instance, I like to point out that in 1776, the largest business in what is now the United States was a shipyard in Philadelphia that employed a little bit less than 100 people. And so, the asymmetry between the power of the largest business enterprise and one human or one family, or one hamlet was understandable, 101 or 201 if you compared to a family. Today, we’re talking about Amazon versus you and me.
Jim: How many war was that? Six more, seven or five more orders of magnitude. At that point, we talked about in complexity science, where quantitative differences become qualitative, when they’re that big. So, we really do live in a new world. And not only is it a new world in terms of scale today, but the derivative is also way, way higher. Because while 1776, 1789, et cetera, the world was moving faster than it had been moving in 1625.
Jim: It wasn’t moving anywhere near as rapidly as it started to accelerate into the 19th century into the 20th century. And now, the 21st century in many domains, though not all, it almost feels some days like it’s going straight up. So, we have to deal with much larger power asymmetries, and we have to deal with vastly more complex systems. And we have to, on top of all that… I mean, that alone would be a lot big stressor on our relatively limited cognitive powers.
Jim: But we also have to put all in the context of not only a high first derivative, but probably still a positive second derivative.
Daniel: You said something super important. And I just want to underscore it because it might not be instantly obvious for everyone. The changes in quantity can cross thresholds, where they become changes in type or in quality. So, let’s take the progression of military capacity from tribal warfare on into the modern day. Of course, it was just a continuous evolution in the magnitude of the capacity for mediating warfare, going from a catapult to a cannon to whatever.
Daniel: And there’s this natural arms race that occurs where someone develops a better capacity, the other side needs to develop both that same capacity, advance it and develop counter weapons. But then, you get to World War II and the nuclear bomb. And even though the idea that we’re just making bigger bombs, we’re just making bigger disruptive capacity as it is a continuation, so there’s a continuity with the past of disruptive capacity and kinetic warfare.
Daniel: It’s a discontinuity, and that we never had the ability to actually destroy the habitability of the planet with any of our weapons before. The scale of them got to the scale of the habitability of the biosphere. And all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, that’s a whole different thing.” Just a local war is no longer just damaging to the local people, it’s actually damaging to people as a whole. And so, World War II is the beginning of human self-induced existential risk being a real thing.
Daniel: Even though for all of human civilization before that, every human civilization failed. The Mayans at a certain point failed, the Aztecs, the Egyptians, Romans, but it was a local failure. And then, the bomb was the beginning of like, “Oh, actually, we can create global failure now.” So, that was simply a change in magnitude. But a magnitude change, it was a change in type that meant a whole previous social system didn’t work anymore.
Daniel: Meaning that adjacent empires war, that’s a way to deal with conflict. You study the history of Europe, and it’s just like, it’s very often studied as a history of warfare, where the major empires are continuously fighting. Same if you study the history of the warring regions period of China or anywhere in the world. But as soon as the bomb comes, you have a first time in the history of the world that major empires aren’t allowed to fight each other because they can’t win.
Daniel: It’s fundamentally unwinnable, a mutually assured destruction type situation. So, you’re like, “Fuck, we need new social capacities that involve not war, when we only know how to do it with war.” So, then that was the Bretton Woods world. And okay, well, does that new tech also allow us to do this thing called globalization and become so technologically and economically interdependent that war isn’t profitable?
Daniel: And simultaneously, that we can grow GDP so rapidly because of that globalization that we don’t need to war to get more stuff. Everybody’s desire for more can happen just through massive positive-sum dynamics. You run that for about 75 years. It succeeded in no full-blown world war three, just proxy wars. And you get to the point that you start hitting planetary boundaries from that type of exponential positive-sum on a finite space, which again, was never an issue before.
Daniel: We never had enough people power tech to out-fish the whole ocean even if we out-fished a lake. And then, you also get to the place where the whole world is dependent on these radically complicated global supply chains, where a break in one place can create cascading failures, which we started to see with COVID. And now, we can see that Bretton Woods model, post-World War II is coming to an end. They can’t continue to mediate where we go next.
Daniel: And so, now the question is, what is next? And these types of change in magnitude that become then a change in kind that are both continuous with and discontinuous with the past. Or why we need to make sure we understand all the thinking of the Scottish Enlightenment and Marx and others critiques of it, and the Founding Fathers and the Nordic models. And that we need to understand what they got right, but we also need to understand where they didn’t have these problems to deal with.
Daniel: Even the Bretton Woods architects didn’t have these problems to deal with. We need to understand these problems well enough, that we say, “What would adequate problem solving that can really solve them in time and without externalizing other problems that become equally catastrophic, which we usually tend to do?” What would that look like? And how do we give rise to those new social institutions and capacities?
Jim: That’s a damn big question, right? I like to point out that Game A, which conveniently say started on February 25, 1694. What the hell, right? With the establishment of the Bank of England but also the development of calculus, the Glorious Revolution, number of things. It’s amazing to remember how poor and how small humanity still was at that time. Most people lived in dirt floor in houses, if they had houses at all, choking smoke from poorly designed wood fire, fireplaces, et cetera.
Jim: And so, the idea of worrying about the limits to growth was laughable. Rather Game A’s mission, mission accomplished by about 1955 in the West was to solve the problem of a tolerably good life for pretty much everybody. And again, that was just the West. And there were certainly people who failed to be part of that. But unfortunately, Game A did not have built into its operating system and it breaks because it didn’t need any when it started.
Jim: And as you lay it out, we have the military limit. We had to invent some very ad hoc breaks called, mutual assured destruction, which we had Secretary of Defense Bill Perry on the podcast not long ago, and he was pointing out that bombs are still there. And there are a whole bunch of failure modes where they could go off. So, we didn’t actually solve the nuclear annihilation problem, we’ve just fiddle fucked with it and managed to survive.
Jim: We haven’t really solved it. Certainly, the atmospheric boundaries, the species extinction boundaries. What I love to bring forth because it’s just so startling is that by far, the majority of large mammal mass on earth now is humans and our domestic animals. For birds, it’s even greater. About 85% of the mass of bird flesh on Earth is our domestic fowl. And when we’re at that level, there’s not much room for us to fuck up.
Jim: And not destroy the ecosystem in a way that it can no longer support anything close to the 88 billion people we have on the world today. More likely, we fall back to something on the order rebellion. And the question is, in the chaos that ensues and going from 8 billion to 1 billion, does anybody survive?
Jim: So, anyway, I was going to move on now into a little bit more of the medium. Okay. What is this Consilience Project? You got some hellacious big goals, “Let’s save the world from three or four or five sure deaths of civilization risks if we don’t manage them correctly.” What is the Consilience Project actually consist of? What is it?
Daniel: Yeah, totally. Obviously, to even try to think about these problems well is a big challenge. That said, what we’re trying to do is a relatively tiny part of that, but that we hope is catalytic for a lot of other parts that need to happen. One more theoretical thing, one way of thinking about the fundamental problem that we’re interested in discussing how do we solve, and this is Jordan Hall who introduced you and I, and was part of the original Game B, crew with you, said it this way when he talked about our legacy toolkits being inadequate to the public problem solving needs.
Daniel: A way we could say it is that, “Our problem-solving processes either fail, the current catastrophic risk landscape failed to solve the problem at all, or they cause worse problems, additional problems and cumulatively worse problems in the process of solving it.” And so, what we fundamentally need are new problem-solving processes, not the application of the problem-solving process of, how do we make businesses and markets?
Daniel: How do we make legislation within nation states? How do we make philanthropic solutions within the nonprofit world that cumulatively all of that is not cutting it up to the task? And so, as you were mentioning, the earlier problems that humanity was trying to solve, it solved. And all the major problems that we face today are the result of how they solved it, right? How do we increase the GDP in the wealth? And whatever of everyone is where all the environmental issues come from?
Daniel: How do we increase our near-term national security drives arms races into existential weapons that nobody had before? And so, this question of… and one way of describing it is that historically, we’re used to defining a problem that we’re going to go about solving in a fairly narrow way. It’s either a problem for our nation’s people, but not other nation’s people, or for people but not the environment, or for one set of metrics.
Daniel: Like, we’re going to solve CO2 because that’s really the issue, but we aren’t paying attention to the other things that are adjacent and the generative processes. So, we come up with a solution that will sequester CO2 or benefit the economy short-term, or whatever it is. But if it is to really solve the problem, if it is to overtake it, starting after the problem started, it has to be faster, larger in some way. It has large order of magnitude to be able to overtake it.
Daniel: If it then affects the complex systems in ways other than the intended metric, that’s where the externality occurs. So, “Can I use nitrogen fertilizer to plant a bunch of CO2 sequestering plants that capture CO2 in the short term, but increases the rate of dead zones in the ocean?” Or, “Can I use carbon credit process where if some countries agree to it and other countries don’t, you change the relationship of the great game of power?
Daniel: And if the ones that don’t are running technologically empowered autocracies, you say, ‘I’m trying to address climate change. We’re going to give open societies up.'” And then, this is largely why the problem-solving doesn’t even work, is because some people recognize the harm being externalized somewhere else and then lobby against it. And then, you get almost all of humanity’s energy not coordinating, but being used up in infighting as heat.
Daniel: And so, how do we define our problems and the interconnectivity of the problems well enough that we can come up with solutions that are actually viable enough that don’t externalize harm in ways that will get people to resist them, and that don’t create worst problems as we go? So, that’s the set of core increase that we’re really trying to work on. So, what are we trying to do towards that?
Daniel: As much as a lot of people think that we’re too aware of our problems, and we just need to focus on solutions, I actually think that it’s a very deep misunderstanding of the real nature of our problems that is one of the keys. People think the problem is climate change, or the problem is systemic racism or whatever the thing is that they’re focused on. But what are the generative dynamics that give rise to it?
Daniel: And how is it interconnected with the other issues in the world, where if you try to change it in a particular way, it will externalize harm elsewhere and/or fail? So, the problem isn’t climate change or US-China relationships, or GDP, it’s how all those things fit together and the system incentives of the underlying systems. So, what we’re trying to do is to actually explain the problem space of the world today, clearly enough that it gives the design criteria of what new social systems, new social capacities, problem-solving systems.
Daniel: Like, what would the future of something like markets and governance and like that look like? How do we go about solving problems differently? And we’re basically doing this in a series of articles, right? So, just to answer your what is the Consilience Project? It’s a nonprofit project. And it basically has two major branches. It has a publishing branch and it has a movement, catalyzing branch.
Daniel: The publishing branch is publishing three types of articles. And then, hopefully converting them into other forms of media that are accessible to wider audiences. Because the initial work is deep enough and it’s intended to be deep enough that people can actually start to decentrally understand the problems well enough to work on solutions, which means they’re not accessible to everybody.
Daniel: But the translation of those into podcasts, even animations, and you and I were just talking about some of the writing you’re thinking of, and the smart 15-year-old being able to get it. We’re definitely thinking about and hoping to do that as well. On the publishing, basically, we have three types of articles. We have the theoretical pieces, the foundation series, as you suggested in naming. And we have situational assessments, and we have meta news.
Daniel: The foundation series is discussing the uniqueness of the problem landscape and what we understand about social theory, and helping to reify the previous social theories, what they’re really good at, and were they still inadequate to the future landscape. So, we dissolve the… we just need a libertarian system, or we just need that socialism for the whole world. Or here’s what the [Tionese 00:23:12] model will work for everyone.
Daniel: We wouldn’t be able to say, “Here’s the strong parts of those arguments. Here’s the failure cases, and here’s what’s actually possibly next for everybody to then disagree with or agree with, or innovate on, or add to.” So, that’s those pieces. And instead of doing it as a big book, we’re doing it as a whole series of articles that we’ll be discussing things on the fundamental design needs for education for the Fourth Estate, for governance or resource allocation, those types of things.
Daniel: Where someone can start this at any point. They don’t have to start a book. They can start at any point that they’re interested in. And then, all the articles are inter-referential. And so, there’s this interconnected body of work that is logically consistent that they can follow at different ways. Those are the theory pieces. Then, there are situational assessments that are applying that social theory to look at the current issues in the world.
Daniel: The great game of power between US and China, the movement from traditional finance to crypto finance, the state of risk in various categories of exponential tech. But rather than just do a situational assessment the way some good social journals, The Economist, Foreign Affairs, whatever might do it, we’ll be applying the consilience epistemic which is, how do we look at it from all of the various narrative views that are out there?
Daniel: If there’s views from the left and from the right views from different countries, how do we factor those? How do we factor different epistemologies? Is there a lens that looking at it through… is their perspective we’re looking at through the lens of finance or culture, or tech, or whatever, it gives different insights? How do we factor those together to have a higher order insight?
Daniel: And then, specifically, can we apply the social theory we’re looking at, about what are the underlying basis of the problems in the world writ large and what it would take to solve them? So, when we’re looking at US-China issue, we apply some of the theory of how previous civilizations decayed, right? Generalized principles of civilizational and institutional decay of game theoretic multipolar traps. Those types of things.
Daniel: So that the theory grounds itself and showing, “This is actually what’s playing out in the world and all these areas.” And then, people can see what’s going on in the areas of the world in a way that gives insights, and what it would take to actually solve them? So, that’s the situational assessments. And then, the last category is, if we do a situational assessment on a piece where there is an existing, very strongly polarized set of beliefs about it.
Daniel: Like climate change or COVID viral origins, or the nature and reality of institutional racism in the West or something like that. If we put a situational assessment out, it will just seem like another opinion of lots of opinions that some people will agree with because it seems similar enough and some won’t. We actually have to address, why is there so much polarization? Specifically, which vested interests were pushing narratives in specific directions?
Daniel: How did they do that? Which epistemic biases or mistakes? Which way that things like the big tech platforms optimizing for tribalism and group bias ended up leading to it? So, we do this complicated analysis where we’re able to show, “Here’s the various narratives about this issue, and here’s forensically how they came about.” And we show things like principles of narrative warfare. “Here’s where they took statistics that are true, and they made it through a fact checker, but they cherry pick the statistics.”
Daniel: “And they didn’t include statistics on the other side, they decontextualize the facts. They framed it in a particular way.” This other side did that as well. “Here’s where it’s related to either their just general bias or their actual vested interest.” And so, what we’re trying to do in that is help people be able to understand how the polarization type dynamics arise? And how people get over certain about very partial truths? And specifically, how some of the both intentional and unintentional narrative warfare happens?
Daniel: So, they start developing a mimetic immune system to narrative warfare. And not being on the left thinking that the right news is bad or being on the right thing, the left news is bad. But recognizing that to get power in the narrative landscape at all, you’re playing the game of power. So, how do they actually notice statistical cherry picking and decontextualization of facts, and those types of things everywhere?
Daniel: And develop better epistemic capacities to make sense of the world. So, we’re hoping there to be able to give people the capacity to transcend tribalism no matter what tribe and have real epidemics, and real good faith, dialogue capacities to do something beyond tribalism.
Jim: You put it damn amazing, if you could actually make it work. Now, we thought you did a great job of describing conceptually the three categories. So, I think it would be very helpful to give an example or two, or just one example for each category so that people can hang hook on it. So, let’s say, “Here’s a foundations piece, here’s one.” You can do that for me. I think that will help bring it home for the audience.
Daniel: Well, at the date of us recording this, I’ll speak to ones that are on the site now. The site just went up in the last week as a super, super early beta. So, I asked people, and they looked at it to recognize that it really just in the prototyping phase. So, one of the foundations pieces is called, Democracy and the Epistemic Commons. And a lot of people might not know what epistemic or commons means, or especially the term put together.
Daniel: But epistemic, how do we come… it’s deeper than saying the Knowledge Commons because it’s not just, what is the body of knowledge that is agreed on is true by some process where we haven’t questioned how do we agree that it’s true? The Epistemic commons of how do we come to the process of belief about what is true and shared understanding, and like that. So, it includes the dialogue process, the trust basis for institutions, the ability of citizens to be able to actually check the process of thinking.
Daniel: So, the epistemic commons, the idea in that article is really so obvious and yet almost nobody, if you are to say, a political philosopher paying attention to this, thinks about it a lot is, if you’re going to have a democracy or a republic, if you’re going to have a supposedly participatory governance, how could you possibly have it if the people can’t make sense of the issues that the government is governing on? Well, you easily can, if you just have a politburo or you just have a king or somebody making the decisions.
Daniel: They’re the only one that has to understand it, and they do accurately or not. And this is why when you said the Founding Fathers got right that both education and the Fourth Estate were prerequisite institutions for something like a democracy or republic to function, an open society to function, they’re prerequisite institutions. And that’s why all those quotes about, I think it was a Jefferson quote saying, “If I could have a perfect government and broken news, or perfect news and a broken government, I pick perfect news.”
Daniel: Because if we have perfect news and people fully understand the world, they can build a new system of government. If we have broken news and people don’t understand the world, there’s nothing other than to argue over nonsense and we capture them. This is why George Washington had the statement that… I’m paraphrasing but that, “The number one aim of the federal government should be the comprehensive education of every citizen in the science of government.”
Daniel: I think that’s so fucking profound, that he didn’t say, “The number one aim of the federal government is rule of law.” He didn’t even say, “It’s to protect the borders.” Because a military dictatorship can protect the borders very well. And a police state can institute rule of law. But if you emphasize anything other than the comprehensive education of the citizens, they won’t stay being a democracy for very long. And that’s the thing they were really trying to pay attention to.
Daniel: And we can see the erosion of the quality of education and the quality of the Fourth Estate relative to the complexity of the problems and say, “Well, it couldn’t even possibly be that thing.” So, what does the future of an open society look like? What does it have to look like in terms of the shared values of the people that they would invest in education and have the civic virtue to invest in their role in governance? Because if we don’t participate in our own self-governance, we are de facto consenting to be ruled.
Daniel: And so, democracy and the epistemic commons is helping to explain those ideas. You either are consenting de facto to a world that will move towards autocracy, or you have to be taking responsibility for adequate self-governance, which requires sense-making the issues before you could possibly make good choices on them. And so, it’s helping to take that concept and make it clear wherever we can be like, “Oh, yeah, I haven’t even been paying attention to the foundational thing that is needed.”
Daniel: And so, that’s an example. Now then, there’s another piece, the next one, the challenges to 21st century sense-making shows why the epistemic commons is a much trickier thing today than it was in 1776. That the complexity of the issues we have to pay attention to and the fragmented media landscape and how powerful the media landscape, being able to… having an ad driven model, it has incentives for appealing to bias and appealing to tribalism and salacious headlines, and things that are short, rather than long, and nuanced.
Daniel: And so, we’ve had not just an erosion, but actually increasingly pathological Fourth Estate with an increasingly complex world. So, that piece is giving an insight there. So, those are examples of like, “Okay, these are foundational concepts that we need to think about how the world has to be restructured.” There’re situational assessments on there that are just different, random but very important topics.
Daniel: And there’s one that’s looking at the activity of China in East Africa and the development of African infrastructure and like that that is framing up, showing how the West has engaged with the developing world versus how China’s engaging with the developing world. We could have done China’s activity in Latin America or the great game of power as expressed in the competition for 5G and Telecom.
Daniel: But East Africa was as fine a starting point as any of them, and very good and well-researched piece that helps people understand the differences in the geopolitical approaches and some of what is on the table there. The piece that goes into the difference between French secularism and US secularism seems like an obscure topic. But why it’s important is, we’ve seen this topic of like, the Islam, Europe stressed between certain versions of Islam and certain versions of European liberalism and with France specifically.
Daniel: But in the US, we’re thinking about Europe through a US centric lens most of the time. And so, this goes through the history of the way that the US came to freedom of religion, the way that certain European countries, France in particular did, and how fundamentally different they are, and shows that we’re actually misunderstanding the nature of the issue and creating bad global policy or geopolitical policy based on putting our cultural biases on and not understanding cultural intelligence well enough.
Daniel: Those pieces were actually written before. We had a lot of the theory pieces written, so they couldn’t be instantiations of the social theory very well. So, they’re really good articles, but they’re early prototypes. We’re building out the theory now, and this was just to show we can actually execute, not just talk theory, which is important in the early phase of a project. Oh, the other one, meta news. We did one meta news piece so far, and we picked intentionally the easiest, rather than the most consequential thing because this is ridiculously labor-intensive.
Daniel: So, rather than try to pick a highly contested topic, like vaccines or climate change that has an unbelievable amount of stuff to process on it, we picked the topic during the George Floyd protests where bricks planted at the protests to escalate the riots and violence. Because that was a topic where that was the main news story for two weeks. And the right thought that the left Antifa were planting the bricks.
Daniel: The left thought that the right was doing it, there were accusations the police were doing it. General media tried to say, “Nobody is doing it and there are no agent provocateurs.” Then, there was conflation because we saw agent provocateurs, but then there was an automatic jump to, that means they must have also planted the bricks. So, it was this highly contested thing.
Daniel: And it actually, everybody started to believe the thing or lots of groups started to believe the thing that aligned with their existing emotionally intensified perspective. And so, then they escalated as a result of believing the thing, and there was actually not good basis for most of the ideas on any of the sides. But because it was a very constrained time period, we were able to actually process every single news article ever written about it during that time period. There are couple thousands that there were.
Daniel: So, we used some machine learning big data tools plus some analytic methods to be able to process it and be able to see how certain hashtags started to trend, how certain things that looked organic, weren’t organic, they were inorganic and being virally doped, various things like that. And it’s a good case study of being able to show how you can take something like that. Because then, the world moved on, and everyone still believes the thing they believed in. They’re just not paying attention to it, it never actually got resolved.
Daniel: And of course, at the end, we end up saying some of the questions are still unanswered. And that’s one of the things we will have to come to, it’s more comfort with uncertainty as opposed to wrong certainty that is more dangerous. So, those are examples of some of the pieces there. But over the next six months, it’ll really start to take much more clear shape.
Jim: Yeah, I think that last point is a really important one about the meta news, which is, if there seems to be any disease of the current moment, it’s runaway confirmation bias, right? You find even the slightest thread of some story that reinforces your model of the world, and it’s suddenly true, right? Even though this unbelievably deep dive into the story of the bricks. It’s mad how detailed this thing is. You come away realizing that no person who actually takes knowledge seriously should have any firm view on this, right?
Jim: Because the evidence, there is a lot of evidence or solid evidence. Once you get to the bottom, there is points in various directions. And yet, as you point out, the various factions have all taken their own opinion and view about what this is, because it reinforces their own narrative. What a destructive dynamic that is in our society today?
Daniel: So, this is actually worth double clicking on a little bit. You and Jordan Hall and John Vervaeke have talked about the real versus simulated thinking issue. And one of the things it’s not hard to notice is, if we put forward a specific idea, whatever it is, in the general media landscape, and we know a little bit about the demographics of a reader, we can predict their responses better than we can predict the responses of the GPT-3 algorithm most of the time.
Daniel: Which is really a sad measure of the general intelligence, are they really thinking or are they doing something more like mimetic propagation? Which is, does this seem to conform to my existing memeplex? If not, reject. If so, accept and propagate. And so, we can look at a piece and say like, “Okay, if someone is part of the QAnon worldview, one of the very predictable types of responses is they will say that somebody on our team knows somebody who knows someone who is associated with Jeffrey Epstein.
Daniel: And therefore, this is part of the propaganda of the deep state and whatever.” And this like, there’s predictable trope lines they’ll follow. And if they’re part of the far SJW woke movement they’ll say, “If you’re hosting a dialectic between the left and right, you’re giving platform to racists, and therefore you’re racist, you should be canceling them. So, we’re going to cancel your.” And if they’re part of… and you can predict those responses.
Daniel: One of the things we want to ask is like, if your response looks like a predictable response of a subgroup that you’re adjacent to, you should not feel good about that. Right? You should actually be like, “Fuck, I think that means that I am thinking less originally than a narrow AI.” What do I actually think? What does it mean to actually think? Do I understand all the arguments? Can I inhabit all the arguments well? Is someone actually driving my innate predispositions towards tribalism and excessive certainty, and et cetera?
Daniel: And so of course, in order to do that well, people have to have a certain amount of courage to be willing to be shamed by their in-group, which is very scary, right? Because if the in-group says, “If you don’t agree with us, well, we will ostracize you, we’ll deplatform you.” There’s a courage required for intellectual honesty, even for intellectual curiosity. And they have to have enough comfort with uncertainty to say, “This is really consequential.
Daniel: It affects the world, and I don’t fucking know.” And I’d rather say, “I don’t know,” so that I have a chance of learning than be certain that I know because it feels right. It feels right might mean just limbicly hijacking. And so, then the thing that you know, and I think probably most of your listeners I hope they would know, this has always been an issue, right? We can look at the history of religious wars through this lens.
Daniel: We can see people who were so certain of God’s name that they would kill and die for gods that nobody believes in anymore, don’t even know the names of, or the rightness of their side of the war for patriotic reasons on both sides, or whatever it is.
Jim: Yeah, famously, here in the Civil War in the United States where in Virginia, where I live, the hottest battles of the Civil War were fought here. And lots of the generals mused on the topic that both sides were praying to the same God for victory. And I just finished reading Shelby Foote’s 3000-page, Civil War book. I knew a lot about civil war before, now I know more. And it’s amazing how they were very self-aware of this. They realize that there was something very peculiar about this.
Daniel: And to some degree, it just emerges naturally. There’s almost a mimetic evolution that the mean plexes that bind a group together and keep it from cleaving, and can bind larger groups together and organize them in war, just tend to win. Right? There’s a natural selection for the ones that coordinate game theoretically well, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are true or good.
Jim: Yeah, that’s the Daniel Dennett argument for religion, right?
Jim: That it was adaptive at building group coherence over various scales from probably a few thousand up to some tens of millions. And so, therefore, it was adaptive.
Daniel: But it can be adaptive in the short-term while self-terminating, which evolution can do, and that’s the thing we want people to understand, is there might have been cultures that would have been much better for long-term sustainability, but they weren’t good at militarizing because they’d figured peace out, and they got slaughtered by warring cultures. So, what made it through, we have to pay attention to, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it gets to keep making it through.
Daniel: But like, it’s not just it naturally emerged. It’s also that because it naturally emerged, some very smart people figured that out and figured out how to dope and direct it until we can see the stories of great military generals, figuring out how to pull on the emotions of the people or whatever it is. And you can read the Thirty-Six Stratagems to see unconventional narrative warfare that is ancient in the Chinese world, and other things like that.
Daniel: But Facebook and all of the modern information curation, monopolies, Facebook, YouTube, Google, et cetera, have done something that is different in quantity, like you were saying earlier, to the extent that it’s actually different in kind. It’s actually even different in kind fundamentally, which is, those platforms are not based on centralized broadcast, in the way that our country was based on the idea that we could have a newspaper, which would be some small group that could publish, and everybody else who could read that thing one directionally.
Daniel: And it went from that to a telegram, to a radio station, to a television that is basically better methods of broadcast, but then the internet was not broadcast. It was, anybody could publish stuff. It was decentralized, many-to-many communication. But then, there’s so much stuff. If there’s a billion search results for anything, how do you see which thing you get? Well, the information curation platforms end up determining what you see.
Daniel: And they are companies that have a fiscal… they have a business model, and their business model is based on ads so that you can get the thing for free, so they can drive the adoption up to everybody without having a barrier of entry. And so, their ad model benefits from time on site optimization, and people spend more time on site when they get limbicly hijacked. Because if their limbic system doesn’t get hijacked, they remember they don’t want to spend much of their life on Facebook.
Daniel: They have other shit to do. But when they get their desire, their addiction, their fear, their in-group identity, their uncertainty pushed on, they’ll spin or just hyper normal stimuli in general. So, one of the things is, on the Facebook’s algorithm, its AI algorithm that’s curating the newsfeed is paying attention to what my mouse spends the most time hovering over what I click on, its curating all the information on the internet or in my Facebook universe, to what will have I spend the most time on site.
Daniel: And most of the time, that which confirms my existing bias, which makes me afraid of an out-group that I’m already likely to think of is now group and limbicly hijacks and outrages me will spend more time. And so, if there’s something that is very nuanced and complex, and thoughtful, I’ll just probably bounce because I’m in a hurry. But if it has a salacious headline, it’s short, and then there’s another one like it, I’ll probably spend more time.
Daniel: So, people became more polarized and more extreme without Facebook even wanting to. It wasn’t some conspiracy that it wanted to drive that it drove all of the opinions further, just by the fundamental nature of the business model and the architecture. But at a level where there are more people on those platforms, and there are total people in China and the US can mind. There’s AIs that are better than the AIs that beat Garry Kasparov at chess, affecting people’s attention scape. So, it’s like, what does the epistemic commons?
Daniel: What is freedom of speech? What do all these issues look like in this world? Because the Founding Fathers did not have to deal with that kind of thing, nobody ever had to. So, it’s a very big topic. And so, the meta news is hopefully, one tiny little part trying to give people at least the awareness of how those tools work, and give them a mimetic immune system so that they’re not hijacked quite as easily. And there’s more cognitive and emotional sovereignty.
Jim: Yeah, indeed. And the regular listeners to the show know that my opinion, as one of the founders of the online world, I actually went to work building consumer online systems in 1980, believe it or not, is that the pivot to the ad, the pure ad model around 2006, when Moore’s Law made networks and computation cheap enough that you could actually support a quite functional product on ads only. That’s what ruined the internet, goddammit.
Jim: I know I sound like a curmudgeonly old fart when I keep reporting that. But Daniel said it much more eloquently, essentially the fundamental dynamic is rather than making the service as useful and efficient for me, the customer, as possible, if I were to say, paying $10 a month to Facebook. Instead, how long can I keep Daniel on and show him all these 16 pictures of stars look what they look like today, right? And the shit, and as you point out, nobody has to even make these editorial judgments, you just trickle them out there.
Jim: And as your behavior changes, you optimize the algorithms. And as it turns out, and I’m sure Zack had no idea, it’s the worst information, not the good information that hijacks our behavior. And that’s a real fundamental problem. And now, we actually go one step further. Okay? That was bad enough, that there is this emergent hijacking that points us to stuff that’s not necessarily good for us. Now, we have what might even be worse, which is the big platforms making arbitrary decisions about what is and is not in-bounds for the from the public square.
Jim: And as an old-time internet guy, I was always a free speech, let the internet be what it’s going to be. But again, this scale quantity is really important. When the internet was highly fragmented, I didn’t care if somebody wanted to censor their blog, that’s their right. They own the blog. Do whatever you want. But when Facebook has 2.2 billion people, isn’t it, effectively the public square for the world, when they start making decisions that this topic or that topic is out of bounds, that’s also exceedingly dangerous.
Jim: And we’re seeing a whole hell of a lot of that going on right now, both sides of our two polarized parties are doing various politicize things to try to intimidate the platforms. And that’s not right either.
Daniel: Yeah, I believe you’ve had Tristan Harris on your show before, right?
Jim: Twice. Yeah.
Daniel: So, if people haven’t seen those, and you want to know more about this, go watch that. Also, watch the documentary they put out called, The Social Dilemma. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had Jaron Lanier or Shoshana Zuboff on, they’d both be good people for this podcast.
Jim: Yeah, I’ve had couple other people who were very interested, [Brandon Philips 00:49:46] somebody, other? Anyway, look on my list of people, we’ve had an ongoing series of the social implications of technology on. Another I want to revisit, and I think it’s just so important, yet it’s almost impossible seemingly in our current environment is this to read outside of your comfort zone.
Jim: Again, listeners of the show, there’s probably the topic I flame about the most is my distaste for organized religion and deep skepticism of all things metaphysical, goddamn it, you know what I say? When I hear the word metaphysics, I reach for my pistol. And that’s a little overstatement, all over dramatic. And of course, we all have metaphysics, even I got metaphysics, goddamn it. But point taken, I’m not much on organized religion.
Jim: But what magazine do I read most deciduously each month? It’s something called, First Things. It’s a journal, popular, but really intense journal written by very religious, very smart people, philosophers from universities, theologians, et cetera. And I read this thing every month, and it’s thick and dense, because maybe I’m wrong, right? And so, I like to give myself the exposure to the very best minds I’ve been able to find. I’ve subscribed this thing on and off for 30 years. So, I exposed myself intentionally to the best arguments made by the people who my knee jerk reaction is they’re wrong.
Jim: Now, of course, I also have the ulterior motive, “Do you want to know your enemy?” But truthfully, I approached it both ways. And yet, when you look at that, I’ve seen this in online discourse, you quote a good solid article, let’s say from the National Review, conservative publication, in a progressive venue online, you get assaulted just for posting the link, even if the article is good, right? And vice versa, you have an article in nowadays, even the New York Times in a conservative venue, and people go, “Oh.”
Jim: Whether the article is sound or not, they have this tribal reaction to the sources. And this is horrendous. I can guarantee you that, because the problem was much easier. But Thomas Jefferson read the partisan press that vilified him in the most unbelievable, excoriating ways. And of course, he also read the press that supported him. And for us to established this psycho limbic system, where we’re afraid to even admit that we read the other side is broken.
Daniel: Yeah. And what you just said is a great way for democracy to die. When there is so much enmity towards, let’s say, in a national context here, so much enmity towards your other fellow countrymen, because you have no sense of fellow countrymen, you have no sense of a shared-identity or a shared-patriotic unity or whatever, that you’re actually just taking each other as enemies and infighting.
Daniel: Then, any country that doesn’t do that, that has some unity, even if the unity is imposed autocratically will just out coordinate. And so, if we look here at the specific example, we can see that China is not a democracy. When Xi Jinping came into power, most of the government that had opposing ideas were taken out of position of government. And the things like the Sesame Credit System are used to be able to maintain non-defection and participation with a central control.
Daniel: And you can see that that has resulted in their ability to build high-speed rail all around the world, and build a complicated Belt and Road Initiative, and bring 300 million people out of poverty in a short-period of time and pour more concrete for new infrastructure, whatever the stat was in the last few years, then it has been poured by the US in forever, and those types of things. And you can see the US hasn’t built a single high-speed rail.
Daniel: Since high-speed rail was possible, even in our own country, and you’re like, “If there’s that much differential in coordination, where does that go? And does that mean that the 21st century ends up being run by not just autocracy, but exponential tech empower autocracy, which is something the world has only ever even thought about in sci-fi before, it’s never had to actually deal with.”
Daniel: And so, you can see the US used to have more of a shared sense of national identity, patriotism that also corresponded with real innovation through the Manhattan project and the Apollo project. And maybe the Apollo project was the last thing where the US actually did something really innovative as a national government. And I would say, Jim, your generation is maybe the last generation that really had a sense as a whole generation of something like national unity.
Daniel: And we can see that there’s a number of steps that occurred. We can see that the lack of faith that happened with Nixon was a thing. We can see the counterculture movement was a thing. We can see that obviously, the internet and the fragmentation of everybody’s perspectives was one of the major things. Before that, I think the falling of the wall in the end of the USSR, we didn’t have a large enough external enemy to unify us anymore.
Daniel: And so, the US became the number one and number two power. So, the left and right warring on each other was actually what the enemy hypothesis says we would do. But then, what that means is, if we have term limits, so most of four years have spent campaigning to get another four years. And then, whoever gets in, just spins that four years undoing whatever the previous one did. You don’t get high-speed trains that way.
Daniel: You don’t get anything that takes 30 years to plan in a term limit world where everyone wants to only initiate things that are going to create returns in that short time. And when 90% of the energy just gets wasted as heat by the two sides fighting with each other, the internal fighting with each other, that’s a dying system, right? That’s a system that’s undergoing institutional decay in the process of dying and something else is going to take over.
Daniel: So, if we can’t, and this is one of the key insights. If I say, “You’re totally dumb and stupid and despicable, and I want to not listen to you, deplatform you. How dare you even share that thing on our blog, whatever,” you don’t stop existing because I outgroup you, you don’t stop existing and you don’t stop being a political actor.
Daniel: And you don’t stop paying attention to everything that I’m doing where even if I make a win, I get a near-term political win or a narrative win, then your side is going to see what propaganda tools, what AI tools, what narrative warfare tools, whatever, did we use, reverse-engineer them, make innovations and then act again. So, all you do by pursuing culture wars is drive cultural arms races. And we’re now, because of exponential tech and the verticaIizing part of what those arms races of all kinds do.
Daniel: Arms races with cannons were slow, with bow and arrows were even slower. Arms races with AI weapons are fast enough it might kill everybody. We might just not be able to solve it. And the same with disinfo campaigns and being able to say, “Well, it’s okay to spin the truth because our side is so critical. We have to get everybody to believe in climate change, or everybody to believe against it, or whatever it is.” That rationalization is actually breaking the world’s capacity to understand anything well enough to possibly coordinate.
Daniel: And so, either we get over that and say, “I actually really need to know what other people think.” Because if we don’t coordinate together, we can’t keep running warfare, whether it’s narrative war, info war, economic war, diplomatic war, or kinetic war, we can’t keep running warfare with exponential tech where either we’re causing exponential direct disruption or exponential indirect disruption through externality. So, either we figured out how to coordinate or the thing is not going to keep going.
Jim: A very interesting paper, I love to point out here. Because this is not the first time, we felt like a country that’s tearing itself apart. It’s useful to remember, 1968 was a mighty ugly year. Cities were burned, worse than they were last summer. Bombs were going off every day from whether underground and their radical left allies. The Klan was a real thing, not just a few dumbass shitheads, right? And the Vietnam War, it was crazy.
Jim: And yet, that was right in the middle of us putting a man on the moon. And also, while people took their politics seriously, they didn’t demonize people on the other side. They just disagreed with them. An article recently published in Science, it’s a very big survey, high-end, very good statistical analysis indicates that weirdly, in the United States today, more people would disapprove of their child marrying a person of the opposite political party, then would discriminate on either race or religion.
Jim: We’ve been fighting over race or religion probably for at least 10,000 years. And now, the political parties, which we used to say, “There wasn’t a dime where the difference between them is now a matter of life or death, quite literally, on who we want our children to marry.” And so, that’s really, I think absolutely unprecedented in American history.
Daniel: Yeah. And it’s existential for like that. If that trend continues and doesn’t get rectified, then that is the, if not the end of the US, it’s the end of the US having the possibility of playing a major role in positively shaping the direction of the world, or the end of… and I’m not saying that everything the US has done has positively shaped the world. That would be naive and silly. But the idea of the open-societies are at least a step in the right direction.
Daniel: This is why we come back to education and the Fourth Estate, and this is where the Founding Fathers said, “Freedom of religion.” Yes, we don’t care which one it is, but you have to be a religious people. What they meant was that there’s a moral education in addition to the cognitive epistemic education that was considered necessary for the system of governance because civic virtue has to actually be a thing. Ultimately, what we’re talking about when we say governance is, how do we make choices together?
Daniel: How do we coordinate our choice making? Our choices are based on our sense making and our meaning making. Our sense making of what’s going on, why is it going on, what would a specific strategy be that would have an effect, what would the effect of it be? Right? So, both the assessment and the forecasting. But the meaning making, the values generation of what are we making choice in service to, the outside, not just the inside, it is in the art together.
Daniel: They informed the choice making, which is the thing that we need to coordinate. And really, civilization is, you got all these choice-making beings but they affect each other with it. How do you coordinate their choice making in some way so that there’s some type of cooperation possible? And so, it’s actually ridiculous proposition that a huge number of people who have totally different life experiences could cooperate or coordinate. It makes sense that a tribe could, which is why the Dunbar limit was what it was.
Daniel: Then, it makes sense that a king or some small aristocracy could rule a large group because the ruling group was small, and they could all talk. But the idea that some huge group can all come to coordinate together could only happen, and this is all modern democracies, we’re following the enlightenment of modernity and the idea that with the philosophy of science, we can all make sense of the world together, if we’re trained in it, and with the Hegelian dialectic, I can take your perspective, you can take my perspective, we can seek a synthesis.
Daniel: There were things wrong with modernity, postmodernism made some real critiques. But those critiques need factored into a new thing that is constructive. Is there a shared way to make sense of reality? And to make sense of each other’s perspective, not only deconstruction but reconstruction because if we stop or postmodernism stops and says, “There is no real sense making that is separate from the game of power, all there really is the game of power,” then you don’t get past rivalry and game theory.
Daniel: You basically say that’s the only thing. Open society only works if we can say there’s actually a shared basis for coming to make sense of reality, and pay attention to what everybody values and say, “How do we take what everybody values and take those as design considerations for better propositions?”
Jim: Yeah. And people listening to the show know my view on postmodernism, which is that there is some useful critique there. But I do not believe we should consider the way forward as through postmodernism, we should consider instead a little stub dead-end that had some useful criticisms that we should absorb, and that we should be trying to produce an enlightenment 2.0, not going through postmodernism to whatever’s on the other side of that, because the other side of postmodernism is almost certainly a train wreck, train wreck or totalitarianism or both.
Jim: And so, I think that’s a really important point, and which I disagree with folks like Hanzi Freinacht, et cetera, who argues that we go through postmodernism to metamodernism. I say, “No, no. No. Don’t let postmodernism be foundational and what comes next. Rather, consider it an interesting group of critics who pointed out some important things that were wrong with modernism, or let’s call it more broadly the enlightenment, and let’s improve the enlightenment, and come out version 2.0.”
Jim: I just get a little bit away from our topic, but I couldn’t resist the rant.
Daniel: I mean, given that the tagline for the Consilience Project is catalyzing a cultural renaissance, it’s exactly what it is, right? It’s exactly on the topic. And the metamodern group and the integral group, there are a number of groups that have said, “What is post-postmodernism?” That factors the postmodern critiques and says, “Yeah, it’s true.” There were a bunch of messed up Victorian ideas that were creating bias and influencing, and just straight up power structures that were influencing the way we did social science.
Daniel: So, there was phrenology and bad, dumb, early social science that was reifying why the White race was better and why we were domesticating the savages. And it’s like, “Okay, that was nonsense. That was not science.” But that doesn’t mean go out the attempt at science. It means you correct it. You say, “Okay, so bias influences, finances influence, et cetera.” So, how could we bias correct? Let’s never say we’re unbiased because that just means that it’s hiding in our blind spot. Let’s say, how do we seek what the biases are?
Daniel: How do we factor all of the perspectives realizing they all have some signal? So, how do we error correct all the perspectives and then synthesize the post-error corrected ones? And that would be the new thing we’re seeking to develop together.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. And often, I’m amazed at how much hot anti-science is running around on both the right and the left these days. And I’m the first to admit, yep, as you say, science is not perfect by any means. It’s a human activity. And I like to dig into both the philosophy of science and even more interestingly, the sociology of science. And like any human activity, it has its weird quirks. People have status that probably shouldn’t because of things tenure, where science unlike business, the leading lights turn over more slowly, at least in a formal power sense.
Jim: The way grants are done, grant making is done is obviously skews the field of science. But if science is actually practiced honestly under the philosophy of science, then yes, it’s not perfect. And yes, it will make mistakes. But it’s the only system we have ever developed that can provide intersubjective verification of reality at some ever-increasing level of precision. And to throw this out in information nihilism of the postmodern sort, strikes me as literally insane.
Daniel: Okay. So, I actually want to add something to what you said that might appeal to the people who have deep science criticism, and be able to synthesize these a bit. So, I’m not going to get into this here. But probably, most of the listeners know that the philosophy of science and the practice of science, and then the public communication of science are three very different steps.
Daniel: The public communication has all kinds of incentives of having political agendas that are associated where a politician needs to look like they’re doing something and has media companies that need to get ratings and much faster timescales. And science can actually happen on… the practice of science has the egos and the 10 years and the funding problems that it has. The philosophy of science is much purer than those other things.
Daniel: And even the philosophy of science though is not an adequate epistemology. It’s a necessary but not sufficient epistemology, because science is looking at the things that we can measure and do repetition on measurement on. So, the repeatable, measurable stuff, which is critical, but it’s not everything. This is the classic is not distinction. It can give us is can’t give us oath. But then, the applied side of sciences, technology and engineering, and then the question is, well, why do we use it?
Daniel: What is a good choice if the study of the is gives us so much more causal power to make more powerful choices? Well, if science says, “Every ethical system is equally gibberish because there is no way to reify them in the philosophy of science,” then the only thing that ends up being able to be considered a good choice is theoretically the choice that doesn’t lose in the presence of rivalry’s choices, which is why the best scientists’ game of the time gave rise to Game Theory.
Daniel: And so, then what you end up having is rival risk dynamics multiplied by exponential tech, which is one of the things we would say is the generator function of existential risk at large. So, we have to get to a basis for choice making other than game theory, which is why game B is called game B. There’s a change in the game theory that actually has to happen, as opposed to just use more powerful tech to win and externalize whatever harm you need to in the process.
Daniel: And so, there is some ethical considerations that have to be part of the sense making or the epistemology as well. So, one way I talked about this, and Ken Wilber and many people have talked about this, this way it’s not original, is all the things that looked like enlightenments were wider populations and just the priestly class or just to nobility got some increase in knowledge capacity historically, and these were not only Western, this was not just the Greek and Roman period and the European period.
Daniel: There’s a Confucian, Taoist, Chinese enlightenment. There’s a Hindu enlightenment. There was Islamic enlightenment. That all of them you can find first-person, second-person and third-person epistemologies arising together. Third-person epistemology is what we can call the philosophy of science, right? How do we make sense of the objective third-person world? We’re going to measure it, do repetitions on our process, experimentation, et cetera.
Daniel: The second-person side though, is our ability to know what each other think and feel which is critical to the human domain. And that’s where the Hegelian dialectic or the Socratic method in the previous one. Those came in as, “Can I argue your side as well as you can where you have nothing to add? And rather than do it just as a rhetorical process, can I actually inhabit your perspective to get what the world feels like from your perspective, and get how you think about things?” That’s second-person epistemology.
Daniel: And the first-person is, “Can I come to understand my own self, which means my own cognitive biases, my own desire for excessive certainty, my own desire to not admit that I was wrong about previous shit, so is messing up my sense making or whatever it is.” And this is where in the Greek tradition, the stoic tradition would have done that which had a resurgence in the European enlightenment. Obviously, the eastern traditions had a version of that.
Daniel: But there’s a first-person sense making for me as the sense maker that I have to pay attention to that is affecting everything. So, I would say, unnecessary cultural enlightenment has to include first-person, second-person and third-person epistemologies together.
Jim: Very nice. I like that a lot. We’re get a little tight on time here. So, let’s move on to some of the other topics we wanted to talk about. Now, this is a very ambitious, very interesting, very rich project, this Consilience Project. You’ve said before, at least in its initial phases, it’s not for everybody, who is it for? Who are your target audiences?
Daniel: Yeah. Obviously, the target audience, if we were really talking about something like an open society, where the order that a society needs is emerging from the people rather than being imposed on them. The target audience has to be eventually everybody. And yet, we obviously can’t speak the same way to everybody to begin with. So, a starting point is simply a starting point. What we’re working on here is both being able to analyze where existing problem-solving processes are adequate to some of the problem scape and where they’re not.
Daniel: And where they’re not, what new problem-solving innovations, new social systems could be that could be commensurate with the things that have worked in the past and add new capacities? So, they’re deep pieces. They’re thinking pieces. They do not require being a specialist, right? We’re trying to write them in a way where, let’s say a piece takes 30 minutes to read. Any generally educated adult that really gives a shit could read them.
Daniel: But they’re not super easy reads. You have to give a shit. You might have to look up a word or two here, there. We try to make it where we aren’t using unfamiliar language and terms where you’d have to be a specialist that aren’t necessary. The only times where we’re using a term that is unfamiliar is where we think that term is so important in the English language as an intellectual tool for a concept that needs to be more popular, that we’re willing to engage the cost of using those words and having people have to look them up, because the popularization of those words and concepts would itself be a type of success.
Daniel: It would mean that more people were thinking with better thinking tools. So, anyone who is willing to spend a little time and really cares, and gives a shit could be part of the audience. The people who are already really thinking about the mini catastrophic rest of the world faces and recognizing that whether it’s the UNSDG approach or it’s the Silicon Valley techno-optimist approach, it doesn’t seem like any of them are adequate.
Daniel: And I’m trying to think about how to think about this better, those would be people who are already primed to be interested and engaged. But we’re already working on making the first animations, and who knows if this will be how it happens? But like, make one of these papers a 15-minute animation that a high school student could really engage in.
Daniel: And then, a podcast where it’s our goal that this project has a lot of really brilliant people that were involved in, and caring people that were involved in, founding it, directing it, developing all the content, that different people in this project and network can go speak on podcasts about papers. Where then, if someone wants to hear it discussed in the long-form podcast, they can. So, we’re going to do the transmedia translation.
Daniel: But the people for who… and the reason we start with the higher brow articles is I can take a high-resolution photo and make a low-resolution photo out of it, but easier than I can go the other direction. So, we’re trying to do the clear thinking first and then be able to make it more widely available. And specifically, those people who’ve already invested enough in the depth of sense making and caring about how to change our social systems are the people that we’re actually seeking to partner with that might be able to help in the movement building that we’re doing.
Daniel: They’re probably already working on projects or be interested in working on projects in the space. And then, one of the other things that will happen is, there will be some people who understand some of what we’re doing and translate it to audiences in a way we never could. Right? So, we already had someone contact us, who’s building a rap battle platform, and where the rappers are rapping about police violence or race issues or whatever they like.
Daniel: Well, if you’re developing better content on some of those topics, it’s more nuanced. And they could come learn this and bring it to those communities. And they would know how to do that infinitely better than we would. Or similarly, someone who’s a deeper thinker than most of their following on TikTok, but would understand it well enough and bring it to the Gen Z TikTok audience that they have in a particular way. And that’s why we say catalyzing a decentralized cultural renaissance.
Daniel: And this is also why our project self-terminates after five years. For something to really be an enlightenment or a movement, it has to be the zeitgeist of the time. And we would say, “We see this already happening.” Right? Game B is another expression of this. As you mentioned, metamodern and integral are things that are sniffing in a similar direction, at least sniffing. And Tristan and Center for Humane Technology, and those folks pointing out what’s wrong with social media, and how could we fix it, is a part of that. People that are focused on how do we improve the future of education, or how do we improve journalism.
Daniel: So, what we’d say is, we see that there’s a recognition. There is an upgrade in culture necessary to be able to address the problems the world faces. But most people don’t think of it that way, they’re thinking of it just as journalism or education on the part of it they’re focused on. So, there’s already a movement starting, it’s just nascent and it doesn’t even recognize itself, and the parts don’t recognize themselves.
Daniel: We want to help frame it where they all recognize you’re right. We are working on a cultural enlightenment for new social systems adequate to the problems. And we want to be able to help up regulate, signal up regulate the groups that are doing good work, so that when this project shuts down in five years, the aims that it seeks to serve are continuing and fully decentralized, uninfluenceable, uncapturable ways.
Jim: You also have mentioned when we’ve chatted in the past, that you see one of the more important aspects the consilience project is being a good example to others, particularly in the media, on what is possible. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Daniel: So yeah. If we look at the meta news, it contains projects and nonprofit project. It’s not just nonprofit, but it commits to not have any of the revenue streams that mess up media project. So, it won’t put any of the information behind a paywall. It won’t sell anybody’s data. It won’t put ads on the site. So, it is donation-funded. And we also won’t accept any donations that have any strings attached. If someone says, “We’ll donate, but only speak favorably of our organization or whatever,” we’ll tell them to fuck off.
Daniel: So, we can only do as much as we can actually raise capital that gives us no perverse incentive. That was the cleanest way we could build it. We also don’t have individual author titles or bylines on the papers because it’s really a whole team effort that is building them. And then, people have to address the papers just based on the content, not ad hominem on the authors. And it makes it safer for the authors to say what the evidence really shows rather than what will not get attacked.
Daniel: It also decreases perverse incentive for even the author’s inside of the organization to not pay more attention to the ones that have their name as lead author than the ones that they’re supporting on. So, how do we do collective intelligence well, is the question for the future of the world. We’re trying to prototype it here, that complete after five years, there’ll be some function that has to happen after that that is archival, and maybe they can comment on if future people say, “Well, the Consilience Project was trying to say such and such,” they can comment on that.
Daniel: So, there may be some very minimal, vestigial thing that is just doing in that archival function. But the reason that we decided to shut it down is because most organizations end up having an incentive to keep being an organization. And if they’re trying to solve a problem, that’s actually a perverse incentive to never really solve the problem that would obsolete their existence where their existence has given them some procedure power or something like that, so then they manage the problem forever.
Daniel: And we really wanted to show like, “No, we’re not seeking to be part of a long-term power landscape.” And what we’re trying to affect is way longer than five years. So, we’ll only succeed if we help lots of other groups do better work than they’re currently doing. And we’re going to do a public post-mortem when we’re over. So, now the other groups know that we aren’t in competition with them. We want to help them do better, we actually have to for our public post-mortem to not look like we failed.
Daniel: So, we’re trying to see how do we create all of the incentives to be as aligned with the goal of the commons as it can be.
Jim: It’s very interesting. You also have talked, you’ve mentioned a couple times in passing the idea of community building around the Consilience Project and around the editorial work that you’re doing. What’s you’re thinking so far? And I realize it’s obviously very early. And it’s not what you’re doing right today. But a lot of people listen to the show are interested in social change through organizing, and would love to hear your thoughts on what a movement around the Consilience Project might look like.
Daniel: Yes, and I realized I actually didn’t answer your last question. That was all the build-up, and then I forgot where it was now. So, I’ll answer that one first. You were asking where are we prototyping media?
Jim: And how do you see yourself as an influence on media, good influence on media that they can emulate?
Daniel: So, in order to do good news, there’s some intelligence function, something like the economist has an intelligence unit. Usually, their capacities are their proprietary knowledge because they’re a company that is providing that product or service. For us, it’s the opposite. We’re really trying to enrich the epistemic commons as a whole, we’re a nonprofit.
Daniel: So, any capacities that we’re developing, we’re going to be not just taking the output of that capacity as media and putting it out there, we’re actually going to be writing how our capacity works as a prototype, and having it be available for anyone else to utilize. So, with regard to meta news, we’ve already started to publish on the methods by which we do meta news. And our hope is that existing media orgs and new media orgs take that, innovate on it and run with it.
Daniel: Because we’re way too small to be able to do all that needs to be done there. We hope that that’s an inspiration that the methods are an inspiration for people to do better work. Similarly, as we show what the consilience epistemics are, how do we take many different perspectives and steelman the partial truths, do analysis on them, synthesize them, that inspires everything from existing media institutions to new ones, to bloggers. Yeah, like that.
Daniel: I think sometimes you can’t wait for demand to push supply because, as you mentioned, supply is so asymmetric that it’s manufacturing shitty demand. And so, right now, the media organizations really do find that if they give more salacious headlines, people click on it more. And if it’s short, people will read it. And if it’s long or it doesn’t have a salacious headline, people won’t click on it and read it. So, the demand is perverse.
Daniel: And so, then the supply keeps appealing to and doubling down on the perverseness of it. So, who is our audience? Well, our audience is going to be people who don’t need salacious headlines also, and are willing to read long nuanced things that are outside of their existing perspective and won’t confirm their bias. That’s obviously a somewhat smaller audience, but a meaningful one to start with.
Daniel: And our hope is that we can show people both how not good the news that they already think is good is and the media that they’re consuming, and show them what is possible that starts to change the nature of demand so that existing sources of supply can actually start to have a race to the top rather than a race to the bottom. That’s obviously an ambitious hope. But that’s the hope.
Jim: Why don’t we hop back to my previous question, Daniel, on community building. That’s something you have mentioned a few times in passing here, and you and I have talked about more than once. So, how do you see the opportunity to pivot from the Consilience Project and add a community building effort to that?
Daniel: Yeah. We’re starting with publishing. And we would already be doing more in movement building if we had the bandwidth. It’s really a personnel bandwidth thing, which is a resource bandwidth thing. So, that’s what we’re working on now. And so, we’ll do as much as we can.
Daniel: One of the things we’re starting to work on in movement building is identifying all the groups that we think are doing really critical work towards helping the epistemic commons towards helpings sense-making, meaning-making, choice-making capacities and being able to curate those resources, and help give them the information we’re working on that they might be able to better their own projects with.
Daniel: And maybe help direct attention, capital, other things that are needed to those projects, and also recontextualize so it doesn’t look like a social media project here and a journalism project here, and an education project here, but those recognized relationship they have with each other as part of upgrading culture writ large. So, that’s the first part.
Daniel: We want to create forums where people can start to have deep discussions on these things and where we innovate with the digital architectures that rather than leading to degenerate troll wars, lead to incentives on better quality sense-making and better quality, good-faith discourse. Those are all things that take some work and take some bandwidth to do.
Jim: Yup. I really look forward to seeing this thing evolve. It’s a wonderful project. Those people who are interested in it, check it out at consilienceproject.org. As always, the link will be on the episode page at jimruttshow.com. Daniel Schmachtenberger, thanks for another wonderful conversation.
Daniel: It was great. Thank you, Jim.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Mahler at modernspacemusic.com.