Thoughts on The Egg: a short story by Andy Weir, animated by Kurzgesagt

published Apr 30 2020

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I like the story. It seems to place value on growth and maturity. It implies that power should be wielded by responsible grown-ups, and seems to associate maturity with kindness. (Thought we can debate the kindness of a world full of suffering.) It plants the idea that we should be kinder, just in case something like this is true.

If this was the basis of a worldwide religion, the world would have been a much better place by now. Religions that promote reincarnation lack this one crucial piece that would fall into place like it’s meant to be there. We missed a great opportunity thousands or hundreds of years ago. But it might not be too late; the world might be more receptive than it ever has been.

I immediately imagine a radical offshoot of such a religion. Looking at the state of the world, they interpret the god’s idea of “growth” as “suffering” and make it their mission to spread as much misery and suffering as possible. Excluding their higher-ups, of course.

Let’s indulge ourselves in thinking about the outcome. In such a scenario, everyone eventually merges into a single mind that combines all minds that have ever lived. Human, sub-human, super-human, alien, uplifted animal species, uploaded minds, AI, and more. When does this happen? The “god” has built a kill switch into the bio-species, but this can be overcome with technology. To get around that, it would also build a kill switch into the universe itself; let’s say a Big Rip or a Big Crunch. This would conclude the incubation.

The idea of a single unified mind is intriguing. On the Future Shock scale, it probably places at level 4. Most people would be uncomfortable with such a future for themselves (unless, conveniently, it was planted by a religion they held since childhood). But consider this:

  • Humanity is arguably a single lifeform consisting of tiny individuals.
  • Humanity is arguably a networked super-intelligence.

“Networked super-intelligence” refers to a type of intelligence that consists of individually intelligent parts that exchange information. In contrast, a non-networked super-intelligence consists only of “dumb” parts. The idea of unifying into a single mind may scare us with loss of individuality. But what is individuality but not a limitation, a border? How come I is I, and you is you? How can there be more than one ego, more than one point of view? Isn’t it bizarre? Doesn’t it seem kind of artificial?

We’ve been doing all we can to bridge this gap by inventing ways to exchange information. Body language, verbal language, rituals, drawing, music, writing, poetry, book printing, radio, TV, the internet. We seem to be moving towards some middleground between pure isolation and deep networking. What’s that middleground? Does it stop at verbal exchange? Does it involve a technological telepathy that allows to share deeper thoughts and emotions? Does it go further and allow complete exchange and on-the-fly synchronization of entire persons, merging two, or more, into one? Imagine the ability to link into one, then unlink and diverge, then sync back again. When linked, do they count as two intelligences, or just one?

We have an interesting precedent and precursor: the two hemispheres inside each human skull. Each hemisphere is capable of running an entire human person. Compare split-brain syndrome caused by severing the connection vs. having one functional hemisphere and/or having the other hemisphere removed. In successful cases of the latter, one hemisphere does in fact run the entire person. In the case of split-brain, each hemisphere more or less runs a different person. In a healthy brain, the connection between the “brains” maintains an illusion of a sole ego.

An ideal mind-link technology would have controls for privacy and degrees of data sync. It should be possible to choose what to share and how deeply. Different individuals, pairs, groups, would link to different degrees. In the limit case, it would merge them completely for the duration of the connection. Become one, then many, then one again.

The ideas of “unified mind” and “networked super-intelligence” can be seen as special cases of this mind-link, varying only in degrees. More interestingly, there’s no reason for the linking to be permanent. It could be on for work, for voting on important matters, then off for leisure, or some other variation. Such a civilization would be like us today: a networked super-intelligence, but with a higher degree of efficiency. Personally, I’d be excited. What about you?

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