You Am Us

My article “You Am Us” has been published on The Transfigurist, the new blog of the Mormon Transhumanist Association launched on January 1.

Some excerpts are pasted below, and I invite you to read the full essay on The Transfigurist.

Eastern philosophies insist that “all is one” – the boundaries between different parts of the world that we perceive, including the all-important boundary between “self” and “other,” are permeable and ultimately an illusion conjured-up by our special ways to interpret the world.

Also Western mystics throughout the ages have had the powerful intuition that everything in the universe is deeply connected to everything else to the point that, in a fundamental sense, everything is one.

It’s undeniable that the concept of “self” has important evolutionary advantages – if your ancestor didn’t perceive a very clear and very important distinction between himself and a predator, he wouldn’t have run fast enough to escape the predator and reproduce.

But perhaps, behind the veil of perception and interpretation, consciousness is one: your ancestor and the predator were really one, from a fundamental perspective.

That is the theory of Daniel Kolak. In his book “I Am You: The Metaphysical Foundations for Global Ethics” [Kolak 2004] he proposes the metaphysics (and practical philosophy) of Open Individualism: every consciousness is fundamentally the same, and we are all the same person.

I like Open Individualism because it explores and formalizes intuitions that I often had. Consciousness shouldn’t be thought of as a property of thinkers, but as a property of thinking. My favorite metaphor, essentially similar to Kolak’s, is a large room with many windows. Consciousness is the observer in the room, and experiences different individual reality streams looking from different windows. For example, one window could look at children on a playground, and another at a parking lot. Those would be two very different perception streams, but the consciousness experiencing them is one. You are the observer – consciousness – and the views from different windows are different lives.

What happens when the blinds of a window go down? You continue to observe reality from the other windows. What happens when a person dies? Consciousness continues to observe reality from other eyes. What happens after you die? You continue to live, as another person – actually, you continue to live as every other person. You continue to live a myriad of parallel lives, forever and ever. Your lives are not conscious of each other, but are yours in a fundamental sense.

Open Individualism as a practical philosophy can make an important positive difference in our lives. If you think that other people are you, you will not harm them, because you would be harming yourself. On the contrary, you will be kind and compassionate to them – to all other instances of you.

Read the full essay on The Transfigurist.


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  • René Milan

    “Following Kolak I am persuaded that, even if no higher power is going to resurrect or reincarnate me, other instances of me will live again, who won’t remember having been me” – that is exactly the principle underlying the idea of reincarnation, which i too adopt as a working, and well working, concept until it is disproven or superseded by a better one. Many assume it is possible to remember past lives, and some claim to have to have attained that memory, through sufficiently deep self exploration resulting in satori, samadhi or cosmic consciousness. An excellent article, Giulio.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Thanks Rene’. More I think of the Open Individualism version of reincarnation, more it seems to me not only true, but trivially true.

      In this context, “remembering past lives” means remembering ALL past lives – the lives of everyone who has ever lived. And who’s to say that cannot be?

      We can also imagine that, for those with the talent and the training, it’s easier to remember a life that is more similar to yours – for example a fat aggressive male remembers more easily the life of another fat aggressive male than the life of a thin submissive woman. That would kind of bridge the gap between Open Individualism and more “traditional” concepts of reincarnation.

      • René Milan

        Spoken like the true radical i know. Let’s go all the way. I see two problems though.

        1. Only very few practitioners of occult technologies seem to have managed to remember even some not so distant previous lives. Attaining cosmic consciousness would theoretically amount to becoming one with all of existence, thus implicitly remembering all previous lives. Unfortunately i am not yet in a position to verify or falsify that idea, but i shall keep working on that. Of course anybody’s baby steps should be welcomed and supported.

        2. When you are referring to “everyone who has ever lived”, ‘everyone’ is an unclear concept. Of course neanderthals should be included as they were just another but compatible ‘race’ that unfortunately vanished, in large part thanks to sapiens. But how far back can we go ? Or is there even a clear line to be drawn, which would appear arbitrary ? And of course there is not even one between life and nonlife. Classic reincarnation theory obviously does not limit itself to human life only.

        As for your second point: you may be right with your similarity assumption. But the purpose of reincarnation has been described in the literature as continuing the perfection of the personality where it is still lacking, thus superconsciously choosing when reincarnating the proper conditions for experiencing and learning to master the skills not yet attained. The repeated switch between male and female seems to be more important than that between thin, fat and neither. Repetition seems unlikely, except for exceptional situations as that of the Dalai Lama, and even he certainly has not experienced exile before under the same condition as now. To master politics under current international conditions was never an option before.

        Personally i find it plausible to assume that my current abhorrence of and contempt for war is resulting from having quite possibly been a soldier and died in WWII, like so many. I was born only three years later, and ´karmic factors may have been contributing to the high birth rate (baby boom) at the time, as well as to my generation’s actively working so hard toward ‘love and peace’.

        • Giulio Prisco

          Thanks for the thoughtful reply Rene’, I will add some thoughts tomorrow. Now I just want to say that, looking at the news, I am afraid our generation hasn’t been very effective in promoring love and peace. Let’s hope today’s young and future generations will do a better job.

        • Giulio Prisco

          Rene’, I don’t exclude Neanderthals, but then again I don’t exclude frogs either. I don’t think humans are fundamentally different from other forms of life, and I don’t think I am fundamentally different from other humans, or forms of life.

          Yesterday’s version of me is very similar to me. The version of me in a branch of the multiverse very similar to this branch is very similar to me. Another person is more different from me, but there are degrees of similarity. An ancient Egyptian is less similar to me and more different from me, and a Neanderthal is much more different.

          All these humans are much more similar to me than the frog, but the difference is more quantitative than qualitative. I can easily imagine and empathize with the experiences of other persons in the contemporary world, but much less for an ancient Egyptian, and I have no idea of what being a frog feels like. But if I include yesterday’s me in my self, and you, then there is no reason to exclude the frog.

          There is no black and white self vs. non-self, but a range of shades of grey and degrees of self-ness.

          • René Milan

            Excellent, Giulio. That is precisely how i feel about the issue.

  • Debi K Baughman

    Interesting. Still digesting it.
    So, do you think perhaps the Original ONE simply got lonely and bored and so developed the many?
    We will never be alone again.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Debi. That’s a good answer to the question why one becomes many. In Greg Bear’s Queen of Angels, the sentient spaceship AXIS does just that – splits in two sentient parts so that it’s not alone. We can’t do that yet, but in the coming age of cyberconsciousness we will.

  • Giulio Prisco

    My article was republished @IEET some time ago, and there is an interesting discussion: