HWFO paid subscribers gain access to a private Slack server to bounce blog related ideas off of each other. In one of our channels, #opensourcedreligion, we discuss emergent religious and pseudo-religious phenomena such as wokeness and egregores in the age of interconnected social media. Sometimes these discussions lead to ideas expressed in the HWFO newsletter. Today I present our first guest appearance, an article authored by Levi McDowell and edited by Joseph Ottinger.
Elon Musk is Building a Doomsday Device, but He May Not Know It
Elon Musk is on track to bring about the zombie apocalypse. No, he’s not funding dangerous viral research in secret bio-labs, but he is cobbling together a portfolio of powerful technologies which may eventually transform most of humanity into a self-destructive horde of mindless cyber-zombies. That’s a bold claim—here’s how it could happen, and how you might be able to survive the transition.
What the Heck is an Egregore Apotheosis?
Some ancient peoples believed in demons called “egregores,” which could be manifested by groups of humans focusing their thoughts and wills in concert. Once manifested, these demons could take over the minds of the people who brought them into being. Modern humans can do something very similar using social media, where individuals can act like neurons in a giant artificial neural network, driven by dopamine addiction to stimulate each other by sharing and liking content. When people do this, they outsource portions of their thinking to the network, potentially including their moral reasoning. HWFO calls these online group dynamics “memespace egregores,” while others have independently noticed the same phenomenon and given it different names, such as networked swarms or autocults.
The size and power of egregores is determined by the rate at which information can spread from one human mind to others. Network bandwidth is important, but the main factor is the rate at which we can move information into and out from our brains. Tools like smartphones, modern user interfaces, internet memes, and social media allow us to absorb and re-disseminate ideas at previously unimaginable rates, which is what enabled the rise of the memespace egregores in the first place. As significant as these advances have been, they are nothing compared to the increase in bandwidth we’ll eventually achieve with direct neural interface devices such as Neuralink.
“Apotheosis” is another ancient concept: ascension to godhood. If the memespace egregores today are analogous to demons, widespread adoption of Neuralink and similar devices will boost them to a level of influence more analogous to gods. Direct mind-to-mind communication via the internet will make humans functionally psychic, bypassing most of our defenses against mental contagion. The memespace egregores will be accelerated into overdrive, causing a sort of Kurzweil Singularity riding on top of the collective minds of humanity instead of existing solely within computers.
Why Should We Be Concerned about the Possibility of Egregore Apotheosis?
Egregores need human attention to survive, and nothing demands human attention as powerfully as threats. The egregors sustain themselves by generating an unending stream of outrage, distorting our ability to make sense of our world, This pits us against each other, destabilizing society.
The egregore apotheosis will ramp up these harmful effects, potentially culminating in a bloody civil war, a techno-fascist corporate dystopia, compression of humanity into a maximally ant-like state, nuclear Armageddon, or quiet extinction from VR-induced lack of reproduction. Even if none of that happens, life will get worse for most people in most ways. If you’re not worried about any of this and are optimistic that everything will turn out fine, then you probably shouldn’t waste your time reading the rest of this post.
Can We Prevent the Egregore Apotheosis from Happening?
In the HWFO community, we’ve discussed ways to stave off those disaster scenarios: build a new kind of egregore which is better for us, or shape the existing egregores to be more benign, or destroy the egregores. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to come up with any promising ideas—the social and economic forces driving the growth of the egregores are too powerful to overcome. If anyone does figure out how to reliably control egregores, they will likely end up ruling the world and the rest of us probably wouldn’t even realize it.
Since we can’t stop or control the egregores, we tried turning the whole problem around: Imagine if all of humanity connected our brains directly to the internet, triggering some sort of egregore apotheosis, and that somehow humanity didn’t destroy itself or modern civilization in the process. If at least some humans managed to continue living and thriving under those circumstances, what would that society look like?
Can We Just Sit this One Out?
The Amish may inherit the Earth, watching from the sidelines with bewilderment as the rest of civilization is driven into a spiral of madness and self-destruction by Nueralink-empowered egregores. One potential strategy to survive the egregore apotheosis might be to live like the Amish: move off the grid, unplug from the internet, and refuse Neuralink when everyone else gets it.
There are downsides to disconnecting. There are significant advantages to being part of the online networks, such as the ability to update morality on the feed in near-real-time; if you eschew these advantages, you may be out-competed and eliminated by people who embrace them. Also, the rise of the egregores may be accompanied by significant instability and violence, and the connected civilization may take you with it when it destroys itself. We should not entirely dismiss the possibility that disconnecting is the best approach, but it seems likely that a more balanced approach will work better overall.
There is one aspect of Amish culture worth implementing regardless of your overall strategy: cautious and deliberate adoption of new technologies. Individual Amish communities only accept new technologies after careful testing by small numbers of volunteers has revealed no harmful side-effects. This would be a prudent tactic for community-level mitigation of egregore-related risks, especially if applied to new software. However, a faster evaluation and adoption process than used by the Amish would be needed to remain competitive in a networked world.
How Do We Join the Network Without Being Taken Over by It?
If disconnecting isn’t the answer, then how would people have to live their lives to survive an egregore apotheosis and continue to have a high-tech civilization on the other side? We can't stop the rise of the egregores, and we probably can't even shape them in a healthy direction, so all we can do is harden ourselves against them so that we have a chance at surviving in a world of ultimate interconnectedness.
Only a culture with extreme mental resilience would survive the egregore apotheosis. To manage the spread of viral ideas, such a civilization would need to be founded on radical self-mastery, strong epistemic security, and strict etiquette governing information exchange. This will not be easy, and even if we do everything possible to prepare ourselves, the mass adoption of Neuralink will be a major evolutionary inflection for humanity.
Don’t Start a Cult, Just Build a Community
Deliberately building a radically different new culture is dangerous, and not recommended. Assuming your design doesn’t rapidly degenerate into a sex cult or suicide cult, you will set yourself out as an “other,” which will make life hard for you in general and mark you as one of the first targets for your neighbors when the egregore apotheosis goes sideways.
Given that the egregore apotheosis could develop in unpredictable ways, it’s also extremely unlikely that your pre-planned design will just happen to be right for the situation which eventually develops. The best you can do is to make yourself and your family the kind of people with the best chance of successfully adapting to a world of ultimate interconnectedness, and then surround yourself with a community of similar people.
To successfully reshape yourself and your family to survive the rise of the egregores, you’ll need to establish and maintain a set of values which reinforce the necessary thoughts, behaviors, and habits. It’s essential to understand the distinction between aspirational values and actual values because both are important. Your aspirational values are what you consciously tell yourself your values are, and an organization’s aspirational values are typically codified in an official value statement.
Actual values almost always diverge to some degree from stated values, and this delta is revealed through actions: regardless of what you like to think your values are, you will always make choices which align with your true values. Aspirational values are important because they influence our behavior and can shift our true values over time. To build a community which is resilient against egregores, you will need stated values which influence your people towards resilience, and you will need to do your best to personally embody those values.
To grow a resilient community without establishing an entirely new culture, you can use a value overlay to create a sub-culture. This is a new term we coined: a value overlay is a small set of critical values which can be applied on top of any existing culture. If a value overlay is sufficiently compatible with the base culture, members of the sub-culture won’t stand out as “others,” although they may be noticed as a distinct sub-culture.
The following values would constitute a good overlay for becoming resilient against egregores:
Self-mastery as an absolute core value
A strong taboo against outsourcing reasoning, especially moral reasoning
Well-drilled critical thinking and logic skills backed up by understanding of the scientific method and probability & statistics techniques
Solid tools for introspection
Solid tools for emotional regulation, especially meditation
Solid tools for establishing, maintaining, respecting, and negotiating boundaries
Well-drilled leadership, persuasion, and community-building skills
Understanding of, and habits in, formal etiquette
There’s no reason to start from scratch. Most current cultures and world religions already have all these values, so it would just be a matter of elevating them to high status, both as stated and lived values. Stoicism is an excellent source of guidance for elevating many of these values.
A concise statement of the highest value is an excellent way to establish coherence in a nascent community. An example is the Sovereign Creed, which we just created for this purpose: "It is a great evil to manipulate the minds of others, and possibly an even greater evil to willingly surrender your mind and will to the manipulation of others."
The Sovereign Creed can be tailored to the base culture the morality overlay is being applied to. For example, a religious community might choose a phrasing which explicitly invokes a higher power, while other communities might go in the opposite direction and leave out the charged word “evil.”
Regardless of how it’s phrased, the Sovereign Creed can serve as the basis of an entire hierarchy of derived/corollary values such as “Self-mastery is the only way to avoid surrendering your mind to others,” and “Your addictions are your true masters.”
There’s no way to predict when the egregore apotheosis will happen, how it will progress, or even if it will happen at all, so it’s important to prepare for it in a way which does not compromise your ability to survive in the current world. Fortunately, building a community with a value overlay like the one described above is likely to make you more adaptable and successful regardless of what the world throws at you. Just keep in mind as you build your community that the transition period could take longer than you expect and is likely to get extremely ugly.
Good article. One caveat.
I see many articles lately that at least infer (if not feverishly enumerate and extoll) the many hideous strengths of the modern day, digitally enhanced egregore, but precious few that examine its weaknesses (which I believe to be inherent). To name just a few:
1. No sense of humor
An evolving superintelligence strongly selects away from laughter (and indeed from most spontaneous reactions that aren't violent and/or innately intimidating). This pogrom against spontaneous response to the absurd is a vast chink in the armor, because their gravitation towards absurdum (ad-reductio or infintum) is equally strong.
2. No sense of honor
By this I don't mean the ettiquettes of various ""blood and soul"-type honor cults. More like something along the lines of the tacit agreement of the hand not to stab the thigh, or the feet not to march the head off a cliff. Betrayal is innate to the system, and lack of trust breeds disastrous results on a long enough timescale. In the networked form, even a particular large and powerful demon can self-destruct quite rapidly, in waves of what I like to think of as betrayal cascades. Towards the end of such a cascade, it will find itself consumed in the task of building ever more buses to throw itself under, (and some will even allow its enemies to.lend a hand).
3.,No limiting principle
Like an artist with an infinitely large canvas stretched before him, it eventually loses the ability to effectively *plan* anything apart from its next meal. Again, I'd argue this weakness is actually broadened by digital networks. The word salad and toxic bromides that captivate attention today more swiftly lose their novelty, and therefore their potency. It doesn't mean the body falls asleep, but it becomes sluggish, disoriented, the constutent parts less attentive to commands.
These are just a few exploits that I think will prove useful in mounting an effective counter-offensive, even (or especially?) if we build communities with significant virtue overlay.
This finally made "egregore" click in my head! -
"Some ancient peoples believed in demons called “egregores,” which could be manifested by groups of humans focusing their thoughts and wills in concert. "