This is the first chapter in a series that outlines a new cultural operating system called cooperative coalescence. But what exactly is a "cultural operating system"? There are two parts: the philosophical framework, and the social structures built on top of that framework. Before we can develop the social structures, we must first construct the philosophy. This chapter outlines the foundation of the philosophical framework.
In this chapter, we will will build the foundation of the philosophical framework for the cultural operating system called Cooperative Coalescence.
- Define what Philosophy is in the first place, and why it is important
- Derive a Metaphysics, which means we'll explore the fundamental question of "What Exists?"
- Describe the Concept, one of the key components of the metaphysics we'll develop
This might sound overly academic and dense, but I do my best to walk through these ideas in small, reasonable steps, using grounded thought experiments. I think you should just dive in and see how it goes. If you find it too dense for now, move on to the next chapter—you can (and should) come back later after you've gotten through some of the larger ideas. Don't let this chapter stop you from getting to the important stuff.
That being said, the point of this chapter being so thorough is to have the details available for those who come looking for them. I imagine that most people will end up being drawn in by some of the higher level chapters later on, and I want this lower level philosophy to be here if (and when) some of those people come looking for the foundations of those ideas.
One of the driving factors for developing this system is to move past all of our collective "bad assumptions"; this chapter is me "showing my work".
So, Cooperative Coalescence is a philosophical system. But what actually is philosophy, and why is it important?
Philosophy is the study of "fundamental questions". There are many branches of philosophy, with some of the most important being: Epistemology, the study of knowledge; Logic, the study of reason; and Metaphysics, the study of reality. To lay the groundwork for Cooperative Coalescence, we will start with a metaphysical lens in the next section.
Metaphysics is the study of the fundamental questions of existence, matter, reality, and consciousness. Metaphysics is concerned with answering the question "What are the things that exist?", and the follow up "What are they like?
What makes philosophy so important is that it is the foundation for every other branch of human thinking. Philosophy sits underneath Politics, Religion, and Ethics. The true power of a well designed philosophical system is that it can provide a strong and stable base for human society. In other words, philosophy is how we can "scientifically" create a consistent and well reasoned worldview.
The most important takeaway is this: since philosophy sits underneath everything else, then the way a society answers the fundamental questions of philosophy dictates everything about how that society is structured. Every aspect of your life is shaped by the socially dominant philosophical framework. You should understand what that framework is, and how to judge its quality.
At the base of any argument is an Axiom: an idea that can't be reduced any further, and that we have to assume to be true. We can think of axioms as "assumptions". Assumptions in general are dangerous, and we should try to have as few of them as possible, and keep them as simple and as reasonable as we can.
An axiom is a non-reducible idea that we take to be a truth; it is a foundation of an argument. Axioms should be simple and reasonable, and there should be no more than the absolute minimum needed to make our argument.
Poorly designed arguments have very "unstable" axioms that leave a lot of room for error.
Here's an example of a poor axiom: within the dominant philosophical framework Competitive Individualism, there is an axiom, an assumption, that human beings have elevated importance over other living and non-living things. But why? There are various different explanations for it, but most of them boil down to "because it feels true". (We will dig much deeper into this example in a later chapter.)
This is a lazy and dangerous way to craft the foundational arguments of human society. If it's true, then let's prove it! And if it's not true, then we ought to figure out what that means for us. We can't be afraid of seeking out potentially scary truths.
Cooperative Coalescence is an attempt to build a new philosophy on top of axioms that are simple, reasonable, and integrated with the most up-to-date scientific knowledge. Instead of trying to make high level arguments that must be unquestionable, we will instead craft a solid metaphysical base and build our framework from there. This work can be a little challenging, but if we don't do it this way, we'd effectively just be making things up.
Let us begin by defining our Metaphysics. As we said before, metaphysics is concerned with answering the question of "What exists?"
So, uh, what exists?
Most traditional metaphysics have two base categories of objects that exist: the Concrete objects and the Abstract objects. The concrete objects are physical objects, while the abstract objects are "ideas" or "concepts". We can agree that a physical desk "exists", and that the concept of the number three also "exists", and that the nature of these two objects is different, yes?
Concrete objects are "things" made out of matter, while abstract objects are "things" that are not made out of matter. Ideas, concepts, information, and knowledge all exist in the realm of the abstract.
This is a pretty good starting point. However, this leaves the definition of "concrete object" far too loose: how do we define a "thing"? Is an atom concrete? A molecule? A smartphone? Leaving the foundation of a philosophy this open to interpretation is not a great start.
Over the last century, we have made huge advances in atomic and sub-atomic scientific knowledge. We have a much more vivid understanding of particle physics now than we used to, and we should use that knowledge to inform our definitions. So, while we may use these terms of "abstract" and "concrete" in the meantime, let's start from scratch and develop a new foundation.
Since we can observe, study, and explain the behavior of matter, we'll take the fact that Matter Exists as an axiom (an assumption) at the root of our argument. (If you can't agree that matter exists, then you may want to ask your doctor if you have a case of terminal contrarianism.)
So we ask: Knowing that everything is made up of sub-atomic particles that interact with other sub-atomic particles, how do we draw the line between one physical object and another? Is there a meaningful scientific way to differentiate between the atomic interactions of the air around a desk and the desk itself? And what separates a droplet of water from the ocean once it falls in?
If we answer this question truthfully without relying on our current assumptions about the world, we'd say: There is no physical basis for separation between concrete objects.
To explain: from a physics perspective, an atom in the surface of the desk can (and does) interact with any of the atoms nearby, not only the ones it has strongly bonded to. And similarly with the water: the molecular bonds in a droplet are no different than those in the ocean. The particles that make up the universe just exist, interacting with any and all other particles that come their way, based on the rules of physics. The particles themselves have no concept of "desk" or "water droplet".
However, we can clearly see that "desk" and "water droplet" can be identified as separate objects, so we'll need to find something else to explain the separation of matter into different objects within our metaphysics.
In order to find that something else, we must derive it from the facts that we have. We've already established our root axiom: Matter Exists.
From that starting point, what can we discover? Immediately, we can derive one concept from that axiom alone: if matter exists, then it must also have at least one "property"—the property of existence. Therefore, if matter exists, then matter has properties. In our universe, matter has other properties too, such as an electrical charge, mass, and size.
We now have two ideas to work with; can we derive anything else from them? In order to investigate, let's build a thought experiment about the simplest possible universe that uses these two ideas, and see if we notice anything.
Picture in your mind a brand new empty universe, completely separate from our own. Inside this universe there is only a single point. It's not an atom composed of smaller pieces; it is just a singular point.
The point is not moving, it is not vibrating, it is not rotating. It has no size, no weight, no mass. It doesn't even have a position, since there is nothing else to measure a position against. The only property of the point is that it exists.
An interesting question starts to occur to us: What are the possibilities in this simplest universe? Since the point has no width, length, or height, there are no physical dimensions in this universe. Without dimensions to move on, there is no movement. With only one object, there can be no relationships to other objects. With no possibility for change, there can be no measure of time.
The point can't do anything, can't go anywhere, can't even disappear—the possibility of "nothing" doesn't even exist in this universe. Math, chemistry, biology—none of these things can exist in this universe, because there is no possibility for them.
There is just the one eternal possibility of "The Point Exists".
Through this thought experiment about "The Simplest Universe", we are able to see an important concept: the possibilities for matter emerge from the properties of that matter.
The existence and properties of matter determine what is possible for that matter. For example, if matter has no orientation, then it is not possible for it to rotate. If matter has no position, it is not possible for it to move.
Since all matter that exists has at least one property—the property of existence—then all matter has at least one possibility—that it exists.
We can call the total possibilities of matter its Possibility Space.
In "The Simplest Universe", there is only one particle of matter, and it has only one property: that it exists. This results in a very small possibility space with a single possibility: "the existence of the point".
In our universe, there are many more particles—popular estimates say at least 3x1080—and those particles have more properties, giving our universe a possibility space so massive that calculating it would be nearly impossible (never mind actually comprehending the result of the calculation).
So, getting back to our question: is "possibility" our something else that allows us to explain the separation of matter into distinct objects? We'll soon see that the answer is "Yes", but let's continue exploring this idea to see why.
We've now constructed several concepts from our single, reasonable axiom that Matter Exists. We know that if matter exists then matter has properties, and if matter has properties then matter has possibility. So in our quest to answer the question What exists?, we now have two answers: Matter exists and Possibility exists.
The study of matter is covered exhaustively by the field of Physics, but what can we say about possibility?
To start: possibility is not probability, nor is it plausibility. In other words, just because something can happen, does not mean that it will happen. This means that the number of possibilities in the universe is most likely far, far larger than the things that actually occur.
To understand this better, let's walk through a thought experiment around something we're all a lot more familiar with: a screen.
Think about the screen you are reading this on: every single pixel on the screen is capable of displaying 16.7 million colors, and the most common display size is 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels tall for a total of 2,073,600 pixels. That means that the number of possible images the screen can display is 16,777,2162,073,600, or 1.5x1014,981,179.
That is a number that is almost 15 million digits long.
If you remember from earlier, we said that the number of particles in the universe is most likely around 3x1080, which is already unfathomably large. The possibility space of this screen is so absolutely unfathomably larger than the number of particles in the universe.
That being said, it's important to note how many of the images within the screen's possibility space are "nonsense". Imagine if every pixel on the screen displayed a random color: it would just be static noise. And yet that's what the vast majority of the images look like within the possibility space of the screen. That means that the trillions of images anyone has ever seen (and ever will see) on a screen are among the very very few that could ever have meaning to a human being. This is what we mean by "possibility is not probability".
This leads us to think about those "very very few" images that end up making it out of the possibility space, and onto an actual screen. Every word document, every website, every social media post, every frame of every video that anyone has ever watched and ever will watch; everything anyone has ever seen on a screen at all, first existed in the screen's possibility space.
In other words: From a theoretical perspective, every image that can possibly be displayed on a screen already exists within the possibility space of the screen.
Every single real Outcome emerges from its associated Possibility Space.
In the simple example of a screen, every image (outcome) that has ever been displayed on a screen was already present within that screen's possibility space.
In the case of physical matter, every single "thing" (outcome) in the universe emerges from the possibility space created by all of the particles of matter and their properties.
We now have one more building block: the existence of matter creates possibility, and from possibility emerges real outcomes.
The final—and most important—thing we notice is that since possibilities are not physical, they are conceptual. In fact, the possibility space of matter makes room for more than just "possible material outcomes", but also for things that are purely conceptual.
To illustrate what I mean: in "The Simplest Universe", due to the properties of "The Point", there was no possibility for position or movement, and so there was no concept of position or movement. There was only a single unchanging thing, so there was no concept of numbers or count, and as a result no concept of mathematics. Since nothing could change, there was not even a concept of time.
In our universe, the particle properties of electric charge and mass create the concept of Physics. The multitude of particles create concepts of relationship and number, and from those the concept of mathematics. The properties of matter also create the possibility for particles to come together to create atoms, and for those atoms to bond into molecules. This new layer of possibility creates the concepts of Cosmology, Geology, and eventually Biology.
Given these examples, we should expand our understanding: inside the possibility space of matter is every concept in the universe. These concepts can represent possible configurations of matter (outcomes), but can also be purely conceptual "ideas".
This also finally solves our "separation" problem. While the particles are just interacting with other particles, we can now say that what separates the desk from the air around it, and the drop from the ocean, are the concepts of "desk", "air", "droplet", and "ocean".
So where has all this exploration landed us?
We've proven that if matter exists, then matter has properties. If matter has properties, then matter has possibility. Within the possibility space of matter exists every possible concept in the universe.
So now, let us answer our original question one more time: What exists?
Given everything we've covered, we now claim: The only things that exist are the elementary particles that make up atoms, which we'll call Matter. However, from the possibilities created by the properties of Matter emerges the non-physical Concepts.
Matter and Concepts are the two base categories of "things that exist". Matter is the particles that make up the physical aspect of the universe, and Concepts are the non-tangible possibilities of matter that give structure and meaning to the universe.
In the end, this doesn't end up being that different from the "Concrete/Abstract Object" dichotomy of traditional Ontology. However, the small differences and the reasoning behind them are important. Instead of calling the entirety of a "Desk" a self-contained concrete object and leaving it at that, we instead say that there exists some matter, and that the concept of a distinct "Desk Object" comes out of the possibility space of the matter itself. We no longer have to make incorrect assumptions about how physics works, since particles don't "belong" to objects, but instead the concept of objects emerge from the particles.
At this point, we've answered the primary question of metaphysics: "What exists"? But remember that the task of defining a metaphysics also has a follow up question: "What is it like?"
Luckily for us, we've defined one of our two types of objects as Matter, which just so happens to have its own branch of science with a long and rigorous history: Physics. This is part of the beauty of this system; unlike the still somewhat abstract nature of a "Concrete Object", we don't have to describe what matter is like since physics does that for us.
The only thing left for us to do is answer the question: "What are concepts like?"
Let's begin with some examples.
The number three is a concept. The game of Baseball is a concept. The calendar is a concept, an hour is a concept, and "Next Tuesday" is a concept. The freezing point of water is a concept. The concept of concepts themselves is a concept. The concept of matter is a concept.
Numbers, rules, and information are all concepts.
The concept of your smartphone is a concept, which is separate from the matter that makes up your phone. The concept of your phone's screen is a concept, and the concept of its battery is a concept too. Materially, these objects are all just particles, but the concepts of "screen", "battery", and "complete smartphone" are what give the matter meaning in context. Another way to think about it: we can "wrap" matter in a concept to represent a distinct object.
The ideas that categorize physical matter into distinct objects are concepts.
As we learned earlier, concepts originate from the possibility space that emerges from the properties of matter. However, that's not the only "place" that they can exist. As thinking human beings, we experience concepts in our mind. In fact, the brain is essentially a biological computer built to process concepts.
Concepts exist in the possibility space of the material universe.
Everything in our mind is a concept.
While concepts can be processed inside a brain (or some other computation system) at a specific point in time, concepts themselves exist "outside" of time. Remember: the possibility space of the entire universe is dependent on the properties of its matter. Since the properties of matter don't change, the entire possibility space is constant across the lifetime of the universe.
This means that, even if humans didn't exist to think or talk about it, the "concept of the number 3" still existed one billion years ago. In fact, since concepts are "possibilities", even the concept of "The Happy Birthday Song" still existed one billion years ago.
Concepts exist outside of time.
One final thing to grapple with: "how" concepts are created. If you've been following along closely, you know that we've already answered this numerous times (from the possibility space!). However, Competitive Individualism gives us a competing answer to this question that we should dismantle specifically: that humans, through hard work and innovation, create new concepts. This is another one of those poorly constructed axioms that stands on shaky ground. This is something that we'll find to be more and more true as we progress to later chapters, but for now we will just make sure to distinguish that since every concept has always existed in the possibility space of the universe, concepts cannot created by humans, only "discovered".
Concepts are not created, but "discovered".
Through asking some investigative questions about what concepts are like, we've determined that:
- Abstract ideas—like numbers, rules, and information—are Concepts.
- Matter can be "wrapped in" and represented by a Concept.
- Concepts originate from the possibilities of matter.
- Everything in the mind is a Concept.
- Concepts exist outside of time.
- Concepts are discovered, not created.
We've now covered all of the core concepts of the entire metaphysics for cooperative coalescence. Everything in future chapters will build on top of these ideas, while also making connections to other scientific disciplines like Cognitive Psychology and Cybernetics.
Let's review what we learned.
Philosophy is the study of "fundamental questions", and Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the questions: "What exists? And what is it like?" Philosophy is important because the answers to "fundamental questions" affect all human institutions like Government, Law, Ethics, and Religion. Therefore, the socially dominant philosophical system impacts every aspect of your life, and you should know how to reason about it.
Within philosophy and other logical pursuits is the concept of an Axiom, which is an idea that is so self evident or irreducible that we accept it as fact. In other words, an axiom is an assumption. When building arguments, we should use only the most simple and reasonable axioms, and use as few as is necessary. When axioms are too high level or ungrounded ("Because I'm your father and I said so"), they don't hold any logical weight. Many of the assumptions we live by in the current philosophical system are built on poor axioms.
In traditional metaphysics, there is the concept of Concrete and Abstract objects, which are tangible (a desk) and non-tangible (a number) objects. We believe that this is not specific enough, and doesn't respect our modern understanding of physics; atomic particles do not "belong" to a desk.
We create the initial axiom of a new metaphysics based on the understanding that Matter Exists. We determine that if matter exists, then it has at least one property (its existence), and so all matter has properties. We point out that in our universe, particles have several properties, such as an electrical charge and a physical mass. By imagining a universe with a single, size-less, motion-less particle, we determine that the properties of matter are what determines the possibilities for matter.
From there, we imagined all of the possible images a computer screen can display to help visualize the magnitude of possibility in the universe, and the difference between possibility and probability; just because something can happen, doesn't mean it will. We also identify that the properties of matter create possibilities for conceptual relationships, like physics, math, chemistry and biology. We ultimately concluded that what actually exists inside the possibilities of matter is every possible concept in the universe.
Ultimately, we responded to our question of "What exists?" with the answer: the only thing that exists is Matter, but if matter exists then Concepts also exist. Matter is the physical particles that make up the universe, and concepts are the possibilities that emerge from the properties of matter. Matter creates the physical basis of the universe, while concepts provide the structure and meaning.
Finally, we asked our follow up question in defining the metaphysics: "What is it like?" We noted that the fundamental component, matter, has the entire scientific field of Physics dedicated to answering the question "What is matter like?" And so, we set out to ask some questions about concepts to answer our final question: "What are concepts like?"
We asked for some examples of concepts, and said that things like numbers, rules, and information are concepts. We also determined that concepts can be used as "wrappers" for grouping matter together, like the "concept of a desk". We then asked "where" concepts exist, and reiterated that they originate from the possibilities of matter, but that they can also exist inside the mind (or any computation system). By understanding that the properties of matter don't change, we determined that concepts exist outside of time: they have always been and will always be a possibility, and so they have always existed and will always exist. Finally, we made it clear that since concepts have always existed, they can not be created, only discovered.
In the next chapter, we'll continue digging into what concepts are, and how they function. Specifically, we'll be looking at one of their most important properties: Abstraction.
Learning about abstraction will give you a powerful new thinking tool to use in your every day life, and also set us up to tackle some of the more interesting parts of the framework, like Systems and Emergence and eventually The Superorganism.