Being (Multi)Human

Humans are eusocial. We form colonies and superorganisms as do ants and bees. These superorganisms are defined by and embodied as networks or webs of patterns that are recognized and recapitulated by their member organisms. Human superorganisms (multihumanisms) are sometimes vaguely understood as families, communities, tribes, colonies, corporations, states, etc.

fractal hand 480px × 408px

A superorganism may have metabolism, physiology, and cognition. Multihumanisms overlap or interpenetrate to various degrees with other superorganisms, including other multihumanisms, in their environments. Different multihumanisms have differing degrees of stability or permanence, pattern density, pattern regularity, etc. They also differ in the number of individuals of which they are composed. They range from whispy, ephemeral things to highly substantial and long lasting things. Many existing multihumanisms are still surviving from antiquity.  Besides their ability to interpenetrate and interact with each other, multiple multihumanisms can have family ties and family trees. Individuals can be related to the other members of a multihumanism biologically (via genes), cognitively (via memes), or both.

Participation in multihuman recognition, recapitulation, metabolism, cognition, etc. occurs mainly on a subconscious level. Dfferent members often play different, specialized roles. The participation of each member goes through a progressive learning or development process.

The idea of a multihumanism has been around in various forms for ages. I first wrote about it a few years ago in Stalking The Wild Multihumanism. But the degree to which multihumanisms are literally real and organic; and a simple, concrete way in which they have metabolism, physiology, cognition, and coordinated behaviors; came to me very recently in a dream. In this dream I found myself a stranger in a small urban center in what seemed like ancient India. I didn’t know how I got there and I was apprehensive and hypervigilant. Most of the people around me appeared to be peasants. The major architecture was grand but it seemed old and poorly maintained. The newer minor structures were ramshackle.

I was in an open square. I tried to watch and interpret the behavior patterns of those around me. Some were partaking from what seemed to be sparse public supplies of food and drink. I watched one man roll a small ball of food at the edge of an open platter. Once or twice he dipped the ball in a dish and then rolled it more with his fingers. In one hand he held a wooden or bamboo tube from which he occasionally drew a small stick. The tube seemed to hold a variety of these sticks. Each stick appeared to be inscribed with marks or symbols and I took them to be some kind of texts. Eventually I perceived a repetative pattern by which the man rolled and dipped the balls of food on the public platter, drank from a public gourd dipped in an open stone reservoir about one foot in diameter, and fingered the little sticks.

I watched other people, many dressed in various degrees of rags, come and go about the square and the smaller structures around it. I noticed they seemed to follow common paths. No one cut diagonally across an open area. I gradually perceived there were major paths and minor paths, and I could see the traces of some of these paths worn by bare feet into the stone paving of the square. They may have been following these same paths for hundreds or thousands of years by the look of the major buildings surrounding the square.

At first any moves or activities on my part drew attention. I realized that deviating from any of the normal, expected behavior patterns would reveal me as a stranger and perhaps, to some, as a threat. So I began to try to progressively fit in to the patterns I observed. I was a quick study, as I think most people are when motivated by paranoia and self preservation. Perhaps we owe our ability to rapidly detect and assimilate social patterns to our large brain size, or vice versa.

I listened carefully to the verbal communication around me, especially it’s tonal and emotional qualities; but since I had no language in common with these people, I became highly sensitized to their conduct, their body language, microexpressions, etc. I quickly became progressively more familiar with many kinds of patterns, patterns of patterns, and patterns within patterns. I was learning how to become part of a multihumanism. Eventually I would perceive that this city and its families, communities and tribes were multiple interrelated and interdependent multihumanisms.

I noticed that activity patterns were often closely related to the design of the spaces in which they took place. I realized that activities often involved combinations of breathing common air, eating and drinking common food and water supplies, and touching common materials, objects, structures, etc. In all these activities there was an incidental transference of messages, memes, energies, chemicals (including pheromones), microrganisms,  parasites (which may transfer blood from one person to another), and materials such as dirt, fecal material, etc. In these pattern recapitulations, combinations, and transfers I began to see the metabolism, physiology, and cognition of the multihumanisms.

As I learned to fit in with the social patterns around me in my dream, my participation in each particular pattern would become more automatic and subconscious over time. The assimilation process and the assimilated patterns are largely subconscious. We are only vaguely conscious of the multihumanisms in which we live and breathe and have our being. But many of the memes and narratives in which we believe most firmly were passed to us via the multihumanisms in which we subconsciously, automatically participate and which helped shape our individual development and cognition.

One of the main points that I took from my dream “revelations” was that the concept of human superorganisms was not just a metaphor or a potential in our possible future evolution, as I formerly thought. Instead the literal, organic existence of human superorganisms and the participation of a vast majority of human individuals in them by default goes back into the early prehistory of our species, and perhaps as far back as pre-human primates. Most of this remains invisible or at most metaphorical to us because our participation in our superorganisms is mostly subconscious.

We may need a great deal of research to make our superorganisms more visible and tangible for us. We need to improve our ability to recognize them, find their boundaries and overlaps, understand their biology and cognition, and discover the ways that our superorganisms mold us, their individual members.


Poor Richard



Stalking The Wild Multihumanism (PRA 2.0)

The Meaning of Life (PRA 2.0)

Living systems are open self-organizing living things that interact with their environment. These systems are maintained by flows of information, energy and matter.





A World With No One In Control « how to save the world

A World With No One In Control « how to save the world.

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard

“There’s an implicit presumption, in everything the media reports on, in our whining about governments and elites and bosses, that as civilization culture has grown ever larger and more global, the power and control of those at the top of the pyramid has grown correspondingly larger, and that they’re still in control, still worthy of praise and re-election and multimillion dollar bonuses when things go right, and still worthy of blame and overthrow and opprobrium when things go wrong.

“But there’s plenty of evidence that if that ever was the case, it isn’t the case now. One of the key attributes of complex systems is that, unlike merely complicated ones, because of the huge number of variables and moving parts and interactions and effects between and among them, we can never hope to understand what’s really going on in them, or predict or significantly influence what happens in them. They become larger and larger black boxes, ever more mysterious, until suddenly they produce great depressions, peak oil and runaway climate change, and no one knows how, or why, or how to mitigate or change them. Like Charles Barsotti’s cartoon above says, in complex systems nobody knows anything. And no one is in control.”  Read the rest…

[I agree with most of Dave’s epiphany about complexity, but another aspect of reality is proximity–we do know a little about a little, and we can predict or control a little about a little. So there is a place for small hopes and puny efforts, even in the context of the grand complexity and absurdity which Dave Pollard portrays most eloquently. The ego that wants to control or save the whole world is the same one that wants to renounce the world and absolve itself of all duty and responsibility. –PR]

:: Pema Chodron – On Shenpa :: (being “hooked”)

Mono a Mono?

Was monotheism an advance in human understanding?

What if the historical trend towards monotheism were principally reinforced by its utility as a pretext for authoritarianism?

The animism and polytheism (or pantheism) of early humanity did not preclude the appropriation of religious motifs and beliefs by sociopolitical institutions or hierarchies, but they may have made it more difficult for such hierarchies to grow into permanent monopolies of orthodox dogma.

The word orthodox is from the Greek orthos (“right”, “true”, “straight”) + doxa (“opinion” or “belief”, related to dokein, “to think”) (Wikipedia)

Perhaps ideology is a stage in the development of authoritarian culture analogous to monotheistic theologies. Each “brand” of theology and ideology rolls up and obscures a pantheon of diverse ideas. Converts don’t need to drill down very deeply.

Ironically, the growing influence  of science on society may contribute to a popular misconception of scientific or academic certainty that can be exploited to forge even tighter monopolies on culture and thought. The evil twin of science, pseudo science or “scientism,” is seductive to many.

Theology, ideology, and scientism lend themselves equally to the agenda of authoritarianism. The real war for the hearts and minds of humanity is not between the Right and the Left, or any of their many academic, theological or ideological proxies. The real war that underlies everything else is between orthodoxy and pluralism. Conformity and conflict are two sides of one coin. We need forms of civic equality and conviviality that are not based on uniformity.

Nature abhors a monoculture.

“The etiology is psychiatric” — Helen Caldicott


Related: Town Hall Meeting: Class war, Culture war, or Holy war?

The 99% Solution

Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sign of the Four opens with an alarming scene:

“Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.   With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.  Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.”

A little later in the story Holmes states, 

“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution.  Would you care to try it?”

Limitation of classical social movements

Classical social movements have often been limited by tunnel vision, cooptationastroturfing, diversion, attrition, intimidation, repression, legal injunction, corruption, constraints of philanthropy, etc. Meanwhile, today, the 1% (the looter elite), are attacking the 99% on every side,  capturing every institution of society, and privatizing every resource on the planet.

“America is in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on the brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. But like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos.” (Xander Drax, The Phantom)

What cultural transformation has lacked is an organic form, an embodiment tailored to chaos: a stigmergic swarm, or a slime-mold for example.

“When food is abundant a slime mold exists as a single-celled organism, but when food is in short supply, slime molds congregate and start moving as a single body.” (Wikipedia)

A Slime mold growing on a beer can

A Slime mold growing on a beer can (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 99% Solution

  • The 99% Solution is not a “mob”. It is a self-organizing organism, a “complex adaptive system“.
  • The 99% Solution is an emergent cultural slime mold that can engulf countless separate islands of class, political identity, and single-issue activism.
  • The 99% Solution has the potential to initiate and sustain a fundamental cultural phase transition.
  • The 99% Solution can assimilate (but does not require) leaders, agendas, advisers, critics, and philanthropists. It only requires active participants.

“You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”

(Star Trek)

Poor Richard

  • The Co-Intelligence Institute works to further the understanding and development of co-intelligence. It focuses on catalyzing co-intelligence in the realms of politics, governance, economics and conscious evolution of ourselves and our social systems. We research, network, advocate, and help organize leading-edge experiments and conversations in order to weave what is possible into new, wiser forms of civilization.


The Origins of Human Nature

Charles Robert Darwin, Natural Selection from ...

Charles Robert Darwin, Natural Selection from Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Human cultures are as much a product of the human genome (and epigenome) as are individual human beings.  Genes influence “human nature” and human nature influences culture (and the reverse). Charles Darwin guessed this 150 years ago, but only recently has scientific evidence reached a critical mass in support of a general model of multilevel selection. Multilevel selection is a set of dynamic and recursive interactions between various “units” of natural selection such as individual selection and group selection.

“A unit of selection is a biological entity within the hierarchy of biological organization (e.g. self-reproducing molecules, genes, cells, individuals, groups, species) that is subject to natural selection. For several decades there has been intense debate among evolutionary biologists about the extent to which evolution has been shaped by selective pressures acting at these different levels. (Wikipedia)

In theory such co-evolutinary relationships between units of selection could extend from the molecular level all the way to the biosphere as a whole. Mathematical models for such generic co-evolution are works in progress, with the current concentration of effort directed at the individual-group level. In “The Social Conquest of Earth” (,  Dr. E. O. Wilson (Wikipedia) describes for a broad audience the available evidence for an individual-group model of multilevel selection including its ecological and social aspects. Among other things, multilevel selection offers a framework for understanding the evolutionary origins of the “varieties of human experience”, including the effects of natural variation and selection on different “phenotypes” of human personality, morality, and culture. As a rule of thumb (an admitted oversimplification), Wilson attributes “selfish” characteristics to individual selection and altruistic or cooperative characteristics to group selection. The constant, dynamic tension between these “magnetic poles” of our nature may account for much of our cognitive and cultural dissonance. I’ll close my introduction to this topic with the final words of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address:

“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Poor Richard

Charlie Rose interviewing Dr. Edward Wilson (two-minute excerpt):


“The Righteous Mind”Jonathan Haidt, C-SPAN BookTV:

“Jonathan Haidt, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, presents his thoughts on the current political and social divisions that he contends separate the Left and the Right. The social psychologist examines the origins of these fissures and explains that people’s moral intuition, the initial perceptions we have of others, propagates the idea that people who view the world differently from how we do are wrong.” (full video)

Video excerpt (10 min): How do Conservatives and Liberals See the World? (

“Bill Moyers and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries.”

Know Then Thyself

by Alexander Pope

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan The proper study of mankind is man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state, A being darkly wise, and rudely great: With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride, He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest; In doubt to deem himself a God, or beast; In doubt his mind and body to prefer; Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks to little, or too much; Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d; Still by himself, abus’d or disabus’d; Created half to rise and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all, Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d; The glory, jest and riddle of the world.

TIMN in 20 minutes: social evolution — past, present, and future, ( This video offers an overview of the TIMN framework: its focus on social evolution (past, present, future), its construction around four cardinal forms of organization (tribes, institutions, markets, networks), its system dynamics, and its future implications.

Dr. Gabor Maté: Attachment and Brain Development (46:21) ( and a longer version

1:21:49 Dr. Gabor Maté

Atheism 2.0

Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

Alain de Botton is a philosopher with some very constructive suggestions for improving secular society by selectively plucking  useful heirlooms from the traditions, practices and organizations of religion while leaving the rest. He surveys the cultural and social capital of three major religions– Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism– and suggests some assets worth salvaging.

Leeds Student Radio Web page article about the...

(credit: Wikipedia)

Botton isn’t asking atheists and agnostics to kiss and make up with religion. He is a non-believer. He may not be the confrontational type, but he’s no double agent with a secret religious agenda, as some atheists might fear. His mission is to initiate a humanistic renaissance in secular society that will bring us up to speed in some areas where religions may have superior social and cultural know-how.

“The starting point of all religions is that humans are weak and vulnerable and needing direction, but as I look at secular society, I see how we’ve been abandoned to make our own way through life and how challenging that is.”

“Religion has a lot to say about how to live and love, caring for others, handling suffering, dealing with death and all the other universal experiences that make us human.”
“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.”

– – – –

Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it—because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.(

– – – –

Religion for Atheists

“It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.”

Note: I have not read the book (so it could be awesome or awful), but based on the interviews and articles below, I like this guy. I think he is measured, pragmatic, and non-polemical; and he has one of the most constructive arguments I’ve heard in a very long time.  It strikes me that the approach taken by Botton could go a long way towards ratcheting down the hostility between atheists, agnostics, and our superstitious brothers and sisters :). It is the kind of thing that might be a useful balm for folks in the Occupy and 99% movements who struggle to maintain solidarity with each other despite differences that are sometimes deeply rooted.


My favorite interview is from C-SPAN’s Book TV. You can view the whole 58-minute  After Words interview with Chris Hedges here or watch a ten-minute segment below, followed by other interviews from You Tube.

BookTV: Alain de Botton and Chris Hedges

Alain de Botton on atheism 2.0 and what secular ideologies can learn from religion

Alain de Botton: Religion for Atheists

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton says non-believers can learn a lot from religion – without believing in God.

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science


Why America Failed

[Book TV (CSPAN) also covered this recently.]

In Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline Morris Berman makes some great points, such as:  “Education” and “communication” per se (exposure to facts, rational arguments, etc.) can not produce fundamental changes in US society.

The influence of biases in “human nature” (e.g. emotion, cognitive biases, etc.) on our national identity, cognition, and social behavior are too deeply rooted. No matter how hard we try to “communicate” and “educate”, the breakdown of  society is largely an irreversible trend. The behavioral adaptations that are demanded of us if we are to survive the rapid changes in our population, environment, etc. are all but ruled out by the cognitive biases built into us by evolution.

C-SPAN video: Book Discussion on Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline

“Morris Berman talked about the third book in his trilogy on the decline of the American empire. In this talk, titled “The Way We Live Today,” he argued that self-interest trumping the common good has led the U.S. astray.”

Other C-SPAN videos with Morris Berman

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