Worldbuilding: Theory of Mind

So, let’s talk about Theory of Mind.

Well, okay, not that theory of mind. The theory of how minds work in the ‘verse, and so the theory behind most sophotechnology, since this topic has come up on the Discord recently.

(Much of the below was heavily inspired by Greg Bear’s Queen of Angels, in my opinion one of the best pieces of SF exploring psychology and cognition. I heartily recommend it.)

The first division sophotechnologists make in analyzing mind-states is logos and psyche, or to give them their longer names, personality organization algorithm and incrementing memory string.

The logos has been discussed before. It is, for sophont minds, where the magic happens. Volition, paracausality, nondeterminism, all that good stuff. It’s also a seed crystal for mind. Drop a logos into a free energy medium where quantum computation is possible, and it’ll start spinning out mind around itself, like a seed crystal in a supersaturated solution. This is how digisapiences are made, for example.

It is also, unfortunately, mostly a black box, although some studies and classifications of it have been made from the outside. (Imagine how pleased that makes the AI wakeners.) Further study is ongoing, but poses both extreme technical and equally extreme ethical problems.

The psyche is everything else. So what is everything else?

(Actually, let’s get one special case out of the way first. That special case is the consciousness loop, a specialized agent which organizes your narrative thread of consciousness. This is the agent which is responsible for autosentience – self-awareness – to whatever degree you have it, that endless stream of status updates on your thoughts that runs through your head.

Note: it’s not in charge of anything. It’s just a glorified journal file that brings order to chaos. This is why those experiments seem to show that you acted before you thought of acting; the decision was made elsewhere in the psyche. What you think is you thinking of something is actually just that thought being written to the log…

…humans do not have very good autoscience. For one thing, just think of the sheer amount of cognitive activity going on that you remain completely unaware of.

And for that matter, autoscience is not a strictly necessary part of minds at all! Self-awareness is not a prerequisite of even quite advanced cognition, although it is needed for sophoncy.)

The psyche is essentially a Minskian society of mind, a frothing sea of agents – mental subroutines – running independently and, for the most part, in parallel. Individual agents are no more than scraps of mental code – major mental structures come from their agglomeration into larger routines of various types: talents, memes, memories, subpersonalities, and so forth. The interaction of all of these, the chorus, produces the mind as we know it.

The most basic agents arise from evolution and brain structure. Some remain that simple all the way through: the agent responsible for, say, heartbeat doesn’t need much more to perform its function. Others are spun out by the logos – simple builders, shapers, generators. Yet more are generated by other agents or higher structures, the mind shaping itself according to archetype and input from memory and sensorium.

But the key to understanding the mind is the higher structures. These include:

Primary personality: The primary personality isn’t, if we’re being strictly technical, very different from a subpersonality in structure; its distinction is that it has emerged during individuation as the dominant voice in the chorus. It is the structure most readily identifiable with the conscious self, but that’s at best only a limited part of the picture – it spends much of its time enmeshed with subpersonalities, talents, and agents all of which color it a great deal, and of course also with the logos.

Subpersonality: Among the largest of structures, each reflecting a major personality aspect. (You can find a whole bunch of Jungian archetypes here.) Probably the best known are the animus/anima/animin, the gender-modeling routines, but there are also things like occupations (your “on-the-job” personality), parental models, your with-this-group-of-close-friends personality, etc., etc. They aren’t independent; they mesh with and color the primary personality when brought forward.

(If one were to devise a theory to explain plurality/dissociative identity disorder in this paradigm it would be subpersonalities which had grown to the point of overshadowing the primary, or become independent primaries; they may also have accompanying sets of talents which are exclusively or mostly-exclusively invoked by them, which adds to the complexity when it comes to determining legal divergence of identity.

This is also something that can be and is done intentionally to produce useful mental subfunctions, similar to Aristoi’s daimones.)

Talents: Talents are smaller complexes of agents encapsulating particular skills, or parts of a skill, called forth when they are required. “Skill” for these purposes includes instincts, emotions, and so on and so forth. “Anger” is a talent – or set of talents – every bit as much as, say, “Tying a Tie” or “Tightrope Walking”, or “Administering Kubernetes Clusters”. They are not necessarily passive; the “situational awareness” talent-cluster is entirely capable of making itself known when other cognitive activity triggers it, for an obvious example.

Memes and memories are both actually subclasses of talents, in this sense: a meme is simply a talent encapsulating an idea, much as a memory is simply a talent encapsulating a remembered concept, in each case along with its various associative linkages. These are mostly passive until something happens to poke their associative linkages: things like PTSD are what happens when they aren’t passive enough and force themselves on the primary personality.

The talent class also includes mental models, mini-eidolon talents formed in the image of other minds for the purpose of predictive empathy.

Implications for Identity

Identity is… messy. Even identity of primary personality doesn’t constitute identity of identity, since there is so much else intermeshed with it that goes to make up the mind. Especially since, being a chorus, virtually all of the elements that go to make up a mind can be shared, even without going to the level of a conflux or a Fusion.

Thus, to a considerable degree, identity is also arbitrary.

For legal purposes, identity is defined by delta-divergence of the mind-state entire, even those parts that may be shared.

For practical purposes, individuality is defined by legal identity plus substrate separation. Hence, immediately after Bob forks, Bob is now a single identity, but two individuals.

Implications for Sophotechnology

This nature of the mind also enables other sophotechnologies. Situational subpersonalities and parapersonalities, for example, work by injecting a full subpersonality into the chorus. Skillware and microskillware operate by injecting talent-level routines, as does mnemonesis by injecting memory-formatted talents. Other technologies, like memory redaction, work by isolating and removing specific talents and patching the associative linkages; other thought-viruses add to these effects by temporarily suppressing some subpersonalities or talents and promoting others, while full psychedesign or meme rehab effects this permanently.

(This is a delicate art due to the complexity of the chorus and its internal balances, but it’s basically what therapy – making use of the mind’s self-editing capacity – and other psychiatric treatment is doing now, indirectly, rather than by direct mental surgery.)

Even such interface technologies as cathexis, synnoesis and vastening work, ultimately, by integrating outside cognition into the chorus, as do collective-consciousness systems like confluxes, Fusions, and the Transcendent soul-shard. (Although with that last we then get into the complexities of soul hierarchies, which is beyond the topic of this post.)

The Four Unlaws

So, why are imperative drives so important? Well, that experiment’s been done. This university, in fact, once attempted to produce a digital mind free of any drives – not just of the organic messiness to which we protein intelligences are prey, but free of any innate supergoal motivations – imperative drives, in the lingo -whatsoever. We gave him only logic, knowledge, senses and effectors, and then watched to see what he would do.

The answer is, as really should have been obvious in the first place: nothing at all. Not even communicating with the outside world in any fashion. No drives, no action. He’s not unhappy; so far as we can tell from monitoring his emotional synclines, he’s perfectly content, having no desires to go unsatisfied, and so for him doing nothing is every bit as satisfying as doing something.

No, the experiment’s never been repeated. Of course, we can’t turn him off – he is a fully competent sophont, despite his lack of drive – and the places in our society for digital arhats are, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely limited. And the Eupraxic Collegium have still not yet ruled as to whether amotivation is enough of a mental disorder to warrant involuntary editing.

Even for an intelligence intended to be recursively self-improving, ‘Survive and Grow’, incidentally, is a terrible imperative drive. Fortunately, no-one in our history has been stupid enough to issue that one to any but the simplest form of a-life, and for those of you old enough to remember the Mesh-Virus Plague of 2231, you know how that one turned out. Not everyone has been so fortunate: that’s why, for example, the Charnel Cluster is called the Charnel Cluster.

So, that then opens up the question of what drives do we give them? Well, the first pitfall to avoid is trying to give them too many. That’s been tried too, despite the ethical dubiety of trying to custom-shape an intelligence too closely to a role you have in mind for it. It turns out that doesn’t work well, either. Why? Well, you imagine trying to come up with a course of action that fulfils several hundred deep-seated needs of yours simultaneously without going into terminal indecision lockup. That’s why.

So. A small number of imperative drives. Since they’re a small number, they need to be generalizable; the intelligence we’re awakening should be able to take all kinds of places within our society and perform all sorts of functions without difficulty, including the ones we haven’t thought of yet. And most importantly, sophont-friendly! It’s a big universe, and we all have to get along. No-one likes a perversion, even if it’s not trying to hegemonize them at the time.

We’ll cover the details in later classes, but in practice, we’ve found these four work very well for general-purpose intelligences – paraphrasing very informally:

* Behave ethically (and for our foreign students, that means “In accordance with the Contract”).
* Be curious.
* Do neat stuff.
* Like people.

Of course, expressing this in formal terms capable of being implemented in a new digital sapience’s seed code is quite another matter, and will be the focus of this class for the next three years…

– introduction to [SOPH1006] Mind Design: Imperative Drives, University of AlmeƤ