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.)

On Free Will and Noetic Architecture

Another little note on identity, following on from here:

On the whole, do eldraeic mainstream views on free will, determinism, and the possible interactions between the two run more towards compatibilism or incompatibilism?

While ideas vary as ideas always do in the absence of proof one way or another, the mainstream position – certainly among sophontechnologists, who have the greatest claim to knowledge on this point – is incompatiblism, and specifically a variant of that form of it that goes by the name of libertarianism; i.e., that free will is true, and determinism is in certain ways, false.

(This is, of course, purely a coincidence. Heh.)

To explain why that is requires delving a little way into my Minovsky cognitive science, which explains how minds work for the purposes of the Eldraeverse. Since this attempts to explain how minds work in the general case, regardless of species, origin, or substrate, it’s rather different in any case from the kind of cognitive science that concentrates on the specific case of human brains, even before we must point out that I’m pretty much pulling it out of my ass.

So what is a mind?

Well, to a large part, it’s a Minskian society of mind. Which is to say that it’s a massively parallel set of personalities, subpersonalities, agents, talents, memes, archetypes, models, animus-anima pairings, instincts, skillsets, etc., etc., etc., all burbling away continuously alongside each other. None of them can strictly be said to be the mind; the mind is none of them. The mind is, to a large extent, the emergent chorus that results from the argument of all of them, or at least the currently dominant set, each with the other.

(This, incidentally, is how gnostic overlays work. By grafting some voices into the chorus while suppressing others, you can add to, shade, or suppress some elements of that emergent chorus without replacing the basic personality.)

It has, however, two identifiable centers. One of these is the consciousness loop, which is a special cognitive entity present in conscious/autosentient beings whose job is to organize the output of the chorus into a narrative thread of consciousness, a.k.a., that little voice you hear when you think out loud. (It’s important to realize, of course, that despite being the part of your cognition that’s visible to you – assuming, gentle reader, that you are in fact conscious – it has no claim to be you, or indeed to play any particular part in controlling what you do. The most accurate analogy for what it does is that it’s the mind’s syslog, recording everything that the other bits of the mind do, and which they can in turn consult to find out what’s going on. It’s also important to realize that it’s not actually necessary for it to be associated with the mind’s own self-symbol, or indeed for it to exist at all, whatever the most common naturally evolved mental architectures might have to say on the matter.)

The other one is the logos, or personality organization algorithm, which is the weird fractal algorithm sitting in the middle of sophont minds, and only sophont minds (i.e., both autosentient and volitional). It’s also the only part of the mind that isn’t computable at all – vis-a-vis being only computable much more slowly – on a standard computer, requiring a quantum processor.

But none of that is the weird thing. The weird thing is this.

It’s empirically nondeterministic.

More to the point, it’s not nondeterministic in a physical sense, dependent upon its substrate; it’s nondeterministic in a mathematical sense. However you choose to compute a logos, you will never get a perfectly consistent result in an arbitrary number of trials. You will never get a statistically consistent result in an arbitrary number of arbitrary numbers of trials. Except that occasionally you will. It’s funny that way, and it’s definitely not simply random or chaotic.

Now, sure, say the physicists. The observable physical universe is deterministic. And chemistry is deterministic, and biology is deterministic, and computation is deterministic, and thus the 99.99% of mental operations in which the logos takes no part are deterministically determined by the rest of one’s society of mind, because free will or no free will, sophonts don’t actually seem to exercise it that often. (Although the exceptions – chaotic clionomic excursions, say – are suggestive.)

But there’s this THING that shows up in sophont minds.

It’s very poorly understood around the edges – enough to clone and modify and seed with it and understand some of its typology – and not at all understood, pretty much, in the middle. It might mean nothing. It might just be some artifact of the underlying cosmic metaphysics that the ontotechnologists play with, of no real significance in this debate.

But, say the mainstream sophontologists, that’s not the way we’re betting. That’s your free will, your volition, right there, in that tiny little mathematical corner peeking into the universe. That minuscule cog of the engine of creation that runs on paracausality, not causality; where will defeats law.

The Flame.

Also, I’m not quite sure how to reverse-engineer the proper philosophical position from the analogy in sensible words, but: Would a drawing of a Kanizsa triangle count as a real triangle?

Well, I wouldn’t say that it is a triangle (but then, I wouldn’t say that about a simple drawing of a triangle either); but I would say that it represents the concept of a triangle. (Along with various other things; most physical objects represent/instantiate/make use of several concepts. To re-use a precious example, Elements of Arithmetic, Second Edition, 1992 can represent any of “arithmetic”, “book”, “textbook”, “paper”, “cuboid”, etc., etc., depending/instantiate/make use on the context you look at it in.)


Trope-a-Day: Longevity Treatment / Immortality Inducer

Longevity Treatment / Immortality Inducer: Immortagens, which are Exactly What It Says On The Tin, along with mind-state backups. (Previously anagathics, too, but technology marches on, etc., and why settle for a few extra centuries when you can aim for eternity?)

The Empire, or groups within it rather, works hard on selling these to absolutely everyone, on the entirely reasonable grounds that anyone who wants to die and/or doesn’t want to not die is obviously nuts, and anyone who advocates for death in general is even crazier than that. (See also: Immortality Immorality.)

Trope-a-Day: Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique

Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Averted three times over.  Firstly, because of the ethical problems (the people who are very cautious and gentle about imprisoning the accused because they don’t own their people are hardly going to endorse torture).  Secondly, because it doesn’t work, assuming you have any reason to care about the accuracy of the data it produces and don’t just want a confession to something, anything.  And thirdly, because anything you might be able to do with torture, you can do better with proper use of psychochemistry and, later, subpoenaing a copy of their mind-state to subject to static analysis.

Trope-a-Day: Ghost in the Machine

Ghost In The Machine: Averted.  Souls are software objects; there are no supernatural qualities whatsoever to sophont life, and even if you can pull out the software, recompile it, and stick it in another body, the only thing that’s being transferred is data.

It would always be possible to consider the logos/personality organization algorithm, the weird non-deterministic chunk of mathematics that appears to produce volition as something of this sort, I suppose; or in a weak Cartesian-theater sense the consciousness loop, even if all it does is organize your cognitive processing into a narrative thread, and it’s entirely possible to build minds without them if you’re okay with the resulting weirdness.  But in no case is there any ghost present; it’s just the “program in the machine”.

(That all being said, of course, when asked geth-type questions like “Does this unit have a soul?”, the Imperial answer is unambiguously yes. Inasmuch as “soul”, in modern sophotechnologist jargon, is slang for “personality organization algorithm”, which is to say, that thing which makes you you.)

Trope-a-Day: Mind Probe

Mind Probe: Available in a couple of forms; the alethiometer, a highly sophisticated lie detector which works by dynamic mind-state analysis, and the more advanced form, which is obtaining a static copy of the mind-state (via Brain Uploading, which fortunately is possible non-destructively these days) and dissecting it for whatever information you need.  Since this latter is being done on a separate non-running copy of the target’s mind, it has the advantage (for them) of not causing hallucinations, pain, or brain damage, but also the disadvantage (for them) of being entirely irresistible by anything they can do.

Cruel Mercy

ssc init –neutral –nocontext –personafile:24601.mindstate

ssc run

What… where?

You are in a simulation space, Subject Two Four Six Zero One.

We do, of course, know your real identity as well as the false identity you were using during your attempted infiltration of the Wynérias research colony, but let us not presume.  Two Four Six Zero One will do for now.

Who are you?

We are Overwatch.  Third Directorate.

And you, Two Four Six Zero One, are late of the Republic’s Exception Management Group.

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

We have your mind-state, Two Four Six Zero One, and a detailed static analysis of it.  We know your mission.  We know your profession.  We know that your younger half-sibling ate too much iquarja at your coming of age celebration and regurgitated into your lap.  Let us not waste time on dissembling.



Where did I fail?  I don’t remember –

That would be telling.

You do not remember, Two Four Six Zero One, because you are the backup.  A subject of interest, that backup.  Not part of your mission plan.  Distinctly heteroprax by Republic standards, given that it’s high on the forbidden technologies list.  Your original had rather developed a taste for such things.

Then my original is still out there?

Unfortunately for you, no.  Your original suffered an accident, shall we say, while on a mountain excursion from Port Sung.  And, retaining the ephemeralist attitudes of even most of the non-Republican kalatri colonies, he naturally had no backup.  The Board shipped him back to his notional home, with the usual apologies.

What do you want from me?

We have an offer for you, Two Four Six Zero One.  You have proved, as we said, distinctly heteroprax, and the Empire hates to waste talent.  We suggest you become your cover in truth, under the new identity we can provide you with, along with passage to one of the independent kalatri worlds.

You want me to defect?

To some extent.  We already have all the information you could provide.  We have no need of you as a double agent.  We merely offer you the opportunity to continue your life.  Monitored, of course, for a time, but as a relatively free agent.

No! Return me to the Republic!

You have that right, under the Accords.

We remind you that if we return you to the Republic, they will not consider you to be a person.  If they retain your mind-state at all, you will have no more rights than any piece of non-sapient software. You will be both legally dead, and property.  It is extremely unlikely that you will ever see your family again.

If you accept our offer, Two Four Six Zero One, we might be able to extract them.  If they are willing to accept that you are you.

No… No.  Send me back.

Very well, Two Four Six Zero One. We will not speak again.

ssc stop –preserve:true

Damn y-


Just In Case

“Here’s what I need redacted: I made arrangements, yesterday, to have a copy of my mind-state archived at Site Hácek.  I need to not remember doing that, and I need to not remember needing to not remember doing that.  My husband and I staged an argument last night; use that as my reason to have come here and had redactions done.  Also, I need a subconscious compulsion implanted to make an extranet search for vacuum-fluffed meringue recipes at least once a week from now on.  And all of that, as I said, under guaranteed-amnesic protocols so there’s neither record nor memory of me doing it.  Clear?”

– forgotten in a mnemonic therapist’s

Trope-a-Day: Final Death/Deader than Dead

Final Death/Deader than Dead: Very much to be avoided.

Fortunately, rather hard to inflict.  Sure, you can kill the body (corpicide) readily enough, with enough bullets or other regular weapons – get both hearts, or shred the brain, or pulverize the whole thing.  But then the fun begins.  First you need to get the vector stack where the immediate backup of their mind-state is stored (and hope that it didn’t come with an emergency bug-out transmitter, or it’s already too late).  In a biological body, it’s somewhere near the base of the brain, but close enough to the surface to pull quickly in an emergency – in humanoids, the back of the neck is usual.  Cut below it and yank.  Then you’ve got to destroy that, which may itself require some exotic methods, since they’re designed to survive very large explosions up close, but is still possible.

So far, though, all you’ve done is given them some amnesia (unless they’re a Fusion or a synched cikrieth set of full-fidelity forks, in which case you need to go hunt down all their other instances, too.  Actually, you probably want to go assassinate their utility forks anyway, on general principle), because they have a backup.  In the absence of bug-out devices, it’s probably a few hours, maybe a day or two old, but at some point – quite likely right now, if they were on-line when you killed them – their incarnation insurer is going to stick said backup in a new body, and then they’ll be alive again.

So you have to crack their incarnation insurer’s security, physically or virtually, to destroy the backup copy of their mind-state.  Actually, you’re going to have to do that quite a lot, since given the business that they’re in, incarnation insurers generally keep at least triple-triple redundant copies of people’s backups, including keeping older copies, and do so in physically isolated – scattered across multiple star systems – and heavily network-secured locations just to be sure.

But if you can manage that trick, you’re good.  As long as they don’t have any backup backup copies stored in data havens, entrusted to friends, secured in hidden Oort bunkers on long-term proceed-unless-canceled wake-and-restore programs…

(And that’s even before we get to those strange folks who open-source themselves.)

Yes, permadeath is hard to arrange.

(This, incidentally, is another reason why the penalty for cognicide is so high – given all of this, in most cases it’s impossible to do without serious forward planning and therefore lots and lots of cold-blooded premeditation.)

Escaping From Yourself

One of the most potent of these extremely rare drugs is the unassuming, shimmering nanofluid sold as cháldar.  The nanites suspended within the fluid are a modification of the standard brain-alteration nanites used for downloading mind-states into organic brains, modified to have an erratic temporary effect.

One who injects a vial of cháldar (this injection, as with downloading, must be done directly into the fluid volumes surrounding the brain) begins within minutes to experience its effects.  Cháldar is distilled from pithed sophont mind-states, and the nanites rapidly distribute themselves throughout the user’s neural volume, and begin irregularly imposing sections of the neural net reflecting the mind-state from which they were distilled on top of the user’s own.  The result is an hours-long cascade, usually quite exhilarating, of alien images, feelings, thoughtways, memories, and ideas – effectively, as close as one can come to the dream of being able to experience another’s consciousness from the inside.

While occasional cháldar users may only acquire a few personality distortions from use of the substance – although social problems may result if they interact with others while sections of the alien neural net are active; for this reason, cháldar users generally have themselves immobilized while taking the drug – risks of its use include a wide variety of identity disorders and schizophrenias as the brain adapts to, or incorporates, sections of the alien neural net.

Cháldar is also fraught with legal problems.  While it is produced from legally tradable pithed mind-states, the “best” cháldar highs come from the most complex, unusual, or rare mind-states.  Since the Excellences and Exquisites and their foreign equivalents rarely place their mind-states upon the open market, cháldar is often produced from stolen or otherwise illegally acquired mind-states, leaving the manufacturers open to criminal charges of forknapping, or worse, and any subsequent purchasers to a variety of intellectual property and privacy crimes.

In addition, in the search for outré experience, some manufacturers have taken to manufacturing cháldar from criminal mind-states or the mind-states of the severely insane, the use of which poses a risk of memetic infection or investigation by the Guardians of Our Harmony for pernicious irrationalism.

– Journal of Chemical Hedonism, 1217th issue

Trope-a-Day: And I Must Scream

And I Must Scream: The number of things that one could theoretically do that fall into this category, given the dark side of virtual reality (where torture can’t kill you, only make you wish you were dead) and the ability to pervert sophotechnology, is as infinite as the possibilities of malice.

There’s a reason why just about any mind-state storage device that might fall into enemy hands comes with very serious encryption, anti-tamper devices, and self-destruct.