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R2O is an attempt to solve the world's problems with insights from a new scientific paradigm that suggests life has cosmic significance and a transcendent purpose. Your support funds that initiative.
If you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on right now, you’re probably a little freaked out. I know I am. Change is happening at an unprecedented rate and uncertainty over the future is arguably higher than ever before. Artificial intelligence is exploding, and I believe the advances that will happen in the next five years are going to have at least as much of an impact on the world as the home computer, the Internet, and social media — for better and for worse. Tensions between the world’s most powerful countries are escalating and World War III is starting to seem inevitable, which is absolutely terrifying. And the upcoming U.S. presidential election is sure to lead to a dangerous level of division and political polarization in America.
I say these things not to make you fearful, but to motivate you to become part of the solution. These problems are not going to go away on their own, and solving them will require a widespread change in perspective — a shift in one’s worldview and state of consciousness that inspires each individual to be an agent of change. We should all be interested in exercising our agency in this way, not to be part of some utopian dream to make the world a better place, but because if we do not, our lives are going to become apocalyptic nightmares. Again, this is not fear-mongering but a law of nature. Complex systems go through periods of volatility and instability, and averting disaster and collapse always requires collective effort to avoid such catastrophes. The greater the power of our technology becomes, the greater the potential disaster it can produce, so we are indeed at a unique moment in history, where the continued progression of our civilization requires an unprecedented coming together.
But doesn’t the “theory of everything” underlying the R2O project suggest that progress is inevitable? Doesn’t that mean we will all be okay? Unfortunately, the story of inevitable progress described by the new paradigm of evolution and emergence is not the old teleological narrative that implied some magical force protecting our civilization from failure. It is now obvious that societies fail, all the time, over and over. Yet we are here, and human civilization as a whole is doing better than ever by most metrics. Technology has created existential threats of unparalleled magnitude, but it has also solved countless problems that made life utter hell for pre-modern humans.
So, what explains this paradox? How can we believe that progress will continue while facing so many existential threats? The answer to that lies in a simple principle that I call “Popper’s Principle” in my book The Romance of Reality, and it says that “problems create progress.” What this means is that it is the problems that humans face that pushes them to find solutions, to learn, and to adapt so that they can thrive and survive, which is what our biology has programmed us to do.
This means that the engine of progress is our need to solve problems, and every time there’s a catastrophe or the apparent threat of one, there is a statistically-predictable response from members of society to address that problem. Unfortunately, oftentimes there is simply not a large enough response to avert the threat, or it comes too late. In the case of societal collapse, typically a society retains some collective memory of the failure, and the next time a similar existential threat arises, that knowledge is used by the collective to overcome the challenge. In this way, progress steadily occurs, but we often take one step back for every two steps forward (sometimes the setbacks are far more drastic, though). Life, as adaptive complexity — the biosphere is an interconnected network of complex adaptive systems — is error-correcting machinery, and it only advances by making mistakes again and again.
This means that the major threats we face today are eliciting responses from concerned humans, and the magnitude of the collective response is determined by the perceived magnitude of the threat. I must emphasize that it is the perceived magnitude of the threat, not the actual magnitude, because there are many threats that we over- or under-estimate. So, if we do not take the actual threats we face seriously — like weaponized AI, nuclear war, climate change, rising income inequality, pandemics, governments corrupted by the influence of money, and authoritarian regimes looking to expand their power — our response might not be enough to stop civilization from temporarily entering an extremely dark period where everyone’s life is affected in some way, and many lives are lost. The pandemic showed us how interconnected we are, and how our way of life can change overnight. Let it serve as a wake-up call. Right now, we all need to adopt a new mentality and way of living. Road to Omega is an attempt to induce this transformational shift in worldview and awareness so that we may effectively deal with the pressing issues of our time.
To be clear, the theory of everything that I call the Unifying Theory of Reality is not something I invented, but the product of a lifelong attempt to understand the relationship between life, mind, and cosmos — based on what we know about science and philosophy today. This new paradigm, presented in detail in The Romance of Reality, has been proposed by many people before me, in many great books and academic papers, but due to recent advances in complexity science, cognitive science, and evolutionary theory, the theory of a universe evolving toward ever-greater complexity now has a mechanistic and formal description that breathes new life into the idea.
In the series of articles that are coming, we will shed light on some of the biggest remaining mysteries in science by exploring this paradigm — such as the origin of life, the hard problem of consciousness, the fate of life in the universe, the fate of the universe itself, and why the reality we inhabit appears to have some purpose, design, or function that demands an explanation. There are many scientists claiming to have theories of everything that do not address any of these questions, and there are twice as many New Age gurus that claim to have answers to these questions which have no scientific basis. The Unifying Theory of Reality integrates our scientific knowledge with our spiritual curiosities and our practical concerns to create a “cosmic religion” like the one described by Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein.
I’m especially excited about this new content, which goes far beyond what was in my first book, because there have been a lot of recent developments that appear to support these new big ideas. For example, an article was recently published at The Guardian titled “A Brief History of Time was Wrong, Stephen Hawking Told Collaborator,” which reveals that the great late physicist believed that the reductionistic paradigm he articulated in his best-selling book is incorrect. Essentially, Hawking didn’t feel that the mainstream narrative explained “how the universe could have created conditions so perfectly hospitable to life.”
We won’t know the details until his final book comes out next month (nearly 5 years after his death), but it seems that the physicist ultimately came to the conclusion that the universe is an evolving system that operates according to Darwinian principles that drive the world toward higher complexity, which would explain the tendency to produce life. “In the end, we both came to think of physics in a way much more like how we think of biology. We have put physics and biology on the same footing,” said cosmologist Thomas Hertog, Hawking’s collaborator and co-author. “It leads to a new philosophy of physics that rejects the idea that the universe is a machine governed by unconditional laws with a prior existence, and replaces it with a view of the universe as a kind of self-organizing entity in which all sorts of emergent patterns appear, the most general of which we call the laws of physics.”
This is incredibly exciting to me because the main thesis of The Romance of Reality is that the universe is a self-organizing system that evolves through Darwinian mechanisms to generate emergent phenomena (the subtitle is How the Universe Organizes Itself to Create Life, Consciousness, and Cosmic Complexity). While I was confident that the book made a compelling scientific argument for this narrative, I thought it would be a challenge to change the mainstream position, specifically because of books like A Brief History of Time, so it is encouraging to see the standard narrative being dismantled by the people who were its biggest advocates.
Hawking’s new understanding of the universe sounds very similar to the big idea put forth in the 2021 paper The Autodidactic Universe by physicist Lee Smolin and computer scientist Jaron Lanier, which was covered by a number of media outlets, inspiring headlines like “Physicists working with Microsoft think the universe is a self-learning computer.” Again, the authors believe that the universe evolves through Darwinian mechanisms, which are evolutionary processes but also learning processes that create information and complexity. According to this paper, cosmic evolution is a unidirectional, irreversible process, which basically suggests that the world is becoming increasingly complex and that this tendency is not arbitrary but instead a consequence of what Paul Davies calls a “cosmic script” — essentially an evolutionary-developmental program encoded in the dynamics of nature. A similar paper was published by a physicist named Vitaly Vanchurin one year earlier, and it also made headlines, with provocative titles like “The Universe Might Be One Big Neural Network, Study Finds.”
These papers support the big ideas in The Romance of Reality, which argues that the universe is evolving toward a maximally complex and computationally powerful state through self-organization and Darwinian mechanisms (“Darwinian teleology” was the term I used to marry the ideas of open-ended progress and complexification with Darwinian mechanisms). If this new cosmic narrative is true, and the universe is not an arbitrary or random system, but something more like a self-organizing computer, a neural network, or a developing complex adaptive system (i.e., an organism), then I do not think it is an overstatement to say that it is the most profound paradigm shift in the history of science and philosophy. If true, it raises new existential questions that will force us to completely rethink the nature of reality and ideas about whether the universe has a purpose or a design.
For some, these ideas will sound dangerously close to religious concepts or science fiction, but that should not deter us from seeking the true nature of reality. As one of the 20th century’s greatest physicists, Freeman Dyson, put it: “If our analysis of the long-range future leads us to raise questions related to the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, then let us examine these questions boldly and without embarrassment.”
So, what does the coming content have to offer? Well, I believe that the Unifying Theory of Reality underlying the R2O project is about to completely transform our understanding of the universe we inhabit, with massive implications for evolutionary theory, cosmology, psychology, sociology, and economics. If evolution has a direction, and progress occurs inevitably as a result of life constantly adapting and correcting its errors, then the future is much more predictable than we previously thought. The trajectory of our civilization would also be much more predictable than we thought. I believe understanding what this paradigm predicts for the near future is absolutely crucial to avoiding many otherwise imminent catastrophes. I have not had a chance to write much about this predictive power, but I believe the field that sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov called “social statistical mechanics” in his Foundation series will be a real thing within the next decade, and it will be an absolute game-changer. A new level of sophistication in computer modeling of agents and their interactions will allow us to predict cycles of stability and chaos, and foresee certain types of disasters.
This article focused on how the paradigm of emergence could revolutionize our understanding of cosmology — because that is what I’m currently writing an article about for the website Big Think — but the theory also has big implications for quantum mechanics. If the universe is evolving toward a more complex state, then this puts constraints on quantum wave function collapse, suggesting it is not a random event but rather a process influenced by attractor dynamics. If true, this would favor theories like quantum Darwinism, and perhaps even lead to a completely new interpretation of QM. This topic was touched on in the final chapter of The Romance of Reality, and will be explored more in a future article.
To really understand the new cosmic narrative that is being proposed, and its implication for your life, the major concepts and principles of the Unifying Theory of Reality must be understood and the connections between them must be illuminated. This of course cannot be articulated in a single post, but this Substack will be designed so that articles have links to other articles that can allow the reader to jump from one to another so that they can start to see the big picture.
For example, a new article will be posted today that introduces the natural philosophy of the Unifying Theory of Reality, poetic meta-naturalism, and the key concepts of this “metamodern” worldview, which are the metasystem transition (the mechanism of emergence) and metacognition (thinking about thinking). Once we understand how the evolution of complex systems proceeds through metasystem transitions, we can begin to grasp our role in the cosmic evolutionary process, which requires metacognitive reasoning.
This key article, and the two that will follow it this week and next, are only accessible to paid subscribers. This is because it is the paid subscriptions that allow me to take the time away from my day job (mostly freelance writing for websites) to focus on this Substack. The more patrons this newsletter gets, the more time I can put into the R2O project to turn it into something much more impactful than just a newsletter. For a glimpse at some of the plans for 2023, check out the post The Road to Omega 2023 Agenda.
Paid subscribers will be getting access to exclusive content that will be the ideas in my next book, so much of it is material that won’t be available to the general public for about two years. There will be more exclusive content, such as the draft of the Road to Omega novel, uploaded chapter by chapter, to be optimized by community feedback, though that project will be described in more detail in a future post. The plan is to post an article for paid subscribers each week for the next two months to make up for the lack of posts over the last few months, but please know that if I fall behind schedule in the future I will pause payments until the posting is resumed.
Thank you to all the neuromantics out there who have subscribed to this Substack — the coming content is a direct result of your support. The architect, inventor, and systems philosopher Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” With your help, R2O will do just that.