Order Without Orderers

Extropy 7, Spring 1991

Extracted by scan on September 2, 2009


The Importance of Spontaneous Orders


Transhumanists of all kinds—Extropians, Venturists, Immoralists—look forward to making some radical alterations in the human condition. We want to remake ourselves into something more than mindless nature has generated. This will require some powerful technologies and will produce enormous social changes. We are therefore obligated to think about appropriate constraints on the pursuit of our goals. The purpose of this paper is to argue for the recognition of spontaneous ordering as just such a constraint.


To understand the importance of spontaneous orders (SOs) and spontaneous ordering principles (SOPs) we first need to distinguish them from another kind of order. I will usually refer to this other type of order as a constructed order or as an organization. The two types of order have been called by many names,’ Here are a few:



Spontaneous                Organization


Self-generating             Construction


Grown (organic)           Artificial


Endogenous                 Exogenous


Kosmos                       Taxis


Abstract                       Concrete



Spontaneous orders are orders designed by no one, though someone may have prepared the ground for their development. I will provide a number of illustrations of the prevalence of spontaneous ordering; for now some examples are: The complex biological forms resulting from genetic variation and selection without any conscious direction; crystals which form into a pattern without that pattern being specified by the initial atomic forces the free market economic system; and the development of language.


Examples of constructed orders are ubiquitous: Automobiles; the legal structure of a corporation; a painting; a computer program. Clearly, many orders are mixed to various degrees. For instance the pattern of activities you engage in over a month is partly the result of your planning (a constructed order), and partly the result of unpredictable interactions with other people and events, and unforeseen opportunities. Large organizations are typically a mixture of the two types of order; a corporation’s basic legal structure and its goals will be the result of planning by one or a few people, but many details of operation will emerge over time depending on multifarious, protean factors.


Since I will be explaining why spontaneous orders are so valuable and important in shaping our futurist goals, I should stress here that I am not arguing that SOs are, in a general sense, better than constructed orders. Both types of order have their place. In writing a paper, we cannot expect our thoughts to spontaneously self-organize. For the task of paper-writing, planning and deliberate organization is clearly more appropriate. On the other hand, social systems are best allowed to spontaneously order, containing within them many smaller constructed orders.



The Hidden Order


The pervasiveness and importance of spontaneous orders is poorly appreciated by most people. There are three reasons for this: First, concrete, constructed orders are easily perceived because of their relative simplicity. Since constructed orders are designed and organized by one person or one integrated group of persons, they are necessarily limited to the degree of complexity comprehensible and controllable by those minds. This is not true of spontaneous orders.


Spontaneous orders can achieve any degree of complexity. SOs that are extremely complex may be difficult to recognize as orders. For example, we sometimes hear of “the chaos of the market”, a phrase signifying the speaker’s failure to understand the enormously complex spontaneous ordering at work in a decentralized, free market economic system. As this person sees it, there is no order in economic affairs unless they can see some person or group of persons designing the order, setting a pattern for the outcome.


Recognizing SOs is further complicated by the abstractness of almost all such orders. SOs consist of a system of abstract relations between elements which are themselves defined only by abstract properties. The abstractness of an order means that the same order can persist even though the particular elements that comprise it change over time. So long as elements of a certain kind continue to be related to each other in a certain manner, the order will persist. A language, for instance, can remain the same language when spoken by different speakers. The double abstractness of a spontaneous order can be illustrated by the free market: The order of the market is constituted by the abstract relations between persons, and the persons themselves, in this context, must be understood abstractly as agents constituted by sets of desires, purposes, beliefs and actions.


The abstractness of SOs makes them particularly difficult for the untutored mind to recognize. You can’t simply look at an SO and spot it. You need to apply a theory. Your theory allows you to examine the objects and events and to cognitively reconstruct the order by applying explanatory principles. Application of a theory to the phenomena amounts to filtering data in search of a pattern.


Apart from complexity and abstractness there is a third, surprising, feature of spontaneous orders that renders them less obvious than constructed orders. This is their purposelessness. Concrete orders are designed for a particular purpose or group of purposes and so we can recognize them easily due to their specificity and goal-directedness. The essence of spontaneous orders is their purposelessness. This feature does not detract from their usefulness in the least. While an SO is not designed and so has no purpose, it may be capable of sustaining within itself an enormous variety of purposes. An order that is itself without specifiable purpose may serve as the framework for purposive action. Again, a clear example is the market. The market system is not there for any particular reason, yet allows a limitless number of persons to pursue their goals.


Some spontaneous orders might have a meta-purpose, though perhaps such orders would be partially organizations and partially spontaneous. An example might be an artificial ecosystem set up to evolve new life forms, but where the creators have no idea what the particular results will be, expecting only that some useful results will be generated in the ecology. In this case, the ecology has a meta-purpose which is to generate interesting new life forms, but it does not itself have a purpose or function in a purposive, directed manner.


If no one designs a spontaneous order how can it turn out to be ordered? This is a question that has arisen in economics, biology and cosmology. In each of these and other fields the details of the answer are different, but they all share something in common. The common answer lies in recognizing the self-organizing possibilities of systems that run according to certain well-defined rules or principles. So long as the elements of the system do or must follow the rules, and the rules have the necessary structure, then self-organization will occur and complex orders will be generated. Perhaps the best way to clarify this is to introduce several cases of SOs. This will also support my earlier assertion that spontaneous orders are tremendously. pervasive and extremely important for futurists and Extropian transhumanists.




Economic Markets: Having already mentioned free markets several times, and because they are such a clear and generally familiar case, I will begin here. Whereas a corporatist, fascist, or national socialist economy (and, to a lesser degree, a mixed-economy) will be deliberately structured, regulated, and controlled to pursue certain goals—such as world domination, maximizing the power of the leadership, enforcing certain moral views, etc. —a market economy has no goal. Of course it may produce certain results such as maximizing output, enhancing freedom and diversity, and stimulating technological advance. However, these emergent results are not goals of the system as such.


A fully free market economy requires certain principles regulating the behavior of the agents within it if the order is to be preserved. In a market system the regulating principles are private property rights. Fundamentally there is a right of self-ownership—the right to live, to think as you choose, to choose your way of life consistent with respecting others’ same right. As extensions of that fundamental right are all the other property rights. Maintaining a market order simply requires people to respect each others rights to life, liberty and property. Where violations of these rights occur such as theft, assault and fraud, the system primarily requires restitution in order to restore legitimate claims and to repair the harm done to the rational expectations of the persons involved in voluntary market activities.


A fully free market system is often described, in a political context, as “libertarian” because of the minimal coercion of some persons by others. I also refer to the system as “spontaneous voluntarism”. This term has the advantage of emphasizing the voluntaristic and spontaneously ordering characteristics of the system. Tom W. Bell has offered the term “consent rich”, and we could also refer to this system as “maximally consensual”. Whether the maintenance of a system of property rights requires any role for a monopolistic agency of coercion (“the State”) is a question I will not touch on here. (2)


The careful definition and maintenance of the structure of private property rights is essential to the ordering processes of the market. If there is constant coercive intervention in the economy, widespread legal and/or cultural disregard for the rights of self-ownership and property, then disorder will ensue. An enormously complex order such as the market is able to withstand much disregard for its underlying principles, but if disruption becomes excessive or invades crucial areas such as the monetary system, chaos begins to dominate.


The effectiveness of spontaneous orders in facilitating interactions and communication of information in extremely complex systems is well illustrated by the present example. In a market order efficient use is made of the particular and special knowledge possessed by individuals. Effective production and the efficient satisfaction of consumer wants requires the coordination of billions of persons and their plans, expectations and knowledge.


No central planner could hope to acquire all the information necessary to coordinate all these actions into an efficient plan. There are many reasons why authoritarian central control cannot work. The individuals to whom the planner is to give orders and from whom to gather information may be unwilling to be controlled and directed from above. Even if they are willing to give the planner all the information requested they may be unable to express the situation-specific information they possess. Much of the success of producers is based on tacit knowledge—knowledge that cannot be verbalized. It is frequently procedural, not declarative in nature. Entrepreneurs may have ways of working, of interacting with customers and fellow workers that they may be consciously unaware of; even if they are aware of all their procedures they may be unable to express what they do to a bureaucrat.


Even if these problems were not insuperable, the central planners would face an impossible task in coordinating all the information flooding in, no matter how powerful their data processing capacities. We can see the problems inherent in central planning by looking at our own economy. Government officials compile economic statistics such as figures for the money supply, gross national product (GNP), employment, income, growth rates, and so on. These figures are always revised after initial publication, often revealing a large error margin. Making central plans based on such faulty data, data that is continually changing in a dynamic economy, is inherently problematic. By the time the data, inaccurate as it is, becomes available, the economy has moved on and the information is immediately incorrect.


The decentralized market economy deals with this problem by making it unnecessary for anyone to know everything about the entire system. Price signals—generated by voluntary decisions based on private property rights—transmit the relevant information to those who need to know it. Incommunicable tacit knowledge is reflected in the market prices of the producer with no need for her to explain to anyone how she does her job.


The market system has the further advantage of requiring minimal coercion. Coercion (the threat or use of physical force) is required only to prevent persons from violating others’ rights to life, liberty and property. By decentralizing decision-making and rational planning to individuals and voluntary groupings of individuals, the market harnesses productive capacities for everyone’s benefit. As Adam Smith wrote two centuries ago, the market works as if there were an “invisible hand” ensuring that the actions of individuals produce benefits for all. The better someone is at supplying others with what they want the more she is rewarded.


Of course this requires that the proper principles necessary to the functioning of the spontaneous order are maintained; this means that self-ownership and private property rights must be respected both by the legal system and the culture. External costs (such as polluting activities) should be internalized by the consistent application of private property rights. The spontaneous ordering processes embodied in the market then, economize on the use of information and optimize production from the point of view of the voluntary agents within the system.


Evolution: Another enlightening paradigm of a spontaneous ordering process is genetic evolution. Although yet far from completed, scientists have gone a long way in explaining how organisms and genetic material could have spontaneously evolved from molecules in the environment. (3) The rules of the system that allow spontaneous generation of organisms are the principles of physics and the genetic system in environments falling within certain parameters (temperature, pressure, availability of elements).


We can now see a revealing parallel between theists and socialists. Those who believe in a god who creates the universe, life and consciousness, and those who reject the market because of its purported chaos, both fail to appreciate the power of spontaneous ordering principles. Theists don’t understand how vastly complex phenomena such as the structure of galaxies, life on Earth, and conscious intelligence could possibly have come about other than as the deliberate design of some ineffable being. (of course they further violate the principle of explanatory parsimony in introducing a being whose complexity must be greater than the original phenomena to be explained.)


Likewise, socialists and other statists can’t understand how human purposes can be efficiently pursued without some wise persons designing and controlling a social system. Put into reverse this confluence of intellectual deficiencies may explain why such a high proportion of Extropians and transhumanists are both atheists and free marketeers.


Evolutionary Models: Evolutionary principles have recently been fruitfully applied in constructing computer models of self-ordering systems. Examples are strategies such as Tit-For-Tat, cellular automata such as Conway’s Game of Life, and other artificial life. Tit-For-Tat is a strategy that was submitted to a computer strategy tournament organized by Robert Axelrod (4). It consistently outperformed other strategies in terms of scoring points in its interactions with them; as a result the cooperative Tit-For-Tat strategy gradually grew and swamped the others.


It did this by adhering to simple rules embodying the principles of niceness—not attacking first, retaliation—hitting back when another strategy “defects”, forgiving—not holding grudges, and clarity—being simple enough for other strategies to understand. By allowing this simulation to run through many rounds, an overall pattern of Tit-For-Tat behavior came to dominate the environment even though this result had not been programmed into the computer. Similar processes have been evoked to explain cooperative behavior among animals.


“Artificial life” (A-Life) is an attempt to create many small “agents” in connectionist computers and to allow them to evolve useful behavior. It also involves using these small agents to make tiny robots that can perform functions like walking, exploring, and cleaning buildings. So far many of the examples of A-Life are both intriguing and amusing: Rod Brooks, at MIT’s robot lab, built “the Collection Machine” which travels around the building recognizing and collecting soda cans. One of his students built a device that tracks your movement around a room and calibrates the stereo so that you always enjoy the best sound.


A-Life researchers often work with cellular automata (CA)—grids of cells in computational space. Each cell is determined to be dead or alive (off or on) by a set of rules that refer to the neighboring cells. The Game of Life is an example of CA; it applies a few simple rules and generates complex patterns that were in no way specified in the original rules. Watching the screen you would first see a few dots appearing, disappearing and apparently moving around. Over time you would observe a multiplication of patterns which start to assume characteristic forms—such as blocks, loaves, beehives, blinkers, glider guns and puffer trains. Again, nothing in the original rules of the program specifies these patterns. (5)


Physics: (Brevity means that this section may be obscure to most non-physicists. For those interested, see Polkinghorne, 1984.) In quantum mechanics there are two methods for calculating probabilities. The traditional method involves solving the Schrödinger equation to find two wave functions (with one slit open, the other closed in the two-slit experiment). The square of the moduli of these wave functions, or probabilities amplitudes, yields actual probabilities for the state of motion. The alternative method, invented by Richard Feynman and known as the path integral or sum over histories approach directly calculates probability amplitudes without using the Schrödinger equation.


Feynman’s approach involves assigning a complex probability amplitude to each of the vastly many trajectories an electron might take. While in conventional quantum theory an electron has no  trajectory, in the sum over histories approach it has every trajectory.


Feynman’s perspective enables us to see how quantum mechanics can correspond with the neat, regular trajectories of classical, Newtonian physics. In other words, we can understand how the apparently chaotic behavior at the quantum level generates macro-level regularity. In the sum over histories approach, there is an enormous amount of interference between the different paths of the electron, and these tend to cancel each other out. Essentially, “For really large systems this will have the consequence that the only paths that contribute significantly to the final result will be those in a region where the action changes as slowly as possible, since here the cancellations are minimized.” (Polkinghorne, p. 43) This region follows the path of stationary action which is just the classical trajectory.


Memetics: Memes are patterns of replicating information, whether in brains or computers. They include ideas, beliefs, tunes, habits, traditions, morals, designs, jokes, and fashions. (6). In memetic evolution, variation is driven by imagination, invention and confusion, and the rules of the game are the principles of psychology. New and often interesting memes can be generated without conscious design, in a similar way to the generation of new somatic types in biological evolution. In the memetic case, however, it is memes which perish if unsuccessful, not their carriers (with some ugly exceptions such as kamikaze and Jim Jones memes). The burgeoning field of evolutionary epistemology attempts to understand scientific progress in terms of evolutionary and spontaneously ordering processes. Since memetics is frequently discussed in these pages I will say no more.


Agoric Open Systems: The stunning rate of the computerization of modern societies is wonderful to be a part of; but as the complexity and interconnectedness of these systems grows we are increasingly faced with the problem of how to allocate computational resources: “As programs and distributed systems grow larger, they are outrunning the capacity of rational central planning. Coping with complexity seems to depend on decentralization and on giving computational “objects” property rights in their data and algorithms. Perhaps it will even come to depend on the use of price information about resource need and availability that can emerge from competitive bidding among these objects.” (8)


The computer analogy for property rights is “object-oriented programming systems” (OOPS). This kind of programming involves assignment of tasks to computational objects; these objects are autonomous sections of code whose functions cannot be modified by other objects. This allows programmers to build a program containing many objects whose internal workings she need not know.


Decentralized, spontaneously ordering mechanisms for handling computation are known as agoric open systems. An agoric system “is defined as a software system using market mechanisms, based on foundations that provide for the encapsulation and communication of information access, and resources among objects.” (9) In this system programs would bid for memory and disk space, paying more for coveted memory than disk space and paying more at times of peak demand.


Setting up networks and programs along these spontaneously ordering lines would allow the limitless growth of comp and interconnectivity. Another advantage would be the promotion of innovator encapsulation assuring computation property  rights and agoric systems conveying price information, entrepreneurial activity would be simulated just as in a market economy. Programmers could take existing objects algorithms to produce new software. They would not need to reinvent the origin code now in the objects and would not even need to understand it. (10)


Neurocomputation and Connectionist AI: The last several issues of this journal have had much to say about artificial neural networks, connectionism, or parallel distributed process processing (PDP). This approach to computing contrasts with ?Classical Artificial Intelligence (Al)” in its vastly greater ability to recognize patterns. Connectionist models, like agoric systems, are spontaneously ordering processes. Learning takes place by adjustment of weightings of those components that have moved the system towards successful recognition. Essentially, by setting up the network and giving it feedback according to the appropriateness and successfulness of its output, the network self-organizes its internal states (its activation vector spaces).


As artificial networks become ever more complex and brain-like, the problem of coordinating the components grows. Miller and Drexler suggest that by combining connectionism and  agoric systems networks could learn to better assign credit to the components that contribute to success. This is often done with current connectionist models by using the “back-propagation” algorithm. (11) “As the system develops, market competition will reward objects which employ more sophisticated negotiating strategies that better reflect both the value derived from the various contributors, and what their competitors are offering.” (Miller & Drexler, 1988b, p.172.)


Contelligence and Society of Mind: This leads us into how spontaneous order can help us to understand consciousness and intelligence, and how to build our own contelligences. (12) Our brains are now understood as extremely complex and massively interconnected neural networks. The elements are the neurons and the connections are the axons, dendrites and neurotransmitter releases from the synapses. The brain is a spontaneous order; it has no central processing unit. Classical, rule-based Al has failed to make progress in developing real intelligence because it has a followed a formal processing model reminiscent of neoclassical economics. Connectionist Al, although yet only moderately biologically realistic, promises much more potential for flexible intelligent cognitive behavior. (13)


The brain has been described as a “society of mind” (14) and bears remarkable parallels to an economy. Cognition of all kinds—reasoning, believing, emoting—is increasingly being understood in terms of interactions between more specialized sub-systems, or “agents”. in order to build real artificial contelligence we can expect to have duplicate certain features of neural networks, though we can also expect to surpass nature by eventually creating faster and more powerful thinkers, perhaps using optical or nanocomputers. in constructing self-organizing artificial thinkers agoric principles will be tremendously helpful as a means of coordinating the cognitive contributions of the many agents constituting a network.


SOs and Transhumanist Goals


Now that we have seen the pervasive role of spontaneous orders in both limiting and enabling the extropic processes of creation, organization, and information generation and distribution, we are ready to look at the means available to us in the pursuit of Extropian transhumanist respecting the SO principle.


Freedom vs. Technocracy: Laws regulating experimentation with self-transformative technologies should be abolished. In North America dismantling the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be an excellent way to start the process of freeing individuals in their personal experimentation. (15) Laws regulating research, genetic self-modification, and neurochemical self-enhancement should also be rejected. Given the rapidly growing technological opportunities for self-enhancement, now would be a good to for legally-minded Extropians to think about action to establish constitutional guarantees of our freedom of self-modification.


Similarly, given the increasing vital role of electronic communications and soon hypertext in the spread of diverse information, we require strong legal protection of our freedoms in these areas. Currently electronic mail does not receive the same protection as old-style paper mail, and computers and BBSs are taken without regard for the privacy of those using them. If the State can pry into our discussions when its agents choose, and can stifle our free discussions, the results can only be antithetical to progress.


H.G. Wells dreamed of a scientifically, centrally planned world in which our glorious future would be assured by efficient control of the scientific experts from the center. In 1991, after decades of failure with central planning Wells’ plans for our future seem foolish. Just as government is hopeless at centrally planning industrial policy and investment, so it would be worthless, stifling and destructive if we were to allow it to control our transhuman development.


In place of technocracy Extropian individual self-experimentation limited by nothing other than the purely negative injunction: Don’t interfere with other people’s pursuit of their path of  development. The only people who can complain about this minimal limitation are the parasites and the controllers, for only they conceive of personal gain essentially in terms of restraining  and taking from others. So long as we maintain non-initiation of aggression guided by private property principles we will benefit each other no matter how we choose to develop. By taking a variety of paths we will make discoveries that would otherwise go unnoticed. A spontaneous free social order provides incentives and means to share those discoveries as my earlier examples illustrated.


States, Countries and Planetary Exodus.


So long as people on this planet are divided into nations, freedom should be maximized by minimizing control of one country by another. Governments are as dreadful at “reforming” other countries’ governments as they are at controlling their own country and, for the same reasons.


While the best paths of political evolution would include the dissolution of the massive power blocs called nation states, political society on Earth may remain statist. To the extent that states and countries remain, the goal of any international institutions (such as the U.N. or the EEC) should be to restrain international coercion and to promote free trade and free movement.17 This doesn’t require that individuals cannot try to influence the behavior of foreign governments. Individuals should be free to do this just as they are now free to aid a person being mugged. What they may not do is force individuals with differing ideas to pay for and join in a collective assault.


Space habitats will offer an opportunity for unprecedented social experimentation. Interplanetary and, later, interstellar civilization seem to provide a far superior “framework for utopia”17 than exists at the bottom of our gravity well. The limited environment and immovability of the Earth-based societies will be shed. Some space habitats will attract persons with similar political views, some with shared eupraxosophies or religions. Others will be communities of persons with certain preferences in bodily vehicle. And we can expect many combinations of these possibilities. There will be the equivalent of both rural villages and Los Angeles.l8


Humans are gradually emerging from their tribal roots, questioning racism, sexism and other forms of irrational behavior. We should encourage this trend and prepare the way for new species branching off from home sapiens. t replace old prejudices with new f( different from ourselves.


The process of intercommunication and commerce will maintain a large confluence in the basic bodily form most people choose to take for the next couple of centuries or so. Few will want to diverge from an essentially humanoid form if it will alienate them from more conservative persons, though there will always be trend-setters and what we might call somatic rebels. Those of us who add enormous computational power to our brains will most likely want the enhancements to fit with our humanoid forms. Skulls will be reinforced with nanotech-built ultra-strong materials, our brains will be supplemented with tiny databases and add-on processing power, internal organs will be replaced with durable and more powerful synthetic organs, muscles will be strengthened, and immune systems will be supercharged with nanite defense systems, but all these upgrades can be up, accommodated within our present bodily form.


The first major modifications to our natural bodies will probably consist of synthetic organs, gene therapy and genetic enhancement, neurochemical fine-tuning and turbocharging, and direct physical interfacing with computer. Assuming it will be possible, many people will eventually swap their brains for superior carriers of consciousness (or will incrementally move their cognitive processes into the new hardware). Again, hardware allowing, most of these people will ?at least initially—choose exterior forms resembling homo sapiens. Only in the more distant future, and first in more distant space habitats, can we expect to see entirely exotic somatic forms. The mere availability of radically new forms won’t immediately lead to a rush into them; it will be a gradual process requiring new cultural forms to develop.


These future developments are an inevitable continuation of our evolving practices of self-definition. The nature of primitive unconscious life on Earth was wholly determined by genetic and environmental factors. When evolution produced humans with a degree of consciousness and basic culture, self-definition was born. As their history has progressed, humans have shown an inexorable desire to choose their appearance, beliefs, lifestyle, and behavior. In the 20th Century we have even started to modify our personalities and unchosen behavioral patterns through applied psychology and neurochemical modification (using everything from alcohol and marijuana to MDMA and lithium.


This practice of self-definition and self-construction will continue. The possibilities for self-construction expand as we become ever more conceptually sophisticated (and so become increasingly aware of the factors forming us) and as our technological sophistication grows (and so we can act on our improved self-understanding). The threat of determinism will continually recede as we gain control over our own bodies, cognition, emotion, appearance and environment. Not everyone will want to continue in an endless extropic process of individualization and self-transformation, but this new freedom will be available for those not willing to stagnate with familiar but limited forms.


New Children and Few Children.


While we are remaking ourselves we will be remaking the ways we have offspring. In the nearer future individuals, couples or groups will decide on the genetic constitution of their child, no doubt eliminating deficiencies and maximizing the offspring’s mental health, physical capacities, and emotional stability. Applying spontaneous order principles, we must ensure that the design of a new transhuman child and the family form itself are left up to the individuals involved. There should be no authoritarian government control over such choices.


 Continuing the trend in the more developed countries, we can expect the rate of new children born (or built) to slow. More attention to each child may be the result, and a slowing of population growth, which will partly compensate for increasing longevity. Though this planet is capable of supporting many times as many people as we have now, most may prefer a more spacious environment. Space migration may not solve this problem—unless birth rates fall dramatically or until and unless leaving Earth becomes very much cheaper. Coercive solutions will be proposed: For instance governments might offer the choice between a right to have a child and a right to (legal) longevity treatment (or between longevity and Earth for habitation). SO considerations suggest we should devise property right so as to make child-creators bear the full social cost of their activity. This could begin by removing tax-subsidies to education and welfare that encourage large families.


Handling the Blast of Information


The emerging technology of hypertext promises to enable rapid and efficient access to rapidly expanding information and to improve memetic evolution (see Nelson 1974, 1981, and Drexler 1986, ch.14). Hypertext allows extremely flexible cross-referencing of information: you can not only follow references backward in time as now, but  forward to find who has commented on a piece writing.


Some of the advantages of hypertext include much shorter lag times for refutations and rebuttals to appear, thus guiding discussion and  research in more productive direction earlier on, and the ability to search for information across all disciplines—thereby reducing the current tendency towards academic compartmentalization.


Hypertext embodies spontaneous ordering principles: There is no central organization; anyone can post comments and add information, though frivolous postings will be limited (on the Xanadu system now in testing) by charges and filtering systems which will be programmable to individual taste. For instance, in gathering information on a controversial issue, you might have your computer filter out people with bad reputations, or accept only peer-reviewed material, or material which has generated supportive comments, and so on. The Xanadu hypertext system propose to pay every writer for each time their writing is accessed; this will encourage a productive market in information dispersal.


Another epistemological process for handling information inspired by SO  theory ins “Futures Market in Ideas” proposed by Robin Hanson (see Hanson 1990, 1990b). The idea is to; evolve a better fact-finding process capable of generating a well-grounded consensus on scientific and technical questions. Anyone would be able to bet on controversial scientific and technical issues and the market odds would be used as a consensus for policy questions. This would be enormously valuable where policies and funding depend on projections of technology, such as estimating when nanotech assemblers or cheaper space launches will be available.


An advantage of Hanson’s suggestion is that, as in other markets in contingent assets such as markets in stocks and securities, irresponsible and ignorant betting will be costly. Financial incentives will promote careful betting, and will serve as a source of funding for those in the lead of particular research projects. “Arbitragers would keep the betting markets self-consistent across a wide range of issues, and hedgers would correct for various common human biases, like overconfidence.” (Hanson, 1990b, p.3) Idea futures markets integrated with hypertext will allow vastly more accurate and rapid fact-finding procedures—an essential function in a future characterized by ever-expanding information.


Longevity, Cooperation and Eupraxosophies.


In Axelrod’s work, cited earlier, far more cooperation emerged over time in iterated Prisoners’ Dilemmas than in a single interaction. Agents capable of benefiting or harming one another will become increasingly likely—if only from self-interested considerations—to cooperate with one another the longer they expect to deal with each other. Thus one recommendation made by Axelrod to promote cooperation is to “enlarge the shadow of the future”. This involves increasing the expected number of interactions between agents. The shadow of the future will stretch further in the future.


Computerized information sources and tracking will make it hard for an uncooperative agent to avoid detection and damaging publicity. Moving to another community will not serve to avoid retaliation or compensation for theft, coercion, or fraud when computer networks and easy communications see to it that anyone can check on someone’s past history. Perhaps boycotting as a means of retaliation will come back into favor.


The prospect of indefinite future interactions between persons will be further strengthened by increasing longevity, and eventually virtual elimination of unchosen death. When we become used to planning over centuries and longer, we will think less of how we can defraud others and get away with it. We will be especially wary of getting involved in violent conflicts whether personal or inter-governmental. Violating others’ rights for short-term gains will be seen to be ever more foolish as we expect to live with the consequences of our action. Similarly, extended life spans will reinforce the growing concern for the long-term future of our environments.


Longevity will encourage open-ended and liberal philosophies. Religions will continue to slowly decline, being replaced with wide rage of eupraxosophies. (20) Extropianism is a good example of transhumanist eupraxophy: Its central values are flexible and open to personal interpretation while still making certain commitments clear. The Extropian principle of Self-Transformation expresses the intention to always grow and improve, to expand one’s capacities and possibilities. It doesn’t specify exactly what means are to be taken to fulfill that goal. Unlike a religion which lays down particular beliefs and practices as dogma, Extropianism provides a forum for free discussion of means to promote the basic values we affirm.


Several transhumanist philosophies, many compatible with Extropianism, are developing already. (20) Venturism is an athanophic eupraxophy dedicated to the abolition of involuntary death through scientific means, and many persons involved or interested in life extension, cryonics, nanotechnology, advanced computing, as so on, hold many of the ideas and values embodied in Extropianism and other eupraxosophies. Rather than the sad history of religious conflict, the future is likely to become an arena of a co-existing and evolving variety of transhumanist philosophies.


This paper has been a survey of spontaneous ordering and some of the numerous ways in which it can be applied. I have shown some ways in which we can expect the shape of the future to depend on spontaneous orders and the advantages of such approaches.  SO processes are vital to the actualization of the Extropian principle of Boundless Expansion. If our knowledge, intelligence, constructive powers, and experiences are to be able to grow without limit we must ensure that the essential supporting frameworks are place. Spontaneous ordering is the key to the creation and maintenance of these frameworks.





1 See Hayek, 1973.


2 See Bell, 1991 (this issue), and David-Friedman (1989) for the view that no monopolistic agency is necessary.


3 See Dawkins, 1989, 1986.


4 Axelrod, 1987.


5 Moravec, 1988, presents a mind-expanding discussion of advanced A-Life, computer viruses, and cellular automata.


6 For the original coinage of “memes” see Dawkins, 1976. Also see Henson & Lucas’s articles in this journal: “A Memetic Approach to ‘Selling’ Cryonics,’ in EXTROPY#7, and “Darwin’s Difficulty,” in EXTROPY #2, Winter 1989. Also Miller and Drexler 1988, “Comparative Ecology: A Computational Perspective.”


This will remind philosophers of the distinction between teleological and deontological moral theories. As in the case of moral theories, the spontaneous vs constructed order distinction is an idealization.


8 Lavoie, Baetjer and William Tulloh, “High Tech Hayekians.”


9 Miller and Drexler, 1988b.


10 Simon! D. Levy will cover agoric systems in detail in EXTROPY #8 (vol.3, no.2), Fall 1991.


11 See “Neurocomputing Part 3,” by Simon! D. Levy, in EXTROPY #6 (Summer 1990).


12 use the term “contelligence” to indicate that intelligence (in the sense of “the ability to perform a range of tasks”) and consciousness (awareness, especially self-awareness) may not always go together. As an example, we might say that a society is intelligent (it can solve problems that no individual can solve) but it is not conscious. This is a point of controversy in the uploading argument. If posthumans want to upload the contents of their brains into computers, they will want to be sure that they will be conscious as well as ultra-intelligent. (See Moravec, 1988, on uploading.)


13 For an excellent overview of the connectionist view of mind, see Churchland, 1989, and my review of his book in EXTROPY #6 (Summer 1990).


14 Marvin Minsky, 1988: The Society of Mind.


15 The FDA’s highly restrictive policies result in in many thousands of premature deaths every year. This agency has no compunction about raiding organizations like Life Extension International, on the basis that the company is selling “unapproved drugs” (i.e., selling vitamins and offering good information on their beneficial effects, without the permission of this authoritarian agency. For an economic analysis of the baneful effects of the FDA see M. Friedman, 1980.


16 James Bennett has made similar recommendations in his talk, “After the Nation-State, What?” at The Albert Jay Nock Forum, Long Beach, California, April 2, 1991.


17 See Nozick, 1974, ch.10, “A Framework for Utopia.” A science fictional portrayal of humanity diverging in only two directions is found in Bruce Sterling’s fascinating Schismatrix, 1985).


18 A worthwhile long-term project for Extropians intent on enormous longevity might be the design and construction of the political constitution and physical creation of a space-based society conducive to Extropian values and maximal progress. The building of such an “Extropolis” could occupy us for the next few centuries.


19 See “Futique Neologisms” in this issue for definitions of “eupraxophy”, athanophy, etc.


20 Extropianism will continue to evolve in an eventual book.





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