Announcing the First Conference of Common Understandings and Shared Ontologies
I guess this is me planting a banner in the middle ground and calling for a democratic mega-metanalysis
This isn’t a plan this is a blog post explaining the next steps towards coming up with a plan.
My name is Eric and I’m the unofficial Wizard of Canada.
A simple explanation of what I’m proposing is that we create voluntary global data collection and sharing infrastructure in order to provide everyone with the information they need to understand the world around them. Corporations are already doing this in order to benefit from the information. Corporations benefit more from our information than we do. We need to do this publicly, not-for-profit, and for the public good.
What is a Shared Ontology?
An ontology is an understanding of how things… be. Of how something… is. Having an ontology for something means understanding its essence. Forming an ontology is the development of personal psychological technology. An ontology is a way of viewing a way. It’s how we understand a way of being — or the being of everything.
An ontology is how you understand massively complex or esoteric systems like reality, money, consciousness, culture, or yourself.
Given our limited technological advancement every major ontology available to us right now (whether religious, social, scientific, economic, etc ) requires some form of faith.
An ontology is a way to define and understand the hardest things to define and understand. If you don’t understand this definition of ontology you can read it collaboratively with someone else and form a shared ontology around your collaborative definition of ontology.
Ontological formation is very meta like that.
A lot of the time we don’t have an ontology for big picture stuff and we just vibe our way through things. That’s very normal. Sometimes you need to figure something big and weird out though… so you find or form an ontology around it.
Protecting against Ontological shock
Let me tell you: Ontological shock is a real thing. It’s what happens when your worldview is shattered for some reason. It happens in spaces where strong beliefs are present around important things. It can happen to anyone who holds a worldview that is not sustainable (for whatever reason — sometimes we’re wrong and sometimes the world changes). As a wizard I explore a bunch of things that cause ontological shock. It looks like a variety of specific ontological shocks for a bunch of people, at scale, is inevitable.
Part of the purpose of this project is to figure out what information can help individuals recover from the variety of potential ontological shocks we all face.
Your view of reality is your ontology and it’s probably totally unique to you because you’re totally unique — and also we all share in other ontologies because we share this world. A lot of our ontologies aren’t ours at all, they’re simply ones we were presented and accepted immediately without significant consideration.
We need to figure out how to discuss these shared ontologies — which can be viewed as some of the psychological technologies we use to connect our shared civilization — in ways that attempt to prevent the harm we’re seeing manifest at scale throughout our civilization (while also preventing new forms of harm from arising as a result of this effort).
I’m not just talking about understanding how people think and feel about metaphysics. I’m talking about everything they want to talk about. Ideologies. Religions. Systems. Processes. Events.
We need to talk about everything everyone wants to talk about because we need to give everyone an opportunity to be heard equally.
I mean I guess this all makes sense.
I guess it makes sense that a Canadian would be doing this because this type of stuff is part of our culture in some hard to define way, eh?. It makes sense that I’d have the gall to attempt this because I’m a 41 year old white asshole who works in tech. It makes sense that I’d suggest this based on what I’ve been doing for the past few years and my obvious history of mental instability.
It makes sense to do something like this because something like this is required if we’re to approach and sustain the cohesion our civilization will require in order to survive into the future — let alone flourish. If we can’t agree on a direction to go in surely we can agree that we should discuss directions? Especially if the alternative is… what? We all see the problem and it’s fucking awful.
Anyone else could have done this and if you’d like to take the lead on this project please reach out.
What do I mean by a Conference?
An exchange of views.
We need to rapidly scale upward and outward an inclusive and voluntary data collection effort in order to figure out how everyone feels about all the shit that’s happening so we can come together and figure out what to do about it. We need to do this in an well-considered way and it needs to be scalable.
We know the information we’re looking for exists because it’s just everyone's thoughts and feelings about everything… we’re simply not collecting it because the people who are fucking up running everything don’t want to think about stuff like that. Why would they put a thought out there like “Think real hard about how much better you’d like things to be.”
Look folks we gotta figure out a bunch of shit.
Some of the reasons I’d have preferred someone else do this are because I’m weird, I do shit strangely, and I’ve got a boatload of baggage. But here we are so you should know that sometimes I write things in a way intended to inspire a negative reaction in you so that you can think about that negative reaction (because I’m an asshole). This is especially applicable to my poetry and the titles of my work.
We need to use modern technological developments in order to better understand things collaboratively. I’m not saying we all need to agree on the same thing. That’s the most important part of this. As many people as possible have to want to get involved and that can only happen if we don’t feel like we’re going to be forced to change. If change is going to happen we have to want it to happen. Yes, there are some things that it seems we can all agree on if we approach them a certain way, but forcing people to adopt a view, belief, or faith only ever seems to fail and result in the development of a lie.
I’ve written a poem about this:
A Fight Against Secularism
They don’t think you feel the way you feel.
It isn’t shared and can’t be real
because it isn’t happening to them.
Things used to work quite differently.
They also worked out horribly
religious wars cost many lives of men.
The bits of faith that can’t be proved
can be ignored but not removed
from the many varied systems that we share.
The ingenious complexity
resulting in civility
mandates that faith be levied everywhere.
The magical economy
which manifests society
has priests and gods and spiritual lore.
While collaborative sciences
–formed of strange alliances–
risk echoing the errors from before.
Your beliefs are not enough
to Will the world to force it such.
When forcing out a faith you find a lie.
Frustrating though this state may be
it can’t be changed–quite rightfully.
So love may be the only good reply.
The default’s where the battle’s won.
It can’t be proved but everyone
believes in something similarly broad.
Conclusions reached dogmatically
form into faith–invariably
including lack of evidence for God.
The certainty of unifiers
that every frightened heart desires
leads us straight to yet another stupid war.
When it’s viewed democratically
the faith of all humanity
points clearly to belief in something more.
What do we need to figure out?
We need to understand what people think and how they feel about everything they want to tell us about. We need to give as many people as possible the tools and language they need to better understand and describe the world and their lives and then we need to ask them how they’re doing.
We need to talk about everything we can talk about in a way that we’ve never done before and we need to do it quickly.
How we normally figure things out doesn’t work right now.
Maybe it’s the scope and scale of the problems, maybe it’s their complexity, or maybe it’s just that we can’t understand new problem with old tools. Why it happened matters less right now than how we fix it. The fact that we need to update our ability to make collaborative sense of the world is clearly evident. We must do this or we’re going to continue to suffer as a result of our inability to understand and handle big complex issues.
There are plenty of innovators, and innovative communities, working towards addressing issues related to this project.
Here are some examples of novel forms of inquiry:
There are countless examples of good people doing the hard work of figuring out important shit — especially once you know to start looking for them. We need systems that are collaborative and versatile. I’m going to list examples of two different specific approaches because I think they provide good examples of how to integrate technology into this type of effort, and also because they successfully exist in cultural spaces that make this type of inquiry challenging, but I really can’t stress how many other folks are doing work like this right now.
A lot of this work is happening in isolation because we don’t have a system to incentivize doing it collaboratively. In fact several of our systems disincentivize pursuing things like this.
I can’t say enough good things about Curts YouTube channel. Seriously, I mean it, if I ran out of new good things to say I’d just happily repeat myself.
Curt is pursuing his own exploration of ontologies through his YouTube channel along a really specific, important, and challenging path. He’s done this by interviewing a limited subset of some of the most brilliant people in the history of our world.
The value of the information on his channel to everyone on the planet can’t be overstated.
Most impressively: he’s done it in a way that has fostered the development of a community around him which is capable of collaborating in the elucidation of countless challenging subjects.
(Disclaimer: I’m active in the TOE Discord community and a supporter of the TOE Patreon.)
Aella is a social media influencer who exists at the distinct and interesting intersection of the internet that includes rationalism and adult content creation. She puts out a lot of surveys on Twitter to collect information to support her activity as a fetish researcher.
If you watch her work over time and pay attention to more than just the obvious and intentional sexual aspects of her online persona you’ll see that she’s constantly evolving her approach and improving her ability to effectively learn the information she’s seeking. The information she’s trying to figure out is part of an important line of inquiry… especially since it’s a line of inquiry many of us are uncomfortable exploring.
She bravely does it publicly in a way that allows people to see how her process improves over time.
New ways of seeking
Technological development has enabled new forms of inquiry. Curts tenacious approach to collaboratively exploring challenging subjects and Aellas unwavering approach to discerning evident shared truths in challenging cultural spaces are both possible, or amplified, as a result of ideals, tools, and resources that were incomprehensible to previous generations.
We live in the future and we need to act like it.
Data collection and community building are critical
One of the reasons I wanted someone else to do this is because my personal history is evidence that I’m really terrible at both data collection and community building. I have multiple projects under my belt that failed to do a good job of one or both of those tasks. I get caught up in narrative/branding/story more than someone with a purely technical approach would.
The technical considerations of this project are paramount. We need to intelligently collect meaningful data as part of an iterative process capable of building on previous learnings. If we spend all this time collecting the wrong data, or collecting data the wrong way, it could render the whole exercise fruitless.
We fucked up the start of the pandemic because we fucked up the data communication and we never really recovered.
What am I proposing?
We need to organize and mobilize communities and groups around the act of collecting and cataloguing voluntarily disclosed relevant information about our thoughts and feelings, our lives, our communities, and our world, and then we need to present this information openly to people in useful ways which they can use to protect themselves and improve their lives. It needs to be easier for people to figure shit out. This all has to be democratic and transparent.
None of this project can be bullshit because everyone is so fucking tired of all the bullshit.
A bunch of this effort can be online but it would be best if it also took place in person. We all need to understand how we all want to live our lives and how we all feel about the support we’re receiving. We need to understand how we all feel about everything that applies to us all.
This effort can only succeed if it’s voluntary.
It’s so obvious and obviously impossible but what alternative is there? Current trends we’re seeing of increased division and conflict at increased scale only point to further shared calamity. In being afraid to lose some we risk losing all.
As I’m currently imagining it the Conference will take place through a series of phases designed to collect information openly and then use that information transparently and democratically in ways that inform the next phase of the project.
Any or all of this could change. This is only just a blog post.
Assessment Phase: Determine Scope of Inquiry
We’ll figure out what we have to work with.
This phase consists of 3 surveys intended to figure out what people want to get out of the Conference (and what they’re willing to put into it.)
These surveys will be created first and haven’t been created yet.
- Determination of Subjects of Inquiry: This survey can be filled out by anyone who wants to determine the priorities of the Conference. What common understandings do we want determine? What shared ontologies are being investigated? What do people think about the institutions or systems associated with specific ontologies? What should not be investigated? (If we’re not ready to discuss something then we should know we want to avoid discussing it.)
- Determination of support: This survey can be filled out by anyone who is interested in supporting the conference with their time and effort.
- Determination of financial capabilities: This survey can be filled out by individuals or organizations who are willing to pledge financial support to this effort (this form won’t yet collect donations) [This whole project must be free]
Organization + Systems Development Phase: Create infrastructure with available resources
We’ll collect what we have to work with and get ready to work.
Here we’ll spool up whatever infrastructure is required and possible based on the information learned in the Assessment Phase in order to be able to begin the Data Collection Phase.
Examples of what could happen in this phase based on support:
- Surveys are created
- Other required technology could be created
- A not-for-profit corporation could created
- Online communities like Slack/Discord/Reddit could be created
Data Collection Phase: Promote content collection
We’ll ask everyone a bunch of well-considered questions.
Once we know what we have to work with and a prioritized understanding of what we want to figure out we can make our initial steps towards collecting information about what everyone thinks and how they feel about shared ontologies. We don’t know what this will actually look like because we haven’t taken the previously defined democratic steps towards getting here.
Examples of data that could be collected:
- Concerns people have about shared existential risks
- Willingness to contribute or participate in shared efforts
- What ideas does everyone have about how the world should work
- How people feel about specific religions, systems, and ideologies (and also: whether we should discuss specific religions, systems, and ideologies.)
Presentation Phase: Analyze and present information
We’ll try to make challenging or complicated information easy to understand.
Once we have the information we need we must present it in such a way that it can be easily understood by as many people as possible. The goal here is to enable self-directed and collaborative study of the information learned through the Conference so people can effectively use the information to improve their lives and communities.
Ideally everyone comes out of this phase with a better idea of how to go about solving problems and doing things.
Action Phase: Do Something
Some of the information we’ll discern will need to be discussed in person, in our communities, in order to be better understood. Some of the information we’ll discern will point to immediate steps we can take in order to change things. Some of the information we’ll discern will require additional exploration and investigation, meaning we’ll have to go back to the Assessment Phase.
The Conference is iterative and ongoing
There isn’t an intended outcome of this project beyond the collaborative analysis of a variety of common understandings and shared ontologies in order to best support people while they exist in a world that requires such knowledge.
What do we know? What have we figured out? How can we figure more things out? What can we do with any of it?
Not all the information discerned will be equally applicable to all people. Not all of the information or conclusions will be acceptable to all people. This is both challenging and unavoidable.
The alternative is to continue to fail to understand our shared reality. This will perpetuate a state of affairs that seems increasingly likely to lead to the deaths of millions and millions of people — or more.
Not dealing with these problems cannot solve these problems.
Share this if you care to, or if you think it’s worth sharing, or because its existence is an indication that I’m asking you to.
I’m currently working on the first batch of surveys. You can stay up to date with this project here: