Below I have written down a short outline of the main ideas my thesis will be concerned with. Feedback – positive or critical – is always welcome; also literature recommendations. firstname.lastname@example.org
I have included rather more subjects than less in the outline below, fully aware that I can’t deal with all these problems in a single thesis. But concentrating on a special issue will develop over time as I become more immersed in the literature. I do not yet know where the most interesting and fruitful problems lie (see the part on agility below). One could describe my approach as something like an iterative deepening search combined with alpha-beta pruning when encountering counterarguments. No, my thesis is not about Computer Science, it is in Philosophy; I am merely describing metaphorically the cognitive algorithm I am using.
I have tried to provide some interesting links (destinations in brackets in most cases).
Thesis in One Sentence (for the time-pressed)
The goal of my thesis is to show that, contrary to what many people believe, a rational, reductionist, and neutral-monist view of the universe is not detrimental to, nay, even encourages creative thought and compassionate action.
Section 1: Being Rational: Why, and how.
Section 2: Structural Realism: Sophisticated Scientific Realism.
Section 3: The Mathematical Universe. Some Consequences for Physics.
Section 4: Minds. Some Consequences for what it means to be a Person.
Note: A friend advised me that this motivational part and the following one on rationality are very link-heavy and this could be off-putting for newcomers to these ideas; the feeling of being swamped with too much information could easily crop up. I apologize for this, and will do something about it in the future, but for the time being it has to stay: there is much to convey; and some of the later ideas will simply not make sense without some of the earlier ones. Please note that this is only a first overview of my work, not the final product. Following up on all the links is certainly a task which would require quite some time, but it’s well worth the effort.
My thesis is to be viewed in the general contexts of Enlightenment 2.0 (Wikipedia) and Science 2.0 (SciAm) (see also here and here; links to blogs). In developing my theories, I will try to be agile (Wikipedia). Reality is always full of surprises; not a day passes where one does not learn a new thing. And coherence is a minimal criterion for philosophical thought: I find it impossible to ignore new pieces of knowledge, so agility is my way to cope with the predicament of rapid information inflow in a society which is producing knowledge at an ever increasing rate (Ray Kurzweil). Be water, my friend! (Youtube). So, enough hype for one paragraph; I guess enough for the whole document. Let’s get on with it.
My disciplinary points of departure are philosophy and philosophy of science.
Philosophy of science is quite well underway (there are important discussions going on in the journals Philosophy of Science, British Journal of Philosophy of Science, Synthese, Erkenntnis and many other good journals too many to name) although the results are, unfortunately, little known outside the field (the working scientist’s knowledge is usually exhausted by “falsification”; this is a good demarcation criterion, but not very fruitful for theory construction).
For philosophy, there is a big task waiting which is only gradually being fulfilled (by people like Daniel Dennett for example): the task of taking scientific results and trying to integrate them into our understanding of life, meaning, and visions of the future. After all, inquiry into the nature of ultimate reality and the meaning of life are one of the main goals of philosophy.
As you will soon notice, I will often quote posts from the blog overcomingbias.com (especially those by Eliezer Yudkowsky (EY). This is because the thinking done there closely parallels my own and in this way I can quickly convey ideas I have not yet found the time to explicate myself or which are not a central part of my thesis. These posts are a nice way to reduce inferential gap (EY). I guess many disputes in philosophy (and life in general) result from not taking inferential gap into account.
The kind of philosophy I want to do is best described in the essay “How to do philosophy” by Paul Graham. Some important quotes:
Words seem to work, just as Newtonian physics seems to. But you can always make them break if you push them far enough.
I would say that this has been, unfortunately for philosophy, the central fact of philosophy. Most philosophical debates are not merely afflicted by but driven by confusions over words. Do we have free will? Depends what you mean by “free.” Do abstract ideas exist? Depends what you mean by “exist.”
Wittgenstein is popularly credited with the idea that most philosophical controversies are due to confusions over language. I’m not sure how much credit to give him. I suspect a lot of people realized this, but reacted simply by not studying philosophy, rather than becoming philosophy professors.
How did things get this way? Can something people have spent thousands of years studying really be a waste of time? Those are interesting questions. In fact, some of the most interesting questions you can ask about philosophy. The most valuable way to approach the current philosophical tradition may be neither to get lost in pointless speculations like Berkeley, nor to shut them down like Wittgenstein, but to study it as an example of reason gone wrong.
We may be able to do better. Here’s an intriguing possibility. Perhaps we should do what Aristotle meant to do, instead of what he did. The goal he announces in the Metaphysics seems one worth pursuing: to discover the most general truths. That sounds good. But instead of trying to discover them because they’re useless, let’s try to discover them because they’re useful.
I propose we try again, but that we use that heretofore despised criterion, applicability, as a guide to keep us from wondering off into a swamp of abstractions. Instead of trying to answer the question: What are the most general truths? let’s try to answer the question
Of all the useful things we can say, which are the most general?
The test of utility I propose is whether we cause people who read what we’ve written to do anything differently afterward. Knowing we have to give definite (if implicit) advice will keep us from straying beyond the resolution of the words we’re using.
If you liked the quotes, I recommend reading the whole essay, and if you didn’t, I recommend reading it even more.
On the “word issue” addressed by Paul Graham above, three posts by Eliezer Yudkowsky bring much clarity into this issue which still generates so much confused discussion: extensions and intensions, thingspace and conceptspace.
Anyway, the litmus test for knowledge – and philosophy – is this: does it change the way we view the world, our life, and, ultimately and most importantly, the way we act? This is the difference between belief as anticipation controller (EY) and belief in belief (EY).
Another context in which you could view my thesis is worldview building (Aerts, Apostel Et Al. 1994: World Views: From Fragmentation to Integration). For a shorter overview, see the paper An Enduring Philosophical Agenda. Worldview Construction as a Philosophical Method by Clément Vidal.
As to the divide in contemporary philosophy: analytic or continental? – I do not see this distinction applying to my work, as I want to arrive at useful answers (see above). But one could say that I follow the analytic tradition in it’s appreciation of the scientific method and reason, and the continental tradition in my “essayistic” writing style and in addressing existential questions (worldview questions).
My main contention is that the scientific/rational approach is the best way to approach all questions; our best way of gaining knowledge should quite naturally also influence our spirituality, our ethics, our view of the meaning of life and so on; and additionally I will propose that this takes nothing away from the richness of our lives, neither in the spiritual nor intellectual sense.
In my philosophical explorations, Nietzsche will be a constant companion. He has much to say for modern ears, and is, contrary to widely held beliefs, a philosopher firmly in the Enlightenment camp (as opposed to deconstructivist and post-modern readings of him). Nietzsche is first and foremost a truth-seeker, a naturalist, a psychologist, and a rationalist looking closely at questions brushed aside by others. He addresses existential questions such as the meaning of life; and his doctrine, the affirmation of this world and even more strongly: every single moment of this life – finding its peak in the philosophy of eternal recurrence – will have an important role to play in sections three and four of my thesis.
Antony, L.M. (ed) Philosophers Without Gods. Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life. Oxford University Press, 2007
Bunge, M.A. and Mahner, M. Über die Natur der Dinge. Materialismus und Wissenschaft. Hirzel, 2004
Colli, G. and Montinari, M. Friedrich Nietzsche. Sämtliche Werke. Kritische Studienausgabe. de Gruyter, 1967-77
Drescher, G.L. Good and Real. Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics. MIT Press, 2006
Young, J. Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Religion. Cambridge University Press, 2006
Below you will find the general outline of my thesis, which I do not expect to change very much anymore. Please note that this outline does not represent the final weighting of issues correctly: while I write a lot here in section one (rationality) this is only because I have already done a lot of reading in this area.
Section one and section two will actually only be expository in the thesis – they will set the scene for section three and section four, where the actual work will be done.
I think the major obstacle to the widespread adoption of rationality is not that people wouldn’t like to be rational – it is just that they fear that things will be taken away from them (dearly held beliefs for instance). The adoption of the rational method is first of all a psychological problem; it requires a psychological solution.
To this end I hope to show that a fully rational person can also live in a world filled with wonder and compassion (sections three and four); thus helping to reduce widespread resistance (Bloom, P. and Weisberg, D. S. Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science. Science, 316, 996-99, 2007) to a rational way of thinking and living.
I have included some important pertaining references in “Further Reading” at the end of each section. Additionally I have included a “Primer Track” at the end of each section containing one or two core documents which will get you up to speed on the major themes of the section quickly.
A more detailed view of the literature I am reading and thinking about will be made available at a later time.
Section 1: In Tune with Reality. Being Rational and adopting the Scientific Method.
The core view expressed in this section is “Erkenntnisoptimismus” – optimism concerning the knowability of the world, probably best expressed by David Hilbert (Wikipedia): “We must know. We will know”.
Of course, there are limiting results like the Halting Problem (Wikipedia): but this also constitutes knowledge (the same holds for no-go theorems (Wikipedia) in Quantum Mechanics; knowledge about limits which no one can transcend.
There is no alternative to rational and empirically informed inquiry when aspiring to attain knowledge. This does not mean excluding the subjective! It only means that the subjective is also best explored rationally and empirically.
History has shown what happens if you concentrate too much on empiricism (no theory: Alchemy) or too much on pure thought (no experiments: Scholasticism); the results were found wanting. So a close coupling between rationality and empiricism is the way to go.
I will argue for the adoption of rationality in all circumstances of life. There are people who oppose this idea, and Greg Egan (an Australian author) characterizes some of these groups wonderfully in his book Distress (Amazon); these groups may not be organized in the real world (contrary to the book), but they exist nonetheless:
- Culture First: Deconstructivists, Postmodernists, Relativists
- Mystical Renaissance: The “woo” (Wikipedia) crowd. Not knowing is revered as cool.
Humble Science!: (quite a lot of people actually, even some scientists): they think that there is some magical border beyond which no inquiry is permitted; but who should set this border? It boils down to censorship and authoritarianism. The intention of course is to protect group biases (ethnic, religious etc) from science; related to “Humble Science!” is the “separate magisteria” group; a distinction which is untenable. Two posts on overcomingbias.com outline the separate-magisteria fallacy quite clearly: Outside the Laboratory and Religion’s Claim to be Non-Disprovable.
Exposing all questions to rational inquiry does not mean that everything will be solved at some future time and that life will become dull. On the contrary: in the formal sciences for instance, we have inexhaustibility implied by Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem. To quote from Torkel Franzen’s book “Inexhaustibility: A Non-Exhaustive Treatment“:
This positive implication of the incompleteness theorem is that we have a way of
extending any system of axioms for mathematics that we recognize as correct to a
logically stronger system of axioms that we will also recognize as correct, namely
by adding the statement that the old system is consistent as a new axiom. That the
resulting system is logically stronger than the old system means that it proves
everything that the old system proves, and more besides. Thus our mathematical
knowledge would appear to be inexhaustible in the sense that it cannot be pinned
down in any one formal axiomatic theory.
This is good news: mathematics won’t get boring! Conceptspace is vast (EY). The more we know, the more we can combine, the more daring our explorations into the mindscape (Amazon; expression coined by Rudy Rucker).
Knowing more is not only good for thinking; it is essential for acting. For individuals, knowledge means having a hopefully good mental model of the world: the more complex the model, the more intricate its details, the closer to the truth – the more potential for action.
- a full scale adoption of naturalism (SEP).
- the recognition that our cognition is embodied (Wikipedia) and situated (Wikipedia); and that we are not evolved for reasoning (Jonathan Haidt at edge.org). This all means we must be extra careful! There are so many cognitive biases (Wikipedia).
Arguments, not authority, should count. (EY) That is also the reason why science sometimes progresses slower than it could. Authority – in science in the form of being well known because of prolific or exceptional research and publication work – also acts as a filter against information overflow. We can’t read all the articles being published in our field – the name of the author often functions as a guarantee of quality. On the other hand, one could miss an important idea this way, discarding an outlandish sounding but maybe correct idea just because it is not backed by authority. (We will see if Science 2.0 offers a solution to this problem. This is just a remark and will not concern me in my thesis.)
Reductionism (EY) is not very popular these days, but I think it is a principle which should not be disgarded. We should discern two levels: the ontological versus the epistemological (other distinctions are possible too). Epistemology is concerned with the question of knowledge, and is thus deeply related to understanding. We can only understand systems at the right level of abstraction – not too low, not too high. But understanding, happening in minds and thus part of our being, is only a small subset of all being (the ontological realm). And in the ontological realm, we should be quite satisfied with being reductionist. All else leads to vague concepts like emergence, which are only semantic stop signs (EY). I think complexity science will shed much light on these issues, showing how complex systems result from simple laws. We can then call this phenomenon weak emergence (Mark Bedau), which is quite acceptable as it does not introduce additional ontological levels.
What about traditional criteria for science and rationality, like logic or falsifiability? Deductive logic is only a constraint, it says nothing about which premises to adopt. Falsification is also only a constraint, it serves to weed out false theories, but underdetermination (Wikipedia) of theories by evidence sometimes leaves too many possibilities remaining. We must use other criteria to decide which theory we will assign more credence. Nonetheless, the contributions to rationality by Popper are significant, and pancritical rationalism (developed by Bartley, in Retreat to Commitment) is certainly a good contender for a first potshot at a comprehensive theory of rationality.
- Bayes’ theorem (EY) and confirmation theory (SEP) offer a very intriguing approach to rationality; more generally, I think computational learning theory (COLT) has much to offer to studies of rationality.
Other important principles of rationality are Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason (which of course leads down the troubled paths of causality, which will concern us some more in section three); furthermore the Copernican Principle (non specialness of one’s own situation) and symmetry and invariance principles; see also the principle of indifference (Wikipedia) or the maximum entropy principle (Wikipedia).
Occam’s razor must also be mentioned as a fruitful heuristic; Solomonoff induction can lend a more formal air to Occam’s razor. An AIXI (Marcus Hutter) is a super intelligent agent which implements all this stuff, but is, of course, intractable (but the general model is quite interesting). Occam’s razor is often applied wrongly (for instance it is often falsely invoked against the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics). This is well explained in the post decoherence is simple (EY); and further elucidated in Belief in the Implied Invisible (EY).
All in all, I think the philosophical discussion of rationality will profit very much from research done in agent-based artificial intelligence and machine learning; the last three points above demonstrate this.
One big question is: is instrumental rationality enough? That is, having fixed goals, being rational means optimizing your ways of attaining these goals. But we humans are often not sure which goals we should pursue – happiness, spirituality, knowledge? Can all three be attained at once? (I think so!)
We must apply our knowledge and rationality recursively to define our goals and utility functions. What do we really want? This can best be found out by knowing what we are; our goals can then best be reached by also knowing how the world works. This leads to the concept of wisdom: Nick Maxwell has some interesting papers and books on this; he calls his approach aim-oriented empiricism.
Finally, a word on truth. If one speaks of rational inquiry, the goal is knowledge (traditionally defined as “justified true belief”).
Controversial are the words
- justified: here I adopt the pancritical stance; in the end, there can be no justification – see the Münchhausen Trilemma (Wikipedia): Dogmatism, Infinite Regress or the Vicious Circle threaten – so one should settle for the level of knowledge which works. Problem solving and usefulness are the criteria that count; call me a pragmatist (Wikipedia) if you like. The Trilemma was given it’s modern form by Hans Albert in his “Traktat der kritischen Vernunft”, although the thoughts date back to antiquity;
- and the word truth: so much has been written on this subject that simply saying that the main theories are the redundance, the coherence and the correspondence theory of truth does not do justice to the academic discussion. Let me just say this: while I think that the correspondence theory of truth captures what we mean by truth best, a quite sufficient account is given – you might have guessed – by Eli Yudkowsky: A Naive View of Truth. One does not need to know more.
I have rambled on about rationality too much already. At the end of the day, what practices should we adopt?
The most important guiding principle for us should be scientific freedom. Scientists should be allowed to explore concept space at leisure: one does not know beforehand which theory will work out. But in all this, we should be very careful not to let bad reasoning creep in. Bad reasoning is poison for science, as for everything else. And why is it so hard to detect bad reasoning? Read the answer here: How an algorithm feels from inside (EY).
www.overcomingbias.com Start here.
Albert, H. Traktat über kritische Vernunft. Mohr, 1991
Audi, R. The Architecture of Reason. The Structure and Substance of Rationality. Oxford University Press, 2001
Barrett, L., Dunbar, R. and Lycett, J. Human Evolutionary Psychology. Palgrave, 2002
Buggle, F. Denn sie wissen nicht, was sie glauben. Oder warum man redlicherweise nicht mehr Christ sein kann. Eine Streitschrift. Alibri, 1992
Bunge, M.A. Chasing Reality. Strife Over Realism. University of Toronto Press, 2006
Jaynes, E.T. Probability Theory. The Logic of Science. Cambridge University Press, 2003
Jeffrey, R.C. The Logic of Decision. University of Chicago Press, 1983
Miller, D. Critical Rationalism. A Restatement and Defence. Open Court Publishing, 1994
Niiniluoto, I. Critical Scientific Realism. Oxford University Press, 1999
Nozick, R. The Nature of Rationality. Princeton University Press, 1993
Russell, S.J. and Norvig, P. Artificial Intelligence. A Modern Approach. Prentice Hall International, 2003
Vollmer, G. Evolutionäre Erkenntnistheorie. Hirzel, 1975
Section 2: Platonic Relations. Structural Scientific Realism.
One of the central questions in the philosophy of science is realism (SEP). Not in the postmodern sense of “is there reality at all?” (whatever that question should mean) and the like, but in the sense of in what degree one should take one’s theories at face value; how much ontological commitment one should make versus how much skeptic restriction one should exercise.
Scientific realism has been the issue of hot debate in the past few years, and one of the central contenders is structural realism, henceforth SR. SR addresses problems of hardcore empiricism (which can drift into unhealthy variants of anti-realism quite quickly) and traditional “substance/category” ontological realisms (which are very problematic). SR also solves the word/concept problem mentioned above. To put it most succinctly: relations exist, not attributes. Peter Turney, an AI/computational linguistics researcher, has arrived at similar conclusions. To quote from his blog:
I am slowly coming to believe that (1) the distinction between attributes and relations is fundamental to many different fields, (2) attributes are typically considered primary in some sense, whereas relations are secondary, yet (3) it is actually relations that are primary and attributes that are secondary. In fact, I suspect that attributes are simply a convenient fiction.
I endorse ontological structural realism (SEP). In SR, invariance emerges as a central concept.
Ladyman, J. ‘What Is Structural Realism?’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 29A(3), 409-424. 1998
Alternatively, the SEP article is a good introduction too (also by Ladyman).
Giere, R. N. Explaining Science. A Cognitive Approach. University Of Chicago Press, 1988
Ladyman, J. ‘What’s Really Wrong with Constructive Empiricism? Van Fraassen and the Metaphysics of Modality’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51, 837-856. 2000
Ladyman, J. ‘What Is Structural Realism?’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 29A(3), 409-424. 1998
Ladyman, J.; Ross, D.; Spurrett, D. and Collier, J. Every Thing Must Go. Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford University Press, 2007
McArthur, D. ‘Recent Debates Over Structural Realism’, Journal for General Philosophy of Science 37(2), 209-224. 2006
McCabe, G. ‘Structural Realism and the Mind’, Manuscript. 2006
Reck, E. H. and Price, M. P. ‘Structures And Structuralism In Contemporary Philosophy Of Mathematics’, Synthese 125(3), 341-383. 2000
Worrall, J. ‘Structural Realism. The Best of Both Worlds?’, Dialectica 43(1-2), 99-124. 1989
Section 3: Obsidian Spires. Mathematical Explorations of Ultimate Reality.
Here the core work of my thesis begins; chiseling away at human biases, we will catch first glimpses of a universe revealed to be more wondrous than our most exotic dreams. Insight gained here will show the riches a scientific approach to the fundamental questions we can pose may yield (theories of everything, many worlds, getting rid of time, mind body problem).
The central claim is that the universe is a mathematical structure (the argumentation is reinforced by the more traditional philosophy of science of section two). Critics often react with puns like “so when you eat something, what kind of mathematics is that?”- this seems to stem from a misunderstanding what mathematics is; it is neither abstract symbols nor scribblings on a blackboard.
Mathematics is ultimately about relations, patterns, structure. When we refer in physical theories, we see that the referents obey these relations. Under ever closer analysis, we notice that only relations can be known; and to avoid additional metaphysical fluff, the ontic commitment is the next move – reality is only about relations between entities. (And you can discard the relata in the final move, although this point still needs some more elaboration; think of a platonic Universal Turing Machine as an intuition pump).
The next two years I will hopefully be occupied by thinking about the fascinating ideas of these people:
I have commented on Max Tegmark’s paper on my blog.
Ideas found here resound well with Nietzsche’s metaphysics, especially the “Eternal Recurrence”. A focus will be on mechanist theses (in accordance with the reductionist approach favored here).
Much thought in the philosophy of mathematics (SEP) can be made fruitful in this section. As in section two, I favor a structuralist account – this is mathematical structuralism now (Synthese, gated); the only move which is consistent: if math and matter collapse, the philosophy must be the same too.
Tegmark, M. The Mathematical Universe 0704.0646/gr-qc, 2007
Drescher, G.L. Good and Real. Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics. MIT Press, 2006
Digital Physics (Wikipedia)
Barbour, J. The End of Time. The Next Revolution in Our Understanding of the Universe. Phoenix House, 1999
Dainton, B. Time and Space. Acumen, 2001
Deutsch, D. The Fabric of Reality. Penguin Books, 1997
Pearl, J. Causality. Models, Reasoning, and Inference. Cambridge University Press, 2000
Svozil, K. Computational Universes. Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, Vol. 25(4), pp. 845-859, 2005
Svozil, K. The Church-Turing Thesis as a Guiding Principle for Physics. Calude, C. S., Casti, J. and Dinneen, M. J. (ed.) Unconventional Models of Computation. quant-ph/9710052, Springer, pp. 371-385, 1998
Svozil, K. Set Theory and Physics. Foundations of Physics, Vol. 25, pp. 1541-1560, 1995
Tegmark, M. The Mathematical Universe 0704.0646/gr-qc, 2007
Tegmark, M. Is “The Theory Of Everything” merely the Ultimate Ensemble Theory? Annals of Physics, Vol. 270(1), pp. 1-51, 1998
Wallace, D. Everett and Structure. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, Vol. 34(1), pp. 87-105, 2003
Zuse, K. Rechnender Raum. Elektronische Datenverarbeitung, Vol. 8, pp. 336-344, 1967
Section 4: Mechanism, Minds and Persons.
With “person” I mean an entity in this universe which is the subject of ethical consideration; in Kant’s words: an entity which is an end in itself. Investigations in sections one, two and three show that humans are only a subset of possible persons (although contemporary ethical discourse usually only revolves around humans). Other candidates for persons are aliens (a rather trivial point), Artifical Intelligences (when they fulfill certain criteria, like AGIs (Wikipedia); this probably being more controversial); animals etc.
The above results follow from the identity “mind = matter = mathematics”; consciousness and qualia are not a prerogative of humans but result from certain matter configurations (read: mathematical relations). In fact, qualia also seem to be a relational property: David Cole has a nice article countering inverted spectrum arguments. See also the article by Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi: Can Machines Be Conscious? (IEEE Spectrum Special) and Consciousness as Integrated Information (also IEEE Spectrum Special). The theory proposed by Tononi merges well with the mathematical universe.
Many other surprising results will follow, which I will write about later in more detail. For a first take, EY has a good summary about these things in his posts on timeless identity (yes, time goes out the window; to be more precise: temporal phenomena are not denied, it is just asserted that there is no time independent of objects; time becomes relational; physicists can think of a block universe, though there is more to say on the matter), living in the multiverse and thou art physics.
On the “free will problem”: if you’re skipping the links, take at least a sneak peak at the three diagrams in the last post above (thou art physics); they should bring more clarity than most philosophical work on this subject.
Also of interest is the material on free will by Tom Clark. A little hint: free will is not a good thing (it is just needed by religion to get around the theodicy problem). That what we should strive for is optimal will: don’t you think it is better to do good things (making ethical decisions which bring happiness to other persons as well as oneself) versus being free to do bad things? Achieving optimal will is a difficult process; but adopting the method of rationality will help you a long way in getting there.
If all these considerations seem strange, be advised that Buddhism and Taoism have come to similar (not identical) conclusions as far back as 500 BC, maybe not dressed in fancy words as “matter configuration” and the like, and of course not considering AIs, but in metaphysical content the ideas are very compatible to those expressed here (I will expand on the differences at a later time). These ideas just go against deeply-entrenched Western prejudices; prejudices which have come in conflict with science and should be abandoned.
One thing which I want to say explicitly because of it’s importance is this: there are no essences or substances (Wikipedia). An essence is a cognitive bias of the most pernicious sort; an Aristotelian blunder which was forgivable but momentous in the history of philosophy. Revealing it as such will lead to the solution of many seemingly paradoxical puzzles of science and philosophy.
This all also raises questions about rights and duties of persons. Duties should scale proportionately with intelligence, while rights can generally be considered constant (although I have not yet reflected enough on this issue).
A core right of all persons should be self-ownership (Max More).
Clark, T. ‘Fear of Mechanism. A Compatibilist Critique of “The Volitional Brain’, Journal of Consciousness Studies 6(8-9), 279-293, 1999
More, M. ‘Self-Ownership. A Core Transhuman Virtue’, 1997
Smullyan, R. M. The Tao Is Silent, HarperSanFrancisco, 1977
Baumeister, R. F. Evil. Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. Henry Holt and Company, 1997
Broome, J. Weighing Lives. Oxford University Press, 2004
Clark, T. ‘Fear of Mechanism. A Compatibilist Critique of “The Volitional Brain’. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, 279-293, 1999
Dennett, D. C. Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting. Clarendon Press, 1984
Flanagan, O. The Really Hard Problem. Meaning in a Material World. MIT Press, 2007
Hofstadter, D. and Dennett, D. C. The Mind’s I. Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul. Basic Books, 1981
Kolak, D. I Am You. The Metaphysical Foundations for Global Ethics. Springer, 2004
Kurzweil, R. The Age of Spiritual Machines. When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Viking, 1999
Metzinger, T. Being No One. The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity. MIT Press, 2003
More, M. Self-Ownership. A Core Transhuman Virtue. 1997
Nozick, R. Philosophical Explanations. Harvard University Press, 1981
Nozick, R. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Basic Books, 1974
Parfit, D. Reasons and Persons. Oxford University Press, 1984
Pereboom, D. Living Without Free Will. Cambridge University Press, 2001
Singer, P. Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 1993
Smullyan, R. M. Who Knows? A Study of Religious Consciousness. Indiana University Press, 2003
Smullyan, R. M. The Tao Is Silent. HarperSanFrancisco, 1977
Strawson, G. ‘Realistic Monism. Why Physicalism entails Panpsychism’. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 13, 3-31, 2006
Trakakis, N. Whither Morality in a Hard Determinist World? Sorites, 19, 14-40, 2007
Watts, A. The Way of Zen. Pantheon Books, 1957