Jordan Hall’s Civium — Hacking the deep code of metaculture

Jakub Simek
Opaque Renaissance
Published in
8 min readAug 29, 2020

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I am quite excited by Civium, the new project of Jordan Hall, one of the thinkers that came up with the Game B idea.

Jordan Hall worked for and founded some deep tech startups behind innovations such as MP3 and DivX. He is also a co-founder of Neurohacker Collective, a producer of probably the most holistic nootropic stack on the market. He worked also on some blockchain projects and currently he is interested in “hacking the deep code of metaculture”.

I think he means finding underlying protocols for dynamic and seamless cooperation of very different people, and at scale. A quality of cooperation and coherence, not unlike a well-functioning crew sailing a boat at sea or a prehistoric tribe, but without knowing the people well.

This may sound too abstract and overambitious, but bear with me. Jordan Hall has a long-time interest in complexity science, and last year he got into some deep discussions with a cognitive scientist John Vervaeke who got famous for his lecture series Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. And this year he added to his explorations of psycho-technologies another interesting thinker, Gregg Henriques and his Tree of Knowledge (TOK) theory that explains culture as a kind of meta-behavior that differentiates people from animals through an ability to justify their behavior to others and themselves.

Now the quite ambitious mission is to arrive at metaculture. Or one could say a universal culture proper. Culture is a kind of acceptable range of behavior for some community — a fractally local subculture. But we don’t have a universal and global culture proper. This is obvious for anyone with just a bit of multi-cultural experience — some customs, behaviors and expressions are perfectly normal for one community or subculture, and repulsive for other.

Three aspects of ontological design

I find the Civium project somehow adjacent to similar efforts, such as The Flow Genome project by Jamie Wheal. The experience of flow is central to success of new ventures such as building a startup, it is also related to high trust between co-founders. Civium has a similar objective, but extends this type of thinking and a focus on psycho-technologies, into three deeper domains, that can be together called ontological design.

Jordan Hall and John Vervaeke in their discussions see three joint projects emerging: a meta-psychotechnology, a sociotechnology and “a religion that is not a religion”. Civium is mostly related to sociotechnology, which can be viewed as a third-person (objective) instance of this complex effort.

While meta-psychotechnology has a character of first-person view (subjective), and “a religion that is not a religion” has a character of a transcendental operator between the two, or a second-person perspective (intersubjective).

Religion that is not a religion and the will to wisdom

I have written about the effort of building “a religion that is not a religion” and contrasted it with Alexander Bard’s vision of Syntheism, or “creating god in the internet age”. He says that we need a bold vision, and innovative discussions (e.g. anti-debates, dialogos, circling and dialectic) are not enough for something novel to emerge.

I connect this type of reasoning to Peter Thiel who lacks bold moonshots in the current culture and wants “to get back to the future”, and Jean-Pierre Dupuy who explains the need to “bootstrap the desired future”. Mariana Mazzucato explores similar moonshot thinking.

More practically, I wanted to see how different is the effort to build “a religion that is not a religion” from the various DARPA efforts to build super-soldiers, and IARPA efforts e.g. around super-forcasters (collective intelligence) and hybrid human-AI collaboration (symbiotic intelligence).

Alexander Bard talks about the will to intelligence as a successor to Nietzsche’s will to power. I think another level could be the will to wisdom. I feel the difference is that the will to intelligence can be weaponized, but the will to wisdom shouldn’t be possible to weaponize. And the difference is in my opinion in the opaque and unpredictable character of wisdom, or what Alexander Bard with Andrew Sweeny, in their discussions, call “crazy wisdom” of tantra.

Here I see the abstraction of Newcomb’s paradox of “one-boxing” (taking the opaque box only) as central, which can be summed up by Žižekian example of “I would rather not to”. I based my idea of Opaque Renaissance on this example of choosing a meta-rational solution as opposed to a rational one. Dupuy argues that this Newcomb’s paradox is just a more abstract version of Weber’s Calvinist paradox of predestination. It is also related to the story of Abraham and Isaac and the idea of succession of ever more abstract sacrifices.

Newcomb’s paradox also illustrates the ability to shift paradigms and say no to the current most salient paradigm and thus allow for what John Vervaeke calls reciprocal opening as opposed to the reciprocal closing and over-optimizing on a limited set of incentives and perspectives.

From meta-psychotechnology to metaculture

John Vervaeke in discussion with Jordan Hall and Gregg Henriques explores the notion of fellowship and agape as a basis of religion. Jordan Hall adds the importance of commons as opposed to both the markets and the state. The commons are almost absent nowadays and we rely too much on markets and the state to solve our problems. And many of those problems are caused by the deterioration of commons.

Commons are related more to the chaotic and complex domains where innovation happens, while markets and the state are related more to the complicated and obvious domains. But I see this four systems in the Cynefin Framework as parts of a circular process of building an ever growing stack of psycho- and socio- technologies. A precursor to steam engine is first created just as a toy and art, and thousand years later it is exapted to serve in mining as a custom-built product. Later it is standardized and mass produced as a commercial product, as it finally becomes an obvious commodity. Here I am using Wardley Mapping that distinguishes a circular process of innovation from genesis stage through custom-built, product and a commodity.

So I don’t see commons as an alternative to the markets or the state. I see them as an integral part of ever changing process and an engine for innovations that can be later exapted by markets and the state to serve as a stack for further process in this accelerating OODA loops.

Metaconcerts and ephemeral groups

Gregory J. E. Rawlins in his book The Human Swarm explains how we are possibly just at the beginning of novel forms cooperation between humans facilitated by digital technology and internet. He calls these events of global cooperation metaconcerts and argues that some will last only for a lifespan of a fly. Once the common objective is accomplished, the metaconcert dissolves. I think this idea can be connected to the Forrest Landry’s project of ephemeral group process and dynamics of small groups.

Gregg Henriques has his Tree of Knowledge System (TOK) that tries to provide a unified framework for psychology and position it in the other emergencies in big history — matter, life, behavior and culture. Psychology deals with human culture that is based on justification systems facilitated by language.

Agriculture and written language created the current Game A. Game B could be facilitated by an interactive language of internet and a new metaculture and consciousness of a super-organism, a human swarm.

So Jordan Hall together with John Vervaeke explore the TOK and ideas such as the adjacent possible (TAP) to contemplate the possibility of metaculture. They connect it with the infinite game idea of James Carse. They also use process philosophy and the spirit of American pragmatism and try to avoid utopian thinking.

I would argue that it is a mistake to avoid utopias, as I see them only as hyperobjects and not perfections. So, the emergence of metaculture could be in fact the rise of a culture proper — an underlying protocol for subcultures to collaborate on a new level as a super-organism.

Gregg Henriques argues that this metaculture should nurture values such as dignity, wellbeing and integrity.

I would add that to nurture reciprocal opening we need to reverse the cycle of consumption, exploitation, adaptation and to arrive at novel values, we need to use novel verbs such as prosuming, imploiting and exapting. Instead of interactive production and consumption (prosuming) I came up with a word syngesting that describes digesting pain and synthesizing it into something beautiful.

So I use it as syngesting, imploiting and exapting. Imploiting is Alexander Bard’s term, and it is the opposite of exploiting and it means repairing, regenerating, postponing pleasure and is connected with tantric practices. Exapting is the opposite of adapting, and it is using serendipity for novel uses and innovations (Dave Snowden explains how dinosaurs had wings with feathers for sexual display and only learnt to fly by falling off trees — the wings were exapted for flying by lucky accidents.)

Sociotechnology for regenerating trust

Bonnita Roy talks about her source code analysis of trust and sees trust as emerging thanks to complex feed loops. This means it doesn’t follow simpler positive or negative feedback loops, but is diminished when inequalities in outcomes and skill grow. And these show up when thresholds for action are lowered and people actually engage in collective action. And thresholds for action are lowered when there is high trust. So Bonnita Roy sees the process as valves going up and down, and trust as something that needs to be constantly replenished. Because trust decreases with naturally rising inequalities of outcome and skill as people engage in effective collective action.

Some time ago I wrote about a need to build something between charter cities and charter schools — charter communities. I meant intentional communities like our Sote Hub, the rural startup hub we cofounded in Kenya. And was motivated with the pressing and yet unresolved question how to increase trust between cofounders and their effectiveness.

I see Civium as a similar idea to create spaces for regeneration. It is connected to a quite recent ideas and movements such as rural decelerators and modern monasteries.

So meta-psychotechnology should serve as an operating system or a software, and Civium should serve as a hardware for creating regenerative communities that operate on metaculture.

Jordan Hall says that he is hopeful because we have eight billion minds and six billion people online. So the chances for inventing and exapting something on a trajectory to metaculture are increasing.

I wrote about the need to create radically cheaper ways to register startups e.g. for 1€, to build smartphones that cost 10€, laptops that cost 100€ and digital fabricators that cost 1000€ and smart homes that cost 10,000€. Also, we would need to reinvent home appliances to be much more energy friendly, use circular economy, and we would also need cheaper sources of energy and storage. This is just an illustration of magnitudes. For example, thanks to cheap “dumb phones” mobile banking (M-Pesa) was invented in Kenya in 2007. Our banks in Slovakia plan to start doing instant payments in 2022, so 15 years after Kenyan M-Pesa.

I find Civium very inspiring and feel that the problem of regenerating trust is central and can be tackled with environment more conducive to human development and flourishing. I just wanted to share some thoughts and ideas that I picked and connected with recent discussions between Jordan Hall, John Vervaeke and Gregg Henriques.

You can support my writing and videos on these topics and my small podcasting project Between Ideas & Subcultures through Patreon or PayPal.

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Jakub Simek
Opaque Renaissance

I cofounded Sote Hub in Kenya and am interested in technological progressivism, complexity, mental models and memetic tribes.