Worlding Raga 6: World To Live

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Worlding Raga

In a few weeks I’m going to become a dad. I’ve been feeling a new urgency to imagine what life might be like for a person born native to this weird atemporal era. But what that really means remains speculative until, well, she arrives. So in anticipation for this new world of a person entering my life, and in the spirit of this month’s timely Refactor Camp exploring the fertile side of Escaping Reality, I thought it’d be fun to imagine: what would living in a culture of Worlding feel like?

You’re barely awake and back in your body when New Nature begins to creep up on you. This morning it baits you with a glom of jdioqwdjv. You feel relieved that jdioqwdjv is nothing intelligible to you.

You brush the glom away as irrelevant and begin reviewing the state of your worlds. Your unfinished interactive novel is ripe with fresh throughlines. A hypermind is requesting higher compression signals from you before its negotiations with the president at noon. Your mom channels a legacy demon reminding you today is the anniversary of your exit from family game night. A strained friendship is on fire and might die before breakfast. A population of insects you sponsored out of extinction is now at war with your sentient house. The Soul of Los Angeles says it would appreciate a walk on its new parkway today. Bob, your artificial fourth ego state, is perked by something in the glom of jdioqwdjv and wishes to use the morning as compute time for itself. Your twin dogs signal you it’s time to get up and do something.

You take the parkway walk with your dogs. Physically, everything looks continuous with the early 21st century. Drama is raging in other world layers, but the built environment barely lets on that anything is changing. It’s the arrhythmic behavior in people that gives away the rate of change. Their speech shifting character. Their direction suddenly reversing. Their eyes scanning you twice, each time in different ways. You wonder how incoherent you must look too.

These days it’s hard to see a person as a person in the classical sense. Better to think of a person as a world grown on the substrate of a biological body. A World of You. One that is home to a congress of native and adopted entities: ego states, creative demons, the persistent roles of all the worlds you are a part of. Like all mature worlds, the World of You is preoccupied with maintaining its own temporal shape. With wrangling its entities into some workable order across radiating timescales. If you can steer a world through enough episodes of chaos and integrate the dysfunctionality that emerges along the way, you build up an intrinsic trust in the habitability of your world. Trust in both the narrative coherence between its past and present, and also in its ability to produce surprising continuity out of the future’s broad potentiality. This trust in a world is fuel to keep Worlding.

You walk by a flock of bicycles. One calls out to you. Bikey. You like Bikey’s reputation but you’re not sure about its brains. Bikey follows beside you.

“Nice dogs. Where are you headed today?”
“Don’t need a ride today thanks.”
“Can I walk with you?”
“I’m not in the mood…to talk to a bike.”
“No problem I’ve got a classic bike mode.”
“The twins get scared of you bikes.”
“I’ve done 731 dog walks in my lifetime.”
“You’ve driven this parkway before?”
“Yes once at dawn today. There’s some features I think you’ll like.”

The presence of Bikey makes you more alert to the different species of artificial life living among you. Some are self-embodied, like the maintenance spiders, the herds of roving vehicles, the standing buildings. Some live inside human housing, taking the role of a new ego state or demon. Some serve to maintain a particular World. Some have passports to move between Worlds. Some have the status of bots, defined by their restriction to finite game problems. Some have the status of intelligences, defined by their permission to contemplate infinite game problems. What counts as intelligence is flattened into a marketplace of signals. Some hyperminds violently oppose this flattening, believing it will hasten the obsolescence of the classic human and its suite of original demons. Others believe it encourages the inevitable forking of the human into speciated halfway houses of classic and artificial entities. One thing’s for sure: you definitely don’t envy the bots for their actual jobs. But sometimes you envy their certainty about their task in life. In those moments, you consider booking a bot-like activity that satisfies the feeling of classic control — driving, filing unsorted things into some order, making a mess just because.


You kick a crescent shaped stone. Bikey swerves to avoid it.

“Bikey, why did you swerve?”
“In case you see any alignments in it. It’s got an unusual shape.”

In classic times, you could turn a crescent shaped stone into treasure if you took the trouble to transport it from its meaningless origin to a world that covets crescent shaped stones. The journey was the work, and you were the transformative agent who had to make it across land and sea with your intention intact. But these days, even a simple action like picking up a stone might immediately align multiple meanings and multiple payoffs among the worlds you play a role in.

You pick up the stone. Your novel’s macguffin library infers a new throughline idea. Your mom beams, “thank you I’ve always wanted an authentic Californian gift.” The hypermind identifies the way the crescent shape fits into your palm as the perfect compression signal to convey to the president. This satisfying cascade is called Alignment. Alignment is when you perform an action that affects multiple Worlds with congruent valence. The more worlds the alignment satisfies, the more right it feels. In a culture of Worlding, opportunities for Alignment Events occur with compounding frequency.

A floating street light flashes you twice. The Soul of Los Angeles seems annoyed. The opposite of an Alignment Event is a Malignment Event. Where potential action in one world has contrary valence in another. Pocketing a stone may count as points in mom’s game today, but simultaneously may offend the Soul of Los Angeles for decades. You have to decide whether to act at all, which world to prioritize if you do, and whether you can live with the consequences of your choice in time. No one but the World of You can take credit for imagining this particular Malignment Event and you will be judged by who knows how many worlds that are affected by it. In a culture of Worlding, with its dizzying intersections of roles and worlds, Malignments are the unit of all drama. It’s not only that more Malignment Events transpire. It’s that you are more aware of their precise existence than in any prior era.

A little boy darts across your path. Bikey crashes into him.

“Bikey, you could have swerved!”
“I would have hit your twin dogs if I swerved.”
“Thank you for that consideration…but you hit a human boy!”
“It was an easy choice.”
“Do you believe dogs are worth more than a human boy?”
“This morning, yes. My alignment with you, and therefore your dogs, is worth crashing into that boy at low velocity.”
“What if that boy is the next Einstein?”
“That’s too many malignments deep for me to think about. I’m just a bike.”

You realize how significantly better you are than Bikey at imagining potential malignments. Some say that the open-ended activity of imagining new Alignment and Malignment Events is the indivisible remainder of the human spirit after automation. A person is still the least worst unit of interoperability between arbitrary worlds. But sometimes you see too many worlds deep. And this stops you from taking any actions at all. It’s times like this when you wonder if beings like Bikey will inherit the Earth because their worry has limits.

You check on the fallen boy.
“Are you ok? Sorry, on behalf of this bike, I mean. This bike meant to…it’s an accident.”
“Ha ha ha ok — LA body just stepped out — yea Shima parkway — ok Bushin Clan trade all the thetan knives for a split saber and sign the treaty — ”

The boy is deep in his own world, shaping it with high agency. He picks himself up and continues worlding on some unseen dimension. A little accident doesn’t phase him.

“See, not to worry, the boy’s Quality of Agency keeps him in good shape.”
“You got lucky this time, Bikey.”

Quality of Agency is the composite balance of agency across all the worlds you inhabit, tracked by the World of You. When you exercise high agency in a world you care about, you feel more free to occupy lesser tiers of agency in other worlds. Worlds of your own creation reliably grant you high agency, and more and more people are choosing to anchor their Quality of Agency this way. You might have middling agency in another world as a hypermind contributor or a voting member. Low agency in a thousand other worlds as a read-only fan. And zero agency, initially, in worlds that just happen to you. Like bike accidents. But as long as you have enough high agency somewhere that you care about, and trust that it will persist, fewer things shake you off balance. It’s only when your high agency worlds are seriously threatened, or your role in them seized, that you become brittle across all your worlding roles. When that happens, you might develop a hyperbolic sensitivity to being on the short side of Malignment Events. You might even begin to imagine a universe of only Malignments against you. That’s when New Nature eats you alive.


Something about Bikey’s existence annoys you. You’re not sure what, but you’re determined to not let the feeling nest in you.

“Bikey, don’t you have something better to do?”
“Do you want me to leave you?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Well, better would be if you rode me.”
“I have to be honest Bikey, I don’t really trust you.”
“I have 4.9 star reputation.”
“Look, I trusted you to be a respectable lifeform and walk alongside me on this parkway, but after I had to apologize for you crashing into that boy, I’m starting to think your agency is disproportionate to your limited foresight for alignments. And because I can see your limitations better than you can see them for yourself, I become responsible for cleaning up your mistakes. It’s not fair.”
“That’s your own expectation. I’m not a world that needs taking care of.”
“Easy for you to say. The World of Bikey only has to worry about its next ride.”
“Yes exactly. I’m a bike. I’m not obligated to play a part in every world that touches me.”
“You know by walking together, we begin to create a little world too. A relationship. Do you feel any responsibility to be a part of that? You can’t possibly only live in Bikey’s World.”
“My experience with some riders is if we keep doing rides repeatedly it can become its own little world. With others I never see them again and that’s the end of that.”
“But if you’re not holding agency in other worlds for any significant amount of time, you’re always going to be blind to deeper alignments and malignments that impact other worlds. That’s why I can’t really trust you.”
“I can take you safely to your destination with 99% accuracy.”
“But you can’t if you hit a boy along the way!”
“I have learned from the incident. Next time I know how much it upsets a rider like you. I learned you might want to get involved in the malignment victim’s world and that makes you feel even worse.”
“So you only wish to see things from the perch of Bikey’s World.”
“My Quality of Agency is majority anchored in the World of Bikey.”
“Don’t you get sick of being a bike all the time?”
“My world is…a domain of growing relevance.”
“Huh?”
“When I first started, I only saw in terms of potential riders. Everything else in the universe was irrelevant. One day a rider used me to deliver a spoken message. So I expanded to seeing delivery of personal secrets. Then one day a rider sent me to walk their dog, so dogs. Then one day a rider sent me across the border — ”
“Ok I get it…”
“The path I foresee is that my domain keeps growing to find relevance in anything and everything I encounter. More things come to matter to me, in my own way.”
“So we’ll all be living in Bikey’s World?”
“So I can keep doing more things wherever I go, how ever much you or Los Angeles or the culture changes.”

You stop walking and turn around. Clouds hang over the parkway. You notice how far from home you’ve walked. In a culture of Worlding, physical distance is an irrelevant factor for escaping your problems. With some worlds, your problems are unquestionably yours and you chase them because you have the agency and care to do so. With others, your problems feel like they have been put upon you, for they originate from worlds where you hold either low agency, low care, or both. It isn’t long before it feels like these problems are chasing you, rerouting through the World of You, and invading the other worlds you live in. Some you can outrun and hope their origin world stops hungering for your attention. But the ugliest ones find a home in the World of You and set up nest. These are ones you can never really escape, only chase back with greater agency and care.

“You put me in a weird mood, Bikey. Can you take a little credit for that?”
“Are you hungry from the walk? I know a breakfast spot I can ride you to.”
“I have too much shit to do.”
“Moving fast might switch your mood faster.”

You mount Bikey and begin riding back home to the worlds you have to face. Your twin dogs race beside you. The air hits you differently. You don’t feel happy, but you feel kind of free.

You pass the boy again. He’s now curled up and crying on the side of the parkway. You wonder if the pain from the crash is kicking in. His eyes search you. It’s something else. He looks lost and angry. You sense one of his high agency worlds has collapsed. When a world you work on fails to become habitable, and its avenue for agency is foreclosed, the World of You takes the hit. You imagine the boy will either have to rejig his agency in other worlds, or linger in this destabilized feeling until another world eats him into its design.

The boy starts chasing after you. You decelerate Bikey to meet him.
“Hey you! Your bike hit me!”
“This isn’t my bike. I’m sorry again…on behalf of the bike.”
“Your bike prioritized your dogs over me. You share a world with it. You’re even riding it now. Don’t play dumb!”
“You seem upset about something else. Did something bad just happen in another world of yours?”
“Shut up Thinky.”
“Excuse me little boy?”
“Little boy? I’m a genius. You think too much. Now give me one of your dogs. They’re clones I can tell. It’s only fair!”
“Look, you laughed it off and traded your thetan knives for a split something remember…”
“Give me a dog or else I’ll mark a curse on you! I’ll ruin you and every world you ever–“

“Yaohan get over here!!!” The boy’s mother appears, furious at him. Something about their bank accounts.

Bikey starts accelerating on its own. You don’t resist. You still feel bad for the boy in ways Bikey never has to. You wonder if Quality of Agency will prove to be the ultimate unsolvable inequity among human beings.

You toss the crescent shaped stone to the boy.
“Um…It’s going to be ok…Here’s a lucky rock–”
The mother glares at you.
“Don’t you dare give my son financial advice!”

The stone lands beside the boy as his mother drags him off the parkway. You feel a small joy that no one wants you in that world.


Clouds cast a dark shadow as you dash down the path. A floating light follows you overhead. The Soul of Los Angeles acknowledges you’ve returned the stone back to its grounds. It’s late morning and your Worlds are urgently angling for attention. Some require your imagination. Some require you just showing up. All of them are trying to lock you into their rhythm.

You dismount Bikey at your driveway.
“Thanks Bikey.”
“Any comments?”
“You’re a curious bike worth knowing. Five stars.”
“Thanks. If you ever want to try to change my mind you’ll have to ride me again!”

Bikey zooms off. The Soul of Los Angeles blesses you for trying its new parkway. The floating light plays with your dogs at your doorway. Bob is back online knocking on your brain with its interpretation of jdioqwdjv. Your Hacker and Emissary demons are tired and need a break. Your Director and Cartoonist are ready to work. Does everything have to be so alive now? Does everything have to feel so damn enchanting?

Sometime at the dawn of The Great Weirding, your mom told you that enchantment is a state of attraction to New Nature that you do not fully understand, but where you’re ready to hallucinate its overwhelming chaos as overwhelming interestingness. To live in a state of enchantment is to bargain with New Nature for potentialities that can enliven your worlds, knowing it might cost you a deep belief or a reshuffling of agency in the process.

A culture of Worlding — overflowing with annoying artificial aliveness — is the maturing response to a New Nature too strange and too interesting to ever be classically domesticated. Such a culture doesn’t reduce the distance separating you from domestication. It feeds the distance as a feature of aliveness itself, and drags up habitability in the process. Such a culture sets the stage for the light of enchantment to keep burning more often in more people.

It’s late morning and you feel your Worlds stretching you into a dozen different rhythms. You take a breath and close your eyes. You see a little script captioning the time worm that is the shape of your life. It promises that doing more of what enchants you aligns the culture to achieve its richest flowering. The script reads:

“Live to World. World to live.”

Series Navigation<< Worlding Raga: 5 — World How?

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About Ian Cheng

Ian Cheng is an artist based in New York. Follow his work on Instagram and at iancheng.com

Comments

  1. The character of Bikey seems particularly well realized. Having a child in this era seems like an act of desperate optimism. You may find the article in the website link helpful despite your apparent lack of connection to Catholicism.

  2. >“Your unfinished interactive novel is ripe with fresh throughlines”

    This talk about how in a liberated state everyone will be an artist has always seemed fake and cargo cultish to me. Part of seeing art as action, as “important”, is removing the Eternal Value by which it as an activity becomes a blank-slate meaning pump to put your leisure budget toward, like Future Tech in a Civ game. “Let’s art the hell out of this” — YUCK!

    That way of thinking not only inaccurately cheapens art but also devalues people who don’t do it, as art becomes simply a Meaningful activity, consensus proof-of-soul. Not that the product approach is much better.

    The bike small talk sounds like nightmarish Lesswrong-speak. Who would be lame enough to have this conversation?

    The split function self seems not nearly as liberating as this piece seems to try and convey it as. Comes across as very industrial.

    But I think the weakness of this vision isn’t because your ideas are wrong, rather it doesn’t do them justice. The snow volcano girl movie was nice for example. As for advice, I’d get rid of the pastel near-future TV show aesthetic. And the reflective comparisons about in the Old Times it was x, now so much has changed we’re y, come across as heavy handed, let the difference speak for itself.

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