The Thousand Minds Theory of SourceCred

So I’ve been toying with a philosophical framework that explains SourceCred to me: that it’s a supercharged hive mind, organized by voting. Each :heart: or interaction a vote in a mini election. The outcome of this swarm of elections continually shaping the graph. Perhaps this is why, when communities first turn on SourceCred, it often creates aha! moments. Perhaps it’s because the overall scores reflect people’s fuzzy, unexpressed reality. Or, perhaps their political reality, for better or worse. So when I recently came across a promising new (for me) theory in neuroscience, which reflects this idea and is being explored to to create more intelligent AI, my neurons started buzzing.

The Thousand Brains theory speculates that the brain is composed not of specialized circuits, organized hierarchically to process information for different tasks (the dominant view), but is instead composed of thousands of independent ‘brains’, each very similar in structure, continuously ‘voting’ on what is reality :exploding_head: From article :point_down:

Core to the theory is the surprising notion that the brain does not contain one model of the world; it contains thousands of complementary models for everything we know. The models vote together to produce our singular perception…there is not one such model but thousands, one in each of the many neatly stacked columns that constitute the brain’s cortex…cortical columns, in their world-modeling activities, work semi-autonomously. What we perceive is a kind of democratic consensus from among them. Democracy in the brain? Consensus, and even dispute? What an amazing idea.

One interesting conclusion is that the brain has some hierarchy, but much less than typically imagined. Each mini ‘brain’ effectively has the same basic circuits, like a general purpose computer processor. But is specialized somewhat at ‘birth’ by the area on the cortex it grows, and then specializes further based on the type of data it processes (e.g. vision vs. hearing vs. abstract thoughts). Here’s a more technical talk the theory’s creator gave at Microsoft a couple years ago, if you want more details il (starts after academic’y intros).

Sound familiar? What if the SourceCred Cred scores are beginning to reflect a cohesive “meta brain”, created by processing units (contributors, bots and plugins) constantly voting on a series of models (contributions)? What if our unique views, skills and experience, shape our ‘mini brains’ to optimize for different types of models? But can be, like real brains, retrained given new input (i.e. brain plasticity).

Is it possible that SourceCred’s founders, coming from Google Brain, created, along with the SourceCred algorithm and community, a living meta mind shaped after their own? Is the SourceCred meta brain a multiple?

Online communities and social networks have long been called ‘hive minds’. However, they’ve not been terribly intelligent thus far (see Twitter electing Donald Trump for lolz). However, what if by layering a Cred graph on top of the social graph, directly flowing real value (rent money level) along it, starting small (decentralized), and giving community members the ability to vote on their models of reality, we have created something more cohesive? Something inherently decentralized, but still able to coordinate surprisingly well?

Political Economy

In critiques of capitalism, I keep hearing the claim that capitalism has removed the political economy from our system, stripping away all political (i.e. human) values from economic policy and decisions. Alternatively, some worry that we’re actually just automating the political economy, with the algorithms and their value judgements (there are always value judgements) created by our new tech overlords, who, optimizing for profit, exacerbate existing inequalities and create new forms of oppression.

With our continual tweaking of the algorithm and its parameters, and daily swarms of “mini elections” shaping the graph, are we not to an extent automating our political economy, vote by vote? Intentionally making algorithmic decisions to create the world we want to live in? I’d like to believe so.

Perhaps SourceCred is better in some ways, despite conflicts, because the automation is guided by community members’ inputs. As our ability in the traditional legal system to pass laws to address new technology lags further and further behind said new technology, maybe a little automation is what we need.

Or, I’m way off base and need to cut down on the SourcePills? Curious to hear any thoughts from the meta brain.


What an interesting read Seth, thanks for writing this. I haven’t watched the videos due to time constraint, so sorry if they go over this and I just missed it - I’m curious about how much SC mimics the model in terms of the different ‘brains’ sometimes taking over for one another when an area is damanged. For example, if someone loses their sight, the hearing part of their brain uses that space to ‘build’ and help create a fuller audio image of one’s surroundings. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents!

So this is probably just me stretching metaphors till they break. Perhaps a useful philisophical frame, but not something you can map too directly to SC.

As for the ‘brains’ taking over another area, this is in reference to research I’ve seen (dredging up from potentially faulty memory here) that has shows that, if a specialized area of the brain (e.g. a part that’s processing sound) is traumatized or removed entirely, another part of the brain can be trained to process sounds, if hooked up to the right inputs (in this case electrical signals coming from the ear). Sometimes the brain does this naturally (see people having miraculous recoveries of function even though large areas of their brain are removed), but I believe they’ve done research research where this was done intentionally. It takes time, and you may not return to full functionality (if any), but the fact it happens is pretty astounding, and supports this theory. To map this to SC, if someone with a specialized skill left the project, someone else could take over. For instance, a non coder could learn coding and our codebase with enough time. I firmly believe most people have the ability to learn code with enough motivation and support. Where the metaphor breaks down, now that I’m writing this, is that individuals still have way more agency than ‘mini brains’ in the cerebral cortex. While most anyone can learn to code (have seen so many examples), few people actually enjoy coding (in my observations, many examples here too), so never try. In part due to not being ‘wired’ to intrinsicly enjoy it, but also (more sadly) many face bad working conditions, discrimination, etc.

Fun read, Seth! I think about the “SourceCred meta-consciousness” a lot, but especially in terms of our values, mission, vision, and beliefs. I feel like all groups of people create a collective meta-consciousness via the conglomerate of their individual perspectives (interesting to think of the USA this way) and I love the analogy to the human brain.

I’ve just started listening to a book called “How Emotions Are Made - The Secret Life of the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett which explores this concept pretty intently as she starts to introduce her findings and how contradictory they are to the classical idea of what emotions are and how emotions function. You may like the read!

Totally. Would love to pick your brain(s) sometime on this. I sense the meta-consciousness too, but almost never think about it explicitly. Which is a blind spot in my model. I’m eagerly awaiting our first egrigore, if it’s not here already :smiling_imp: This is reminding me of the book I read in college which has haunted my brain ever since. Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky, one of the founders of the field of AI. Conceived in the early 70s at MIT, It’s viewed as more of a work of philosophy, but I wonder if something like the Thousand Minds theory will prove it prescient. I also recently read Big Magic, which I think you’ve mentioned before? Loving the animist perspective there. Been exploring some entities in myself and even had a couple encounters. DisCO peeps talk about organizations they partner with having spirits that interact with theirs.

Just ordered! In Sapiens (bedrock of my thinking lately), the author talks about how emotions can be viewed as very advanced algorithms, more powerful and complex than the logical thinking we view today as superior. Feels truer the more I reconnect with my emotions. Looking forward to hearing about cool new science.

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