In July 2021, an epic-length interview with Chris Langan premiered on Toronto filmmaker Curt Jaimungal's popular Youtube channel Theories of Everything. It ignited fresh awareness of Langan's work and unique persona... and brought back a lot of memories for me. Let me fill you in.
In Spring 2016, I attended a mostly charming, academic odd-ball conference in Berkeley. The sponsoring organization Foundations of Mind (FOM) was going on several years (and conferences) strong and promised publication of papers for participants in a special edition of the Australia-based natural philosophy journal Cosmos & History.
After the conference, new participants, like myself, were invited to join the organization's established google group. Shortly thereafter, someone invited Chris Langan to join the group, in hopes he would participate online and attend/publish with FOM down the road. (He eventually published one paper each year in 2017 and 2018). I read his magnus opus Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe (CTMU) without delay. It resonated with me so strongly that I pivoted from my intended paper topic and began work on "Notes from the existential underground", which was published in the Fall 2016.
Naturally, Langan did not mind that I found resonances with and was praising of his work. However, he remained reticent about engaging in directly collaborative, or public or private, exchanges of any sort with me. Instead, he leaned heavily on the winds of the "public" forum of the google group (it was a private group). On the heels of him joining were a handful of other new people, who together formed a sort of self-proclaimed heavy-hitters intellectual posse. I did my best to stomach and pivot as best I could. I took heart (I was writing favorably about his work and preparing a final draft for review and publication) from the fact that Langan seemed to do his best to be "above it all." He was willing to engage in good humor with me, again, only in a group setting. He's not as bad as the others, I justified to myself. Deepak Chopra, whose regular collaborator Menas Kafatos was a long-standing member of the group, joined for a time. The heavy-hitter posse relentlessly poked fun, often mean-spirited, at Chopra. I became his defacto defender. Wisely he simply promoted a few things and didn't stick around long.
Papers submitted and through review, one month before they were to be published, I posted a group reply to the FOM organizer, to which he did not take kindly, and without warning or explanation, he booted me from the group. He was known for being short-fused and capricious with membership, a fact I would have liked to have been privy to earlier. Many members reached out to me, sympathetic, even frustrated by my situation. My real fear was that in the month that I was out of favor, my paper would somehow be pulled. Big relief when I saw for myself that it was in fact published.
After the group's papers were published in Oct 2016, with tectonic cultural shifts beginning, I began a process of self-isolating from wider, traditional digital social venues. One exception was Langan's acceptance of my request to join his private FB page. I made it about a week (on and off of course) before I could take no more. To give you an idea, another member contacted me on a private chat to say "I sympathize more than you can imagine, but you are wasting your time. He will never change his mind."
At the end of 2017, I made my first publicly available statement taking issue with Langan's CTMU. I focused on the inadequacy of the concept of "distributed solipsism" that he uses to account for shared reality experiences. Here's a link to the written interview where that appears, published on MindBodyAttention.com.
Starting around then, and for six months only, I participated actively on Quora. It was overall a frustrating experience being on Quora, aggravated by persistent attention by Langan's followers. Fairly or not, they were being censored and sought sympathies and logical ways to combat the problem. I was unmoved. I bowed out of Quora, and left with the feeling that Langan's posse was a cult-like group.
It was also around this time that I noticed his CTMU Wiki was full to the brim with extreme far right and conspiracy threads. While not entirely surprising, I had rising concerns that I might one day have to defend my own reputation, having written of him favorably in 2016.
In early 2019, I learned that Langan had published another paper in Cosmos & History. I reluctantly took a peek. When I saw the title "The metaformal system: completing the theory of language" I had a sinking feeling. From a self-involved perspective, I read the paper as an effort to convince anyone who might be keen on language-based ontological work like mine, that such a thing is not possible or necessary. It signaled to me that, as far as he was concerned, onus lay with me to believe anything other than "I am in a fantasy world if I think his work is proof of mine." (I make that claim in "Notes from the existential underground").
Earlier this year, I finally processed my feelings about Langan's 2018 paper "The metaformal system." With that, I prepared a brief Primer on Language, so I could share my understanding of how my own work relates to language theory. (This became relevant in the context of my volunteer work with meta-ontology working group.) I refer directly to Langan and his work in the Primer, though it is not the focus. It includes a link to Langan's full paper.
And that brings us to Langan's over four hours long July 2021 interview on Theory of Everything (YouTube). Remember how I had start to worry about my own reputation? I was grateful he was interviewed, but only because it gave me a platform on which to make comments that could relate my unique position. Below, I share the comments I made, quoted in entirety and in context. The first is between me and an admirer of his. The second set includes Langan and I interacting.
On checking just now, I see Langan has made his CTMU Wiki squeaky clean (no off the wall stuff that I could find)... reasonable business only. I'm not complaining, but it's an indication of how he leans towards people-pleasing when he gets positive attention. I can imagine that the TOE interview may have brought about the "clean up your act" shift. That was how I suspect I remained so doe-eyed when first learning of his work through the FOM google group. At seeing the current interview, I had the passing thought, maybe he's changed. Then our interactions through the YouTube comments section of his TOE interview unfolded, and smashed that hope.
I have so far chosen not to watch the interview, as his presence aggrieves me. I see his self-aggrandizing and cognition-only TOE claims as old paradigm in sheep's clothing and find his ill treatment of me inexcusable.
Chris Langan on IQ, The Singularity, Free Will, Psychedelics, CTMU, and God
Premiered Jul 14, 2021
Theories of Everything with Curt Jaimungal
It's a stretch to say Chris Langan has developed a “cognitive-theoretic model of the universe.” He has created a metaphysical nomenclature for executing proofs of cosmic, physical, and language structures one might propose underlie the universe. His metaphysics anticipate and precipitate a way of analyzing a potential structure's breadth and scope, via necessarily dynamic and abstract methodology. In short, Langan’s works function as proofs (the phrase “cognitive-theoretic model” seems an overly involved way of saying the same); in relation to modeling the universe, such proofs’ connections to real and emergent qualities actually present in direct experiences of existence and underlying shared reality remain indirect. I see it as an adequate if not a most excellent tool for such proofs, but not to be elevated to TOE.
@PB J I think of a proof as a method by which to correlate the abstract and the concrete. A universe would have to exist such that its only real properties were abstract ones that eradicate concreteness. Since there's no evidence that's what's really happening, CTMU is not a TOE, and the simpler way of understanding CTMU's "universe" is that it is a metaphysical nomenclature for analyzing the universally abstract consequences of concrete models.
@Michelle McGee The CTMU isn't just a nomenclature for executing proofs of those things you said. In fact, it's not a nomenclature at all given it's logico-geometrical nature which is above the scientific method. It's also above proofs. The CTMU is a form of a metaproof, when you consider the formal definition of a proof, for which proof itself is a mathematical object / description, and the CTMU being a supertautology that supports such objects to exist in the first place. You can't miss that if you quickly go through the 3Ms outlined early in the CTMU ANKORT paper. Proofs aren't created to correlate the concrete and abstract - just look at mathematical proofs, they deal with only the abstract, albeit having real applications in the concrete. You also say that it's just a method to analyze 'abstract consequences of concrete models'. It does none of that. 1. It doesn't say that the abstract are consequences. Rather, it states that it is a requirement for the concrete (M=R | M ⊃ L ⊃ U). 2. The concrete corresponds to the terminal domain, which comes after the non-terminal domain in an atemporal sense. Hope this helps you understand the CTMU, and I encourage you to read it if you haven't already.
@PB J I having no problem accepting that a metaphysical nomenclature includes logic-geometric aspects. In fact, I see it as an advantage. You want to look, on the one hand, at a formal definition of proof, and on the other, demote all other methods and proofs? It seems you believe CTMU can leap tall buildings in a single bound. That doesn't change that there are ordinary, respectable ways of getting to the other sides of buildings. If CTMU is not in the business of proofs, then I fail to see the advantage of adhering to it, and yes I have read the paper and respect in large part what was accomplished. The issues I have with it are where I see existential tautologies framed as reasonable logical assumptions. It tends to make it difficult to engage in honest assessments like what CTMU is exactly, what it means to develop CTMUs knowledge tests (or whatever adherents call it) vs proofs, or what constitutes existence beyond cognition. The most telling example of what I see as unnecessary hubris is Langan's principle of distributed solipsism. I see it as, in today's day and age, an irresponsible and unnecessary workaround.
@Michelle McGee It's a good first step you see it as an advantage, but it's actually a requirement for a TOE since a valid TOE candidate has to at least logically explain the structure of geometric reality. I did not demote all other methods, in fact, I have never demoted any methods so far. I don't doubt there exists valid TOEs but they have to be interpretable in a supertautological structure, which is what the CTMU is. The CTMU [IS] in the business of proofs, as I have said, it's a metaproof that support proofs. I don't know what the issues you have with 'tautologies framed as logical assumptions' are from, because tautologies are above assumptions and the CTMU does not require assumptions. The truth value assigned to a logical tautology is intrinsic and does not require anything external. Existence beyond cognition is also outlined as Unbound Telesis, being a necessary potential for existence, in Langan's papers. And your 'most telling example' of distributed solipsism being 'unnecessary hubris' is unfounded - since distributed solipsism is a necessary (by logical induction) consequence of the tautological 3Ms. So it is still not clear what your real issues are with the CTMU.
@PB J 1) I find your response patronizing and circular. 2) I don't see us being that far off from each other. 3) To me it's not clear what your defenses really amount to.
@Michelle McGee 1a) I'm sorry your feelings are hurt, that wasn't my intention. And when it comes to reality theory, we should really put our emotions aside. Thus, you should come to realize that your first comment would come across as 'patronizingly' ignorant to the many who actually understand the CTMU, so let's skip the kiddos game. 1b) Tautologies are necessarily meta-circular (self-evident) to prevent the disruption of the true-false distinction. 2) We aren't, I am just pointing out where you got the CTMU wrong, nothing personal here. 3) No defenses are necessary when it comes to tautologies, they are mere clarifications.
@PB J 1a) Apology accepted. Putting aside emotions (in the sense that they are presumed to not exist) itself defies reality. 1b) You're doing it again. 2) What if parts of CTMU need to be gotten wrong to better understand its purpose and limits? 3) This is the problem when it comes to Langan's distributed solipsism.
@Michelle McGee Thanks, but you're wrong again. Putting aside does not equal assuming non-existence. You should put them aside when your emotions are obstructing your logical thought, especially when you deal with formal theories. Again, there are no what-ifs in the validaity of the CTMU due to its unique supertautological structure - an absolute truth wouldn't be absolutely true if it were (even partly) false. The conversation has to end if you choose to ignore it, or simply do not accept the self-evidental nature of tautologies (with a tautology being the most fundamental absolute truth). What you are saying can be boiled down to '1=1 need to be gotten wrong to..', except there'd be nothing when it's wrong and that would be the end of your story, because if 1 equals something else other than 1, no information stable enough exist. And the fact that we are having this conversation (thus perceiving stable information), 1 must equal 1 and tautologies are not false. But you are allowed to be wrong within reality. Up to a certain extent, of course.
@PB J It saddens me deeply to see that people choose to use such a subtle and beautiful manifestation of universal wisdom (CTMU) for their own subjugation (most obvious through aggrandizement of Langan) rather than embracing the necessary parts of it as essential knowledge and ALSO trusting reality in its wider truths, even as science alone begins acknowledging its own insufficient means to articulate it. Like over-involvement with any thought-form, getting carried away with CTMU gives a certain self-satisfied pleasure. Thought-forms provide self-affirming involvement with what the thoughts connects us to. CTMU is (in its necessary parts) a glimpse of the subtlety and beauty of what thought on that level can actually connect us to. Paradoxically, that is necessarily something infinitely more rich and delightful than thought-form (and thus CTMU) can ever alone be, or become. Determination to be a subject of thought-form, even one as lovely (in parts) as CTMU, tends, for such individuals, to metaphorically spoil the milk and disappear the honey of existence.
@Michelle McGee It saddens me that you have become so defensive after I merely pointed out your mistakes without being personal. You have spiralled from critizing the CTMU into irrational ad hominem attacks, all while ignoring your own mistakes. We cannot properly 'embrace the necessary parts of it as essential knowledge' if we don't understand it in the first place, that is the reason I pointed out your mistakes - to prevent you from misleading people. But instead you are going back into accusing people of being something that only exists in your own mind (using the CTMU for their own subjugation; 'obviously' through aggrandizement of Langan). Empirical science has an infamous intrinsic Problem of Induction that prevents it from properly explaining reality. You would know the CTMU bypassed this with the 3Ms by reading the first few pages. Therefore, there can be no over-involvement with the CTMU, as it is not only a thought form, but metalogic. Imagine someone accusing people of over-involving in using 1=1 when solving 1+1, that's simply illogical on the accuser's part. You are free to accuse and speak all you want, but your problem is that you don't self-reflect upon your mistakes, even after they have been repeatedly pointed out. I suggest you deal with your ego so as to become less self-absorbed and maintain rationality. You can start with challenging your own thoughts before you speak. Regarding wider truths, there would be none at all if no proper structure exists in reality. Reality is closed and everything outside it are unreal. So there are no wider truths outside CTMU ultimate reality - you can merely add specificity within it, if that's what you really mean. There would be no milk to spill or honey to disappear if there's no proper structure to reality. This will be the last time you get free lessons from me on the CTMU if you don't fix your attitude, or keep on making the same mistakes.
@PB J I'll give you the "last word," as it says everything
Comments that include content from Langan
Curt, I just finished listening. I won’t be going back for a 2nd listen only because I think I understood all that I’ll be able too. That’s huge, because it means you two did the maximum that could be done for a layman while sticking to the meat and potatoes. And somehow it felt like 4.5 hours was just enough to get clear picture.. I mean this: You gave us more of Langan than we would have gotten from any podcaster I can think of right now. Lex: would have dug into the personality and idealism’s a little more. Weinstein: would have steered it into politics because of hot-button-overload from the conflicting ideas. Rogan: Would have steered into education and how do we get more super-geniuses who are real normal people. Carroll: jk, he wouldn’t But how fun would that be?? You’re right on the money with your aim and your style. I hope you have continued progress and growth and get all the best from it.
He manages to come across as a complete idiot and a super genuis at the same time.
July 22 at 5:53 PM
Be forewarned. Langan's self-assurance too is calculated.
@Jeff H I bet Tesla was called an idiot by a lot of really smart people.
@Jeff H You mistake poor for "complete idiot." I don't mean "poor as in can't get an iPhone so have to get a Chinese smartphone poor" but getting food if you're lucky 4-5 days a week on a good week "poor." If you haven't been there, you absolutely cannot understand.
@nyavogo I sympathize 100% with his upbringing, because he COMES ACROSS unfavorably to people they write him off as an idiot when in eeality he's a super genuis. I wish that has not have been the case for his life.
@Michelle McGee Hi, Michelle. What does "calculated" mean in this context?
August 8 at 6:51 PM
@C Langan I meant a double meaning, and of course a simple pun. There's a negative connotation that comes from the trouble I have had in getting you to take my honest critiques and questions seriously. I do not rely on the same calculating tools that you are most comfortable with. There's also a perspective I have in which I see such reliance as a crutch, through which enough metaphorical calculations become a false narrative warranting self-assurance. (Not unique to you.) I understand at a personal level, in my own way, about tough pursuits. I continue to have great respect for certain of your technical achievements Chris, but I have historical concerns about the way those achievements get applied (by you and others espousing your views) to real life problems.
@Michelle McGee Thanks for the response. I'm not sure what "critiques", "metaphorical calculations", "applications", or "real life problems" you mean, but should you want to send me a private email (this isn't the place), please feel free do so. Nice to hear from you again.
August 9 at 3:21 PM
@C Langan I published a paper in 2016 in an academic journal citing your work. We were part of the same quasi-academic google group for a time. I interacted with you in your private FB page before I grew tired of going in circles with you and your more fervent fans. It seems to me that the gods demand this meeting of minds be in the light for anyone to see, or not at all. I am here in large part because, since citing your work favorably and without explicit limits before I understood how rigid and dogmatic you tend to be, my reputation as I see it depends in part on me calling it straight. Now the opportunity presents itself. It can be no real surprise to you to hear me refer to long-standing, oft expressed views (mostly in private circles) about CTMUs limits. If you can't recall the details or infer anything of meaning, that's hardly a mark on my record. I don't appreciate how I am being treated despite expressing myself in good faith.
- mkm, Sept 2021