The Ankord Memo - Book Club


July 9, 2024


Milan Kordestani

Entrepreneur, writer, and founder of 3 purpose-driven companies oriented toward giving individuals control over their own discourse and creation. Milan works to produce socially positive externalities through a mindset of social architecture.

Milan Kordestani

July 9, 2024

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Milan Kordestani

Hi! I'm Milan, an LA based founder and writer, architecting impact-first businesses.

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Hi Friends!

I hope everyone enjoyed a joyous celebration of America this week! I was able to kick back in my red, white, and blue overalls for some sun and BBQ, and had a great time catching up with friends. This week, I also finally finished a book I’ve been reading for a couple of weeks now - Bobby Azarian’s The Romance of Reality: How the Universe Organizes Itself to Create Life, Consciousness, and Cosmic Complexity. If this book was an album, I’d be saying that it’s full of bangers: each chapter had new and profound arguments that took interdisciplinary thinking to the next level. I want to give you a peek into this phenomenal book, and perhaps get you more curious about some of his main arguments and ideas.

Imagine a theory that could explain everything, from the tiniest atom to the vastness of space, and even the spark of consciousness in your own mind. That's the ambitious goal of neuroscientist Bobby Azarian, and while his proposed ideas definitely left me with some looming questions, his “Integrated Evolutionary Synthesis” is pretty much the “theory of everything” that he promises it could be. 

He proposes a radical new idea: the universe isn't just a collection of random events, it's actually evolving towards greater complexity and sentience as it maximizes energy processing and gains more and more knowledge through experience. For Azarian, these processes drive the universe to spawn complex life and push it toward higher levels of intelligence in a poetic process of pure creativity.  

Understanding why we exist and where we fit in the grand cosmic scheme is a fundamental human quest. The Romance of Reality tackles big questions head-on, asking how life began, whether we have a cosmic destiny, and if there is such a thing as “god.” By exploring the idea of a universe actively evolving towards complexity and consciousness, the book could change how you view yourself. Azarian’s complex theory might even offer clues about our purpose and the future of humanity in this ever-expanding cosmos. 

The Grand Challenge: A Theory for Cosmic Destiny

So why is it so bold of Azarian to claim he’s put together a theory of everything? In some ways, it’s the holy grail of physics that would help explain not just how life evolved but why it occurred in a universe seemingly empty of other life. Obviously, coming up with one unified theory is no easy feat. The two main scientific camps, quantum mechanics (rules explaining the very small) and general relativity (laws governing the very large), seem to contradict each other. 

Plus, how do you explain consciousness or free will, both subjective experiences, with cold, hard equations? Current scientific paradigms, like reductionism (breaking things down to their simplest parts), struggle with these big questions. It's like trying to understand a symphony by analyzing each individual note - you miss the beautiful melody that emerges from them all playing together. But The Romance of Reality proposes a new approach, aiming to bridge the gap and create a more unified picture of our amazing universe.

Enter Azarian’s game-changing theory: the Integrated Evolutionary Synthesis. It throws out reductionism and instead views the universe as a whole, constantly evolving. This theory borrows from the concept of Darwinian evolution, not just survival of the fittest, but also cooperation and self-organization. The book proposes that everything, from galaxies to our own brains, is constantly getting more complex and that this very process is what gives rise to life, consciousness, and the mind-blowing wonder of it all.

Azarian throws a curveball at the familiar idea of entropy and disorder in the universe. Yes, things tend to break down over time, but he argues there's a twist. The universe loves free energy, like a delicious cosmic snack. Living things are the ultimate free-energy guzzlers, constantly consuming and ordering it. The more complex a system is, the more it can devour this energy. So, according to Azarian, the universe isn't just succumbing to chaos; it's actually pushing towards ever-greater complexity, with life as its ultimate energy-transforming champion! And all life needs to keep going are new sources of energy–something the universe is constantly making on a cosmic level. This flips the script on the second law of thermodynamics, suggesting the universe might be wired for increasing intelligence as it consumes all that free energy.

Azarian’s Integrated Evolutionary Synthesis

From that point, Azarian gets into his radical new theory that essentially says that evolution is the successful process of converting information into knowledge and turning knowledge into energy consumption. He calls this theory his Integrated Evolutionary Synthesis, and it has some key features:

  • Survival of the Best Energy Consumers (Universal Darwinism): Azarian does a neat little upgrade on Darwin’s survival of the fittest – for him, evolution is about accumulating useful information. Everything in the cosmos, from galaxies to snowflakes, "evolves" by storing knowledge about what helps it to survive or expand, as well as what prevents success. This information can be anything that helps something persist, like patterns in a snowflake's structure, cycles of planetary motion, even the knowledge encoded in our genes, or the lessons we teach in school. This isn't just about living things; the universe itself is constantly playing this information game, seeking the most efficient and enduring patterns.
  • Learning from Problems (Evolutionary Epistemology): Azarian argues that evolution isn't just about blind survival, it's about actively learning and solving problems. Information is like raw data, but when we use it to overcome challenges, it becomes knowledge. Successful systems, whether living organisms or complex societies, excel at experimentation. They encounter problems, use their existing information to find solutions, and then store that newfound knowledge. This relentless pursuit of knowledge, according to Azarian, is the universe's way of becoming more intelligent. He argues, “yes, the world has some serious problems, but if we did not have problems, we would never be forced to find new solutions. Problems push progress forward.” (279) They force us to refine our information into valuable knowledge, propelling us forward in the grand cosmic game of learning. Remember the old adage that a mistake is just a lesson? Azarian has turned that idea into a whole philosophy on knowledge, and I love it.
  • Building Our Internal Worlds (Universal Bayesianism): Living things, including you, are constantly constructing an internal model of the world around you. This model is a complex mental map that gets updated with every new experience you have. The more you learn and adapt, the richer and more intricate this model becomes. The most important thing in your model, of course, is you, so there’s a degree of self-reflection involved. These mental maps are on all levels, as electrons follow paths of least resistance, rivers cut repeated grooves into rock, and the universe itself constantly updates its own internal model based on new information. By excelling at building and updating these models, Azarian suggests that humans might be particularly adept at fulfilling the universe's ultimate goal: accumulating knowledge and becoming ever more intelligent.

With these three pillars in place, Azarian builds his case for consciousness. He starts with the universe constantly gathering information (Universal Darwinism), using problems to turn that information into knowledge (Evolutionary Epistemology), and building ever-more complex internal models (Universal Bayesianism). As these processes reach critical levels of complexity, particularly in biological systems like brains, consciousness emerges. This rich internal model, constantly updated with sensory information, allows us to experience and interact with the world in a unique and subjective way – the spark of consciousness that makes us who we are.

Finding Our Purpose in a Poetically Creative Universe

Azarian sees the universe as a vast and ongoing act of creation. Instead of a static, pre-programmed machine, the universe constantly evolves, experiments with new patterns, and builds ever more complex systems. This relentless pursuit of knowledge and self-organization, driven by the three pillars of his theory, mirrors the creative process itself. He finds poetry in the way galaxies swirl, life emerges from simple chemicals, and consciousness blossoms within a network of neurons. It's a universe that constantly surprises itself, pushing the boundaries of the known and birthing new wonders.

If the universe is constantly striving for knowledge and complexity, as The Romance of Reality suggests, then our purpose might be intricately linked to that. By advancing science, technology, and our overall understanding of the cosmos, we'd be actively contributing to the universe's own journey towards greater intelligence. We have a cosmic destiny to push further, build more complexly, and embrace our own transhumanist evolution. Azarian reframes human existence from a random accident to a participant in a grand cosmic game. Our ability to learn, solve problems, and build complex models positions us as key players in this cosmic dance of knowledge creation.

The Romance of Reality contains a treasure chest of intriguing ideas beyond its core theory. Azarian explores the possibility that consciousness in AI requires a physical body to truly interact with and learn from the world. He delves into the potential of psychedelics as tools to unlock new ways of thinking and expand our cognitive horizons. Azarian also ponders a cosmic destiny for humanity, urging us to explore the vastness of space. The book even ventures into the realm of free will, drawing connections to the uncertainties of quantum mechanics. Perhaps most thought-provoking is the suggestion of God as a process of increasing complexity within the universe, an algorithmic force driving evolution. While these topics might not be fully fleshed out within the book, they serve as tantalizing springboards for further exploration. Azarian's work acts as a map, sparking curiosity and left me eager to dive deeper into these fascinating possibilities.

I also think that Azarian has some brilliant things to say about the discursive process and the creation of theories and knowledge. In the book, Azarian repeatedly emphasizes "meta-awareness," the ability to be aware of our own awareness. In The Romance of Reality, this isn't just philosophical navel-gazing. With complex internal models, we can not only experience the world but also become aware of how we experience it. This self-reflection allows individuals to make conscious choices and societies to work towards shared goals. He writes, “meta-awareness must be consciously cultivated in order for it to fully emerge in an agent, and when awareness of awareness of awareness goes mainstream, the resulting synergy will take humanity to new heights.” (277) So by cultivating meta-awareness, we can become more effective participants in the universe's quest for knowledge, ensuring our actions align with this grand cosmic purpose. This, ultimately, is our way of expressing free will.

Azarian's Integrated Evolutionary Synthesis theory, with its focus on the universe as a unified whole, suggests a powerful message for humanity: global cooperation is key. If we're all part of a cosmic dance of knowledge creation, then working together becomes paramount. By sharing resources, fostering scientific collaboration, and tackling challenges as a united species, we can maximize our contribution to the universe's journey. This isn't just about competition between nations; it's about harnessing our collective intelligence to unlock the universe's deepest secrets and fulfill our potential as a species on the grand cosmic stage.

I really connected with the way Azarian argues that the universe itself thrives on problem-solving. Every challenge overcome, every adaptation made, is a victory in the grand cosmic game of knowledge creation. This echoes the spirit of moonshot thinking, where we tackle seemingly insurmountable problems and push the boundaries of what's possible. By embracing challenges and using them as springboards for innovation, we can become powerful agents of progress, aligning ourselves with the universe's own relentless pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

Obviously, I highly recommend Bobby Azarian’s The Romance of Reality: How the Universe Organizes Itself to Create Life, Consciousness, and Cosmic Complexity. It’s not an easy read, but I appreciated how thorough Azarian is with his philosophy, and the effort he put into making sure the reader always has the definitions and theories needed to follow along. In future weeks, I hope to explore some of his ideas in more depth with you, so please respond to this week’s newsletter here and tell me which ideas were most exciting for you! 

Next week, I plan on updating you on all the progress being made across Ankord Labs’ portfolio, as well as showing off some of the new media produced by Ankord Media. And don’t forget, I’m looking forward to publishing answers to questions you may have, so please shoot me your questions here, and stay subscribed for the answers! Make sure to tune in next week to catch up on Ankord, and until then, grab a copy of Azarian’s book to dive in, or check out my extended notes on the book on Medium!


Milan Kordestani