Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe
The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe or CTMU (pronounced "cat-mew") is a philosophical theory of the relationship between mind and reality. Its author, Christopher Michael Langan, has been billed as "the smartest man in America", with an IQ reported by 20/20 and other media sources to have been measured at around 195. Langan created the CTMU in the mid-1980s while working as a bar bouncer on Long Island. Among his claims for the theory are that it constitutes absolute truth, provides the logical framework of a Theory of Everything, and proves the existence of God.
Of limited means and largely self-taught, Langan created the CTMU in the mid-1980s while working as a nightclub bouncer on Long Island, New York. His first published paper on the theory, "The Resolution of Newcomb's Paradox", appeared in the December 1989–January 1990 issue of Noesis, the journal of the Noetic Society, a high-IQ society to which Langan belonged. Over the next decade Langan refined his work, continuing to publish and discuss it in high-IQ journals.
Wider recognition for Langan and his theory came in 1999, when Esquire magazine published a profile of him and other members of the high-IQ community. Billing Langan as "the smartest man in America", the article's account of the weight-lifting bouncer and his Theory of Everything sparked a flurry of media interest. Articles and interviews highlighting Langan and the CTMU appeared in Popular Science, The Times, Newsday, Muscle & Fitness, and elsewhere. Langan was featured on 20/20 and interviewed on Errol Morris' First Person. He posted an introduction to the CTMU on his website, and in 2002 issued a collection of philosophical essays, The Art of Knowing.
As his public profile expanded, Langan's work began to draw scholarly attention, and he published outlines of the CTMU in academic journals. The first of these was a 56-page paper, "The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe: A New Kind of Reality Theory", published in 2002 in PCID, the journal of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID). Langan's paper "Cheating the Millennium: The Mounting Explanatory Debts of Scientific Naturalism", relating the CTMU to existing theories of causality, appeared in the 2004 anthology Uncommon Dissent, published by ISI Books. In 2017 and 2018, Langan published three new CTMU papers in the journal Cosmos and History: "An Introduction to Mathematical Metaphysics", "Metareligion as the Human Singularity", and "The Metaformal System: Completing the Theory of Language".
Meanwhile, the online presence of the CTMU was growing. A Facebook group devoted to the theory formed in 2008 and has since reached over 1,000 members, with Langan himself joining and participating. The present CTMU wiki was started in 2009, and a CTMU reddit board was set up in 2011. In 2018, Langan opened a Patreon account to fund further CTMU development. Langan has reportedly written a book about the CTMU called Design for a Universe, which he hopes to distribute and promote, either through his own Mega Press or through an external publisher.
Prominent among the tools of epistemology are the axiomatic method (associated with rationalism, deduction, and mathematics), and the scientific method (associated with empiricism, induction, and the physical sciences). The axiomatic method derives theorems from axioms, but if different axioms are chosen, then contrary theorems can be obtained (consider Euclidean vs. non-Euclidean geometry). The scientific method infers laws from observations, but future observations can break these laws (creating the problem of induction). Such methodological limitations seem to suggest that all knowledge is relative: to axioms which may not characterize our reality, or to observations which give only a partial view of the world.
The CTMU is an attempt to circumvent these limitations and achieve absolute knowledge. Langan writes:
"What I mean by 'absolute' is precisely this: (1) you can't relativize your way out of it by changing the context; (2) finding it in error equates to destroying your own basis for inference. These criteria are built into the theory from the ground up using some very effective, that is to say ironclad, techniques. Logically, there is no way out."
To see how this could work, consider the concept of a logical tautology. In 2-valued logic, a tautology is a statement that is true under every assignment of "true" and "false" to the variables within it. For example, "A or not-A" (the law of the excluded middle) is a tautology because it is true regardless of whether A is true or false. Langan argues that all meaningful theories conform to 2-valued logic, and that because the axioms and theorems of 2-valued logic are tautological, tautologies "define the truth concept for all of the sciences. From mathematics and physics to biology and psychology, logical tautologies reign supreme and inviolable".
Langan further holds that logical tautologies constitute absolute knowledge in the sense of his criteria above. That is, where "changing the context" amounts to changing truth assignments to contextual variables, tautologies are true in every context. And where "your own basis for inference" includes 2-valued logic, logically disproving a tautology requires use of the tautology itself, undermining the inference. Accordingly Langan calls tautologies self-evident or "self-proving".
Langan's project is to formulate a theory of reality that possesses absolute truth in the same sense as does a logical tautology, but is also able to say something substantial about the world. Carrying out this project requires definitional principles that relate logic to reality:
Specifically, in order to fashion a reality theory that has the truth property in the same sense as does logic, but permits the logical evaluation of statements about space and time and law, we must adjoin principles of extension that lend meaning to such statements while preserving the tautology property.
Langan makes use of three such principles (see next section), adjoining them to logic and extracting the implications. The resulting theory (the CTMU) Langan calls a "supertautology": the reality-theoretic counterpart of a tautology.
Unlike ordinary scientific theories, which rely on observation to establish their correspondence with reality and are always at risk of falsification, the CTMU is intended by construction to correspond with reality necessarily. In fact, claims Langan, "any other valid theory of reality will necessarily equate to the CTMU up to isomorphism; whatever it adds will come by way of specificity, not generality". Verification of the CTMU is made "largely rationalistic" by its logical nature, so that "much of the theory has to be proven like a math theorem rather than confirmed on a lab bench".
In the CTMU, reality takes the form of an algebraic structure Langan calls a "Self-Configuring Self-Processing Language" or SCSPL. The CTMU blends elements of various branches of advanced mathematics, including category theory, model theory, computation theory, abstract algebra, and the logic of formalized theories. Langan's public writings are meant to be relatively accessible, and for that reason, he says, tend to avoid heavy use of symbolic notation in favor of informal characterization. Nonetheless, he claims, the CTMU is axiomatizable and formalizable, SCSPL is well-defined, and he "can reduce that entire 56 page paper to variables and functional, operational and relational symbols".
Langan defines reality as "the perceptual aggregate including (1) all scientific observations that ever were and ever will be, and (2) the entire abstract and/or cognitive explanatory infrastructure of perception". That is, reality consists of (1) our perceptions, and (2) everything relevant to explaining them. In short, reality is defined on relevance to perception.
The three metalogical principles used in the CTMU to relate logic to reality (see previous section) are:
- Metaphysical Autology Principle (associated with closure), or MAP
- Mind Equals Reality Principle (associated with comprehensiveness), or M=R
- Multiplex Unity Principle (associated with consistency), or MU
Langan calls these principles and properties the Three Ms and Three Cs. They can be viewed as axioms of the CTMU, with the caveat that they are not meant to be assumptions, but analytic truths necessarily modeled by reality as a condition of its existence.
MAP says that reality is closed with respect to all internally relevant operations. In other words, everything essential to reality, including everything needed to describe or explain it, is contained in reality itself. This makes reality self-contained. MAP is implied by the definition of reality: were anything outside of reality needed to explain it, it would then be relevant to reality and therefore inside reality by definition.
M=R says that mind and reality are ultimately inseparable to the extent that they share common rules of structure and processing. In particular, (a) reality is comprehensive with respect to mind (our minds are part of reality), and (b) reality conforms to the categories of mind. M=R follows, argues Langan, from the definition of reality. On one hand, mind is included in reality by perceptual relevance. On the other hand, mind acts as a filter: that which does not conform to mental categories is irrelevant to perception, and therefore excluded from reality by definition.
MU says that reality is consistent by virtue of the mutually inclusive relationship between itself (unity) and its contents (multiplicity). Each part of reality contains a description of the whole, in the form of a common set of structural and functional rules. These rules allow the parts to consistently interact. The consistency of reality is implied, Langan argues, by the stability of perception: a single irresolvable paradox of the form "A = not-A" would destroy the information content of reality, making it impossible to perceive.
Questions like "why and how does reality exist?" and "why does this reality exist instead of some other reality?" are typically answered in one of two ways:
- Reality "just exists", and no further explanation is needed or can be given.
- Reality exists due to the influence of something outside of it, an external creator.
Langan opposes both views, arguing that were reality to lack an explanation, it would lack the structure needed to enforce its own consistency, whereas for an external creator to create reality, the creator itself would have to be real, and therefore inside reality by definition, contradicting the premise.
The CTMU treats the origin of reality in the context of freedom and constraint. Concepts are defined by constraints specifying their structure, and structure requires explanation. Consequently, Langan argues, every concept requires explanation except the "terminal concept" with no constraints, and no structure to explain. In the CTMU, this terminal concept or "ontological groundstate" is called "unbound telesis" or UBT.
Because UBT is a medium of pure potential, everything is possible within it. This means that anything which is able to "recognize itself" as existing, will in fact exist from its own vantage. However, the requirements for doing so are, asserts Langan, more stringent than is normally supposed. Because UBT is unstructured, the only possibilities which can actualize from it are those with sufficient internal structure to create and configure themselves. So in the CTMU, reality, rather than being uncaused or externally caused, is self-caused, and constrained by the structure it needs to create and configure itself, that of SCSPL.
The above reasoning, holds Langan, resolves the ex nihilo or "something-from-nothing" paradox. The paradox arises when "nothing" is taken to exclude not just "something", but the potential for "something". Because exclusion of potential is a constraint, "nothing" in this sense requires its own explanation, and cannot serve as an ontological groundstate. But when "nothing" is viewed as unconstrained potential or UBT, asserts Langan, reality arises inevitably from it.
Reality, Langan argues, requires as a condition of its existence not merely logical consistency, but "teleological consistency". To arise from UBT, reality needs a function to distinguish what it is from what it is not—to "select itself" for existence. This requirement, the "Telic Principle", generalizes the well-known anthropic principle: whereas the anthropic principle asserts that reality must have a form that is compatible with our existence, the Telic Principle asserts that reality must have a form that "selects" its own existence.
Because reality is self-contained, it serves as its own selection function. That is, the function, that which it selects, and the act of selection itself are identical; "existence is everywhere the choice to exist" and "reality triples as choice, chooser and chosen". Langan explores the logic of this arrangement: "[a] large part of the CTMU is about what happens when functions, including choice, generative and causal functions, are looped so that input coincides with output coincides with functional syntax".
The requirement that reality serve as its own selection function gives it a reflexive form whose goal is to self-actualize. This "MU form" is the starting configuration of SCSPL grammar. With "existence and its amplification" as its sole imperative, reality self-configures by maximizing a parameter Langan calls "generalized utility". The CTMU is therefore a teleological theory in which the purpose of reality is to optimally self-actualize.
Because reality inherits distributive freedom from UBT, parts of reality can deviate from the teleology of reality as a whole. The whole maximizes potential utility, "setting things up" for maximum benefits should teleology be pursued. Langan takes generalized utility as the basis of a system of ethics, defining goodness as that which furthers teleology and extending the Golden Rule to fit the stratified structure of SCSPL.
In ordinary causation, physical states evolve over time according to laws of nature. But this leaves open the question of where the laws came from. If states depend on laws, what do laws depend on? In the CTMU, the answer involves a new kind of causation in which laws and states are mutually dependent. From a background of unbound potential (UBT), laws and states emerge together, undergoing mutual refinement to optimize their relationship in a higher-order process called "telic recursion".
Guided by the Telic Principle, telic recursion seeks to maximize generalized utility through "telic feedback" between laws and states. Telic feedback is cross-temporal and extends back to the very origin of reality, allowing the system to retroactively self-configure. In effect, "the system brings itself into existence as a means of atemporal communication between its past and future whereby law and state, syntax and informational content, generate and refine each other across time to maximize total systemic self-utility."
The CTMU relates space, time, and matter through a process Langan calls "conspansion"—"material contraction qua spatial expansion". Because reality is self-contained, argues Langan, its external size and duration are undefined, and it cannot expand in an external sense: it has nothing to expand into, and nothing to expand during. Mainstream cosmologists prefer to describe expansion in terms of internal geometry, viewing the question of what the universe is expanding into as "not a profitable thing to think about". Langan asserts that mainstream expansion models nonetheless violate self-containment, arguing that they employ a non-endomorphic concept of motion and cannot intrinsically explain the creation of the spacetime manifold itself.
In Langan's model, reality stratifies inwardly into a superposition of sequentially related states. New states are formed within the images of previous states. In the resulting "conspansive spacetime", rather than reality expanding relative to its contents, its contents contract relative to it, and time scales shrink in proportion—an idea adumbrated in 1933 by Arthur Eddington. This picture is intended to retain the valid relationships of conventional spacetime while changing their interpretations so as to resolve paradoxes of cosmology and physics.
Conspansion alternates between two phases: a generative phase in which events produce new possibilities, and a selective phase in which possibilities collapse into new events. The alternation occurs at a fixed conspansion rate c, which can be identified with the speed of light in a vacuum, and understood as the rate at which reality creates itself. Conspansive alternation is also associated with wave-particle duality, and the CTMU features a teleological interpretation of quantum mechanics called "sum over futures".
The fundamental entity of SCSPL reality is the "syntactic operator", or unit of self-processing information. Because, argues Langan, cognition is just the specific form of information processing that occurs in a mind, information processing can be described as "generalized cognition" and self-processing information as "infocognition". So in the CTMU, reality embodies a dual-aspect monism consisting of one substance (infocognition) with two aspects (information and cognition); space is a configuration of syntactic operators, and time is the activity of these operators as they process themselves and each other.
The CTMU therefore supports a kind of panpsychism. Although every part of SCSPL has a cognitive aspect, the mental capabilities of a given subsystem depend on its structure. Langan distinguishes three "levels of self-cognition": subordinate, agentive, and global. The lowest of these levels, subordinate, encompasses low-complexity objects such as rocks. In the CTMU, rocks are cognitive in the generalized sense—their molecules interact, thereby processing information—but they do not possess independent volition or any intrinisic ability to optimize their environment.
The next level of self-cognition, which includes humans, is that of agent-level "telors": observer-participants in the ongoing creation of reality. Telors possess independent volition and constructive, creative intelligence or "sentience". In the CTMU, the distributed laws of physics do not fully determine reality; they are supplemented by "meta-laws" created by telors as reality evolves. This ability of telors is constrained by factors including locality, interference, and the probabilistic limits of the laws of physics.
The third and highest level of self-cognition, the global level, is that of reality itself. This level possesses three formal properties of SCSPL: "syntactic self-distribution" (analogous to omnipresence), "perfect autotransductive reflexivity" (analogous to omniscience), and "self-configuration up to freedom" (analogous to omnipotence). Because these are theological attributes, Langan describes reality as "the mind of God". So, claims Langan, because the CTMU constitutes absolute truth—because it is founded on necessary principles and supported by logical and mathematical reasoning—it proves the existence of God.
The CTMU has met with a favorable reception in both academia and the popular media. In academia, the CTMU has successfully undergone peer review, and several of Langan's papers have been published in academic journals. In the case of Cosmos and History, Langan's papers went on to receive "record numbers of downloads", with Langan becoming "perhaps the most downloaded" author in the history of the journal. In the popular media, the CTMU has been covered internationally by newspapers, magazines, radio and television shows, and podcasts. The Times of London introduced the CTMU as follows:
Every age has its great thinkers: Plato looked at metaphysics, ethics and politics; Descartes tried to rebuild human knowledge; Bertrand Russell gave us mathematical logic; from Stephen Hawking came A Brief History of Time. Now there's Chris Langan, the brainy bouncer, with his Cognition-Theoretic Model of the Universe.
Prior to its coverage by academia and the popular media, Langan's work appeared in the high-IQ community. Regarding his theory's reception there, Langan wrote:
For those of you who didn't know it, papers on the CTMU "TOE" have been published regularly in a peer-reviewed journal - that of the Mega Society - for around a decade now, and no one, including several PhD's in mathematics and philosophy, has ever put a dent in it (and you'd better believe it wasn't for lack of effort).
Langan's work has also been discussed on blogs and online message boards. Commentators range from supporters hailing the CTMU as a major breakthrough and praising its author for his brilliance, to critics hurling scorn and invectives at Langan and pronouncing his writing incomprehensible, to neutral bystanders preferring to reserve judgement until the publication of Design for a Universe. Langan has defended his theory and maintains that "despite occasional incoherent sniping by anonymous Internet gadflies, no qualified individual has ever found fault with it."
For responses to specific objections to the CTMU, see Common CTMU objections and replies.
Some good entry points to Langan's writings:
- "A Very Brief History of Time" - gentle introduction
- "On Absolute Truth and Knowledge" - how the CTMU is constructed
- "An Interdisciplinary Approach to Reality" - how the CTMU relates to various disciplines
- "A New Kind of Reality Theory" - the most comprehensive paper on the CTMU (56 pages)
- Q&A archive - questions and answers
For a list of all available material, including audio/video recordings, discussion forums, and media coverage, see CTMU sources.
- Brabham, Dennis. (August 21, 2001). "The Smart Guy". Newsday.
- Eddington, Arthur. (1933). The Expanding Universe: Astronomy's 'Great Debate', 1900-1931. Cambridge University Press.
- Langan, Christopher M. (December 1989–January 1990). "The Resolution of Newcomb's Paradox. Noesis No. 44.
- Langan, Christopher M. (1999). "Introduction to the CTMU". Ubiquity Vol. 1, No. 1.
- Langan, Christopher M. (2002). "The Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe: A New Kind of Reality Theory". Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design 1.2–1.3.
- Langan, Christopher M. (2004). "Cheating the Millennium: The Mounting Explanatory Debts of Scientific Naturalism". In Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, edited by William Dembski. ISI Books.
- McFadden, Cynthia. (December 9, 1999). "The Smart Guy". 20/20.
- Morris, Errol. (August 14, 2001). "The Smartest Man in the World". First Person.
- O'Connell, Jeff. (May 2001). "Mister Universe". Muscle & Fitness.
- Quain, John R. (October 14, 2001). "Wise Guy". Popular Science.
- Sager, Mike. (November 1999). "The Smartest Man in America". Esquire.
- SuperScholar. (December 16, 2010). "Christopher M. Langan Interview". SuperScholar.
- Wigmore, Barry. (February 7, 2000). "Einstein's brain, King Kong's body". The Times.
- This pronunciation appears in Sager 1999. The acronym can also be spelled out (C-T-M-U) for clarity.
- McFadden 1999. 20/20 gave Langan an IQ test and reported that "his score was off the charts, too high to be measured. Neuropsychologist Dr. Bob Novelly was astounded", saying, "Chris is the highest individual that I have ever measured in 25 years of doing this." Sager 1999, Wigmore 2000, and Brabham 2001 also make much of Langan's IQ.
- Sager 1999.
- Quain 2001.
- Wigmore 2000.
- Brabham 2001.
- O'Connell 2001.
- McFadden 1999.
- Morris 2001.
- Langan 2002.
- Langan 2004.
- Langan 2017.
- Langan 2018a.
- Langan 2018b.
- Langan 2002, p. 13. Langan argues that 'even so-called "nonstandard" logics, e.g. modal, fuzzy, and many-valued logics, must be expressed in terms of fundamental two-valued logic to make sense.'
- Langan 2002, p. 13.
- Langan 2002, p. 50.
- Langan 2002, p. 14.
- Langan 2002, pp. 15, 31–32.
- Langan 2002, p. 53, n. 6.
- Langan 2002, pp. 42–47.
- Langan 2002, p. 16.
- Langan 2002, pp. 20–22.
- Langan 2002, pp. 22–23.
- Langan here breaks with Kant, who posited a noumenal reality of "things-in-themselves", independent of the phenomenal reality we perceive. See here for a comparison between Kant's philosophy and the CTMU.
- Langan 2002, pp. 23–24.
- Langan 2002, p. 21.
- Langan 2004, p. 252.
- Langan 2002, p. 27.
- Langan 2002, p. 42.
- Langan 2002, pp. 37–38.
- Langan 2002, p. 37; Langan 2004, p. 253.
- Langan 2002, pp. 35–37.
- Langan 2002, pp. 6–7.
- Langan 2002, pp. 27–30.
- Frequently Asked Questions in Cosmology: What is the Universe expanding into?.
- Eddington 1933, pp. 90–92; Langan 2002, p. 27. In Eddington's words: "Smaller and smaller. Faster and faster." Though Eddington does not endorse what he calls the theory of the "shrinking atom", he plays with the implications.
- Langan 2002, p. 46.
- Langan 2002, p. 28, diagram caption.
- Langan 2002, p. 20.
- Langan 2002, pp. 19, 33.
- Langan 2002, p. 33.
- Langan 2002, p. 36.
- Langan 1999.
- SuperScholar 2010.
- Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe official site