Appendix C: Ecosystem Metaphor/Model


Relevant background reading: Ken Wilbur’s work on the 20 tenets of holons; Joanna Macy, Coming Back to Life, Living systems theory, more to add here…


Life is the foundation and the purpose of all. Life may be the only force in the universe that is negentropic. Negentropy (the opposite of entropy) means that life, as a pattern, utilizes energy in ways that increase complexity. It accomplishes this through procreation and diversification, and it is the only known negentropic force in the universe. This one patten contains the key to everything we value about the opportunity to live . It’s holistic and reflexive: serving the Life pattern reciprocally benefits one’s own life, if indirectly; perhaps because Life is a self-making system which can be amplified or matured by the process of directing one’s attention to it (self-awareness). Life involves the continuous circulation of energy over millennia in ways that are additive, or regenerative.

As an organization and meta-initiative, Cosmos strives to align with Life’s root intention of embracing itself, and so, model negentropic ways and behaviors. That is, Cosmos intends to align its systems and calibrate its algorithms in such a way as to continuously be absorbing and circulating energy in an amplifying way, regeneratively, turning energy into ever more synthesis, synergy and diverse, productive forms. Cosmos is radically open to, and emergent from, its members’ ventures–just like an ecosystem. Cosmos embraces proliferating experiment and innovation—and, just like an ecosystem, it is almost noisy (and definitely abundant) with the many interactions happening throughout. See: Cosmos as Ecosystem, below.

We intentionally model “what works” in life forms and life systems. Like in an organic organism, Cosmos’ “code” is constructed of filters, pumps, enzymes, cascades, and other mechanisms that help the organism smoothly function in a range of dynamic environments. These mechanisms take the form of operational and governance rules and norms as well as social/cultural norms. [1] See: Organization as Organism, below; and Algorithms.

Life growth processes share some similar stages and features, regardless of scale–and thus follow a course that can be understood and worked with by means of a process template . The development of a human individual can plug in and “stack” with the development of their community. Individual growth may be in many ways isomorphic with collective growth . Isomorphic derives from root words means “equal” “shape”–that is, the shape of the process or pattern looks the same or similar. When this is irrespective of scale, we may call it fractal. There is much about growth processes–intellectual or biological or cultural–that suggest the patterns underpinning them share affinity, if not similarity, thus enabling people to learn and mature in understanding of these “root patterns” through the lens of direct comparison with similar processes at other scales–and indirectly, through creative metaphor.


We are essentially building a non-zero-sum set of algorithms and interfaces that result in generative feedback loops–such that, once set into motion, the system tends to optimize for itself as a whole: a cooperative undertaking of human and artificial intelligence toward the realization of holistic human potential. Fortunately, holistic, integrated human needs (toward the peak of Maslow’s pyramid) tend to align or “stack” upon the establishment of health and wholesomeness below (in terms of community belonging, nutrition, safety, etc.) We know in reality that spirals of abundance are possible–how one positive shift, if “taken up” with mindfulness, can feed into cycles of greater and deeper well-being.

The techne and the art, the AI and the people, combine in diverse and creative ways, yet share the grounding orientation of serving the parts and the whole’s self-actualization. There is that one aim, fractally represented throughout, and all–consciously or unconsciously–coordinate to meet it. If you do not resonate with those “root patterns,” those ultimate, holistic aims that give a sense of direction to the infinite gameplay–you will not thrive in Cosmos’ system. (You could consider Cosmos’ core purpose, fractally enacted, as its DNA.) Structurally, this is possible via holonic alignment and the sharing & amplification of mutualized requests and gifts.

We want to serve the people of this world, through crafting a container that can accommodate many (and visionary) worlds, and in the dynamic tensions so generated, we’d evolve our knowledge-and-practice (praxis) commons of how to live well . When we cooperate creatively with life’s innate pattern (toward synergy and growth of itself), we generate the potential to harness and amplify collective energy even beyond our apparent capacities and thereby transform destructive systems that humans have otherwise been cultivating for generations. Cosmos aims for comprehensive synergies when possible, for the “stacking” of desires and intentions, for amplified power to accomplish our dreams.

In this spirit, when it comes to fulfilling the needs defined by our users’ demand, we will seek synergies between open source applications already being developed that meet similar needs, and see if cooperative alignment is possible through smart contracts with those entities. In this way, Cosmos would grow by inviting people into reciprocal relationship through licensing and engaging their work with a community of users, thereby expanding the Cosmos “family” of people who play our game through various partnerships.

Cosmos may never encompass all , but we believe in trying to forge an ever-more spacious, creative realm for our lives and livelihoods. We openly invite all comrades of the platform co-op ecosystem to connect with us about co-owning, co-sharing and co-developing your technologies through leveraging our spaces. The question becomes: "How could you use Cosmos as a laboratory, an accelerant or a catalyst for your pursuits?"

May the growth of your greatest offering to the world, be harmonic with the growth of Cosmos, and may the one serve the other.

We acknowledge that there is no “best” way to realize our deep purpose, distinct from the context in which we’re doing it, which is our members’ authentic selves and aspirations. At times an individual, a group, or even most or all of the collective may suffer when a systemic misstep is taken: but each party is empowered to help recalibrate. The system is programmed to make sense of itself i.e. to further integrate, which is an ongoing growth-oriented feedback loop. A regenerative, holistic system, like an ecosystem because no information is wasted if everything is learned from .

While Cosmos is a cooperative business and must function successfully in that regard, it is also an open-ended collective response to redesigning the systems in which we live. Cosmos is a convening and a utilizing of visionary people. Whether and how we can weave the disparate bits into a symphonic, life-affirming body (i.e., organization)—this is the challenge we dive into. We are like a laboratory—willing to try and experiment, willing to fail, grateful for feedback and willing to engage with conflict as a generative force, willing to tolerate confusion, disagreement and the unknown… joined together by a love for creation and wonder at life’s unfolding.

We will become what we intend, we will build what we need, and we will do as much as we can to transform the world-- for that is what we are made to do .

There are two main lenses through which to metaphorically interpret Cosmos as it relates to natural systems: Organization as Organism, and Organization as Ecosystem. What follows is just some examples of models in nature that are comparable with the design and ethics of Cosmos.


DNA as purpose. The organization’s (or its sub-parts) “DNA” (aka core code) may be thought of as its animating purpose, that which sets the direction for growth, and which differentiates and identifies the being’s presence, or signal, against the backdrop of noise.

Membranes as boundaries. Cosmos is a thin skin encompassing the autonomous initiatives of its members. The skin itself is comprised of shared values and ethics, shared motives (that’s how you can tell we are moving in a certain direction, together). Cosmos appreciates permeable membranes. It is not distinct nor distinguishable from its relationships: to its members, to its community, to its impacts, to its actions. Membranes are often effectively defined by terms of engagement: threshholds in which specific criteria must be met for the person or thing to pass through into a different phase. For example: membership agreements (see Membership Structures), partnership agreements, qualifications for performing a particular worker role, etc. In this way, such “membranes” are functioning like filters, where only people or things meeting a certain criteria are able to permeate the membrane and pass into the organism–thus preserving the health and vitality of the organism.

Organs & holons. Each department or distinctive functionality within the Cosmos organization may be thought of as an independent “organ” functioning in a single body. Any and every structured space or process occurring in Cosmos may be viewed as an organ–e.g. Metapsychosis, Writers Underground, etc. Each organ follows functions and patterns that are outflows of its programming. Each consumes and processes energy in regenerative ways (ala negentropy—leveraging talent, time, and other forms of capital into even more wondrous forms and capacities). Each has an outer membrane and structures (rules, algorithms, norms, requirements, the limits of scope/objective, etc.). Each moves in a coordinated way towards its aims and within its environmental bounds; meanwhile, each takes in feedback, and, responding to that feedback, adjusts its behavior as best it can. The actual functions (the pumps, enzymes, filters, mechanisms) of any such department in Cosmos would be described and modeled in process templates.

Brain/nervous system as self-aware feedback processing. If the community of active users and the sum of their activity constitutes Cosmos’ body , then the Cosmos organizational systems that utilize member feedback & decision-making would be the brain and nervous system, attempting to make sense of the raw ingredients and awarenesses happening in real time within itself, and striving to better coordinate those elements for optimization of self-actualization. Like a nucleus in a cell, the brain is a semi-protected sub-system that coordinates the direction of resources. While this represents a non-equal distribution of power (insofar as the nucleus has more power to influence the possibilities for the other parts of the cell than those cells may autonomously have), this is a trusted, vested power, one that is earned through clear alignment of purpose for the thriving of the whole cell (not purely the nucleus, at the expense of other parts), and through transparent accounting that allows for the make-up and the behavior of the nucleus to change at any time, if more effective, efficient, or inclusive structures become attainable (represented in “leveling up” options for the collective game).

Evaluation and feedback collection and processing mechanisms are like the nervous system, feeding crucial information to the brain (governance structures). This allows for meta-perception and like proprioception of the body, integrated from little “cells” to large organs to the overall organism as a whole. The brain ideally monitors such feedback using dashboards or leaderboards reflecting the “state of the whole,” and thus can make strategic choices amidst nearly-infinite possibilities–allowing for “observation and adaptation” to emerge.

Circulatory system as methods & mechanisms for exchange & constructive resource-connection. The process by which Cosmos provides its members with opportunities to engage in activities that benefit their goals AND that benefit Cosmos’ needs, are like the circulatory system, ensuring that necessary nutrients and elements are flowing to where they’re needed in the system rather than stagnant, unutilized, or piling up (thus creating waste/imbalance). Circulatory systems are necessarily linked with digestion and breathing, processes that bring in essential outside nutrients to replenish and grow the body. Such circulatory systems, or pathways–by which necessary ingredients (indicated by “proteins” like the presence of a demand or the presence of an offering) travel within the organism to where they are needed–may be multiple and diverse within Cosmos’ algorithms and structures. They could be defined generally as the means by which user-generated contributions are captured, analyzed, linked (or synced) with other parts of the body, delivered, and finally made “bioavailable” to that part of the body (that is, made accessible for “metabolization” by the compatible demand or offering in the system).

Endosymbiosis & nested holons. Endosymbiosis means symbiosis in which one of the organisms lives inside one another. The emergence of eukaryotic cells involved the absorption of one type of prokaryotic cell into another, in such a way that greatly increased the efficiency and power of the whole: the mitochondria became the powerhouses of metabolism that allowed the eukaryotic cell to grow and conquer, as the origin of all multi-cellular life forms on planet Earth forever and today. Akin to Holacracy, Cosmos would be a set of dynamic wholes or “circles” nesting within one another, all of which circulate energy regeneratively in ways that “feed upstream” into the realization of the Whole System’s ultimate purpose. Cosmos may be thought of like the ecosystem, the collective expression of myriad individual “wholes” (people, teams, communities) innovating their unique means to more a abundant life, yet the meta-organism (the ecosystem) could also be said to be a whole, to itself have relative measures of health and stability, and to be moving in the direction of its fulfillment of potential, as a result.

Does an ecosystem have a personality or an intention that is beyond the sum of its parts? The question is irrelevant when you recognize the astonishing simplicity of fractal intention throughout the organism–like how the billions of cells in a human organism share the same DNA and are willing to coordinate to serve that human’s moment-to-moment evolutionary purpose. (See: Isomorphism, above). At all levels, the intention is to allow for the greatest measure of self-expression and self-realization of all living forms, so as to “uplevel” the entire Life-expressive game–even beyond the bounds of Cosmos.


Developing a thriving ecosystem will involve two essential tensions: 1) the ever-growing synthesis and integration required for the coordinated action and attainment of collective goals, and 2) the diversification of strategies, ideas, methods, and, indeed, ways of framing the goals themselves.

  • Integration. This has to do with the integrity of information and the distribution and linkage of information across the network. Our broad success relies on integration—that we move toward coordinated, consensual action (like an ant or a bee colony “mind”) in the prototyping, constructing, and evaluating of better ways that we can all benefit from. This is how humanity could participate in the accelerated evolution of the design of our common structures, interactions and resource flows.
  • Diversification. In opposing contrast to appropriating, colonizing forces in the world, whose effect is to homogenize and deplete the lands, creatures and cultures they encroach, we seek to encompass the patterns and reach to the edges of what is culturally and holistically regenerative in a time of declining cultural and environmental diversity. Although we share a common reality, appropriate technologies and cultural solutions will look different everywhere conditions are different. We must accelerate the diversification of locally-based creative responses through rapid and well-resourced experimentation, which is made possible through open collaborative resourcing of initiatives. (See Cosmos’ project and team fundraising possibilities via Open Collective.)

Unlike a natural ecosystem, Cosmos (the business) has the unique challenge of sentient decision-making at the meta-self-aware level. That is, Cosmos must attempt to define what a healthy balance of tensions looks like AND course-correct that ideal balance on the fly–which is not something we know of ecosystems expressly doing. Whereas a natural ecosystem cannot well instigate a major disturbance (by definition, such a disturbance originates from beyond an ecosystem’s reference points), Cosmos has the challenge of managing all of its ecosystem requirements and functions in a highly sensitive, responsive, adaptive manner–including disturbances–toward an optimally intelligent, resilient system.

Optimizing through the Dynamic Calibration of Polar Tensions to Generate Infinite Forms

The yin yang of irreducible dynamic tensions in the system can be thought of in a couple ways. Loose overarching labels may suffice as generative forces (positive feedback loops) and limiting forces (negative feedback loops). Or you may look at it as open/abundant forces, and selective forces. The effect of the former, which let’s simply call “1,” is to dissolve/disperse [mycelial/network], the effect of the latter, let’s call “2,” is to stratify [lock in/hierarchy, even if just via natural historical stratification of events].

There is another interesting way to view it… in terms of (1) maintaining grounded spaciousness and (2) initiating attachment . Or a tension between space-taking-up and space-making/giving .

Let’s explore:

Initiating of attachment processes (2) … versus maintaining of grounded spaciousness (1)… from inter/intrapersonal level up to large group/organizational level…

(1) seems to actuate abundance, and (2) causes/results in diversification/innovation.

(2) leads to branching/forking, whereas (1) leads to integration/resolution, eventually.

(1) is base process: stabilizes, heals [space-making, loving].

(2) is creative-generative diversifying [space taking up/attachment] process: only works, really works, if supported by base.

(1) is base/contains (2). [“cuz you must define an aspiration and direction, before you can calibrate negative feedback loops to better enable the fulfillment of that purpose!”]

(1) involves tolerances for messy/divergent aspect of (2) processes… If (2) has to do with user customizations, (1) is platform affordances.

Tangible examples (& proof of reciprocal relationship):

Offering an audience is an act that one user can offer another, that is space-making in a way conducive to creatives to space-take-up with their burgeoning creative products. Thus, offering an audience is an act of sponsorship to creatives (1).

Creative productions/media are space-taking-up in a way that fills a void in the hearts and souls of an audience. The inspiring encounter of such media by the audience (which consists, too, of other creators) can spiral/springboard into more energy to create. Thus do creatives offer (2) to sponsors.

Intriguingly, the space-making/open/lovingness (1) seems to generate (or, just make available) abundance: more/better/deeper friends, opportunities, etc.

Even while (2) diversifies and adds new forms/adds complexity, the attachment process itself closes off some branches/filters to focus on others. It’s like how you cannot apply your attention onto more than ONE thing at a time effectively… Yet, becoming too devoted to one exclusive path (attachment) over time leads to scarcity/stagnation.

So: if the ideal is to live an abundant/redundant, creative/stimulating life, then these two factors must be dynamically calibrated for an optimized experience (toward mastery).

In ecosystem terms, the “space-taking-up” of other beings constitutes the constraints on others (or at least, activates competitive forces which are themselves limiting feedback loops in a system of limited resources.) Pressures and “bumping up against edges” inspire growth, adaptation, innovation. The right balance of open and limiting factors can actually produce extra energy in the system (regenerative system).

As it relates to the theme of “self-actualization” and how to amplify the “best” or “potential” in and from one another: When we are “at our best,” we are like an improvisational symphony: we perform our distinct instrument [our body-mind] in the best way we can, and we strive for that supreme balance of relaxation and regulation in an effort to “gel” optimally with the other space-takers/noise-makers in our sonic environment. These two dynamics–the relaxation and the regulation, the trying and the letting go–are irreducible and in continuous tension with one another, kind of like the Daoist perspective on yin and yang as infinite, eternal, complementary qualities of existence. Thus, all the Design Principles nest together in two distinct but mutually dependent tracks, unified at the point of self-actualization; from the yearning to create a system that is “best” (most intelligent, most fulfilling, most efficient and most diverse, creative, and multi-dimensional)–like an emergent complex ecosystem’s own maturation process–all of the subsequent gross and granular detailing of Cosmos’ intended designs (from user interface to shared community norms to platform functionality) springs.


Here are some of the ways that Cosmos’ wildy life-reinforcing designs are a kind of response to current, status quo or “legacy” systems that tend to deplete and erode life conditions.

Integration as a survival strategy. We see a social trend in recent decades to isolate and silo ourselves, affecting dehumanization and broken communicative and collaborative capacities. How can we be, instead, relentlessly integrative? How could we all “fit” more creatively together: not by coercion, but by consensual alignment (harmony)? We believe vibrant conversations, opportunities for meaningful, direct and consensual collaboration, and exposure to diverse people and ideas can help human societies move toward increased skillfulness and capacity for integrative processes.

Integration is a major and fundamental strategy of Cosmos, premised on an organismic model in which the organization would attempt to “digest and metabolize” threats (in other words, integrating threats) using one of these tactics: 1) absorbing the manifest efforts, through partnership by smart contract, consensual agreement, or other form of mutual aid, or 2) absorbing the ideas, models, or other such “bits of DNA” from peers or parallel efforts in our environment that serve and improve Cosmos’ mission-fulfillment. Running with these metaphors: if nothing in an ecosystem is “not me,” and therefore there is no “waste,” then how could we orient to our “way of life” as seeking to use every bit of everything as nutrition to feed learning, development, positive growth, enhancements, improvements, and mastery ?

We want to play host to a wide range of crucial cross-sector conversations, identifying and bolstering fruitful and unconventional collaborations within our network. We want to consensually integrate with other co-op businesses in the field. And we want our members to be welcomed, engaged and served at the individual level from the time they join the platform. We include as much as we can touch, like an gape-mouthed anemone–and we neutralize threats by reframing the interaction or transforming our response, without denying due respect to the danger’s organic causes.

Adaptability as a survival strategy. The most creative are the most adaptive. We can flex to include one another in a woven net through consensual arrangement of more symphonic order.

Balancing dynamic tensions intentionally for optimal thriving. We are proposing the creation of a more complex yet elegant “ecosystem” utilizing human energies. In rich ecosystems, there are continuous but generative tensions that strike a fine balance between competition and cooperation–daily, within the context of inevitable mass shocks to the system (disruptions). These factors will be modeled in Cosmos in order to create the most resilient and regenerative possible system.

For Cosmos to meet its aspirations, it must strike a complex, delicate balance between the tensions inherent in the system—much like a dynamic ecosystem. Specifically, it must strike an active balance between generative polarities intrinsic to the system. Like in a robust ecosystem, the cooperative/competitive overlap of different beings creates generative edges that result over time in new niches and life forms.

Some examples of these generative polarities:

  • Elders and radicals (and other generative difference-juxtapositions) in groups

  • Space and signal, also: listening and speaking

  • Autonomy and collective responsibility

  • Open & transparent data and individual privacy

  • Openness and focus

Self-awareness. Cosmos will maintain its coherence/integrity through checks and balances to power in the system through a complex set of formulas (See: Formulas), in the form of quantifiable and qualifiable metrics that trigger events in the system–some of which can be customized by users and teams autonomously. Through feedback loops, the system will have sufficient self-awareness to mitigate serious threats to its survival and of finely tuning, continually improving checks and balances against unhealthy pockets of concentrated power in the system—while also recognizing (see Ethics) that Conflict is a healthy aspect of discourse (thus some broad tolerance for dissonance is called for.)

Cosmos would be attentive to the ever-in-flux need for efforts at balancing the generative polarities, such as: Mixing hierarchical and network forms for optimal resilience. Rather than defaulting to a rigidly hierarchical or (equally rigid) strictly flat organizational model, we seek to enact an elegant hybrid organization incorporating elements of Holacracy and Anarchism in combination with traditional Cooperative principles, including more recent developments articulated in the concept of Platform Cooperativism.

Fun additional lines of inquiry here:

As Bonnitta Roy discusses in her work, an organization expresses and senses its own needs–just like when a baby cries and a parent responds. Organizations are very much “self-making” in that way. Certain organizations–like the United States of America, Facebook, etc.–have become these superstructures that have vast power over our lives and are somehow ubiquitous, yet we cannot “opt out” anymore. To what extent are those structures now having lives of their own? From a narrative perspective, tribal consciousness regarded god/spirits/animism… to what extent do we have animism/mythology where the gods are these corporate megabeasts that fight for their survival and complete for resources?

I think it is attainable for individual humans to sublimate or merge/stack their minds to a collective will. Like in the emergence of eukaryotic cells, the tension between the swallowed-mitochondria and the consumer cell resolved into an adaptive cooperative framework, which itself breeds positive negentropic complexity. (Involves conditioning ourselves for successful/healthy cooperation…. And involves so compelling, so advantageous a proposition of cooperation, that the sense of risk is overcome.) A small number of members may disagree and defect from a decision made affecting the whole of Cosmos. The notion that the individual retains some sovereignty within the collective, and is not totally absorbed by the collective, is important. One way that’s expressed practically is individual rights–meant to be barriers that maintain that distinction between social power and individual power. Balancing autonomy with gleaning/metabolizing/integrating the brilliance of the parts into the growth of the whole (A willful, sentient (chosen) cooperative collective. Collective embodies respect for the individual, it is participatory and voluntary, sense of freedom from coercion, freedom from irrational impulses (safety). But letting people choose to find their “fit” and harmonic fulfillment in a collective, which we’re wired for and are deeply missing in the modern structures of things. And this organization is in an ecosystem of other organizations and forms, too.

One more thing: Autonomy and communion (Wilbur). Always independent, and always in relationship with other holons. Recognize that this a polarity–neither side can “win” ever.

Consciousness arises out of complexity. Self-sensing. You can have incredible complexity without self-sensing (perhaps true… but is this so in living systems?). From Holacracy: each individual in the organization is a sensor, has sentience, and so the communication and transparency of those sensors enables the organization to become aware of what is being sensed_._ Holacracy has the idea that anybody can help anybody else. There’s no hierarchy based on position, etc. Reason for that is because the organization needs the information that its sensors provide, and needs it to be made available (digestible) by the organization. Can be essential to survival. Even on level of a business: e.g., customer service, they’re hearing feedback from customers, but that information is not effectively getting to the developers, etc. If this organization cannot compete in its environment as well because of its lack of internal awareness, it could suffer and even die.

Some of what is sensed is noise, some is essential. High resolution is less noise, more signal of the same matter. We have a rich metaphorical trove in the organic/organismic for organizational development. Biological science–is one set of metaphors, set of relationships. Those were developed for those specific phenomena, but what can be translated to this and other organizations that are emergent. Looking at post-mechanistic ways of interpreting sentient complex processes that serve life forms (including: organizations and platforms like Cosmos!)

[1] Cosmos co-founder Caroline Savery is focused on developing widely-applicable metaphors for interpreting Cosmos’ operations and governance functions through the lens of biological and ecological systems.

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