We tend think about compassion on the level of individual selves and minds: Bob feels compassionate toward Jim because Jim lost his wife, or his wallet, etc. Bob sympathizes with Jim because he can internally, to a certain extent, "feel what Jim feels."
But it's often more useful to think of compassion on the level of patterns.
The pattern of "losing one's wife" exists in both Bob and Jim. Its instance in Bob and its instance in Jim have an intrinsic commonality -- and when these two instances of the same pattern come to interact with each other, a certain amount of joy ensues ... a certain amount of increasing unity.
Compassion is about minds adopting dynamics that allow their internal emotional patterns to unify with other "external" patterns.
It is about individual minds not standing in the way of pattern-dynamics that seek unity and joy.
The tricky thing here is that individual minds want to retain their individuality and integrity -- and if the patterns they contain grow too much unity with "outside" patterns, this isolated individuality may be threatened.
The dangers of too much compassion are well portrayed by Dostoevsky in The Idiot, via the tale of the protagonist Prince Myshkin -- who goes nuts because of feeling too much compassion for various individuals with contradictory desires, needs, ideas and goals.
There seem to be limits to the amount of compassion that a mind can possess and still retain its individuality and integrity. However, it seems that (unlike Myshkin) mighty few humans are pushing up against these limits in their actual lives!
And of course, transhuman minds will likely be capable of greater compassion than human minds. If they have more robust methods of maintaining their own integrity, then they will be able to give their cognitive and emotional patterns more freedom in growing unity with external patterns.
Should Compassion Be Maximized?
Should compassion be maximized? This is a subtle issue.
From the point of view of the individual, maximization of compassion would lead to the dissolution of the individual.
From the point of view of the cosmos, maximization of compassion would cause a huge burst of joy, as all the patterns inside various minds gained cross-mind unity.
But would the joy last? Joy is about increase of patternment. An interesting question about this hypothetical scenario of maximal compassion is: After every mind wholly opened up to every other mind and experienced this huge burst of compassion, would there still be a situation where new patterns and new unities would get created?
Perhaps some level of noncompassionateness -- some level of separation and disunity -- is needed in order to create a situation where new patterns can grow, so that the "unity gain" innate to joy can occur?
The Practical Upshot
We should be compassionate. We should open ourselves up to the world.
We should do this as much as we can without losing the internal unities that allow our minds to operate, to generate new patterns and new unities.
And we should seek to expand and strengthen our selves so as to enable ever-greater compassion.
Our selves and our theaters of reflective, deliberative consciousness are frustrating and even self-deluding in some regards -- but they are part of our mind architecture, they are part of what makes us us. At this stage in our development, they are what let us grow and generate new patterns. We can't get rid of them thoroughly without giving up our humanity, without sacrificing ourselves in a sudden and traumatic way.
Perhaps as transhumanist technology advances many of us will choose to give up our humanity, via various routes. Perhaps in doing so we will achieve greater levels of compassion and joy than any human can. But until that time, we have to play the dialectical game of allowing ourselves as much joy and compassion as we can while keeping our selves and our internal conscious theaters intact enough to allow us to function in our human domain.
This may sound like a frustrating conclusion, but the fact is that nearly no one pushes this limit. Quite surely, outside of fiction I've met very few individuals who experience so much compassion it impairs their ability to function!
Postscript by Samantha Atkins
Upon reading the above, Samantha Atkins commented as follows, reiterating the ideas based on her own experiences, and integrating several other themes touched on elsewhere in this Manifesto:
Everyone that has meditated or done certain drugs or just followed certain paths of reflection has dissolved the self in "Self", lost self in transpersonal pattern. It is only scary when you are paranoid that "you" will cease or not arise again. Everyone coming out of a psychedelic experience has watched the "self" reintegrate out of the seeming cosmic "not-self" -- a place where "self" doesn't seem relevant or even believable. You can even give a tweak here and there to "self" as it reconstructs. So what are we? Good question.
I think the dance from self to Self and back again, concurrently at different points of the cycle is a very much more realistic consciousness. It is neither easy or hard to achieve. It is hard to maintain and function adequately in all settings where only self is expected. Big compassion changes you fast. Even opening to just compassion/oneness/equal importance of a small group of people changes you a lot. There is a reason people that do that much go off to special places; and if they want to do it all the time they tend to stay there.
One thing I hope and suspect is that we learn that the limit on our own wealth/happiness/wellbeing is the asymptote of the maximal actualization of the highest potentials of all others. After all our selves all dance with, enliven, enrich, add value to our shared space and one another. Thus the maximization of all those others is the maximization of ourselves. This is hard to see within scarcity based thinking. But I think it is essential to see to ever really experience abundance, no matter how much we have.
I understand how to go to that level of compassion, all connection that impairs function. I have touched it, dipped into it, been attracted, been repelled, found it hard to keep an even keel in the everyday world. Mostly I was not willing to let go to the changes I felt happening and required to live there. Someday I may decide differently.