Thank you, I think you articulated better than anybody so far what I mean by a goal turning out to be meaningless.

Do you believe that a goal must persist down the the most fundamental reductionist level in order to really be a goal?

If not, can/should methods be employed in the pursuit of a goal such that the methods exist at a lower level than the goal itself?

I'm not quite sure what you're saying. I don't think there's a way to identify whether a goal is meaningless at a more fundamental level of description. Obviously Bob would be prone to say things like "today I did x in pursuit of my goal of time travel" but there's no way of telling that it's meaningless at any other level than that of meaning, i.e., with respect to language. Other than that, it seems to me that he'd be doing pretty much the same things, physically speaking, as someone pursuing a meaningful goal. He might even do useful things, like make breakthroughs in theoretical physics, despite being wholly confused about what he's doing.

What makes us think _any_ of our terminal values aren't based on a misunderstanding of reality?

by bokov 1 min read25th Sep 201389 comments


Let's say Bob's terminal value is to travel back in time and ride a dinosaur.

It is instrumentally rational for Bob to study physics so he can learn how to build a time machine. As he learns more physics, Bob realizes that his terminal value is not only utterly impossible but meaningless. By definition, someone in Bob's past riding a dinosaur is not a future evolution of the present Bob.

There are a number of ways to create the subjective experience of having gone into the past and ridden a dinosaur. But to Bob, it's not the same because he wanted both the subjective experience and the knowledge that it corresponded to objective fact. Without the latter, he might as well have just watched a movie or played a video game.

So if we took the original, innocent-of-physics Bob and somehow calculated his coherent extrapolated volition, we would end up with a Bob who has given up on time travel. The original Bob would not want to be this Bob.

But, how do we know that _anything_ we value won't similarly dissolve under sufficiently thorough deconstruction? Let's suppose for a minute that all "human values" are dangling units; that everything we want is as possible and makes as much sense as wanting to hear the sound of blue or taste the flavor of a prime number. What is the rational course of action in such a situation?

PS: If your response resembles "keep attempting to XXX anyway", please explain what privileges XXX over any number of other alternatives other than your current preference. Are you using some kind of pre-commitment strategy to a subset of your current goals? Do you now wish you had used the same strategy to precommit to goals you had when you were a toddler?