Followup toMixed Reference: The Great Reductionist Project

Humans need fantasy to be human.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—"

Yes. As practice. You have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

Yes. Justice. Mercy. Duty. That sort of thing.

"They're not the same at all!"

You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy.

- Susan and Death, in Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Suppose three people find a pie - that is, three people exactly simultaneously spot a pie which has been exogenously generated in unclaimed territory. Zaire wants the entire pie; Yancy thinks that 1/3 each is fair; and Xannon thinks that fair would be taking into equal account everyone's ideas about what is "fair".

I myself would say unhesitatingly that a third of the pie each, is fair. "Fairness", as an ethical concept, can get a lot more complicated in more elaborate contexts. But in this simple context, a lot of other things that "fairness" could depend on, like work inputs, have been eliminated or made constant. Assuming no relevant conditions other than those already stated, "fairness" simplifies to the mathematical procedure of splitting the pie into equal parts; and when this logical function is run over physical reality, it outputs "1/3 for Zaire, 1/3 for Yancy, 1/3 for Xannon".

Or to put it another way - just like we get "If Oswald hadn't shot Kennedy, nobody else would've" by running a logical function over a true causal model - similarly, we can get the hypothetical 'fair' situation, whether or not it actually happens, by running the physical starting scenario through a logical function that describes what a 'fair' outcome would look like:

So am I (as Zaire would claim) just assuming-by-authority that I get to have everything my way, since I'm not defining 'fairness' the way Zaire wants to define it?

No more than mathematicians are flatly ordering everyone to assume-without-proof that two different numbers can't have the same successor. For fairness to be what everyone thinks is "fair" would be entirely circular, structurally isomorphic to "Fzeem is what everyone thinks is fzeem"... or like trying to define the counting numbers as "whatever anyone thinks is a number". It only even looks coherent because everyone secretly already has a mental picture of "numbers" - because their brain already navigated to the referent.  But something akin to axioms is needed to talk about "numbers, as opposed to something else" in the first place. Even an inchoate mental image of "0, 1, 2, ..." implies the axioms no less than a formal statement - we can extract the axioms back out by asking questions about this rough mental image.

Similarly, the intuition that fairness has something to do with dividing up the pie equally, plays a role akin to secretly already having "0, 1, 2, ..." in mind as the subject of mathematical conversation. You need axioms, not as assumptions that aren't justified, but as pointers to what the heck the conversation is supposed to be about.

Multiple philosophers have suggested that this stance seems similar to "rigid designation", i.e., when I say 'fair' it intrinsically, rigidly refers to something-to-do-with-equal-division. I confess I don't see it that way myself - if somebody thinks of Euclidean geometry when you utter the sound "num-berz" they're not doing anything false, they're associating the sound to a different logical thingy. It's not about words with intrinsically rigid referential power, it's that the words are window dressing on the underlying entities. I want to talk about a particular logical entity, as it might be defined by either axioms or inchoate images, regardless of which word-sounds may be associated to it.  If you want to call that "rigid designation", that seems to me like adding a level of indirection; I don't care about the word 'fair' in the first place, I care about the logical entity of fairness.  (Or to put it even more sharply: since my ontology does not have room for physics, logic, plus designation, I'm not very interested in discussing this 'rigid designation' business unless it's being reduced to something else.)

Once issues of justice become more complicated and all the contextual variables get added back in, we might not be sure if a disagreement about 'fairness' reflects:

  1. The equivalent of a multiplication error within the same axioms - incorrectly dividing by 3.  (Or more complicatedly:  You might have a sophisticated axiomatic concept of 'equity', and incorrectly process those axioms to invalidly yield the assertion that, in a context where 2 of the 3 must starve and there's only enough pie for at most 1 person to survive, you should still divide the pie equally instead of flipping a 3-sided coin.  Where I'm assuming that this conclusion is 'incorrect', not because I disagree with it, but because it didn't actually follow from the axioms.)
  2. Mistaken models of the physical world fed into the function - mistakenly thinking there's 2 pies, or mistakenly thinking that Zaire has no subjective experiences and is not an object of ethical value.
  3. People associating different logical functions to the letters F-A-I-R, which isn't a disagreement about some common pinpointed variable, but just different people wanting different things.

There's a lot of people who feel that this picture leaves out something fundamental, especially once we make the jump from "fair" to the broader concept of "moral", "good", or "right".  And it's this worry about leaving-out-something-fundamental that I hope to address next...

...but please note, if we confess that 'right' lives in a world of physics and logic - because everything lives in a world of physics and logic - then we have to translate 'right' into those terms somehow.

And that is the answer Susan should have given - if she could talk about sufficiently advanced epistemology, sufficiently fast - to Death's entire statement:

You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet — Death waved a hand. And yet you act as if there is some ideal order in the world, as if there is some ... rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.

"But!" Susan should've said.  "When we judge the universe we're comparing it to a logical referent, a sort of thing that isn't in the universe!  Why, it's just like looking at a heap of 2 apples and a heap of 3 apples on a table, and comparing their invisible product to the number 6 - there isn't any 6 if you grind up the whole table, even if you grind up the whole universe, but the product is still 6, physico-logically speaking."

If you require that Rightness be written on some particular great Stone Tablet somewhere - to be "a light that shines from the sky", outside people, as a different Terry Pratchett book put it - then indeed, there's no such Stone Tablet anywhere in our universe.

But there shouldn't be such a Stone Tablet, given standard intuitions about morality.  This follows from the Euthryphro Dilemma out of ancient Greece.

The original Euthryphro dilemma goes, "Is it pious because it is loved by the gods, or loved by the gods because it is pious?" The religious version goes, "Is it good because it is commanded by God, or does God command it because it is good?"

The standard atheist reply is:  "Would you say that it's an intrinsically good thing - even if the event has no further causal consequences which are good - to slaughter babies or torture people, if that's what God says to do?"

If we can't make it good to slaughter babies by tweaking the state of God, then morality doesn't come from God; so goes the standard atheist argument.

But if you can't make it good to slaughter babies by tweaking the physical state of anything - if we can't imagine a world where some great Stone Tablet of Morality has been physically rewritten, and what is right has changed - then this is telling us that...


...what's "right" is a logical thingy rather than a physical thingy, that's all.  The mark of a logical validity is that we can't concretely visualize a coherent possible world where the proposition is false.

And I mention this in hopes that I can show that it is not moral anti-realism to say that moral statements take their truth-value from logical entities.  Even in Ancient Greece, philosophers implicitly knew that 'morality' ought to be such an entity - that it couldn't be something you found when you ground the Universe to powder, because then you could resprinkle the powder and make it wonderful to kill babies - though they didn't know how to say what they knew.

There's a lot of people who still feel that Death would be right, if the universe were all physical; that the kind of dry logical entity I'm describing here, isn't sufficient to carry the bright alive feeling of goodness.

And there are others who accept that physics and logic is everything, but who - I think mistakenly - go ahead and also accept Death's stance that this makes morality a lie, or, in lesser form, that the bright alive feeling can't make it.  (Sort of like people who accept an incompatibilist theory of free will, also accept physics, and conclude with sorrow that they are indeed being controlled by physics.)

In case anyone is bored that I'm still trying to fight this battle, well, here's a quote from a recent Facebook conversation with a famous early transhumanist:

No doubt a "crippled" AI that didn't understand the existence or nature of first-person facts could be nonfriendly towards sentient beings... Only a zombie wouldn't value Heaven over Hell. For reasons we simply don't understand, the negative value and normative aspect of agony and despair is built into the nature of the experience itself. Non-reductionist? Yes, on a standard materialist ontology. But not IMO within a more defensible Strawsonian physicalism.

It would actually be quite surprisingly helpful for increasing the percentage of people who will participate meaningfully in saving the planet, if there were some reliably-working standard explanation for why physics and logic together have enough room to contain morality.  People who think that reductionism means we have to lie to our children, as Pratchett's Death advocates, won't be much enthused about the Center for Applied Rationality.  And there are a fair number of people out there who still advocate proceeding in the confidence of ineffable morality to construct sloppily designed AIs.

So far I don't know of any exposition that works reliably - for the thesis for how morality including our intuitions about whether things really are justified and so on, is preserved in the analysis to physics plus logic; that morality has been explained rather than explained away.  Nonetheless I shall now take another stab at it, starting with a simpler bright feeling:

When I see an unusually neat mathematical proof, unexpectedly short or surprisingly general, my brain gets a joyous sense of elegance.

There's presumably some functional slice through my brain that implements this emotion - some configuration subspace of spiking neural circuitry which corresponds to my feeling of elegance.  Perhaps I should say that elegance is merely about my brain switching on its elegance-signal?  But there are concepts like Kolmogorov complexity that give more formal meanings of "simple" than "Simple is whatever makes my brain feel the emotion of simplicity."  Anything you do to fool my brain wouldn't make the proof really elegant, not in that sense.  The emotion is not free of semantic content; we could build a correspondence theory for it and navigate to its logical+physical referent, and say:  "Sarah feels like this proof is elegant, and her feeling is true."  You could even say that certain proofs are elegant even if no conscious agent sees them.

My description of 'elegance' admittedly did invoke agent-dependent concepts like 'unexpectedly' short or 'surprisingly' general.  It's almost certainly true that with a different mathematical background, I would have different standards of elegance and experience that feeling on somewhat different occasions.  Even so, that still seems like moving around in a field of similar referents for the emotion - much more similar to each other than to, say, the distant cluster of 'anger'.

Rewiring my brain so that the 'elegance' sensation gets activated when I see mathematical proofs where the words have lots of vowels - that wouldn't change what is elegant.  Rather, it would make the feeling be about something else entirely; different semantics with a different truth-condition.

Indeed, it's not clear that this thought experiment is, or should be, really conceivable.  If all the associated computation is about vowels instead of elegance, then from the inside you would expect that to feel vowelly, not feel elegant...

...which is to say that even feelings can be associated with logical entities.  Though unfortunately not in any way that will feel like qualia if you can't read your own source code.  I could write out an exact description of your visual cortex's spiking code for 'blue' on paper, and it wouldn't actually look blue to you.  Still, on the higher level of description, it should seem intuitively plausible that if you tried rewriting the relevant part of your brain to count vowels, the resulting sensation would no longer have the content or even the feeling of elegance.  It would compute vowelliness, and feel vowelly.

My feeling of mathematical elegance is motivating; it makes me more likely to search for similar such proofs later and go on doing math.  You could construct an agent that tried to add more vowels instead, and if the agent asked itself why it was doing that, the resulting justification-thought wouldn't feel like because-it's-elegant, it would feel like because-it's-vowelly.

In the same sense, when you try to do what's right, you're motivated by things like (to yet again quote Frankena's list of terminal values):

"Life, consciousness, and activity; health and strength; pleasures and satisfactions of all or certain kinds; happiness, beatitude, contentment, etc.; truth; knowledge and true opinions of various kinds, understanding, wisdom; beauty, harmony, proportion in objects contemplated; aesthetic experience; morally good dispositions or virtues; mutual affection, love, friendship, cooperation; just distribution of goods and evils; harmony and proportion in one's own life; power and experiences of achievement; self-expression; freedom; peace, security; adventure and novelty; and good reputation, honor, esteem, etc."

If we reprogrammed you to count paperclips instead, it wouldn't feel like different things having the same kind of motivation behind it.  It wouldn't feel like doing-what's-right for a different guess about what's right.  It would feel like doing-what-leads-to-paperclips.

And I quoted the above list because the feeling of rightness isn't about implementing a particular logical function; it contains no mention of logical functions at all; in the environment of evolutionary ancestry nobody has heard of axiomatization; these feelings are about life, consciousness, etcetera.  If I could write out the whole truth-condition of the feeling in a way you could compute, you would still feel Moore's Open Question:  "I can see that this event is high-rated by logical function X, but is X really right?" - since you can't read your own source code and the description wouldn't be commensurate with your brain's native format.

"But!" you cry.  "But, is it really better to do what's right, than to maximize paperclips?"  Yes!  As soon as you start trying to cash out the logical function that gives betterness its truth-value, it will output "life, consciousness, etc. >B paperclips".  And if your brain were computing a different logical function instead, like makes-more-paperclips, it wouldn't feel better, it would feel moreclippy.

But is it really justified to keep our own sense of betterness?  Sure, and that's a logical fact - it's the objective output of the logical function corresponding to your experiential sense of what it means for something to be 'justified' in the first place.  This doesn't mean that Clippy the Paperclip Maximizer will self-modify to do only things that are justified; Clippy doesn't judge between self-modifications by computing justifications, but rather, computing clippyflurphs.

But isn't it arbitrary for Clippy to maximize paperclips?  Indeed; once you implicitly or explicitly pinpoint the logical function that gives judgments of arbitrariness their truth-value - presumably, revolving around the presence or absence of justifications - then this logical function will objectively yield that there's no justification whatsoever for maximizing paperclips (which is why I'm not going to do it) and hence that Clippy's decision is arbitrary. Conversely, Clippy finds that there's no clippyflurph for preserving life, and hence that it is unclipperiffic.  But unclipperifficness isn't arbitrariness any more than the number 17 is a right triangle; they're different logical entities pinned down by different axioms, and the corresponding judgments will have different semantic content and feel different.  If Clippy is architected to experience that-which-you-call-qualia, Clippy's feeling of clippyflurph will be structurally different from the way justification feels, not just red versus blue, but vision versus sound.

But surely one shouldn't praise the clippyflurphers rather than the just?  I quite agree; and as soon as you navigate referentially to the coherent logical entity that is the truth-condition of should - a function on potential actions and future states - it will agree with you that it's better to avoid the arbitrary than the unclipperiffic.  Unfortunately, this logical fact does not correspond to the truth-condition of any meaningful proposition computed by Clippy in the course of how it efficiently transforms the universe into paperclips, in much the same way that rightness plays no role in that-which-is-maximized by the blind processes of natural selection.

Where moral judgment is concerned, it's logic all the way down.  ALL the way down.  Any frame of reference where you're worried that it's really no better to do what's right then to maximize paperclips... well, that really part has a truth-condition (or what does the "really" mean?) and as soon as you write out the truth-condition you're going to end up with yet another ordering over actions or algorithms or meta-algorithms or something.  And since grinding up the universe won't and shouldn't yield any miniature '>' tokens, it must be a logical ordering.  And so whatever logical ordering it is you're worried about, it probably does produce 'life > paperclips' - but Clippy isn't computing that logical fact any more than your pocket calculator is computing it.

Logical facts have no power to directly affect the universe except when some part of the universe is computing them, and morality is (and should be) logic, not physics.

Which is to say:

The old wizard was staring at him, a sad look in his eyes. "I suppose I do understand now," he said quietly.

"Oh?" said Harry. "Understand what?"

"Voldemort," said the old wizard. "I understand him now at last. Because to believe that the world is truly like that, you must believe there is no justice in it, that it is woven of darkness at its core. I asked you why he became a monster, and you could give no reason. And if I could ask him, I suppose, his answer would be: Why not?"

They stood there gazing into each other's eyes, the old wizard in his robes, and the young boy with the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead.

"Tell me, Harry," said the old wizard, "will you become a monster?"

"No," said the boy, an iron certainty in his voice.

"Why not?" said the old wizard.

The young boy stood very straight, his chin raised high and proud, and said: "There is no justice in the laws of Nature, Headmaster, no term for fairness in the equations of motion. The universe is neither evil, nor good, it simply does not care. The stars don't care, or the Sun, or the sky. But they don't have to! We care! There is light in the world, and it is us!"


Part of the sequence Highly Advanced Epistemology 101 for Beginners

Next post: "Standard and Nonstandard Numbers"

Previous post: "Mixed Reference: The Great Reductionist Project"


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Is this a fair summary?

The answer to the clever meta-moral question, “But why should we care about morality?” is just “Because when we say morality, we refer to that-which-we-care-about - and, not to belabor the point, but we care about what we care about. Whatever you think you care about, which isn’t morality, I’m calling that morality also. Precisely which things are moral and which are not is a difficult question - but there is no non-trivial meta-question.”

There is a non-trivial point in this summary, which is the meaning of "we." I could imagine a possible world in which the moral intuitions of humans diverge widely enough that there isn't anything that could reasonably be called a coherent extrapolated volition of humanity (and I worry that I already live there).

0Dues5yHumans value some things more than others. Survival is the bedrock human value (yourself, your family, your children, your species). Followed by things like pleasure and the lives of others and the lives of animals. Every human weighs the things a little differently, and we're all bad at the math. But on average most humans weigh the important things about the same. There is a reason Elizer is able to keep going back to the example of saving a child.

If we reprogrammed you to count paperclips instead, it wouldn't feel like different things having the same kind of motivation behind it. It wouldn't feel like doing-what's-right for a different guess about what's right. It would feel like doing-what-leads-to-paperclips.

Um, how do you know?

7chaosmosis8yIt would depend on what exactly what we reprogrammed within you, I expect.
6Alicorn8yExactly. I mean, you could probably make it have its own quale, but you could also make it not, and I don't see why that would be in question as long as we're postulating brain-reprogramming powers.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky8yAssume the subject of reprogramming is an existing human being, otherwise minimally altered by this reprogramming, i.e., we don't do anything that isn't necessary to switch their motivation to paperclips. So unless you do something gratuitiously non-minimal like moving the whole decision-action system out of the range of introspective modeling, or cutting way down on the detail level of introspective modeling, or changing the empathic architecture for modeling hypothetical selves, the new person will experience themselves as having ineffable 'qualia' associated with the motivation to produce paperclips. The only way to make it seem to them like their motivational quales hadn't changed over time would be to mess with the encoding of their previous memories of motivation, presumably in a structure-destroying way since the stored data and their introspectively exposed surfaces will not be naturally isomorphic. If you carry out the change to paperclip-motivation in the obvious way, cognitive comparisions of the retrieved memories to current thoughts will return 'unequal ineffable quales', and if the memories are visualized in different modalities from current thoughts, 'incomparable ineffable quales'. Doing-what-leads-to-paperclips will also be a much simpler 'quale', both from the outside perspective looking at the complexity of cognitive data, and in terms of the internal experience of complexity - unless you pack an awful lot of detail into the question of what constitutes a more preferred paperclip. Otherwise, compared to the old days when you thought about justice and fairness, introspection will show that less questioning and uncertainty is involved, and that there are fewer points of variation among the motivational thought-quales being considered. I suppose you could put in some extra work to make the previous motivations map in cognitively comparable ways along as many joints as possible, and try to edit previous memories without destroying their structure s

I think you and Alicorn may be talking past each other somewhat.

Throughout my life, it seems that what I morally value has varied more than what rightness feels like - just as it seems that what I consider status-raising has changed more than what rising in status feels like, and what I find physically pleasurable has changed more than what physical pleasures feel like. It's possible that the things my whole person is optimizing for have not changed at all, that my subjective feelings are a direct reflection of this, and that my evaluation of a change of content is merely a change in my causal model of the production of the desiderata (I thought voting for Smith would lower unemployment, but now I think voting for Jones would, etc.) But it seems more plausible to me that

1) the whole me is optimizing for various things, and these things change over time,
2) and that the conscious me is getting information inputs which it can group together by family resemblance, and which can reinforce or disincentivize its behavior.

Imagine a ship which is governed by an anarchic assembly beneath board and captained by an employee of theirs whom they motivate through in-kind bonuses. So the assembly... (read more)

This comment expands how you'd go about reprogramming someone in this way with another layer of granularity, which is certainly interesting on its own merits, but it doesn't strongly support your assertion about what it would feel like to be that someone. What makes you think this is how qualia work? Have you been performing sinister experiments in your basement? Do you have magic counterfactual-luminosity-powers?

I think Eliezer is simply suggesting that qualia don't in fact exist in a vacuum. Green feels the way it does partly because it's the color of chlorophyll. In a universe where plants had picked a different color for chlorophyll (melanophyll, say), with everything else (per impossibile) held constant, we would associate an at least slightly different quale with green and with black, because part of how colors feel is that they subtly remind us of the things that are most often colored that way. Similarly, part of how 'goodness' feels is that it imperceptibly reminds us of the extension of good; if that extension were dramatically different, then the feeling would (barring any radical redesigns of how associative thought works) be different too. In a universe where the smallest birds were ten feet tall, thinking about 'birdiness' would involve a different quale for the same reason.

7khafra8yIt sounds to me like you don't think the answer had anything to do with the question. But to think that, you'd pretty much have to discard both the functionalist and physicalist theories of mind, and go full dualist/neutral monist; wouldn't you?
2Eliezer Yudkowsky8yI think I'll go with this as my reply - "Well, imagine that you lived in a monist universe - things would pretty much have to work that way, wouldn't they?"
1Nick_Tarleton8yPossibly (this is total speculation) Eliezer is talking about the feeling of one's entire motivational system (or some large part of it), while you're talking about the feeling of some much narrower system that you identify as computing morality; so his conception of a Clippified human wouldn't share your terminal-ish drives to eat tasty food, be near friends, etc., and the qualia that correspond to wanting those things.
8Eliezer Yudkowsky8yThe Clippified human categorizes foods into a similar metric of similarity - still believes that fish tastes more like steak than like chocolate - but of course is not motivated to eat except insofar as staying alive helps to make more paperclips. They have taste, but not tastiness. Actually that might make a surprisingly good metaphor for a lot of the difficulty that some people have with comprehending how Clippy can understand your pain and not care - maybe I'll try it on the other end of that Facebook conversation.
8DaFranker8yThe metaphor seems like it could lose most of its effectiveness on people who have never applied the outside view to how taste and tastiness feel from inside - they've never realized that chocolate tastes good because their brain fires "good taste" when it perceives the experience "chocolate taste". The obvious resulting cognitive dissonance (from "tastes bad for others") predictions match my observations, so I suspect this would be common among non-rationalists. If the Facebook conversation you mention is with people who haven't crossed that inferential gap yet, it might prove not that useful.

Consider Bob. Bob, like most unreflective people, settles many moral questions by "am I disgusted by it?" Bob is disgusted by, among other things, feces, rotten fruit, corpses, maggots, and men kissing men. Internally, it feels to Bob like the disgust he feels at one of those stimuli is the same as the disgust he feels at the other stimuli, and brain scans show that they all activate the insula in basically the same way.

Bob goes through aversion therapy (or some other method) and eventually his insula no longer activates when he sees men kissing men.

When Bob remembers his previous reaction to that stimuli, I imagine he would remember being disgusted, but not be disgusted when he remembers the stimuli. His positions on, say, same-sex marriage or the acceptability of gay relationships have changed, and he is aware that they have changed.

Do you think this example agrees with your account? If/where it disagrees, why do you prefer your account?

I think this is really a sorites problem. If you change what's delicious only slightly, then deliciousness itself seems to be unaltered. But if you change it radically — say, if circuits similar to your old gustatory ones now trigger when and only when you see a bright light — then it seems plausible that the experience itself will be at least somewhat changed, because 'how things feel' is affected by our whole web of perceptual and conceptual associations. There isn't necessarily any sharp line where a change in deliciousness itself suddenly becomes perceptible; but it's nevertheless the case that the overall extension of 'delicious' (like 'disgusting' and 'moral') has some effect on how we experience deliciousness. E.g., deliciousness feels more foodish than lightish.

9Vaniver8yWhen I look at the problem introspectively, I can see that as a sensible guess. It doesn't seem like a sensible guess when I look at it from a neurological perspective. If the activation of the insula is disgust, then the claim that outputs of the insula will have a different introspective flavor when you rewire the inputs of the insula seems doubtful. Sure, it could be the case, but why? When we hypnotize people to make them disgusted by benign things, I haven't seen any mention that the disgust has a different introspective flavor, and people seem to reason about that disgust in the exact same way that they reason about the disgust they had before. This seems like the claim that rewiring yourself leads to something like synesthesia [], and that just seems like an odd and unsupported claim to me.
4Rob Bensinger8yCertain patterns of behavior at the insula correlate with disgust. But we don't know whether they're sufficient for disgust, nor do we know which modifications within or outside of the insula change the conscious character of disgust. There are lots of problems with identity claims at this stage, so I'll just raise one: For all we know, activation patterns in a given brain region correlate with disgust because disgust is experienced when that brain region inhibits another part of the brain; an experience could consist, in context, in the absence of a certain kind of brain activity. Hypnosis data is especially difficult to evaluate, because it isn't clear (a) how reliable people's self-reports about introspection are while under hypnosis; nor (b) how reliable people's memories-of-hypnosis are afterward. Some 'dissociative' people even give contradictory phenomenological reports while under hypnosis. That said, if you know of any studies suggesting that the disgust doesn't have at all a different character, I'd be very interested to see them! If you think my claim isn't modest and fairly obvious, then it might be that you aren't understanding my claim. Redness feels at least a little bit bloodish. Greenness feels at least a little bit foresty. If we made a clone who sees evergreen forests as everred and blood as green, then their experience of greenness and redness would be partly the same, but it wouldn't be completely the same, because that overtone of bloodiness would remain in the background of a variety of green experiences, and that woodsy overtone would remain in the background of a variety of red experiences.
1Vaniver8yI'm differentiating between "red evokes blood" and "red feels bloody," because those seem like different things to me. The former deals with memory and association, and the second deals with introspection, and so I agree that the same introspective sensation could evoke very different memories. The dynamics of introspective sensations could plausibly vary between people, and so I'm reluctant to discuss it extensively except in the context of object-level comparisons.
1Rob Bensinger8yI'm not sure exactly what you mean by "red evokes blood." I agree that "red feels bloody" is intuitively distinct from "I tend to think explicitly about blood when I start thinking about redness," though the two are causally related. Certain shades of green to me feel fresh, clean, 'naturey;' certain shades of red to me feel violent, hot, glaring; certain shades of blue feel cool; etc. My suggestion is that these qualia, which are part of the feeling of the colors themselves for most humans, would be experientially different even when decontextualized if we'd gone through life perceiving forests as blue, oceans as red, campfires as green, etc. By analogy, the feeling of 'virtue' may be partly independent of which things we think of under the concept 'virtuous;' but it isn't completely independent of those things.
2Vaniver8yI am aware that many humans have this sort of classification of colors, and have learned it because of its value in communication, but as far as I can tell this isn't a significant part of my mental experience. A dark green might make it easier for me to think of leaves or forests, but I don't have any experiences that I would describe as feeling 'naturey'. If oceans and forests swapped colors, I imagine that seeing the same dark green would make it easier for me to think of waves and water, but I think my introspective experience would be the same. If I can simplify your claim a bit, it sounds like if both oceans and forests were dark green, then seeing dark green would make you think of leaves and waves / feel associated feelings, and that this ensemble would be different from your current sensation of ocean blue or forest green. It seems sensible to me that the ensembles are different because they have different elements. I'm happier with modeling that as perceptual bleedover- because forests and green are heavily linked, even forests that aren't green are linked to green, and greens that aren't on leaves are linked with forests- than I am modeling that as an atom of consciousness- the sensation of foresty greens- but if your purposes are different, a different model may be more suitable.
1Rob Bensinger8yPart of the problem may be that I'm not so sure I have a distinct, empirically robust idea of an 'atom of consciousness.' I took for granted your distinction between 'evoking blood' and 'feeling bloody,' but in practice these two ideas blend together a great deal. Some ideas -- phonological and musical ones, for example -- are instantiated in memory by certain temporal sequences and patterns of association. From my armchair, I'm not sure how much my idea of green (or goodness, or clippiness) is what it is in virtue of its temporal and associative dispositions, too. And I don't know if Eliezer is any less confused than I.
4adamisom8yI just wanted to tell everyone that it is great fun to read this in the voice of that voice actor for the Enzyte commercial :)
1FeepingCreature8yI think this is easier because disgust is relatively arbitrary to begin with, in that it seems to implement a function over the world-you relation (roughly, things that are bad for you to eat/be near). We wouldn't expect that relation to have much coherence to begin with, so there'd be not much loss of coherence from modifying it - though, arguably, the same thing could be said for most qualia - elegance is kind of the odd one out.
5Armok_GoB8yI wouldn't be all that suprised if the easiest way to get a human maximizing papperclips was to make it believe paperclips had epiphenomenal consciousnesses experiencing astronomical amounts of pleasure. edit: or you could just give them a false memory of god telling them to do it.
3FeepingCreature8yThe Enrichment Center would like to remind you that the Paperclip cannot speak. In the event that the Paperclip does speak, the Enrichment Center urges you to disregard its advice.
2MugaSofer8yWouldn't it be easier to have the programee remember themself as misunderstanding morality - like a reformed racist who previously preferred options that harmed minorities. I know when I gain more insight into my ethics I remember making decisions that, in retrospect, are incomprehensible (unless I deliberately keep in mind how I thought I should act.)
1JoachimSchipper8yI have no problem with this passage. But it does not seem obviously impossible to create a device that stimulates that-which-feels-rightness proportionally to (its estimate of) the clippiness of the universe - it's just a very peculiar kind of wireheading. As you point out, it'd be obvious, on reflection, that one's sense of rightness has changed; but that doesn't necessarily make it a different qualia, any more than having your eyes opened to the suffering of (group) changes your experience of (in)justice qua (in)justice.
0Gust8yAlthough I think your point here is plausible, I don't think it fits in a post where you are talking about the logicalness of morality. This qualia problem is physical; whether your feeling changes when the structure of some part of your decision system changes depends on your implementation. Maybe your background understanding of neurology is enough for you to be somewhat confident stating this feeling/logical-function relation for humans. But mine is not and, although I could separate your metaethical explanations from your physical claims when reading the post, I think it would be better off without the latter.
4handoflixue8ySpeaking from personal experience, I can say that he's right. Explaining how I know this, much less sharing the experience, is more difficult. The simplest idea I can present is that you probably have multiple utility functions. If you're buying apples, you'll evaluate whether you like that type of apple, what the quality of the apple is, and how good the price is. For me, at least, these all FEEL different - a bruised apple doesn't "feel" overpriced the way a $5 apple at the airport does. Even disliking soft apples feels very different from recognizing a bruised apple, even though they both also go in to a larger basket of "no good". What's more, I can pick apples based on someone ELSE'S utility function, and actually often shop with my roommate's function in mind (she likes apples a lot more than me, but is also much pickier, as it happens). This feels different from using my own utility function. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The other side of this is that I would expect my brain to NOTICE it's actual goals. If my goal is to make paperclips, I will think "I should do this because it makes paperclips", instead of "I should do this because it makes people happy". My brain doesn't have a generic "I should do this" emotion, as near as I can tell - it just has ways of signalling that an activity will accomplish my goals. Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that my feelings are more a combination of activity + outcome, not some raw platonic ideal. While sex, hiking, and a nice meal all make me "happy", they still feel completely different - I just lump them in to a larger category of "happiness" for some reason. I'd strongly suspect you can add make-more-paperclips to that emotional category , but I see absolutely no reason you could make me treat it the same as a nice dinner, because that wouldn't even make sense.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that he's right.

So, you introspect the way that he introspects. Do all humans? Would all humans need to introspect that way for it to do the work that he wants it to do?

5handoflixue8yOoh, good call, thank you. I suppose it might be akin to visualization, where it actually varies from person to person. Does anyone here on LessWrong have conflicting anecdotes, though? Does anyone disagree with what I said? If not, it seems like a safe generalization for now, but it's still useful to remember I'm generalizing from one example :) Remembering that other people have genuinely alien minds is surprisingly tricky.

The other side of this is that I would expect my brain to NOTICE it's actual goals. If my goal is to make paperclips, I will think "I should do this because it makes paperclips", instead of "I should do this because it makes people happy". My brain doesn't have a generic "I should do this" emotion, as near as I can tell - it just has ways of signalling that an activity will accomplish my goals.

Iron deficiency feels like wanting ice. For clever, verbal reasons. Not being iron deficient doesn't feel like anything. My brain did not notice that it was trying to get iron - it didn't even notice it was trying to get ice, it made up reasons according to which ice was an instrumental value for some terminal goal or other.

4shminux8yOther people? I find my own mind quite alien below the thin layer accessible to my introspection. Heck, most of the time I cannot even tell if my introspection lies to me.
2asparisi8yI think I have a different introspection here. When I have a feeling such as 'doing-whats-right' there is a positive emotional response associated with it. Immediately I attach semantic content to that emotion: I identify it as being produced by the 'doing-whats-right' emotion. How do I do this? I suspect that my brain has done the work to figure out that emotional response X is associated with behavior Y, and just does the work quickly. But this is maleable. Over time, the emotional response associated with an act can change and this does not necessarily indicate a change in semantic content. I can, for example, give to a charity that I am not convinced is good and I still will often get the 'doing-whats-right' emotion even though the semantic content isn't really there. I can also find new things I value, and occasionally I will acknowledge that I value something before I get positive emotional reinforcement. So in my experience, they aren't identical. I strongly suspect that if you reprogrammed my brain to value counting paperclips, it would feel the same as doing what is right. At very least, this would not be inconsistent. I might learn to attach paperclippy instead of good to that emotional state, but it would feel the same.
2MugaSofer8y... they do? For what values of "alien"?
1handoflixue8yBecause I'm not sure how else to capture a "scale of alien-ness": I once wrote a sci-fi race that was a blind, deaf ooze, but extremely intelligent and very sensitive to tactile input. Over the years, and with the help of a few other people, I've gotten a fairly good feel for their mindset and how they approach the world. There's a distinct subset of humans which I find vastly more puzzling than these guys.
4[anonymous]8yFrom Humans in Funny Suits []:
1handoflixue8yThe race was explicitly designed to try and avoid "humans in funny suits", and have a culture that's probably more foreign than the 1960s. But I'm only 29, and haven't traveled outside of English-speaking countries, so take that with a dash of salt! On a 0-10 scale, with myself at 0, humans in funny suits at 1, and the 1960s at 2, I'd rate my creation as a 4, and a subset of humanity exists in the 4-5 range. Around 5, I have trouble with the idea that there's coherent intelligent reasoning happening, because the process is just completely lost on me, and I don't think I'd be able to easily assign anything more than a 5, much less even speculate on what a 10 would look like. Trying to give a specific answer to "how alien is it" is a lot harder than it seems! :)
4IlyaShpitser8yIf I may make a recommendation, if you are concerned about "alien aliens", read a few things by Stanislaw Lem. The main theme of Lem's scifi, I would say, is alien minds, and failure of first contact. "Solaris" is his most famous work (but the adaptation with Clooney is predictably terrible).
3Eugine_Nier8yWell reading fiction (and non-fiction) for which English speakers of your generation weren't the target audience is a good way to start compensating.
1handoflixue8yI've got a lot of exposure to "golden age" science fiction and fantasy, so going back a few decades isn't hard for me. I just don't get exposed to many other good sources. The "classics" seem to generally fail to capture that foreignness. If you have recommendations, especially a broader method than just naming a couple authors, I'd love to hear it. Most of my favourite authors have a strong focus on foreign cultures, either exploring them or just having characters from diverse backgrounds.
2beoShaffer8yAnime&Manga, particularly the older stuff is a decent source.
0kodos968yI'm intrigued. Do you have a link?
0handoflixue8ySadly not. I really should do a proper write-up, but right now they're mostly stored in the head of me and their co-creator.

The standard religious reply to the baby-slaughter dilemma goes something like this:

Sure, if G-d commanded us to slaughter babies, then killing babies would be good. And if "2+2=3" was a theorem of PA, then "2+2=3" would be true. But G-d logically cannot command us to do a bad thing, anymore than PA can prove something that doesn't follow from its axioms. (We use "omnipotent" to mean "really really powerful", not "actually omnipotent" which isn't even a coherent concept. G-d can't make a stone so heavy he can't lift it, draw a square circle, or be evil.) Religion has destroyed my humanity exactly as much as studying arithmetic has destroyed your numeracy. (Please pay no attention to the parts of the Bible where G-d commands exactly that.)

8lavalamp8yBut that's just choosing the other horn of the dilemma, no? I.e., "god commands thing because they are moral." And of course the atheist response to that is, Not that anyone here didn't already know this, of course. The wikipedia page lists some theistic responses that purport to evade both horns, but I don't recall being convinced that they were even coherent when I last looked at it.

It does choose a horn, but it's the other one, "things are moral because G-d commands them". It just denies the connotation that there exists a possible Counterfactual!G-d which could decide that Real!evil things are Counterfactual!good; in all possible worlds, G-d either wants the same thing or is something different mistakenly called "G-d". (Yeah, there's a possible world where we're ruled by an entity who pretends to be G-d and so we believe that we should kill babies. And there's a possible world where you're hallucinating this conversation.)

Or you could say it claims equivalence. Is this road sign a triangle because it has three sides, or does it have three sides because it is a triangle? If you pick the latter, does that mean that if triangles had four sides, the sign would change shape to have four sides? If you pick the former, does that mean that I can have three sides without being a triangle? (I don't think this one is quite fair, because we can imagine a powerful creator who wants immoral things.)

Three possible responses to the atheist response:

  • Sure. Not believing has bad consequences - you're wrong as a matter of fact, you don't get special believ

... (read more)

Obvious further atheist reply to the denial of counterfactuals: If God's desires don't vary across possible worlds there exists a logical abstraction which only describes the structure of the desires and doesn't make mention of God, just like if multiplication-of-apples doesn't vary across possible worlds, we can strip out the apples and talk about the multiplication.

8dspeyer8yI think that's pretty close to what a lot of religious people actually believe in. They just like the one-syllable description.
5lavalamp8yIt seems like you're claiming an identity relationship between god and morality, and I find myself very confused as to what that could possibly mean. I mean, it's sort of like I just encountered someone claiming that "friendship" and "dolphins" are really the same thing. One or both of us must be very confused about what the labels "friendship" and/or "dolphins" signify, or what this idea of "sameness" is, or something else...
6MixedNuts8ySee Alejandro's comment []. Define G-d as "that which creates morality, and also lives in the sky and has superpowers". If you insist on the view of morality as a fixed logical abstraction, that would be a set of axioms. (Modus ponens has the Buddha-nature!) Then all you have to do is settle the factual question of whether the short-tempered creator who ordered you to genocide your neighbors embodies this set of axioms. If not, well, you live in a weird hybrid universe where G-d intervened to give you some sense of morality but is weaker than whichever Cthulhu or amoral physical law made and rules your world. Sorry.
5shminux8yOut of curiosity, why do you write G-d, not God? The original injunction against taking God's name in vain applied to the name in the old testament, which is usually mangled in the modern English as Jehovah, not to the mangled Germanic word meaning "idol".
9MixedNuts8yPeople who care about that kind of thing usually think it counts as a Name, but don't think there's anything wrong with typing it (though it's still best avoided in case someone prints out the page). Trying to write it makes me squirm horribly and if I absolutely need the whole word I'll copy-paste it. I can totally write small-g "god" though, to talk about deities in general (or as a polite cuss). I feel absolutely silly about it, I'm an atheist and I'm not even Jewish (though I do have a weird cultural-appropriatey obsession). Oh well, everyone has weird phobias.
1kodos968yThought experiment: suppose I were to tell you that every time I see you write out "G-d", I responded by writing "God", or perhaps even "YHWH", on a piece of paper, 10 times. Would that knowledge alter your behavior? How about if I instead (or additionally) spoke it aloud? Edit: downvote explanation requested.
3MixedNuts8yIt feels exactly equivalent to telling me that every time you see me turn down licorice, you'll eat ten wheels of it. It would bother me slightly if you normally avoided taking the Name in vain (and you didn't, like, consider it a sacred duty to annoy me), but not to the point I'd change my behavior. Which I didn't know, but makes sense in hindsight (as hindsight is wont to do); sacredness is a hobby, and I might be miffed at fellow enthusiasts Doing It Wrong, but not at people who prefer fishing or something.
0shminux8yWhy should s/he care about what you choose to do?
4kodos968yI don't know. That's why I asked.
1shminux8yHow interesting. Phobias are a form of alief, which makes this oddly relevant to my recent post [].
3MixedNuts8yI don't think it's quite the same. I have these sinking moments of "Whew, thank... wait, thank nothing" and "Oh please... crap, nobody's listening", but here I don't feel like I'm being disrespectful to Sky Dude (and if I cared I wouldn't call him Sky Dude). The emotion is clearly associated with the word, and doesn't go "whoops, looks like I have no referent" upon reflection. What seems to be behind it is a feeling that if I did that, I would be practicing my religion wrong, and I like my religion. It's a jumble of things that give me an oxytocin kick, mostly consciously picked up, but it grows organically and sometimes plucks new dogma out of the environment. ("From now on Ruby Tuesday counts as religious music. Any questions?") I can't easily shed a part, it has to stop feeling sacred of its own accord.
2lavalamp8yI think there's a bug in your theist-simulation module ^^ I've yet to meet one that could have spontaneously come up with that statement. Anyway, more to the point... in the definition of god you give, it seems to me that the "lives in sky with superpowers" part is sort of tacked on to the "creates morality" part, and I don't see why I can't talk about the "creates morality" part separate from the tacked-on bits. And if that is possible, I think this definition of god is still vulnerable to the dilemma (although it would seem clear that the second horn is the correct one; god contains a perfect implementation of morality, therefore what he says happens to be moral).
9MugaSofer8yHi there.
2lavalamp8yAre you a real theist or do you just like to abuse the common terminology (like, as far as I can tell, user:WillNewsome)? :)
4MugaSofer8yA real theist. Even a Christian, although mostly Deist these days.
1lavalamp8ySo you think there's a god, but it's conceivable that the god has basically nothing to do with our universe? If so, I don't see how you can believe this while giving a similar definition for "god" as an average (median?) theist. (It's possible I have an unrepresentative sample, but all the Christians I've met IRL who know what deism is consider it a heresy... I think I tend to agree with them that there's not that much difference between the deist god and no god...)
4Irgy8yThis is a classic case of fighting the wrong battle against theism. The classic theist defence is to define away every meaningful aspect of God, piece by piece, until the question of God's existance is about as meaningful as asking "do you believe in the axiom of choice?". Then, after you've failed to disprove their now untestable (and therefore meaningless) theory, they consider themselves victorious and get back to reading the bible. It's this part that's the weak link. The idea that the bible tells us something about God (and therefore by extension morality and truth) is a testable and debatable hypothesis, whereas God's existance can be defined away into something that is not. People can say "morality is God's will" all they like and I'll just tell them "butterflies are schmetterlinge". It's when they say "morality is in the bible" that you can start asking some pertinent questions. To mix my metaphors, I'll start believing when someone actually physically breaks a ball into pieces and reconstructs them into two balls of the same original size [], but until I really see something like that actually happen it's all just navel gazing.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky8ySure, and to the extent that somebody answers that way, or for that matter runs away from the question, instead of doing that thing where they actually teach you in Jewish elementary school that Abraham being willing to slaughter Isaac for God was like the greatest thing ever and made him deserve to be patriarch of the Jewish people, I will be all like, "Oh, so under whatever name, and for whatever reason, you don't want to slaughter children - I'll drink to that and be friends with you, even if the two of us think we have different metaethics justifying it". I wasn't claiming that accepting the first horn of the dilemma was endorsed by all theists or a necessary implication of theism - but of course, the rejectance of that horn is very standard atheism.

I don't think it's incompatible. You're supposed to really trust the guy because he's literally made of morality, so if he tells you something that sounds immoral (and you're not, like, psychotic) of course you assume that it's moral and the error is on your side. Most of the time you don't get direct exceptional divine commands, so you don't want to kill any kids. Wouldn't you kill the kid if an AI you knew to be Friendly, smart, and well-informed told you "I can't tell you why right now, but it's really important that you kill that kid"?

If your objection is that Mr. Orders-multiple-genocides hasn't shown that kind of evidence he's morally good, well, I got nuthin'.

You're supposed to really trust the guy because he's literally made of morality, so if he tells you something that sounds immoral (and you're not, like, psychotic) of course you assume that it's moral and the error is on your side.

What we have is an inconsistent set of four assertions:

  1. Killing my son is immoral.
  2. The Voice In My Head wants me to kill my son.
  3. The Voice In My Head is God.
  4. God would never want someone to perform an immoral act.

At least one of these has to be rejected. Abraham (provisionally) rejects 1; once God announces 'J/K,' he updates in favor of rejecting 2, on the grounds that God didn't really want him to kill his son, though the Voice really was God.

The problem with this is that rejecting 1 assumes that my confidence in my foundational moral principles (e.g., 'thou shalt not murder, self!') is weaker than my confidence in the conjunction of:

  • 3 (how do I know this Voice is God? the conjunction of 1,2,4 is powerful evidence against 3),
  • 2 (maybe I misheard, misinterpreted, or am misremembering the Voice?),
  • and 4.

But it's hard to believe that I'm more confident in the divinity of a certain class of Voices than in my moral axioms, especially if my confidenc... (read more)

7MixedNuts8yWell, deities should make themselves clear enough that (2) is very likely (maybe the voice is pulling your leg, but it wants you to at least get started on the son-killing). (3) is also near-certain because you've had chats with this voice for decades, about moving and having kids and changing your name and whether the voice should destroy a city. So this correctly tests whether you believe (4) more than (1) - whether your trust in G-d is greater than your confidence in your object-level judgement. You're right that it's not clear why Abraham believes or should believe (4). His culture told him so and the guy has mostly done nice things for him and his wife, and promised nice things then delivered, but this hardly justifies blind faith. (Then again I've trusted people on flimsier grounds, if with lower stakes.) G-d seems very big on trust so it makes sense that he'd select the president of his fan club according to that criterion, and reinforce the trust with "look, you trusted me even though you expected it to suck, and it didn't suck".

Well, if we're shifting from our idealized post-Protestant-Reformation Abraham to the original Abraham-of-Genesis folk hero, then we should probably bracket all this Medieval talk about God's omnibenevolence and omnipotence. The Yahweh of Genesis is described as being unable to do certain things, as lacking certain items of knowledge, and as making mistakes. Shall not the judge of all the Earth do right?

As Genesis presents the story, the relevant question doesn't seem to be 'Does my moral obligation to obey God outweigh my moral obligation to protect my son?' Nor is it 'Does my confidence in my moral intuitions outweigh my confidence in God's moral intuitions plus my understanding of God's commands?' Rather, the question is: 'Do I care more about obeying God than about my most beloved possession?' Notice there's nothing moral at stake here at all; it's purely a question of weighing loyalties and desires, of weighing the amount I trust God's promises and respect God's authority against the amount of utility (love, happiness) I assign to my son.

The moral rights of the son, and the duties of the father, are not on the table; what's at issue is whether Abraham's such a good soldier-servant that he's willing to give up his most cherished possessions (which just happen to be sentient persons). Replace 'God' with 'Satan' and you get the same fealty calculation on Abraham's part, since God's authority, power, and honesty, not his beneficence, are what Abraham has faith in.

2Alejandro18yThe problem has the same structure for MixedNuts' analogy of the FAI replacing the Voice. Suppose you program the AI to compute explicitly the logical structure "morality" that EY is talking about, and it tells you to kill a child. You could think you made a mistake in the program (analogous to rejecting your 3), or that you are misunderstanding the AI or hallucinating it (rejecting 2). And in fact for most conjunctions of reasonable empirical assumptions, it would be more rational to take any of these options than to go ahead and kill the child. Likewise, sensible religionists agree that if someone hears voices in their head telling them to kill children, they shouldn't do it. Some of they might say however that Abraham's position was unique, that he had especially good reasons (unspecified) to accept 2 and 3, and that for him killing the child is the right decision. In the same way, maybe an AI programmer with very strong evidence for the analogies for 2 and 3 should go ahead and kill the child. (What if the AI has computed that the child will grow up to be Hitler?)
4Rob Bensinger8yA few religious thinkers (Kierkegaard) don't think Abraham's position was completely unique, and do think we should obey certain Voices without adequate evidence for 4, perhaps even without adequate evidence for 3. But these are outlier theories, and certainly don't reflect the intuitions of most religious believers, who pay more lip service to belief-in-belief than actual service-service to belief-in-belief. I think an analogous AI set-up would be: 1. Killing my son is immoral. 2. The monitor reads 'Kill your son.' 3. The monitor's display perfectly reflects the decisions of the AI I programmed. 4. I successfully programmed the AI to be perfectly moral. What you call rejecting 3 is closer to rejecting 4, since it concerns my confidence that the AI is moral, not my confidence that the AI I programmed is the same as the entity outputting 'Kill your son.'
2MugaSofer8yI can't speak for Jewish elementary school, but surely believing PA (even when, intuitively, the result seems flatly wrong or nonsensical) would be a good example to hold up before students of mathematics? The Monty Hall problem seems like a good example of this.

I read this post with a growing sense of unease. The pie example appears to treat "fair" as a 1-place word, but I don't see any reason to suppose it would be. (I note my disquiet that we are both linking to that article; and my worry about how confused this post seems to me.)

The standard atheist reply is tremendously unsatisfying; it appeals to intuition and assumes what it's trying to prove!

My resolution of Euthryphro is "the moral is the practical." A predictable consequence of evolution is that people have moral intuitions, that those intuitions reflect their ancestral environment, and that those intuitions can be variable. Where would I find mercy, justice, or duty? Cognitive algorithms and concepts inside minds.

This article reads like you're trying to move your stone tablet from your head into the world of logic, where it can be as universal as the concept of primes. It's not clear to me why you're embarking on that particular project.

The example of elegance seems like it points the other way. If your sense of elegance is admittedly subjective, why are we supposing a Platonic form of elegance out in the world of logic? Isn't this basically the error where o... (read more)

The pie example appears to treat "fair" as a 1-place word

'Beautiful' needs 2 places because our concept of beauty admits of perceptual variation. 'Fairness' does not grammatically need an 'according to whom?' argument place, because our concept of fairness is not observer-relative. You could introduce a function that takes in a person X who associates a definition with 'fairness,' takes in a situation Y, and asks whether X would call Y 'fair.' But this would be a function for 'What does the spoken syllable FAIR denote in a linguistic community?', not a function for 'What is fair?' If we applied this demand generally, 'beautiful' would became 3-place ('what objects X would some agent Y say some agent Z finds 'beautiful'?'), as would logical terms like 'plus' ('how would some agent X perform the operation X calls "addition" on values Y and Z?'), and indeed all linguistic acts.

intuitions reflect their ancestral environment, and [...] those intuitions can be variable.

Yes, but a given intuition cannot vary limitlessly, because there are limits to what we would consider to fall under the same idea of 'fairness.' Different people may use the spoken syllables FAI... (read more)

3Vaniver8yWhat? It seems to me that fairness and beauty are equally subjective, and the intuition that says "but my sense of fairness is objectively correct!" is the same intuition that says "but my sense of beauty is objectively correct!" I agree that we can logically pinpoint any specific concept; to use the pie example, Yancy uses the concept of "splitting windfalls equally by weight" and Zaire uses the concept of "splitting windfalls equally by desire." What I disagree with is the proposition that there is this well-defined and objective concept of "fair" that, in the given situation, points to "splitting windfalls equally by weight." One could put forward the axiom that "splitting windfalls equally by weight is fair", just like one can put forward the axiom that "zero is not the successor of any number," but we are no closer to that axiom having any decision-making weight; it is just a model, and for it to be used it needs to be a useful and appropriate model.
1nshepperd8y"Fair", quoted, is a word. You don't think it's plausible that in English "fair" could refer to splitting windfalls equally by weight? (Or rather to something a bit more complicated that comes out to splitting windfalls equally by weight in the situation of the three travellers and the pie.)
2Vaniver8yI agree that someone could mean "splitting windfalls equally by weight" when they say "fair." I further submit that words can be ambiguous, and someone else could mean "splitting windfalls equally by desire" when they say "fair." In such a case, where the word seems to adding more heat than light, I would scrap it and go with the more precise phrases.
2[anonymous]8yGrammatically, neither does “beautiful”. “Alice is beautiful” is a perfectly grammatical English sentence.
6Peterdjones8yHow do you avoid prudent predation []
2dspeyer8yI think the author of that piece needs to learn the concept of precommitment. Precommitting to one-box is not at all the same as believing that one-boxing is the dominant strategy in the general newcomb problem. Likewise, precommitting not to engage in prudent predation is not a matter of holding a counterfactual belief, but of taking a positive-expected-utility action.
2nshepperd8yIt is exactly executing an adaption. No "just" about it though. An AI programmed to maximise paperclips is motivated by increasing the number of paperclips. It's executing its program.
1Vaniver8yI had this post [] in mind. I see no reason to link behavior that 'seems moral' to the internal sensation of motivation by those terminal values, and if we're not talking about introspection about decision-making, then why are we using the word motivation? This post seems to be discussing a particular brand of moral reasoning- basically, deliberative utilitarian judgments- which seems like a rather incomplete picture of human morality as a whole, and it seems like it's just sweeping under the rug the problem of where values come from in the first place. I should make clear that first he has to describe what values are before he can describe where values come from, but if it's an incomplete description of values, that can cause problems down the line.
1SebastianGarren8yVaniver, I really appreciate the rigor you are bringing to this discussion. The OP struck me as very deliberative-utilitarian as well. If we want to account (or propagate) for a shared human morality, than certainly, it must be rational. But it seems to me, that the long history [] of searching for a rational-basis-for-morality clearly points away from the well trodden ground of this utilitarianism. From Plato and Aristotle to the Enlightenment until Nietzsche (especially to the present day), it seems the project of accounting for morality as though it were an inherent attribute of humanity, expressible through axioms and predetermined by the universe, is a bunk and, perhaps even, an irrational project. Morality, I think can only be shared, if you have a shared goal for winning life []. A complete description of values requires a discussion on what makes life worth living and what is a good life, or more simply goals. Without the tools to determine and rationalize what are good goals for me, I will never be able to make a map of morality and choose the values and virtues relevant to me on my quest. Does that jive?

Yay, I think we've finished the prerequisites to prerequisites, and started the prerequisites!

Stimulating as always! I have a criticism to make of the use made of the term 'rigid designation'.

Multiple philosophers have suggested that this stance seems similar to "rigid designation", i.e., when I say 'fair' it intrinsically, rigidly refers to something-to-do-with-equal-division. I confess I don't see it that way myself [...]

What philosophers of language ordinarily mean by calling a term a rigid designator is not that, considered purely syntactically, it intrinsically refers to anything. The property of being a rigid designator is something which can be possessed by an expression in use in a particular language-system. The distinction is between expressions-in-use whose reference we let vary across counterfactual scenarios (or 'possible worlds'), e.g. 'The first person to climb Everest', and those whose reference remains stable, e.g. 'George Washington', 'The sum of two and two'.

There is some controversy over how to apply the rigid/non-rigid distinction to general terms like 'fair' (or predicates like 'is fair') - cf. Scott Soames' book Beyond Rigidity - but I think the natural thing to say is that 'is fair' is rigid, since it is used to attribute the same property across counterfactual scenarios, in contrast with a predicate like 'possesses my favourite property'.

Multiple philosophers have suggested that this stance seems similar to "rigid designation", i.e., when I say 'fair' it intrinsically, rigidly refers to something-to-do-with-equal-division. I confess I don't see it that way myself - if somebody thinks of Euclidean geometry when you utter the sound "num-berz" they're not doing anything false, they're associating the sound to a different logical thingy. It's not about words with intrinsically rigid referential power, it's that the words are window dressing on the underlying entities.

I just wanted to agree with Tristanhaze here that this usage strikes me as non-standard. I want to put this in my own words so that Tristanhaze/Eliezer/others can correct me if I've got the wrong end of the stick.

If something is a rigid designator it means that it refers to the same thing in all possible worlds. To say it's non-rigid is to say it refers to different things in some possible worlds to others. This has nothing to do with whether different language users that use the phrase must always be referring to the same thing. So George Washington may be a rigid designator in that it refers to the same person in all possible world... (read more)

8RichardChappell8yCorrect. Eliezer has misunderstood rigid designation here.
6Qiaochu_Yuan8yCan you give an example of a rigid designator (edit: that isn't purely mathematical / logical)? I don't understand how the concept is even coherent right now. "Issues of transworld identity" seem to be central and I don't know why you're sweeping them under the rug. More precisely, I do not understand how one goes about identifying objects in different possible worlds even in principle. I think that intuitions about this procedure are likely to be flawed because people do not consider possible worlds that are sufficiently different.
4crazy888yOkay, so three things are worth clarifying up front. First, this isn't my area of expertise so anything I have to say about the matter should be taken with a pinch of salt. Second, this is a complex issue and really would require 2 or 3 sequences of material to properly outline so I wouldn't read too much into the fact that my brief comment doesn't present a substantive outline of the issue. Third, I have no settled views on the issues of rigid designators, nor am I trying to argue for a substantive position on the matter so I'm not deliberately sweeping anything under the rug (my aim was to distinguish Eliezer's use of the phrase rigid designator from the standard usage and doing so doesn't require discussion of transworld identity: Eliezer was using it to refer to issues relating to different people whereas philosophers use it to refer to issues relating to a single person - or at least that's the simplified story that captures the crucial idea). All that said, I'll try to answer your question. First, it might help to think of rigid designators as cases where the thing to be identified isn't simply to be identified with its broad role in the world. So "the inventor of bifocals" is the person that plays a certain role in the world - the role of inventing bifocals. So "the inventor of bifocals" is not a rigid designator. So the heuristic for identifying rigid designators is that they can't just be identified by their role in the world. Given this, what are some examples of rigid designators? Well, the answer to this question will depend on who you ask. A lot of people, following Putnam [] would take "water" (and other natural kind terms) to be a rigid designator. On this view, "Water" rigidly refers to H2O, regardless of whether H20 plays the "water" role in some other possible world. So imagine a possible world where some other substance, XYZ, falls from the sky, sakes thirst, fill rivers and so on (that is, XYZ fills
4Qiaochu_Yuan8yThank you for the clarification. I agree that the question of what a possible world is is an important one, but the answer seems obvious to me: possible worlds are things that live inside the minds of agents (e.g. humans). Water is one of the examples I considered and found incoherent. Once you start considering possible worlds with different laws of physics, it's extremely unclear to me in what sense you can identify types of particles in one world with particles in another type of world. I could imagine doing this by making intuitive identifications step by step along "paths" in the space of possible worlds, but then it's unclear to me how you could guarantee that the identifications you get this way are independent of the choice of path (this idea is motivated by a basic phenomenon in algebraic topology and complex analysis).
5Eliezer Yudkowsky8yI'd like to say "sure" and then delete that paragraph, but then somebody else in the comments will say that my essay is just talking about a rigid-designation theory of morality. I mean, that's the comment I've gotten multiple times previously. Anyone got a good idea for resolving this?
6crazy888yYou may have resolved this now by talking to Richard (who knows more about this than me) but, in case you haven't, I'll have a shot at it. First, the distinction: Richard is using rigid designation to talk about how a single person evaluates counterfactual scenarios, whereas you seem to be taking it as a comment about how different people use the same word. Second, relevance: Richard's usage allow you to respond to an objection. The objection asks you to consider the counterfactual situation where you desire to murder people and says murder must now be right so the theory is extremely subjective. You can respond that "right" is a rigid designator so it is still right to not murder in this counterfactual situation (though your counterpart here will use the word "right" differently). Suggestion: perhaps edit the paragraph so as to discuss either this objection and defence or outline why the rigid designator view so characterised is not your view.

Here's my understanding of the post:

Consider two types of possible FAI designs. A Type 1 FAI has its values coded as a logical function from the time it's turned on, either a standard utility function, or all the information needed to run a simulation of a human that is eventually supposed to provide such a function, or something like that. A Type 2 FAI tries to learn its values from its inputs. For example it might be programmed to seek out a nearby human, scan their brain, and then try to extract a utility function from the scan, going to a controlled shutdown if it encounters any errors in this process. A human is more like a Type 1 FAI than a Type 2 FAI so it doesn't matter that there is no God/Stone Tablet out in the universe that we can extract morality from.

If this is fair, I have two objections:

  1. When humans are sufficiently young they are surely more like a Type 2 FAI than a Type 1 FAI. We're obviously not born with Frankena's list of terminal values. Maybe one can argue that an adult human is like a Type 2 FAI that has completed its value learning process and has "locked down" its utility function and won't change its values or go into shutdown even if it su

... (read more)
3Qiaochu_Yuan8yA Type 2 FAI gets its notion of what morality is based on properties of the physical universe, namely properties of humans in the physical universe. But even if counterfactually there were no humans in the physical universe, or even if counterfactually Omega modified the contents of all human brains in the physical universe so that they optimize for paperclips, that wouldn't change what actual-me means when actual-me says "I want an FAI to behave morally" even if it might change what counterfactual-me means when counterfactual-me says that.
2homunq8yIndividual humans are plausibly Type 2 FAIs. But societies of evolved, intelligent beings, operating as they do within the constraints of logic and evolution, are arguably more Type 1. In the terms of Eliezer's BabyKiller/HappyHappy fic, babykilling-justice is obviously a flawed copy of real-justice, and so the babykillers could (with difficulty) grow out of babykilling, and you could perhaps raise a young happyhappy to respect babykilling, but the happyhappy society as a whole could never grow into babykilling.

Edit: downvote explanation requested.

Please don't do that.

People on this site already give too much upvotes, and too little downvotes. By which I mean that if anyone writes a lot of comments, their total karma is most likely to be positive, even if the comments are mostly useless (as long as they are not offensive, or don't break some local taboo). People can build a high total karma just by posting a lot, because one thousand comments with average karma of 1 provide more total karma than e.g. twenty comments with 20 karma each. But which of those two would you prefer as a reader, assuming that your goal is not to procrastinate on LW for hours a day?

Every comment written has a cost -- the time people spend reading that comment. So a neutral comment (not helpful, not harmful) has a slightly negative value, if we could measure that precisely. One such comment does not make big harm. Hundred such comments, daily, from different users... that's a different thing. Each comment should pay the price of time it takes to read it, or be downvoted.

People already hesitate to downvote, because expressing a negative opinion about something connected with other person feels like starting an un... (read more)

0[anonymous]8ySo what? When I prefer the latter, I use stuff like Top Comments Today/This Week/whatever [], setting my preferences to “Display 10 comments by default” and sorting comments by “Top”, etc. The presence of lots of comments at +1 doesn't bother me that much. (Also, just because a comment is at +20 doesn't always mean it's something terribly interesting to read -- it could be someone stating that they've donated to SIAI, a “rationality quote”, etc.) That applies more to several-paragraph comments than to one-sentence ones.
0BerryPick68yIsn't it 'too many upvotes' and 'too few downvotes'?
3[anonymous]8yYep. On the British National Corpus there are: * 6 instances of too much [*nn2*] (where [*nn2*] is any plural noun); * 576 instances of too many [*nn2*]; * 0 instances of too little [*nn2*]; and * 123 instances of too few [*nn2*] (and 83 of not enough [*nn2*], for that matter); on the Corpus of Contemporary American English the figures are 75, 3217, 11, 323 and 364 respectively. (And many of the minoritarian uses are for things that you'd measure by some means other than counting them, e.g. “too much drugs”.) So apparently the common use of “less” as an informal equivalent of “fewer” only applies to the comparatives. (Edited to remove the “now-” before “common” -- in the Corpus of Historical American English less [*nn2*] appears to be actually slightly less common today than it was in the late 19th century.)

Mainstream status:

EY's position seems to be highly similar to Frank Jackson's analytic descriptivism, which holds that

Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit (1995). According to their view of “analytic moral functionalism,” moral properties are reducible to “whatever plays their role in mature folk morality.” Jackson’s (1998) refinement of this position—which he calls “analytic descriptivism”—elaborates that the “mature folk” properties to which moral properties are reducible will be “descriptive predicates”

Which is a position neither popular nor particularly unpopular, but simply one of many contenders, as the mainstream goes.

4Eliezer Yudkowsky8yI confirm (as I have previously) that Frank Jackson's work seems to me like the nearest known point in academic philosophy.
3BerryPick68yThis similarity has been noted and discussed before. See []

I think your discussions of metaethics might be improved by rigorously avoiding words like "fair," "right," "better," "moral," "good," etc. I like the idea that "fair" points to a logical algorithm whose properties we can discuss objectively, but when you insist on using the word "fair," and no other word, as your pointer to this algorithm, people inevitably get confused. It seems like you are insisting that words have objective meanings, or that your morality is universally compelling, or something. You can and do explicitly deny these, but when you continue to rely exclusively on the word "fair" as if there is only one concept that that word can possibly point to, it's not clear what your alternative is.

Whereas if you use different symbols as pointers to your algorithms, the message (as I understand it) becomes much clearer. Translate something like:

Fair is dividing up food equally. Now, is dividing up the pie equally objectively fair? Yes: someone who wants to divide up the pie differently is talking about something other than fairness. So the assertion "dividing the pie equally is fair" is... (read more)

I don't think this works, because "fairness" is not defined as "divide up food equally" (or even "divide up resources equally"). It is the algorithm that, among other things, leads to dividing up the pie equally in the circumstances described in the original post -- i.e., "three people exactly simultaneously spot a pie which has been exogenously generated in unclaimed territory." But once you start tampering with these conditions -- suppose that one of them owned the land, or one of them baked the pie, or two were well-fed and one was on the brink of starvation, etc. -- it would at least be controversial to say "duh, divide equally, that's just what 'fairness' means." And the fact of that controversy suggests most of are using "fairness" to point to an algorithm more complicated than "divide up resources equally."

More generally, fairness -- like morality itself -- is complicated. There are basic shared intuitions, but there's no easy formula for popping out answers to "fair: yes or no?" in intricate scenarios. So there's actually quite a bit of value in using words like "fair," "right,&qu... (read more)

3The_Duck8yYes; I meant for the phrase "divide up food equally" to be shorthand for something more correct but less compact, like "a complicated algorithm whose rough outline includes parts like, '...When a group of people are dividing up resources, divide them according to the following weighted combination of need, ownership, equality, who discovered the resources first, ...'"
3[anonymous]8ySee lukeprog's Pluralistic Moral Reductionism [].
[-][anonymous]8y 10

Great post! I agree with your analysis of moral semantics.

However, the question of moral ontology objective moral values exist? Is there anything I (or anyone) should do, independent from what I desire? With such a clear explanation of moral semantics at hand, I think the answer is an obvious and resounding no. Why would we even think that this is the case? One conclusion we can draw from this post is that telling an unfriendly AI that what it's doing is "wrong" won't affect its behavior. Because that which is "wrong" might be exactly that which is "moreclippy"! I feel that Eliezer probably agrees with me, here, since I gained I lot of insight into the issue from reading Three Worlds Collide.

Asking why we value that which is "right" is a scientific question, with a scientific answer. Our values are what they are, now, though, so, minus the semantics, doesn't morality just reduce to decision theory?

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

I myself would say unhesitatingly that a third of the pie each, is fair.

That's the default with no additional data, but I would hesitate, because to me how much each of the persons need the pie is also important in defining "fairness". If one of the three is starving while the others two are well-fed, it would be fair to give more to the one starving.

It may be just nitpicking, but since you took the point to ensure there is no difference between the three characters are involved in spotting the pie, but not mentioned they have the same need of it, it may pinpoint a deeper difference between different conceptions of "fairness" (should give them two different names ?)

I'm trying to understand this, and I'm trying to do it by being a little more concrete.

Suppose I have a choice to make, and my moral intuition is throwing error codes. I have two axiomations of morality that are capable of examining the choice, but they give opposite answers. Does anything in this essay help? If not, is there a future essay planned that will?

In a universe that contains a neurotypical human and clippy, and they're staring at eachother, is there an asymmetry?

8Eliezer Yudkowsky8yCan you be more concrete? Some past or present actual situation?

Haiti today is a situation that makes my moral intuition throw error codes. Population density is three times that of Cuba. Should we be sending aid? It would be kinder to send helicopter gunships and carry out a cull. Cut the population back to one tenth of its current level, then build paradise. My rival moral intuition is that culling humans is always wrong.

Trying to stay concrete and present, should I restrict my charitable giving to helping countries make the demographic transition? Within a fixed aid budget one can choose package A = (save one child, provide education, provide entry into global economy; 30 years later the child, now an adult, feeds his own family and has some money left over to help others) package B = (save four children; that's it, money all used up, thirty years later there are 16 children needing saving and its not going to happen). Concrete choice of A over B: ignore Haiti and send money to Karuna trust to fund education for untouchables in India, preferring to raise a few children out of poverty by letting other children die.

Population density is three times that of Cuba.

It's also about half that of Taiwan, significantly less than South Korea or the Netherlands, and just above Belgium, Israel, and Japan -- as well as very nearly on par with India, the country you're using as an alternative! I suspect your source may have overweighted population density as a factor in poor social outcomes.

I don't see how these two frameworks are appealing to different terminal values - they seem to be arguments about which policies maximize consequential lives-saved over time, or maximize QALYs (Quality-Adjusted Life Years) over time. This seem like a surprisingly neat and lovely illustration of "disagreeing moral axioms" that turn out to be about instrumental policies without much in the way of differing terminal values, hence a dispute of fact with a true-or-false answer under a correspondence theory of truth for physical-universe hypotheses.

3[anonymous]8yISTM he's not quite sure whether one QALY thirty years from now should be worth as much as one QALY now.
2AlanCrowe8yI think that is it, I'm trying to do utilitarianism. I've got some notion q of quality and quantity of life. It varies through time. How do I assess a long term policy, with short term sacrifices for better output in the long run? I integrate over time with a suitable weighting such as e%5E{-\frac{t}{\tau}}%20dt) What is the significance of the time constant ? I see it as mainly a humility factor, because I cannot actually see into the future and know how things will turn out in the long run. Accordingly I give reduced weight to the future, much beyond , for better or worse, because I do not trust my assessment of either. But is that an adequate response to human fallibility? My intuition is that one has to back it up with an extra rule: if my moral calculations suggest culling humans, its time to give up, go back to painting kitsch water colours and leave politics to the sane. That's my interpretation of dspeyer's phrase "my moral intuition is throwing error codes." Now I have two rules, so Sod's Law tells me that some day they are going to conflict. Eliever's post made an ontological claim, that a universe with only two kinds of things, physics and logic, has room for morality. It strikes me that I've made no dent in that claim. All I've managed to argue is that it all adds up to normality: we cannot see the future, so we do not know what to do for the best. Panic and tragic blunders ensue, as usual.

Is permitting or perhaps even helping Haitians to emigrate to other countries anywhere in the moral calculus?

2AlanCrowe8yI interpreted Eliever's questions as a response to the evocative phrase "my moral intuition is throwing error codes." What does it actually mean? Can it be grounded in an actual situation? Grounding it in an actual situation introduces complications. Given a real life moral dilemma it is always a good idea to look for a third option. But exploring those additional options doesn't help us understand the computer programming metaphor of moral intuitions throwing error codes
[-][anonymous]8y 10

It would be kinder to send helicopter gunships and carry out a cull. Cut the population back to one tenth of its current level...

So you're facing a moral dilemma between giving to charity and murdering nine million people? I think I know what the problem might be.

1AlanCrowe8yMy original draft contained a long ramble about permanent Malthusian immiseration. History is a bit of a race. Can society progress fast enough to reach the demographic transition? Or does population growth redistribute all the gains in GDP so that individuals get poorer, life gets harder, the demographic transition doesn't happen,... If I were totally evil and wanted to fuck over as many people as a could, as hard as a I could, my strategy for maximum holocaust is as follows. * Establish free mother-and-baby clinics * Provide free food for the under fives * Leverage the positive reputation from the first two to promote religions that oppose contraception * Leverage religious faith to get contraception legally prohibited If I can get population growth to out run technological gains in productivity I can engineer a Limits to growth [] style crash. That will be vastly worse than any wickedness that I could be work by directly harming people. Unfortunately, I had been reading various articles discussing the 40th Anniversary [] of the publication of the Limits to Growth book. So I deleted the set up for the moral dilemma from my comment, thinking that my readers will be over-familiar with concerns about permanent Malthusian immiseration, and pick up immediately on "aid as sabotage", and the creation of permanent traps. My original comment was a disaster, but since I'm pig-headed I'm going to have another go at saying what it might mean for ones moral intuitions to throw error codes: Imagine that you (a good person) have volunteered to help out in sub-Saharan Africa, distributing free food to the under fives :-) One day you find out who is paying for the food. Dr Evil is paying; it is part of his plan for maximum holocaust...

Really? That's your plan for "maximum holocaust"? You'll do more good than harm in the short run, and if you run out of capital (not hard with such a wastefully expensive plan) then you'll do nothing but good.

This sounds to me like a political applause light, especially

  • Leverage the positive reputation from the first two to promote religions that oppose contraception
  • Leverage religious faith to get contraception legally prohibited

In essence, your statement boils down to "if I wanted to do the most possible harm, I would do what the Enemy are doing!" which is clearly a mindkilling political appeal.

(For reference, here's my plan for maximum holocaust: select the worst things going on in the world today. Multiply their evil by their likelihoods of success. Found a terrorist group attacking the winners. Be careful to kill lots of civilians without actually stopping your target.)

2gwern8yI'm afraid Franken Fran beat you to this story a while ago.
2[anonymous]8yHopefully this comment was intended as non-obvious form of satire, otherwise it's completely nonsensical. You're - Mr. AlanCrowe that is - mixing up aid that prevents temporary suffering to lack of proper longterm solutions. As the saying goes: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." You're forgetting the "teach a man to fish" part entirely. Which should be enough - given the context - to explain what's wrong with your reasoning. I could go on explaining further, but I don't want to talk about such heinous acts, the ones you mentioned, unecessarily. EDIT: Alright sorry I overlooked the type of your mistake slightly because I had an answer ready [] and recognized a pattern [] so your mistake wasn't quite that skindeep. In anycase I think it's extremely insensitive and rash to poorly excuse yourself of atrocities like these: In anycase you falsely created a polarity between different attempts of optimizing charity here: And then by means of trickery. [] you transformed it into "being unsympathetic now" + "sympathetic later" > "sympathetic now" > "more to be sympathetic about later" However in the really real world each unnecessary death prevented counts, each starving child counts, at least in my book. If someone suffers right now in exchange for someone else not suffering later - nothing is gained. Which to me looks like you're just eager to throw sympathy out the window in hopes of looking very rational in contrast. And with this false trickery you've made it look like these suffering people deserve what they get and there's nothing you can do about it. You could also accompany options A and B with option C "Save as many children as possible and fight harder to raise money for schools and infrastructure as well [
1JoachimSchipper8y(Are you sure you want this posted under what appears to be a real name?)
5MugaSofer8yDon't be absurd. How could advocating population control via shotgun harm one's reputation?
2AlanCrowe8yWhen should seek the protection of anonymity? Where do I draw the line? On which side do pro-bestiality [] comments fall?
7dspeyer8yMy actual situations are too complicated and I don't feel comfortable discussing them on the internet. So here's a fictional situation with real dilemmas. Suppose I have a friend who is using drugs to self-destructive levels. This friend is no longer able to keep a job, and I've been giving him couch-space. With high probability, if I were to apply pressure, I could decrease his drug use. One axiomization says I should consider how happy he will be with an outcome, and I believe he'll be happier once he's sober and capable of taking care of himself. Another axiomization says I should consider how much he wants a course of action, and I believe he'll be angry at my trying to run his life. As a further twist, he consistently says different things depending on which drugs he's on. One axiomization defines a person such that each drug-cocktail-personality is a separate person whose desires have moral weight. Another axiomization defines a person such that my friend is one person, but the drugs are making it difficult for him to express his desires -- the desires with moral weight are the ones he would have if he were sober (and it's up to me to deduce them from the evidence available).
1Qiaochu_Yuan8yMy response to this situation depends on how he's getting money for drugs given that he no longer has a job and also on how much of a hassle it is for you to give him couch-space. If you don't have the right to run his life, he doesn't have the right to interfere in yours (by taking up your couch, asking you for drug money, etc.). I am deeply uncomfortable with the drug-cocktail-personalities-as-separate-people approach; it seems too easily hackable to be a good foundation for a moral theory. It's susceptible to a variant of the utility monster, namely a person who takes a huge variety of drug cocktails and consequently has a huge collection of separate people in his head. A potentially more realistic variant of this strategy might be to start a cult and to claim moral weight for your cult's preferences once it grows large enough... (Not that I have any particular cult in mind while saying this. Hail Xenu.) Edit: I suppose your actual question is how the content of this post is relevant to answering such questions. I don't think it is, directly. Based on the subsequent post about nonstandard models of Peano arithmetic, I think Eliezer is suggesting an analogy between the question of what is true about the natural numbers and the question of what is moral. To address either question one first has to logically pinpoint "the natural numbers" and "morality" respectively, and this post is about doing the latter. Then one has to prove statements about the things that have been logically pointed to, which is a difficult and separate question, but at least an unambiguously meaningful one once the logical pinpointing has taken place.
6nshepperd8yIf you're not sure which of two options is better, the only thing that will help is to think about it for a long time. (Note: if you "have two axiomatizations of morality", and they disagree, then at most one of them accurately describes what you were trying to get at when you attempted to axiomatize morality. To work out which one is wrong, you need to think about them for ages until you notice that one of them says something wrong.) Yes, the human is better. Why? Because the human cares about what is better. In contrast to clippy, who just cares about what is paperclippier.
6[anonymous]8yAnd the clippy is clippier. Why? Because the clippy cares about what is clippier. In contrast to the human, who just cares about what is better.
5nshepperd8yIndeed. However, a) betterness is obviously better than clippiness, and b) if dspeyer is anything like a typical human being, the implicit question behind "is there an asymmetry?" was "is one of them better?"
1Sengachi8yAnd clippiness is obviously more clipperific. That doesn't actually answer the question.
1JonCB8yWhat is your evidence for stating that human-betterness is "obviously better" than clippy-betterness? Your comment reads to me you're either arguing that 3 > Potato or that there exists a universally compelling argument. I could however be wrong.
5nshepperd8y"Human-betterness" and "clippy-betterness" are confused terminology. There's only betterness and clippiness. Clippiness is not a type of betterness. Humans generally care about betterness, paperclippers care about clippiness. You can't argue a paperclipper into caring about betterness. I said that betterness is better than clippiness. This should be obvious, since it's a tautology.
3JonCB8yI am confused by what you mean by "better" here. Your statement makes sense to me if i replace better with "humanier"(more humanly? more human-like? Not humane... too much baggage). Is that what you mean?
2Sengachi8yAh, but Clippy is far more clipperific, and so will do more clippy things. Better is not clippy, why should it matter?
8Viliam_Bur8yPerhaps it would help to taboo "symmetry", or at least to say what kind of... uhm, mapping... do we really expect here. Just some way to play with words, or something useful? How specifically useful? Saying "humans : better = paperclips maximizers : more clippy" would be a correct answer in a test of verbal skills. Just be careful not to add a wrong connotation there. Because saying "...therefore 'better' and 'more clippy' are just two different ways of being better, for two different species" would be a nonsense, exactly like saying "...therefore 'more clippy' and 'better' are just two different ways of being more clippy, for two different species". No, being better is not a homo sapiens way to produce the most paperclips. And being more clippy is not a paperclip maximizer way to produce the most happiness (even for the paperclip maximizers).
3Qiaochu_Yuan8yWhy do you have two axiomatizations of morality? Where did they come from? Is there a reason to suspect one or both of their sources?
4dspeyer8yBecause aximatizations are hard. I tried twice. And probably messed up both times, but in different ways. The axiomatizations are internally complete and consistent, so I understand two genuine logical objects, and I'm trying to understand which to apply. (Note: my actual map of morality is more complicated and fuzzy -- I'm simplifying for sake of discussion)
2Ben Pace8yIf one a single agent has conflicting desires (each of which it values equally) then it should work to alter its desires, so it chooses consistent desires that are most likely to be fulfilled. To your latter question though, I think that what you're asking is "If two agents have utility functions that clash, which one is to be preferred?" Is it that all we can say is "Whichever one has the most resources and most optimisation power/intelligence will be able to put its goals into action and prevent the other one from fully acting upon its"? Well, I think that the point Eliezer has talked about a few times before is that there is no ultimate morality, written into the universe that will affect any agent so as to act it out. You can't reason with an agent which has a totally different utility function. The only reason that we can argue with humans is that they're only human, and thus we share many desires. Figuring out morality isn't going to give you the powers to talk down Clippy from killing you for more paper clips. You aren't going to show how human 'morality', which actualises what humans prefer, is any more preferable than 'Clippy' ethics. He is just going to kill you. So, let's now figure out exactly what we want most, (if we had our own CEV) and then go out and do it. Nobody else is gonna do it for us. EDIT: First sentence 'conflicting desires'; I meant to say 'in principle unresolvable' like 'x' and '~x'. Of course, for most situations, you have multiple desires that clash, and you just have to perform utility calculations to figure out what to do.
3CCC8yIf you know (or correctly guess) the agents' utility function, and are able to communicate with it, then it may well be possible to reason with it. Consider this situation; I am captured by a Paperclipper, which wishes to extract the iron from my blood and use it to make more paperclips (incidentally killing me in the process). I can attempt to escape by promising to send to the Paperclipper a quantity of iron - substantially more than can be found in my blood, and easier to extract - as soon as I am safe. As long as I can convince Clippy that I will follow through on my promise, I have a chance of living. I can't talk Clippy into adopting my own morality. But I can talk Clippy into performing individual actions that I would prefer Clippy to do (or into refraining from other actions) as long as I ensure that Clippy can get more paperclips by doing what I ask than by not doing what I ask.
1Ben Pace8yOf course - my mistake. I meant that you can't alter an agent's desires by reason alone. You can't appeal to desires you have. You can only appeal to its desires. So, when he's going to turn the your blood iron into paperclips, and you want to live, you can't try "But I want to live a long and happy life!". If Clippy hasn't got empathy, and you have nothing to offer that will help fulfill his own desires, then there's nothing to be done, other than try to physical stop or kill him. Maybe you'd be happier if you put him in a planet of his own, where a machine constantly destroye paperclips, and he was happy making new ones. My point is just that, if you do decide to make him happy, it's not the optimal decision relative to a universal preference, or morality. It's just the optimal decision relative to your desires. Is that 'right'? Yes. That's what we refer to, when we say 'right'.
2MrMind8yProbably this could (not) help "And I quoted the above list because the feeling of rightness isn't about implementing a particular logical function; it contains no mention of logical functions at all; in the environment of evolutionary ancestry nobody has heard of axiomatization; these feelings are about life, consciousness, etcetera" An asymmetry in what?

Genesis 2:16-2:17 looks pretty clear to me: every tree which isn't the tree of knowledge is okay. Genesis 3:22 can be interpreted as either referring to a previous life tree ban or establishing one.

If you accept the next gen fic as canon, Revelations 22:14 says that the tree will be allowed at the end, which is evidence it was just a tempban after the fall.

Where do you get that the tree of life was off-limits?

My position is that suppressing knowledge of any kind is Evil.

Sheesh. I'll actively suppress knowledge of your plans against the local dictator. ... (read more)

4BerryPick68yThere is no reason an omnipotent God couldn't have created creatures with free will that still always choose to be good. See Mackie, 1955.
3MixedNuts8yYeah, or at least put the option to be evil somewhere other than right in the middle of the garden with a "Do not eat, or else!" sign on it for a species you created vulnerable to reverse psychology.
1Eugine_Nier8yMy understanding is that the vulnerability to reverse psychology was one of the consequences of eating the fruit.
1Decius8yThere is a trivial argument against an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent god. Why would a god with up to two of those three characteristics make creatures with free will that still always choose to be good?

I don't know what you mean by 'subjective.'

That the judgments of "fair" or "beautiful" don't come from a universal source, but from a particular entity. I have copious evidence that what I consider "beautiful" is different from what some other people consider "beautiful;" I have copious evidence that what I consider "fair" is different from what some other people consider "fair."

'Delicious' is clearly two-place, and ordinary English-language speakers routinely consider it two-place;

It is cl... (read more)

4Peterdjones8yBut there is little upshot to people having differnt notions of beauty, since people can arrange their own environents to suit their own aesthetics. However, resources have to be apportioned one way or another. So we need, and have discussion about how to do things fairly. (Public architecture is a bit of an exception to what I said about beauty, but lo and behold, we have debates at that too).
1Rob Bensinger8yI don't understand what this means. To my knowledge, the only things that exist are particulars. I have copious evidence that others disagree with me about ¬¬P being equivalent to P. And I have copious evidence that others disagree with me about the Earth's being more than 6,000 years old. Does this imply that my belief in Double Negation Elimination and in the Earth's antiquity is 'subjective'? If not, then what extra premises are you suppressing? Well, sure. But, barring innate knowledge, people have to learn everything at some point. 3-year-olds lack a theory of mind; and those with a new theory of mind may not yet understand that 'beautiful' and 'delicious' are observer-relative. But that on its own gives us no way to conclude that 'fairness' is observer-relative. After all, not everything that we start off thinking is 'objective' later turns out to be 'subjective.' And even if 'fairness' were observer-relative, there have to be constraints on what can qualify as 'fairness.' Fairness is not equivalent to 'whatever anyone decides to use the word "fairness" to mean,' as Eliezer rightly pointed out. Even relativists don't tend to think that 'purple toaster' and 'equitable distribution of resources' are equally legitimate and plausible semantic candidates for the word 'fairness.' That's not true. Deliciousness, like fairness, affects everyone. For instance, my roommate is affected by which foods I find delicious; it changes where she ends up going to eat. Perhaps you meant something else. You'll have to be much more precise. The entire game when it comes to as tricky a dichotomy as 'objective/subjective' is just: Be precise. The dichotomy will reveal its secrets and deceptions only if we taboo our way into its heart. What's fair varies from person to person too, because different people, for instance, put different amounts of work into their activities. And knowing about what's fair can certainly help in trade! Does not "bind" the other person? Fairness is n

Well, I'm glad to see you're taking a second crack at an exposition of metaethics.

I wonder if it might be worth expounding more on the distinction between utterances (sentences and word-symbols), meaning-bearers (propositions and predicates) and languages (which map utterances to meaning-bearers). My limited experience seems to suggest that a lot of the confusion about metaethics comes from not getting, instinctively, that speakers use their actual language, and that a sentence like "X is better than Y", when uttered by a particular person, refer... (read more)

Torture and murder are not the most moral things to do in 1.00000 00000 00000*10^2% of exemplified situations which require moral judgement.

Well, that's clearly false. Your chances of having to kill a member of the secret police of an oppressive state are much more than 1/10^16, to say nothing of less clear cut examples.

1Decius8yDo the actions of the secret police of an oppressive state constitute consent to violent methods? If so, they cannot be murdered in the moral sense, because they are combatants. If not, then it is immoral to kill them, even to prevent third parties from executing immoral acts. You don't get much less clear cut than asking questions about whether killing a combatant constitutes murder.
2[anonymous]8yWell, if you define “murder” as ‘killing someone you shouldn't’ then you should never murder anyone -- but that'd be a tautology and the interesting question would be how often killing someone would not be murder.
2wedrifid8yDecius, you may also be interested in the closely related post Ethical Inhibitions []. It describes actions like, say, blatant murder, that could in principle (ie. in contrived circumstances) be actually the consequentialist right thing to do but that nevertheless you would never do anyway as a human since you are more likely to be biased and self-deceiving than to be correctly deciding murdering was right.

I don't think there is clear route from "we can figure out morality ourselves" to "we can stop telling lies to children". The problem is that once you know morality is in a sense man-made, it becomes tempting to remake it self-servingly. I think we tell ourselves stories that fundamental morality comes from God Or Nature to restrain ourselves, and partly forget its man made nature. Men are not created equal, but it we believe they are, we behave better. "Created equal" is a value masquerading as a fact.

3Viliam_Bur8yI think the real temptation is in reusing the old words for new concepts, either in confusion, or trying to shift the associations from the old concept to the new concept. Once you know that natural numbers are in a sense mad-made, it could become tempting to start using the phrase "natural numbers" to include fractions. Why not? If there is no God telling us what the "natural numbers" are, why should your definition that excludes fractions be better than my definition that includes them? Your only objection in this case would be -- Man, you are obviously talking about something different, so it would be less confusing and more polite, if you picked some new label (such as "rational numbers") for you new concept.

I am having difficulty understanding the model of 'physics+logic = reality.' Up until now I have understood that's physics was reality, but logic is the way to describe and think about what follows from it. Would someone please post a link to the original article (in this sequence or not) which explains the position? Thank you.

Mathematical results get overturned all the time; not just in the form of entire fields being rejected or revised from the ground up (like the infinitesimal calculus), and not just in the discovery of internal errors in proofs past, but in the rejection of definitions and axioms for a given discourse.

I'm just a 2 year math Ph.D. program drop-out from 35 years ago, but I got quite a different take on it. As I experienced it, most mathematics is like "Let X be a G-space where G-space is defined as having ". and then you might spend years provi... (read more)

0[anonymous]8yZFC set theory? Peano arithmetics?

I'm not sure what you have in mind here. We need to distinguish (i) the referent of a concept from (ii) its reference-fixing "sense" or functional role. The way I understood your view, the reference-fixing story for moral terms involves our (idealized) desires. But the referent is "rigid" in the sense that it's picking out the content of our desires: the thing that actually fills the functional role, rather than the role-property itself.

Since our desires typically aren't themselves about our desires, so it will turn out, on this stor... (read more)

This all does sound good to me; but, is there a way to say the above while tabooing "reference" and avoiding talk of things "referring" to other things? Reference isn't ontologically basic, so what does it reduce to?

Basically, the main part that would worry me is a phrase like, "there's a story to be told about how our moral concepts came to pick out these particular worldly properties" which sounds on its face like, "There's a story to be told about how successorship came to pick out the natural numbers" whereas what I'd want to say is, "Of course, there's a story to be told about how moral concepts came to have the power to move us" or "There's a story to be told about how our brains came to reflect numbers".

'Twasn't me, but I would guess some people want comments to have a point other than a joke.

2kodos968yYeah, I know... I just wanted to get the culprit to come right out and say that, in the hope that they would recognize how silly it sounded. There seems to be a voting bloc here on LW that is irrationally opposed to humor, and it's always bugged me.
9MixedNuts8yMakes plenty of sense to me. Jokes are easy, insight is hard. With the same karma rewards for funny jokes and good insights, there are strong incentives to spend the same time thinking up ten jokes rather than one insight. Soon no work gets done, and what little there is is hidden in a pile of jokes. I hear this killed some subreddits. Also, it wasn't that funny.
1kodos968yYeah, I'm not saying jokes (with no other content to them) should be upvoted, but I don't think they need to be downvoted as long as they're not disruptive to the conversation. I think there's just a certain faction on here who feels a need to prove to the world how un-redditish LW is, to the point of trying to suck all joy out of human communication.

Well, that sounds about as likely to correctly define the word "fair" as to correctly define the word "banana".

Bull! I'm quite aware of why I eat, breathe, and drink. Why in the world would a paperclip maximizer not be aware of this?

Unless you assume Paperclippers are just rock-bottom stupid I'd also expect them to eventually notice the correlation between mining iron, smelting it, and shaping it in to a weird semi-spiral design... and the sudden rise in the number of paperclips in the world.

It is reasonably arguable (whether true or not) that Nazism would never have happened without the radio, or that the USSR's police state required the telephone and other high speed means of communication.

USSR's police state required high speed one-to-many means of communication. The Soviet leadership was absolutely terrified of many-to-many means of communication, going so far as to impose extremely tight controls on access to photocopiers, even most high level members of the party couldn't get access.

You can't know that a proof is elegant until someone sees it.

Sorry, that doesn't capture it either. You can prove all sorts of things about a proof that nobody's found yet, without actually finding the proof yet. It would not be terribly surprising if elegance was one of those things.

2MugaSofer8yOh. OK. You're absolutely right. I hadn't thought of that. Point, I guess.

I don't think we have any features like this. If you describe exactly what happened to this guy, he may be able to figure out what's wrong.

[-][anonymous]8y 6

According to Eliezer's definition of "should" in this post, I "should" do things which lead to "life, consciousness, and activity; health and strength; pleasures and satisfactions of all or certain kinds; happiness, beatitude, contentment, etc.; truth; knowledge and true opinions of various kinds, understanding, wisdom; beauty, harmony, proportion in objects contemplated; aesthetic experience..." But unless I already cared about those things, I don't see why I would do what I "should" do, so as a universal prescription for action, this definition of "morality" fails.

9nshepperd8yCorrect. Agents who don't care about morality generally can't be convinced [] to do what they morally should do.

I still feel confused. I definitely see that, when we talk about fairness, our intended meaning is logical in nature. So, if I claim that it is fair for each person to get an equal share of pie, I'm trying to talk about some set of axioms and facts derived from them. Trying.

The problem is, I'm not convinced that the underlying cognitive algorithms are stable enough for those axioms to be useful. Imagine, for example, a two-year-old with the usual attention span. What they consider "good" might vary quite quickly. What I consider "just" ... (read more)

Using the word also implies that this goodness-embodying thing is sapient and has superpowers.

2dspeyer8yOr that it is sometimes useful to tell metaphorical stories about this goodness-embodying thing as if it were sapient and had superpowers. Or as if the ancients thought it was sapient and had superpowers. They were wrong about that, but right about enough important things that we still value their writings.

If the secret police break down my door,

Any half-way competent secret police wouldn't need to.

nothing done to them is nonconsensual.

You seem to have a very non-standard definition of "nonconsensual".

Holding down the back button should show you the full history, just select one of the pages farther back. I am not aware of any sites blocking that feature. You will still get the popup, though.

1HalMorris8yThank you! that's extremely helpful. The list of previous pages used to be part of a "Go to" button which disappeared, and I thought the functionality was lost forever.

There must be non-physical things to assume that there is any difference between "us" and "p-zombies". This is a logical requirement. They posit that there effectively is a difference, in the premises right there, by asserting that p-zombies do not have qualia, while we do.

  • Premise: P-zombies have all the physical and logical stuff that we do.
  • Premise: P-zombies DO NOT have qualia.
  • Premise: We have qualia.
  • Implied premise: This thought experiment is logically consistent.

The only way 4 is possible is if it is also implied tha... (read more)

2nshepperd8yThe p-zombie thought experiment is usually intended to prove that qualia is magical, yes. This is one of those unfortunate cases of philosophers reasoning from conceivability, apparently not realising that such reasoning usually only reveals stuff about their own mind. I wouldn't say "qualia is magic" is actually a premise, but the argument involves assuming "qualia could be magical" and then invalidly dropping a level of "could". In this case the "could" is an epistemic "could" -- "I don't know whether qualia is magical". Presumably, iff qualia is magical, then p-zombies are possible (ie. exist in some possible world, modal-could), so we deduce that "it epistemic-could be the case that p-zombies modal-could exist". Then I guess because epistemic-could and modal-could feel like the same thing¹, this gets squished down to "p-zombies modal-could exist" which implies qualia is magical. Anyway, the above seems like a plausible explanation of the reasoning, although I haven't actually talked to ay philosophers to ask them if this is how it went. ¹ And could actually be (partially or completely) the same thing, since unless modal realism is correct, "possible worlds" don't actually exist anywhere. Or something. Regardless, this wouldn't make the step taken above legal, anyway. (Note that the previous "could" there is an epistemic "could"! :p)
2CCC8yI had always understood that "We have something magical that gives us qualia" was one of the explicit premises of p-zombies (p-zombies being defined as that which lacks that magical quality, but appears otherwise human). One could then see p-zombies as a way to try to disprove the "something magical" hypothesis by contradiction - start with someone who doesn't have that magical something, continue on from there, and stop once you hit a contradiction.

Well, it's not like there's a pre-existing critique of that, or anything.

1drnickbone8yYeah, there's only about 900 years or so of critique... But let's cut to the chase here. For sake of argument, let's grant that there is some meaningful "greater than" order between beings (whether or not they exist) that there is a possible maximum to the order (rather than an unending chain of ever-greater beings), that parodies like Gaunilo's island fail for some unknown reason, that existence is a predicate, that there is no distinction between conceivability and logical possibility, that beings which exist are greater than beings which don't, and a few thousand other nitpicks. There is still a problem that premises 1) and 2) don't follow from Anselm's definition. We can try to clarify the definition like this: (*) G is a being than which a greater cannot be conceived iff for every possible world w where G exists, there is no possible world v and being H such that H in world v is greater than G in world w No difficulty there... Anselm's "Fool" can coherently grasp the concept of such a being and imagine a world w where G exists, but can also consistently claim that the actual world a is not one of those worlds. Premise 1) fails. Or we can try to clarify it like this: (**) G is a being than which a greater cannot be conceived iff there are no possible worlds v, w and no being H such that H in world v is greater than G in world w That is closer to Plantinga's definition of maximal greatness, and does establish Premise 1). But now Premise 2) is implausible, since it is not at all obvious that any possible being satisfies that definition. The Fool is still scratching his head trying to understand it...
1Jayson_Virissimo8yOr counters to those pre-existing critiques, etc...
3Peterdjones8yThe phil. community is pretty close to consensus , for once, on the OA.
3Jayson_Virissimo8yYeah, as far as the "classical ontological arguments" are concerned, virtually no philosopher considers them sound. On the other hand, I am under the impression that the "modern modal ontological arguments" (Gödel, Plantinga, etc...) are not well known outside of philosophy of religion and so there couldn't be a consensus one way or the other (taking philosophy as a whole).
1MugaSofer8yI am no longer responding to arguments on this topic, although I will clarify my points if asked. Political argument in an environment where I am already aware of the consensus position on this topic is not productive. It bugs the hell out of me not to respond to comments like this, but a lengthy and expensive defense against arguments that I have already encountered elsewhere just isn't worth it.

OK; my surprise was predicated on the hypothetical theist giving the sentence a non-negligible probability; I admit I didn't express this originally, so you'll have to take my word that it's what I meant. Thanks for humoring me :)

On another note, you do surprise me with "God is logically necessary"; although I know that's at least a common theist position, it's difficult for me to see how one can maintain that without redefining "god" into something unrecognizable.

4drnickbone8yThis "God is logically necessary" is an increasingly common move among philosophical theists, though virtually unheard of in the wider theistic community. Of course it is frustratingly hard to argue with. No matter how much evidence an atheist tries to present (evolution, cosmology, plagues, holocausts, multiple religions, psychology of religious experience and self-deception, sociology, history of religions, critical studies of scriptures etc. etc.) the theist won't update an epistemic probability of 1 to anything less than 1, so is fundamentally immovable. My guess is that this is precisely the point: the philosophical theist basically wants a position that he can defend "come what may" while still - at least superficially - playing the moves of the rationality game, and gaining a form of acceptance in philosophical circles.
2MugaSofer8yWho said I have a probability of 1? I said the same probability (roughly) as 2+2=3. That's not the same as 1 []. But how exactly are those things evidence against God (except maybe plagues, and even then it's trivially easy to justify them as necessary.) Some of them could be evidence against (or for) Christianity, but not God. I'm much less certain of Christianity than God, if it helps.
2drnickbone8yOK, so you are in some (small) doubt whether God is logically necessary or not, in that your epistemic probability of God's existence is 2+2-3, and not exactly 1:-) Or, put another way, you are able to imagine some sort of "world" in which God does not exist, but you are not totally sure whether that is a logically impossible world (you can imagine that it is logically possible after all)? Perhaps you think like this: 1. God is either logically necessary or logically impossible 2. I'm pretty sure (probability very close to 1) that God's existence is logically possible So: 3. I'm pretty sure (probability very close to 1) that God's existence is logically necessary. To support 1, you might be working with a definition of God like St Anselm's (a being than which a greater cannot be conceived) or Alvin Plantinga's (a maximally great being, which has the property of maximal excellence - including omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection - in every possible world). If you have a different sort of God conception then that's fine, but just trying to clear up misunderstanding here.
1drnickbone8yP.S. On a simple point of logic P(God exists) = P(God exists & Christianity is true) + P(God exists and Christianity is not true). Any evidence that reduces the first term also reduces the sum. In any case, the example evidences I cited are general evidence against any sort of omni being, because they are *not the sorts of things we would expect to observe if there were such a being, but are very much what we'd expect to observe if there weren't.
5wedrifid8yNo it doesn't. Any evidence that reduces the first term by a greater degree than it increases the second term also reduces the sum. For example if God appeared before me and said "There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is My prophet" it would raise p(God exists), lower p(God exists & Christianity is true) and significantly raise p(psychotic episode).
3[anonymous]8yITYM "lower p(God exists & Christianity is true)".
2drnickbone8yGood point... What I was getting at here is that evidence which reduces the probability of the Christian God but leaves probability of other concepts of God unchanged still reduces P(God). But you are correct, I didn't quite say that.
2wedrifid8yYour point is a valid one!
2MugaSofer8yFor example? Bearing in mind that I am well aware of all your "example evidences" and they do not appear confusing - although I have encountered other conceptions of God that would be so confused (for example, those who don't think God can have knowledge about the future - because free will - might be puzzled by His failure to intervene in holocausts.) EDIT:
3DaFranker8yDespite looking for some way to do so, I've never found any. I presume you can't. Philosophical theists are happy to completely ignore this issue, and gaily go on to conflate this new "god" with their previous intuitive ideas of what "god" is, which is (from the outside view) obviously quite confused [] and a very bad way to think and to use words.

Survival and procreation aren't primary goals in any direct sense. We have urges that have been selected for because they contribute to inclusive genetic fitness, but at the implementation level they don't seem to be evaluated by their contributions to some sort of unitary probability-of-survival metric; similarly, some actions that do contribute greatly to inclusive genetic fitness (like donating eggs or sperm) are quite rare in practice and go almost wholly unrewarded by our biology. Because of this architecture, we end up with situations where we sate... (read more)

My mind reduces all of this to "God = Confusion". What am I missing?

Note that there's some discussion on just what Eliezer means by "logic all the way down" over on Rationally Speaking: . Seeing as much of this is me and Angra Maiynu arguing that Massimo Pigliucci hasn't understood what Eliezer means, it might be useful for Eliezer to confirm what he does mean.

What???!!! Are you suggesting that I'm actually planning on conducting the proposed thought experiment? Actually, physically, getting a piece of paper and writing out the words in question? I assure you, this is not the case. I don't even have any blank paper in my home - this is the 21st century after all.

This is a thought experiment I'm proposing, in order to help me better understand MixedNuts' mental model. No different from proposing a thought experiment involving dust motes and eternal torture. Are you saying that Eliezer should be punished for considering such hypothetical situations, a trillion times over?

2Eugine_Nier8yYes I know, and my comment was how I would respond in your thought experiment. (Edited: the first version accidentally implied the opposite of what I intended.)

Murder (law) and murder (moral) are two different things; I was exclusively referring to murder (moral).

I will clarify: There can be cases where murder (law) is either not immoral or morally required. There are also cases where an act which is murder (moral) is not illegal.

My original point is that many of the actions of Jehovah constitute murder (moral).

2Eugine_Nier8yWhat's your definition of murder (moral)?
0Decius8yRoughly "intentional nonconsensual interaction which results in the intended outcome of the death of a sentient". To define how I use 'nonconsensual', I need to describe an entire ethics. Rough summary: Only every action which is performed without the consent of one or more sentient participant(s) is immoral. (Consent need not be explicit in all cases, especially trivial and critical cases; wearing a military uniform identifies an individual as a soldier, and constitutes clearly communicating consent to be involved in all military actions initiated by enemy soldiers.)

Well, I think consent sort of breaks down as a concept when you start considering all the situations where societies decide to get violent (or for that matter to involve themselves in sexuality; I'd rather not cite examples for fear of inciting color politics). So I'm not sure I can endorse the general form of this argument.

In the specific case of warfare, though, the formalization of war that most modern governments have decided to bind themselves by does include consent on the part of combatants, in the form of the oath of enlistment (or of office, for ... (read more)

4wedrifid8yIndeed. Where the 'question' takes the form "Is this consent?" and the answer is "No, just no."

I mean, didn't Eliezer cover this? You're not lying if you call numbers groups and groups numbers. If you switch in the middle of a proof, sure, that's lying, but that seems irrelevant. The definitions pick out what you're talking about.

When I'm talking about morality, I'm talking about That Thing That Determines What You're Supposed to Do, You Know, That One.

However Decius answers, he probably violates the local don't-discuss-politics norm. By contrast, your coyness makes it appear that you haven't done so.

In short, it appears to me that you already know Decius' position well enough to continue the discussion if you wanted to. Your invocation of the taboo-your-words convention appears like it isn't your true rejection.

I've watched mine for several hours, and it hasn't.

No, you haven't. (p=0.9)

Have you observed a calculator doing arithmetic? What would it look like?

It could look like an electronic object with a plastic shell that starts with "(23 + 54) / (47 * 12 + 76) + 1093" on the screen and some small amount of time after an apple falls from a tree and hits the "Enter" button some number appears on the screen below the earlier input, beginning with "1093.0", with some other decimal digits following.

If the above doesn't qualify as t... (read more)

1MugaSofer8yUpvoted for this alone.

You can know about things without observing them?

Yes, I recommend looking into the novel new divination techniques "Physics" and "Mathematics". The former allows one to form a tolerably accurate model of the present based on knowledge of precursor states. The latter allows reasoning about the logical implications of assumed axioms.

Excellent! I could do with a map of New York, you see, but I'm much too busy to go there and draw one...

Which brings us to the third mystic divination art: Google it.

Next time, try opening with tha... (read more)

No, you cant know that a proof is elegant until you see it. Quite different.

I'd be surprised if this is actually true. There are features of a proofs that can be themselves proven without actually identifying the proof itself.

No. So what? Are you saying we are all p-zombies?

I don't know about Decius, but...

I am.

I'm also saying that it doesn't matter. The p-zombies are still conscious. They just don't have any added "conscious" XML tags as per some imaginary, crazy-assed unnecessary definition of "consciousness".

Tangential to that point: I think any morality system which relies on an external supernatural thinghy in order to make moral judgments or to assign any terminal value to something is broken and not worth considering.

I love the word "Unclipperific."

I follow the argument here, but I'm still mulling over it and I think by the time I figure out whether I agree the conversation will be over. Something disconcerting struck me on reading it, though: I think I could only follow it having already read and understood the Metaethics sequence. (at least, I think I understood it correctly; at least one commenter confirmed the point that gave me the most trouble at the time)

While I was absorbing the Sequences, I found I could understand most posts on their own, and I re... (read more)

3MaoShan8yI had almost exactly the same feeling as I was reading it. My thought was, "I'm sure glad I'm fluent in LessWrongese, otherwise I wouldn't have a damn clue what was going on." It would be like an exoteric Christian trying to read Valentinus []. It's a great post, I'm glad we have it here, I am just agreeing that the terminology has a lot of Sequences and Main prerequisites.

The theory you propose in (2) seems close to Neutral Monism. It has fallen into disrepute (and near oblivion) but was the preferred solution to the mind-body problem of many significant philosophers of the late 19th-early 20th, in particular of Bertrand Russell (for a long period). A quote from Russell:

We shall seek to construct a metaphysics of matter which shall make the gulf between physics and perception as small, and the inferences involved in the causal theory of perception as little dubious, as possible. We do not want the percept to appear myster

... (read more)

Ooo! Seldom do I get to hear someone else voice my version of idealism. I still have a lot of thinking to do on this, but so far it seems to me perfectly legitimate. An idealism isomorphic to mechanical interactions dissolves the Hard Problem of consciousness by denying a premise. It also does so with more elegance than reductionism since it doesn't force us through that series of flaming hoops that orbits and (maybe) eventually collapses into dualism.

This seems more likely to me so far than all the alternatives, so I guess that means I believe it, b... (read more)

Eliezer thinks we'll someday be able to reduce or eliminate Magical Reality Fluid from our model, and I know of no argument (analogous to the Hard Problem for phenomenal properties) that would preclude this possibility without invoking qualia themselves. Personally, I'm an agnostic about Many Worlds, so I'm even less inclined than EY to think that we need Magical Reality Fluid to recover the Born probabilities.

I also don't reify logical constructs, so I don't believe in a bonus category of Abstract Thingies. I'm about as monistic as physicalists come. Math... (read more)

Freedom does have instrumental value; however, lack of coercion is an intrinsic thing in my ethics, in addition to the instrumental value.

I don't think that I will ever be able to codify my ethics accurately in Loglan or an equivalent, but there is a lot of room for improvement in my ability to explain it to other sentient beings.

I was unaware that the "immortalist" value system was assumed to be the LW default; I thought that "human value system" referred to a different default value system.

And the point I am trying to make is that p-zombies are not only a coherent idea, but compatible with human-standard brains as generally modelled on LW.

Yes, it merely requires redefining things like 'conscious' or 'experience' (whatever you decide p-zombies do not have) to be something epiphenomenal and incidentally non-existent.

I wouldn't be experiencing anything.

0Decius8yI thought it had been established that wasn't a difference.

That's not sufficient - there can be wildly different, incompatible universalizable morality systems based on different premises and axioms; and each could reasonably claim to be that they are a true morality and the other is a tribal shibboleth.

As an example (but there are others), many of the major religious traditions would definitely claim to be universalizable systems of morality; and they are contradicting each other on some points.

2Peterdjones8yMaybe. But in context it is onlhy necessary, since in context the point is to separate out the non-etchial cclams which have been piggybacked onto ethics. That's not obvious. The points they most obviouslty contradict each other on tend to be the most symbolic ones, about diet and dress, etc.
0PeterisP8yOK, for a slightly clearer example, in the USA abortion debate, the pro-life "camp" definitely considers pro-life to be moral and wants to apply to everyone; and pro-choice "camp" definitely considers pro-choice to be moral and to apply to everyone. This is not a symbolic point, it is a moral question that defines literally life-and-death decisions.
0BerryPick68yI would dispute this. Kant's second formulation of the Categorical Imperative is pretty clearly contradictory to some of the universalisable commandments given by versions of theistic morality.
0Peterdjones8yErmm...what's the teaching that says covetousness is fine? Ayn Rand? If that is taken to mean the Jewish Sabbath specifically, that is a shibboleth. If it is taken broadly to mean "holdiays are good" ot "you need to take a break", who disagrees?
2BerryPick68yAh, no, I wasn't being clear enough. Both these commandments talk about other people as means to ends, rather than only as ends, which is a violation of Kant's Categorical Imperative, as I mentioned in the great-grandfather. The bolded parts are the main offenders.
2Peterdjones8yThe first is surely advising against using people as ends. I also don't see how giving your servants a holiday is using them as ends.
2BerryPick68yThat would be a very odd interpretation for the full content of the commandment. The universalized version would, roughly, read: "Never want to have someone else's property, where property includes people." Slaves are a fairly obvious violation of the CI. Because you are using them (and also any family members or visitors) as a mean in order to show respect to or worship God. If God is the end, then anyone who you make rest on Sabbath in order to fulfill this commandment is being used purely as a means.

My usual response to reading 2) is to think 1).

I wonder if you really wouldn't respond to blackmail if the stakes were high and you'd actually lose something critical. "I don't respond to blackmail" usually means "I claim social dominance in this conflict".

4kodos968yNot in general, but in this particular instance, the error is in seeing any "conflict" whatsoever. This was not intended as a challenge, or a dick-waving contest, just a sincerely proposed thought experiment in order to help me better understand MixedNuts' mental model.
3wedrifid8y(My response was intended to be within the thought experiment mode, not external. I took Eugine's as being within that mode too.)
0kodos968yThanks, I apppreciate that. My pique was in response to Eugine's downvote, not his comment.
0[anonymous]8y“In practice, virtually everyone seems to judge a large matter of principle to be more important than a small one of pragmatics, and vice versa — everyone except philosophers, that is.” (Gary Drescher, Good and Real)

Yes, which is why I explicitly labled it as only a thought experiment.

This seems to me to be entirely in keeping with the LW tradition of thought experiments regarding dust particles and eternal torture.... by posing such a question, you're not actually threatening to torture anybody.

Edit: downvote explantion requested.

0Decius8yOr put a dost mote in everybody's eye. Withdrawn.

Theres motivation to redefine morality, and reason to think it stil is in some sense morality once it has been redefined. Neither is true of maths.

2MugaSofer8yOh, I see. So your comment basically said "True, but it's easy to inadvertently treat this "other M" as morality."

I would translate this:

The problem is that once you know morality is in a sense man-made, it becomes tempting to remake it self-servingly.

as: " becomes tempting to use some other M instead of morality."

It expresses the same idea, without the confusion about whether morality can be redefined arbitrarily. (Yes, anything can be redefined arbitrarily. It just stops being the original thing.)

1Peterdjones8y"some other M" will still count as morality for many purposes, because self-serving ideas ("be loyal to the Geniralissimo", "obey your husband") are transmitted thorugh the same memetic channels are genuine morality. Morality is already blurred with disgust reactions and tribal shibboleths.
1PeterisP8yWhat is the difference between "self-serving ideas" as you describe, "tribal shibboleths" and "true morality" ? What if "Peterdjones-true-morality" is "PeterisP-tribal-shibboleth", and "Peterdjones-tribal-shibboleth" is "PeterisP-true-morality" ?

I see little point in ignoring what an argument states explicily in favour of speculations about what the formulaters had in mind. I also think that rhetorical use of the word "magic" is mind killing. Quantum teleportation might seem magical to a 19th century physicist, but it still exists.

There's something to be said against equating transhumanism with religious concepts, but the world to come is an exact parallel.

I don't know much about Kabbalah because I'm worried it'll fry my brain, but Gilgul is a thing.

I always interpreted sheol as just the literal grave, but apparently it refers to an actual world. Thanks.

The funny thing is, that the rationalist Clippy would endorse this article. (He would probably put more emphasis on clippyflurphsness rather than this unclipperiffic notion of "justness", though. :))

Well, you do have to press certain buttons for it to happen. ;) And it looks like voltages changing inside an integrated circuit that lead to changes in a display of some kind. Anyway, if you insist on an example of something that "does arithmetic" without any human intervention whatsoever, I can point to the arithmetic logic unit inside a plugged-in arcade machine in attract mode.

And if you don't want to call what an arithmetic logic unit does when it takes a set of inputs and returns a set of outputs "doing arithmetic", I'd have to re... (read more)

If I am remembered for anything, it will be for elucidating the words of wiser men.

On a tangential note, is there a word I could have used above instead of "men" that would preserve the flow but is gender-neutral? I couldn't find one. Ideally one falling syllable.

ETA: The target word should probably end in a nasal or approximate consonant, or else a vowel.

8BerryPick68y'Minds'? 'Tongues'?
6TheOtherDave8yWere I writing it, I would likely go with "it will be for elucidating the words of those wiser than I." But if you insist on the structure, perhaps "folk"?
4Kindly8yThe correct pronoun to use, if you insist, is "those wiser than me" (or "those wiser than I am"). Normally I wouldn't be correcting you, but someone who puts an "I" in that sentence probably cares about pronouns.
3[anonymous]8y“Than” governing nominative pronouns it's widely attested, especially in older texts (I think the standard analysis is that there's an implicit verb after it); it's just terribly stilted those days.
1thomblake8yThank you.
4MixedNuts8yOr "ones".
2thomblake8yThanks - "folk" technically fits the requirements, but totally changes the feel. I'm not sure you can say "folk" and still sound solemn. And I'm not a fan of the hard ending consonant. You're definitely casting a wider net than I was though, and I now imagine there's something to be found.
2TimS8yFor me, Berrypick6's suggestion [] of "minds" has the denotative formality that you desire. Can't comment on the phonetics.
2RichardKennaway8y"Heads"? "...the words of those wiser than me"?

"I value both saving orphans from fires and eating chocolate. I'm a horrible person, so I can't choose whether to abandon my chocolate and save the orphanage."

Should I self-modify to ignore the orphans? Hell no. If future-me doesn't want to save orphans then he never will, even if it would cost no chocolate.

But there were still adjustments, most importantly Christianity, which needed a few good miracles to demonstrate authority (note Jesus only heals people in order to demonstrate his divine mandate, not just to, well, heal people.)

That depends on the Gospel in question. The Johannine Jesus works miracles to show that he's God; the Matthean Jesus is constantly frustrated that everyone follows him around, tells everyone to shut up, and rejects Satan's temptation to publicly show his divine favor as an affront to God.

So you can have N>1 miracles and still have deism? I always thought N was 0 for that.

6MixedNuts8yI think (pure) deism is N=1 ("let's get this thing started") and N=0 is "atheism is true but I like thinking about epiphenomena".
5MugaSofer8yI'm not actually a deist. I'm just more deist than the average theist.
[-][anonymous]8y 3

You do not reason with evil. You condemn it.

I subscribe to desirism. So I'm not a strict anti-realist.

for what use is meta-ethics if no ethics results, or at least, practical procedures for discovering ethics?

We have the processing unit called "brain" which does contain our understanding of the human context and therefore can plug a context parameter into a metaethical philosophy and thus derive an ethic. But we can't currently express the functioning of the brain as theorems and proofs -- our understanding of its working is far fuzzier than that.

I expect that the use of metaethic in AI development would similarly be so that the AI has something to plug its understanding of the human context into.

The problem is that God is at the same time part of the realm of abstract logical structures like "goodness", and a concrete being that causes the world to exist, causes miracles, has desires, etc.

As I explained here, it's perfectly reasonable to describe mathematical abstractions as causes.

I'm not a positivist, and I don't argue like one. I think nearly all the arguments against the possibility of zombies are very silly, and I agree there's good prima facie evidence for dualism (though I think that in the final analysis the weight of evidence still favors physicalism). Indeed, it's a good thing I don't think zombies are impossible, since I think that we are zombies.

What's your reason for believing this?

My reason is twofold: Copernican, and Occamite.

Copernican reasoning: Most of the universe does not consist of humans, or anything human-l... (read more)

Scott Adams on the same subject, the morning after your post:

fairness isn't a real thing. It's just a psychological phenomenon that is easily manipulated.


To demonstrate my point that fairness is about psychology and not the objective world, I'll ask you two questions and I'd like you to give me the first answer that feels "fair" to you. Don't read the other comments until you have your answer in your head.

Here are the questions:

A retired businessman is worth one billion dollars. Thanks to his expensive lifestyle and hobbies, his money

... (read more)
2drnickbone8yI suppose one obvious response to this is "however much utility the billionaire can create by spending his wealth, a very much higher level of utility would be created by re-distributing his billions to lots of other people, who need it much more than he does". Money has a declining marginal utility, much like everything else. Naturally, if you try to redistribute all wealth then no-one will have any incentive to create it in the first place, but this just creates a utilitarian trade-off on how much to tax, what to tax, and who to tax. It's still very likely that the billionaire will lose in this trade-off.
1Eugine_Nier8yI could replace "fairness" with "truth" in that sentence and come up with equally good examples.
[-][anonymous]8y 3

I'm not at all convinced that all LWers have been persuaded that they don't have qualia.

Well, it's probably important to distinguish between to uses to which the theory of qualia is put: first as the foundation of foundationalist empiricism, and second as the basis for the 'hard problem of consciousness'. Foundationalist theories of empiricism are largely dead, as is the idea that qualia are a source of immediate, non-conceptual knowledge. That's the work that Sellars (a strident reductivist and naturalist) did.

Now that I read it again, I think my orig... (read more)

2NancyLebovitz8yI'd have said that qualia are not a source of unprocessed knowledge, but the processing isn't conceptual. I take 'conceptual' to mean thought which is at least somewhat conscious and which probably can be represented verbally. What do you mean by the word?

I am reading this series and suddenly realized that Mercy, Justice and Fair are citizens of this 2nd-order-logic. As well as the "6" number. This is why they are imaginary and non-existing in the physical world. To most of you this comment would seem trivial but it just shows I am really enjoying my reading and thinking :)

if we confess that 'right' lives in a world of physics and logic - because everything lives in a world of physics and logic - then we have to translate 'right' into those terms somehow.

A different perspective i'd like people's thoughts on: is it more accurate to say that everything WE KNOW lives in a world of physics and logic, and thus translating 'right' into those terms is correct assuming right and wrong (fairness, etc.) are defined within the bounds of what we know.

I'm wondering if you would agree that you're making an implicit philosophical ar... (read more)

(c) Even if we precisify a candidate meaning for 'fairness,' it won't really be a Logical Idea, because the subject matter of morality is intrinsically less logicy than the subject matter of mathematics. [...]All of these claims are implausible

This inspired me to write Morality Isn't Logical, and I'd be interested to know what you think.

Hmm... I don't think my point necessarily helps here. I meant that you will always get disutility when you have two desires that always clash (x and not x); whichever way you choose, the other desire won't be fulfilled.

However, in the case you offered (and probably most cases) it's not a good idea to self-modify, as desires don't clash in principle, always. Like with the chocolate and saving kids one, you just have to perform utility calculations to see which way to go (that one is saving kids).

So, you're saying that it is subjective whether qualia have a point of view, or the ability to posit themselves?

Because I have all of the observations needed to say that cats exist, even if they don't technically exist. I do not have the observations needed to say that there is a non-physical component to subjective experience.

0nshepperd8yWho's talking about non-physical components? "Qualia" has more than one meaning.

Oh, right. Yup, anything simulating you that perfectly is gonna be conscious - but it might be using magic. For example, perhaps they pull their data out of parallel universe where you ARE real. Or maybe they use some black-swan technique you can't even imagine. They're fairies, for godssake. And you're an invisible cat. Don't fight the counterfactual.

2DaFranker8yHaha, that one made me laugh. Yes, it's fighting the counterfactual a bit, but I think that this is one of the reasons why there was a chasm of misunderstandings in this and other sub-threads. Anyway, I don't see any tangible things left to discuss here.
2MugaSofer8yVictory! Possibly for both sides, that could well be what's causing the chasm.

Looks like we have an insurmountable inferential distance problem both ways, so I'll stop here.

In past trials, each outcome has occurred the same number of times.

This could be true and you'd still be totally wrong about the equal likelihood.

Where do effects of cats stop and cats begin?

Sure. an artifact of such a reproduction = whatever you mean by "effect of cats" in your original statement.

I'm pretty sure this comment means you don't understand the concept of "qualia".

1Decius8yHow do you experience cats?

I've found the explanations in "How an algorithm feels from the inside" quite on spot.

I'm not sure I understand what it means for an algorithm to have an inside, let alone for an algorithm to "feel" something from the inside. "Inside" is a geometrical concept, not an algorithmical one.

Please explain what the inside feeling of e.g. the Fibonacci sequence (or an algorithm calculating such) would be.

The same could be said of cats: Even if cats are part of the physical universe, they could counterfactually be epiphenomenal if something was reproducing the effects they have on the world.

How does the argument apply to qualia and not to cats?

By "our particular logic" I mean the particular method we've learned for exploiting how the universe works to cause our discrete symbols to have consistent behavior that mostly models the universe. There's no requirement that logic be only represented as a finite sequence of symbols generated by replacement rules and variable substitution from a set of axioms; it's just what works best for us right now. There are almost certainly other (and probably better) representations of how the universe works that we haven't found yet. For instance it se... (read more)

2DaFranker8yThanks. That clarified things. And I was (incorrectly) adjusting for inferential distance in the other direction regarding the "our particular logic" referent. In fact, it was me who hadn't fully understood the things you implied and the steps that were skipped in the reasoning, for whatever reason.

If we reprogrammed you to count paperclips instead, it wouldn't feel like different things having the same kind of motivation behind it. It wouldn't feel like doing-what's-right for a different guess about what's right. It would feel like doing-what-leads-to-paperclips.

What if we also changed the subject into a sentient paperclip? Any "standard" paperclip maximizer has to deal with the annoying fact that it is tying up useful matter in a non-paperclip form that it really wants to turn into paperclips. Humans don't usually struggle with the... (read more)

First thing to note, possible worlds can't be specified at different levels of detail.

Let's take possible worlds to be sets of propositions and truth values.

I think that these two desires are contradictory. Part of what I'm trying to say is that it's a highly nontrivial problem which propositions are even meaningful, let alone true, if you specify possible worlds at a sufficiently high level of detail. For example, at an extremely high level of detail, you might specify a possible world by specifying a set of laws of physics together with an initial con... (read more)

That's not helpful, especially in context.

Apart from implying different subjective preferences to mine when it comes to conversation this claim is actually objectively false as a description of reality.

The 'taboo!' demand in this context was itself a borderline (in as much as it isn't actually the salient feature that needs elaboration or challenge and the meaning should be plain to most non disingenuous readers). But assuming there was any doubt at all about what 'contrived' meant in the first place my response would, in fact, help make it clear throug... (read more)

Okay. I think what I'm actually trying to say is that what constitutes a rigid designator, among other things, seems to depend very strongly on the resolution at which you examine possible worlds.

When you say the phrase "imagine the possible world in which I have a glass of water in my hand" to a human, that human knows what you mean because by default humans only model the physical world at a resolution where it is easy to imagine making that intervention and only that intervention. When you say that phrase to an AI which is modeling the world ... (read more)

The John Galt speech lasts 4 hours

... wow.

Anyway, if Objectivists are claiming to have reached morality from tautology, I'm inclined to throw that in with all the other nonsense they spout that I know for a fact to be wrong. Now that you say it, I do recall seeing something along the lines of "the fundamental truth that A=A" in an Objectivist ... I don't want to say rant, it was pretty short ... but I don't recall noticing an actual, rational argument in there so it's probably trivially wrong.

4HalMorris8yIncidently, the mid-20c school of thought called "General Semantics" held that A != A (or at least not always), and their logo was an A with a bar over it; I think it may have helped inspire the early cognitive psychologist Albert Ellis to invent a new language called E Prime which was simply English with all forms of the verb "to be" removed. He is supposed to have written one book in E Prime, and as far as I know that was the end of it. Anyway General Semantics preceded Ayn Rand, so maybe it ticked her off.
2MixedNuts8yIs that where van Vogt's Ā come from?

To me it seems that you are mixing together "better" in "morally better", and "better" as "more efficient". If we replace the second one with "more efficient", we get:

Betterness (moral) is more efficient measure of being better (morally).

Clippiness is more efficient measure of being clippy.

I guess we (and Clippy) could agree about this. It is just confusing to write the latter sentence as "clippiness is better than betterness, with regards to being clippy", because the two different meanings are e... (read more)

2[anonymous]8yThis. “Good” can refer to either a two-place function ‘goodness(action, goal_system)’ (though the second argument can be implicit in the context) or to the one-place function you get when you curry the second argument of the former to something like ‘life, consciousness, etc., etc. etc.’. EY is talking specifically about the latter, but he isn't terribly clear about that. EDIT: BTW, the antonym of the former is usually “bad”, whereas the antonym of the latter is usually “evil”. EDIT 2: A third meaning is the two-place function with the second argument curried to the speaker's terminal values, so that I could say “good” to mean ‘good for life, consciousness, etc.’ and Clippy could say “good” to mean ‘good for making paperclips’, and this doesn't mean one of us is mistaken about what “good” means, any more than the fact that we use “here” to refer to different places means one of us is mistaken about what “here” means.

The most important issue is that however the theist defines "free will", he has the burden of showing that free will by that very definition is supremely valuable: valuable enough to outweigh the great evil that humans (and perhaps other creatures) cause by abusing it, and so valuable that God could not possibly create a better world without it.

This to my mind is the biggest problem with the Free Will defence in all its forms. It seems pretty clear that free will by some definition is worth having; it also seems pretty clear that there are abstru... (read more)

1Legolan8yI think this is an excellent summary. Having read John L. Mackie's free will argument and Plantinga's transworld depravity free will defense, I think that a theodicy based on free will won't be successful. Trying to define free will such that God can't ensure using his foreknowledge that everyone will act in a morally good way leads to some very odd definitions of free will that don't seem valuable at all, I think.

Well, I understand that if consciousness was physical, but didn't effect our behavior, then removing that physical process would result in a zombie. That's usually the example given, not magic.

1Peterdjones8yThe usual p-zombie argment in the literature does not assume consciousness is entirely physical. Which is not the same as assuming it is non physical...

What's wrong with "people" (plural) or "person" (sing.)?

Nothing in denotative expression but a lot in terms of poetic flow and syllable count. Substituting "people" into that context just wouldn't have sounded pretty. In fact it would make the attempt at eloquent elucidation seem contrived and forced---leaving it worse off than if the meaning had just been conveyed unadorned and without an attempt to appear quotable and deep.

I was actually surprised by TheOtherDave's response. My poetic module returned null and I was someho... (read more)

It's conceivable the way it's conceivable that the English upper class are giant lizards in disguise. If you've read much 19c history and sources, you should know that nobody said anything about anybody masturbating or not, and Lincoln at that time probably lived a mile from his nearest neighbour.

Lincoln is an interesting example because if you read enough biographies of him, it becomes funny just how much mileage people can get out of the most trivial and dubious piece of evidence about his early life.

Anyway, the past is full of things that either happened or didn't -- at least I don't believe they're like Schrodinger's cat, but which we'll never know if they did or not.

2MugaSofer8yYup. That's generally considered a form of conceivable, at least around here. (You might want to try lurking around, reading sequences and interesting comments, at least until you absorb the local jargon, assumptions, and so on. Learning from experience probably works, but it has a high cost in karma, or even regular reputation if you're lucky.)
4HalMorris8yYeah. Karma is good. I've never put a bumper sticker on my car but if I did it would probably say either My Karma Ran Over My Dogma or Question Bumper-sticker Slogans I have a mental block for reading the instruction manual, and a strong prejudice towards experimentalism, so while over time I'm sure to soak up a lot of the threads, you'll probably see me going on my bumptious way. Thanks
1HalMorris8yP.S. As an online book dealer, I've spent most of the last 11 years working alone and losing my social skills. While I'm sure to make mistakes, it's exhilarating to be talking on a forum where the responses are above the level of "poopy-head".

It is? I can't say I've ever heard that before. Could you elaborate?

As it was a casual remark in passing, I don't plan to debate, and "reasonably arguable" is a fairly low bar. But, Hitler had a mesmerizing speaking presence, at least for the people he connected with. He probably would never have amounted to anything except somebody in the German establishment, wanting to quell the chaos that followed the end of WWI, hired him to lecture groups of soldiers to reign them in, and he "discovered he had a voice". Once he became chancel... (read more)

At this point, you're just using the language wrong.

That assumes a determinate answer to the question 'what's the right way to use language?' in this case. But the facts on the ground may underdetermine whether it's 'right' to treat definitions more ostensively (i.e., if Berkeley turns out to be right, then when I say 'tree' I'm picking out an image in my mind, not a non-existent material plant Out There), or 'right' to treat definitions as embedded in a theory, an interpretation of the data (i.e., Berkeley doesn't really believe in trees as we do, he j... (read more)

Abraham Lincoln either did or did not masturbate on his 15th birthday. But no one can "meaningfully" (in the sense in which I've used the word) say that he did or didn't.

OK, that's not the local definition of "meaningful". That explains the confusion.

there are problems with "elegance", like a lack of agreement on what it means, unless you say "elegance as defined by ..."

Well, yeah. But we can look at proofs and sort 'em into "elegant" and "inelegant", I guess, so presumably the are criteria buried somewhere in our circuitry. Doubtless inordinately complex ones.

And how, pray tell, did they reach into the vast immense space of possible hypotheses and premises, and pluck out this one specific set of premises which just so happens that if you accept it completely, it inevitably must result in the conclusion that we have something magical granting us qualia?

The begging was done while choosing the premises, not in one of the premises individually.

Premise: All Bob Chairs must have seventy three thousand legs exactly.
Premise: Things we call chairs are illusions unless they are Bob Chairs.
Premise: None of the things we... (read more)

"A philosophical zombie or p-zombie in the philosophy of mind and perception is a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except in that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, or sentience.[1] "--WP

I am of course taking a p-zombie to be lacking in qualia. I am not sure that alternatives are even coherent, since I don't see how other aspects of consciousness could go missing without affecting behaviour.

2DaFranker8yWait, those premises just seem wrong and contradictory. 1. To even work in the thought experiment, p-zombies live in a world with physics and logic identical to our own (with possibility of added components). 2. In principle, qualia can either be generated by physics, logic, or something else (i.e. magic), or any combination thereof. 3. There is no magic / something else. 4. We have qualia, generated apparently only by physics and/or logic. 5. p-zombies have the exact same physics and logic, but still no qualia. ??? My only remaining hypothesis is that p-zombies live in a world where the physics and logic are there, but there is also something else entirely magical that does not seem to exist in our universe that somehow prevents their qualia, by hypothesis. Very question-begging. Also unnecessarily complex. I am apparently incapable of working with thought experiments that defy the laws of logic by their premises.
2MugaSofer8yThat sounds like a serious problem. You should get that looked at.

OK, firstly, I'm not looking for a debate on theology here

You seem to have started one.

Secondly, what the hell is that supposed to mean?

That one version of the First Cause argument begs the question by how it describes the universe.

1MugaSofer8yI clarified a probability estimate. I certainly didn't intend an argument:( As ... created. Optimized? It's more an explanation, I guess.

A hypothesis is true or false before it is tested.

I dunno, dude could have good reasons to want knowledge of good and evil staying hush-hush. (Forbidding knowledge in general would indeed be super evil.) For example: You have intuitions telling you to eat when you're hungry and give food to others when they're hungry. And then you learn that the first intuition benefits you but the second makes you a good person. At this point it gets tempting to say "Screw being a good person, I'm going to stuff my face while others starve", whereas before you automatically shared fairly. You could have chosen ... (read more)

I'm not sure where I implied that I'm getting at anything. We're p-zombies, we have no additional consciousness, and it doesn't matter because we're still here doing things.

The tangent was just an aside remark to clarify my position, and wasn't to target anyone.

We may already agree on the consciousness issue, I haven't actually checked that.

Can you give me an example of how, even in principle, this would work? Construct a toy universe in which there are experiences causally determined by non-experiences. How would examining anything about the non-experiences tell us that the experiences exist, or what particular way those experiences feel?

Taboo experiences.

Since your blog posts are almost entirely (partisan) political in nature, you should know that traditional political discussion is discouraged here in most threads, except the monthly politics thread. The idea that political discussion is often broken is generally called Politics is the Mindkiller, and there is a whole sequence of old posts on the topic.

I'm more worried at the moment about a really bad variation on Arthur C. Clark's Childhood's End.

I haven't read that. Could you clarify?

Having settled the meta-ethics, will you have anything to say about the ethics? Concrete theorems, with proofs, about how we should live?

2PeterisP8yI'm afraid that any nontrivial metaethics cannot result in concrete universal ethics - that the context would still be individual and the resulting "how RichardKennaway should live" ethics wouldn't exactly equal "how PeterisP should live". The difference would hopefully be much smaller than the difference between "how RichardKennaway should live RichardKennaway-justly" and "How Clippy should maximize paperclips", but still.
2ArisKatsaris8yTo derive an ethic from a metaethic, I think you need to plug in a parameter that describes the entire context of human existence. Metaethic(Context) -> Ethic So I don't know what you expect such a "theorem" and such "proofs" to look like, without containing several volumes descriptive in symbolic form of the human context.

Cached thoughts regularly supersede actual moral thinking, like all forms of thinking, and I am capable of remembering this experience. Am I misunderstanding your comment?

Where moral judgment is concerned, it's logic all the way down. [..] And since grinding up the universe won't and shouldn't yield any miniature '>' tokens, it must be a logical ordering

The claim seems to be that moral judgement--first-order, not metaethical--is purely logical, but the justification ("grinding up the universe") only seems to go as far as showing it to be necessarily partly logical. And first-order ethics clearly has empirical elements. If human biology was such as to lay eggs and leave them to fend for themselves, there would be no immorailty in "child neglect".

0Sengachi8yChild neglect implies harm. It is the harm that is immoral. If humans left young to fend for themselves, there would be no inherent harm and so it would not be immoral. We always need to remind ourselves why we consider something to be bad, and not assign badness to words like "child neglect".
0Peterdjones8yThat's kind of what I was trying to say.

I don't like the idea of the words I use having definitions that I am unaware of and even after long reflection cannot figure out - not just the subtleties and edge cases, but massive central issues.

4Vladimir_Nesov8yDon't like in the sense of considering this an annoying standard flaw in human minds or don't think this is correct? Where possible, the flaw is fixed by introducing more explicit definitions, and using those definitions instead of the immensely complicated and often less useful naive concepts. For human motivation, this doesn't seem to work particularly well.

If free choice is hastening the extinction of humanity, then there should be someone with such authority. QED.

Another possibility is that humanity should be altered so that they make different choices (perhaps through education, perhaps through conditioning, perhaps through surgery, perhaps in other ways).
Yet another possibility is that the environment should be altered so that humanity's free choices no longer have the consequence of hastening extinction.
There are others.

0Decius8yOne major possibility would be that the extinction of humanity is not negative infinity utility.

The modern scientific consensus is that kin selection and group selection are equivalent, explain the same set of phenomena and make the same predictions.

This seems suspiciously similar to saying "kin selection exists and group selection basically doesn't" but with less convenient redefinition of "group selection".

Why 'should' my goal be anything? What interest is served by causing all people who share my ethics (which need not include all members of the genus Homo) to extrapolate their ethics?

2BerryPick68yExtrapolating other people's Ethics may or may not help you satisfy your own extrapolated goals, so I think that may be the only metric by which you can judge whether or not you 'should' do it. No?
3[anonymous]8yThen there might be superrational considerations, whereby if you helped people sufficiently like you to extrapolate their goals, they would (sensu Gary Drescher, Good and Real) help you to extrapolate yours.

I didn't claim that I had a universally compelling principle. I can say that someone who embodied the position that eye color granted special privilege would end up opposed to me.

I decline to make value judgements beyond obligatory/permissible/forbidden, unless you can provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for one result to be better than another.

Yes, but those two beliefs don't predict different resulting universes as far as I can tell. They're functionally equivalent, and I disbelieve the one that has to pay a complexity penalty.

Did all of the participants in the violent conflict voluntarily enter it?

Generally not, actually.

0Decius8yThose who engage in an action in which not all participants enter of their own will is immoral. Yes, war is generally immoral in the modern era.
1nshepperd8yA theory of morality that looks nice on paper but is completely wrong. In a war between Good and Evil, Good should win. It doesn't matter if Evil consented.
0Decius8yYou're following narrative logic there. Also, using the definitions given, anyone who unilaterally starts a war is Evil, and anyone who starts a war consents to it. It is logically impossible for Good to defeat Evil in a contest that Evil did not willingly choose to engage in.
0Eugine_Nier8yWhat if Evil is actively engaged in say torturing others?
0Decius8yActs like constitute acts of the 'war' between Good and Evil that you are so eager to have. Have at them.
0nshepperd8yRight, just like it's logically impossible for Good to declare war against Evil to prevent or stop Evil from doing bad things that aren't war.
2Decius8yExactly. You can't be Good and do immoral things. Also, abstractions don't take actions.
1[anonymous]8yEr, that kind-of includes asking a stranger for the time.
0Decius8yNow we enter the realm of the social contract and implied consent.

Obviously Across the Universe does, but there's nothing idiosyncratic about that.

most importantly Christianity, which needed a few good miracles to demonstrate authority (note Jesus only heals people in order to demonstrate his divine mandate, not just to, well, heal people.)

And also, to occasionally demonstrate profound bigotry, as in Matthew 15:22-26:

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying

... (read more)

Considering that dilemma becomes a lot easier if, say, I'm diverting a train through the one and away from the ten, I'm guessing there are other taboos there than just murder. Bodily integrity, perhaps? There IS something squicky about the notion of having surgery performed on you without you consent.

Anyway, I was under the impression that you admitted that the correct reaction to a "sadistic choice" (kill him or I'll kill ten others) was murder; you merely claimed this was "difficult to encounter" and thus less worrying than the prospect that murder might be moral in day-to-day life. Which I agree with, I think.

I'm not really sure what is the use of a definition of "consent" whereby involving myself in war causes me to automatically "consent" to being shot at. The whole point of fighting is that you think you ought to win.

At the same time it should be obvious that there is something---pick the most appropriate word---that you have done by trying to kill something that changes the moral implications of the intended victim deciding to kill you first. This is the thing that we can clearly see that Decius is referring to.

The 'consent' implied b... (read more)

A singleminded agent with my resources could place people in such a situation. I'm guessing the same is true of you. Kidnapping isn't hard, especially if you aren't too worried about eventually being caught, and murder is easy as long as the victim can't resist. "Difficult" is usually defined with regards to the speaker, and most people could arrange such a sadistic choice if they really wanted. They might be caught, but that's not really the point.

If you mean that the odds of such a thing actually happening to you are low, "difficult" ... (read more)

No. But I will specify the definition from Merriam-Webster and elaborate slightly:
Contrive: To bring about with difficulty.
Noncontrived circumstances are any circumstances that are not difficult to encounter.

For example, the credible threat of a gigantic number of people being tortured to death if I don't torture one person to death is a contrived circumstance. 0% of exemplified situations requiring moral judgement are contrived.

"But!" Susan should've said. "When we judge the universe we're comparing it to a logical referent, a sort of thing that isn't in the universe! Why, it's just like looking at a heap of 2 apples and a heap of 3 apples on a table, and comparing their invisible product to the number 6 - there isn't any 6 if you grind up the whole table, even if you grind up the whole universe, but the product is still 6, physico-logically speaking."

There won't even be a "2" or "3" left if you grind everything up. But what if you ca... (read more)

Taboo "contrived".

"The kind of obscure technical exceptions that wedrifid will immediately think of the moment someone goes and makes a fully general claim about something that is almost true but requires qualifiers or gentler language."

I disagree with your premise that the actions taken by the entity which preceded all others are defined to be moral. Do you have any basis for that claim?

It could if the environment rewarded paperclips. Admittedly this would require an artificial environment, but that's hardly impossible.

I am no longer responding to arguments on this topic, although I will clarify my points if asked. Political argument in an environment where I am already aware of the consensus position on this topic is not productive.

It bugs the hell out of me not to respond to comments like this, but a lengthy and expensive defense against arguments that I have already encountered elsewhere just isn't worth it.

And it would mean I should reduce my desires for social status, perfect health as I age,

Considering the extent to which those two can help with other objectives, I'd say you should be very careful about giving up on them.

Yes, I'd like to avoid that sort of proposal -- I can't quite see why one would call it a syllogism.

People would act as if it is a syllogism if they had one of the relevant (and not especially uncommon/unrealistic) premises. It would be a syllogism like...

  • Susie said a bad thing
  • People who say bad things should be set on fire
  • Therefore, Susie should be set on fire.

More like [original research?]. I was under the impression that's the closest thing to a "standard" interpretation, but it could as easily have been my local priest's pet theory.

You've gotta admit it makes sense, though.

To my knowledge, this is a common theory, although I don't know whether it's standard. There are a number of references in the Tanakh to human sacrifice, and even if the early Jews didn't practice (and had no cultural memory of having once practiced) human sacrifice, its presence as a known phenomenon in the Levant could have motivated the story. I can imagine several reasons:

  • (a) The writer was worried about human sacrifice, and wanted a narrative basis for forbidding it.

  • (b) The writer wasn't worried about actual human sacrifice, but wanted to clearly distinguish his community from Those People who do child sacrifice.

  • (c) The writer didn't just want to show a difference between Jews and human-sacrifice groups, but wanted to show that Jews were at least as badass. Being willing to sacrifice humans is an especially striking and impressive sign of devotion to a deity, so a binding-of-Isaac-style story serves to indicate that the Founding Figure (and, by implicit metonymy, the group as a whole, or its exemplars) is willing to give proof of that level of devotion, but is explicitly not required to do so by the god. This is an obvious win-win -- we don't have to actually kill anybod

... (read more)

The first includes "if physicalism is true", the second doens't.

6CCC8yAh, right. Thanks, I somehow missed that. So the second is then implicitly assuming that physicalism is not true; it seems to me that the whole argument is basically a longwinded way of saying "I can't imagine how consciousness can possibly be physical, therefore since I am conscious, physicalism is false". One might as easily imagine a world physically indistinguishable from ours, but in which there is no gravity, and thence conclude that gravity is not physical but somehow magical.

For some values of "imagine". Given relativity, it would be pretty difficult to coheretly unplug gravity from mass, space and acceleration. It would be easier under Newton. I conclude that the unpluggabiliy of qualia means we just don't have a relativity-grade eplanation of them, an explanation that makes them deeply interwoven with other things.

4CCC8yThat seems like a reasonable conclusion to draw.
2DaFranker8yOooh, good one. I'm trying this if someone ever seriously tries to argue p-zombies with me.

You seem to have done a 180 shift from insiting that there are only zombies to saying there are no zombies.

Yes. My understanding of p-zombies was incorrect/different. If p-zombies have no qualia by the premises, as you've shown me a clear definition of, then we can't be p-zombies. (ignoring the details and assuming your experiences are like my own, rather than the Lords of the Matrix playing tricks on me and making you pretend you have qualia; I think this is a reasonable assumption to work with)

I don't know of any examples. Typically zombie gedanken

... (read more)

Well ... is it? Would you notice if your morals changed when you weren't looking?

Hey, it doesn't have to be orphans. Or it could be two different kinds of orphan - boys and girls, say. The boy's orphanage is on fire! So is the nearby girl's orphanage! Which one do you save!

Protip: The correct response is not "I self-modify to only care about one sex."

EDIT: Also, aren't you kind of fighting the counterfactual?

0Ben Pace8yI was just talking about sets of desires that clash in principle. When you have to desires that clash over one thing, then you will act to fulfill the stronger of your desires. But, as I've tried to make clear, if one desire is to 'kill all humans' and another is 'to save all humans' then the best idea is to (attempt to) self-modify to have only the desire that will produce the most utility. Having both will mean disutility always. I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean when you say 'fighting the counterfactual'.
1arundelo8y"Fighting the counterfactual" presumably means "fighting the hypo[thetical]" [].
0Ben Pace8yThanks.
0RichardKennaway8y...then you have a conflict. The best idea is not to cut off one of those desires, but to find out where the conflict comes from and what higher goals are giving rise to these as instrumental subgoals. If you can't, then: 1. You have failed. 2. Sucks to be you. 3. If you're screwed enough, you're screwed.
0Ben Pace8y(For then record, I meant terminal values.)
1RichardKennaway8yBut how do you know something is a terminal value? They don't come conveniently labelled. Someone else just claimed that not killing people is a terminal value for all "neurotypical" people, but unless they're going to define every soldier, everyone exonerated at an inquest by reason of self defence, and every doctor who has acceded to a terminal patient's desire for an easy exit, as non-"neurotypical", "not killing people" bears about as much resemblance to a terminal value as a D&D character sheet does to an actual person.
0Ben Pace8yI was oversimplifying things. Updated now, thanks.

So it is trivially likely that the creator of the universe (God) embodies the set of axioms which describe morality? God is not good?

I handle that contradiction by pointing out that the entity which created the universe, the abstraction which is morality, and the entity which loves genocide are not necessarily the same.

It could be valid to define "better" any way you like. But the definition most consistent with normal usage includes all and only criteria that matter to humans. This is why people say things like "but is it truly, really, fundamentally better?" Because people really care about whether A is better than B. If "better" meant something else (other than better), such as produces more paperclips, then people would find a different word to describe what they care about.

Well, there were some aliens involved.

First off, w.r.t. my saying somebody's got to try to ward off the worst possibilities of the AI "singularity", that is to give due respect to what (correct me if I'm wrong) seems to be the primary purpose of the SI, and Eliezer_Yudkowsky's avowed life purpose (based on bloggingheads conversations ca 2009-10).

The Childhood's End analogy was pretty off the cuff, and a "really bad variation" of it may or may not be, on reflection, a good analogue for any danger to present society, but here's the jist o... (read more)

2MugaSofer8y... oh. You're worried the internet will eat you?
2HalMorris8yWhat, did you only read the word "cookbook"? That was quite tangential.
[-][anonymous]8y 1

I do however think that "betterness is better than clippiness" is not a tautology,

It is, in Eliezer's sense of the word. So is “clippiness is clippier than betterness”, though.

Why would adding an argument place for 'the person judging the situation as fair' help make fairness more relevant to decision-makers?

Do you see why a 2-place beauty would be more relevant than a 1-place beauty?

I don't believe in a fundamental physical force that calculates how many pebbles are in a pile, and adds or subtracts a pebble based specifically on that fact. But I do believe that pebbles can occur in piles of 3, and that 3 is a prime number.

I was unclear; I didn't mean "that some piles will have prime membership" but that "m... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 1

I didn't say that. Of course there is something you should do, given a set of goals...hence decision theory.

[-][anonymous]8y 1

And there are others who accept that physics and logic is everything, but who - I think mistakenly - go ahead and also accept Death's stance that this makes morality a lie, or, in lesser form, that the bright alive feeling can't make it. (Sort of like people who accept an incompatibilist theory of free will, also accept physics, and conclude with sorrow that they are indeed being controlled by physics.)

I think that's a misapplication of reductionism (the thing I think Eliezer is thinking about he said it was mistakenly), where people take something the... (read more)

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2Viliam_Bur8yClippy could have these dilemmas. But they wouldn't be ethical dilemmas. They would be clippy dilemmas.

So your argument is "Doing arithmetic requires consciousness; and we can tell that something is doing arithmetic by looking at its hardware; so we can tell with certainty by looking at certain hardware states that the hardware is sentient"?

So your argument is "We have explained some things physically before, therefore we can explain consciousness physically"?

Also, we can cause certain sensations on demand by electrically sti

... (read more)
1CronoDAS8yWell, it's certainly possible to do arithmetic without consciousness; I'm pretty sure an abacus isn't conscious. But there should be a way to look at a clump of matter and tell it is conscious or not (at least as well as we can tell the difference between a clump of matter that is alive and a clump of matter that isn't). It's a bit stronger than that: we have explained basically everything physically, including every other example of anything that was said to be impossible to explain physically. The only difference between "explaining the difference between conscious matter and non-conscious matter" and "explaining the difference between living and non-living matter []" is that we don't yet know how to do the former. I think we're hitting a "one man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens" here. Physicalism implies that the "hard problem of consciousness" is solvable; physicalism is true; therefore the hard problem of consciousness has a solution. That's the simplest form of my argument. Basically, I think that the evidence in favor of physicalism is a lot stronger than the evidence that the hard problem of consciousness isn't solvable, but if you disagree I don't think I can persuade you otherwise.

Can you give me an example of how, even in principle, this would work? Construct a toy universe in which there are experiences causally determined by non-experiences. How would examining anything about the non-experiences tell us that the experiences exist, or what particular way those experiences feel?

Can you give me an example of how, even in principle, this would work? Construct a toy universe in which there are computations causally determined by non-computations. How would examining anything about the non-computations tell us that the computations exist, or what particular functions those computations are computing?

The claim is that moral intuitions exist because they were selected for, and they must have been selected for because they increased reproductive fitness.

But morality isn't just moral intuitions. It includes "eat fish on friday"

Similarly, we should expect moral behavior to the degree that morality is more rewarding than immorality.

That doens't follow. Fitness-enahncing and gene-spreading behaviour don;t have to reward the organism concerned. What't the reward for self sacrifice?

The picture is muddied by there being both genetic and memetic evolution,

that's a considerable understatement.

Sorry, I was misusing terminology. Any ignorance-generating / ignorance-embodying explanation (e.g.s quantum mysticism / elan vital) uses what I'm calling "mysterious substance."

Basically I'm calling "quantum" a mysterious substance (for the quantum mystics), even though it's not like you can bottle it.

Maybe I should have said "mysterious form?" :D

If science had them, there would be no mileage in the philosphical project, any more than there is currently mileage in trying to found dualism on the basis that matter can't think.

You talk like you've solved qualia. Have you?

"Qualia" is something our brains do. We don't know how our brains do it, but it's pretty clear by now that our brains are indeed what does it.

7Peterdjones8yThat's about 10% of a solution. The "how" is enough to keep most contemorary dualism afloat.
2Rob Bensinger8yWe have prima facie reason to accept both of these claims: 1. A list of all the objective, third-person, physical facts about the world does not miss any facts about the world. 2. Which specific qualia I'm experiencing is functionally/causally underdetermined; i.e., there doesn't seem even in principle to be any physically exhaustive reason redness feels exactly as it does, as opposed to feeling like some alien color. 1 is physicalism; 2 is the hard problem. Giving up 1 means endorsing dualism or idealism. Giving up 2 means endorsing reductive or eliminative physicalism. All of these options are unpalatable. Reductionism without eliminating anything seems off the table, since the conceivability of zombies seems likely to be here to stay, to remain as an 'explanatory gap.' But eliminativism about qualia means completely overturning our assumption that whatever's going on when we speak of 'consciousness' involves apprehending certain facts about mind. I think this last option is the least terrible out of a set of extremely terrible options; but I don't think the eliminative answer to this problem is obvious, and I don't think people who endorse other solutions are automatically crazy or unreasonable. That said, the problem is in some ways just academic. Very few dualists these days think that mind isn't perfectly causally correlated with matter. (They might think this correlation is an inexplicable brute fact, but fact it remains.) So none of the important work Eliezer is doing here depends on monism. Monism just simplifies matters a great deal, since it eliminates the worry that the metaphysical gap might re-introduce an epistemic gap into our model.
7[anonymous]8yDaniel Dennett's 'Quining Qualia' ( []) is taken ('round these parts) to have laid the theory of qualia to rest. Among philosophers, the theory of qualia and the classical empiricism founded on it are also considered to be dead theories, though it's Sellers "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind" ( []) that is seen to have done the killing.

Daniel Dennett's 'Quining Qualia' ( is taken ('round these parts) to have laid the theory of qualia to rest.

I've not actually read this essay (will do so later today), but I disagree that most people here consider the issue of qualia and the "hard problem of consciousness" to be a solved one.

Time for a poll.


5[anonymous]8yI just read 'Quining Qualia'. I do not see it as a solution to the hard problem of consciousness [], at all. However, I did find it brilliant - it shifted my intuition from thinking that conscious experience is somehow magical and inexplicable to thinking that it is plausible that conscious experience could, one day, be explained physically. But to stop here would be to give a fake explanation []...the problem has not yet been solved. -- Eliezer Yudkowsky, Dissolving the Question [] Also, does anyone disagree with anything that Dennett says in the paper, and, if so, what, and why?
2Peterdjones8yI think I have qualia. I probably don't have qualia as defined by Dennett, as simultaneously ineffable, intrinsic, etc, but there are nonetheless ways things seem to me.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky8yI haven't read either of those but will read them. Also I totally think there was a respectable hard problem and can only stare somewhat confused at people who don't realize what the fuss was about. I don't agree with what Chalmers tries to answer to his problem, but his attempt to pinpoint exactly what seems so confusing seems very spot-on. I haven't read anything very impressive yet from Dennett on the subject; could be that I'm reading the wrong things. Gary Drescher on the other hand is excellent. It could be that I'm atypical for LW. EDIT: Skimmed the Dennett one, didn't see much of anything relatively new there; the Sellers link fails.
4Karl8ySo you do have a solution to the problem?
1Manfred8yRight - to hammer on the point, the common-ish (EDIT: Looks like I was hastily generalizing) LW opinion is that there never was any "hard problem of consciousness" (EDIT: meaning one that is distinct from "easy" problems of consciousness, that is, the ones we know roughly how to go about solving). It's just that when we meet a problem that we're very ignorant about, a lot of people won't go "I'm very ignorant about this," they'll go "This has a mysterious substance, and so why would learning more change that inherent property?"
[-][anonymous]8y 13

It should be remembered though that the guy who's famous for formulating the hard problem of consciousness is:

1) A fan of EY's TDT, who's made significant efforts to get the theory some academic attention. 2) A believer in the singularity, and its accompanying problems. 3) The student of Douglas Hofstrader. 4) Someone very interested in AI. 5) Someone very well versed and interested in physics and psychology. 6) A rare, but sometimes poster on LW. 7) Very likely one of the smartest people alive. etc. etc.

I think consciousness is reducible too, but David Chalmers is a serious dude, and the 'hard problem' is to be taken very, very seriously. It's very easy to not see a philosophical problem, and very easy to think that the problem must be solved by psychology somewhere, much harder to actually explain a solution/dissolution.

1Alejandro18yI agree with you about how smart Chalmers is and that he does very good philosophical work. But I think you have a mistake in terminology when you say It is an understandable mistake, because it is natural to take "the hard problem" as meaning just "understanding consciousness", and I agree that this is a hard problem in ordinary terms and that saying "there is a reduction/dissolution" is not enough. But Chalmers introduced the distinction between the "hard problem" and the "easy problems" by saying that understanding the functional aspects of the mind, the information processing, etc, are all "easy problems". So a functionalist/computationalist materialist, like most people on this site, cannot buy into the notion that there is a serious "hard problem" in Chalmers' sense. This notion is defined in a way that begs the question assuming that qualia are irreducible. We should say instead that solving the "easy problems" is at the same time much less trivial than Chalmers makes it seem, and enough to fully account for consciousness.
1Peterdjones8yNo it isn't. Here is what Chalmers says: "It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does." There is no statement of irreducubility there. There is a statement that we have "no good explanaion" and we don't.
5Alejandro18yHowever, see how he contrasts it with the "easy problems" (from Consciousness and its Place in Nature [] - pdf): It seems clear that for Chalmers any description in terms of behavior and cognitive function is by definition not addressing the hard problem.
1Peterdjones8yBut that is not to say that qualia are irreducibole things, that is to say that mechanical explanations of qualia have not worked to date
4RichardKennaway8yThe rest mostly go, "this could only be explained by a mysterious substance, there are no mysterious substances, therefore this does not exist."
4Peterdjones8yThere is a Hard Prolem, becuase there is basically no (non eliminative) science or technology of qualia at all. We cna get a start on the problem of building cognition, memory and perception into an AI, but we can;t get a start on writing code for Red or Pain or Salty. You can thell there is basically no non-eliminative science or technology of qualia because the best LWers' can quote is Dennett's eliminative theory.

Why is the extinction of humanity worse than involuntary restrictions on personal agency? How much reduction in risk or expected delay of extinction is needed to justify denying all choice to all people?

If free choice is hastening the extinction of humanity, then there should be someone with such authority. QED.

QED does not apply there. You need a huge ceteris paribus included before that follows simply and the ancestor comments have already brought up ways in which all else may not be equal.

It's nowhere near the default value system I encounter in meatspace. It's also not the one that's being followed by anyone with two fully functional lungs and kidneys.

I don't believe you. Immortalists can have two fully functional lungs and kidneys. I think you are referring to something else.

The definitions that you are free to introduce or change usually latch on to an otherwise motivated thing, you usually have at least some sort of informal reason to choose a particular definition. When you change a definition, you start talking about something else. If it's not important (or a priori impossible to evaluate) what it is you will be talking about, in other words if the motivation for your definition is vague and tolerates enough arbitrariness, then it's OK to change a definition without a clear reason to make the particular change that you do... (read more)

I began to question whether I intrinsically value freedom of agents other than me as a result of this conversation. I will probably not have an answer very quickly, mostly because I have to disentangle my belief that anyone who would deny freedom to others is mortally opposed to me. And partially because I am (safely) in a condition of impaired mental state due to local cultural tradition.

I'll point out that "human" has a technical definition of "members of the genus homo" and includes species which are not even homo sapiens. If you wi... (read more)

0Decius8yBecause the borogroves are mimsy.
0TheOtherDave8yThere's a big difference between a term that has no reliable meaning, and a term that has two reliable meanings one of which is a technical definition. I understand why I should avoid using the former (which seems to be the point of your boojum), but your original comment related to the latter.
0Decius8yWhat are the necessary and sufficient conditions to be a human in the non-taxonomical sense? The original confusion was where I was wrongfully assumed to be a human in that sense, and I never even thought to wonder if there was a meaning of 'human' that didn't include at least all typical adult homo sapiens.

Why do I care if they make mistakes that are not local to me? I get much better security return on investment by locally preventing violence against me and my concerns, because I have to handle several orders of magnitude fewer people.

0MugaSofer8yPerhaps I haven't made myself clear. Their mistakes will, by definition, violate your (shared) ethics. For example, if they are mistakenly modelling black people as subhuman apes, and you both value human life, then their lynching blacks may never affect you - but it would be a nonpreferred outcome, under your utility function.
0Decius8yMy utility function is separate from my ethics. There's no reason why everything I want happens to be something which is moral. It is a coincidence that murder is both unethical and disadvantageous to me, not tautological.
1Peterdjones8yYou may have some non-ethical values, as many do, but if your ethics are no part of your values, you are never going to act on them.
0Decius8yI am considering taking the position that I follow my ethics irrationally; that I prefer decisions which are ethical even if the outcome is worse. I know that position will not be taken well here, but it seems more accurate than the position that I value my ethics as terminal values.
0MugaSofer8yNo, I'm not saying it would inconvenience you, I'm saying it would be a Bad Thing, which you, as a human (I assume,) would get negative utility from. This is true for all agents whose utility function is over the universe, not eg their own experiences. Thus, say, a paperclipper should warn other paperclippers against inadvertently producing staples.
2Decius8yProjecting your values onto my utility function will not lead to good conclusions. I don't believe that there is a universal, or even local, moral imperative to prevent death. I don't value a universe in which more QALYs have elapsed over a universe in which fewer QALYs have elapsed; I also believe that entropy in every isolated system will monotonically increase. Ethics is a set of local rules which is mostly irrelevant to preference functions; I leave it to each individual to determine how much they value ethical decisions.

... with the goal of reaching a point that is likely to be agreed on by as many people as possible, and then discussion the implications of that point.

Saying "geometry with the parallel postulate is Euclidean" is not regarded a power grab because the axioms and their consequences are useful or useless independent of the label ascribed to them

Mathematical definitions are a power grab just as moral definitions are; the only difference is that people care more about the moral power-grabs than about the mathematical ones. Mathematical authorities assert their dominance, assert their right to participate in establishing General Mathematical Practice regarding definitions, inference rules, etc.,

... (read more)

In addition to being a restatement of personal values, I think that it is an easily-defended principle. It can be attacked and defeated with a single valid reason why one person or group is intrinsically better or worse than any other, and evidence for a lack of such reason is evidence for that statement.

Referring to a part of your brain doesn't have the right properties when you change between different universes.

0[anonymous]8yThat is true, and so we refer to the medium-independet axiomatic definition.
0Will_Sawin8yWhat's that?
0[anonymous]8yThat Thing That Determines What You're Supposed to Do, Given What You Know, You Know, That One.

I'm completely sure that I didn't understand what you meant by that.

This was intended to help with understanding p-zombies, since it avoids the ... messy ... aspects.

Like brains and rotting flesh?

Seems legit. Could you give me an example of "easily-defended principals", as opposed to "restatements of personal values"?

0Decius8y"No sentient individual or group of sentient beings is metaphysically privileged over any group or individual."

I think there's a fair chance you've stumbled into the middle of this discussion and don't know what I'm actually talking about (except that it involves p-zombies, I guess.)

I know only the words spoken, not those intended. (And concluded early in the conversation that the entire subthread should be truncated and replaced with a link). So much confusion and muddled thinking!)

Were you saying that the results of that experiment were completely uninteresting?

How is it that something which is physically identical to a human and has a physical difference from a human is a coherent concept?

I think that "violates bodily autonomy"=bad is a better core rule than "increases QALYs"=good.

6ArisKatsaris8yI think I'm mostly a rule utilitarian, so I certainly understand the worth of rules... ... but that kind of rule really leaves ambiguous how to define any possible exceptions. Let's say that you see a baby about to start chewing on broken glass -- the vast majority would say that it's obligatory to stop it from doing so, of the remainder most would say that it's at least permissible to stop the baby from chewing on broken glass. But if we set up "violates bodily autonomy"=bad as an absolute rule, we are actually morally forbidden to physically prevent the baby from doing such. So what are the exceptions? If it's an issue of competence (the adult has a far better understanding of what chewing glass would do, and therefore has the right to ignore the baby's rights to bodily autonomy), then a super-intelligent AI would have the same relationship in compari