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consider Christian Heaven: singing hymns doesn't sound like loads of endless fun

Unless, perhaps, you happen to enjoy music...

(Seriously -- suppose you got to compose your own hymns.)

A general comment: I am tempted to question the wisdom of tying Fun Theory so closely to the aesthetics of storytelling, by discussing the two in such proximity. As we all know, there's not necessarily any correlation between the worlds we would want to live in and the worlds we like to read about. I'm not just talking about Dystopian stories either. I love watching House, but sure as hell would never want to actually be any of the characters on that show. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a delight to read despite being (paradoxically) a depressing tragedy. Etc.

Now there is a connection, to be sure, in that aesthetics itself (in the context of any art form, including but not limited to storytelling) is effectively a miniature, special case of Fun Theory. But this connection is more abstract, and has little to do with how closely settings and plots match up with eudaimonic scenarios. (Inhabitants of Eutopia themselves may enjoy tragic stories and the like.)

TGGP, I'm not going to argue the point that there has been moral progress. It isn't the topic of this post.

Phil Goetz:

Everybody says that not taking the land from the Native Americans would have been the right thing to do; but nobody wants to give it back.

The whole point of my original comment was to refute this very inference. Arguing that taking land from the Native Americans was wrong is not the same as arguing that it should be "given back" now (whatever that would mean). Nor is it the same as wishing we lived in a world where it never happened.

What it means is wishing we lived in a world where the Europeans had our moral values -- and thus also in all probability our science and technology -- centuries ago. Before committing misdeeds against Native Americans.

Also, an argument that the actual colonization of America was "wrong" is not the same as an argument that America should never have been turned into a civilization. Surely there are ways to accomplish this without imposing so much disutility on the existing inhabitants*. Likewise for creating nice worlds with ems and AIs.

*There lies the implicit moral principle, in case you didn't notice.

Michael, I take the point about outliers -- but claims like the one I made are inherently statistical in nature.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that (1) pre-WWI Germany would indeed have to be considered one of the more morally enlightened societies of the time; and (2) the Nazi regime ultimately proved no help to the cause of German scientific and cultural advancement -- and that's putting it way too mildly.

So perhaps this episode, rather than undermining the proposed correlation, merely illustrates the point that even advanced civilizations remain vulnerable to the occasional total disaster.

TGGP, I'm afraid you've committed the moral analogue of replying to some truth claim with a statement of the form: "As a non-X-ist, I don't find the notion of truth to be meaningful".

By "moral progress" I simply mean the sense in which Western civilization is nicer today than it used to be. E.g. we don't keep slaves, burn live cats, etc. (If you have any doubts about whether such progress has occurred, you underestimate the nastiness of previous eras.) In particular, please note that I am not invoking any sort of fancy ontology, so let's not get derailed that way.

As for why we should expect moral progress to correlate with other kinds: well, maybe for arbitrary minds we shouldn't. But we humans keep trying to become both smarter and nicer, so it shouldn't be surprising that we succeed in both dimensions more and more over time.

Slightly tangential, but I think this needs addressing:

What is the moral argument for not colonizing America?

Literally interpreted, that's a meaningless question. We can't change history by moral argument. What we can do is point to past deeds and say, "let's not do things like that anymore".

If European civilization circa 1500 had been morally advanced enough to say, "let's not trample upon the rights of other peoples", chances are they would already have been significantly more advanced in other ways too. Moral progress takes work, just like technological and intellectual progress. Indeed we should expect some correlation among these modes of progress, should we not? And isn't that largely what we find?

By critiquing the errors of the past, we may hope to speed up our own progress on all fronts. This is (or should be) the point of labeling the colonization of America (in the way it happened) as "wrong".

Eliezer, although you and Robin agree on the general principle, Robin has signed up with Alcor, while you have signed up with CI. (Despite the fact that you say you could afford Alcor also.) How much of a disagreement is this, and what does it reflect?

More generally, how should one rationally approach this decision?


Komponisto: that definition includes human beings

No it doesn't. I said controlling the weather, not affecting it or influencing it.

Unknown, how about this:

God: a conscious entity capable of controlling the weather.

(At least, I propose these as necessary attributes of a deity.)

Under this definition, I'm pretty sure Eliezer is an atheist. On the other hand, do you dare assert that a typical theist doesn't believe their god could make it rain tomorrow?

To all defending Modern Art: Please point to at least one item available online which exemplifies that which you think I'm ignoring or missing.

Funny -- I didn't actually read the post as an attack on Modern Art. The point seemed to be that, appearances to the contrary, Modern Artists are in fact trying to hit a narrow target, albeit not the one you might at first think. It is presumably this attempted optimization that makes Modern Art (to the extent such a thing does in fact exist) a worthwhile or interesting activity to those who practice it.

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