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Devour Soul (level 6) This spell enables the Mage to extract Energy from the Bodies of Plants and Animals, merely by placing various Parts of them inside the mage's own Body. More advanced Mages can derive not only Energy, but physical Pleasure, from enhancing this spell with dark and eldritch lore found in Books of magical recipes, exotic Potions and the judicious use of Fire.

>> "Or if "Morality is mere preference!" then why care about human preferences? How is it possible to establish any "ought" at all, in a universe seemingly of mere "is"?

I don't think it's possible, but why is that a problem? Can't all moral statements be rewritten as conditionals? i.e. - "You ought not to murder" -> "If you murder someone, we will punish you".

You might say these conditionals aren't justified, but what on earth could it mean to say they are or are not justified, other than whether they do or do not eventually fit into a "fixed given" moral scheme? Maybe we do not need to justify our moral preferences in this sense.

Good point, especially since the most common words become devalued or politicized ("surge", "evil", "terror" &c.) but...

The existence of this game surprised me, when I discovered it. Why wouldn't you just say "An artificial group conflict in which you use a long wooden cylinder to whack a thrown spheroid, and then run between four safe positions?"

So what was your score?

(Did you cut your enemy?)

But there's no way I have time to write this book, so I'm tossing the idea out there.

Would you have time to start a wiki whose purpose was to be edited into a book, coauthored by dozens of contributors, who can explain the basic simple math of their field to non-math-phobic laypeople? (This is different from just scraping Wikipedia; these would be targeted articles, perhaps some invited ones...) Of course that could end up taking more time due to the infamous herding cats problem. But I'd love to have that book to read on the BART train.

What are you saying - that EP has closed the book on them?

My point about infanticide etc. was that EP has bigger problems for becoming generally accepted than how difficult it is to reason about - problems having to do with a perceived removal of agency from human beings.

Anyway, it doesn't strike me as surprising that purely evolutionary mechanisms led to our psychology, and especially not our sense of morality. Are these things much more complex than any other animal behavior we're happily willing to concede to evolution?

"To reason correctly about evolutionary psychology you must simultaneously consider many complicated abstract facts that are strongly related yet importantly distinct, without a single mixup or conflation."

Sure, but after a while this just becomes a habit and I don't think it's more difficult than, say, organic chemistry. But without some practice or exposure, it is deeply counterintuitive. It's also probably encroaching on some sacred territory. You can subject some atrocious things like infanticide and homicidal rampages to evolutionary explanations. I don't think anyone's closed the book on any of these, but in all these cases I think EP has an interesting perspective. Generally, though, people don't even want to think about it. People probably resist thinking along these lines because of the perceived violation of their freedom or morality (which violation is, as you say, is an illusion).

Where is the standardized, open-source, generally intelligent, consequentialist optimization process into which we can feed a complete morality as an XML file, to find out what that morality really recommends when applied to our world?

We have reasons to think this step will never be easy. If you imagine that this file, like most files, is something like version 2.1.8, who is going to make the decision to make this version "count", instead of waiting to see what comes out of the tests underway in version 2.1.9? By what moral critera will we decide upon a standard morality file? Of course, Nietzsche also foresaw this problem, and Dennett points out that it's still a big problem despite how much we've learned about what humans are, but he does not proffer a solution to it. Do we just want the utility function currently in vogue to win out? When will we be satisfied we've got the right one?

Or will evolution (i.e., force) settle it?

Everything Wiseman is describing is happening at the level of the gene, not the population.

Imagine there is a gene for breeding rate - different variants of the gene give rise to different breeding rates (1, 2, .... offspring per year, let's say). A fox that has a high-rate allele of the gene will spend more energy on breeding than on caring for existing offspring, while the reverse is true with a fox that has a low-rate allele.

Given the natural fluctuations of food availability over the long term, there is going to be an optimal range of breeding rates. Genes that specify too high a rate will find themselves in bodies that spend too much time breeding to care for their offspring sufficiently, and such genes will not get passed on as frequently. Genes that specify too low a rate will be outcompeted. Caledonian is correct; it's like investing. But the investment pays off directly to the gene involved, so the fact that the vehicles and populations also benefit is an incidental.

To get group selection out of this scenario, you would have to have one fox group with a lower-than-optimal breeding rate, which let the rabbit population expand, which lessened the chance of a crash in food supply that would wipe out the population. Then that fox group would survive, and the neighboring groups would perish. But there is no way to enforce this pact of lower-than-optimal breeding rates in the first place.

(Oops, I didn't refresh for a while and I see you beat me to the critique, Constant.)

Wiseman, you need to put your scenario into mathematical terms, or write a simulation, or something. It's too easy to imagine some foxes and rabbits breeding and scurrying about, and convince yourself that something is possible. In any case the situation you described is not "group selection", but good old-fashioned gene-level selection. In this case it's selection for genes that lead to an optimal breeding rate.

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