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To be honest, I'm not entirely sure that anyone is a consequentialist.

I do use consequentialism a lot, but almost always in combination with an intuitive sort of 'sanity check'- I will try to assign values to different outcomes and try to maximize that value in the usual way, but I instinctively shrink from any answer that tends to involve things like "start a war" or "murder hundreds of people."

For example, consider a secret lottery where doctors quietly murder one out of every [n] thousand patients, in order to harvest their organs and save more lives than they take. There are consequentialist arguments against this, such as the risk of discovery and consequent devaluation of hospitals, but I don't reject this idea because I've assigned QALY values to each outcome. I reject it because a conspiracy of murder-doctors is bad.

On the one hand, it's easy to say that this is a moral failing on my part, and it might be that simple. Sainthood in deontological religious traditions looks like sitting in the desert for forty years; sainthood in consequentialist moral traditions probably looks more like Bond villainy. (The relative lack of real-world Bond villainy is part of what makes me suspect that there might be no consequentialists.)

But on the other hand, consequentialism is particularly prone to value misalignment. In order to systematize human preferences or human happiness, it requires a metric; in introducing a metric, it risks optimizing the metric itself over the actual preferences and happiness. So it seems important to have an ability to step back and ask, "am I morally insane?", commensurate with one's degree of confidence in the metric and method of consequentialism.


Oh, neat! I hadn't heard of modern species with trilateral symmetry before, I wonder if it's a mutation or developmental defect?


Well predicted, and I'm glad to entertain. :-) The Marshall paper I link to at the beginning of the paper covers the vast majority of sentences here that would require a citation, and itself is a review paper if you want to follow the breadcrumbs for these and many other related ideas. The Darwin quote is just the Origin, and you can find one example of a cool paper trying to use molecular clock to debunk the explosion here.

My understanding of Hox genes is definitely shallow, but I don't think I managed to mangle the ideas entirely beyond recognition. If anyone familiar with the subject would like to explain it from a more informed perspective, it'd be welcome.


On my screen, it shows up as an indented text block, which generally doesn't require separate quote marks. Is it not showing up that way for you?


Yeah, my language is *at best* imprecise here, mostly in the interests of legibility and not dumping too much information in a sentence that was meant to direct your attention elsewhere. The technical term I was dancing around was "amniotes", animals that develop an amniotic sac. Even that would have been wrong because it's only concerned with vertebrate clades, which I wasn't even thinking of at the time, so I appreciate you pointing that out and I've tweaked it slightly

(One brief correction, mosses and vascular ferns do indeed require standing water for reproduction- although they can take advantage of transient puddles and such when they have to. This limits them to low-lying areas, and it's a primary reason that you don't see fern forests around today the way you did back in the Carboniferous.)


Much appreciated.

Chalk one up for the site design, by the way. I ended up feeling much more comfortable tossing this up on a semi-personal blog than I would have been starting a new topic in a public message board.


The implied moral principle here (assign zero value to the welfare of people that you wouldn't be friends with) would lead to some seriously deranged behaviors if broadly applied. But even if that were a workable system, you and your friends are still likely to benefit from a high-trust society that assumes mutual prosocial compromises. If you don't treat non-friends as agents capable of tit-for-tat behavior in the service of their own interests, and plan social interactions with them accordingly, then you and your friends probably won't have satisfactory outcomes.


It's a fascinating piece of Earth history for sure! If you can figure it out, let me know.


There are definitely domains where this isn't a problem at all- for example, geology terms like 'tufa' or 'shale' seem basically static on the relevant timescales. So it's probably possible to completely solve the dilution problem, it at least some cases.

There are at least a few relevant structural differences between social justice and geology, but I'm not sure which ones are the most important. The main three advantages for geology's stability that I can think of are A) Rocks are boring, and not emotionally charged by tribes and sex and so forth. People are rarely motivated to stretch definitions to cover their preferred cases B) There's a structured process of learning and most of the jargon occurs within similarly structured professional environments, without a whole lot of self-educated geologists talking about rocks on the internet. C) Rocks are well-understood down to the level of thermodynamics, so every term of art can in principle be dissolved down to some precisely defined configuration of atoms, rather than bottoming out in human psychology.

Some of those are more hopeful for rationalist jargon than others, I guess.


Understood, sounds like that information won't be in for a while. I look forward to hearing about your results in a few months!

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