[extropy-chat] Prime Directive

Anders Sandberg asa at nada.kth.se
Fri Oct 27 16:38:39 UTC 2006

George Dvorsky wrote:
> And Anders Sandberg wrote:
>> I also wonder why consciousness, of all properties, should be ethically
>> important. Why not the ability to experience love, or having six legs?
>> What is it about consciousness that makes it so special?
> [George shakes his head incredulously]: What's so important about
> consciousness!? Well, it's through consciousness that the Universe has
> this little thing that we like to call observers -- and without them
> there is nothing in the Universe that's self-reflexive. Hell, it's
> arguable (via quantum theory) that without observers there is no
> Universe!

I'll leave quantum theory out of this, since I think decoherence does the
job better than observers. If observerdom means that there exists
subsystems of the universe that mirrors parts of the whole in a nontrivial
way then it is not obvious that they need to be conscious to do this. If
one believes in philosophical zombies then they may be wonderfully
self-reflexive without having the least consciousness. If one don't think
they can exist (my own view), then consciousness might simply be the
effect of being a self-reflexive system. But then self-relfection is the
primary thing that might be important, not consciousness.

> Anders, how can love be experienced by an unconscious,
> non-self-referential, non-subjective agent? What you're suggesting is
> absurd.

Well, I'm at a philosophy department. The absurd is my job :-)

Looking at love, I don't see anything that couldn't be achieved by the
unconscious, non-self-referential non-subjective agent (except of cource
experiencing it). Imagine these agents swarming around, with internal
representations of other agents (but not of themselves). Some attraction
decision process make agent A court agent B, and if both agent
interactions click they go into a state of establishing a pair bond. They
learn how to track each other, pursue goals together and so on.

>From the outside we might say that these agents are mere dolls not
experiencing anything, and that the key part of love is the subjective
emotional aspect. But human love is clearly much more than the subjective
feeling - if you love someone you would behave and think in certain
different ways from normal, just experiencing the feeling and not changing
anything would not be love. Being obsessed by another, trying to be close,
helping the other to flourish for its own sake, such behaviors are quite
doable by nonconscious agents and I think they constitute an essential
part of love.

> Consciousness is the measure of all ethics because subjectivity is the
> only thing that truly exists - esse est percipi.

But in that case non-conscious objects have no rights, or everything have
rights if you are a panpsychist.

Anders Sandberg,
Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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