[extropy-chat] limits of computer feeling

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Wed Mar 21 10:14:27 UTC 2007

On 3/20/07, Keith Henson <hkhenson at rogers.com> wrote:
> At 09:52 AM 3/20/2007 -0700, Jef wrote:
> >On 3/20/07, Keith Henson <hkhenson at rogers.com> wrote:
> > > At 08:55 PM 3/19/2007 -0500, you wrote:
> > > >At 12:11 PM 3/20/2007 +1100, Stathis wrote:
> > > >
> > > > >What would it mean to abrogate evolution? Arguably it has already
> > > > >happened: we are more concerned with our happiness, which for
> > > > >evolution is just a means to an end, rather than for example
> > > > >maximising family size.
> > > >
> > > >*Not* "maximizing", unless you add situational provisos (we're K, not
> > > >r). "Optimizing" might be better, but that's dangerously
> > > >teleological. "Good-enough-izing" is what I'd call it.
> > >
> > > In the EEA it was maximizing, but not family size, it is maximizing the
> > > number of surviving, reproducing children.  To that end hunter gatherer
> > > peoples practice infanticide when a just born younger sib would threaten
> > > the survival of an older but still nursing child.
> >
> >Am I the only one who feels something akin to the screeching of
> >fingernails on a blackboard when someone blithely ascribes actions to
> >"goals" that would require an impossibly objective point of view?
> >Yes?  Then I'll try to keep my comments to a minimum.
> >
> >"To that end hunter gatherer peoples practice infanticide..." implies
> >a teleological purpose that clearly isn't.  Suggest: "Therefore/For
> >that reason (not purpose) hunter-gatherer peoples practice
> >infanticide..."
> >
> >It's the same kind of implicit context confusion that leads to
> >perennial misunderstanding of  consciousness, free-will etc.,
> >goals/supergoals in AI,  and much of the PHIL101 discussion that often
> >dominates these lists.
> "The flaws in these criticisms can be pointed out only briefly here. It is
> not that people consciously 'want' to maximize the number of their
> children; although there is also some human desire for children per se and
> a great attachment to them once they exist, it is mainly the desire for sex
> - Thomas Malthus's 'passion' - which functions in nature as the powerful
> biological proximate mechanism for maximizing reproduction; as humans, and
> other living creatures, normally engage in sex throughout their fertile
> lives, they have a vast reproductive potential, which, before effective
> contraception, mainly depended for its realization on environmental
> conditions.
> "Infanticide typically takes place when a new-born in conditions of
> resource scarcity threatens the survival chances of his elder siblings, as,
> for example, of an elder nursing infant; for inclusive fitness is not about
> maximizing offspring number but about maximizing the number of surviving
> offspring."
> I really recommend you read the whole article.

Keith, the excerpt merely supports your point about the evolutionary
process behind the infanticide.  However, that was never in question
as I, and many of us on this list, are already quite familiar with
evolutionary theory -- extending to evolutionary psychology. My point,
which you apparently missed, was an objection to the misleading and
unthinking use of teleological language in reference to evolutionary

As Stathis states elsewhere, teleological language is sometimes
appropriate as metaphor, but this wasn't one of those times.

- Jef

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