[extropy-chat] Prime Directive

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Fri Oct 27 16:46:17 UTC 2006

George Dvorsky wrote:

> > > Robert writes:
> > > "Might I suggest that "consciousness" is a poor criteria for 
> > > deciding what to preserve or not preserve.  Yes I know -- without 
> > > that our moral compass is adrift in a sea of chaos.  Life 
> is a dish almost always served cold."
> 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!
> Anders, how can love be experienced by an unconscious, 
> non-self-referential, non-subjective agent? What you're 
> suggesting is absurd.
> Consciousness is the measure of all ethics because 
> subjectivity is the only thing that truly exists - esse est percipi.

I'll jump in at this point since (as is apparent from almost any of my
posts) I see confusion surrounding subjective vs. objective points of
view, and how to effectively apply them, as central to issues of ethical

There is a memetic attractor, characterized by such works as _The Tao of
Physics_, _The Dancing Wu-Li Masters_, and more recently, _What the
Bleep do we Know_, that emphasizes the role of consciousness as central
to the universe.  This point of view predominates within certain
communities, perhaps most notably Berkeley, California, named after
George Berkeley, the originator of the phrase "esse est percipi", or "to
be is to be perceived."  It's an attractive, or rather, seductive, point
of view, promising limitless creative potential and universal meaning,
ostensibly based on hard empirical laws of physics.  Believers in this
memetic system naturally see themselves as more enlightened, more
sympathetic, and more in touch with the true laws of the universe and
typically use labels like "reductionist" to describe those who "don't
get it."

However, regardless of viewpoint, one continues to bump up against the
hard edges of reality, and thereby test and refine ones model of that
which exists regardless of ones beliefs.

One can look at the statement "arguably, without observers there is no
Universe", and be struck by the magical importance of the observer that
this implies.  Alternatively, one can see this statement as an example
of a concept begging for a larger context providing a better fit with
empirical observation.

And with the word "observation" we touch upon the crux of the matter;
that to describe something implies an approach toward objectivity.  But
since any "description" must be the "output" of some intentional
process, we are necessarily left with subjectivity at the center. So
people commonly reason, as did Berkeley and Descartes (with his "cogito
ergo sum"), that the observer (consciousness) is key to existence. But
such reasoning *assumes* the existence of an independent observer,
privileged to make valid observations about reality. [If the concept of
recursion has been commonly appreciated during their times I think we
would now be much further along the road of ethical development.]

The subjective point of view *is* all-important, in the domain of
meaning: values, categories, classification etc.  
The objective point of view *is* all important, in the domain of
description:  modeling, predicting, etc.

Put them together and you have an increasingly effective agent, making
increasingly effective decisions to increasingly promote its values over
increasing scope.  [Recursion--it can't be avoided.]

Love is derivative of a more fundamental principle which I refer to as
"synergetic growth."  Within a competitive coevolutionary environment
(which describes ours if you view at the appropriate scale), that which
persists and grows is that which is increasingly effective at promoting
its own identity (we are defined by our values.)  "Love" is a word
describing a class of behavior that has been evolutionarily advantageous
due to the increased fitness it provides at the group level, thus
extending to the individual genes which code for this behavior.  A
superclass of "love" might be "cooperation" and a superclass of
"cooperation" might be synergetic growth. While love might properly
apply only to humans and some other mammals, synergetic growth applies
to interactions all the way back to the Big Bang (or perhaps the two H
atoms fell in love to form a He?)

To use the analogy of a team playing a completive sport (or perhaps
business, or life?) I would rather be teammates with a group that shared
my values and had an increasingly accurate model of effective play, than
to be teammates with a group who shared a belief in the power of
believing in winning. [The implicit belief there is deliberate.]

All of the foregoing cannot be proved.  Any attempt to do so would be

And to understand that last sentence is to understand the foregoing.

And understanding the foregoing applies to understanding life.

And better understanding leads to better decision-making.

And better decision-making leads to better outcomes.

And better outcomes we call "good".

And that we call "morality."

- Jef     

<Planting seeds of thought for increasing awareness for increasing

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