[extropy-chat] Sustainability philosophy as a justification for existence

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Mon Sep 4 19:30:09 UTC 2006

Robert Bradbury wrote:

> I've been wrestling lately with the question about how one justifies
> existence [1].  From an extropic perspective it would appear to me
> one has to be acting on the stage in such a way as to contribute to
> sustainability, survival, evolution and presumably increasing
> of humanity. 

Robert, this appears similar to people wrestling with Meaning of Life
and Objective Morality.  A difficulty with each of these is that people
confuse the subjective with the objective.  

[Have I lost my audience already, with what appears to be an overly
broad and overly vague statement?]

In very practical terms, if you're trying to justify your existence to
yourself (the Meaning of Life problem), it becomes quite obvious that
you can't do it from an objective point of view.  Probably everyone on
this list has explored this philosophical avenue and either (1)
abandoned it as irresolvable, (2) accepts the cognitive dissonance, or
(3) realized that the question is based on mistaken assumptions.  This
is not the argument from "genetic survival and reproduction" that you
mentioned.  This is the argument from volition, stating that the very
definition of an agent contains the core requirement of purpose.  An
increasingly rational agent acts in ways that are increasingly effective
for achieving its purposes at any particular moment.  There is no
external justification.

If you're trying to justify the existence of a particular agent to
others (increasingly objective morality), then it's a problem of
demonstrating that the continued existence of that agent serves to
promote the values of those who will decide.  Again there is no
objective justification, the difference is that scope of the
values-assessment is increasing.

While there is evidence that the universe tends to increase in
complexity, or (more likely) energy rate density, this has no direct
bearing on individual or shared human values.  In the subjective context
of an individual agent there is no morality; "right" is only what seems
to work.  In the objective god's-eye view there is no morality, there is
only what is.  In between, actions are assessed as increasingly moral as
they are seen to promote the values of an increasing population over
increasing scope.

In case the preceding still seems overly abstract, my bottom-line
response to this and other posts in which you have suggested taking
drastic action based on the assumption of an overarching morality is
that you are making the same "scientifically justified" arguments as
historical eugenicists and others who aspire to "perfect" the world, and
you can expect to receive the same denunciations and strident

Robert, I have great respect for many of your efforts, and would
encourage you to apply seed-planting rather than pruning.

- Jef

> I could argue that many people who are currently "retired"
> do not meet this criteria.[2]  Many people living in the third world
> not meet this criteria.  Many people with strong religious beliefs do
> meet this criteria.  There are some "green" folks who would.  There
> some research scientists, technology developers, investment managers
> do.
> The allocation of resources in large part determines the rate of
> along the singularity curve and how many people will end up dying.
> Ultimately even a Matrioshka Brain has limits on energy and
> storage resources.  The energy resources are probably much more
> than the information storage resources.  So one gets into a question,
> of whether to kill people (erase copies), but how much "run time" to
> them and when they should get to have it [4].  This relates to the
> vs. poor discussions one gets into now-a-days of who has the resources
> who doesn't (relating of course to taxation, relative needs, social
> net discussions, etc.).  But I do not see in any current political
> religion or philosophy a "raison d'etre" which seems to justify ones
> "right" to a share of the resources (and in particular justifies a
> or lesser share of said resources).
> This can be thought of in near term perspectives -- does one buy a
> Fuel car or a Hybrid car (or does one bike to work)?  Is one
> strict with oneself -- i.e. the money saved by buying a 1972
> highly polluting vehicle (perhaps 20-40x cheaper than a new "green"
> invested in companies producing ethanol, solar cells, better food
> lifespan extension, etc.  Or do you take that money and use it for
> "frivolous" purpose?
> Will a "justification for ones existence" perspective be created and
> adopted by many indivuals soon or is the only hope for it well into
> post robust nanotechnology period when personal survival concerns have
> shifted from the "hard" reality to the "soft" (virtual) reality?
> Robert
> 1. Ignore the whole "survival and reproduction" programming built into
> ones genome and mind.  It is after all *just* a program and as any
> programmer knows programs are created to be improved upon.
> 2. One can of course make investment payoff justifications, e.g. my
> fought in WWII contributing to the survival of the "free" world as we
> it and has therefore "paid" a debt to humanity that is now being
> even if he is living an "unsustainable" lifestyle currently.  I will
> freely admit these justifications can become quite elaborate [3] which
> why I'm choosing to put them "on the shelf" for now.
> 3. For example one might justify the "evil" of Windows by the good the
> Gates Foundation is and/or may yet do.
> 4. I've been reading (and cursing) the Linux virtual memory swapping
> scheduling code recently -- and what I've read isn't making me happy
> terms of a "best of all possible worlds" perspective.

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