[extropy-chat] A future fit to live in?

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Sun Jan 14 01:09:21 UTC 2007

From: extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org on behalf of Heartland
Sent: Sat 1/13/2007 2:50 PM
To: ExI chat list
Subject: Re: [extropy-chat] A future fit to live in?

Robert Bradbury wrote:
> Would I want to wake up in an environment where I am clearly obsolete
> and where the material in my body (or the computer hosting my mind)
> might clearly be dedicated to purposes more useful than that which I am
> likely to manifest?

Jef Albright wrote:
This is a good example of why I keeping pointing out that it's not "survival"
(whatever that could possibly mean in a rapidly changing environment) that matters,
but rather the promotion of one's values into the future.

This seems noble but isn't "promotion of one's values into the future" merely a
subgoal of the survival supergoal? Isn't it the case that people care about their
values simply because they think they would feel better *living* in a society that
nurtures those values?

It always helps if we examine the first causes of our beliefs. And if we do we
might discover that there exists even higher goal than survival that drives our
behavior. It is simply pleasure. That is our true supergoal while "promotion of
values" is just a natural consequence of that goal.

I imagine when people first hear about pleasure, they immediately think of things
like chocolate and sex and jump to an easy conclusion that to seek pleasure for
pleasure's sake would somehow be immoral. But pleasure comes in many flavors.
Seeing your children grow up into decent people generates pleasure. Accomplishing
some difficult and noble goal induces pleasure. Helping other people and wanting
nothing in return causes pleasure. Love is pleasure. Everything we do has the same
common denominator that drives our behavior.

If survival was not a necessary condition for experiencing pleasure, people would
not care about survival, but since it is, that's the topic that usually steals the
headlines. But let's not forget that survival is only a subgoal of the higher goal
that gives meaning to our lives.

Slawomir -

A problem with thinking in terms of goals and supergoals is that it's teleological.  No organism has a viewpoint outside itself from which it can actually formulate original goals for itself.  Such thinking leads to the well-known paradoxes of free-will.  You believe you choose to seek pleasure, and this requires that you survive, requiring that you eat, and so on down the line.  Uhm, where did your starting goal of pleasure-seeking come from? Who chose it?

Or might an evolutionary explanation be simpler?  

Imagine a strange world where simple organisms evolved, simply because certain of the diverse configurations of matter had greater fitness within their environment.  As adaptations accumulated, those with greater fitness tended to increase in complexity, but at each step of the rachet there was only a simple rule--what worked better tended to survive and propagate.

We could describe the organisms in this world as each carrying an internal model of "what tends to work", acquired mainly from its ancestors' hard lessons.  In this model are values encoding the bits of "what tends to work."  Each of the organisms follows a simple rule:  Try to affect change in your environment such that the future more closely matches values in your model.

So all the way from single-celled organisms, through quite complex vertebrates, to organisms that could reflectively model their own actions for improved powers of prediction and control, even to groups of organisms acting as a kind of superorganism that could together work better than any number of individual organisms working separately--all that was happening, every step of the way, was a kind of feedback loop with each organism trying to affect change in its future environment to make it more closely match the values in its internal model.  Some of the adaptations had side-effects, some bad, some good in unexpected new ways.  The adaptation that provided an organism with reflexive modeling lead to qualitatively new capabilities allowing those organisms to affect their enviroment in powerful (and dangerous) new ways (and also lead to a significant amount of wasted effort (which they called philosophizing) as the model tried to model itself in ways that made sense to its pre-existing set of values.

What a simple way of describing the origins of complex behaviors!  No goals or supergoals to pull things along in any predetermined direction.  Just blind execution of a system that simply tries to minimize the difference between what it senses in its environment and encoded information about what tended to work in the past, tending to adapt in the direction of what works over increasing scope.

Of course, that's just a hypothetical world.  We *know* we're different.  We know because we can feel it directly.  Just ask any body how it knows and it will tell you.  It...just...knows.

- Jef








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