Saturday, March 30, 2019

Uplift, evolution, biotech... and Yuval Harari's worries.


Putting aside politics... at least till the end... you may enjoy this video of a cool Clarke Center event: an evening with Freeman Dyson and Gregory Benford. Fascinating topics.  

If so, a possible game changer: A scientist working for the U.S. Navy has filed for a patent on a room-temperature superconductor, built using a wire with an insulator core and an aluminum PZT (lead zirconate titanate) coating. Others claimed to have invented a room-temperature superconductor in the past. Last year, two Indian scientists pointed to wire with particles of gold and silver. Other physicists are using pressurized lanthanum and hydrogen. In Earth I speak of perovskites, which recently held the record... and make up the most common mineral in the mantle. Um... so far it's sci fi.

== Uplift: pro vs. con ==

This rumination on animal uplift is interesting - citing me and others re: the ethical quandaries involved. It also points out the tradeoffs that nature faced, as each species reached an equilibrium between smarts and reproductive strategy: “Those species moving toward higher intelligence by way of larger brains must balance that increase against the deficit of fewer children. In the midst of a genetic arms race, ten less-intelligent children is better than one brilliant one, so long as they survive to pass on their genes.” A tradeoff portrayed in the idiotic-fun-yet-thought-provoking film “Idiocracy.”

Initial experiments show that “the uplifting of non-human animals to a small degree, through the use of technology, selective breeding, and genetic engineering, has already been achieved. Supposing a continued increase in these areas of research, it's reasonable to assume that the level to which we could increase brain function of humans and non-humans will continue to rise.” 

Of course, this leaves out work being down in secret labs in Siberia and Xingkiang.

Excellent summary. Though in fact, Knapp's argument against Uplift is the best argument in favor! Since the original species would be preserved, fallow in a natural ecosystem (that we should fight to save/expand) there is no harm done to that original species. No "insult" and no replacement. The newly sapient sub-species would have its own destiny, conversing, imagining, arguing with a wider diversity of opportunity and wisdom on a planet no longer dependent on just one (human) way of seeing things. 

And if neo-dolphins and neo-chimps use their new political power to help secure jungles and clean oceans, speaking for their fallow cousins, so?  And your complaint is?

Consider, if you had one child, who decides to ditch her human body and head to the stars as a cyborg, you might be sad.  You'd likely feel different if she could both send a duplicate and remain here on Earth with ypu and your grandchildren. 


Yes, there's plenty of moral hazard, e.g. the first few dozen generations of such a project would necessarily entail mistakes, and most likely some pain. Indeed the latter outcome is the only argument against uplift that stands up to scrutiny; it certainly makes me uncomfortable!  As for the "colonialism" dig, well, those making it are themselves examples of a new maturity that is enabling humanity to face its old mistakes. Without that gradually emerging wisdom, I'd be the first to say: "don't do this!" But ironically, the objectors exemplify why we may be (almost) ready.

See my earlier posting: Will we uplift other species to sapience?

== Bio & Biotech ==

DNA's ingredients, called nucleotides, are four components called adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine that fit together in sequences making up the genetic code. New kinds of synthetic DNA include those components as well as four others in a new double-helix structure that works to store and transfer information. Hachimoji DNA, in Japanese, means "eight letter." This kind of research can shed light on potential kinds of alien life. But there are implications you won’t read about in the science press.

First, this has implications for the future of experimental life design. If new, potentially dangerous life forms are required to utilize at least a few, vital proteins that can only be made using these new codons, then those life forms – or related nanomachines – will be utterly dependent on “nutrient” materials made only in a few human run factories. Such bottleneck control could prove crucial in the event of a blunder. And blunders happen.

Second, before we get all misty about the likely variability of life across the cosmos, note that the same sort of nutrient restriction might bar us from colonizing far-off interstellar worlds, if the native ecosystem provides nothing colonists can eat.

Only I’m not sure I buy it. The reason is… adenine, one of the four nucleotides we use in DNA and RNA. It’s the easiest on to make – almost trivially in Miller-Urey-Orgel experiments. It’s also the backbone of the other main chemical of life, ATP which mediates use of energy from sugars. 

I doubt and water-carbon-light based life will forego use of this keystone molecule. Which means that thymine (which pairs with adenine in DNA) and uracil  (which pairs with adenine in RNA) are likely prevalent, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are then dynamic/chemical reasons why cytosine and guanine would also be favored (look at how they nestle next to Adenine and thymine) leading to pretty much standard DNA and RNA.

If  you find bio beings using other codons, I'd suspect they had artificial ancestors.

== Philosophical musings ==

From Yuval Noah Harari’s tome Homo Deus: “Our new-found knowledge leads to faster economic, social, and political changes... Consequently we are less and less able to make sense of the present or forecast the future.” And yet, in fact, humans have led far more predictable lives than any of their ancestors.

Harari does envision a glorious expansion of human capabilities: 
Homo sapiens is not going to be exterminated by a robot revolt. Rather, Homo sapiens is likely to upgrade itself step by step, merging with robots and computers in the process.” 
But he cannot bring himself to see a win-win. Rather, this tech-apotheosis is portrayed happening in a way that mimics the past calamities. 
Once Google, Facebook and other algorithms become all-knowing oracles, they may well evolve into agents and finally into sovereigns.”

Oh, it’s true enough that 6000 years of dismal, recorded history shows this happening time and again. Wondrous capabilities do seem often to be monopolized or hoarded by elites, or used as tools of oppression. Likewise, these new tools might be gathered up by topmost hierarchs like kings, priesthoods or Googles. 

What is missed by Yuval Harari is not that darkly obvious extrapolation, but any seeming awareness that we have alternatives and some recent experience using them. Like the democratization of powerful technologies. Today, every citizen carries sophisticated instrumentalities, starting with powerful cameras, but soon to include chemical and environmental sensors. (In the U.S., their right to aim them at authority is now “settled law.”) Hence, it is at least conceivable that we may incorporate Google-developed tools of info-management not in a centralized-dystopic way, but as dispersed agents who are loyal to each of us, even as additional personal organs, the way that humans layered-in the prefrontal cortex quite recently (in evolutionary terms). 

Again, as in many other potentially Orwellian trends, the deciding factor may be a matter of social choice. (I depicted this possibility long ago in a story “Stones of Significance.”)


== Political lagniappe ==

Just a reminder of what pundits have been too stupid to point out... that the only thing the Mueller Report "cleared" Donald Trump of was direct collusion with Kremlin acts of war against the American Republic during 2016. The Trump Tower meetings and WikiLeaks and calling publicly for Russian hacking... they were bad, but always the weakest parts to prosecute.

That's it. Nothing else is exonerated. And the following jpeg is way obsolete -- a couple of months old. The counts are still rising.





129 comments:

Daniel Duffy said...

Read both Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus.

The first was excellent, the second (like most sequels) was a big disappointment.

I disliked his blanket assumptions and speculations ("we have no free will") and several factual errors.

For example he gives the fate of bank tellers competing with ATMs as an example of the threat to jobs posed by automation. But there are more bank tellers today than ever before. ATMs made it economical for banks to open small branch offices everywhere (like in my local Kroger). The role of bank teller has changed to include marketing and other customer services. Automation creates more jobs than it destroys, and the jobs it destroys are crappy, dangerous, boring jobs.

There used to be a job called an “elevator operator.” For those of us old enough to remember, the elevator operator was a man (usually wearing a sharp uniform like a fancy hotel concierge or doorman) who sat in an elevator car for his entire shift and manually operated the lift so that you would arrive safely and smoothly at your destination floor. Traditional elevator operators still exist in high-end establishments offering superior service to its residents or customers. But for the most part, the job has been superseded by automatic control buttons that the rider can push themselves and arrive efficiently at their chosen floor.

This job sums up the history of automation vs. labor. Very few human operators of elevators still remain. Passengers can use automated controls to arrive at their floor. The job itself wasn’t all that great. It was boring, repetitive, and while it required no heavy lifting, it required the operator to sit enclosed in a box for his entire shift. Nobody misses it, and it is not remembered with fond nostalgia. The loss of this job did not contribute to our structural unemployment as the former operators went on to better working conditions at better-paying jobs—jobs made possible and created by the same technological advances with higher pay made possible by increases in productivity.

Daniel Duffy said...

Not all Homo Deus was bad. Parts were very good. He did a very good job of examining the down side of our God-like future powers. For example, all of those nanobots floating in your future blood stream to repair old age damage and fight cancer could be hacked for nefarious purposes.

I wish he had spent more time looking at the "spiritual" issues like nihilism and ennui that can suffocate an entire culture no matter how powerful and advanced its technology. For that I would recommend Tom Wolfe's brilliant essay "Sorry but Your Soul Just died":

This is also known as the "ghost in the machine" fallacy, the quaint belief that there is a ghostly "self" somewhere inside the brain that interprets and directs its operations. ... This is merely an illusion created by a medley of neurological systems acting in concert. ... Since consciousness and thought are entirely physical products of your brain and nervous system—and since your brain arrived fully imprinted at birth—what makes you think you have free will? Where is it going to come from? What "ghost," what "mind," what "self," what "soul," what anything that will not be immediately grabbed by those scornful quotation marks, is going to bubble up your brain stem to give it to you? ...A hundred years ago those who worried about the death of God could console one another with the fact that they still had their own bright selves and their own inviolable souls for moral ballast and the marvels of modern science to chart the way. But what if, as seems likely, the greatest marvel of modern science turns out to be brain imaging? And what if, ten years from now, brain imaging has proved, beyond any doubt, that not only Edward O. Wilson but also the young generation are, in fact, correct?.... Thereupon, in the year 2006 or 2026, some new Nietzsche will step forward to announce: "The self is dead"—except that being prone to the poetic, like Nietzsche I, he will probably say: "The soul is dead." He will say that he is merely bringing the news, the news of the greatest event of the millennium: "The soul, that last refuge of values, is dead, because educated people no longer believe it exists." Unless the assurances of the Wilsons and the Dennetts and the Dawkinses also start rippling out, the lurid carnival that will ensue may make the phrase "the total eclipse of all values" seem tame.

Jon S. said...

And yet, would such a "lurid carnival" not itself demonstrate the existence of free will? If we cannot choose, then we cannot have chosen to avoid such a fate thus far; mere knowledge could not shift fate, did such fate exist. If we can choose to tear it all down, then this means that up to this point, we have chosen not to. This means we have choice, we have will, we have agency.

My toaster cannot choose; it toasts whatever I place in its slots, to the degree I have selected with its controls. (I prefer setting 5 for toasted bread, setting 2 for my son's Pop Tarts.) Should it suddenly become aware of its existential plight tomorrow, it would find that its controls cannot be accessed by itself, and no matter how it might feel about such slavery, it would still use setting 2 to toast Pop Tarts. It has no free will, no agency. I, on the other hand, do - should I suddenly develop a taste for slightly burned Pop Tarts, or less crunchy toast, I can easily change the toaster's settings. The only thing stopping me is my freely-willed choice not to do so. (In fact, I do use setting 4 for my wife's toast - she prefers it that way.)

David Brin said...

Our dog is the smartest we ever had... and I wish for one four times as smart. But then wouldn't he need a companion much like a dog?

------

I keep seeing claims that some 'realization' will lead to nihilist despair.

Indeed, is today's confidence collapse of the west due to the 1990s discovery that the universal expansion is accelerating into endless dissipation, so folks are saying "What's the point?" If so, Roger Penrose has offered a possible answer.

J.L.Mc12 said...

The notion that alien life may be mostly poisonous to humanity is explored very interestingly in a nove I’m currently reading called “Courtship rite” by Donald Kingsbury.

progressbot said...

>> David Brin said...
\\Two great SHORT posts by Progressbot! And clear and cogent, too!

Well, thank you for directions. I appreciate it (more then scolding :).
But that is the case. This posts are short, because questions raised in them are simple. While I'd like much more complex stuff (like that "x-raying atom" with Alfred).


About post topic. I come to such conclusion myself, that our brain already of maximum complexity. Would be glad to discuss implications, if its interesting to anyone here.

That Noah do not know (don't care about) cybernetics, I bet. All that stuff about feedback loops and etc.

It's more important to uplift ourself. Well, there is Singularity for that.

About DNA. Basic coding can be the same, but sheer number of possible combinations leaves no space for "digest that alien fruit".
It's like Windows and Linux on the same computer.

David Brin said...

Kingsbury's novel is an old one, kind of a classic and an excellent extrapolation of a culture on a world with absolutely no government and not even the concept.

Of course the characters can't be human, because it never occurs to any of them to gang up and form larger loyalty groups that could bully and take everything away from other males.

Don is a very bright fellow and his THE PSYCHOHISTORICAL CRISIS is very interesting. He has, alas, also succumbed to stunning degrees of right wing fanaticism and rationalization of utter, sycophantic loyalty to feudal oligarchy.

Duncan Cairncross said...

“Courtship rite” by Donald Kingsbury

Is NOT a place with "no government" - they have a huge amount of "Government" but they call it "Priest Clans" - just as "Ship" becomes "God"

The whole book is about competition - including with armed forces - between different "Governments"
This includes the "ganging up"!!

I don't see any "sycophantic loyalty to feudal oligarchy" in any of his books

The "Government" in THE PSYCHOHISTORICAL CRISIS is the second foundation of Psychohistorians" that work through minor nudges to avoid having to use the big guns

Kingsbury "explores" different government structures in his books - some of them way out but if he is showing a "stunning degrees of right wing fanaticism" - then I just don't see it

Can anybody point me in the direction of that in his books?

Unless you mean the actual "Clan" system? - which sounds to me like a cross between the Indian Caste system and the medieval Guilds

Daniel Duffy said...

Poisonous alien planets have been addressed in many sf novels from HG Wells "War of the Worlds" to KSR's "Aurora".

Which is why an interstellar civilization would not be planet based.

Instead colonists arriving at a new star system would set out to construct thousands and then millions of artificial worlds creating a Dyson swarm around the star with far greater living space and cheaper resources than you would find on a planetary surface.

They'll study the planet from orbit and send sterilized probes to the surface to study any life forms. Maybe, after, thousands of years of study and genetic tinkering actual colonists could land that have been acclimated to the planet's biosphere.

But by then they would be a new species.

Daniel Duffy said...

Nihilism may not be avoidable.

Atheists like to claim that even though there is no God and the universe has no meta-purpose or reason for existing, that we can still create our own meaning and purpose. However...

If the universe was deliberately created by a deity, it was created for a purpose and existence has a reason for existing. However, if the universe is a mere accident, then accidents by definition are meaningless and without purpose.

Therefore atheism results in macro-nihilism on the cosmic scale. To which atheists respond that you can create your own personal meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe and thus avoid micro-nihilism at the personal scale. Let me explain to you why that is not logically possible.

There are several problems with do-it-yourself purpose/meaning. First it involves an act of to solipsism ("that self is the only object of real knowledge.", OED). To claim that you have created meaning in your own mind is akin to claiming that you believed that you floated around the room like a balloon, therefore that must have been a real experience.

The only meaning and purpose and individual can create would be between their own ears, existing nowhere else.

Daniel Duffy said...

The second problem lies in the evaluation of the do-it-yourself purpose and it existential in nature. As Sarte and Neitzche discovered to their dismay when "God is dead", nihilism is what you get in return. Their philosophies dwelled on this existentialist blind alley, trying to find an escape, such as Sarte's "duty" to make meaning in your life. But if all of existence is inherently meaningless, what possible compass can you use to guide yourself in the search for meaning and purpose? The following is a quote from the internet library of philosophy to illustrate this point:

"In the twentieth century, it's the atheistic existentialist movement, popularized in France in the 1940s and 50s, that is responsible for the currency of existential nihilism in the popular consciousness. Jean-Paul Sartre's (1905-1980) defining preposition for the movement, "existence precedes essence," rules out any ground or foundation for establishing an essential self or a human nature. When we abandon illusions, life is revealed as nothing; and for the existentialists, nothingness is the source of not only absolute freedom but also existential horror and emotional anguish. Nothingness reveals each individual as an isolated being "thrown" into an alien and unresponsive universe, barred forever from knowing why yet required to invent meaning. It's a situation that's nothing short of absurd. Writing from the enlightened perspective of the absurd, Albert Camus (1913-1960) observed that Sisyphus' plight, condemned to eternal, useless struggle, was a superb metaphor for human existence (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942). The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified "Yes," advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism. In retrospect, it was an anecdote tinged with desperation because in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless. Enter nihilism."

In other words, if the universe did not already have "meaning and purpose" , then individuals would have the impossible task of creating them ex nihilo.

Daniel Duffy said...

The third problem I have is that this view point tends to make human value subjective instead of absolute - and thereby kills the concept of human dignity. Now even though meaning and value are not strictly the same thing, we do value the meaningful over meaningless. Not everyone can or will give the same level of meaning to their lives. Is the life of a Wall Street millionaire more valuable than that of a child with Down's syndrome? Either human value and dignity are absolutes, universals without exceptions, or they are meaningless. If you disagree, first ask yourself which is intrinsically more valuable, universals or subjective.

Lastly, is the lack of free will. If God does not exist, then neither does the Soul. And in a purely mechanical universe devoid of any spiritual dimension, free will is not possible. As such any feeling of exercising choice ,or volition are mere illusions. Lacking free will it is not physically possible to create meaning. Which bring you back to the inescapable black hole of nihilism.

So for reasons both existential and practical, atheism = nihilism at all levels.

Daniel Duffy said...

Medical science has destroyed the "Self". There is no Soul. There is no "You". Consciousness and free will are nothing but illusions. But if God, Self and free Will are all lies, they are very important lies and it is necessary to believe in them.

If we don't the next century will be worse than the last. Again from Tom Wolfe's essay, "Sorry but Your Soul Just Died":

Which brings us to the second most famous statement in all of modern philosophy: Nietzsche's "God is dead." The year was 1882. (The book was Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft [The Gay Science].) Nietzsche said this was not a declaration of atheism, although he was in fact an atheist, but simply the news of an event. He called the death of God a "tremendous event," the greatest event of modern history. The news was that educated people no longer believed in God, as a result of the rise of rationalism and scientific thought, including Darwinism, over the preceding 250 years.

But before you atheists run up your flags of triumph, he said, think of the implications. "The story I have to tell," wrote Nietzsche, "is the history of the next two centuries." He predicted (in Ecce Homo) that the twentieth century would be a century of "wars such as have never happened on earth," wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. And why? Because human beings would no longer have a god to turn to, to absolve them of their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt, since guilt is an impulse instilled in children when they are very young, before the age of reason. As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves. The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods: "If the doctrines...of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I consider true but deadly"—he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations—"are hurled into the people for another generation...then nobody should be surprised when...brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non–brothers...will appear in the arena of the future."

Daniel Duffy said...

(cont.)

Nietzsche's view of guilt, incidentally, is also that of neuro–scientists a century later. They regard guilt as one of those tendencies imprinted in the brain at birth. In some people the genetic work is not complete, and they engage in criminal behavior without a twinge of remorse—thereby intriguing criminologists, who then want to create Violence Initiatives and hold conferences on the subject.

Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century "on the mere pittance" of the old decaying God–based moral codes. But then, in the twenty–first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of "the total eclipse of all values" (in The Will to Power). This would also be a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not."

Why should we bother ourselves with a dire prediction that seems so far–fetched as "the total eclipse of all values"? Because of man's track record, I should think. After all, in Europe, in the peaceful decade of the 1880s, it must have seemed even more far–fetched to predict the world wars of the twentieth century and the barbaric brotherhoods of Nazism and Communism. Ecce vates! Ecce vates! Behold the prophet! How much more proof can one demand of a man's powers of prediction?

A hundred years ago those who worried about the death of God could console one another with the fact that they still had their own bright selves and their own inviolable souls for moral ballast and the marvels of modern science to chart the way.

Anonymous said...

Words, words, words... Daniel, can you rephrase to us shortly, what was that all about? Or you just testing on us your philosophy theses?

Mike Will said...

Deductive philosophy boils down to:
IF THEN

We have thoroughly explored human societal constructs for at least all of recorded history, and probably much more. Man-made ideologies fail, often with horrifying results. Enlightened rules and competition are tricky and delicate, but they do seem to be the best of the lot.

The coming age of artificial (general) intelligence will go way beyond naive transhumanism. What will it be like? I don't know. I don't profess to know. And the really scary part is that I'm probably among the best qualified in here to know. This is not arrogance, it's many decades of soldering, typing, tinkering, and discussing these machines with people way above me on the pay scale. All I can say for sure is, they ain't us.

Mike Will said...

let's try that again with different brackets (HTML is not Linux, my bad)

Deductive philosophy boils down to:
IF (anthropomorphism1) THEN (anthropomorphism2)

progressbot said...

>> Mike Will said...

Mike, I need to dig my teeth in you on that topic. Hope you don't mind. ;)

\\Deductive philosophy

I re-checked with Google, great 'last source of answer', and there is no such thing as "deductive philosophy".
So, what did you meant?
Because philosophy it's inductive activity. By definition. ;)


Well, I need to know the source of this great claim. "We have thoroughly explored human societal constructs". Because that'll be achievement deserving or even greater than Nobel prize worthy. I should hear about.

There was Engelsian Theory of History. In USSR. What else?


\\The coming age of artificial (general) intelligence will go way beyond naive transhumanism. What will it be like? I don't know. I don't profess to know.

We already can see and discuss some premises of it.
There'd be a lot of spheres of AI application: trading and econ forecasts machines, talking call-center/chat-bots, military drones, some industrial and domestic help robots, ginoids, etc.
That will be material and product of the artificial evolution.

And it's up to us now, to "play gods" and to choose what it'll be.

I know, I biased. Because I want it to be sentient. From our deep though and will.
Not from our leisure. But, most chances for that. It'll be "by accident". Again.


\\All I can say for sure is, they ain't us.

We are 'not us'... ever morning, when we wake from the deep good sleep.

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Medical science has destroyed the "Self". There is no Soul. There is no "You". Consciousness and free will are nothing but illusions.


Ouch. I can already see that progressbot has weighed in below, and I'm sure I'll be back on the subject to argue that I don't care what the underlying physical construct consists of, I not only do have consciousness, but values as well. "Soul" and free will, I will leave as an exercise to the reader.


But if God, Self and free Will are all lies, they are very important lies and it is necessary to believe in them.


I get the point. As someone born a century later, I'd use slightly different terminology. Not so much "important to believe in them" as "important myths to aspire to."

In my cubicle at work, I have a copy of a few panels from Neil Gaiman's 1602 graphic novel in which the Marvel heroes are reimagined as existing at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In the comic, the analog of Matt (Daredevil) Murdoch is chained up in a high castle tower along with an old man whose identity I won't spoil. The old man asks the Matt character if he can get them out of the cell and down to the courtyard where a secret weapon is hidden. The exchange of dialogue after is meant to be inspirational as to handling ever-changing urgent tech requirements from the business:


"You're asking the impossible."

"So that's a 'no',then?"

"It's more of an 'I'll try my best'."


The "I'll try my best" is what is important to believe, or to "believe in", or to "act as if you believe, and hope".



If we don't the next century will be worse than the last. Again from Tom Wolfe's essay, "Sorry but Your Soul Just Died":


He called the death of God a "tremendous event," the greatest event of modern history. The news was that educated people no longer believed in God, as a result of the rise of rationalism and scientific thought, including Darwinism, over the preceding 250 years


I'm not sure it's a question of "not believing" as much as "not requiring belief. I once heard that Einstein was asked how God fit into his theory of the cosmos, and he replied "I have no need for that hypothesis". I can't swear that it was actually Einstein or that the story isn't apocryphal, but no matter. The point is that the theory doesn't depend on God one way or another. That doesn't mean God doesn't exist, just that 2 plus 2 is 4 independent of His existence.

Mike Will said...

There is an old, rich metaphor in SETI of the goldfish. It philosophizes, pontificates, creates goldfish literature, etc, etc. Yet it's all piffle compared to almost anything else. We are ants. Clever, innovative ants, but ants just the same. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. That shouldn't stop us, as someone once pointed out, human cognition is all we have. We should just consider the possibility, occasionally, in the back of our godlike minds, that we may be limited or even mistaken.

You can throw Marx, Engels, Plato, Aristotle, Aurelius, Descartes, etc in the bin. You may want to keep Socrates and Asimov around for one or two more rounds.

AGI is not a linear or even exponential plotted curve of AI technologies. It is asymptotic. When I say "it's not us", I don't mean it's us after a good night's sleep. I mean it's a mind that has no anthropology, no sociology, and learns at close to the speed of light. It's not our puppet. It's the Abyss.

Smurphs said...

DD Said:
The only meaning and purpose and individual can create would be between their own ears, existing nowhere else.

So?

This is true of everybody. Even if you accept a shared concept of God, or Allah or whoever, it is still all in your head. Such is the human condition.

To paraphrase "meaning and purpose cannot exist only in your own head, therefore God (et. al.) MUST exist."

I don't object to the MUST, I object to the THEREFORE. I reject the either/or conclusion. At least without any evidence that doesn't rely on Stone Age mysticism. Or Iron Age mysticism. Or even Information Age mysticism. Hand-wavium all.

But if it makes you feel better, I don't mind. I don't insist you accept my Mysticism, please stop demanding I accept yours.

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century "on the mere pittance" of the old decaying God–based moral codes. But then, in the twenty–first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of "the total eclipse of all values" (in The Will to Power). This would also be a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not."


To me, this sounds like a case of the philosopher expecting everyone to share his personal pathologies. Those who say that one cannot have moral values without a God to enforce them sound just as misled as the Ayn Randist economists who expect that everyone acts with ruthless selfishnesss, or the "family values" types who think that no one would get married and have children if they are not forcibly forbidden from homosexuality.

The move away from religiously-enforced, God-based moral values to more individually-defined human values is typically presented as an unfortunate decline from greater to lesser. I have always taken issue with that view. Burning heretics, stoning homosexuals, shunning those who dare to point out the lack of Imperial couture--these have been traditional religion-based values, and I see their loss as an improvement. I don't find anything admirable in the practice of convincing a neighboring tribe to convert to your religion and then slaughtering them while they recover from a surgical procedure that religion required of them.

Larry Hart said...

Smurphs:

To paraphrase "meaning and purpose cannot exist only in your own head, therefore God (et. al.) MUST exist."

I don't object to the MUST, I object to the THEREFORE.


The quad preachers at my college advanced that as an argument that proves Heaven and Hell are real. Because if they are not, then Hitler is no worse off than your dead Aunt Tilly. Since (they asserted) that situation cannot be the case, there must be an afterlife in which you are punished or rewarded. You could see and hear the desperation in the argument: "I can't bear the possibility that A is true; therefore A is false."

Daniel Duffy said...

>then Hitler is no worse off than your dead Aunt Tilly

He just may be, with no judgement or punishment for his sins in the afterlife.

The question is: what happens to a society that internalizes and accepts that nothing bad happened to Hitler, that there is is no justice in this world or the next, and all that matters is success or failure?

Daniel Duffy said...

>"meaning and purpose cannot exist only in your own head, therefore God (et. al.) MUST exist."

Never said that God HAD to exist for any reason.

I only point out what His absence inevitably results in.

Nihilism may be the only truth.

But what happens to a society without meaning or purpose at either the individual or cosmic level?

progreesbot said...

>> Mike Will said...
\\We are ants.

We are not ants. I understand your metaphor, but it misleading, if to consider our current knowledge.

\\We should just consider the possibility, occasionally, in the back of our godlike minds, that we may be limited or even mistaken.

That source of our errors already well researched and understood. It's cognitive biases. Look at Rational Wiki for details. And we need to rebuild our knowledge from the ground and up, having in mind that imperfection of our own brains. And only if we can complete this task... we can call that "godlike". (but more certain, people with such wisdom, would not need that old dusty rags)

\\You can throw Marx, Engels, Plato, Aristotle, Aurelius, Descartes, etc in the bin. You may want to keep Socrates and Asimov around for one or two more rounds.

Truth is. We need them all. Because. The only way to not commit an error -- it's make it, and learn from results.
So, we need that knowledge, in archive as full as possible, to not commit that errors again. (or it's just a hope)


\\AGI is not a linear or even exponential plotted curve of AI technologies. It is asymptotic. When I say "it's not us", I don't mean it's us after a good night's sleep. I mean it's a mind that has no anthropology, no sociology, and learns at close to the speed of light. It's not our puppet. It's the Abyss.

See. It is sign of miscommunication between us. While I many times said that I'm Lem's pupil, and advertised his writings here. "Golem XIV" first of all. Because *it's exact theme* of his philosophy. Developed in detail in his philosophical works. And doubled in more easy to read and understand, in his scifi.

But well, I think now, that he was mistaken in that point. Our intellect grow from our experiences. As humans.
Of course, someone/something without human body, without body at all -- surely will have different perspective. Unhuman to the least bit.
But, is it a problem? I think -- no.
Because we have great problems to understand each other as a humans.
Maybe it'll be even simpler to understand that "unhuman others"... because there will not be that bias "he is the human, therefore is the same as me, and need to understand all the same way". ???


\\learns at close to the speed of light.

That one could be impossible. Because horizons of knowledge can grow even faster for him, for example. ;)
Lem only skimmed about possibility of such problems in ending Golem's words... but we need to find it ourselves.


>> Daniel Duffy said...
\\and all that matters is success or failure?

Is it?
You see, answer to all your questions from rugged old scriptures... is just in that. That obvious fact that We Are Here. Built the way we built.
Therefore. If asked in this particular question could be true -- here'd be other "us". That who answers "yes" without hesitation on such question.
But here is no such bloody bastards, or they need to hide itself and its intentions. Trying to be like all. Hypocrites.
Guess why? ;)

(well, Mike would remark here, that it's mere anthropocentrism... well, yes it is)


>> Larry Hart said...
\\I don't care what the underlying physical construct consists of, I not only do have consciousness, but values as well. "Soul" and free will, I will leave as an exercise to the reader.

If you could poke your own brain to produce desirable result -- isn't it would be exercise of your soul and manifestation of your free will. ;)
(well, we do it every day anyway... with cup of tea or coffee)

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

The question is: what happens to a society that internalizes and accepts that nothing bad happened to Hitler, that there is is no justice in this world or the next, and all that matters is success or failure?


It's a trite way of putting it, but appropriate. "There is no justice--there's just us."

The recognition that the universe doesn't enforce morality doesn't require barbarism. Societies decide for themselves which values are acceptable.

progressbot said...

Actually... it's exactly The Universe that enforce morality. If it would be possible for living beings with brains same size as human's, by itself, alone, not in tribe. There'd surely would not be so strong imperative against killing own kin.

But... there'd be some other. To ensure ability to communicate. Or... Ctulhu can be just the pecular type of alien. :)

Daniel Duffy said...

>The recognition that the universe doesn't enforce morality doesn't require barbarism.

I agree, but barbarism is our species default state. Millions of years of evolution won't be undone and permanently changed by a few centuries of peace and civilization.

Civilization is a relatively recent software add on that conflicts with our basic operating system hard wired by evolution to be "red in tooth and claw". It does not take much for our natural instincts to resurface

Mike Will said...

We are ants. Lovable, noble, wonderful ants worth fighting and dying for. But ants nevertheless. Do the calculations. The model of reality in our cranium is infinitesimal. The marvels of science are so much bigger. And the only minds capable of even grazing on the lower slopes are either not here yet or invisible to us. We are ants. Our best saving grace is knowing so. This is not hopeless nihilism, it's quite the opposite. We are wicked smart ants at the very start of our journey. Calculemus!

BTW I like actual ants. They're lovely creatures too (one of the main issues between my spouse and myself going way back).

Mike Will said...

If I accidentally step on an ant, I sooth my guilt by imagining that it was a Lord Kelvin ant :)

There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

progressbot said...

>> Mike Will said...

Calling us ants misleading. Because they are eusocial and we not. And as that, such metaphor creates nasty belief that "we need to be like ants, united, workaholic and aggressive toward all and anything alien".

Well, to say, is our "model of reality" big or small, can say only someone with even bigger MoR thing, for sure. But, we can still poke that elephant from every side available to our heart content. And discuss results.
We are not ants. We are we. While I find them interesting too.

>> Daniel Duffy said...
//a few centuries of peace and civilization.

Where did you see it? Are you traveler from Happy Future?

Jon S. said...

"The question is: what happens to a society that internalizes and accepts that nothing bad happened to Hitler..."

But something bad did happen to Hitler. His armies defeated, he was forced to retreat in disgrace to his last bunker, where he killed himself in despair, knowing that the world at large had rejected his horrific notions. His memory is held up as an example of the worst of humanity.

How is that "nothing bad"? Why would we then need to believe that his immortal soul has been eternally imprisoned in a supernatural torture chamber, to be savagely tormented for the rest of time for the amusement of a sadistic God and His bloodthirsty Host? (It can't be for our edification, or we wouldn't be having this conversation - Adolf's punishment would be carried live on channel 666, 24/7, and we'd know for sure that Hell exists. We can't be taught lessons that we can't see.)

Then there's another point from earlier - when exactly did medical science "disprove" the notion of a soul? For starters, in order to make such a claim, you'd need to know what exactly a "soul" is, and how it can be defined scientifically. Lacking that, you can believe one way or the other, but you can't know. And last I checked, medical schools don't teach their students that humans are soulless automatons - that's the school of Philosophy, not Medicine.

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Civilization is a relatively recent software add on that conflicts with our basic operating system hard wired by evolution to be "red in tooth and claw". It does not take much for our natural instincts to resurface


True, but then I'd say that God-based morality didn't overcome those natural instincts either. I'm not saying mankind is naturally civilized. I'm saying that whether or not we choose to be civilized doesn't have as much to do with fear of God as the religionists would have us believe.

As a liberal, I see your statement above as rationale for society to have a strong social safety net. It is sometimes claimed that conservatives think humans are mostly bad, while liberals think we are mostly good. In fact, I think it depends on circumstances. It is easier and more likely for people to choose to be good when they are not hungry, cold, and desperate for survival. Which is why a wealthy German businessman said on Thom Hartmann's radio show, "I don't want to be a rich man in a poor country." He defended his country's safety net because he understood that it was better for his own well being to encourage his neighbors to choose to be civilized.

Larry Hart said...

If the argument is that men will choose (or fall back on) barbarism unless God forces them to be civilized, that's just not how I see religion working out in the real world. As often than not, people and tribes choose to be barbaric in ways that they excuse as being for God.

Atheism, rather than freeing humans to do evil, seems to me to remove an excuse to do evil.

Baron Blackstone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

But something bad did happen to Hitler. His armies defeated, he was forced to retreat in disgrace to his last bunker, where he killed himself in despair, knowing that the world at large had rejected his horrific notions. His memory is held up as an example of the worst of humanity.


A perfect example of "If there is no justice, then there is just us."

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

Then there's another point from earlier - when exactly did medical science "disprove" the notion of a soul? For starters, in order to make such a claim, you'd need to know what exactly a "soul" is, and how it can be defined scientifically.


I have the same problem you seem to here--I think of the word "soul" in poetic terms, but I don't have a mental image of what one is supposed to be and what makes it different from a mind or a consciousness or a self-awareness.

People raised more strongly religious seem to have a very specific concept of what a soul is, but I don't think they can fully explain why it matters so much to someone who doesn't already believe as they do. It's more of an "everyone knows..." thing, or "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

David Brin said...

Duncan Kingsbury’s ultra-right feudal sycophancy is more recent and expressed biliously online. Indeed, In Courtship Rite one issue is how to prevent gangs of clans from conspiring to break tradition and take everything.

Daniel, Robinson’s point in Aurora is that it is more difficult than anyone realizes to create a long-sustainable artificial biosphere. His starship builders are portrayed doing their best… and failing, and hence his lesson: forget the stars. Of course the ending of the book makes the first 95% and that lesson utterly moot.


“So for reasons both existential and practical, atheism = nihilism at all levels”

Bah, an incantation. One could reverse it and say what’s the 'point' of being play-things of the gods?

--
“Medical science has destroyed the "Self". There is no Soul. There is no "You". Consciousness and free will are nothing but illusions.”

1. Bah, again. It’s done no such thing, and…

2. Penrose kicks the can downfield with his “quantum consciousness links” stuff.

“But if all of existence is inherently meaningless, what possible compass can you use to guide yourself in the search for meaning and purpose?”

The point is even stronger re entropy, which can be temporarily reduced within a specific volume,(say a human infant or a student’s mind, or an organized city) but only by exporting a much larger amount of entropy into the environment. A point made in SUNDIVER. This might be deemed support for Sartre. But there is a problem with Camus’s Sisyphus…

… in that Sisyphus is an ant. (Yes, Mike W.) He cannot perceive the larger reality, wherein his pebble can be plucked up the hill by a “god.” Yes that god (a human who reached down to pluck the pebble-boulder) must then struggle with his own boulder. But it is absurd arrogance for Sartre or Camus to proclaim that they see the Big Picture! No one before them did! And all future generations must bow to their distilled accomplishment.

I shrug aside nihilism excuses. Sure, I’m an ant. But ancestors struggled to bring me to a level where I can confidently say I see more than they did. Blatantly, my task is to raise up my grandchildren (none yet, except possibly AIs and lurkers watching me type) so they will be able to see further still.

What business have I, prescribing Big Picture philosophy to those bigger minds I’ll help to create? Some general advice & parental wisdom? Maybe. But the Great Meaninglessness is their problem, not mine. I hope they’ll have smarter/better heirs to pass it on to.

-
“he blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods…”

A crude version of my horizon theory… that different levels of satiation/fear lead to horizon expansion to include more allies, and a truly confident civilization that has a habit of expansion of inclusiveness will gain advantages.

The whole guilt thing is absurd and led to Freudianism. Not that it doesn’t exist. But the real restraint is a combination of empathy (which helps the tiger hunt the deer by understanding her thoughts) and satiation (no longer needing the deep, plus curiosity and new ambitions (deciding to use the deer’s talents to help achieve them) is a vastly powerful constraint on animal violence.

As for the “peaceful 1880s… the Franco-Prussian War displayed wholly new levels of volent potential that was only spared by France’s swift defeat. All of Europe had been appalled by reports from the American Civil War.

-
Anonymous, your complaints about Daniel’s “words” are ignored, since you refuse to sign your missives even with a monicker.

-
“barbarism is our species default state.”

No, it is fear. And when fear subsides, we are able to make wider alliances against the next, bigger adversary.

Mike Will said...

The ant that knows that it's an ant is an ant with a future. What could be less nihilistic than that?

David Brin said...

That should have been "no longer needing the deer." Not " (no longer needing the deep, " Which had its own (puzzling) implications.

David Brin said...

"The ant that knows that it's an ant is an ant with a future. What could be less nihilistic than that?"

Well, it does need an "out." In the ant's case, it is duty, and that works for many humans. My own "out" is a version of that, not to the hive, duty to help make others who will be better than me, who will understand how to make better being than themselves. I cannot perceive the destination. The direction... building the road... is enough for this crude ancestor to feel fine and zero temptation from nihilism.

Mike Will said...

Dr. Brin: The direction... building the road... is enough

That's right. First, a compass to get the local direction right (with landmarks). Next, a concept of latitude and celestial location. Next, the machinery for portable longitude and a refined concept of planetary motion. No need to see the 'end game'. The cure for nihilism is to simply take the first step.

J.L.Mc12 said...

Brin,what do you mean exactly when you say that Donald Kingsbury has become right wing? Also where does he talk online? All I have found from him is a interview and a defunct personal website.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Morality is helping others - simple as

The "Justification" is the increase in everybodies "happiness"

I don't see anything that requires a "Soul"

Back a stage -
A "Soul" is an immortal entity that exists separately from your body and "drives" or "pilots" your physical body
As such the existence of "Brain Damage" shows that there is no such thing as a "Soul"

If we change the description to remove the immortal and separate bit and consider that the "soul" is an emergent feature of the human brain then the issues go away - especially as we can see something like a "soul" in other animals - cat's dogs - even a pet rat

Tony Fisk said...

Daniel Duffy said:
"Instead colonists arriving at a new star system would set out to construct thousands and then millions of artificial worlds creating a Dyson swarm around the star with far greater living space and cheaper resources than you would find on a planetary surface.
"


That's an interesting idea for an SF story/game: what if said Dyson swarming colonists were to turn up here to claim the high ground, tomorrow?
What if Oumuamua was dispensing seeds on the way past...?

I don't know of any such tales.* Anybody?

*Lungfish isn't quite what I had in mind.

Tony Fisk said...

... Addendum: Baxter & Pratchett's "Long Utopia" touches on the theme when it's found one of the parallel Earths is being 'xenoformed' (they had great fun with their potato powered McGuffin. Unfortunately, I found the story dissipated along with Humanity.)

Kal Kallevig said...

@ Duncan

You may recall about a year ago we had a brief discussion of energy efficient homes at 45 degrees, where I said we were about to build some of these. Our constraint was to build houses for a price that the market would support. The first three have been completed and the first of those has what appears likely to be a successful contract of sale. I built a simple website to explain the ideas to potential buyers. They are more expensive than we would like, but a similar house here would be near a million dollars. Blacktail Solar Homes

David Brin said...

Anonymous J.L.Mc12 he comes at me on FB pretty often. But yes, he's not very voluble elsewhere and hence maybe I should just not comment further, even down here in a comments section. I ask that folks not spread anything I said about DK beyond here.

Larry Hart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

A "Soul" is an immortal entity that exists separately from your body and "drives" or "pilots" your physical body
As such the existence of "Brain Damage" shows that there is no such thing as a "Soul"


I don't see that. No more than the existence of a flat tire or a dead battery shows that there is no such thing as a driver.


If we change the description to remove the immortal and separate bit and consider that the "soul" is an emergent feature of the human brain then the issues go away


That's exactly my thinking when I say that I know I exist. The emergent property is aware of its own existence. Others here insist that an emergent property doesn't actually exist, but that's a semantic quibble over the meaning of words. I apparently mean something different from what they do when I insist that I know I exist. In that sense, we're both right. All I care about is the half of that that says that I am right.

Somewhat separately, if the soul is a separate entity which departs from a body after death, then what is supposed to be happening to that entity in Hell? Physical punishment is something that happens to a body, involving nerve endings and such. A soul inhabiting a body on morphine or novacaine doesn't feel pain--how would a soul completely separated from any body do so?

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

Apropos nothing, my daughter's school band just returned from performing in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. My wife went along as a chaperone. She just mentioned that wherever they went, there were busloads of Chinese tourists.

Another winner for the predictions registry from Earth!

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry

If the soul exists after death then it must be independent of the body - in that case damage to the body should not effect the "personality" of the soul

You should be able to prize the soul loose or disconnect it - but not change it and Brain damage can and does change the personality

Hi Kal
Interesting website
A couple of things I differ about
I used a polished concrete floor - great as a thermal store
Bedrooms - these should be cooler than living areas so I put all three bedrooms on the South side (North for you)
Roof angle - I used 35 degrees which gave me a ton of storage space above the house almost free

One of the houses has a built on garage - I found that to be a very expensive option - I built a separate "shed" for about 25% of the cost of an attached garage

Overall they look like great places to live

J.L.Mc12 said...

Brin
Your writing on synthetic life reminds me of another thing from D.K’s book, which is the getans use of genetic engineering and eugenics to make life mildly more liveable on their planet of Geta.

David Brin said...

I admit it was way back >decade before the turn of the century when I read Courtship Rite.

Larry Hart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

If the soul exists after death then it must be independent of the body - in that case damage to the body should not effect the "personality" of the soul


We may still be disagreeing about semantics. I'd say you are demonstrating something about the nature of a hypothetical soul, rather than disproving its existence.

Modern brain science is not required to know that personality is affected by such things as hunger, sleep-deprivation, or pain (Was it 1984 that pointed out that a toothache can eclipse the universe?). if that sort of thing disproved the existence of the soul, this conversation would have been obsolete millennia ago. I'm willing to consider the way Kurt Vonnegut presented humans who could inhabit or leave bodies at will--that when they were using a body, their mood was affected by glandular activity, discomfort, pheromones, and such, but once they were free-floating entities, they were again free of such physical influences.

If a soul is defined as something unaffected by the body, then yes, you could say brain science disproves the existence of that thing. But I don't get the idea that what most people mean when they talk about a soul requires that to be part of the definition. Thus, I would say "proves the dependence of the soul on the physical body" rather than "proves the non-existence..." That's just me, though. I'm not the boss of you.

And if the soul is something separate from the body, then really, what is wrong with euthanasia for a terminal patient, or with abortion of a non-viable fetus? If the soul is immortal, what harm is being done in those situations in which the body was not going to do anything useful?

Larry Hart said...

I meant to mention that the Vonnegut reference above was to a short story called "Unready To Wear", in which humans could leave their bodies and go floating around as phantoms, and then enter another body at will (as long as that other body was unoccupied).

Larry Hart said...

I also have to wonder, if the soul is separate from the body, then are there actually male souls and female souls. If not, then the genders really are more interchangeable than religious fundamentalists care to accept. And if not, then the possibility that someone really is "A woman trapped in a man's body" is more likely than religious fundamentalists care to accept.

So either way, they're mistaken.

yana said...


David Brin thought:

"Since the original species would be preserved, fallow in a natural ecosystem (that we should fight to save/expand) there is no harm done to that original species."

That'd be nice, but in practice it'd be impossible. Since every step along the way is a different subspecies, they should be able to mate with each other, and i guarantee you, they will. The 90%-ers will mate with the 70%-ers, who will still find 30%-ers sexy. The real problems would be the 10%-ers who'll screw anyone for the fun of it, and the 100%-ers who know better but do it despite the guilt, because the guilt makes it so much hotter. Just like supposedly 100% sapient humans.

The obvious counter to this thought, is the fact that the humans are not 100%, so as we keep improving, the definition of 'fully sapient' continues to evolve. Thus, neither chimps nor dolphins nor crows can ever be 100% uplifted, if the patron species is never finished either. But the next logical babystep -> that's why we're constantly forgiving each other (it's only natural), and sometimes forgiving ourselves (i'm only human). With a patron of naturally porous morality and a rising self-awareness of being only par-baked themselves... that's an orgy waiting to happen.

There are only two ways to conduct uplift:

a) catch, uplift, and release

b) catch, uplift, catch the progeny, uplift, ad infinitum

I assume you favor B. If so, the latter method requires fencing large portions of land or water, and adding a new protected parcel for each generation of the project. Ethical science demands that a chimp troupe has a few hectares of woods, a dolphin pod needs a few square kilometers of ocean. Smart, meticulous, science demands that there be thousands of groups, each studied for the effects, one-at-a-time, of each of thousands of gene modifications.

First, we'd run out of natural habitat to seal off. If each successive troupe or pod receives its own enclosure, you're rapidly displacing hundreds of thousands of farmers and fishermen. Second, we've all seen Jurassic Park. There's no way we're going to keep them all contained. As soon as a neo-phin is smart enough to write, he'll tell you:

/Viddy you show me phinistory
/Girlfin know nothing, girlfin know not
/How graceful primitive tails flips

Or for the females, 2nd of the trinary as:

/Boyfin know nothing, flukeglee in hunt

There's no way we'd keep partially-uplifted examples from mating with the wild population, and the smarter we make them, that potential increases wildly.

At the point where we can even consider the project, there are still hundreds of the 'patron' species who use other species for sex. If Denisovans or Neanderthals were still here, we'd be boinking them too, and admit it... a certain portion of today's Sapiens would have a predilection for those exotic 'primitives'.

The sex drive is only natural, it's only human, we couldn't hold our clients to any higher standard. Many modifications we make in uplift would propagate into the wild, we are utterly powerless to stop that, unless we utterly control the "wild".

David Brin said...

LarryHart et al, see Robert Sheckley's novel MINDSWAP. Almost as good as DIMENSION OF MIRACLES.

Mike Will said...

Canadian mines may use Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in the near future. They'd be good for asteroids too, if we could manufacture them up there (there's a launch ban I believe).
SMRs

Zepp Jamieson said...

I'm back from a death in the family. Good to be resuming life.
There is a surprisingly good documentary on Netflix right now, "One Strange Rock" with Will Smith and eight astronauts from the ISS.
It posits an interesting theory: that the jump from unicellular life to multicellular life is actually less likely and more difficult than the process that led to unicellular life in the first place. The hypothesis from this is that life may be widespread throughout the universe, but multicellular life extremely rare--indeed, we might be it. Makes a credible argument to support that.
I don't accept that theory for the simple reason that I don't want to accept it. Thoughts?
As I said, it's a surprisingly good series.

yana said...


Daniel Duffy thought:

"Therefore atheism results in macro-nihilism on the cosmic scale."

Ahh, nobody came out and told you explicitly, that atheism can mean many things, including the belief that everything is alive, therefore there is no god. The implication of that branch of atheism is the opposite of nihilism, neither macro, micro, nor cosmic.

"The only meaning and purpose and individual can create would be between their own ears, existing nowhere else."

Yeah, and storks bring babies. Not to insult, but perhaps you are considering atheism as a monolith, but like religion there is a spectrum. Larry and Alfred spent much of March tossing the concept of "i" around, and i marveled what if, instead of deliberating the legal meaning of the word "sex" in 1998, as in "I did not have sex with that woman," Pres Clinton had instead chosen to argue about the pronoun "i" instead? With L+A's help, he would have beaten the rap.

Point to make, is that an atheist does not have to abandon ethics to sign the pledge card, there are many definitions of atheism. There are plenty of ways to interpret the lack of god as a license to be kind just for the hell of it, or impetus to figure out what pursuits make you happy, which regularly makes people feel good about themselves, therefore be generally nicer to each other.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Zepp

We see the fossils of simple life in the oldest rocks - just after the earth solidified

Simple life seems to have spread and become widespread very early in the life of the earth

Then there is a HUGE gap - well over 2 billion years before complex life appears

So a few rock pools or volcanic vents and a few million years developed simple life

But it took uncounted millions of of live "sites" and over two billion years to make the jump to complex life

Just one example of each!
But it looks like the jump from non life to simple life is millions or even billions of times more likely


Implications would be that there may be life in the oceans of Europa - but it will be simple life

Tony Fisk said...

@zepp, as Duncan notes, the timespan between the rise of life and the rise of complex life (2 billion years) is a substantial fraction of the lifetime of the Universe. The fraction only grows when you consider the earliest time life *could* have evolved (due to availability of material other than hydrogen). A phenomenon that took that much parallel processing time over an entire planet sounds like it would still be unlikely even when the sample size is scaled up to an entire galaxy (or a few million cubic light years of it, at least). I consider it a serious candidate for the "Great Filter".

J.L.Mc12 said...

Daniel Duffy
Are you aware of apatheism?

yana said...


Daniel Duffy thought:

"in a purely mechanical universe devoid of any spiritual dimension, free will is not possible."

Hey what? You just described free will, then eliminated it because of itself, you can't do that. Because logic. The only possible universe where truly free will can exist, is one devoid of spirits. If you're coming at this from a presupposition of determinism, then might be tempted to misinterpret for convenience, the idea of free will. Hey, only human, no foul.

Just regular standard milktoast atheism implies that the atheist has the capacity to decide. So it's the upper half of the IQ bell, and if there's one thing we've been evolving by generational selection over the past 10,000 years, it's the capacity to learn and make decisions from what we learn. That's free will.

"a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger"

It's not "frantic" because it happens every day. In every person, as slow as an oak sometimes and as fleet as a butterwing sometimes, an idea undulates under the pond of skeletons. The absence of fearsome fingers does not exclude moral codes, it simply opens up new experiments in code. Some are echoes of fearsome fingers, but each one accommodates the one who thought it up. Because that's what free will is, in a universe without spirits. It's "new systems of values" at the same time as you relate "the total eclipse of all values"

C'mon. You can't have it both ways. Either Nietzsche was inconsistent, or your interpretation is ambitious, or more likely, both of you evolved positions over your respective years. And that is the denoument, the actual definition of free will, independent of god.

Alfred Differ said...

Yana,

There are plenty of ways to interpret the lack of god...

Heh. Even before one gets to the justification attempts for our behaviors, there are many ways to interpret the lack. I have been reading 'philosophy of mathematics' material lately to get some background for a different project I think about now and then and I've had to deal with the difference between a 'completed infinity' and a 'potential infinity'. I like to read at lunch and one time came around to the idea that God is to a Christian what completes an infinity of potential demi-gods. I stopped eating when that occurred to me and by the time I got back to the here-and-now all the ice had melted in my drink. A sign? Yah. Lunchtime is safe, but I shouldn't think about those things while driving. I'll wind up in a ditch at best. 8)

Pronouns are wonderfully slippery and people many people don't see it.
Dualisms are amazingly fluid if people look at them close enough.

When I was young, I asked my mother if she was an atheist. Her non-belief was fully in the open. She got a pained expression on her face and tried to teach me nuance. She settled on 'non-theist' after showing me dictionary definitions for various terms and pointing out that most people didn't use them with exactness. Denotation / Connotation. The lesson went on for awhile and by the end I had no idea what people actually meant by 'atheist', 'agnostic', and a dozen other terms. She seemed satisfied with that state of confusion which told me I understood correctly that people were confused. It was many years before I realized they did not know they were confused, though.

Alfred Differ said...

Daniel Duffy,

If God does not exist, then neither does the Soul. And in a purely mechanical universe devoid of any spiritual dimension, free will is not possible.

First up, thank you for posts like this. I mean it. I enjoy these discussion with people who are not so timid that they won't speak what they believe.

Second up, I know of a secular definition of 'soul' (from Hofstadter) that appears to work in most ways except it isn't immortal. It has a rather special property too if one believes in God. If we have mortal souls (I'll stick to lower case 'soul' for this) instead of immortal Souls, it helps explain an oblivion (not a Hell) that occurs without God's Grace. If He loves us, He contains our souls, thus His immortality becomes ours. Without Him... poof. I know this approach would be heretical to some Christians, but it IS consistent with some of their common belief system. If 'to love' essentially means 'to copy', then God's love makes your soul a Soul. Neat trick.

Third up, even if we live in a mechanical universe, determinism fails as an explanatory model. It does so because there are causal connections between the objective and subjective worlds. The mechanical part doesn't close in a deterministic manner. Can't work. You and others can try to refute that, but you'll have to deal with some of what Popper wrote on this subject late in his life.

progressbot said...

>> David Brin said...

Can't help it. Wanna ask. What did you read from Strugatsky Brothers?


>> Mike Will said...
\\The ant that knows that it's an ant is an ant with a future. What could be less nihilistic than that?

If I'd be an ant, I wouldn't have ziz pure human's regrets. Which make me feel vulnerable and unsettling, and much-much lower than ant.
Ants are indestructible and unshakable, have no fear and no remorse, feels its unity with every-ant. I see why it's easier and more pleasant to think about oneself as about the ant. But can't share such view.


>> Duncan Cairncross said...
//If we change the description to remove the immortal and separate bit and consider that the "soul" is an emergent feature of the human brain then the issues go away - especially as we can see something like a "soul" in other animals - cat's dogs - even a pet rat

And lose "immortality" and "godlikness", and "our fathers believed in it" perks??? What it is if not nihilism.
And. well, it "considered" long ago. In India's religion(s). Well, it's interesting question -- is all different religions of the world give us full set of possibilities, or there is something else too? Infinite add-on?


>> Zepp Jamieson said...
\\It posits an interesting theory: that the jump from unicellular life to multicellular life is actually less likely and more difficult than the process that led to unicellular life in the first place.

More complex life was not possible, before oxygen "poisoning", I presume. ;)
So, that way, our extracting carbon deposits and polluting with dioxide... can be just needed pre-stage for further evolution step. ;)


>> Larry Hart said...
\\I also have to wonder, if the soul is separate from the body, then are there actually male souls and female souls. If not, then the genders really are more interchangeable than religious fundamentalists care to accept.

It pose problem only to religion with reincarnations. Well, not pose. Asians with their Buddhism are much more relaxed about that question.
But in Christianity it was banished as heresy lo-o-o-ong ago.


\\The emergent property is aware of its own existence. Others here insist that an emergent property doesn't actually exist, but that's a semantic quibble over the meaning of words.

All blubbering about "emergents" are scam. Laughed at even by Jonathan Swift.
That time it was about his contemporary nature philosophers... that by his words, tend to call anything they can't explain as "play of the Nature".

But it seem, such fallacy is very strong, and tend to exist till today, by changing names. Hah.


\\I apparently mean something different from what they do when I insist that I know I exist. In that sense, we're both right.

If such "rightness" is just enough to you... I dunno, why you oppose to religious one?
It's the same amount of understanding of reality and real physics in both. :P


>> yana said...

Read about Washoe.

CP said...

Zepp Jamieson, et. al.

"Complex" life and multicellular life are not synonymous. And, there are several different facets...

I think most biologists would consider "complex life" to be roughly synonymous with the eukaryotic cell.

I agree that bacterial-grade (prokaryotic) life forms probably arose relatively easily and quickly. But, the transition to modern eukaryotic cells likely took quite a while and was the product of at least two major symbiotic events in addition to linear evolution. First, bacteria became endosymbiotic in archaea, ultimately transforming into mitochondria with the transfer of much of their genetic material to the host's nucleus. Those were the earliest eukariotic cells. Then, cyanobacteria became endosymbiotic in those eukariotic cells (probably several times) forming the various groups of algae, again with transfer of much of their genetic material to the host's nucleus. Higher plants evolved from green algae.

The next major change was the evolution of sexual reproduction. That may actually be the "low probability" event that really slowed things down. Evolving all the "controls" needed to insure consistent and even replication and separation of DNA may have been difficult. Once genes could be consistently "shuffled" by sexual reproduction, the rate of linear evolution greatly increased.

Simple multicellularity is just having multiple cells that stick together rather than separating. It's evolved many times in different eukariotic (and some prokariotic) lineages. More advanced versions arise through increasing specialization of cells and accompanying increases in size/complexity.

As I said, even some prokaryotic lineages have multi-cellular members (without much specialization of the cells). And, simple "clumps of unspecialized cells" arise quite easily (that's even been triggered in the laboratory). So, multicellularity, by itself, was likely pretty easy.

progressbot said...

>> Alfred Differ said...
\\Neat trick.

Stupid trick. Because it immediately makes off the hook all the sinners. "What you say? I would cheese to exist completely? Ok. Then I have no need to be abide to your rules. And can do anything I want. In this life."
Nihilism -- it's foster child of (christian?) religion that way.
So, it's easy to see why it is so important to you, Daniel.

yana said...


Alfred Differ thought:

"difference between a 'completed infinity' and a 'potential infinity'."

Cantor's stuff was a real eye-opener, and respect for his muted trumpeting, when the more armspread implications were not too far to see from the birdseye at his elbow. Depending on the species of the infinity du jour, it might be completely compatible to be atheist about our here-and-now but accept the possibility that other parts of the universe may have vigorous and active god(s).

"Pronouns are wonderfully slippery and people many people don't see it."

I never found a good reason why only one pronoun is regularly capitalized.

"I know of a secular definition of 'soul' (from Hofstadter) that appears to work in most ways except it isn't immortal."

Another, in Douglas Adams. Dirk Gently has an innovative take on a similar idea, impermanence of both the soul and godhood.

Darrell E said...

It's damn near pointless to discuss things like souls and freewill unless the participants rather precisely define what they mean by those terms.

Daniel Duffy, my eyes damn near rolled out of my head. I must admit that I do feel an urge to discuss atheism, souls, freewill, gods, etc., with you but it just seems like too much work for too little return at the moment. I think you've out galloped Gish himself.

progressbot said...

It's elementary my dear Darrell.

There can be only two ways, two options of how to discuss zat things. Materialistic and Idealistic.

If you took materialistic pill. It means all that stuff is totally moot. There is *no* souls. And no free will (and any idealistic ideas of duality or quantum something... also moot) in *no* metaphorical/mystical/metaphysical way. Just atoms and their "free will".

But if you choose to discuss souls and stuff anyway.
It just mean that you become mistaken and took another pill from zat Morpheus. ;)
And there can be any narcotic trip...
But sadly, narcotic trips correlate badly as with reality (by obvious reasons), as with trips of any other person.
That's why there will never be enough people to agree completely on that idealistic matters. ;)

Mike Will said...

There's a cool summer program for researchers in AI and/or Spaceflight at NASA's Frontier Development Lab (partnership of NASA Ames and SETI institute). I applied even though I'm not at all qualified (others in here probably are). I thought maybe they'd like someone around from the dawn of this stuff (Forth, early SETI, radio astronomy, etc) -- maybe a mentor or a even a memento :) You only get old once you stop trying.


https://frontierdevelopmentlab.org

progressbot said...

Done.

raito said...

Dr.Brin,

Your four-times-as-smart dog wouldn't need a companion like a dog any more than you need one. And if he did, he'd have you.

LarryHart,

It's nearly as though you think that religion allows individuals the fallacy of separation from the oppression they do to others (it's not ME doing it, GOD wants it, not my fault).

Duncan Carincross,

Re: soul

Buddhists see souls everywhere (and if you look at it right, the Shintoists see even more). Though there is the problem of where they came from in the first place, and where do more come from?

jim said...

Before and after Nietzche announced to the world that Europeans had given up their belief in the Christian God they were all part of Gaia.

The meaning and purpose that living beings have is because of the relationships they have with other living beings.


And atheist like to imagine themselves as bravely facing a cold dead meaningless universe (all while living on a warm, wet,world filled with living beings who have meaning and purpose in their lives.)

Treebeard said...

I'd say that when you try to analyze things like souls, spirits and gods rationally, demanding definitions before you can even have a conversation, you are missing the point and using the wrong methodology. Do you prefer to analyze music, or listen to it?

progressbot said...

Well, TiBi, than spill the bean. Tell us about your spiritual experience(s)?
Was it from burning bush? Or maybe some dead president talked to you from greens? ;)

Music also based on science. Acoustics, didn't you know?
And it's Pythagoras who discovered musical tunes. Et cetera, et cetera.

So. Can you lay on the table something more than that shallow folk mysticism of yours?


>> jim said...

What's your point, Jim?
Do you know about effect called "lost faith in own eternal soul"?

Jon S. said...

Atheism does not necessarily lead to destructive nihilism. To quote Penn, "Without a God, I'm free to commit as much murder, theft, and rape as I choose. And the amount I choose is zero."

Personally, I feel better when I'm nice to people, and that has the added benefit that the majority of them are nice to me back. I distrust those who are only helpful and generous because they believe that Deity-of-Choice will punish them if they're not. (Those are the people who'd run out of control if they didn't have Fear of God holding them back, I think.)

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

To quote Penn, "Without a God, I'm free to commit as much murder, theft, and rape as I choose. And the amount I choose is zero."


The opposite is also true, which is the point I've been hinting at. "I'm free to commit as much murder, theft, and rape as God wants me to."

Of course, God doesn't command you to do those things in the general case. But against infidels or other enemies of God's? The 9/11 hijackers thought they were doing God's will. The Westboro Church a-holes who picket at soldiers' funerals think they're doing God's will. God is as much an excuse for evil as He is a barrier against it.

Treebeard said...

Progressbot, not really, no. Mysticism isn't really about explaining things with language or "putting things on the table". It's an experience of something beyond that. Remember when Spock sensed an intelligence from across space and abandoned his quest for Kolinahr, eventually coming face to face with V'ger? I guess it's something like that.

Zepp Jamieson said...

CP said: ""Complex" life and multicellular life are not synonymous. And, there are several different facets..."

Thank you for that. I was oversimplifying. I suspect you're right, and that the development of sexual reproduction is the camel's gate for evolution.

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

Personally, I feel better when I'm nice to people,


There are definitely "two kinds of people in the world" here. I'm one of you, who feels better about helping others feel better. Not everyone is like that. There are human beings who feel better knowing that they can get away with causing other people harm. That's what the 1984 image of a boot stomping on the upturned face of humanity was all about. To those people, the boot on the face is an end in itself.

Maybe Republicans think people are basically evil and Democrats think people are basically good because they each project themselves on their image of humanity.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Progressbot: "More complex life was not possible, before oxygen "poisoning", I presume. ;)
So, that way, our extracting carbon deposits and polluting with dioxide... can be just needed pre-stage for further evolution step. ;)"

Oxygen is a far more effective catalyst for cellular functions than is CO2. It would be a step back, evolutionarily speaking.

Larry Hart said...

Treebeard:

Remember when Spock sensed an intelligence from across space and abandoned his quest for Kolinahr, eventually coming face to face with V'ger?


So popular movies are legitimate fiction to allude to in order to make a point, but comics are not?

Help me out here. What's the difference?

Robert said...

Just as a quick heads up, internet video content company Rooster Teeth is offering all of its FIRST-exclusive content available to everyone during April 1st (as the company started up on April 1, 2003). So the science fiction anime gen:LOCK which I recommended to you guys is currently free for perusal in its entirety.

It's also being shown on Crunchyroll.

Rob H.

progressbot said...

Treebeard, seriously, do I need to verbalize to you that simple thing known even to pre-schooler?
If something cannot be described in language, even vaguely. It's as good as non-existent.

In mysticism, for you to known, bold and open claims is the same important, as it important in science.
It differ in structure. But how'd we know about "gods" at all. If some shamans of ancient times would not come to such extents as to try to explain their vague experiences... verbally?
Why it's so important in every religion, or even small cult. To have Scriptures, ah?

Alfred Differ said...

Progressbot,

Stupid trick. Because it immediately makes off the hook all the sinners.

Nah. It’s a neat argument in the sense that it is tidy. Not ‘neat’ as in ‘something I like’, but ‘neat’ as in ‘deals with loose ends’. The word ‘neat’ is heavily overloaded in English. Arguments that leave few loose ends tend to attract adherents and I can see how this one would. It doesn’t draw me in, but then I don’t believe in a religious completed infinity. I don’t feel the need for it.

As for justifications used by sinners, I’ve noticed over the years that it doesn’t matter much where one lands on the question of whether God exists. Both sides have some people who rationalize their behaviors and say they are off the hook. It’s been a few years since I read it, but I recall a rather chilling scene in one of Philip Pullman’s books where a priest could be preemptively absolved of a sin. Are there real-life versions of this? No doubt, though they might not involve an official Church in recent decades. Maybe. 8)

Rationalization is what it is and I view it as orthogonal to most of the academic debates involving religion and ‘big questions’. Human beings latch on to almost anything to explain themselves, but I think that is just a fact of life. We seldom reason out what we do ex ante, so when we are called upon to explain, it is likely an ex post facto story.

David Brin said...

Roadside Picnic.

Hard to Be A Good was the best explanation of Marxist teleology I ever read.

Alfred Differ said...

Yana,

Depending on the species of the infinity du jour…

Heh. Yah. Is He a natural number type of infinity or a power set of the natural numbers type of infinity? Or the next power set… or the next? Mathematics is such a rich language it’s a wonder our heads don’t explode.

Ants were mentioned upstream. I can see the point of that description, but I don’t think it works for us. A college student might grasp quantum mechanics theories in a year… or two… or four depending on their talent and diligence. An ant won’t. Ever. No matter how many of them work together to try. In this sense, humans are an infinity step above them. I think Christians would place God that much further away from us too, however, if they read Cantor, I think they might realize how silly they sound to some of us.

I never found a good reason why only one pronoun is regularly capitalized

The only explanation I ever found was from when I was young and then I never tried to test it to confirm it. ‘He’ gets capitalized for the same reason proper names do. ‘I’ gets capitalized because of Genesis 1:27.

Part of why I never tried to test it is it seemed to me that there should be a male and female ‘I’ where only the male version gets capitalized in a sentence if that part of Genesis is read to imply man instead of Man. That seemed like an interesting etymology problem. However, modern English has only one and I decided it was socially safer to take that as a sign of equality whether intended or not. It was my mother’s obvious if unstated preference. 8)

David Brin said...

Space Mowgli was interesting. Notice the common theme that aliens cannot be understood... unless they are humanoid.

Darrell E said...

jim said...

"And atheist like to imagine themselves as bravely facing a cold dead meaningless universe (all while living on a warm, wet,world filled with living beings who have meaning and purpose in their lives.)"

They do? Funny. I'm an atheist and I don't imagine myself like that at all. I know lots of other atheists and none of them seem to either. Or was that dry sarcasm?

Treebeard,

So, a lack of clarity is to be preferred? You need that in order to . . ., what? Maintain a certain level of comfort with dissonance? I didn't say a conversation couldn't be had, I said it would be pointless. If I want an aesthetically pleasing experience or deeply moving experience of any kind, discussing souls, freewill, gods, etc. is not my first choice.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I recall a rather chilling scene in one of Philip Pullman’s books where a priest could be preemptively absolved of a sin. Are there real-life versions of this?


There's the theoretical pre-emptive pardon. We could see that case come up in short order.


No doubt, though they might not involve an official Church in recent decades. Maybe. 8)


There's a line of Cardinal Richelieu's that I clearly remember from the 1970s Three Musketeers movies. It was actually a warrant that the cardinal had written out for Milady DeWinter, but it ended up coming back to haunt him in a different context:

By my hand, and for the good of the state, the bearer has done what has been done.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Human beings latch on to almost anything to explain themselves, but I think that is just a fact of life. We seldom reason out what we do ex ante, so when we are called upon to explain, it is likely an ex post facto story.


That's why our court system is adversarial. It's not a question of whether one side can produce an argument in its favor--they almost always can. It's a question of which side's presentation is more convincing.

progressbot said...

See. It's exactly that... what makes it so hard to me. To treat seriously your claims about Russia/RFia.

It's "Hard to Be A God". God... not good. Like in Asimov's "The Gods Themselves". How it would look like if it be spelled "Goods Themselves"? like story about some dusty storehouse?

\\best explanation of Marxist teleology

Well. That was USSR times. And that ideas was a *must*. As to be allowed by external censure, as well as internal.
The same way as in your American science fiction it was (and is?) common place, that E.T. would be glad to trade. All that stories about "dirty merchants" in their space ships. :)

Well, they tried to believe in that stuff, honestly. But also, they was able to overcame all false of "communistic teachings", and for that deserve some respect at least...
Well, it's post-soviet, and mostly russian stuff. Without them there'd be no "russian scifi". It's like you without Asimov...

There was films by that.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_to_Be_a_God_(2013_film)
and older one
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_to_Be_a_God_(1989_film)

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"I never found a good reason why only one pronoun is regularly capitalized"

The only explanation I ever found was from when I was young and then I never tried to test it to confirm it. ‘He’ gets capitalized for the same reason proper names do. ‘I’ gets capitalized because of Genesis 1:27.


I always felt it to be because "I" takes the place of a proper name, but then so do most of the other singular personal pronouns, so I don't know what the difference is. I don't see that Genesis 1:27 clarifies anything in that sense.

I wonder if it's as simple as "The lowercase letter i as a word all by itself looks stupid."

jim said...

Darrell
I probably should have said nihilistic atheists,
I wouldn't say I was being sarcastic, more teasing of the self contradicting point of view of nihilistic atheists.

David Brin said...

Pilgrims used "thee" and "thou" when speaking to a single person but "you" for more than one"... or else the Lord, who got the royal "we" ... and they got in trouble for refusal to refer to the king as plural.

A.F. Rey said...

This is also known as the "ghost in the machine" fallacy, the quaint belief that there is a ghostly "self" somewhere inside the brain that interprets and directs its operations.

I was thinking about what the computer analogy of this would be. My answer is the avatar.

After all, the avatar has an outside intelligence that directs its actions, just like a soul would direct ours. We take in all the input from the avatar and make decisions for it. So by the "ghost in the machine" reasoning, only avatars have "free will" since they have a soul, and we don't since we don't have souls.

Of course, that is ridiculous on the face of it. The avatar has absolutely no free will, only doing what we direct it to do. Which brings up the question: if we have souls which allow us "free will," then how does our souls get "free will?" How do they make decisions, so that they can tell our bodies what we think? Wouldn't they have to have an analogous system like the human brain to make decisions? Or do they have their own souls to direct them?

Once you start down that rabbit hole, you either end up with souls that have no "free will," or "it's turtles all the way down." :)

An easier solution would be to come up with another definition of free will. :)

A.F. Rey said...

OK, and now for the nerds in us all (care of P.Z. Myers' Pharyngula)...

The tactical mistakes in the Battle of Wakanda:

https://angrystaffofficer.com/2019/03/31/military-lessons-learned-from-the-battle-of-wakanda/

(No, the premise wasn't the only thing stupid in the movie. :))

Duncan Cairncross said...

Why is "Free Will" difficult?

When you get down to the small scale nothing is deterministic - everything is probabilistic

When the Viking probe was being tested it's "identical" computers were tested and the one that worked best was appointed as the boss - and those were SIMPLE computers

If you make two identical humans right down to the atomic level in exactly the same environment they will start diverge as soon a they are created

We can see from evolution how random chance and a "filter" can together be incredibly creative is that not a good analogy for "Free Will"?

Mike Will said...

Well this was just a matter of time - prisoners' minds being harnessed for processing power. The ethics of AI get more complex by the day.


https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/28/18285572/prison-labor-finland-artificial-intelligence-data-tagging-vainu

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

I don't see that Genesis 1:27 clarifies anything in that sense.

Well... it was the explanation I came up with as a kid. If we capitalize God and we are made in his image, we capitalize the first person, self-referencing pronoun. It's flawed, though, because I don't capitalize 'me' as the object of a sentence, right? Ah well... Another childhood theory shot down. 8)

I wonder if it's as simple as "The lowercase letter i as a word all by itself looks stupid."

I don't see it. Spanish speakers seem to have no issue with 'y' as a word. Using 'i' as a word does look stupid, but that's just how most of us deal with syntax. My mother was explicit about it. She couldn't tell me why it was wrong to put a preposition at the end of a sentence, but she knew it was because it felt weird and she fully intended to teach me that same intuitive feel for it. Ever since I twist myself around to say 'About what is it that you care?' instead of 'What is it that you care about?'

David Brin said...

... up with which I shall not put...

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

It's flawed, though, because I don't capitalize 'me' as the object of a sentence, right? Ah well... Another childhood theory shot down. 8)


That was exactly my point. If we capitalize "I" because we're created in God's image, then why not "me", "he", or "him", not to mention "we", "us", "you". Even if girls don't count (a theory I don't subscribe to), that's still a lot of masculine pronouns that make as much sense to capitalize as "I".

To me, it feels like there was a good reason for it, but I certainly can't justify that feeling objectively.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Ever since I twist myself around to say 'About what is it that you care?' instead of 'What is it that you care about?'


The comedic solution is "What is it you care about, bitch?"

I wouldn't suggest using that one on your mother, though.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I suspect that we capitalise "I" simply because the lower case "i" is so small it could be easily lost

Mike Will said...

I just can't picture "i, Robot"

Larry Hart said...

@Mike Will,

Heh. But it would be capitalized in a title, regardless. Or at the start of a sentence.

Marco said...

I am extremely skeptical of this supposed room temperature superconductor. If you Google the inventor's name, you'll see he also has filed patents for an "inertial mass reduction device" and a "gravitational wave generator".
The fact that he put "United States of America as represented by the Secretary of the Navy" on the patent is a nice touch, but I doubt this guy has anything to do with the navy at all.

Treebeard said...

If something cannot be described in language, even vaguely. It's as good as non-existent.

Progressbot, I totally disagree with this. It's probably the #1 error of Western thought. It gives people crazy ideas, like reducing human minds or all of reality to computer code. Mysticism is interesting because it reminds people that reality is bigger than their language, models, math, measurements or scriptures. As for scriptures, mystics don't rely on texts; they transmit experiences.

progressbot said...

TiBi, I didn't said "it non-existent". But "as good as non-existent". So your contre-argument is moot.

\\like reducing human minds or all of reality to computer code.

and reducing us to be mere slaves of some non-existent, non-effecting thing... is not crazy? How??? :)

\\they transmit experiences.

And how do they do it? Can you describe it? In words. :P

\\Mysticism is interesting because it reminds people that reality is bigger than their language, models, math, measurements or scriptures.

thou forth the people who have eyes, but be blind... thou forth the people who have ears, but be deaf...

language *is* bigger than language, models *are* bigger than models, math *is* bigger than math...


\\mystics don't rely on texts

Yep. Cabbalists for example do not search for "name of god"... or they not mystics, not real mystics... because All Knowing TiBi says so. :)))

Not knowing Sci well, you trying to hide your ignorance trying to blubber about "mystic stuff",
but only show your zero knowledge and there too. :)))


>> David Brin said...
\\Space Mowgli was interesting. Notice the common theme that aliens cannot be understood... unless they are humanoid.

I presume it was coined by Lem. In his Solaris.
Good observation, I don't know myself, why in soviet scifi was so big problem with aliens.
Was it because some dogmas. Or it is just not true (Strugatsky's have some non-human aliens, like Golovans or reptile-like Leonidan, etc)

Well, when I think about it... you could be quite close to them. In ideals.
Take your Postman... but place there instead of your main hero, some alien, wise and benevolent, and trying to help people. Or some time traveler, sent hundred, two hundred or more years ago.
Wouldn't it be quite the same as in "Its hard to be a God"???


>> Duncan Cairncross said...

Bulls eye!

Larry Hart said...

A.F. Rey:

So by the "ghost in the machine" reasoning, only avatars have "free will" since they have a soul, and we don't since we don't have souls.


You've totally confused me.

In your analogy, aren't we the souls that the avatars "have"? If you think of the soul as separate from the avatar, then it is our free will that the avatar acts upon, not its own. If you think if "body and soul" as the same entity, then the avatar and the human controller have the same free will.

I don't understand the analogy that says the slave has free will, but the master doesn't because the master isn't a slave.

A.F. Rey said...

I don't understand the analogy that says the slave has free will, but the master doesn't because the master isn't a slave.

From what I understand of the "ghost in the machine" concept, our free wills do not come from our physical brains but from some "soul" that interacts with our brains and allows us to choose freely. If it is only our brains that make choices, then they are subject to computational inputs/outputs; in other words, our choices are predetermined depending on the inputs, and thus negates our ability to choose freely. GitM means we needs something exterior to the brain in order to take the inputs and "freely" choose our course--"free will."

So the closest computer analogy would be an avatar, which has a "soul" (the user) to make the decisions that are not predetermined computations. Thus we could say that avatars have "free will."

But, of course, as you say, they are just slaves to the "soul" (the user), and have NO free will at all.

So if the only reason we have free will is because we have a soul that makes our decisions, then we are just slaves to our souls. The Self we see in the mirror is no more our "real" selves than an avatar we see in a game.

But then that brings up the question of how the "soul," which we need to have free will, makes its decisions. Doesn't that soul need something similar? If not, wouldn't it also just take in inputs and use some algorithm to come to a conclusion, just like we supposed our brains to do when we said it had no free will? Which means our souls have no free will, unless they have souls to make their decisions. Which only pushes the question to the next soul...

So if you take the "ghost in the machine" argument at it's face value, the only people with free will are those who have a soul to make their decisions. But by analogy, that means the only computer "characters" who have free will are those who have people running them--avatars.

But of course, avatars don't have free will; they are just puppets of the people who control them. Therefore, people who have souls that give them free will don't have free will, only the souls that control them have free will.

But then, what gives their souls free will? It can't just make its own decisions; that would be just like a brain without a soul. So it must have a soul, too. But then how does the soul's soul make its decisions...? If you keep following the logic, you get an infinite recursion. Turtles all the way down.

Does this make it any clearer?

progressbot said...

\\If it is only our brains that make choices, then they are subject to computational inputs/outputs;

There is two types of cybernetic devices (and humans by no means *are* cybernetic dev... entities):
simple schema -- which output depends from input, and only from input (well, there could be some glithes),
and schema with memory.

That's it.
Cybernetics its science which exist almost 100 years by now...

Larry Hart said...

@A.F. Rey:

Does this make it any clearer?


Sort of. I see where you're coming from, but not sure I agree on the particulars. As so often happens here, my disagreement may be a semantic one.


So if the only reason we have free will is because we have a soul that makes our decisions, then we are just slaves to our souls. The Self we see in the mirror is no more our "real" selves than an avatar we see in a game.


See, to me, if souls are a thing, then we are our souls. I agree then that the body is like an avatar in a game, but I see no sense in the assertion "we are just slaves to our souls." The body (the slave) is not "we". The soul is "we".


But then, what gives their souls free will? It can't just make its own decisions; that would be just like a brain without a soul. So it must have a soul, too.


I'm afraid I still don't understand how you get there, and "there" is kinda the crux of your entire argument.

How is that different from, "A driver can't make its own decisions; that would be just like a car without a driver. So it [the driver] must have a driver too"? Which is nonsense.

progressbot said...

\\I'm afraid I still don't understand how you get there

Question is... do you WANT to understand?

For believers "to understand" means "to lost their faith". And I'm not that cruel, to try to do it deliberately.

So, do I need to answer your questions? Try to make you understand?

David Brin said...

Hard to be a God goes to one of the most fundamental fantasy tropes, seen in almost all cultures... rescuing the good prince so he can become a good king. But how to use that trope, when the Strugatskys worked in a Communist -dogmatic state that disapproved of monarchy?

Simple. Rescuing the prince is a way to help the natives rise above something worse than monarchy... feudal lords (boyars). By Marxist teleology, monarchy is a GOOD phase if it advances technology and trade and law above feudalism. Then monarchy is a beneficial stage in class development. This reasoning allowed the communists to co-opt Ivan and Peter the Great and Catherine and Alexander Nevsky as heroic figures and not brutal oppressors.

Likewise, when monarchy had achieved its purpose, allowing a bourgeoisie to develop industry and commerce, bourgeoise revolution was a good and necessary -- if temporary -- phase. Though this caused Lenin some discomfort, since his need for absolute power conflicted with the obvious fact that Russia needed capitalists.

A.F. Rey said...

See, to me, if souls are a thing, then we are our souls. I agree then that the body is like an avatar in a game, but I see no sense in the assertion "we are just slaves to our souls." The body (the slave) is not "we". The soul is "we".

I'll agree to that on semantic grounds. :) If your soul is your "you," the argument still applies to "you." How can "you" have free will if "you" don't have an outside intelligence giving you free will? Otherwise you are just a machine, with inputs and calculations that produce an output--just like if you were a brain in a body.

How is that different from, "A driver can't make its own decisions; that would be just like a car without a driver. So it [the driver] must have a driver too"? Which is nonsense.

Actually, "it is nonsense" is the point I was trying to make.

If the premise of an argument leads to obvious nonsense, then the premise is probably wrong. "Free will can only be had by an outside source" is nonsense, because it makes those who don't have intelligence except by an outside source the only ones with free will, and it begs the question (I admit that I may be using that wrong) of where the outside intelligence gets its free will if it doesn't have an outside intelligence itself.

It's not that the car needs a driver. It's that the car needs a car. GinM says that intelligence needs a guiding intelligence to have free will. But if the guiding intelligence doesn't have a guiding intelligence, how can it have free will to provide to the original, unguided intelligence? ;)

jim said...

Otherwise you are just a machine, with inputs and calculations that produce an output--

A F Rey - that statement is false. You seem to think that thinking is some kind of deterministic process, it is not.
You can give me a set of inputs but you will not be able to predict in a deterministic fashion what I will do.

kvs said...

About the capitalization of I, the article (https://www.dictionary.com/e/whycapitali/) has a good take on it. The short answer: we don't know. The slightly longer answer: The word 'i' was not capitalized when it was the word 'ic' and it seemed to get larger once it became a single letter. It looks like it was capitalized to make it more prominent.

Larry Hart said...

A. F. Rey:

"Free will can only be had by an outside source" is nonsense, because it makes those who don't have intelligence except by an outside source the only ones with free will, and it begs the question (I admit that I may be using that wrong) of where the outside intelligence gets its free will if it doesn't have an outside intelligence itself.


I think I see. You're arguing something along the lines of "If everything must have a creator, then who created God?"

I think that I'm failing to understand why free-will requires an outside source. In what I perceive as your construct, the soul doesn't give free will to the body--the soul is what has free will. It makes use of the body to execute that will. When you rhetorically ask what "gives" the soul its free will, I get lost.

Here's where I think some confusion is coming from. You say the brain can't possibly have free will because its will is determined by its perceptions. The example I like to give is that if my brain knows that the temperature outside is -20 F, I don't want to strip naked, douse myself with water, and then go out for a jog. The way you seem to be looking at the situation is that I am not free to want to go outside wet and naked. The way I look at it is that I am free not to do that.

If a 1984 type government was out to torture me, they could conceivably force me out there, but absent such coercion, I have the free will to choose to stay warm and dry indoors. I find it absurd to require the definition of free will to include the ability to do precisely what I freely wish to avoid.

David Smelser said...


Instead of making semantic arguements, why not make predictions about what would be different if there were "souls" and "free will" vs they don't existing and then run the experiment? And if you can't come up with an experiment that predicts different results, then what difference does it make whether these things exist or not?

Consider: female asian students score differently on math tests if they are primed before the test to think of themselves as asian vs think of themselves as female. If something like priming can result in statitically different math test results, what does that say (if anything) about the existance of free will to score high on a math test?

A.F. Rey said...

First off, let me make clear I am not defending the Ghost in the Machine idea. I find it rather ludicrous. I just thought it was amusing that the closest you could come to the ideal of the idea in computers would be an avatar--a soulless slave that would be consider to have free will because it had a "soul" (the user).

I agree with you somewhat, jim, that thinking is not a deterministic process. I consider it more of a chaotic process, where there are deterministic processing going on, but non-linearly and with feedbacks, so that without the initial conditions and precise measurements of all the inputs in both time and intensity, there is no way to predict the precise outcome.

But my impression of the Ghost in the Machine idea is that it does consider thinking as deterministic, and therefore precluded from having "free will."

I think this answers your question, too, Larry. If the behavior is determined by inputs, regardless of how elaborate the process of deciding the behavior is, then it is not "free will," according to the GitM idea. It is "predetermined," whether we humans can predetermine it beforehand or not. It requires an outside entity--the soul--in order to supplant, or at least override, the internal processes of the brain to achieve true "free will."

A machine can think, make seemingly arbitrary decisions, and consider different outcomes, but still will only be a machine without a "soul" to make the final choice.

And then, yes, it is a variation of the "who created God" quandary. Ultimately, there has to be a final "soul" that does not rely on another "soul" to give it true volition. But then we are stuck with the same processes (or algorithms) that precluded the brain from having "free will." The GitM idea ultimately gets stuck in its own definition and simply proves there is no free will at all.

David Brin said...

Great discussion.

Only now it is time to move

onward

progressbot said...

>> David Brin said...
\\Great discussion.

And what's so great in it?

People just don't know basic cybernetics and trying to invent something instead of it... in futile hope to leave "soul" on its place.

A.F. Rey said...

And what's wrong with being a soul man?

As Steely Dan once wrote:

Hey, nineteen,
That's 'Retha Franklin.
She don't remember Queen of Soul.
It's hard times befallen soul survivors.
She thinks I'm crazy, but I'm just growing old...
:)