Re: Why do we seek to transcend ourselves?

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon Jul 15 2002 - 06:55:23 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> Someone just asked me this question in a private e-mail:
> ***
> P.S, I have always wondered one thing, if i may ask you this?
> Why do we as humans, feel the need to create something with the possibility
> of being much greater than us? interms of Intelligence and awareness (And
> even possibly, in Physical Strength.) I figured I would ask you this,
> because you are a scientist
> ***

Because intelligence is the way to solve all problems. So whatever it
is you want to do, you can do it most effectively with intelligence.
The Singularity is a subgoal of everything. That's my reason.

> I think the motivation is a combination of a number of factors, including
> but not limited to:
> 1) We are evolutionarily programmed to seek greater intelligence. This is
> not an odd assertion, it probably goes along with the trajectory of
> increasing intelligence that has resulted in the creation of humans from
> primates...

Introspectively, I can see several adaptations that appreciate
intelligence when it's presented (i.e., "That's wicked clever.")
There's also emotional support for excelling at competition, whether
that competition takes the form of physical strength or intelligence.
But I don't know that I can see an drive to actually explicitly seek
greater intelligence. I'm not sure we have any built-in definition of
"intelligence" - just a lot of little adaptations that look at various
things that happen to be intelligent and make them pleasurable to
behold. I'm not sure that any of these translate into a long-term
drive. I'm not sure we have adapted support for lifelong romances with
intelligence, as opposed to just brief flings - although of course many
Western philosophies call for such a romance.

You're right that it's not odd to postulate it, but having postulated
it, I don't actually see it.

Although it may be noteworthy in this connection that many men and women
list "intelligence" as a primary requisite in a desirable mate; some of
the women and a few of the men may even have been non-self-deceptive
about this.

> 2) Perhaps there is some kind of trans-human force in the universe that
> pushes toward the creation of greater intelligence, and humanity itself is
> just a manifestation of this (this is a "self-organizational" rather than
> strictly "evolutionary" answer)

Do you have support for this hypothesis of which I am unaware? Because
with the support I currently see, I wouldn't have rated this as being
worth a mention in your reply. (Unfortunately the human mind seems
designed to accept wishful thinking as "support" - but it's not.)

> 3) There is a kind of existential/emotional lack most humans feel
> internally, which causes them to reach out for something greater than
> themselves, be it a God or a future superintelligent being

Or it's just a spandrel of our emotional setup that we find the
hypothesis of a God appealing when it's presented, so if even one person
comes up with the idea, the meme propagates. You don't need to
hypothesize an actual reaching out. And it seems pretty straightforward
that people would be comforted by the thought of a supernatural being
looking out for their interests, especially in the afterlife. It's more
subjectively pleasant to think about. An unfortunate byproduct of our
motivational architecture is that pleasant thoughts tend to be
reinforced at the expense of painful thoughts for reasons orthogonal to
their truth or falsity.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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