RE: Why do we seek to transcend ourselves?

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Mon Jul 15 2002 - 07:37:46 MDT

> 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.

We have seen that a Zen Abbot does not consider it to be a subgoal of
Enlightenment, his goal

Also, within the world-view of the average American, the Singularity is not
really perceived as a subgoal of their main goals of "a house, a good car,
an attractive & supportive mate and a nice batch of kids." Rather, the
Singularity -- if it's presented to them -- is perceived by them as
something weird and scary that leads away from this goal into an unknown

But, within your perspective, I can see that you're correct (and your
perspective is close to mine...)

> > 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 think this drive exists, and is an abstraction from several more
particular drives, including the drive to compete, the drive to find an
optimal mate, to seek social status, etc. etc.

I do not think it's one of our more powerful drives, however

> 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.

This is not typically self-deception in my view; the majority of men or
women whom I know would genuinely be unsatisfied with a partner
significantly less intelligent than themselves. However, this is really a
side point in the current conversation.

> > 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.)

This is not the sort of hypothesis for which one can list a few items of
individually convincing evidence.

For a good depiction of this point of view, see Eric Jantsch's book, "The
Self-Organizing Universe." It's not that current, but the basic ideas are
still just as valid as ever, in my view.

> > 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.

My hypothesis is that the modern human psyche generically contains a certain
lack, a feeling of emptiness. Obviously this is far from an original idea!
It's been called many things -- a feeling of aloneness, meaninglessness,
purposelessness, existential angst...

Some have claimed this is a consequence of modern civilized society and its
mismatch with our evolutionary programming, which may well be the case -- I
suspect it is *largely* but not entirely the case, and that primitive
peoples also feel something like this, but more weakly, perhaps partly as a
consequence of the mismatch between their own culture and their evolutionary

This emptiness inside is something almost all humans feel sometimes, to some
degree, and there is a natural attraction in the human psyche to things that
give the feeling of completeness and wholeness, of "having the gap filled

Historically, hypotheses of a greater life or world to come have proved to
have a lot of power in filling in this gap in the human psyche. The
hypothesis of a future in which there are greater intelligences than us,
solving all our problems and then some, would seem to fit into this pattern

I don't claim that this is *all* of the motivation that humans have for
seeking to create a greater intelligence, but I think that it is *some* of

-- ben g

  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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