Re: Metarationality (was: JOIN: Alden Streeter)

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Sat Aug 24 2002 - 02:50:50 MDT

Mitch Howe wrote:
> The problem I continue to have with this recurring debate is that ultimately
> even the most rational thoughts stem from something that is hardwired. I
> totally agree that it is better to have positions that are the conclusions
> of clearly describable logical reasoning. But, in the end, "Because it will
> enhance my overall understanding of the universe" might be of no more cosmic
> significance than, "Because it will stimulate my pleasure centers."

Well, the problem with what you said is the presumption that
there is any such thing as "cosmic significance". The problem
of choosing between alternatives only becomes tractable when we
start from the position of signficance only being definable
relative to ourselves (for some size of sentient grouping), not
to the cosmos.

> who are doing things for this second cause will rarely give you a sound
> argument that identifies this motive, which merely indicates the unconscious
> hotwiring of internal reasoning that we call rationalization... But if they
> did, would you be impressed? Is reading a book on cognitive science really
> any more rational than shooting up on heroin if the drug user impeccably
> explains his reasoning?

Rational, like "significant" is only meaningful in context. It
is not meaningful to use it as a free-floating abstraction.

> In other words, it's not the unwillingness of some to use logic as a metric
> that scares me, but rather the possibility that no supergoals are inherently
> better than any others.

Again, there is no such thing as inherent or cosmic "better" or
"more significant" or "more rational". All of these are
contextually meaningful only. It is one of the worse legacies
of religion dominated philosophy that many are infected with the
meme of only Absolutes really being real or of value or of
significance. From this it follows that many believe that if
there is no Absolute Value or Absolute Valuer then there is no
value. Which of course does not follow at all.

After all, even the most noble altruistic urge, no

Who said altruism was the measure of nobility?

> matter how stripped away from the ancestral instinct that originally gave
> rise to that pattern of behavior, is still the result of a process native to
> the particular hardware design of the person harboring it. "Because it
> makes the world a better place." is really just a variation of "because it
> makes me feel good," even if it has a deeper, less obvious path leading to
> it. Hence, it's the psychological egoism pit that I fall into, not the fog
> of self-mistrust.

No, it is not just a variant of "it makes me feel good".

> And I have trouble seeing why an SI seeking the True Meaning of Friendliness
> wouldn't reach the same conclusion, as much as I hope otherwise. I tried
> (with equal incomprehensibility) to describe this dilemma in the closing
> hours of this month's SL4 chat. I just have this sad image of a
> superintelligence looking over the hopeful, expectant masses of humanity: a
> mind alone with the awful and certain knowledge that Friendliness is a red
> herring -- that the perception of goal A's inherent superiority over goal B
> is really just a product of cerebral process X... no more remarkable than
> processes A through W, and, in a cosmic context, really very silly. In such
> a future, I have difficulty seeing why I should care if the SI somehow
> stimulates my process X directly rather than bringing about an environment
> where "natural" triggerings of process X are maximized. After all, says
> this vision, its really just a neurotransmitter thing anyway. The universe
> doesn't care about my human sense of good and evil.

So you believe that nothing at all is meaningful in the least
and you might as well be a cow turd in the street as a human
being heh? You might as well be dying form starvation as
uploaded and on your way to Alpha Centauri. Or your preferences
don't "mean" anything. But why should they? Isn't that it is
your preference and that of many sufficient reason to judge it
as better when your preferences are workable and acheived and
worse when they are not? All that is necessary to give
direction to a line of valuation is a set of things that are
valued. They don't have to be valued by the entire Universe and
all imaginable creatures forever and ever in order to be values.
What need is there to make faint-headed diagnosis of whether
your noblest ideals are the product of your current mix of
stomach acids as long as they do in fact lead to a better, in
the strictly contextual terms where "better" has any meaning?
It is part of post-modern funk to assume that because everything
is contextual that it is thus all arbitrary and there are no
ways of measuring one thing against another. It is a rot upon
our minds.

The universe has no ability to "care". We do.

- samantha

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