Re: continuity of self

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Tue Sep 17 2002 - 13:50:31 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> Let's not get into one of *those* squabbles again!!

And, once again, your use of the phrase "one of *those* squabbles"
indicates a view of morality, and of what issues are important within
morality, that differs very strongly from mine (this is an Eliezer code
phrase for "contains gaping logical flaws"), along with a very different
idea of what is socially acceptable and what constitutes a "squabble". In
my view, the phrase "your idea contains a gaping logical flaw" is
constructive, useful, and helpful, while the phrase "your outlook is very
different from mine" is useless and, in fact, seems more destructively
exploiting someone's social brainware at the expense of their rationality.
  It brings into play a social view of opinions as tools for building
political concordancy within a tribe, so that tolerance is a virtue
because it enables people to get along. Which messes up what could
otherwise have been a Bayesian weighing of evidence.

And this is part of what it means for me to have an outlook that really
*is* different from yours, as opposed to one that involves a couple of
agreed-upon disagreements.

> Don't worry, I fully accept that you have an outlook that is very
> different from mine.
> And each of us has an outlook very different from that of the average
> American!

Ben, you would be a better person if you deleted the word "different" from
your vocabulary and spent one month using only "better" and "worse". Not
a different person. A *better* person.

>> For that matter, I could also be tortured until I considered ending
>> the pain to be the most important thing in the universe. So what?
> Hmmm. Are you volunteering?? ;-D

Not unless it constitutes a net benefit to the Singularity, and I don't
see how it would.

> Ok, let's compare
> A) the way some people live: In a Bombay alleyway, with a couple of
> limbs cut off by their parents in their early youth because limbless
> kids make better beggars, eating trash off the street and with a gut
> full of diseases
> B) The way I live at the moment -- in a nice house up in the mountains,
> with a great family, doing work I really enjoy, surrounded by fun toys
> like synthesizers, pianos, trampolines, etc.
> I'm not wealthy by any means, at the moment I'm sorta financially
> struggling, but I still say I'm living a lot better than the folks in
> case A). I think "vastly better" is a fair description, and I think
> that the folks in case A) would very likely agree if the question were
> posed to them.

Ben, is giving two comparisons from *your* own culture (your culture is
"21st century Earth", btw) really the best way to arrive at an accurate

Here, let me rephrase your question as it applies, say, 50,000 years ago:

A) the way some people live: in a tribal savannah, with diseases, wolves,
in total ignorance, a life of constant hardship and danger and worst of
all politics, with no air conditioning, penicillin, CD players, Internet
access, or the prospect of actually living through the Singularity, plus
they don't have any good fruit trees;

B) the way some other people live: in a tribal savannah, with diseases,
wolves, in total ignorance, a life of constant hardship and danger and
worst of all politics, with no air conditioning, penicillin, CD players,
Internet access, or the prospect of actually living through the
Singularity; *but* they have some good fruit trees nearby, unlike the poor
saps who live across the river

>> If I am a person of "great material privilege", by the way, I would
>> very much like to have my own nanocomputer. What? I can't buy that?
>> And neither can Bill Gates? Guess we're both poor.
> Yes, you are both very poor materially relative to someone 100 years in
> the future, and very rich materially compared to the above-mentioned
> beggar, who has no possessions and must spend essentially all their
> time literally grubbing around for food.

The 100-years-in-the-future perspective is the correct one; it is vastly
more intelligent than our own. (Note: Perspectives can be "correct" or

> But I am perplexed that, in your "different morality", you consider
> human lives very valuable (so that you say a single human death is a
> terrible thing which pains you and is morally unacceptable), yet you
> trivialize human suffering as perceived by actual human beings. To me,
> this mix of attitudes feels odd.

I don't trivialize human suffering. But if you mean that I have no
compunctions about seeking out irrationalities in the contemporary view of
human suffering, you are absolutely correct. The human view of orbital
mechanics is wrong. Why would the human view of human suffering *not* be
wrong? Why would you even expect it to be right? By default, humans get
stuff wrong. That's what it means to be a modified chimp. For every
right answer there are a thousand wrong answers, at least a hundred of
which *look* more attractive than the right answer on the surface. It's
real suffering that's important, not the contemporary human view of human
suffering, what you call "human suffering as perceived by actual human
beings". Is "actual human beings" supposed to be a compliment, in this
phrase? Why not replace it with the more technical terminology,
"suffering as perceived by thinly modified chimpanzees hacked to support
general intelligence"? This more technical phrase does neatly explain the
irrational diversion of attention to certain particular kinds of
suffering; they are stimuli that grab brainware because they are
ancestrally relevant. That's all. It doesn't necessarily indicate what's
really going on or what to do about it.

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

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