Re: Complexity, Ethics, Esthetics (was re: Defining Right and Wrong)

From: Cliff Stabbert (
Date: Sat Nov 30 2002 - 09:28:09 MST

Michael Roy Ames (re: complexity as a moral goal):
MRA> Oh, well of course nothing should be *made* the primary goal, I would
MRA> never think of forcing anyone... but I am attempting to come up with
MRA> a useful definition, a measure. It wouldn't have to be the only (or
MRA> even primary) measure. The question I am trying to answer is: is it
MRA> a useful one? Would it help us understand difficult moral situations
MRA> with greater ease?

Samantha Atkins:
SA> Complexity as such is no meaningful measure of "rightness" at
SA> all. It certainly will not help us make moral decisions,
SA> difficult or otherwise.

My sense is that a "higher" ethics or morality does have some relation
to increasing complexity (or consciousness or intelligence). On an
intuitive or perhaps esthetic level I feel this is the "purpose" of
sentience -- although I wouldn't propose that as an objective,
measurable reality.

I can't properly formulate my exact "reasons" for this feeling, as it
isn't something arrived at through reasoning. But roughly:

Say we gave an AI the goal to minimize human suffering and maximize
human pleasure. We could well end up with endless pleasure-center
stimulation or its pharmaceutical or virtual equivalent. And although
this would give us pleasure, it's an inward-oriented and stagnant,
decadent path for sentience to take.

(Pure pleasure also is less esthetically pleasing. It's superficial,
it's not "deeply" satisfying, it doesn't fulfill.)

In Christian terms it would be a sinful path. I am not religious nor
was I raised as such, but in certain ways the statement that the
above would "go against God's plan" resonates -- perhaps if you
substitute "Life, the Universe & Everything" for "God". To say this
is, indeed, to anthropomorphize the Universe, to ascribe it goals or
purpose, for which there is no scientific excuse.

Ultimately, it feels more Right to me for sentience to be oriented
towards the complexity found "outside" itself, i.e. to embrace the
Unknown, rather than to navelgaze. Facing challenges and hardship,
assimilating more of the Universe's complexity, seems ethically on a
higher plane than "just" refraining from hurting other sentients. (I
put "outside" in scare quotes because there is much of the Unknown
inside ourselves as well -- generally the scarier, darker, more
difficult stuff). Increasing intelligence.

To take a different stab at this than ethics, one can judge answers to
"What is the Meaning of Life?" esthetically. E.g., "it's all just
random coincidence" is ugly and nihilistic; "it's so that God could
judge you and reward/punish you for Eternity" seems trite and
simplistic; "to become more and more aware of everything around you,
to get to know things Deeply, until even the most ugly thing to you
becomes beautiful and the most hated thing loved" seems a step up from
that. Although still trite when put in those terms...

Perhaps all this is just consciousness' self-promoting memetic program
speaking through me. As I said, I can't produce any hard arguments
for these feelings.

But neither can any morality -- that sentience and its increase is
Good is either axiomatic or implied in most systems I'm familiar with
(I read this as the meaning of Thomas 7 in the gnostic gospels).


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