RE: An essay I just wrote on the Singularity.

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sun Jan 04 2004 - 18:49:23 MST


> Now, I have a hypothesis that this hammer in my hand is an
> illusion. An easy way to try to falsify that will be to swing it down
> on my hand and see if it hurts or not. ("Ow!")

That pain doesn't prove the hammer is not an illusion -- not unless you're
adopting a very odd and narrow definition of "illusion."

Illusions can hurt, as many veterans of the LSD experience will tell you!

> It is of course possible -- even perhaps likely -- that we're all in a
> simulation of some sort. However, absent a way to test that hypothesis
> I leave it as an interesting idea that I can ignore from the point of
> view of daily life.
> Now, we are presented with this idea of an Absolute Morality. A
> fascinating concept -- but sadly, non-falsifiable. Indeed, I'm told
> about dozens of Absolute Moralities, all of which claim to be *the*
> Absolute Morality and all of which seem to have this same property of
> non-falsifiability. I therefore see it as a fine class of ideas to
> ignore for the present, no matter how interesting they may be.

Well, as a scientist, I find that many non-falsifiable ideas are worth
paying attention to --- they can be quite inspirational conceptually....
Most falsifiable ideas originated out of various networks of interesting
non-falsifiable ideas...

> > Just as a rock has a kind of "partial objectivity" that distinguishes it
> > from more thoroughly subjective things like hallucinations and
> delusions;
> > so, perhaps, does compassion?
> Can you give evidence for this?

I did arrive at this view through "evidence", but the evidence is of a
fairly squishy sort... it's experiential rather than empirical. I could
explain these experiences in detail, but it would be a lot of work, and I
don't think it would be very useful to anyone in this forum.

> > The question is never whether X has objective, absolute reality or not.
> > Nothing does.
> Again, most hypotheses are falsifiable. "There is a gorilla in the
> room" can be tested by searching for the gorilla. "Compassion is
> universal" could be checked by noting the quaint practices of the
> Innuit involving placing grandma on the ice floe when she couldn't
> care for herself any more. "There Is An Absolute Morality" can't be
> checked.
> > And the point is not to argue that X is subjective, therefore
> > meaningless -- that kind of nihilism was already found wanting by
> > Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and the whole proto-existentialist crew.
> Nietzsche is just pietzsche by me -- why do you find him wanting? :)

Nietzsche was far from a falsificationist -- he believed that the powerful
mind creates its own reality, and that scientific method is ultimately a
crutch for the weak-minded who, too lame to create reality, have to merely
study it instead...

I tend to agree with him on those points (though I guess you don't, since
you're evidently such a Popperian). However, I find his moral philosophy a
bit incomplete, and I find it amusing that he was a quite compassionate
individual on a personal level, in spite of wrongly disparaging all
compassion as "pity" in some of his philosophical writings.

> Anyway, have a quick read of Karl Popper's "Objective Knowledge" and
> then tell me how morals fit into that framework.

I have read Karl Popper, and while I appreciated his work, I didn't find it
so compelling that I feel the need to fit all my ideas into his framework.
Are you familiar with the later philosophy-of-science work by Imre Lakatos
and Paul Feyerabend (two friends who did not agree with each other, but both
had interesting and deep ideas about how science is actually done, which is
different in many respects from what Popper claimed). I would be curious
how you respond to their critiques of Popper's falsificationist perspective.

-- Ben G

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