Re: An essay I just wrote on the Singularity.

From: Perry E. Metzger (
Date: Sun Jan 04 2004 - 21:29:32 MST

"Ben Goertzel" <> writes:
>> 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."

Indeed, it does not. The pan-critical rationalist knows he must
continuously test hypotheses. Merely because his measurement today
makes Newton look right does not mean in the future he will not find a
flaw that makes Einstein look more right.

However, the pan-critical rationalist can test hypotheses only if they
are falsifiable. Non-falsifiable hypotheses don't work very well in
his epistemology.

>> 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....

Can you give an example of an idea that is not falsifiable even in
principle that is conceptually inspirational?

>> > 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...

I tend to prefer my evidence well baked -- if it is still batter, send
it back to the oven.

> 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.

On the contrary, it is the heart of our discussion. Can you produce an
objective and absolute morality to feed in to the Friendly AI? If not,
the project seems to have a bit of rot right at the core.

>> > 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 think that's a bit of an exaggeration. It would be better to say
that he felt that the strong create their own morality -- not that the
strong minded can will rocks into existence.

> 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.

I find that consistent. He was not arguing for cruelty -- he was
arguing against morality.

> 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.

I have heard of them but have yet to read them. I'd appreciate
recommendations of reasonable starting points in their works.

Perry E. Metzger

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