Re: Fw: Friendliness and blank-slate goal bootstrap

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Tue Jan 20 2004 - 09:55:34 MST

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> I am not sure who said:
>>> Ever since the emergence of life on earth (our understanding
>>> of which is a bit murky) everything that went on in the
>>> biosphere fits very well the description offered by
>>> evolution. So how can we have an objective morality
>>> unless it is self-same as evolution?
> Everything in the biosphere does not fit very well with "the
> description offered by evolution". Evolution explains some of the
> aspects of the biosphere, nowhere near all. That is no reason for
> an assumption that morality must be "self-same" (whatever that means)
> as evolution. The birth of morality in evolving intelligence
> creatures is tied up in evolution. But this does not mean that
> morality, or ourselves for that matter, are limited to what can be
> attributed to evolution for all time.

There is a popular conception of evolution "bloody in tooth and claw" that
we expect to rise above. This is a good and noble goal within the context
that it is intended, but it leads to paradox due to the (misleading)
implication that humans are somehow outside of evolution or about to
transcend evolution. True, evolution on this planet has arrived at a new
phase, where a higher level of organization now allows for more effective
progress than ever before, but it's important to see that in the bigger
picture this is just another phase in a process of evolution that has been
going on for as far back as we can see.

Evolutionary science has identified various modes within the biological
model, but I think we're on the verge of understanding that the same
underlying principle operates at the pre-biological atomic and molecular
levels, and at the post-biological level of human societies, and beyond.
This principle seems (to me) to be the same principle underlying the
thermodynamic "arrow of time" and the higher level instances of non-zero sum
game theory.

I think the idea of an "objective morality" is a misconception. Morality is
context-dependent, and the universe will always present us with a new layer
of the onion when we're ready to see it. But because morality is
context-dependent, a wider context generally means a more consistent, more
useful, understanding of what is moral. Only in the ultimate "god's eye"
view of a universe beyond space and time would there be an objective
morality, but as we humans expand our understanding (our context) and become
more godlike in our understanding of the universe it seems clear to me that
we become more moral (by any useful definition of the word.)

Evolution is not a random walk, but it is chaotic. I think that with a
greater undertanding of non-linear dynamics, we will develop not an
"objective morality", but a "science of morality" that will be effectively
applied to moral and political issues on a planetary (and eventually wider)

- Jef

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