Re: Fw: Friendliness and blank-slate goal bootstrap

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Tue Jan 20 2004 - 16:06:12 MST

On Tue, 20 Jan 2004 08:55:34 -0800
"Jef Allbright" <> wrote:

> 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.

I think that it is confusing to claim that all just because we are resultant from an evolutionary process that everything that we subsequently become, no matter how chosen and directly shaped by us, is still evolution at work. It is not paradoxical to me in the least to speak of transcending evolution. The alternative to transcending evolution is being evolution-determined forever.
> 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 you are calling "evolutionary science" something much borader than is usually associated with the term "evolution". This leads to confusion. If you broaden the term enough you can of course stuff anything and everything under it.

> 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.)

I think you are confusing "objective" with "context independent" and by implication confusing it with "absolute". All knowledge is contextual, not just those aspects subsumed under Ethics. That knowledge is contextual does not mean it is not objective. Objectivity exists within the context of what is known. There are no infinite contexts just as there are no infinite real-world spacetime extents. So to require such before one can claim that any knowledge is objective is unreasonable to the extreme. This notion of requiring an infinite context to be objective grew out of the time when philosophy was the "handmaiden of theology". We should not make the mistake of falling back upon such assumptions.

That said, I of course agree that a greater context leads to more refined and widely applicable knowledge.
> 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)
> scale.

Why would you assume that objectivity rules out non-linear dynamics or chaotic systems?

- samantha

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