Re: Fw: Friendliness and blank-slate goal bootstrap

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Tue Jan 20 2004 - 17:44:31 MST

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> 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.

To clarify: Humans are already well into transcending biological evolution,
but we are fully enmeshed in the more fundamental ongoing process of
evolution that I refer to. It's not the gene that is central to the
process; it's the information that continues to evolve. "We" are each a
temporary (and subjectively defined) instantiation of a portion of this
information pattern and now have the privilege (from our subjective point of
view) of being able to influence the direction of the process.

>> 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.

Yes, I'm trying to make it clear that there is a deeper evolutionary
principle at work than the usual limited biological focus. I think this
broader concept promotes greater understanding rather than the undefined
vagueness you referred to.

>> 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?

I could have been a lot clearer in that last paragraph. I'm not implying
anything like the way you took it.

I was trying to use shorthand to say something more like this:

The (more fundamental) evolutionary process involves randomness, but it is
not a random walk such as could be understood through common statistical
methods. Likewise, as Hume pointed out, we could find a rule that would
properly define the current data set (the evolutionary history up until now)
but this would not allow us to predict with confidence the next state in the
evolutionary process. However, through an improved understanding of
non-linear dynamics (complexity/chaos), which as a science is still in its
infancy, I think we will learn ways to much better characterize the nature
and bounds of the (more fundamental) process as evolution proceeds from the
biological domain made up of cells, to the social domain made up of
individual people and further to more complex levels of organization.

The near-term practical value of this coming "science of morality" will be
that we will apply it to our understanding of moral and political issues on
a planetary scale, a domain where our current knowledge is woefully
inadequate and ineffective, such that our moral and political choices are in
better accord with the fundamental nature of which we will always be a part.

- Jef

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