Re. Volitional Morality and Action Judgement

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun May 16 2004 - 16:23:39 MDT

KH wrote:


> To relate this back to the subjects of main interest here, understanding
> these matters might be essential to providing the environment in which
> friendly AI can be developed.

This is one of the few news groups where evolutionary psychology is just
assumed as background for discussions.

Most of you have had shorter paths to EP but in my case . . . . Twenty two
years ago Eric Drexler lured me into studying modern evolution and memetics
by suggesting I read Richard Dawkin's foundational book, _Selfish
Gene_. (Incidentally, if there is anyone or thing left in 50 years to
think about the past, Drexler is going to be considered one of the pivotal
people. His 1986 book, _Engines of Creation_ recognized both of the
intertwined dangers of nanotechnology and AI that lie just over the horizon.)

Robert Wright's _Moral Animal_ , a popular survey of the field in 1995 was
my introduction to EP. Matt Ridley has an entire series of books of which
my favorite is _Origin of Virtue_. David Buss reported a great deal of
original studies in _Evolution of Desire_. Other influences are: _The
Evolution of Cooperation_ by Robert Axelrod, and the works of EO Wilson,
William Hamilton, Robert Trivers, George Williams, Leda Cosmedes, John
Tooby and Pascal Boyer to name a sample.

Another person whose work had a great deal of influence on me is Marvin Minsky.

His 1988 book "Society of Mind" takes the view of minds as a large numbers
of "agents." Intelligence becomes an emergent property in interacting
agents, each too simple to be considered intelligent. Memes function to
program some of these agents, other agents (psychological traits) have been
wired in by evolution.

This background gave me the tools. The last 9 years of the scientology
cult attacking the net and trying to crush free speech gave me motivation
(of the cancer patient kind) to explore the consequences of some of Dr.
Minsky's "agents," particularly the pathological mental states induced by
cults and wars.

This has led to conclusions (some obvious):

1) Humans, flexible as they are, are not ideally suited for the
environment they have created.

2) We have psychological traits that were advantageous in the ancestral
hunter gatherer environment where these traits evolved. Particular evolved
traits from the remote past make humans subject to parasitic memes,
addictive drugs, gambling and wars.

3) Some of these traits, such as the drive for status and the reward of
attention, are on all the time. Others such as capture-bonding (Stockholm
Syndrome), the trait to induce capture bonding (TTICB) and the mechanisms
that lead to wars are conditionally turned on by environmental conditions.

4) Ultimately wars are the result of population growing faster than
economic growth. For reasons rooted in hunter gatherer mode of life, real
or (as bad) anticipated privation especially after a run of good times
causes the propagation of xenophobic memes and suppresses rational
thought. This leads tribes (or nations) into wars.

I know I am preaching to the quire here because with an EP background these
points are obvious.

The knowledge of what conditions lead to wars and why should be useful. Of
course the conclusion that empowering women and providing the means to
limit births is anathema to the fundamentalist current US administration.

But (hopefully) we are not stuck with them forever. Any thoughts as to
where these thoughts might usefully be disseminated?

Keith Henson

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:46 MDT