Re: Collective Volition: Wanting vs Doing.

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 00:10:46 MDT

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote:

> Jef Allbright wrote:
>> Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote:
>>> I see no reason why I should care about genes or memes except
>>> insofar as they play a role in individuals built by genes who are
>>> running memes. What exerts the largest causal influence is not
>>> necessarily relevant to deciding what is the *important* aspect of
>>> humanity; that is a moral decision. I do not need to make that
>>> moral decision directly. I do not even need to directly specify an
>>> algorithm for making moral decisions. I do need to tell an FAI, in
>>> a well-specified way, where to look for an algorithm and how to
>>> extract it; and I am saying that the FAI should look inside humans.
>>> There is much objection to this, for it seems that humans are
>>> foolish. Well, hence that whole "knew more, thought faster etc."
>>> business. Is there somewhere else I should look, or some other
>>> transformation I should specify?
>> You're asking good questions, and the process of asking these
>> increasingly accurate questions will lead to increasingly accurate
>> solutions.
>> The vector sum of current human volition is not wisdom. It's not
>> even an early approximation of wisdom. In fact, it's currently badly
>> skewed.
> There is no such thing as the vector sum of "current human volition".
> You are speaking of the vector sum of "current human *decision*"
> which, I quite agree, would be disastrous to hook up to an SI (or
> RPOP). A volition is extrapolated beyond the self of this moment; a
> *collective* volition extrapolates a planet beyond the selves of this
> moment, and cannot be regarded as a vector sum of individual volitions.



   1. The act or an instance of making a conscious choice or decision.
   2. A conscious choice or decision.
   3. The power or faculty of choosing; the will.

I understand your point, emphasizing the future sense as it entails the
extrapolation to which you refer.

I meant volition in the more abstract sense, emphasizing the faculty of
choosing, the will, as represented by a set of vectors.

Okay, onward then.

>> The vector sum of current human volition does not represent wisdom,
>> let alone embody wisdom. Acting as if it did would invite disaster,
>> given the current state of human development.
> I agree, provided that you are talking about the vector sum of current
> human decision.

I think we can agree on this using either sense of the word volition, as
discussed above. Either a reference to an extrapolated act of will as
you seem to prefer, or the current faculty of will.

>> The answers you seek do not exist yet, no matter how deeply and
>> widely one might be able to probe the collective human psyche.
> You cannot read out the volition from an LED display on the back of
> someone's neck; it has to be extrapolated.
> Decision is not volition.
> Volition is not decision.

I was refering to a representation of the faculty of will, which we can
expect to be exercised in the future, and which can be measured and
represented in various dimensions by testing what *decisions* an
individual makes in the present. Key: Volition accurately represented
with no extrapolation involved.

>> There are no pointers, maps, or transformations of this collective
>> data that could be directly applied to the solution you (we all)
>> seek. The current data set is strongly skewed toward short term,
>> local scope thinking.
> If I had any doubt before that you were speaking of "decision" rather
> than "volition", it would be gone now.

Yes, I think we should be clear now about these terms.

>> The answers do not exist in the current data set but we can expect
>> they will emerge only as part and result of the process.
> ...the process which a "collective volition" attempts to extrapolate,
> yes, that is the whole idea of collective volition, getting an
> extrapolated approximate satisficing advance answer to the process.
>> Yes, wisdom is present within the collective landscape, but most of
>> humanity perceive and consider only a small portion of the whole, and
>> the answers you seek within it require a broader scope of human
>> intelligence. The seeds exist but they have not yet grown, and it is
>> impossible to see the tree without planting, nurturing, and waiting
>> for the seeds to grow.
> And you know this... how? It sounds very wise and I suspect it simply
> isn't true.

The attempt to extrapolate collective human volition is futile because
of the inherent complexity of the object(s) to be modeled, and the
fundamentally unknowable environmental factors that define the evolving
context within which human volition operates. The ensuing combinatorial
explosion and cumulative error is my point, and I therefore encourage
you to consider contributing to the science of understanding such
complex systems from a bottoms-up approach by way of discovery and
utilization of general principles rather than attemping to extrapolate
to a higher-level from which to exert influence.

Now let me turn your question back to you: How do you think you can
accomplish such extrapolation with useful accuracy?

>> To model the collective volition of humanity is a worthy goal, not to
>> extract from it the ideal human volition, or even an a starting
>> approximation of the ideal, but for the purpose of better
>> understanding and contributing to the process that will get us
>> wherever we will be in the future. There is much work that can be
>> done to improve the process of humanity getting closer to its
>> evolving goals, but progress will be made by building upon the
>> foundations of morality rather than futilely preparing to prune a
>> unique and yet unknown tree when it is still a seed.
> A collective volition doesn't prune. It extrapolates and superposes
> uncertainties.

Yes, well, it was a metaphor intended to convey an simple abstract
concept, not a statement to be validated. To be perfectly forthcoming,
the metaphor of the seed was actually a seed itself, intended to take
root in the mind of the reader and facilitate the coherence of
associated thoughts. Definitely not to be taken literally.

>> What is moral, in the minds of people of disparate backgrounds, tends
>> to converge as their understanding and interests broaden.
> This is an assertion that the *collective volition* tends to cohere
> more than the vector sum of decisions.

I think it's more than the static view that you express here. I mean it
in the sense of an observation about the tendencies of a set of dynamic
and ongoing processes. It loses all meaning if taken in the sense of a
snapshot evaluation. I really need to find some time to translate this
"Arrow of morality" concept into terms that are less mystical-sounding
and with mathematical backup.

>> As the scope expands to include broader space of interaction, broader
>> range of interacting parties, and broader time period being
>> considered, "what is moral", tends to converge into an ever clearer
>> sense of shared direction. You can only get there by performing the
>> interactions -- a model of sufficient accuracy would take just as
>> long to run the simulation as the reality
> Again, I think this sounds wise and simply isn't true. Here you are,
> making all sorts of abstract predictions about the collective volition
> without running the simulation!

Yeah, you really got me there. Your mama too! Please see my point
earlier about combinatorial explosion and cumulative error, and my
question back to you about how you hope to achieve usefully accurate
extrapolation under these conditions.

>> -- but you can extract principles of successful interactions along
>> the way and apply these principles toward "promoting the good."
Best regards,

- Jef

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:47 MDT