RE: Universal ethics

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sun Nov 28 2004 - 18:37:52 MST

Hi Dave,

I don't have time or inclination for a long conversation on why you think my
ideas are "bogus", and why I think you didn't understand them. I'll respond
to this message at moderate length but after this one my replies on this
theme are likely to become very brief.

> PS I took the time to respond to your paper and you obviously
> took offense.
> I also
> take offense to you saying I have a "basic lack of
> understanding". Are you
> really so smart?

You are quoting me out of context. I didn't say that you had a basic lack
of understanding in a general sense -- just that you appeared to have a
basic lack of understanding of the ideas in that particular essay of mine.
A contention that your follow-up response appears to validate!

> You say I "displays such a basic lack of understanding" but I think I
> understood
> your article quite well. At least well enough to know that you are trying
> to describe
> a concept "compassion" which has a well defined English meaning into
> something that
> fits your concept of programming an AI.

This comment suggests to me that you have a basic lack of understanding
about the ideas in my essay ;) Those ideas are not tied to any particular
theory of AI, and are not even tied to the Church-Turing Thesis. Their
validity or not is independent of whether any digital computer program can
ever be intelligent, whether the Novamente design can ever work, etc.

If they're "reductionist", it's not in a computationalist or physicalist
sense, just in a patternist sense. They're reductionist in exactly the same
sense that Nietzschean and Peircean philosophy are reductionist: they try to
reduce phenomena to "habit-patterns with a tendency to spread" as Peirce put
it, or "will to power and morphology" as Nietzsche put it.

> There is a huge difference to the method I described for creating
> an AI and
> yours. You
> try to fit a number of different methods into an "agent" context
> where some
> agents
> degenerate and others stick around. I said that there is some peripheral
> usefulness to
> this concept but you have made it the base of your implementation.
> My
> design
> makes a set of models the basis for the AI and all of the other useful
> techniques can
> update and refine that model as they go. The models can be arbitrarily
> simple or complex.
> With your agents coming and going, you have no stable place to
> try different
> techniques or
> even see if your teaching of the AI is progressing.

Well, I'm sorry if you feel it's rude for me to say so, but all these
statements about my Novamente AI design are completely false and misguided,
and indicate that either you have not read the overview at

or have not understood it.

> I don't appreciate your condescending attitude at all.

And conversely, my friend, I don't particularly appreciate your wildly
inaccurate characterization of my AI theory ;-)

>Your paper didn't
> sound too much
> different than others I have read from Marc Geddes. Eliezer has
> him pegged
> quite
> right in his last few emails. Marc was castigated for comparing
> himself to
> Einstein.
> (and rightly so) but you say "one has to look at evolution and ethics as
> intertwined
> manifestations of the same deeper phenomena." You go on to argue your
> "deeper
> phenomena". Your document purports to be above the theory of
> Evolution and
> ethics.
> If I made such a grand statement, I think I would have backed it up with a
> bit more
> facts and rigor (if you will).

Regarding evolution, in my essay I referred to my 1993 book "The Evolving
Mind" where I dealt with the theory of evolution in detail, with plenty of
facts and at least a moderate amount of rigor.

> Your document purports to have *arguments* for your hypothesis. I made
> points, IMHO
> that showed your hypothesis to be wrong and your arguments to be
> nothing but
> definitions or conclusions.

Well, there are clearly arguments presented there, in the sense of steps
leading from assumptions to conclusions. They are not rigorous arguments,
they're just qualitative arguments, as one finds in the writings of
Nietzsche, Peirce, and many other philosophers whom I like.

>I think your take on Natural
> Selection is also
> quite *novel*
> approach and my textbooks from University (2000) on *phenotypic selection*
> show
> absolutely nothing on "pattern-sympathy". (Human Evolution An Illustrated
> Introduction
> by Roger Lewin 1999 or The Origin of Moden Humans by Roger Lewin 1998)

"Pattern-sympath" is an original term. My take on evolution is original but
is in the line of many other modern thinkers; see references in "The
Evolving Mind" (Gordon and Breach, 1993).

> I wasn't the person that said your document was "it just argues that some
> degree of compassion
> is natural and inevitable.", you were. As my proof that
> compassion is *not*
> inevitable I
> call to the stand all the people I see around me that don't help
> little old
> ladies across the street.
> I call all the people in the Western World that have a car and a
> fancy house
> when thousands
> die of starvation all over the world. If you want to make a hypothesis
> about something
> that we can all see around us all the time, don't you think you should at
> least be somewhat
> convincing?

My argument was not that the world displays an optimal or maximal degree of
compassion, I believe I made that clear.

> > To write something to be potentially convincing to
> > people with opposing points of view would require a lot more time, space
> and
> > didacticism.
> Do you always just write for people who might already agree with you?

Not always. When I write academic papers, I try hard to be convincing to
skeptical referees just like everyone else! But I find it a slow and
painful process....

> If you think a pattern is something so much
> more
> than what the dictionary says, then maybe you can point me to your own
> personal
> dictionary so I can figure it out.

I presented my approach to "pattern theory" in my books The Structure of
Intelligence (Springer-Verlag, 1993), The Evolving Mind, Chaotic Logic
(Plenum, 1994) and perhaps most briefly in Section 1.5 of From Complexity to
Creativity (Plenum, 1997). A somewhat lossy HTML dump is at:

For my thoughts on the relation between patterns, qualia and free will, see
the 2004 essays at:

-- Ben G

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