Re: Ethics (was FAI (aka 'Reality Hacking'))

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Mon Jan 31 2005 - 16:41:10 MST

Thomas Buckner wrote:

>Actually, I do have an ethical (or 'moral') value
>function I might suggest, which consists of two
>simple rules. Timothy Ferris once said that,
>without embracing teleology, it can be said that
>our universe looks pretty much they way it would
>had it been carefully designed for maximum
>creativity, self-expression, and play (I can't
>find the exact quote).
>So a good simple ethics can be expressed as:
>Express and create yourself, as freely and
>joyously as you can.
>And try not to hurt those people over there.
>To turn that into numerical functions, I should
>think you'd need to think hard about boundaries
>between self and other, resource allocation,
>conserving complexity (i.e. no paperclips or
>monoculture), cooperative strategies vs.
>predatory strategies, etc. The end result might
>remind one of a lush and varied flower garden.
>Tom Buckner
Here are some thoughts along similar lines.

The basic principle, which appears to be a physical characteristic of
the universe, is one of synergy, or non-zero sumness, that operates at
every level of complexity. There's significant research ongoing in the
area of self-organizing systems, and this is recognized by some to
represent a not yet declared fourth law of thermodynamics, to precisely
characterize the dynamics of such systems.

While the principle appears to apply at the subatomic level, through the
dynamics of chemical interactions, through the formation of life and
biological complexity, and beyond, my key immediate interest is at the
level of human social organization.

I see this understanding as important because humanity is behaving
according to mostly obsolete evolved mechanisms while already at the
cusp of a transition beyond which they hardly apply. I would like to
help reduce the pain of this transition, and the nature of our selves
and effective interactions seems to be an important part of the way forward.

At the level of human interactions, there appear to be some abstract
principles (related to synergy, non-zero sum game theory, and
cooperation theory) that apply and can guide our moral decision-making
in the absence of complete information. Now at the risk of sounding
mystical and losing my audience:

    * There is always Self and Other
      Self refers to the subjective viewpoint from which all moral
decisions are made. Other refers to the "adjacent possible" with which
the Self must interact.
      Note that Self means the system with which one identifies, it is
not limited to one's physical self.

    * The basic good is growth of Self
      Where evolutionary theory refers to survival, a deeper
understanding would refer to growth. There is no static survival in a
meaningful sense.
      "Good" within any subjective context, means "that which works".
      As Randian/Objectivists will easily agree, true morality (what
works) follows from enlightened self-interest.

    * Effective growth of Self requires effective interaction with Other.
      Growth is always a process of the Self system expanding through
interaction with the Other system.
      This does not diminish the Other, as the tendency is for non-zero
sum benefits to accrue and complexity to increase within the larger system.

    * Effective growth derives from cooperation
      Cooperation requires both common goals and diversity
      Competition in a given sub-context generally looks like
cooperation in a broader context.

Some examples in moral rules context:

    * Thou shalt not kill (because God says so)
      Self defense is always right, in fact, morally required, because
the basic good is growth of Self.
      Killing is wrong because it diminishes diversity and effective

    * Treat others as you would wish to be treated (Golden Rule)
      Because effective growth of Self derives from effective
cooperation with Other.

There's enough in the above to give a strong hint of how to apply these
principles in the domain of human social interaction and morality. I'm
quite aware that it sounds a bit "White-Lighterish" and the description
lacks technical rigor, but I offer it with the hope and expectation that
it may promote useful thinking among others. Thoughtful feedback is

- Jef

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