Re: [sl4] Re: Uploads coming first would be good, right?

From: Johnicholas Hines (
Date: Tue Mar 03 2009 - 13:15:19 MST

On Tue, Mar 3, 2009 at 2:48 PM, Vladimir Nesov <> wrote:
> On Tue, Mar 3, 2009 at 10:27 PM, Johnicholas Hines
> <> wrote:
>> Yes, that is my example exactly! Abstract philosophical discussions,
>> such as the one that we are having right now, can change culture (the
>> group's utility function), and via culture, emotions (the individual's
>> utility function).
> Note that utility function is something you don't want to "change". To
> be more precise, by changing utility function I mean a process that
> results in future being optimized for different criteria than was
> desired (in decision-theoretical sense) by agent in the past. You may
> want to learn to recognize as desirable those patterns that lead to
> what you want, thus changing their instrumental utility in your eyes,
> but you don't want to actually change the utility function seen in
> decision-makers (unless you come to a point where you start
> utility-optimizing the optimization algorithm itself).

Sorry, maybe I was using the "utility function" wrongly.

If we have a reified procedure, a computing device, that we were using
as the "group utility function calculator", and when fed with novel
parameters, it started producing "NaN" or "sqrt(-1)" or other evidence
of breakdown, then we would want to build a new calculator. We would
go back to first principles (individual preferences) and negotiate a
new social norm for the novel situation, and incorporate the new
social norm into the repaired calculator.

To un-metaphorize: Our current social norms ("utility") are computed
by some fuzzy mental process, probably consisting of comparing
situations to clear ethical exemplars (murder, fraud, rescuing someone
from death, et cetera). Usually, we have pretty good agreement between
individuals, at least to the point of "definitely praise-worthy",
"definitely reprimand-worthy", or "murky".

About some topics, abortion and uploading being two of them, we seem
to get wildly divergent estimates for what the social norm is. I think
using valuative ("good", "bad") and normative ("should") language to
talk about those issues and strive to come to some agreement is


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