Sunday, February 20, 2011

Brains are the source of suffering - follow-up musing

1. Brains create pain; pain is not a native property of the things with which you traditionally associate it. If you're suffering, it's because your brain is a painful organ -- not because the stimulus affecting your neurological wiring is actually painful. Brains hurt.

2. Furthermore, brains create and poorly manage bad memes -- which, like the genes necessary for brains to exist at all, get passed on from generation to generation in the interest of staving off entropy. Brains are selfish and illogical.

3. The universe would be absolutely devoid of value if it weren't for the existence of sensation; even bacteria, which dominated the first three billion years of evolution of life on Earth, would be acceptable in a valueless universe, in no way compromising its neutrality. Prior to the beginnings of neurological functioning on Earth some billion years ago, it's possible that the universe wasn't the horror that some now think it to be; likewise, it's possible that it won't always be as horrible a place as it currently is. Brains are the worst, and thus most important, aspect of the universe.

Brains are the source of suffering

If the universe were a closed system composed of nothing but temporally "closed" subsystems, then the eventual entropic decay of each "isolated" system -- and of the universe itself -- would be inevitable. However, for some currently unknown reason, at some point in the past, a process called life emerged on at least one planet in the universe, effectively breaking the previously prevailing chain of tendency toward system disorder. Once this event took place, it became possible for systems that were more or less closed in the traditionally understood, macroscopic sense to -- almost contradictorily -- remain open -- by seeking out energy actively rather than passively.

Of course, to prevent integration with competing systems and other environmental parameters, these new systems also had to remain partially closed -- at least in the sense of putting defense and regulatory mechanisms in place. This kept the systems well-defined, with physical barriers and spatial limitations, while still allowing them enough openness to acquire the energy necessary for their perpetuation.

So what did this opening of otherwise self-contained, self-regulating systems accomplish? For starters, it introduced homeostasis into the environment. This was initially a radical, if meaningless, departure from the way in which energy had been transferred from one location to another in the past. After the fact of life's emergence, though, it turned out that the "mostly closed" systems, or organisms, were nevertheless quite susceptible to the various forces of the universe, and thus, entropy. Mobility and a binary attraction-repulsion system enabled them to disperse energy in an entirely new way, but other physical agents were still quite persistent in their vying for physical space, and were occasionally successful at bringing about states of maximum disorder among some living organisms; this eventually culminated in what we call death.

The organic instructions to resist disorder were mutually persistent, however; as time went on, organisms managed to find, by happenstance, new ways to perpetuate themselves -- even with both living and non-living "space competitors" vying for the same resources. Finally, a few billion years into this routine, one motivation mechanism of incredible efficacy arose -- sentience.

But why does it matter? What was sentience effective at?

Well, as it would turn out, the goal of sentience was not to help organisms "enjoy" their processes; rather, it was to stop organisms from decaying, as it had been with all previous biological mechanisms.

In short, this meant that neural nets would go on to continually birth, over and over again in successive generations, increasingly complex incentives for organisms to avoid behaviors and parameters conducive to their own destruction. At some point during all of this, fully robust brains emerged, and with them, not the capacity to feel pain, but pain itself. To put it succinctly, brains did not attempt to manage pain to the benefit of organisms; they attempted to manage disorder to the benefit of nothing, using the pain that they created entirely on their own as a motivator. We sneeze a lot when sick not because viruses convert themselves into mucus as they multiply, but because, to prevent the body from being destroyed, the immune system must produce mucus. We experience pain not because external agents are inherently painful, but because brains are painful while attempting to prevent disorder.

If you're not following along, again, "disorder" in this context refers to that lack of physical work that causes closed systems to literally "freeze," having no more energy to convert from one state to another; everything has been evenly distributed, and each piece is incapable of transferring energy to any other, or has itself decayed.

Is there anything wrong with decay, though? When two weather patterns collide and eventually disperse their energy content, leaving no further work to be done, is this a bad result? Is it something to be avoided, or even stopped at all costs? It doesn't appear to be, based on anything that we've ever observed; furthermore, without any good reason to invest in the god hypothesis, the agenda of brains (and of central nervous sytems as wholes) must be questioned, for the alternative to the god hypothesis is that the universe -- and thus, all constituents, including central nervous systems and other organic systems -- emerged.

This, if true, essentially means that no intelligent or coherent reason for the existence of life was considered beforehand by a rational entity in some planning stage. In the absence of any good reason to take the notion of a planning stage seriously, or the notion of there being a valid goal in preventing the decay of material systems, we more or less have to conclude that the brain's ability to create sensations in reaction to stimuli is not only unintelligent, but downright nasty.

So, to reiterate: Nothing capable of being received by a brain as sensory input is possessed of some innate unpleasantness; the brain, as part of the central nervous system, is chiefly interested in preventing the genotype, as an energy-dependent process, from decaying; to this end, the brain creates unpleasantness as a reaction to the "efforts" of external agents to bring about disorder in the system; however, there isn't any intelligent reason to believe that entropy is something to be stopped, making the brain's extremely painful efforts to stop it really unnecessary and unintelligent; additionally, every brain has failed or will probably fail in its efforts, and over 99% of them no longer exist.

Pain is bad, but is termination of life? If we were completely incapable of feeling anything, but, unlike bacteria, still possessed language, would we really mind dying? Are shark teeth bad because they can damage our organs, or because they hurt? Would you mind a lion ripping your guts out if it didn't hurt or cause intense fear, and if not, why is that a bad thing? If the AIDS virus were the only entity in the universe capable of replication, it would no longer be a terrible virus, for what do rocks care if they "get AIDS"? Brains create pain to preempt decay; get rid of all the brains and you could have a universe composed of nothing but AIDS -- with no problems whatsoever, anywhere.

The next time that you try to avoid a horribly painful situation, remember that it's not the world that you should be fearing -- it's your brain and its childish insistence on resisting entropy. Bullets, kidney stones, births, panic attacks? Bone cancer? They're okay in themselves. Really, the only thing that's actually capable of hurting you is that pink thing in your skull.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Argument against conventional humanistic morality: Take 2

In my last post, I illustrated why logical actions should be pursued with earnestness by everyone, regardless of the actions' pertinence to the realm of human morality. There is a second reason to broaden one's scope of decision-making indicators, however: the potential for non-human agents to cause harm to themselves, to other non-human agents, and to human agents.

No one frames nature in moral terms, but we can tell when something like the AIDS virus is negative. You can't put the AIDS virus in jail, but it's still bad.

Can you put an earthquake in jail? No, because, while bad, earthquakes are not immoral activities, or entities perpetrating immoral activities.

Morality only takes us so far; logic, in the most general sense that we can fathom, currently takes us farthest -- even if this is ultimately a relative statement.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On logic and morality once more

I've sort of gone over this before, but here's the basic premise: We should strive to take actions which appear logical,* regardless of to which arbitrary realms of agent interaction they belong. I've devised an extremely simplistic way of looking at this here. Consider the following two statements:

1. Mass murder is acceptable.

2. 2+2=5

As noted previously, there is no such thing as mathematical data uncoupled from empirical observation; there have to be empirically observable objects which can be added or subtracted in order for arithmetic to even exist.

So, then, is there a difference between the above statements? Consider their inverses:

1. It's wrong to commit mass murder.

2. 2+2=4

Do you agree with 1.? Do you agree with 2.? Great, so what's the problem, and why are we placing one in a different category from the other?

And technically, no, I can't "prove" that either statement is true, contrary to what some mathematicians and scientists might allege. With this limitation in mind, if I were to use the logic of most people, I'd have to declare 2+2=4 a "subjective opinion" in the same sense that that term gets applied to things like morality. This is where the pragmatic element comes into play: we have to make decisions. Period.

Note, however, that I bring this up not just to demonstrate that all truth claims should be measured by the same metrics, but also to elucidate my take on what's worth promoting. It's a statement both to those who view suffering as too subjective a phenomenon to care about addressing, and to those who are gung ho about ending suffering, but who are coming at things from a "moral" perspective, which probably isn't fundamental enough. If we want to end suffering, we can't just teach people that it's not a good thing; we have to make them into logic machines for any kind of situation.

* In this context, "logical" refers to any action which appears more logical than all competitors, thus relegating the competitors to being "illogical," given that none of them were or will be opted for.

Signs that someone is probably pretentious or lying about their experiences

Just a few quick thoughts. Nothing too serious this time around.

1. They claim that they're capable of choosing how they feel about things, e.g. saying that they recently decided to "get into" a sexual fetish, as though sex is a lifestyle accessory and not a product of our cultural upbringing and biology.

2. They claim to want to make real change in the world, but always seem to be way too busy for it. Their various social networking accounts continue to be updated in the meantime, of course.

3. Most of the activities that they enjoy in life, or claim to enjoy (or have convinced themselves that they enjoy due to various societal pressures), are not enjoyable in the eyes of eight-year-olds.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The four metrics for treating your fellow man

These are in order of precedence; I wouldn't advocate ignoring number one while practicing number three.

1. Welfare: How great is a sentient agent or agents' capacity for pain? What forces are they being subjected to that cause them to suffer? Will making them feel better cause more suffering elsewhere, per the law of opportunity cost?

2. Social utility: Do they know how to build bridges? Can they send probes into space to preempt imminent asteroid impacts?

3. Personal utility: How can they benefit us -- emotionally, socially, etc.?

4. Overall competence: Even if they're of great social value, do they have good values themselves? Are their heads filled with nonsense? While we may see some utilitarian benefit in allowing them to do their jobs or fulfill one of our personal/psychological desires, are they still promoting bad ideas in their personal lives? Are they bad at understanding complex information? Are they bad at understanding simple information?

1. should determine how to treat someone in the sense of not impinging on his personal space or causing him harm; it's how we were initially granted the so-called "rights" mentioned in the Constitution (which, by the way, are far too absolute, and rarely take context into account per the "social contract" -- a contract that should exist but is in serious need of an upgrade).

2. should determine, after we've determined that hurting someone isn't a good idea (or is, if you think it is), whether it's a good idea to allow him to try his hand at various trades that could increase the overall well-being of society as a collective.

3. should determine whether a person can help us in some way, like by serving some kind of emotional use, even if we don't necessarily think he is "good," with good ideals. Note that 2. and 3. must come after welfare, but aren't in any particular order themselves.

4. should determine, after we've figured out the others, whether someone is worth truly befriending, working alongside, respecting, etc.

Only the brightest, most aware, and most productive are worthy of 4.; anyone can be worthy of 3., because everyone has something that someone else probably wants on a purely psychological or emotional level (or social level, as in the case of being able to give a recommendation); most people are worthy of 2., even if they're not currently realizing their full potential by working at bureaucratic institutions; everyone to have ever lived is worthy of 1.

An additional thought on the idiocy of quotation and praise

In an older post of mine, I described a somewhat trivial issue that I have with quotation. I still don't see it as particularly problematic, but pretense is pretense, and I might as well bring this topic up again in the interest of hitting things from as many points as possible.

When quoting someone, you're essentially conceding that he or she is superior at representing a set of ideas -- either relatively superior to you, or the definitive authority on the ideas, period.

If the person quoted is superior only to you, good on you for bringing him or her to our attention; now remove yourself from the conversation if you don't have anything to add yourself so that we may investigate the approach and arguments presented by your source.

If the person quoted is superior to everyone, fine, but as soon as you append his or her name to the quote, you're essentially promoting adulation, which is how jealousy, war, social inequities, and deification result. It's also not even true that the person is the source of the quote, because we can't choose the ideas that come to us any more than we can choose to be incapable of passing through walls.

And honestly, if you want to give someone an award for an accomplishment, go with a Child Labor Factory Worker of the Year award over a Grammy or a Nobel prize. Productive work, especially in disingenuous or less than ideal conditions, is much more respectable than studying rocks or discovering potential musical combinations.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Negative experiences falsely perceived as positive

No explanation necessary. Here we go...

1. When you're hungry, you don't want to enjoy a delicious meal; you want to not slowly starve to death as your stomach eats itself, causing intense bloating and pain.

2. When you're thirsty, you don't want to enjoy a refreshing glass of water; you want to not die of dehydration.

3. When you feel like going on vacation, you don't want to enjoy a nice day at the beach; you want to not work anymore, or stop doing the activities that have thus exhausted you.

4. When you're tired, you don't want to enjoy a refreshing night of sleep; you want to not feel run-down and mentally impaired.

5. When you're in love with someone, you don't want to enjoy his or her company; you want to not be lonely, consumed by excessive solitude and feelings of inadequacy.

6. When you become interested in getting a hobby, you don't want to have something to do; you want to not be plagued by boredom and restlessness.

7. When you're cold, you don't want to put on a coat in order to feel the pleasing sensation of warmth; you want to not feel the uncomfortable sensation of coldness.

8. When thinking about watching a thought-provoking film, you don't want to have an entertaining and potentially enlightening experience; you want to not do everything else, because your psychological disposition has declared it all of less interest than watching the film at that exact moment.

9. When considering doing drugs, you don't want to get high; you want to not have to put up with the horrors of the world around you.

10. When desirous of a college degree, you don't want to pursue an education; you want to not be ignorant relative to your peers so that you may better socialize with and work alongside them, or get hired by an employer offering a higher salary.

You can't have good experiences without first feeling bad. If you let any of the above go, in their most extreme of manifestations, without attempting to take care of them, nature will punish you with: starvation, dehydration, work-induced stress, sleep deprivation (hallucinations, extreme exhaustion, panic attacks, depression, anxiety), intense loneliness, low self-esteem, poor social development, extreme boredom, general restlessness and aimlessness, frost bite, asthma attacks, general breathing problems, lost appendages, ignorance, relative poverty, and homelessness.

Suffering sucks -- "objectively," Part II

Readers of this blog may already be familiar with Karl Popper's negative utilitarianism ("negativism"), and hopefully see some merit in the idea that, no matter how slight the discomfort, all desires are the result of deprivation. You can't enjoy life without first being unsatisfied with it; otherwise, you'd never be motivated to pursue that which you enjoy. Therefore, the elimination of negative sensation -- whether that means eliminating a biological drive, reducing the amount of time it takes to fulfill a desire, lowering the intensity of some form of discomfort, or eliminating a hurdle in the way of the temporary satisfying of a desire -- is a worthwhile pursuit. So far, so good.

But I'd like to append another term to this form of utilitarianism: pragmatism. Negative utilitarianism is still essentially a moral pursuit, which means that it is a subset of the overarching pursuit of logical outcomes in all contexts. This is fine, but how will the reduction and elimination of negative sensation work? How will we carry out tasks to this end? What will our tools be? How will we make decisions in scenarios where relative differences exist among competing potential actions? Pragmatic utilitarianism answers these questions, because, while utilitarianism addresses how functional or useful an idea is with respect to a value standard, pragmatism addresses whether the idea works at all, in any context -- and therefore, whether it is worth acting upon.

Moral utilitarianism: "What is the utility of this action? Will it be useful to the end of improving what we value?"

Negative utilitarianism: "What is the utility of this action? Will it be useful to the end of eliminating what we negatively value?"

Pragmatic utilitarianism: "Why do we value what we value, and what can we use in order to act to the end of maximizing and minimizing the interacting outputs? How can we test these potential actions for viability and workability? Once we've figured that out, what is the utility of the actions? Will they be useful to the end of eliminating what we negatively value?"

How this works: by employing qualitative analysis, or a kind of scrutiny pertaining to abstract qualities as found within finite physical objects, to the practical decision-making process in an effort to alter both quantities and qualities in an environment.

Where two or more qualities are the same but one is greater or less in quantity, a relative decision must be made; where two or more qualities are different, the quality which is most likely to yield the result of the highest value must be selected. The underlying principle of this practice is opportunity cost, a method for making decisions based on what, if anything, of value will be lost upon acting. After all, when making decisions, we necessarily exclude every action other than the one opted for, so it's essential that we understand what it is that we lose by gaining what we do from taking a particular action. The act of not acting, as implied by the wording of this sentence, is itself an action -- a kind of meta-action, to be specific, taken after assessing whether to act toward acting or "not acting." "Meta-decision" would be another term for this (deciding whether to decide).

Before refraining from making a decision in a situation, always be sure to ask yourself, "Am I sure that I'm unsure?"

Suffering sucks -- "objectively," Part I

This one is long overdue, I think. To avoid having to repeat myself, I've attempted to make this entry adequately elaborative and encompassing. Hopefully, I've succeeded.

In order to appreciate just how relevant negative feelings are to sentient organisms, it is perhaps necessary to start by defining how analysis of physical qualia should work, then defining which individual qualities, in the abstract, are worth applying the process of pragmatic selection to. Based on my own observations of physical reality, and on the confirming observations of others (even if I must always observe that a person has observed something myself, making all observation slightly suspect, but that's a separate topic), I've found that the quality of sensation is inherently negative, as it could not exist in the absence of discomfort or perceived deprivation (more on this later). However, this premise warrants further analysis if we are to properly convey that such sensations are, in effect, "bad" according to a well-defined and organized value system; otherwise, we'll wind up with people saying, "So what if things hurt? Your assertion that pain is bad isn't based on anything empirical!"

Most children grasp why such statements are bloated and borderline pretentious on a raw, intuitive level, but rarely are they equipped to actually deal with the slew of contrived counter-arguments in support of the idea of the "subjectivity" of suffering. Let's see if we can help.

Firstly, I cannot honestly claim to still support the dichotomy of empirical/a posteriori knowledge and mathematical/a priori knowledge. Math only appears "unempirical" because it is a raw abstraction, meaning that it is a mental conception of a general principle without any applied context, making it data rather than physical information. However, both data and information are essentially the same thing; it's just that data, again, lacks context, and, in being rather non-specific, cannot be useful until it has been properly interpreted and stored or acted upon as information. Math and empirical phenomena, then, are part of a unified continuum, just as data and information are, because math is essentially data, and empirical information is, well, information.

What role does logic play in this? It can be applied to both empirical information and math; claiming that logic is somehow synonymous with math, while empirical information is in a realm entirely separate from logic is blatantly fallacious. Of course, logic itself could be said to be taken a priori, but given that I always refrain from making truth claims of any kind, this isn't so important to note.

A visualization might look something like this:

Logic=>Math; data
Logic=>Contextualization; qualification; processing; interpretation; understanding (what it is)
Logic=>Information; understanding (what it entails, concludes in, etc.)

I apply logic to all three steps; it should be applied not only when converting data to information, but also when gleaning data, or when understanding information after it has been interpreted.

With the above in mind, is it not likely that all "logical" claims are predicated on some kind of empirical observation via the senses? 2+2=4 is data, but two apples being combined with two other apples to form a group of four apples (or one group, depending on abstraction level) is an empirical phenomenon which requires repeated observation and peer review, just like anything with which we physically interact. 2+2=4, therefore, could not exist without the myriad claims similar in content to "Two apples plus two apples equals four apples." The bottom line: It's all empirical; in order for math to exist, we have to be able to first test things which provide empirical evidence of the existence of quantity.

But what kinds of empirical information are there? Are there any divisions that we can make in order to bring coherence to our worldview? Well, the most obvious and fundamental of all empirical divisions appears to be into analytic and synthetic statements, as originally proposed and defined by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason. In this work, Kant quite accurately proposes that there are two kinds of concepts: subjects and predicates. The logic goes that all syntax structures can be fundamentally divided into these two parts, with the latter being necessary in conjunction with the former if a syntax structure is to qualify as complete and independently functional. In essence, subjects define what a sentence is about, while predicates affirm or support the subject in some way with additional information, usually conveyed via verbs. Additionally, subject concepts can subsume predicate concepts, or contain them; in such cases, the subject can be defined by the ensuing predicate, making the statement as a whole an analytic statement. The inverse, of course, is when a predicate concept is not contained in a subject concept, making the statement as a whole a synthetic statement.

If the definition of "circle" requires that things must be round in order to qualify as circles, then roundness is part of the subject concept of "circle." In a sentence, if additional clarification is provided after a verb, and the information presented is inherent in the definition of "circle" ("...are round"), then that second half of the sentence is not only the predicate half, but is also contained in the subject itself. Where a quality is not inherent in the definition of "circle," however, like when stating that a particular circle is eight inches in diameter, the quality can be said to be a supporting predicate concept independent of the subject concept. To put it simply, "All circles are round" contains a subject ("...circles") and a predicate which is inherent in the essence of the subject ("...are round"). "This circle is eight inches in diameter" contains a subject ("") and a predicate which is independent of the concept of a circle, meaning that not ALL circles must, by definition, possess the predicate quality (" eight inches in diameter").

Bold though it may be, I am, here and now, claiming that "bad," "needs to be fixed," "should be avoided," "needs to be reduced," etc. are predicate concepts contained in the subject concept of "suffering," making "Suffering is bad and must be reduced or eliminated altogether" not only an empirical statement (due to all logical statements being derivatives of some kind of empirical experience), but an analytic one as well.

Part II will include more on how I view the process of qualitative analysis.