Saturday, March 24, 2012

Moral intuitions as abstract, anthropocentric absolutes

From this post:

Labeling an abstract action (“Nuking the world…”) as “wrong” is both anthropocentric and kind of akin to Plato’s position that abstractions can exist as universals independent of their mental counterparts.

1. Is it “wrong” for the sun to go supernova and incinerate us? Surely, accountability is secondary to the importance of repairing the universe. Why make a distinction between a human causing suffering and an inanimate object causing suffering other than to insinuate that the human must necessarily be subjected to some kind of arbitrarily quantified punishment?

There is no mathematical theorem which demonstrates that nuking the world necessitates fifty years in prison instead of twenty, but we can do simple math to determine whether preventing the event will also prevent an increase in negative value -- and that’s what matters, regardless of our intuitions or the ultimate fate of the perpetrator(s).

2. There is no such thing as “nuking the world” aside from as a conceptual abstraction useful for model-building. A specific nuclear event, however, can exist: It has a context and environmental variables that have been assigned values. Without these variables, we are shunning practical reality in favor of abstract absolutism -- a primary cause of bloviation and much ado about nothing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Entertainment aphorism

What a world it would be if your coworkers discussed how excited they were for New Ideas Bowl 2012 around the water cooler.

An acceptable reality vs. an unacceptable reality

Many people seem to think that I'm against the existence of suffering solely on the grounds that it is a negative phenomenon, and that I'm promoting a futuristic utopia of nothing but unfeeling robots in its place. To extinguish this false notion, I'd like to present two sets of negative sensations -- one acceptable and the other not so acceptable.

Please note that these sets are somewhat subjective; the real solution would entail that each consciousness immerse itself within a simulation perfectly customized to its particular preferences -- at least, so long as said preferences do not interfere with the fundamental teachings and meta-teachings of the society, in case the consciousnesses ever need to leave their respective simulations.

Unacceptable Sensations

Suicidality and extreme depression
Panic attacks
Pain caused by cancers and other deadly diseases
Physical torture
Nausea and any intensely uncomfortable stomach sensations
Trigeminal neuralgia
Passing kidney stones
Stab wounds
Bullet wounds
Natural childbirth

Acceptable Sensations

Stubbed toes
Scrapes and bruises
Pulled muscles (excluding some back muscles, anyway)
Headaches (possibly excluding migraines)
Cold and hot (excluding extreme burns, frostbite, etc.)

The latter set wouldn't really make the world such a horrible place, honestly. If that's all that our children had to look forward to, then I don't think that your having children would be that big of a deal, even in spite of the fundamental nature of deprivation as a cause of discomfort. Too bad for you -- and me -- that these are definitely not the only possibilities, and that set 1 must also be accounted for.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

An important distinction

Negative sensation is, by definition, negative or bad; causing negative sensation is not. Sensations are qualified according to how our brains interpret them on the negative/positive scale, while anthropogenic causality is qualified according to the rationality scale.

Updated 7/8/12: These terms may be confusing and misleading. Think of this dichotomy, instead, in terms of the pain/pleasure and irrationality/rationality scales.

Activism aphorism

What a world it would be if the American civil rights movement of the 1960s had been birthed and exclusively led by an especially empathetic group in Thailand.