Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Potential People

Potential people have moral worth. Their lives should be allowed to exist.

Practically, those who exist carry more weight. Some of the reasons for this are end's based, as it is the strength of our current social systems and the ethics which influence them which determines which potential people will come into being. Some of these are practical, recognition of the fact that practical ethics must depart from ideals in order to be workable. (LINK TO "YOU SHOULDN'T BELIEVE WHAT IS GOOD IS GOOD./GOOD IS SUBOPTIMALITY")

The is an explanation for the problem of evil. If a god does exist, it would make all potential people exist. Some potential people are evil or only come about as a result of evil.

Alternate explanation: Evil is not real. It's mocked/stubbed. i.e: When I see a child suffering, it's actually just a facsimile without conscious internal processes.

A prophet cannot be a leader

Leadership requires compromise. Truth cannot.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The process of writing

  1. Have an idea
  2. Write something stupid
  3. Rework into something less stupid
  4. Repeat 3 ad nauseam

Most of us aren't democrats.

My father always told me that a persons true character reveals itself in adversity. I think this is true. I think it is also true that how a person acts when they have the ability to act as they wish shows who they truly are. Normally, our behaviour is shaped by the norms and expectations of the societies we find ourselves in. Hence, our behaviour does not say so much about us as it does about our circumstances. When we have power, when we can act more or less as we wish, is when our true values shine through.

Democracy and Liberalism more generally means respecting the rights of others, even if they are weaker than you. It means affording the same rights to everyone, rather than giving less rights to the out-group. It means, both as a consequence of these two principles and as a cause of them, that people are allowed to make their own decisions on how to live and what to believe rather than being dictated to by a minority which feels it knows best.

Fascism is the opposite. In fascism, we are right and those who are wrong are less than us and should be swept away. In fascism, the minority (usually but not always synonymous with the weak) can and indeed should be silenced lest they corrupt the minds of others. In fascism, we can use coercion to force people to believe what we deem is right, weather that coercion is overt and violent or subtle and social.

The more I observe the behaviour of people when they are given power, the more I believe that even in the west today, most of us are fascists and are only waiting for the opportunity to put our beliefs into practice. I don't mean that most people are Nazis or support genocide. I do mean that most of us do not subscribe to the basic norms of liberty and non-coercion enough to qualify as democrats.

Most people would not hire someone with political beliefs they found wrong. The CEO of Mozilla was pressured out of his job (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/04/mozillas-gay-marriage-litmus-test-violates-liberal-values/360156/). Many believe that boycotts are an acceptable form of pressure. Taken together, these constitute economic strangulation of those with beliefs that fall outside the norm.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The impossibility of immortality.

Defining Immortality

A person who lives forever is immortal. This requires two things:
  1. That they live.
  2. That they continue to do so for an infinite period of time.
Let's deal with 1 first. Here's why defining living is important.  Let's say someone is cryogenically frozen and kept in stasis for the next 1000 years. When they wake up, have they lived 1000 years? If we freeze someone in the depths of space, does the fact that they could plausibly be revived in a trillion years mean they are effectively immortal? I'd say no. Suspended animation, keeping a person in a state where they are not running (people are software), does not qualify as being alive*. X years in stasis does not mean that you have 'lived' X years. Why? Because a person in stasis does not think, and a person who does not have conscious thoughts is not alive**&*. Living is consciousness, and immortality requires a person to exist and be conscious, even if that consciousness is interrupted by stasis.

Why is immortality impossible?

As a person lives, they change. Our experiences shape us and change us. They change us in the short term, making us feel and think differently but they also shape us in the long run, changing our beliefs and values, our behaviour and our hopes and dreams. And therein lies the rub. Immortality implies infinite experience. No matter how minuscule the change each new experience effects, a positive amount times infinity is infinite. After enough time passes in an physically immortal beings life, it is invariably no longer the same person. Thus, the person it once was no longer exists and has died.


First, let's deal with internal objections, that is those which operate within my paradigm and do not challenge my definitions of personhood and/or life.

Experiences effect us less and less as we age.

The argument is that not all experiences change us. When we are born our early life experiences, how we are raised, what culture we are steeped in, may indeed shape us greatly but later experiences shape us less and less. (insert example here). Hence, if we were to live forever, our character would solidify until, at a certain point, we are not longer changed by our environment.

The problem with this objection is fairly simple. If it is the case that the amount by which new experiences shift our character, while eventually falling to very low levels, remains positive, then over an infinite length of time those experiences will still change us into a different people. If it is the case that new experiences cease to have any effect on us whatsoever, then at that point we are effectively dead anyway. We've calcified into a fixed state incapable of change. Just like a person kept in stasis, we are not dead but neither are we alive. (reword. weak argumentation)

Experience does not change "core" traits, only peripheral ones.

This is a strong objection. It goes like this. Not all our traits define us equally. Some, like our fundamental values, baseline behaviours and personality traits define us a great deal. Stripped of my beliefs, behaviours and character, I would not be me. Others, like our current emotional state or knowledge of specifics of the world around us, do not. While my mental street map of the city in which I live may change depending on which city I live in, that does not mean I am a different person.(use a better example). Hence, an immortals experience could indeed change the peripheral elements of their mind, but leave the core untouched.

Objection: something

Not all persons must have a internal state.

Just because humans have an alterable mind does not mean all persons must. What if our immortal was not changed by their experiences. What if they were an a-priori perfect game player, able to compete effectively without any adaptation. What if they were, to take it to an extreme, a giant lookup table with reactions to every possible series of external stimuli hard-coded into the?

I'm not sure, but my intuition here is that this kind of lifeform is not a person. Why? Let's go through the objection tree.
  • A lookup table containing all possible reactions to all stimuli cannot exist in the physical universe.
    • Irrelevant. 1: it's a thought experiment. 2: A standard mind can be represented as a look-up table if you know the inputs it will recieve. Even if you don't, it can be a look up table where some inputs lead to a different lookup table which replaces the baseline one.
  • All minds must have internal states. No internal state = not conscious = not a mind.
    • True. But why must that internal state be malleable?
      • To account for a changing world.
        • What if the world is static?
        • What if the static model is powerful enough to account for the world without further changes/optimization?

      • Life = change. 

* They're not dead either, but that's a discussion for another article.
** There should be separate words for alive in the sense of a living organism and alive in the sense of a person/conscious being continuing to exist. i.e: I can suffer brain death and cease to exist, but my body, the organism which hosts me, can continue to live.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Effective Altruism and individualism

The effective altruism movement ignores one of the most significant ways to do good: raising good children*. It pays to remember that ideas don't exist in a vacuum. They are shaped by the society they reside in and the same idea in different places can be very different indeed.

Further reading:

*It is possible that having children is not good. For the purpose of this argument, that is irrelevant. You can raise children without having them by adopting

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Life as uniqueness.

The Thesis: Two identical brains in two identical worlds which are guaranteed to lead two absolutely identical lives, both in terms of internal subjective experience and in terms of their objective effect upon the world, are not different people.

1: Is personhood physical? (Spoiler: No)

If you think physical location defines a person, by that logic, if I were to move a step to the left, I would be a different person. (unless you have a very strange definition of a person where personhood is entangled with the environment). 

Does personhood requires physical continuity? What is physical continuity? Is it that the atoms in my body must be the same? Then I am a different person every 7 years. Every breath lessens me. Also, it implies a strange physicalism where a person resides in their atoms but not in other, empirically identical atoms. I do not see why replacing one carbon atom in a dendrite in my brain with an identical carbon atom makes me less me. Those who do are better off becoming shamans.

2: Is personhood causal?

Is it that a chain of causation must stretch from me to future me's? Why? No good definition of personhood or any phenomenon can depend on unrelated past states. A good definition must be empirical, based on the present configuration of the universe rather than past events. The alternative is to believe that two identical people in identical places with identical futures are different people only because of their pasts, To me this is insane. If you're not convinced, too bad.

(Rationality 101: Definitions of things that exist independently of our minds cannot be based on things that exist only in our minds, such as causation. Reality, like good code, is stateless)

3: Is personhood relational?

Some would argue that a person is only a person if their are other people they interact with. I don't think so.
  1. Counterexample:If a meteor strike kills everyone except for me, I am still a person.
  2. Even if humans can't develop into real people without socialisation, that isn't to say that is true of all possible lifeforms/people
  3. A person is not entirely defined by their relationships. That is why if you replaced a human child with a dog, and treated the dog in an identical fashion, it would not grow into the same person.
  4. There is a deeper problem with this definition, which is that it treats people as black boxes and only looks at how they interact with the external world, ignoring any differences in internal states. This is wrong. Put me and my girlfriend in front of a computer terminal which is our sole access to the external world. Give us only one key on the terminal which sends hello to the person on the other end. We produce the same output, but that does not mean we are the same person. We have different values, thoughts and feelings.

3: What is personhood

Who you are is defined, loosely, by what beliefs, values and preferences you hold. More strictly, what kind of person you are is defined by your internal state. There is an N-Dimensional person-space and you are somewhere in it. One perspective is that you are a point in this space. The problem with this is that it means that every tiny change makes you a different person. A better perspective is that a certain region or cloud of that space is you, more so at the enter and less as you move further away. You gradually change over days and months depending on your moods, emotions, growth etc.. but are, in the short term, similar enough to yourself that you are effectively the same person.