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The Gift We Give To Tomorrow

44 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 July 2008 06:07AM

Followup toThou Art Godshatter, Joy in the Merely Real, Is Morality Given?, Rebelling Within Nature 

How, oh how, did an unloving and mindless universe, cough up minds who were capable of love?

"No mystery in that," you say, "it's just a matter of natural selection."

But natural selection is cruel, bloody, and bloody stupid.  Even when, on the surface of things, biological organisms aren't directly fighting each other—aren't directly tearing at each other with claws—there's still a deeper competition going on between the genes.  Genetic information is created when genes increase their relative frequency in the next generation—what matters for "genetic fitness" is not how many children you have, but that you have more children than others.  It is quite possible for a species to evolve to extinction, if the winning genes are playing negative-sum games.

How, oh how, could such a process create beings capable of love?

"No mystery," you say, "there is never any mystery-in-the-world; mystery is a property of questions, not answers.  A mother's children share her genes, so the mother loves her children."

But sometimes mothers adopt children, and still love them.  And mothers love their children for themselves, not for their genes.

"No mystery," you say, "Individual organisms are adaptation-executers, not fitness-maximizers Evolutionary psychology is not about deliberately maximizing fitness—through most of human history, we didn't know genes existed.  We don't calculate our acts' effect on genetic fitness consciously, or even subconsciously."

But human beings form friendships even with non-relatives: how, oh how, can it be?

"No mystery, for hunter-gatherers often play Iterated Prisoner's Dilemmas, the solution to which is reciprocal altruism.  Sometimes the most dangerous human in the tribe is not the strongest, the prettiest, or even the smartest, but the one who has the most allies."

Yet not all friends are fair-weather friends; we have a concept of true friendship—and some people have sacrificed their life for their friends.  Would not such a devotion tend to remove itself from the gene pool?

"You said it yourself: we have a concept of true friendship and fair-weather friendship.  We can tell, or try to tell, the difference between someone who considers us a valuable ally, and someone executing the friendship adaptation.  We wouldn't be true friends with someone who we didn't think was a true friend to us—and someone with many true friends is far more formidable than someone with many fair-weather allies."

And Mohandas Gandhi, who really did turn the other cheek?  Those who try to serve all humanity, whether or not all humanity serves them in turn?

"That perhaps is a more complicated story.  Human beings are not just social animals.  We are political animals who argue linguistically about policy in adaptive tribal contexts.  Sometimes the formidable human is not the strongest, but the one who can most skillfully argue that their preferred policies match the preferences of others."

Um... that doesn't explain Gandhi, or am I missing something?

"The point is that we have the ability to argue about 'What should be done?' as a proposition—we can make those arguments and respond to those arguments, without which politics could not take place."

Okay, but Gandhi?

"Believed certain complicated propositions about 'What should be done?' and did them."

That sounds like it could explain any possible human behavior.

"If we traced back the chain of causality through all the arguments, it would involve: a moral architecture that had the ability to argue general abstract moral propositions like 'What should be done to people?'; appeal to hardwired intuitions like fairness, a concept of duty, pain aversion + empathy; something like a preference for simple moral propositions, probably reused from our previous Occam prior; and the end result of all this, plus perhaps memetic selection effects, was 'You should not hurt people' in full generality—"

And that gets you Gandhi.

"Unless you think it was magic, it has to fit into the lawful causal development of the universe somehow."

Well... I certainly won't postulate magic, under any name.

"Good."

But come on... doesn't it seem a little... amazing... that hundreds of millions of years worth of evolution's death tournament could cough up mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, steadfast friends and honorable enemies, true altruists and guardians of causes, police officers and loyal defenders, even artists sacrificing themselves for their art, all practicing so many kinds of love?  For so many things other than genes?  Doing their part to make their world less ugly, something besides a sea of blood and violence and mindless replication?

"Are you claiming to be surprised by this?  If so, question your underlying model, for it has led you to be surprised by the true state of affairs.  Since the beginning, not one unusual thing has ever happened."

But how is it not surprising?

"What are you suggesting, that some sort of shadowy figure stood behind the scenes and directed evolution?"

Hell no.  But—

"Because if you were suggesting that, I would have to ask how that shadowy figure originally decided that love was a desirable outcome of evolution.  I would have to ask where that figure got preferences that included things like love, friendship, loyalty, fairness, honor, romance, and so on.  On evolutionary psychology, we can see how that specific outcome came about—how those particular goals rather than others were generated in the first place.  You can call it 'surprising' all you like.  But when you really do understand evolutionary psychology, you can see how parental love and romance and honor, and even true altruism and moral arguments, bear the specific design signature of natural selection in particular adaptive contexts of the hunter-gatherer savanna.  So if there was a shadowy figure, it must itself have evolved—and that obviates the whole point of postulating it."

I'm not postulating a shadowy figure!  I'm just asking how human beings ended up so nice.

"Nice!  Have you looked at this planet lately?  We also bear all those other emotions that evolved, too—which would tell you very well that we evolved, should you begin to doubt it.  Humans aren't always nice."

We're one hell of a lot nicer than the process that produced us, which lets elephants starve to death when they run out of teeth, and doesn't anesthetize a gazelle even as it lays dying and is of no further importance to evolution one way or the other.  It doesn't take much to be nicer than evolution.  To have the theoretical capacity to make one single gesture of mercy, to feel a single twinge of empathy, is to be nicer than evolution.  How did evolution, which is itself so uncaring, create minds on that qualitatively higher moral level than itself?  How did evolution, which is so ugly, end up doing anything so beautiful?

"Beautiful, you say?  Bach's Little Fugue in G Minor may be beautiful, but the sound waves, as they travel through the air, are not stamped with tiny tags to specify their beauty.  If you wish to find explicitly encoded a measure of the fugue's beauty, you will have to look at a human brain—nowhere else in the universe will you find it.  Not upon the seas or the mountains will you find such judgments written: they are not minds, they cannot think."

Perhaps that is so, but still I ask:  How did evolution end up doing anything so beautiful, as giving us the ability to admire the beauty of a flower?

"Can you not see the circularity in your question?  If beauty were like some great light in the sky that shined from outside humans, then your question might make sense—though there would still be the question of how humans came to perceive that light.  You evolved with a psychology unlike evolution:  Evolution has nothing like the intelligence or the precision required to exactly quine its goal system.  In coughing up the first true minds, evolution's simple fitness criterion shattered into a thousand values.  You evolved with a psychology that attaches utility to things which evolution does not care about, like human life and happiness.  And then you look back and say, 'How marvelous, that uncaring evolution produced minds that care about sentient life!'  So your great marvel and wonder, that seems like far too much coincidence, is really no coincidence at all."

But then it is still amazing that this particular circular loop, happened to loop around such important things as beauty and altruism.

"I don't think you're following me here.  To you, it seems natural to privilege the beauty and altruism as special, as preferred, because you value them highly; and you don't see this as a unusual fact about yourself, because many of your friends do likewise.  So you expect that a ghost of perfect emptiness would also value life and happiness—and then, from this standpoint outside reality, a great coincidence would indeed have occurred."

But you can make arguments for the importance of beauty and altruism from first principles—that our aesthetic senses lead us to create new complexity, instead of repeating the same things over and over; and that altruism is important because it takes us outside ourselves, gives our life a higher meaning than sheer brute selfishness.

"Oh, and that argument is going to move even a ghost of perfect emptiness—now that you've appealed to slightly different values?  Those aren't first principles, they're just different principles.  Even if you've adopted a high-falutin' philosophical tone, still there are no universally compelling arguments.  All you've done is pass the recursive buck."

You don't think that, somehow, we evolved to tap into something beyond—

"What good does it do to suppose something beyond?  Why should we pay more attention to that beyond thing, than we pay to our existence as humans?  How does it alter your personal responsibility, to say that you were only following the orders of the beyond thing?  And you would still have evolved to let the beyond thing, rather than something else, direct your actions.  You are only passing the recursive buck.  Above all, it would be too much coincidence."

Too much coincidence?

"A flower is beautiful, you say.  Do you think there is no story behind that beauty, or that science does not know the story?  Flower pollen is transmitted by bees, so by sexual selection, flowers evolved to attract bees—by imitating certain mating signs of bees, as it happened; the flowers' patterns would look more intricate, if you could see in the ultraviolet.  Now healthy flowers are a sign of fertile land, likely to bear fruits and other treasures, and probably prey animals as well; so is it any wonder that humans evolved to be attracted to flowers?  But for there to be some great light written upon the very stars—those huge unsentient balls of burning hydrogen—which also said that flowers were beautiful, now that would be far too much coincidence."

So you explain away the beauty of a flower?

"No, I explain it.  Of course there's a story behind the beauty of flowers and the fact that we find them beautiful.  Behind ordered events, one finds ordered stories; and what has no story is the product of random noise, which is hardly any better.  If you cannot take joy in things that have stories behind them, your life will be empty indeed.  I don't think I take any less joy in a flower than you do; more so, perhaps, because I take joy in its story as well."

Perhaps as you say, there is no surprise from a causal viewpoint—no disruption of the physical order of the universe.  But it still seems to me that, in this creation of humans by evolution, something happened that is precious and marvelous and wonderful.  If we cannot call it a physical miracle, then call it a moral miracle.

"Because it's only a miracle from the perspective of the morality that was produced, thus explaining away all of the apparent coincidence from a merely causal and physical perspective?"

Well... I suppose you could interpret the term that way, yes.  I just meant something that was immensely surprising and wonderful on a moral level, even if it is not surprising on a physical level.

"I think that's what I said."

But it still seems to me that you, from your own view, drain something of that wonder away.

"Then you have problems taking joy in the merely real.  Love has to begin somehow, it has to enter the universe somewhere.  It is like asking how life itself begins—and though you were born of your father and mother, and they arose from their living parents in turn, if you go far and far and far away back, you will finally come to a replicator that arose by pure accident—the border between life and unlife.  So too with love.

"A complex pattern must be explained by a cause which is not already that complex pattern.  Not just the event must be explained, but the very shape and form.  For love to first enter Time, it must come of something that is not love; if this were not possible, then love could not be.

"Even as life itself required that first replicator to come about by accident, parentless but still caused: far, far back in the causal chain that led to you: 3.85 billion years ago, in some little tidal pool.

"Perhaps your children's children will ask how it is that they are capable of love.

"And their parents will say:  Because we, who also love, created you to love.

"And your children's children will ask:  But how is it that you love?

"And their parents will reply:  Because our own parents, who also loved, created us to love in turn.

"Then your children's children will ask:  But where did it all begin?  Where does the recursion end?

"And their parents will say:  Once upon a time, long ago and far away, ever so long ago, there were intelligent beings who were not themselves intelligently designed.  Once upon a time, there were lovers created by something that did not love.

"Once upon a time, when all of civilization was a single galaxy and a single star: and a single planet, a place called Earth.

"Long ago, and far away, ever so long ago."

 

Part of The Metaethics Sequence

Next post: "Could Anything Be Right?"

Previous post: "Whither Moral Progress?"

Comments (97)

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Comment author: Elliot_Temple 17 July 2008 07:05:56AM 4 points [-]

You seem very impressed with love, as our entire culture is. Might that be a bias?

It's hard to point to concrete ways that love helps people (cooperation, parenting, and various other things are perfectly possible without love).

It's easy to point to many known ways that love hurts people. First, there are broken hearts and divorces. Then there's external pressure on who we love or not (if you don't love me I'm going to leave you; if you love her, I'm going to leave you). And then there is the theory that my love for you gives you obligations to me. People use love as a claim on others. When people love you they start wanting things from you, like time and attention. People also use your love as a burden for you (if you really loved me, you would...).

All these bad aspects of love are commonly ignored and disregarded, rather than seen as urgent problems that ought to be, and can be, solved. If love is a great thing we ought to be able to get it to stop hurting people so much and so often. That people don't have a problem-solving attitude towards love, and instead close their eyes to its flaws, is a sign that points to people having biased views on love not rational views.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 08 October 2011 12:00:07AM 15 points [-]

You seem very impressed with love, as our entire culture is. Might that be a bias?

One of the things the post does is point out that it's a bias.

Comment author: DanielLC 14 January 2012 02:21:07AM 14 points [-]

The utility function is not up for grabs. If you value love, this has nothing to do with your beliefs. Valuing love can trigger biases, such as wishful thinking, but it is not of itself a bias. It's neither rational nor irrational, but arational.

Comment author: foolishcriminalirony 16 January 2013 04:03:40AM -1 points [-]

Trust emerges from the proliferation of differences that is love, and trust is equally arational; if we are evoking a society that values trust over love while still embracing individuals who value love over trust, have we not created inconsistency in our rationality, thus creating a bias toward valuing trust over love and substance over style?

Sometimes i feel the styling of love (not the substance of trust) is the only thing that keeps Turing machines at bay.

Comment author: Unknown 17 July 2008 07:14:56AM 2 points [-]

We might be living in a simulation. If we are, then as Eliezer pointed out himself, we have no idea what kind of physics exist in the "real world." In fact, there is no reason to assume any likeness at all between our world and the real world. For example, the fundamental entities in the real world could be intelligent beings, instead of quarks. If so, then there could be some "shadowy figure" after all. This might be passing the buck, but at least it would be passing it back to somewhere where we can't say anything about it anymore.

Comment author: DanielLC 14 January 2012 02:29:17AM 3 points [-]

This might be passing the buck, but at least it would be passing it back to somewhere where we can't say anything about it anymore.

That doesn't help. If there's a reason why intelligence would exist in a world where it's not fundamental, and we know nothing about what is fundamental in this outer world, it would be an awfully big coincidence for intelligence to be fundamental.

If you want to pass the buck well, you pass it from a place where it can't be explained to somewhere it can. You just passed from somewhere it can be explained (inextricable product to evolution) to somewhere it can't (fundamental force just happens to do that).

Comment author: Mike_Blume 17 July 2008 08:27:01AM 12 points [-]

I tried, Unknown, I really did. I wanted badly to be a theist for a long time, and I really tried to think along the path you're suggesting. But we've learned so much about the myriad ways that intelligence isn't fundamental - *can't* be fundamental. It's too complex, has too many degrees of freedom. You want to postulate a perfect essence of intelligence? Fine - whose? What will it want, and not want? What strategies of rationality will it execute? Intelligence is a product of structure, and structure comes from an ordering of lower levels. As fundamental as it seems from the inside, I don't think there's any way to put back the clock and view intelligence as an irreducible entity the way you seem to want to.

Comment author: Joshua_Fox 17 July 2008 09:38:53AM 8 points [-]

If you replace "love" in this article with "theistic spirituality" -- another aspect of the human psychology which many, if not most, humans consider deeply important and beautiful -- and likewise replace mutatis mutandis other parts of the dialog, would it not just as well argue for the propagation of religion to our descendants?

Comment author: DanielLC 14 January 2012 02:30:50AM 3 points [-]

If you value love, then you would value passing it on. This equally applies to theistic spirituality, or torture for that matter.

Comment author: wedrifid 14 January 2012 03:30:00AM *  0 points [-]

If you value love, then you would value passing it on.

That does not seem to follow. If I value love why can't I be entirely selfish with respect to it? I might prefer to get more love than everyone else!

Comment author: DanielLC 14 January 2012 05:24:15AM 4 points [-]

If you are selfish in respect to it, that means that you value yourself having love.

When I say "value love", I mean prefer a universe with love to one without.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 05 July 2012 02:02:38PM 0 points [-]

Hoarding it is going to be especially counterproductive in that case.

Comment author: DaFranker 23 August 2012 12:36:08PM 0 points [-]

Not necessarily, depending on the boundaries you trace on the concept "Love". It is perfectly reasonable that a mind would value itself loving other things or minds, but nothing else. This would mean that whether other things love said mind is irrelevant to the mind in question.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 05 July 2012 02:17:52PM 1 point [-]

would it not just as well argue for the propagation of religion to our descendants?

Yes, but only to someone who believes the religion.

Someone who disbelieves the religion but nonetheless finds something valuable in "spirituality", should try to find that thing elsewhere rather than collude in at best a noble lie.

Comment author: robin_brandt2 17 July 2008 09:56:54AM 1 point [-]

There is an argument from David Deutsch about the beauty of flowers. It is available here http://www.qubit.org/people/david/index.php?path=Video/Why%20Are%20Flowers%20Beautiful

Although I do not agree with everything he says in that talk. I think he may be right in that one reason both bees and humans find flowers attractive is that there was a huge genetic gap between bees and flowers, and so the shortest way of signaling between the species was to use a more universal standard, a standard that seems to be embedded in the very nature of intelligence(at least in part of mindspace) and therefore also appealing to human general intelligence, I think it has something to do with simplicity and complexity, minimal description length and symmetry and is definitively calibrated by the our laws of physics, cosmological constants, and environment on earth. Of course from an outside viewpoint this standard is not special or any more valuable that any other, but it may have a certain absolute quality to it that may appear in most intelligences at least i this universe, it may not be completely arbitrary, there may even be parts wich would evolve in any intelligence anywhere in the MUH.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 October 2009 05:10:11PM 16 points [-]

one reason both bees and humans find flowers attractive is that there was a huge genetic gap between bees and flowers, and so the shortest way of signaling between the species was to use a more universal standard, a standard that seems to be embedded in the very nature of intelligence

I haven't watched the talk, but that sounds like a very odd reply when you consider that humans can't actually see the complicated ultraviolet patterns that flowers use to signal to bees in particular.

Comment author: waveman 29 June 2016 01:16:03AM *  1 point [-]

This doesn't address the visual beauty of flowers as such but, worth noting: flowers often emit chemicals that mimic the smell of sex hormones and their metabolites. Sex hormones are quite similar across the animal kingdom. This is part of why we like flowers and use them in perfumes. Other species do similar things eg truffles.

So the appeal to humans could, in the case of truffles, be a side-effect of an attempt by the fungus's to get pigs to dig them up and spread the spores.

A fascinating book on this topic "The Scented Ape" https://www.amazon.com/Scented-Ape-Biology-Individual-Development/dp/0521395615/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467162838&sr=8-1&keywords=scented+ape also it is interesting to read a few books about how perfumes are made.

Comment author: Roko2 17 July 2008 11:20:44AM 1 point [-]

Eli: "Once upon a time, when all of civilization was a single galaxy and a single star: and a single planet, a place called Earth."

- Nice ; - )

Comment author: DaFranker 23 August 2012 12:38:53PM 3 points [-]

Notice the strong influence of transhumanism: Your grandchildren are being told of the timeless old legend of "The One Planet That Caused Us". This implies that either you or your children have lived long enough for (trans)humans to spread out across galaxies.

I found that part incredibly uplifting.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 24 August 2012 04:38:45AM 4 points [-]

The mode of expression in parables doesn't always bother with such precision and may consider "children's children" a perfectly valid way to denote "future relatives at the end of a line of descent of unknown, but possibly really very long length", because the former reads much snappier in a parable.

Comment author: DaFranker 24 August 2012 05:32:59AM *  2 points [-]

Good point. Still just as uplifting, but maybe not as strictly transhumanist as I thought.

Comment author: Pyramid_Head3 17 July 2008 12:06:05PM 2 points [-]

And there goes Caledonian again, with his vacuous comments intended only to spite. Eliezer already said everything you're saying - too bad you couldn't see it :(

Comment author: Ben_Jones 17 July 2008 12:19:57PM 4 points [-]

Explaining love to a naive non-human intelligence that doesn't have an analogue:

"We feel a strange sort of attraction (sometimes physical, sometimes mental) towards other members of the species, and sometimes towards the species as a whole."

"Well, duhhh. Evolution maybe?"

"But you don't get it - sometimes it goes so far as to cause us to let harm be done to ourselves in the name of love."

"Lemmings walking off cliffs in droves? Birds evolving large showy tails that give them difficulty flying because it makes them more likely to attract a mate? Old individuals wasting away and dying? Fitness of the individual is not necessarily fitness of the species."

"But some people can be so consumed by love that they pine away and even take their own lives! Surely that demonstrates that love is something apart from things like eyes, ears, and sexual reproduction?"

"Remember that evolution is mindless. Humans are not the first Earth species that contains individuals for whom a certain adaptation happens to go haywire. All that is required is that love have a net positive effect. After that, it doesn't matter what downsides it has, it will propagate. Evolution doesn't tend to work with the 97th and 98th percentiles of fitness, but with the 51st and 52nd. Small mutations, small adaptations, big effects. Love evolved, and the reason you're having trouble coming to terms is that the organ you're using to think about it is the organ where it arises."

@Caledonian

No, it lacks the capacity to care about suffering and to choose whether to inflict pain. 'Cruel' is not a concept that applies.

'Cruelty can be described as indifference to suffering...'

Your objections to 'bloody' and 'bloody stupid' are equally groundless - Google away. Caledonian, I presume you're suggesting we should stop putting such an anthropocentric slant on things by...talking about them with human language?

Comment author: VAuroch 24 November 2013 02:34:33AM 2 points [-]

Lemmings do not, in fact, walk off cliffs in droves. That was a stunt for the camera; they were being driven.

Just a nitpick.

Comment author: Unknown 17 July 2008 01:06:51PM 1 point [-]

Mike Blume: "Intelligence is a product of structure, and structure comes from an ordering of lower levels."

I agree with that (at least for the kind of intelligence we know about), but the structure rests on universal laws of physics: how did those laws get to be universal?

Comment author: Ken_Sharpe2 17 July 2008 01:08:36PM 3 points [-]

You have moments of poetry Eli, I enjoyed that.

Comment author: SnappyCrunch 17 July 2008 01:22:58PM 1 point [-]

I especially enjoy these types of posts. Your posts are so often densely packed with information that I find myself getting overloaded. This format allows for a back and forth between ideas, covering possible arguments, and the mock discussion allows me to take a mental break every few sentences. The end result is a post that I can enjoy from beginning to end, and feel that I've learned a point well enough to argue it on my own.

Comment author: Yvain2 17 July 2008 01:40:16PM 6 points [-]

Wow. And this is the sort of thing you write when you're *busy*...

I've enjoyed these past few posts, but the part I've found most interesting are the attempts at evolutionary psychology-based explanations for things, like teenage rebellion and now flowers. Are these your own ideas, or have you taken them from some other source where they're backed up by further research? If the latter, can you tell me what the source is? I would love to read more of them (I've already read "Moral Animal", but most of these are still new to me).

Comment author: IL 17 July 2008 02:16:47PM 2 points [-]

The AIs will not care about the things you care about. They'll have no reason to.

The "AIs" will be created by us. If we're smart enough, we will program the AIs to value the things we value (not in the same way that evolution programmed us).

The important thing is that we humans value love, and therefore we want love to perpetuate throught the universe.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 17 July 2008 02:43:57PM 1 point [-]

If you replace "love" in this article with "theistic spirituality" -- another aspect of the human psychology which many, if not most, humans consider deeply important and beautiful -- and likewise replace mutatis mutandis other parts of the dialog, would it not just as well argue for the propagation of religion to our descendants?

I don't see the dialogue as arguing for anything, rather than explaining; but if it is, it's arguing for the propagation of those parts of our psychology we really want to keep, not the blind preservation of everything evolution gave us.

Comment author: michael_vassar3 17 July 2008 03:39:10PM 13 points [-]

OK Eliezer, answer the easy question "why are flowers beautiful" and dodge the hard one about fugues, rainbows, stars, sunsets, and iridescent beetles, as well as the beauty of difficult to catch gazelles, the ugliness of easy to catch pigs, and the ugliness of tasty and nutritious bottom-dwelling fish.

Comment author: omalleyt 22 September 2016 04:56:22AM 0 points [-]

Most things humans like are super-colorful. Colorful things were probably a good sign of fertile land or some other desirable thing. As to the stars, don't you think the guy who looks up every night and likes what he sees is gonna have a better, more productive life then the guy who looks up and grimaces?

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 17 July 2008 04:03:46PM 3 points [-]

Nitpick: pigs have only been easy to catch for ~9000 years.

Comment author: Michael_G.R. 17 July 2008 04:26:59PM 0 points [-]

"Once upon a time, when all of civilization was a single galaxy and a single star: and a single planet, a place called Earth."

Did this dialogue take place aboard the Battlestar Galactica? :-P

Great post!

Comment author: Joshua_Fox 17 July 2008 06:41:40PM 0 points [-]

@Nick Tarleton "but if it is [arguing for something], it's arguing for the propagation of those parts of our psychology we really want to keep."

For many or most humans, to the extent that current religion is imperfect, the enhancement of spirituality is perhaps the most important goal for humanity. Of course, various groups do have variations on what they mean by religion, but worship of a god is very common

I wonder, then, if Eliezer's explanation/argument could be applied just as well to the preservation and encouragement of worship of the divine, though it would not fit well with the atheism advocated in his other articles.

Comment author: Caledonian2 17 July 2008 07:42:53PM 5 points [-]

I wonder, then, if Eliezer's explanation/argument could be applied just as well to the preservation and encouragement of worship of the divine,

It can be applied equally well to every bias, prejudice, preconception, and inbuilt drive humans possess. Any arbitrary tradition, any cultural viewpoint, any habitual practice.

None of those things will be our gift to the future. Our gift will not be the strategies we acquired through luck, stumbling onto the correct paths through the maze by trial and error. It will be the ability to understand what makes strategies correct, the ability to look ahead and foresee the territory yet to come, and to design strategies to cope with its challenges.

Rationality is deeply alien to human beings; it doesn't come naturally to us at all. The things that do come naturally, that are part of our nature? None of us can say what our descendants will or will not do, but there is no reason to believe that any particular part of human nature will be worthy in their eyes. Like pouring water from one container to another, minds will take new shapes appropriate to their circumstances. The one thing we can say about it is that we can say nothing else.

That's what singularities are all about.

Comment author: Lara_Foster 17 July 2008 07:48:47PM 3 points [-]

Well, as a women with at least 4 men after her genetic material, who is very circumspect about the wisdom of child-rearing, I find this discussion somewhat interesting... People consciously want to perpetuate *themselves.* It's not just sex without contraception = babies + oxytocin + progesterone = child loving. People love children that do not yet exist. People love the written words they leave behind on the page. People love creation... their own... their immortality. With enough power, could the superintelligence reach back through the relics and memories of the past and recreate a human through his descendants? Interesting question...

Eliezer: "But you can make arguments for the importance of beauty and altruism from first principles - that our aesthetic senses lead us to create new complexity, instead of repeating the same things over and over; and that altruism is important because it takes us outside ourselves, gives our life a higher meaning than sheer brute selfishness."

Oh. Just lovely.

"Long ago, and far away, ever so long ago."

Wow.

Temple: "All these bad aspects of love are commonly ignored and disregarded, rather than seen as urgent problems that ought to be, and can be, solved. If love is a great thing we ought to be able to get it to stop hurting people so much and so often. That people don't have a problem-solving attitude towards love, and instead close their eyes to its flaws, is a sign that points to people having biased views on love not rational views."

Have you ever known love? I would not want to live in a reality without it. Yes. It's just that good.

This post gives me a lot more hope about fAI.

Yes- I know my name is now going to appear 4 times in the 10 most recent comments- I acidently posted my first comment twice...

Comment author: Z._M._Davis 17 July 2008 08:01:30PM 2 points [-]

Unknown: "We might be living in a simulation. If we are, [...] there is no reason to assume any likeness at all between our world and the real world. For example, the fundamental entities in the real world could be intelligent beings, instead of quarks."

Bostrom's simulation argument is only persuasive because it gives us reasons (posthuman civilization is plausible; posthumans could run ancestor simulations) from within our world for thinking that our world is a simulation that bears likeness to the "real" one. Without such reasons, the simulation hypothesis has no advantage over other hypotheses of extreme skepticism, like solipsism, Descartes's deceiving demon, &c.

Fox: "If you replace 'love' in this article with 'theistic spirituality' [...] would it not just as well argue for the propagation of religion to our descendants?"

I think the difference is that we're pretty sure that love actually exists, whereas God most probably doesn't. (We could just keep the emotion corresponding to "transcendent spiritual awe," while trashing the epistemology.)

Comment author: Tim_Tyler 17 July 2008 08:48:07PM 0 points [-]

Re: ancestor simulations

As a matter of fact, we don't run many ancestor simulations.

Rather, most simulations are games and movies: action adventure, comedy, pornography, etc - which makes it more likely that those are the kind of simulation we are in, if our world exists under simulation.

Comment author: Lara_Foster 17 July 2008 09:05:26PM 3 points [-]

Temple- Actually I reread your post. I think the problem is never 'Love' proper, but negative things that are sometimes associated with love, specifically jealousy and selfishness- well jealously is a type of selfishness. For example: married man falls in love with another woman and decides in his romantic passion to have an affair, which in turns hurts his wife and ends his marriage. The problem: His wife's jealousy. Why should we lie to ourselves our whole lives about who we love? Why should we only love our parents, children, and spouse? Lameass social norms...

Example 2: Superspy has a choice between trying to save a whole city block or trying to save the woman he loves... He chooses the woman. Irrational? Maybe... maybe the problem was he didn't love humanity enough to make the rationalist decision. I still don't know what the proper response to this situation *should* be. Any takers?

Comment author: Allan_Crossman 17 July 2008 09:53:48PM 3 points [-]

None of us can say what our descendants will or will not do, but there is no reason to believe that any particular part of human nature will be worthy in their eyes. [emphasis mine]

I can see one possible reason: we might have some influence over what they think.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 17 July 2008 10:22:09PM 0 points [-]

fugues, rainbows, stars, sunsets, and iridescent beetles

Yes, these are hard. Here's my speculation:

Rainbows => sun and water => plants to eat => prey animals. Stars and sunsets => good weather tomorrow => easier survival (and reproduction). No idea about the beetles yet.

difficult to catch gazelles, the ugliness of easy to catch pigs, and the ugliness of tasty and nutritious bottom-dwelling fish.

These are easy.

All these things possess attributes desirable for a human. "I wish I could run as fast as a gazelle, or be as dangerous to my enemies as a tiger, or safely explore the land like an eagle".

Pigs are prey, and this is not a desirable condition for a human. Plus, pigs are fat and smell bad. One can think, would I want to be fat, stinky and easy to catch?

Dogs are subordinate to us, wolves are not, therefore wolves possess more desirable attributes (they are not somebody's slaves or sidekicks), which is why we see much more wolves than dogs on t-shirts and car stickers.

Wolves are pack predators, hyenas are too, but the latter eat mostly sick and dead animals -- no human would want such a food. Wolves again are 'more beautiful' to us.

As for the bottom-dwelling fish, I personally find them strangely attractive and fascinating. Their ugliness might have to do with the fact that their 'facial features' can be easily projected to humans: huge mouth, widely spaced eyes, bald skin -- not very attractive by human standards.

All this probably related to mirror neurons. We think pigs are ugly, but we don't usually think that rocks are ugly.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 17 July 2008 10:35:35PM 2 points [-]

As for the fugues, the reaction of the human brain to music is most puzzling and fascinating to me. It feels as if 'some shadowy entity' forgot to remove direct API for accessing our own emotional machinery.

Comment author: Pyramid_Head3 17 July 2008 11:14:58PM 1 point [-]

@Caledonian: A properly designed AI should care about the very things that we care. Or what would be the purpose of building it? Wipe out the human race trying to prove the Riemann hypothesis? I'm well aware of the huge mind-design space out there - but I think that we should aim for the right spot when designing our first AI (now, where is the spot, and how to aim for it is still an open question).

I would be interested in seeing what you think about how we should build an AI (and what its goals should be as well...)

Comment author: Ben_Jones 17 July 2008 11:18:02PM 2 points [-]

@Michael and Vlad

None of them are tough to explain. Some Vlad's nailed, some are coincidence. Random thing happens to resemble useful thing in some property, random thing sets off our beauty sensors. Every now and then you'll end up eating a poisonous beetle, but aesthetic judgment clearly has a net benefit for us. You don't need to think up elaborate reasons for why we think sunsets are beautiful. You just need to remember that we have a useful phenomenon called 'beauty' that reacts to useful things. It's only natural that some other things are, by chance, going to trigger it too. Music's not immediately obvious, granted, but have a look at Daniel Levitin's 'This is Your Brain on Music'.

Vlad, think the wolf thing through. You think there were pugs and dachsunds wandering about the prehistoric savanna? The first dogs to be domesticated started life wild and feral, resembled modern wolves, and were probably about as much fun to be around at first.

@Lara

Have you ever known love? I would not want to live in a reality without it. Yes. It's just that good.

Agreed, BUT, if a dog could talk, it might ask you if you've ever tried gnawing on a bone. You haven't? But it's the best thing in the whole world! Beware of seeing the algorithm from inside. I'm all for love n' stuff, but remember when advocating that you need to do so strictly from a human point of view. Oddly, this post makes me fear more for fAI.

Oh, and the proper response is to save the city block. I'm not saying it's what I'd do, but for most normal definitions of 'proper', just save the city block and stop overthinking it.

Comment author: Leonid2 17 July 2008 11:37:55PM -1 points [-]

“Now healthy flowers are a sign of fertile land, likely to bear fruits and other treasures, and probably prey animals as well; so is it any wonder that humans evolved to be attracted to flowers? “

Eliezer, could you make a plausible rationalization of human attraction to music based on natural selection?

Great post btw.

Comment author: Elliot_Temple 18 July 2008 01:02:40AM -1 points [-]

Leonid,

Humans used to live in small tribes of about 50 people, and prepared for the hunt by looking at their cave paintings of animals they would soon kill. But cave paintings are not a perfect virtual reality aid for imagining a hunt. So they also rubbed their furs in the grass to get the right *smell*, and they also *made sounds* to remind themselves of the hunt. Natural selection favored these behaviors because they helped people hunt for food better. Over time, people evolved to desire certain kinds of visual, olfactory, and auditory sensations -- this was natural selection giving people positive feedback for behaviors that made them better hunters. And that's where music (and art) came from.

Is this the kind of thing you wanted?

Comment author: Caledonian2 18 July 2008 01:25:52AM 9 points [-]

As for the fugues, the reaction of the human brain to music is most puzzling and fascinating to me. It feels as if 'some shadowy entity' forgot to remove direct API for accessing our own emotional machinery.

Haven't you ever noticed that the tones in human voices change, depending on the emotional states of the speakers?

Why do you think humans might perceive certain sound combinations as evoking different emotions?

Comment author: Kenny 12 April 2013 03:18:15AM 1 point [-]

I've never made nor previously been told of this connection, but it's brilliant!

Comment author: Douglas_Knight3 18 July 2008 01:52:57AM 1 point [-]

the tones in human voices change, depending on the emotional states of the speakers?

I've heard that isn't true in tonal languages. Is the meaning of the tones universal across atonal languages? I doubt it, for otherwise, how would tonal ones develop?

Comment author: Leonid2 18 July 2008 02:09:33AM 1 point [-]

I’m sorry, Elliot, but, while your suggestion is logical, it does not seem very plausible to me. I do not see how appreciation of Bach can boost my hunting abilities. A further mystery to me is how we are able to read complex emotions expressed by music. Often it can be easier to gauge the emotional context from the music than from the intonation of foreign speakers.

I also have some doubts concerning Eliezer’s theory on the beauty of flowers. If our appreciation of nature’s beauty has a hidden utilitarian purpose related to agriculture, why is it more often expressed by urban dwellers than by those who actually make a living out of land?

Comment author: komponisto2 18 July 2008 02:36:47AM 1 point [-]

Douglas Knight:

I've heard that isn't true in tonal languages

Where did you hear that?

It's false. "Tone" as a lexical property of words (as in "tonal languages") is a specific technical concept that is not to be confused with "intonation", which is an essentially universal phenomenon of human speech.

Comment author: Elliot_Temple 18 July 2008 02:59:35AM -1 points [-]

Leonid,

Once hunting music was created, females could select mates not just by how well they hunted directly (which they often didn't directly observe), but also by the quality of their hunting music. A man's hunting music provided extra information about his knowledge of hunting. Once females started selecting mates partially in this way, there was evolutionary selection pressure on men to start making music for the purpose of attracting a mate.

Female taste in music did not correspond to hunting music absolutely perfectly; it was just flawed rules of thumb. This left room for males to deviate from only making sounds to mimic the hunt. So males started competing with each other to make music that best attracted females, at the cost of making it less like hunting. Once males started doing this, females started selecting the males that were best at competing with the other males, rather than the males with the music that sounded most like hunting. So music became a useless display (useless for survival) used in sexual selection, like the peacock's tail. Musical development after that point didn't have anything to do with hunting, which is why the origins aren't obvious today.

How's that?

Comment author: David_J._Balan 18 July 2008 03:26:14AM 0 points [-]

Of course the feeling of love had to evolve, and of course it had to evolve from something that was not love.* And of course the value of the love that we feel is not woven into the fabric of the universe; it's only valuable to us. But it's still a very happy thing that love exists, and it's also sort of a lucky thing; it is not woven into the fabric of the universe that intelligent beings (or any beings for that matter) have to have anything that feels as good as love does to us. This luck may or may not be "surprising" in the sense that it may or may not be the case that the evolution of love (or something else that feels as good to the one who feels it) is highly likely conditional on evolving intelligence. I don't know the actual answer to this, but the point is that I can at least conceive of a sense in which in which the existence of love might be regarded as surprising.*

*BTW, the same point can be made about the religious (specifically Protestant) origins of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment wasn't always there, and it didn't fall from the sky, so it had to have its origins in something that wasn't the Enlightenment. To the extent that Protestantism had some attributes that made it fertile soil for the Enlightenment to grow from, great. But that doesn't make old-timey Protestantism liberal or good, and it certainly doesn't entitle *contemporary* Protestantism to a share of the credit for the Enlightenments' achievements.

Comment author: Jeff2 18 July 2008 03:33:09AM 0 points [-]

The book How Music Really Works has some decent ideas about the evolution of music. Here's approximately the relevant part.

Basically he suggests it's useful as pre-language for mother-infant communication, for maintaining group cohesion, and for sexual signaling. The specific structure of music is largely a side effect of how our brain processes language.

Comment author: Jeff2 18 July 2008 03:35:25AM 0 points [-]

The book How Music Really Works has some decent ideas about the evolution of music. Here's approximately the relevant part.

Basically he suggests it's useful as pre-language for mother-infant communication, for maintaining group cohesion, and for sexual signaling. The specific structure of music is largely a side effect of how our brain processes language.

Comment author: Caledonian2 18 July 2008 03:42:38AM 1 point [-]

it is not woven into the fabric of the universe that intelligent beings (or any beings for that matter) have to have anything that feels as good as love does to us.

Actually, it sort of is. "Feeling good" is just a convenient name to refer to the effect of certain stimuli patterns: a specific level and type of reinforcement.

There may be organisms whose niche does not require them to have a state that represents the level of reinforcement implied by the "experience of love", but that is not a deficiency, and we are not "lucky" to have come from a niche that made being so useful.

But any organism would be theoretically capable of such a reinforcement state even if it had to be artificially imposed upon its neurology. It's not a matter of whether it's possible, but whether it's desirable.

If greater and greater levels of "feeling good" are what you're going for, I suggest you try heroin. Or get yourself wireheaded, ASAP. I think you'll find it's not quite what you were expecting.

Comment author: Z._M._Davis 18 July 2008 03:52:10AM 9 points [-]

Vladimir: "These are easy." Ben: "None of them are tough to explain. Some Vlad's nailed [...]" Elliot: "Humans [...] prepared for the hunt by looking at their cave paintings of animals they would soon kill [...]" Elliot again: "hunting music [...] How's that?"

In case anyone was wondering where evolutionary psychology gets its bad reputation for being a bunch of "just-so" stories, see above.

To be clear, I'm not saying that there aren't any adaptive explanations for aesthetic appreciation of music, rainbows, &c. Rather, it's that we're unlikely to uncover the true explanations in the process of speculating on a blog comment thread. To do this properly, and therefore actually have half a chance of getting the right answer, you'd want to be deeply familiar with the literature on human evolution and modern-day hunter-gatherers. You'd want to review or conduct cross-cultural studies. You'd want to devise some extremely clever experiments to run in the psychology lab, &c.

By all means, generate hypotheses! Guess!--but know when you're just guessing.

Comment author: michael_vassar3 18 July 2008 03:54:02AM 13 points [-]

Aack!!! Too... many... just so stories... bad evolutionary psychology... comment moderation... failing.

Comment author: AndyWood 18 July 2008 04:21:21AM 4 points [-]

It seems to me that some of these explanations for beauty are overkill. Start from the straightforward idea that natural selection shaped our pattern-recognition hardware, in all of its varieties, for "ordinary" evolutionary reasons. Then suppose that we discovered ways of contriving input (e.g. music, art) that exploited and tickled our pre-existing hardware, after the fact. I don't see the need for music itself to have developed from anything that increased fitness.

Similarly, for sunsets and rainbows, suppose that we already had hardware that responded to color, as well as perceptual responses to scale, and even the intelligence to think about how much bigger the world and the sky is than us. Is it not enough to say that sunsets and rainbows supply sensory input that engages this pre-existing hardware in concert, provoking the feelings that we experience as wonder? Why would the specific source of sensory input itself have to have imparted a benefit?

Consider those trippy graphical music visualizers. They exploit our sensitivity to color, light, and particularly motion, but it does not follow that we need to have encountered anything specifically like them in the ancestral environment. It may be worth thinking about why our hardware interprets certain characteristics of sensory experiences as pleasant or discordant, but I think this can be done at a lower level that does not require ancestral exposure to anything like the compound phenomenon in question. Once you have the hardware, any sufficiently intense stimulation of it is bound to produce some reaction. There need not be any specific flavor of meaning (evolutionary psychological) in the input source.

Comment author: Lara_Foster 18 July 2008 05:50:32AM 1 point [-]

Love as Drug, Drug as Love... Has anyone here been both in love and taken ecstasy? (I have never taken E and cannot attest). Are they similar? Which is better and why? When rats are given ecstasy, their brains dump a shit load of OXT and 5HT and they start behaving very strangely... they start wanting to be close to each other and licking each other and following each other around and nuzzling... From a human point of view it seems almost romantic. Ecstasy was, afterall, first used by psychiatrists as a drug of choice in 'couples counselling' because it invoked extreme feelings of closeness and attatchement in those that took it together. A very good friend of mine once told me, 'If you want to have the best, most intimate, most extreme sex of your life, take E. But be warned- you won't enjoy sex again for at least a month...' And hence I've never tried it. So I'm kinda interested to know some first-hand accounts of this chemical form of love. Could that super-amazing feeling really be this simple??? I *doubt* it, but... that could be my bias.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 18 July 2008 06:00:45AM 0 points [-]

I don't see how a drug producing a feeling means it's simple; one signal can start off an arbitrarily complex process.

(Never took Ecstasy either.)

Comment author: komponisto2 18 July 2008 06:02:00AM 1 point [-]

The book How Music Really Works has some decent ideas about the evolution of music.

On the contrary. That is exactly the sort of rubbish that gives evolutionary psychology such a bad name.

The idea that something like music -- an extremely high-level byproduct of human cognition -- could be explained directly as an evolutionary adaptation is absurd enough. (Imagine trying to give a Darwinian account of why chess pieces move in the way they do.) The invocation of sexual selection -- the process that explains the peacock's fancy tail -- borders on the ludicrous. Sexual selection is only a candidate explanation in cases of marked sexual dimorphism -- a significant phenotypic difference between males and females, as in the peacock. The fact (if true) that professional musicians statistically tend to be males doesn't come anywhere close to cutting it.

Comment author: sark 30 January 2011 11:24:12AM 1 point [-]

The cognitive ability required to appreciate music is quite significant relative to the cognitive ability required to perform music.

Comment author: Manfred 30 January 2011 12:44:48PM *  1 point [-]

The point was, instead, that a (not even demonstrated, remember) statistical correlation is not enough to show that a marked sexual dimorphism was the cause. There's this thing called culture, you see...

Comment author: sark 30 January 2011 01:30:03PM 3 points [-]

My point was that there is no need for sexual dimorphism in the case of sexually selected cognitive performances. And to be clear, music did not evolve specifically for the purpose of courtship display. But anything that tracks fitness will be seized upon by sexual selection, and amplified. It is well acknowledged that sexual selection is very sensitive to initial conditions, a notable one being existing perceptual biases.

Comment author: Manfred 30 January 2011 02:52:47PM 0 points [-]

Hm, that's pretty reasonable.

Comment author: Blueberry 30 January 2011 07:55:08PM 1 point [-]

music did not evolve specifically for the purpose of courtship display

I'm wondering why you think this: I don't think it's right. Music seems to be clearly a courtship signal. I'm guessing it was the other way around: it started as a courtship signal and was amplified by other human processes, becoming more than that as human societies developed it.

Comment author: sark 30 January 2011 08:35:46PM 0 points [-]

Hmm you are right. I wasn't sure what I was saying there!

Maybe I meant it was in some significant prototypical form as some byproduct of our auditory processing and etcetera before it was 'captured' and amplified by sexual selection.

It's curious how so much culture can be built upon the contents of courtship displays.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 05 July 2012 02:11:01PM 2 points [-]

Sexual selection only applies in cases of strong sexual dimorphism? That... isn't what I was taught in high school bio class, nor does it square with my understanding of the dynamics of life. Or, at least, that human dimorphism is sufficiently strong for sexual selection effects to begin kicking in.

Comment author: Lara_Foster 18 July 2008 06:10:00AM 0 points [-]

Also of interest... Same friend said, and this is a paraphrasing, "Either take E with a partner you already know and trust, or else avoid the people you meet while on E for at least a month afterwards, because you will become psychotically attached to anyone you sleep with for no good reason, and are likely to pursue a bad relationship to disasterous ends..." Maybe not everyone needs E to get this 'psychotic attachment' for 'no good reason,' and this might be something along the lines of what Temple had in mind when he suggested we explore the negative effects of love...

Also, if love is the only point, then wouldn't the fAI just drug us into a euphoric stupor once it figures out how to do so? Would this be desirable? Who would, right now, choose this simulation? I would not.... but I's already got it all...

Comment author: AndyWood 18 July 2008 06:19:00AM 1 point [-]

I have been in love, and taken ecstasy. (As it happens, I have also taken ecstasy with someone I was in love with.) I do think being in love is more complex than the feeling induced by those chemicals.

It seems to me that one of the biggest parts of being in love is the pervasive fixation on that one person. Those obsessive thought patterns that are like wanting to saturate yourself with that person's essence. An ecstacy trip can't really give you that, and of course by itself it can't supply the person.

However, the feeling of being on X is somewhat similar to that of touching, or embracing, someone you're in love with (perhaps even a little more intense?). Also, the feelings induced by X are of the sort that make you very well-disposed towards humanity, so that you might feel something like spontaneous love towards strangers you happened upon. (I have also experienced this kind of thing while in love.) So I would say that some of the visceral feelings are common to both, as would be expected if they involve the same/similar neurochemicals, but the experiences aren't that similar. Certainly, chemical factors are very much in play when one is in love, but chemicals cannot synthesize the experience of exploring, absorbing, and integrating with another's mind, emotions, personality, and life.

Comment author: TGGP2 18 July 2008 07:40:00AM 1 point [-]

I was once impressed by the ability of natural selection to create incredibly complicated functioning living things that can even repair and make copies of themselves. I realized that this was the result of it having so much time and material to work with and relentlessly following an algorithm for attaining fitness that a human being with its biases would be apt to deviate from if consciously pursuing it, but I still felt impressed. I have never felt that way about beauty or emotion.

Comment author: Leonid 18 July 2008 01:26:00PM 1 point [-]

Elliot: “Once hunting music was created, females could select mates not just by how well they hunted directly (which they often didn't directly observe), but also by the quality of their hunting music... So music became a useless display (useless for survival) used in sexual selection, like the peacock's tail. ”

The majority of people (including non-hunting females) enjoy listening to music without even trying to perform it themselves. Among those few, who did learn how to play musical instruments, most could get greater boost to their sex-appeal by devoting their time to body-building instead. Using the peacock analogy, I would say that our “musical tail” seems too large judged by its effect on the other sex.

Comment author: HalFinney 18 July 2008 03:54:00PM 0 points [-]

I wonder if bees could be said to love the other members of the bee hive? When a bee sacrifices its life by stinging, is that the ultimate act of love?

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 18 July 2008 04:38:00PM 3 points [-]

Sexual selection is only a candidate explanation in cases of marked sexual dimorphism -- a significant phenotypic difference between males and females, as in the peacock

Citation? A trait could be attractive in both sexes.

Comment author: Tim_Tyler 18 July 2008 05:43:00PM 0 points [-]

Singing voices are markedly sexually dimorphic. As though the males were signalling size, while the females were signalling youth. The utility of this in multi-part harmony singing may be incidental, though.

Comment author: TGGP2 19 July 2008 01:17:00AM 1 point [-]

Hal Finney, I am reminded of Stephen Pinker's discussion of love between two individuals whose interests exactly coincide. He says that the two would come to form one organism, and they would be like multiple organs or cells within that individual organism, and so would not have to experience "love".

Comment author: Tim_Tyler 23 August 2008 06:15:00AM -1 points [-]

Re: natural selection is cruel, bloody, and bloody stupid

I previously posted an essay addressing the "stupid" claim - here's another one to address cruel and bloody.

It observes that most of nature is better characterised by peaceful cooperation than by bloody conflict.

Comment author: Multiheaded 08 July 2011 08:11:17PM 0 points [-]

I take joy in the merely real, because I learned to; I take joy in seeing a vastly improbable coincidence where there is none, because of a hiccup of evolutionary psychology. The first is motivating, the second is blinding, but before I deconstruct the second (and perhaps build the first from its parts), I can take it in, short-term. There's no reason not to stop for a moment and feel the joy/marvel/amazement that you suspect you're feeling for a stupid reason; just don't let your guard down.

Comment author: Multiheaded 28 February 2012 09:21:16PM 5 points [-]

On second thought, scratch that. Now that I know the community better, I can just honestly say that I simply want to wirehead myself into getting positive emotions and woo from the world.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 February 2012 09:34:40PM 1 point [-]

Yay, honesty.

Comment author: simplicio 12 January 2012 04:07:38AM 3 points [-]

"Now healthy flowers are a sign of fertile land, likely to bear fruits and other treasures, and probably prey animals as well; so is it any wonder that humans evolved to be attracted to flowers?"

Hm... this is, of course, a wonderful essay, but I'd give 5:1 against that being the true reason humans are attracted to flowers. A generalized attraction to symmetry as a result of some sort of sexual selection would make more sense. And the whole story is guaranteed to be much more modulated by culture than here assumed. This is a classic evo-psych Just So Story (not that the field is wholly vacuous).

Perhaps the author is not endorsing that viewpoint though.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 05 July 2012 02:19:45PM 0 points [-]

I'd be more inclined to go with, "It's easier to make a brain that does everything you want and a few other things, than to make a brain that does exactly and only what you want."

Comment author: [deleted] 15 December 2012 01:48:57PM *  -1 points [-]

Yet not all friends are fair-weather friends; we have a concept of true friendship—and some people have sacrificed their life for their friends. Would not such a devotion tend to remove itself from the gene pool?

  1. The representative properties of inviduals exhibit variance
  2. There's also the possibility worth speculating on that being non-moral may have become a burden
  3. The unfolding package of a biological entity is by far less complex than the actual phenotype, in particular with humans and their brains

So you explain away the beauty of a flower?

I think that the perception of beauty has something to do with mathematics, well reality rather, but math has something to do with reality.

I want to ask - not directed at anyone specific - the following:

Something akwardly inefficient and distorted, out of shape and disfigured - how often do you find there the essence of beauty?

Comment author: Yosarian2 01 January 2013 01:27:53AM 0 points [-]

To explain Gandhi, and altruistic behavior in general beyond what makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, I would say that we have taken the tools that evolution gave us for very different things (including friendship, love, empathy, and so on) and fundamentally re-purposed them. Our brain, our hardware, is a product of evolution, but our brain has been shown to be very highly plastic and flexible, especially when we are young. Our culture, or education, and our upbringing is a big part of the software we are running on our brain and, to a large extent, we write our own software; not individually, necessarily, but on a cultural level over time.

We have spent a great deal of time and energy over the millennium to try to re-write our cultural software in ways to encourage altruism and good behavior from all. We spend a lot of time trying to instil this in our children, in each other, and in ourselves. Is it really a surprise if we have to some extent succeeded? If you spend a lot of time and energy doing a certain type of thinking, then that part of your brain will tend to develop more connections and become more developed, that has been proven experimentally.

Comment author: waveman 29 June 2016 01:05:10AM *  1 point [-]

And Mohandas Gandhi, who really did turn the other cheek? Those who try to serve all humanity, whether or not all humanity serves them in turn?

This prompts me to propose a new heuristic: treat any claims of great and improbable virtue with great skepticism.

In Saul Alinksky's telling (in "Rules for Radicals"), Gandhi adopted nonviolence because it was the best option he had. The Indians had no guns and no way to get them. Gandhi also complained about the passivity of Indians. He turned these weaknesses into strengths. Passive sit-in's and passive resistance to shame the British into doing the right thing.

Later, when the Indians were in charge and had guns they invaded Kashmir. Nehru expected Gandhi to condemn the resort to violence but he stayed silent.

Another example of an allegedly highly virtuous person who deservces close scrutiny is Mother Theresa. But I suspect this is so well known I will not rehearse the details (a search for Christopher Hittchens Mother Theresa should get you there).

Comment author: ChristianKl 29 June 2016 10:26:27AM 1 point [-]

In Saul Alinksky's telling (in "Rules for Radicals"), Gandhi adopted nonviolence because it was the best option he had. The Indians had no guns and no way to get them.

He didn't have to fight in the first place. He didn't have to sacrifice himself. He engaged in actions that for him personally contained a high likelihood of getting tortured and a relatively low chance of success.

Gandhi also complained about the passivity of Indians. He turned these weaknesses into strengths. Passive sit-in's and passive resistance to shame the British into doing the right thing.

Gandhi didn't just advocate passivity. He advocated active law breaking by gathering salt.

Later, when the Indians were in charge and had guns they invaded Kashmir. Nehru expected Gandhi to condemn the resort to violence but he stayed silent.

Gandhi actually died within a year of that event because he was seen to be too friendly to Muslims. He got killed by a fellow Hindu because he was too much against violence.