Re: meaning of life

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Thu Jan 25 2001 - 14:34:16 MST

On Thu, Jan 25, 2001 at 01:58:29PM -0500, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> >
> > Moreover, I find the idea that we should follow an 'optimum' set of rules
> > because we evolved that way morally abhorrent. You do realise that this
> > is the root of the argument deployed by various bigots for banning/killing
> > homosexuals? "It isn't natural ..."
> I find the idea of doing a pattern copy on evolution's unsupported word to
> be morally abhorrent - but if the optimum set of rules for a human society
> isn't determined by our existing set of adaptations, what *is* it
> determined by?
I'll stick my neck out here (because I am *not* sure that what I'm
about to assert makes sense and is internally consistent) and say that
human beings are not intelligent, in absolute terms: however, we're
just sufficiently intelligent enough to communicate abstract rules for
re-programming our own individual and collective behaviour. Call them
memes if you like.

(If you like, we're as dumb as it's possible to be and still be
a virtual machine for running memes on.)

Because of our neurological plasticity, we can support a wide range
of different behaviours, both at the individual and collective levels.
Asking what is the optimum set of behaviour for a human society to run
on is therefore a bit like asking what is the optimum operating system
for a cluster of computers to run -- it depends what task you're trying
to accomplish. Some possible designs are obviously faulty, and end up
crashing all their hardware very rapidly. Others show differences in
performance; yet more only operate at peak efficiency when under external
stress (e.g. the application of a rule of terror to a centrally planned
police state). But we're probably not going to find an effective way of
distinguishing between competing viable designs that show near-ideal
performance. Indeed, it may be that there are *multiple* optimal sets
of rules for governing human behaviour.

I don't like teleological arguments, but if there's any trend to our
development since H. Sapiens Sapiens emerged, it's towards generating
and transmitting ever more complex memes. Recently we (that is: some of
our memes) figured out how to build other machines that may, in time,
act as substrate for memes to colonize; if/when this happens, our memes
will no longer be restricted by our wetware.

(Hell, I just sold two novellas about this to Isaac Asimov's SF magazine.
Go read.)

As for our the technocapitalist economy/volitional
philanthropy/libertarian government idea, that's merely one possible
social operating system among many -- and one that is selected for a
high probability of producing alternate virtual machines for our memes
to colonize. If you like, it's pandering to software bloat ;-)

-- Charlie

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