Re: The Meaning of Life

Eric Watt Forste (
Fri, 07 Feb 1997 17:08:49 -0800

>Now. The question is - will you assign meaning based on "what you
>want", which is a fancy way of saying you'll let evolution do it for
>you? Or will you assign meaning based on a genuinely true chain of
>logic? In short, will you reason it out or accept the dictates of your

Eliezer, it's quite foolish to pretend that determinism means that our
behavior is determined by our genes. If you had been born with precisely
your present genes, and immediately put up for adoption and raised in
Korea, you would be quite a different person than you are now.

>And saying "Yes, it has value, to me" is simply ducking the point. You
>say it has value? Well, I can take apart your brain right down to the
>level of individual atoms and demonstrate that you assigned it value
>simply because it tickled your pleasure centers. And I am not
>impressed. If I build a computer programmed to spew out: "Cats have
>value to me", fundamentally, nothing happens. So what?

It's a little bit sad that you can't tell the difference between a human
being and a 386 programmed to spew out random sentences.

>I simply deny that value is an observer-dependent thing.

Assertions prove nothing, Eliezer. How would you like to go about
demonstrating to us the arguments behind your conviction that value
is independent of valuers? If this is your axiom, then you are
simply assuming what it is that you are setting out to prove: that
life has no value.

>You can have,
>in memory, a declarative statement that "X has value". So what? A
>CD-ROM can do the same thing with a lot less fuss.

Perhaps it's the extra fuss that makes the difference? A simple
computer can declare "I will resist if you turn me off." You turn
it off and nothing happens. I, on the other hand, can declare "I
will resist if you try to take away my raincoat." and you will find
it a considerably harder task to take away my raincoat than to turn
off the simple computer.

>My position is that we can't alter the Platonic structure of the
>Universe through wishful thinking. We can't make things have value just
>by declaring they do. Our declaration that "X has value" will cause us
>to act in such a way as to maximize X.

No, it is the fact that we value X that causes both of the above.

>Are you going to tell me that "value" is defined with respect to a
>particular individual, and equals whatever that person acts to
>maximize? That 74 degrees is the Meaning of Life for a thermostat?
>Well, I am jumping out of the system. I'm saying that to *me*, acting
>to maximize X *has* *no* *value*.

Okay, so you're a nihilist who can't tell the difference between human
beings and themostats. This is hardly a new philosophy. People have been
messing around with nihilism extensively for the last hundred years, and
it goes back even farther than that. But nihilism is not really a
philosophy; nihilism is a disorder of the affects.

>You see, you are arguing for a Meaning of Life, just a silly one.
>You're saying that the Meaning of Life is a certain sort of behavior,
>acting to maximize things. I don't see how this is any more reasonable
>than saying that the Meaning of Life is "cats" or "worshipping God" or
>"tuna loaf". So you're born, you live, you act to maximize something,
>and you die. I see no place for intelligence, consciousness, brains,
>neurons, thinking, subjectivity, or really much of anything in this

There are many things in the world which cannot be maximized by
anything simpler than intelligence, consciousness, brains, thinking,
etc. There are many things in the world which cannot be maximized
by thermostats. I'm sorry that you have concluded that none of
them is worth your while, that you are too brilliant and stupendous
a genius to waste your precious time on such niggling projects.
Perhaps you should take a cue from the Zen Buddhists and sit your
butt down on a black cushion and stare at a white wall for forty
minutes every morning. Then, after experiencing that kind of boredom
and that kind of inactivity, perhaps you won't be quite so bored
and disgusted with the rich pageant of Life that is going on all
around you.

The Meaning of Life is staring you in the face. It's right in front
of your eyes. If you don't feel it right now, get outside. Find a
dandelion meadow or a beautiful man or woman or a symphony orchestra
or something. Try reading some William Blake, who teaches us how
to see the world in a grain of sand.

Oh, yeah... by the way... from what values are you arguing? What end is
it that you have in mind when you conduct this argument? Or are you
simply arguing mindlessly, with no particular wish or desire (I find
this hard to imagine). What is it that motivates you to invest so much
effort in constructing arguments of this sort? Of all the questions I've
asked you in this post, these last are the ones I'm most interested in
hearing the answers to.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++