Re: What is this stuff? (was: US observations and notes)

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sun Dec 16 2001 - 16:42:54 MST

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> >
> > "You can see it work everywhere when you know how" is needless to say a
> > rather suspicious statement. I can see gravity work even if I know
> > nothing about General Relativity. I may not know that it's called
> > "gravity", but I can still see the effects. Where the model of the
> > universe is incomplete (saying nothing about gravity) there is a
> > perceptible gap, an observed effect without a hypothesized cause, and this
> > gap in the worldview is where new knowledge enters. Let us suppose for
> > the sake of discussion that I do not understand this thing called
> > spirituality. Where is the corresponding gap in my worldview that needs
> > filling?
> I don't really do a "God of the Gaps". But experentially,
> philosophically and even intellectually I have experienced and
> believe there exist big-M Mind that we can sometimes experience
> linkage with. One way to "get there from here" is to imagine
> what happens a bit after you get a Singularity and the SI
> continuously expands and integrates beyond what even we might
> believe possible. That Mind very well might do some things that
> create these additional strange loops like travel backward and
> forward in its own timeline influencing and permeating its own
> becoming, or creating complete new Universes and new sentients
> in such a way that it can and does provide some nudges along the
> way and can in some circumstances be partially accessed.

There's no reason why closed timelike curve technology would be just
powerful enough to implant little hints into our day-to-day minds, and not
vastly more powerful or vastly weaker. On the other hand, the theory that
says "It's just your imagination" does predict, very precisely, that the
proponents of this meme will assert a level of influence which is great
enough to have alleged moral impact, but not great enough to be
falsifiable. In other words, hint-dropping. If there really is a future
Mind with technology capable of supervening on present-day reality to the
extent of influencing human cognition, and that Mind cares enough to
intervene, I would expect the effects to be large, blatant, and
noticeable. For that matter, the degree of physical supervenience needed
to drop hints is probably sufficient to construct nanobot servos. If you
can tweak a neuron firing you can probably tweak a protein folding.

But anyway, this hypothesis about reality - that spirituality represents
drawing on a real, external source of knowledge, where this knowledge is
more accessible to humans who place themselves in particular emotional
states - is a straightforward one, and one to which I can
straightforwardly reply "You're wrong." And you can reply "You're
wrong." And there, I think, things rest, unless you'd like me to try and
unlace your faith.

> One
> way to look at spirituality is the search for and acheiving of
> some bit of such access. Another way to look at it is as
> projection of the greatest dreams, hopes and determination of
> humanity projected as already existent and of help. That
> projection can greatly help us focus and move forward even if
> you only believe it is a projection. It is timeless by
> construction.

In what way is a "projection of the greatest dreams, hopes, and
determination of humanity" mystical? We have dreams, we have hopes, we
have determination. I try to nurture it in myself and others. I don't
need to break the laws of physics in order to do so.

As you know, Samantha, I'm not as violent a critic of all that seems or
can be labeled "spiritual" as most of those on the Extropian list. I
think it's legitimate to say, for example, that the Singularity is
intended "to heal the darkness in the human spirit", because I can, if
necessary, define exactly what I mean by 'darkness' and why I expect the
Singularity to heal it. In other words, the "spiritual" statement is here
a legitimate approximation to a more specific and technical argument.
Since the vague images invoked by "heal the darkness in the human spirit"
are actually in good accord with these specifics, and since the emotions
invoked center on goals which I myself share, I judge it ethical to use
that phrase in explaining the Singularity to a nontechnical audience. As
a matter of pragmatism, I wouldn't use that phrase in front of an
Extropian conference, or even a computer conference, because I know that a
majority or sizeable minority (respectively) will be very strongly
allergic to any argument that uses a spiritual phrasing, and also that
academic audiences view spiritual argument as a special case with specific

Spiritual shorthand is ethical where it arrives at a correct conclusion
*for correct reasons*, where any emotional appeal is based on shared
goals, and where more specific arguments can't be used due to constraints
on time or audience. But I don't think the shorthand is more powerful. I
think it's shorter.

Mystical argument, though, is always incorrect - it invokes causes and
effects which do not exist in reality. Only someone who genuinely
believes in those causes and effects can ethically use a mystical

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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