Miracles, ETI, and rationality

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (sentience@pobox.com)
Mon, 01 Nov 1999 23:15:23 -0600

hal@finney.org wrote:
> My ultimate point is the same one I have made in other contexts. We have
> had tremendous success througout history by removing supernatural elements
> from our explanations of the universe. Adopting the view that ETs are
> here and manipulating our world is a giant step backward. Posting to the
> web to implore ET to respond is simply a form of prayer. I don't believe
> this has any place in a modern, rationalistic approach to the universe.

I reject utterly this entire concept of rationality. What you're saying is that the historical development of human opinion, in which "progress in successfully modeling and manipulating the Universe" was covariant with "the change from models that attribute patterns to the desires of powerful entities, to models that attribute patterns to the interaction of lower-level elements", is allowed to impose a constraint on external reality that prevents powerful entities from influencing our world.

Maybe people who are already silly to begin with can't accept the idea that this whole Universe might be a computer simulation run by interventionist sysops without losing all track of reality, but as far as I'm concerned, in the event that the Matrix Hypothesis was proven, I'd simply go on thinking the same way as always. If I don't believe in miracle X, it's because miracle X is easier to explain by reference to human legend then by reference to intervention, not because intervention is absolutely impossible. Think relative probabilities, not proof. Only weak minds demand certainty.

If there's a Power hovering behind the moon, I don't have to abandon the reductionist paradigm. I just say the low-level elements making up this Universe are organized in the shape of a Power hovering behind the moon, for understandable historical reasons having to do with the previous development of intelligent life. And if the Power starts playing games with the planet, presumably due to persistent initial programming, then the behavior of the Power is explicable in terms of the evolved psychology and last-minute social interaction of the race that created it.

Known memetic forces impose one set of probabilities on an explanation for an account of a miracle; known facts about the world (i.e. WWII was not prevented, nor is child abuse) and probabilities about the racial psychology of the initiating race impose another set of probabilities on interventionist explanations for an account of a miracle. I don't see where the equations break down.

           sentience@pobox.com          Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way