The Meaning of Life

John K Clark (
Wed, 5 Feb 1997 09:45:57 -0800 (PST)


On Wed, 05 Feb 1997 Eliezer Yudkowsky <> Wrote:

>Is there hope for the Meaning of Life? And my conclusion: Yes [...]
>My general conclusion is that engineering an ontologically objective
>self-justifying goal requires solving both the First Cause and the
>hard problem of conscious experience. First, why engineering as
>opposed to discovering? Because unlike the Universe and qualia, I
>have nothing to point to for my "hard problem of ethics."

In other words ethics are what we say they are. Even more that fire, ethics
is the most important human invention, without it no other invention would
be possible because we could not work together.

>Second, why the First Cause? So that we can make objectively real
>self-justifying things.

One is a ridiculous number, so the idea that everything has a cause except
for one thing seems very ugly and unsatisfying to me. That doesn't prove
it's untrue of course, but I think it would be much more beautiful if lots of
things had no cause, or even if cause and effect were in some sort of closed
loop. I find it interesting that John Cramer's transactional interpretation
of Quantum Mechanics does indeed blur the distinction between cause and

>Third, why conscious experience? Goal requires purpose. Purpose
>requires agent. Agent requires subjectivity. Therefore conscious
>experiences or, more likely, an engineered variant thereof.

It doesn't bother me that in an absolute sense the world has no purpose,
because I don't think the question is even coherent, it's like asking
"How long is a piece of string?". When talking about meaning and purpose you
have to ask " purpose for who?". What is the purpose of a violin? To the
manufacturer the purpose is to get a paycheck. To a drowning man its purpose
is to act as a life-preserver. To a musician its purpose is to make music and
to his tone deaf child its purpose is to be used to be used as a club to swat
a bug. To a rock the violin has no purpose at all. Nothing means anything
without an interpretation. This post doesn't mean anything, its just a bunch
of squiggles, until you use an interpretation, in this case the rules of
language. Change the interpretation and the meaning changes.

>Depressing side-note: Explains the Great Silence if all
>civilizations achieve Singularity and commit suicide. Better hope
>that intelligent life is really improbable or that lightspeed is an
>absolute limit. Aren't wormholes and those newly discovered planets
>and life on Mars depressing?

Bacteria on Mars, if proven, would be a little unsettling, but there would
still be a very long way go from there to intelligence and technology.
I don't think wormholes or the speed of light is relevant, even in the
unlikely event that we can never go faster than we can right now, we could
still send Von Neumann probes to every star in the Galaxy in less than
100 million years and transform it beyond recognition, and that's not much
time on a Cosmological time frame.

>If it all turns out to be meaningless, we can commit suicide at

Why should a meaningless Universe make me depressed? It is my sincerest wish
that I am correct and that the universe has no meaning, because then I would
be free to give it any meaning I want, otherwise I'm stuck with a meaning I
may not like one bit. For example, suppose for a movement that religious
people are correct and a Christian God does exist and the meaning of life is
to praise him. Here we have an all powerful demon addicted to flattery who
can read your every thought and will torture you, not for a long time, but
for ETERNITY if you take one step out of line or break one of his many, many,
rules, and that includes thought crimes. To make maters worse you're not even
sure exactly what all his rules are, the "experts" all violently disagree,
so you never know if you're going to be tortured or how to avoid it. Now this
seems pretty depressing to me and not at all moral. I'll take an indifferent
universe over a sadistic one any day.

>"And the Lord said to Peter Shor: I COMMAND YOU TO BUILD A COMPUTER.
>The height shall be three hundred qubits..."
> -- Genesis, Act VI, Scene XIII.

Damn, I wish I'd said that!

John K Clark

Version: 2.6.i