Re: Ethical Groundings (was: Anders Sandberg's Value System)

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 05 Feb 1997 11:21:07 -0800

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:
>Unlike Anders Sandburg, I view an entire ecology as being essentially
>valueless - because the complexity of an ecology is so much *less* than
>the complexity of a single human brain that I'd happily destroy a
>biosphere (one not supporting any sentient life, of course!) to save a
>human life.

Please let us in on which measure of complexity you are using, and
which instruments you used to carry out the measurement.

(I don't know about you, but I've known some pretty bad people in
my life--just a few--and I don't know what I would do if I was
offered a choice between saving just one of *these* people and
saving a few hundred acres of pristine Amazonian rain forest. If
I was acting *selfishly*, I would certainly go for the rain forest,
because I would enjoy that far more than I would enjoy one of these
people that I'm thinking of (and I rarely think of them). Perhaps
you are luckier than I am and have never met any bad people in your

>Besides, ecologies aren't conscious,

How do you know?

>and whatever the
>Meaning of Life is, I strongly suspect that it requires consciousness
>(or some similar ontologically engineered substance) as substrate.

Why? Aren't you being a little sophontocentric about the Meaning of Life?

Today I'm feeling more in agreement with Hal's contrarian post of
yesterday on environmental policy. The ethical concerns that motivate
environmentalism are so abstract, luxuriant, and upper-class that
I fear the aristocracies of the various nations on the planet are
going to use these concerns to squish the economic development of
the lower classes, particularly in the Third World. And I've always
thought the sight of comfortably upper-middle-class American and
European professors blathering about population control and population
explosions was just a pleasant display of sublimated racism. "We
got ours, now all you darkies just be good and get fixed and stay
at home, okay? And don't try to immigrate here either." Truly a
disgusting spectacle.

Anyone truly dedicated to the environmentalist cause should be
worrying about potential impacts from Near-Earth Objects and trying
to fix that first. A high-velocity comet could come swooping out
of the Oort Cloud any year, and we are sitting ducks along with
all the other species on this planet. But we're the only species
that can do anything about it, and what are we doing instead? I
have no idea. Engaging in mindless tax-and-waste games on a global
basis, I guess.

I am in general inclined to agree with Hal that I am willing to
trade off some current diversity of life-forms in order to insure
even greater future diversity of life-forms, and the insurance I
crave is the Diaspora of Life and Mind beyond this planet. In the
long term, what I want is more different kinds of people. As long
as there's enough action going on, and enough different kinds of
action, I'll probably find a satisfying niche somewhere. But if
the future is a monocrop, I doubt very much that it will be a
monocrop of anything I could get along with in friendly fashion.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++