The Meaning of Life

John K Clark (
Thu, 6 Feb 1997 22:34:36 -0800 (PST)


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

>Stop with the atheist hyperbole.

No. Atheist hyperbole has a positive value, at least for me, in fact it's the
meaning of life, if it's not 42.

>Not everyone who disagrees with you is a slavering religious fanatic.

I have never, ever, said that about you or any member of this list or even
come close to doing so.

>You do not wish any goal to have inherently positive value, because
>then you would be free to assign positive value to any goals you

Yes, although I would assign my own values no matter what the Universe thinks,
because unlike violating a natural law, it's possible even easy to do so.

>If no goal has positive value, but you assign goals positive value,
>you would simply be wrong.

If I am an Engineer and I assign the wrong strength value to steel then my
bridge will collapse, if I am "wrong" when I assign a positive value to a
goal what collapses?

By the way for some reason you left out the most vital word of all,

>Try translating your proposal into practical terms. You are saying:
>"I hope that there's no way to walk across the room, because then I
>am free to assign to my actions whatever walk-across-the-room-utility
>values I choose." Presumably you will choose to assign a high value,
>in terms of getting across the room, to blowing your nose. Now, in
>point of fact, blowing your nose will not help you get across the

You're confusing "should not" with "could not". There is no penalty for
breaking a law of Physics, you just can't do it, when you talk about laws
concerning values and ethics you can and often do break these laws, the laws
just say you should not. Exactly why you should not is unclear.

>John K Clark wants there to be no meaning to Life so he can assign
>high value to, say, exploring the galaxy.


>And he will want to assign high value to exploring the galaxy
>because he thinks it will be fun.

True beyond the slightest doubt, and if it's fun I will do it and I don't
feel the slightest need to justify it further. In a similar way, if I stick
my hand in a fire I will try to pull it out as fast as I can because it's
painful, and I don't need to make calculations based on the meaning of life
to figure out that it hurts. If the meaning of life tells me to forget about
the galaxy and just stay home and barbecue my hand then the meaning of life
can lump it.

>And he thinks it will be fun, because evolution says it will be fun.
>So evolution is choosing John K Clark's goals for him, in the
>absence of any real meaning to the Universe.

1)I am the one doing the choosing if I have free will.
2)I have free will if I can not predict what I will do next.
3)I am the doing the choosing.

Even if I had the meaning of life in my pocket I would still do things
because of cause and effect OR I would not. When things happen for no reason
we call them random.

>In formal ethical terms, no Meaning means - by definition -

Oh no! "Meaning means - by definition", I count 3 nested circular logic
loops, and to make it worse you're talking about the MEANING of life. I am
not playing games and I am not engaging in sophistry, this is vitally
important. If you want even the slightest chance of having "What is the
meaning of Life?" to be anything but pure gibberish then these problems must
be addressed. Personally I think there is very little chance of anyone ever
doing this, it is and always will be nonsense.

>John K Clark is assuming that we know for *sure* that all goals have
>zero inherent value;


>thus no Interim goals.

Once more I urge you to examine that all important word "inherent".

>Thus there is no conceivable reason for John K Clark wanting to
>assign meaning to anything, which will not trace its roots to
>evolution. Either John K Clark will not know this, or he will know
>this and will deliberately lie to himself.

There is yet a third possibility, John K Clark knows this and John K Clark
does not care. How would things be one bit different if you did know the
meaning of life? If you follow the goals chosen by the meaning of life and
are miserable and I follow whatever goal that strikes my fancy and am happy,
in what sense am I "wrong"?

>By contrast, suppose the Meaning of Life is "new ideas". I can
>discard all externally imposed goals, deduce that the Meaning is
>"new ideas", and set out, completely free from all coercion, to
>explore the Galaxy in search of new ideas.

You don't want the meaning of life, you want a way to always know what is the
best way to maximize value, well I don't blame you, I want that too, it's
called infinite intelligence.

If the meaning of life was X rather than Y , how would the world be any
different? You have already indicated that something as simple as being happy
is not the meaning of life, if so then why would I want to go in that
direction? Learning new stuff makes me happy, if that's the meaning of life
then fine, if it's something else or it has no meaning I intend to continue
doing what makes me happy regardless.

>You'll choose your own meaning? By what criterion? Life? Joy?
> Laughter? But they won't be meaningful. In actual fact, they
>won't be meaningful. So you'll be lying to yourself.

Laughter would certainly be meaningful TO ME and I wouldn't need to prove it
to myself any more than I need to prove to myself that I'm conscious.
Some things are more powerful than proof, if you have a proof that I am not
conscious then there is an error in your proof, If there is no error in your
proof then there is a flaw in the laws of logic, and if the universe says
that my joy is not important then the universe is wrong and I am right.

>As you point out, worshipping God is of no conceivable value to the
>Universe, once viewed from the proper perspective.

Worshipping God has zero value to me, the Universe is free to form its own

>If you can assign an absolute (non-probabilistic) positive value to
>anything, without deluding yourself or being motivated by externally
>imposed goals, that is the Meaning of Life.

Then a proton is the Meaning of Life. I'm not being glib, if you want a value
that is universal then look to electrical charge, however universality is
overrated, I am more interested in things that have value locally, like my

John K Clark

Version: 2.6.i