Re: Risk vs. Payoff

From: Emlyn (
Date: Thu May 10 2001 - 18:30:31 MDT

Aleks wrote:
> > More seriously, you have an implicit assumption here that survival of
> > species, or survival of intelligent life, or some otherwise defined
> > is our "supergoal" (to borrow some jargon). Many here would argue that
> I was referring to the most fundamental class, namely life. It's perhaps
> only one which is not abstract.

How so? In what way is life a non-abstract grouping? More importantly, it's
not even clearly defined, and will become harder to pin down as we venture
further into nanotech, and begin to make all kinds of interesting
self-directed & self-replicating greeblies.

> > is fundamentally at odds with extropianism, which has a more
> > outlook... we would save ourselves, at the cost of the long term good of
> > species perhaps. Although it is not at all clear that this is a required
> > tradeoff.
> Individualism and selfishness are just other evolved heuristics. Can you
> transcend your "naturally selected" impulses and comprehend with the mind

Yes, they certainly are. I don't think that we can pick any motivation, and
call it anything other than arbitrary. When you get right down to it, there
is no purely rational basis for doing anything at all, which does not rest
on some arbitrary axioms, like "it is good for me to survive". As an
example, can you present a purely rational case that our prefered objective
should be the continuance of the class of living things, in preference to
other goals such as continuance of the self? Some redundance for the sake of
clarity... I don't claim to be able to present a rational argument for the
continuance of self as the fundamental goal.

Your question is an interesting one... "Can you transcend your "naturally
selected" impulses and comprehend with the mind alone?"

I think this comes up especially when we contemplate changing fundamental
aspects of our minds, like extending our intellectual or emotional
capacities, gaining "direct control" over emotional states, being able to
fiddle with our primary motivations. It always begs the question "How do you
decide how to change yourself?" The implication being that such a decision
to alter your mental makeup is firmly rooted in your mental makeup; thus you
cannot escape your biological, historical inheritance.

There is not an entirely strong position, however. It falls down when we can
see that the process of mental modification is an iterative one. We begin
with an un-altered mind, call it M0. M0 decides to alter itself, to become
M1 (which is indeed determined by the drives of M0). M1 then alters to M2,
and so on, ... at any point in the future we have mental infrastructure Mn,
where n can be an arbitrarily large positive integer.

You would agree that decisions made by the human mind are extremely complex,
and though we can say that they are driven by our biological history, the
derivational path is messy, to say the least. Chaotic, some might say.

When we add a re-entrant iteration to such a complex system as the mind, it
becomes clear that the basis of our decisions as being entirely rooted in
biology, after a short number of iterations, is meaningless. Although it is
technically true that we are still wholy derived from our environment, there
is no way that, given the biological past of a being, one could derive Mn
for n greater than some fairly small constant. The system is too dynamic,
unpredictable. So, in effect, our biology is lost to time.

What replaces our biology, our evolved motivations and desires, as the
driver for that change? It's not an easy question to answer, and I suspect
it is highly dependent on initial conditions, and the kind of attractors
that exist in the space of mental modification. I strongly suspect that
there is a relatively rational attractor, into whose thrall some minds would
fall; that modification would be primarily driven by rational choices based
on needs in a given environment. But there are probably others, eg: I
imagine there could be a fairly coarse "self-indulgent"/pleasure seeking
attractor, where minds are driven by increasing narcissism and sensualism.
It sounds like fun, actually :-) I'd suspect that could be fairly unstable,
especially where a mind modified itself into the region of a different
attractor on some fleeting whim.

There are likely a lot of other examples, and those I've given above are
hopelessly crude. The point, however, is that we absolutely can escape our
biology. We can even be in control of that process in some important sense,
eventually. Beings who modifiy their mental state to become something new,
will do it purposefully. We would expect that they (we?) will be rather
intelligent people... they will not be blind to the dynamic nature of
themselves, and to the rather tricky topology of the space that they
traverse. The whole idea of "self" may come to change it's meaning somewhat
(for the better, in my opinion).

> > I think the point that you are wanting to make is that natural selection
> > more efficient than the alternative, whatever that may be. I don't think
> > that's necessarily so. The idea of becoming transhuman is that we can
> > ourselves as we see fit, and as is best to meet the challenges of our
> We are already not subject solely to natural selection. For example, if
you like
> green eyes, you will choose a partner with green eyes, and a certain
> of your offspring will have green eyes. You don't have to wait for a
> mutation. You just pick it off the shelf, be that reason or impulse, and
mix it
> in your own genomic stew. It's Lamarckism, just that the iteration is a
> generation, and that the scalpel is a bit blunt. Surely we'll fix that.
> But my point is not to exemplify natural selection, as I have stressed
before. I
> agree with most of your objections to it. I'm just pointing out that
design and
> selection, without exploration, is dangerous.

No arguments there. One of the grounding concepts of extropy is dynamism...
no one is interested in a centrally controlled sculpting of humanity. The
idea is yet again that individualism reigns... self modification will be
diverse, and performed according to the desires of each person upon his or
her own self. Thus, while any individual can choose to risk exploratory
behaviour, or else to shun it, the whole space of self modifying individuals
will tend to be incredibly diverse and interesting. Without a central
organising factor, it cannot help but be exploratory, and evolutionary as a
whole, in a pretty fascinating way.


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