Re: Existentialism

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Sat Nov 03 2001 - 09:25:39 MST

On Sat, Nov 03, 2001 at 01:16:46PM +1100, Damien Broderick wrote:
> >1.The universe is meaningless and chaotic.
> > 2.We need meaning and structure in our lives.
> > 3.We will therefore create this meaning and structure the best we can.
> Let's think abt this. If the universe were meaningless and chaotic in the
> sense of `entirely random', and we are critters from an evolved lineage in
> such a universe, why would we `need meaning and structure in our lives'?
> Surely we would tend to be fitted by selection to work happily without
> contrived meaning and structure.

Also, creatures cannot evolve in such a universe - without any order
there is no way to retain one's own order over time. There is likely a
threshold, not unlike the error threshold in gene replication, for how
much randomness a set of physical laws compatible with creatures can
maximally have.

> But the universe is chaotic in the dual senses that (1) simple regularities
> when iterated result in immensely complex outcomes that are hard to `see
> through' or predict, and (2) stuff outside any box is likely to burst in
> and disrupt what is inside the box. Even so, moderately complex critters
> are formed via iteration and retain a high degree of stability and
> heritability. Meaning is therefore, in the first instance, the salience of
> structure and noise to the persistence and growth of evolved critters. To
> the extent that restricted model-making gadgets like brains have trouble
> locating the relevant structures, true meaning will evade our grasp--and
> might tend to be replaced by stopgap templates drawn from better-understood
> situations (hence animism).

Fits my view exactly. We humans extend meaning beyond mere survival into
other regions (like meaningful theological discussions - even the most
baroque scholastic argument, however divorced from reality, contains a
meaning perceptible to the theologicians). This is a great survival
trick: we can create new meanings not directly related to survival, which
allows second (and higher) order planning - but as a side effect it also
enables meaning constructs with absolutely no survival relevance.
Something which evolution has no need to select against unless it starts
interfering with survival. But to us humans, this excessive meaning
construction ability is very important and rewarding (and sometimes
painful). A bit like our agency detection - we tend to see agency behind
many events which just happen. Maybe the key to intelligence is these
excessive abilities being used far beyond their original realm of

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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