Re: Ethics and Morality

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Mon, 06 Oct 1997 11:16:33 -0500

In an alternate universe, John K Clark wrote:
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> >True and false are objective reality, and neither we nor *any*
> >volitional agent get to dictate them.
> If so then I see no reason to obey its principles, even if I knew them. I'll
> make objective reality a deal, I won't bother it if it won't bother me.
> >For all we know, the objective fact is that 11 million people
> >died in a "Holocaust"
> There is only one way anybody could convince me that such a horrible thing
> occurred, send in their Nanomachines and massively rewire my brain,
> and even then "I" wouldn't be convinced because the resulting creature would
> be so radically different that it would no longer be me. If objective reality
> says mass murder is true then I say objective reality can kiss my ass
> because subjective reality is better.
> >What we are evolved to regard as "true" is as irrelevant as the
> >numbers we evolved to see as "real".
> Irrelevant to who?
> >True and false are objective facts, and not facts which we or *any*
> >volitional agent were consulted about. [...] Real true and false
> >are outside of our opinions and unaffected by them.
> If there is an objective reality then I agree that our opinions do not
> effect it, and I would go further and say that objective reality does not
> effect our opinions. If we do not effect it and it does not effect us then
> Ockham's Razor says that the Objective Reality Theory is not needed.
> Einstein did not prove that the luminiferous ether was nonexistent, he only
> proved that the idea was silly, but that was enough
> >You and I can no more affect true and false that way than we can
> >flatten the Earth.
> Then "reality" doesn't need your help so don't worry about it, let it keep
> doing whatever in the world it's doing, and if anybody asks your opinion about
> a second genocide being "true" keep advising them that it's a very bad idea.
> >With respect to reality, you can't prevail over some higher authority
> So all objective reality means is that if somebody more powerful than yourself
> tells you something is true then you'd better believe it? In some cases that
> might be good advice but seems a bit anticlimactic for such a grand concept.
> >You can either be false, or true. Opinions are either wrong or
> >right.
> I don't like sweet potatoes. Am I true or false?
> >It's as if a debate over the shape of the Earth was being conducted,
> >where one side wanted to know what the shape "really" was and the
> >other fought valiantly for freedom of opinion and decried any side
> >that tyranically declared a single truth, or even that a single
> >truth existed.
> No, it's not like the shape of the Earth, it's as if the debate was over
> whether the Three Stooges were funny. Suppose you watch a film of the stooges
> and laugh, but then somebody says "Yudkowsky you have made an error, that
> joke was not funny. I have found that Objective Humor exists and with my
> comic algorithm I can calculate the humor content of any message string to
> 16 decimal places and do it in polynomial time. The calculation proves
> conclusively that the joke was not even slightly funny, it produced a zero."
> And yet you still laughed. "Objective Humor" didn't think it was funny, but
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky did.

Guess I was wrong, then. Obviously "Objective Humor" isn't being defined as
what causes the neural events that I experience as laughter, but in some
different way. Maybe there is such a thing as "Objective Humor"... although I
can't really speculate without fully knowing what it is that *we* experience
as funny. Maybe our own brains use a "comic algorithm" with an extremely
elegant and objective core, but various neural malfunctions keep throwing us off.

Maybe everyone uses the same core criterion for "laughter", so that a joke
could be invented which was funny to everyone. Then if somebody who suffered
a massive stroke didn't laugh at that or any other joke, we would say that the
joke really was funny and the person was wrong - his laughter neurons
malfunctioned. Or if someone suffered a stroke and started laughing all the
time, or started laughing whenever he saw the color purple, we would have no
bones about saying that purple wasn't "really" funny and the behavior was the
result of brain damage.

You can object to this on ideological grounds, but in point of fact this *is*
what a normal, sane, non-philosophical human would think about the above situation.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.