Values (was Re: Singularity-worship)

Paul Wakfer (70023.3041@CompuServe.COM)
11 Dec 96 21:15:13 EST

On 11-Dec-96 09:28 PST, Eric Watt Forste wrote:

>Paul Wakfer writes:
>>1. Being alive is the irreducible primary to all other values. Without it
>>obtaining, all others are meaningless. Therefore, it must rationally have the
>>highest of all possible values in ones hierarchy. This implies that its value
>>(if comparable at all - see my next point) must rationally be extremely much
>>higher than the value of, say, going out to dinner and a movie once a week.
>I agree with your first two sentences, but the rest of the conclusions
>you draw from it only obtain if you assume a value-tree that is
>static over time. To the extent that being "high" in the value tree
>means actually exercising a lot of motivating force in determining
>one's actions, then sometimes (particularly when one's life is
>directly threatened) the fundamental value of being alive is going
>to have a lot of motivating "force", and at other times it's going
>to be a merely incidental background process. I think Minsky has
>said somewhere that there is no such thing as "survival drive".
>Perhaps there is no such thing naturally, but I suspect such things
>can be developed, and perhaps it would be a good idea.

These are excellent comments. It is over 15 years since I have thought deeply
about these things and even more since I worked out a solution to the problem
of the variability of values with focus and emotional state which works for me.
Since I regard the proper role of emotions to be tools of cognition -- a
subconscious instantaneous computation of values, I went through a several
years process of making sure that my emotions were consistent with my reasoning
about my value structure -- of reprogramming my emotions. Since new input
rationally integrated into ones mental data base constantly changes ones
values, I expect this process to continue indefinitely. With respect to the
"survival value" in particular, I believe that it is possible to reprogram
oneself so that does not ever become "a merely incidental background process".
Surely, if it is ones highest value, one should strive to accomplish such an
aim. Because I also find some value in spontaneity and flexibility, I do not
attempt to place rigid, static value relationships on most of what I consider
the less important concerns of my life.

And on 11-Dec-96 12:34 PST, "Lee Daniel Crocker" wrote:

>I made no insult to you;

Maybe I'm just being "picky", but I believe that there is a difference between
"If I understand you correctly, this seems to be mystical nonsense." and the
terse "What mystical nonsense." that you wrote.

The first case allows for misstatement on my part, or misunderstanding on
yours, but the second strongly suggests that my real intended meaning is
mystical nonsense. And when someone suggests that I am capable of intending
such, I believe that I am correct in my assumption that I have been insulted,
whether that person means it to be an insult or not.

>But when you express an idea that I see as mystical, I find no reason not
>to attack the idea. Isn't that what we're here for?

Of course. But it might be a good idea to check the validity of your
understanding of what you have "seen" before "attacking" so vigorously. And
furthermore, why do you need to "attack" at all? There is a vast difference
between polite rational criticism and attack. The former leads to fruitful,
reasonable and thoughtful discourse, the latter often to flames.

>Indeed, the very idea that to attack concepts is somehow to personally
>insult those who propose them is equally absurd.

Since that was not my idea at all and you have again assumed that it is and
made a very harsh attack, I could also take this as an insult. But now that I
know your style better, I won't :-)

>Mere biological continuation of metabolism is indeed a prerequisite for
>cognition, and therefore values. Therefore its preservation, as a value,
>must indeed compare highly with all others. But it is still comparable.

There's nothing "mere" about it! However, I grant that it is comparable with
certain others under certain circumstances (see example below).

>A slave may know, for example, that there are values attainable with
>freedom far beyond what he can attain in his present condition. But if
>he values mere biological life incomparably high to those values, then
>he will logically not risk his life for freedom, but choose to remain
>alive and in chains.

This will all depend on the slavery conditions and the individual slave's value
structure. But I agree, freedom being generally quite essential to a meaningful
life has a direct effect on the value one places on staying alive.

>> 2. I am not prepare to agree that all human values are linearly
>> comparable. I know *my* hierarchy of values contains incomparable trees.
>> If all human values were comparable, this would imply that everything
>> that one values is comparable to a certain amount of money. In essence,
>> we would all be "value whores". This is certainly *not* true of me and I
>> believe that it is not true of *most* people, certainly of most on this
>> list.
>Why thank you. "Whore" is a fine complement. That is indeed precisely
>what I am. I rent parts of my body to perform functions for the benefit
>of others, and they give me money. In my case, it is my brain and my
>hands rather than my genitals, but to attach some judgment to that minor
>distinction is just snobbery and irrational moralism.

You do love to apply strident, attacking language, don't you.:-)

Okay, I will accept that my original word "insane" was grossly mistaken and
pejorative. However, there *does* seem to be a major difference between us
which may not even be open to judgement. Would you trade *any* values you have
(short of your life, of course) for some sum of money?

>As you correctly point out, if any two values can be compared, that
>implies that all values are assignable a dollar value. Why do you find
>that idea disturbing?

Again, why do you accuse me of finding it "disturbing". I gave no such
indication. I simply find it (for me) wrong!

For example, if someone said to me "I will give you $X if you let me chop off
your little finger with this meat cleaver", I would not let them do it no
matter what X was. Right now (and at all times in the past) my need for money
has never been so great (largely because I have better ways to gain it) that I
would allow some irreversible disfiguration of any useful part of my body.
However, if I were dying of hunger and thirst in the middle of a desert with no
conceivable means of rescue, and someone who clearly had the means to rescue me
came along and said "I will rescue you and take you to civilization, if you let
me chop off your little finger after we get there", I would have no hesitation
in agreeing and honoring the deal.

Clearly, ones values of various things depend on ones circumstances. They also
very much depend on the discount rate which one applies to future value versus
present value, but that's a whole other discussion topic.

>I find it quite exciting. Money is a great accomplishment of the mind, a
>triumph of reason over mysticism. The reduction of human values to
>manageable, tangible measure, so that human relationships can be defined
>by free trade and self-interest instead of force and whim.

This is very true and very elegantly written. Ayn Rand couldn't have done any
better. :) I am not trying to disparage any of this. However, I believe that
many people who are to adamant about this sometimes forget the value of human
interpersonal attributes such as love, honor, loyalty, joy, etc. which are only
very indirectly related to money.

>If there existed two values that cannot be compared, then it would
>not be possible to rationally choose a course of action when they are
>in conflict, or even judge the action afterward.

I don't agree with this. Either in a given set of circumstances they would be
incomparable (I always use this in the mathematical sense) and not be capable
of being in conflict, or in another set of circumstances, they would be
comparable and again not in conflict.

>I don't choose to live such an undirected, purposeless life.

Omitting the word "such", neither do I and neither am I doing so.

-- Paul --

Paul Wakfer phone:909-481-9620 pager:800-805-2870


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