Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Human Paradox

If we saw a lot of black crows (and no other kind) we might well believe that all crows are black, if we wanted to; but we could quite rationally (although we would naturally find it quite absurd to) believe in Humean Supervenience, and hence that there was no evidence for such a belief (and either way the albino crow would come as no great surprise). Facts, in other words, are what we want to believe—we want to believe the facts, because we value truth; and truth is useful, but what about when it isn't? On a Naturalistic view of humans, we value truth because to do so is so useful, in general, that primitive hominids that didn't do so died out; whence we value it even when it would be more convenient for us not to. Facts force themselves upon us as true. Snow is white, it seems, whence we believe that it is.
......That tree is pink with blossom—is its pinkness (as it seems to be) something that is out there, in the world, or is it in our heads? Naturalists believe that only the photons are out there (or rather, somewhere that corresponds to the "out there" that is similarly in our heads). And does the objective reality (for Naturalists) of particles in spacetime contain some thing that is that tree? Logically that seems unlikely; but still, does it really matter? Such is how reality is represented in our brains (evolution has probably led to the world as we perceive it being a good enough map of reality for our natural purposes). Winter seems to be closed in on itself; loved ones seem to shine—such a useful map, and presumably evolution has similarly led to moral axioms being included in our mental maps.
......Having in it some moral axioms (such as the Golden Rule) would have similarly aided our survival, as would a tendency to accept the more local rules; we value loyalty, as well as objectivity (and hominids too lacking in either would have died out). So maybe a propensity to form such beliefs as that God is watching us arose naturally. Does such a God exist, the Naturalist wonders; but still, why worry about that? Such a belief should help the worst of us to behave better (and to be more readily identified, and possibly corrected) and anyway, the best of us regard the evidence for its falsity as inconclusive. But (the Naturalist persists) surely it matters whether or not that belief is true? Well, if it's part of our natural representation then surely (for Naturalists) it's at least as true as that that tree is pink.
......The human paradox is that, even were Naturalism true, the value of our natural beliefs in something like God (assuming that we humans have such beliefs) would hardly be outweighed by the value of such objectivity as we could ever attain. We do of course value truth, but many atheists do value loyalty more (in the confusion out there), while many believers regard the Naturalistic versions of objective truth (e.g. scientific modelling) as mere shadows of objective reality—if the truth is that God is watching us, then there really could be an objective truth, one worthy of our valuing it absolutely (and there could more easily be some logical object that is that tree, only approximately analysable into particles).


Doctor Logic said...

I think that the error here is in supposing that 1) belief in God is the only way to obtain good behavior, 2) that respect for truth is a lesser value than the claim that theism leads to better behavior, and 3) that values aren't subjective and individual.

First of all, I don't think that theism is the only way to obtain subjectively better behavior. Indeed, it's not obvious to me that theism is a route to better behavior at all.

Second, the value I give to the truth of the claim that theism causes good behavior can only be as great as the value I give to truth itself. (Of course, I can consistently value deceiving others into belief in God while satisfying my own personal valuing of the truth!)

I would say the real paradoxes are at the expense of theism, e.g., the truth-loving God who hides and wants us to believe without verification, or the good God who permits evil, etc.

Enigman said...

I don't think those 3 are the errors... (1) Belief in God is not the only way to obtain good behaviour. One could brainwash people, for example. But it might have been a good way to get good (in the sense of tribal ethics) behaviour naturally, under Naturalism. (2) The value of "P is true" is no better than the value of truth, but what of the value of P? Naturalists often assume that they can have a correspondance theory of truth, but for ever fail to deliver. Anyway, your problem is that the truth-value of "There is no God" is for you just a Naturalistic value, comparable to that of loyalty. (3) Similarly, I assumed no such thing; and while you can say that theistic evil is a worse paradox, can you find flaws in my theodicy?

I wrote this post because the worst (and first) responses by Christians to my previous post said, effectively, that tough, you may feel that same-sex sex-acts are OK, but they are not, the Bible says so. Naturalists jump on such irrationality (while the comments to that post slowly revealed that the Bible did not clearly say any such thing) but they then say tough, you may feel that you are more than a biochemical robot (for example) but you are not, science says so. Well, science says no such thing. But then, what do you care of the truth of such matters (and when your innate interest in it wanes under the pressures of life, how important is it then)?

Doctor Logic said...

Hi Enigman,

Hmmm, I don't think I can rationally value truth less than I value the truth of P. If I failed to value truth, then I would be saying that I did not care whether P was true.

I can be irrational, but that's a different ball game.

they then say tough, you may feel that you are more than a biochemical robot (for example) but you are not, science says so. Well, science says no such thing. But then, what do you care of the truth of such matters (and when your innate interest in it wanes under the pressures of life, how important is it then)?

I'm not sure I follow this. Are you suggesting that being a biochemical robot has implications for how I should behave on a day to day basis?

As for your theodicy... and you say I'm poetic! :)

How about this thought experiment. In order to gain an appreciation for what it is like to die like a tortured dog, I have decided to make a machine that will give me insight into this dog experience. The machine puts me in hibernation, raises a dog from puppy to adult, and then tortures the dog to death. Finally, the machine uploads the dog's experiences into my brain. That way, I can wake up the next day, and have access to what it is like to be a dog being tortured to death. Good or bad?

Enigman said...

Machines are neither good nor bad. Do I think it good or bad to torture a dog to death in order to gain some insight into how it feels to be such a dog? That would be bad, presumably; although (i) some story could presumably be told of how such knowledge could somehow be used to save a billion humans from a holocaust or some such, and (ii) many of us are complicit in the torturing to death of various animals in order to enjoy eating various meats (and are pretty relaxed about the torturing to death of humans (if that is collateral damage (or is only natural etc.)))... But anyway, so what? The puppy did not volunteer. So, what if you were one of a pair of scientists (working as part of a team hoping to save billions of people) and your colleague volunteered to have his brain so moulded (by some similarly advanced machinery) that, when it is put into a dog's body (grown without a brain in a vat) there would be a dog there, waiting to be tortured to death. Good or bad? (Heroic, I'd've thought ;-)

Doctor Logic said...


My point is that we (like the dog) are not the same person as the volunteer. We have no memories from before our birth, so there are no grounds for saying we are the same person as the volunteer.

There's a difference between my imagining a bad life, and my instantiating one. In the former case, I am continually aware that the bad life is not real, the simulated life is not a different person, and the simulation can end whenever I want it to. On the other hand, if I suspend my awareness and simulate the bad life so perfectly that the simulated entity cannot break free and has no reliable knowledge of the experiment, then, from the simulation's perspective, the simulation is a person in his/her own right who is needlessly tortured to death.

There's a real concern in AI that it may be unethical to simulate conscious life under circumstances that would be unethical for a corresponding human life. Your proposal is that the beings responsible for this evil world are either unaware or indifferent to this ethical concern.

is That what ! said...

If one assumes physicalism, then one is probably forced to base personal identity upon such things as memories. But if one does not, then it should be obvious that a person can be the same person and have radically different memories. (And if one assumes dualism, as my theodicy does, then much more could differ radically.) So your first point begs the question; worse, there are obvious absurdities in saying that having radically different memories makes you a different person.

And a simulation is only that, with no actual victims; and a belief that one is suffering needlessly is not the same as suffering needlessly. So the ethical issues in AI that you mention are as nothing compared to those in real life. What would you say about a sober choice to drink followed by a drunken choice to drive?

Regarding simulations, I would say that if the simulation is sentient then there are ethical concerns, and if not then not, and similarly with animals; and that observed behaviour is one source of evidence for sentience. A problem for AI is that sentience is much more easily simulated - in such a way that nobody would regard it as evidence for sentience - than is sapience, whereas the ethical concerns arise with sentience, not sapience (cf. how we regard humans born with animal-grade intelligence). I wonder if it is because physicalists can feel free to ignore such complexities that you work out that your last sentence is my proposal, because I certainly don't recognise it as such: this life is real, not simulated; we are the same people who volunteered.

If one decides to get drunk, and then gets drunk, then even if one forgets why, when drunk, it was still one's earlier decision to be that way; and things are not really as they seem to the drunk. And if one decides to drive, then one is to blame for the consequences, and that one who is to blame is the same one who decided to get drunk in the first place, and the same one who should suffer the consequences because there is a real risk of innocent sentient beings suffering them in the real world.

...and ! also said...

...and Dr. Logic, the human paradox (if humans evolved by natural selection then why should we care that we did?) is particularly paradoxical in view of the points you raised in your recent comments on this post last month: If determinism is true then we will inevitably doing whatever (whatever our blind evolution has left us doing), and if not then there is also blind chance; not much reason to question whatever one happens to believe, however irresponsibly one's beliefs may have been acquired, is it? (Of course, if one wants to question beliefs, one's own or those of others, then presumably one will do that; but then, if one wants to oppress those who ask too many questions then that's what one will be doing (etc.).)

Doctor Logic said...


But if one does not, then it should be obvious that a person can be the same person and have radically different memories.

I'm afraid that it's not obvious to me.

What does the non-material part of me do? What are its distinguishing properties as compared to, say, the distinguishing properties of the non-material part of you? And in what way would such properties differ from, say, mass or acidity our material bodies under materialism?

Because as I see it, the non-material part of me can have, at best, some bulk properties.

Using mass as an analogy in a material system... If I dissolve person A and reconstitute person B from person A's atoms, is person B person A? What is their common mass contributing to their common personhood?

Back to the general case... Suppose a friend of yours has an accident which causes irrevocable amnesia and a chemical imbalance in his brain. Consequently, the "friend" no longer recognizes you, and has a far less pleasant personality. Is the post-accident friend the same person as the pre-accident friend? Legally, I suspect he is. But is he really? What hasn't changed, apart from his physical location, mass, approximate composition, etc?

All these questions suggest to me that the question is far from obvious.

Suppose that souls have a certain level of goodness or a certain number of Karma points or some other similar non-material bulk property. I would not substitute my girlfriend for another person with the same soul. It would not be the same person. The other person would not be a friend of mine. So the idea that a shared soul makes you the same person has poetry, but seems quite unreasonable to me. I would not feel one bit less crushed by the death of someone close to me if I believed the soul of that person to have been born into some new baby somewhere.

Seriously, I am genuinely curious to know what you think personhood is, and what the non-material parts of a person are responsible for.

What would you say about a sober choice to drink followed by a drunken choice to drive?

We should settle the personhood issue first, or else we would not really be looking at the same thought experiment.

this life is real, not simulated

How would we ever tell?

Finally, I think your comment about the human paradox runs afoul of the is-ought problem. What is does not determine what I ought or ought not care about. It only determines what I do care about.

Russell said...

I think, therefore there is thinking.

Enigman said...

Dr. Logic, in reverse order: If there are moral facts then matters of fact determine what one ought to do. Maybe there are no such facts, but to assume that your last statements are true is to assume that there are none, so they too beg the question.

This life is real by definition, in this language - between communicants in this external world, which presumably exists or else what are we doing now?

Thirdly, we won't settle the personhood question, I'm sure; but your point (the first of your third comment) still begs the question if it is only possible that personal identity is not determined by such things as memories, which is surely obvious (e.g. as follows:)

Suppose a very selfish but quite rational (and rich) man is to be punished for some selfish act. His memories will be extracted (leaving an amnesiac) and put, along with a copy of his personality, into the mindless brain of a cloned copy of his body grown in a speed-vat.

Then one of those two will be tortured for a long, long time, while the other will be set free, with all the man's wealth to spend. But first, before the memories are extracted, he is given the choice of which body will be tortured, the one he is in (whose brain will only have lost its memories, not its feelings) or the vat-built body with the copy of his memories and dispositions?

What would be the rational and selfish choice? As I said, I think it should be obvious that people who do not already believe in physicalism would (if rational and selfish) choose to have the original body set free - maybe that would be just a matter of habitual identification, or maybe it would be a matter of directly acquired knowledge, but the point is that the burden of proof is on those who would, without assuming physicalism, say that one should choose to have the cloned copy set free.

Doctor Logic said...

Good Morning Enigman,

Material facts do not determine oughts without moral axioms. For example, the material fact that we evolved does not determine what I ought to do. The rule that "if nature did X, I must do X," is not a fact. It is an assumption.

The material fact that my parents raised me to be a lawyer does not mean I ought to be a lawyer (to anyone but them), etc. Not unless I assume that I ought to do what my parents want me to do.

So moral axioms are arbitrary, e.g., like x=5. (Here I refer to moral facts/axioms as independent of descriptions of human moral feelings).

God only defines morality if I ought to do what God wants me to do. But that is in itself an unwarranted assumption.

This life is real by definition, in this language - between communicants in this external world, which presumably exists or else what are we doing now?

If this is a simulation, then what we call the real world is a simulated world, and our definition refers to the simulation. It would be impossible for us to know we were living in a simulation, and I for one would not care whether physics was simulated versus something fundamental and inexplicable.

but the point is that the burden of proof is on those who would, without assuming physicalism, say that one should choose to have the cloned copy set free.

Let's just make a few important clarifications.

First, the vat-body is not a person, right? It has no memories, and no personality, doesn't know how to walk, talk, etc.

Second, what is the personality of the amnesiac? I assume that the amnesiac is not crippled like a newborn. Is it selfish like the original man? Does it have all his skills? Let's assume it does.

Third, is there continuity of consciousness? Does the man go to sleep before sentence is executed? Let's assume that he does.

As I see it, my choices as the man sentenced are these.

1) I can wake up the next day (in the clone body) and be tortured, and have someone else with my general skillset and my general mindset use my fortune.

2) Alternatively, I can wake up in a new body the next day and use my fortune as if not much else happened except I got a new body (which we shall assume is basically the same as the one I had before). The only downside is that I have to live with the knowledge that an innocent amnesiac version of me will get tortured for reasons he (and I) would consider unjust.

Being a selfish person (per the premise), I must pick option 2. The transfer is indistinguishable to me from having my mind moved into a new body. (c.f., Freaky Friday.)

Anonymous said...

The essence and terrible tragedy of the human paradox is that we mistakenly identify with an entirely mortal meat-body which we know is going to die.
And we also know that all of the other meat-body packages that we love and associate with are going to die too.

In response to this over-whelming existential fact we try to make consoling meat-body philosophies and "religions".

How much profundity of understanding is a meat-body (in and of itself) capable of?

By contrast these essays point out that the ESSENTIAL key to right life alogether is to thoroughly understand the meaning and significance of death, and the body, what ever it (the body) is altogether.