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October 18, 2007

Comments

Richard, if morality is a sort of epiphenomenon with no observable effects on the universe, how could anyone know anything about it?

Where did Richard say anything resembling "with no observable effects on the universe"?

Yes, TGGP, I've reread my comment and cannot see where I . . .

TGGP, I maintain that the goals that people now advocate as the goal that trumps all other goals are not deserving of our loyalty and a search most be conducted for a goal that is so deserving. (The search should use essentially the same intellectual skills as physicists.) The identification of that goal can have a very drastic effect on the universe e.g. by inspiring a group of bright 20 year-olds to implement a seed AI with that goal as its utility function. But that does not answer your question, does it?

I have to admire a blog that can go from Paris Hilton to the metaphysics of morality in only a few short hops.
Richard said The first half of physics, the part we know, asks how reality can be bent towards goals humans already have.
That's engineering, not physics. Then later you say:
I maintain that the goals that people now advocate as the goal that trumps all other goals are not deserving of our loyalty and a search most be conducted for a goal that is so deserving. (The search should use essentially the same intellectual skills as physicists.)
While your goal of finding better goals is admirable, I can't see that the skills of physicists are particularly applicable. Traditionally philosophers and religions claim to have that kind of expertise. You can view religion as a technology for enabling people not to think too hard about ultimate goals, for better or worse. Often such thinking is unproductive.

So, then Richard, do you assert that morality does have observable effects on the universe? Do you think that a physicist can do an experiment that will grant him/her knowledge of morality? You have been rather vague by saying that just as we discovered many positive facts with science, so we can discover normative ones, even if we have not been able to do so before. You haven't really given any indication as to how anyone could possibly do that, except by analogizing again to fields that have only discovered positive rather than normative facts. It would seem to me the most plausible explanation for this difference is that there are none of the latter.

Richard, assuming that you're thinking the way my past self was thinking, you should find the following question somewhat disturbing:

How would you recognize a moral discovery if you saw one? How would you recognize a criterion for recognizing moral discoveries if you saw one? If you can't do either of these things, how can you build an AI that makes moral discoveries, or tell whether or not a physicist is telling the truth when she says she's made a moral discovery?

Thanks for the nice questions.

Handily, the Templeton Foundation took out a two-page ad in the New York Times today where a number of luminaries discuss the purpose of the universe. Presumably our personal goals should be in tune with the overarching goal of the universe, if there is one.

Non sequitur, mtraven.

"Let us understand, once and for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it." -- T. H. Huxley

Certainly ethical naturalism has encouraged many oppressions and cruelties. Ethical naturalists must remain constantly aware of that potential.

Er, they needn't remain constantly aware. They need only take it into account in all their public statements.

You surely realize you haven't answered any of the tough questions here. Evolution is a natural process, but not an ethical one. The second law of thermodynamics is a universal trend but this doesn't make entropy a terminal value. So how would you recognize a natural ethical process if you saw one?

Eliezer, in what way do you mean "altruism" when you use it? I only ask for clarity.

I don't understand how altruism, as selfless concern for the welfare of others, enters into the question of supporting the singularity as a positive factor. This would open a path for a singularity in which I am destroyed to serve some social good. I have no interest in that. I would only want to support a singularity that benefits me. Similarly, if everyone else who supports the efforts to achieve singularity is simply altruistic no one is looking out for their own welfare. Selfish concern (rational self interest) seems to increase the chance for a safe singularity.

I think it was the Stoics who said one's ethical duty was to act in accordance with the Universe. Marcus Aurelius did a lousy job of making sure his son was competent to run the empire though.

"So how would you recognize a natural ethical process if you saw one?"

Suppose that you observe process A- maybe you look at it, or poke around a bit inside it, but you don't make a precise model. If you extrapolate A forward in time, you will get a probability distribution over possible states (including the states of all the other stuff that A touches). If A consistently winds up in very small regions of this distribution, compared to what your model is, and there's no way to fix your model without making it extremely complex, you can say A is an "ethical process". Two galaxies, or two rocks, or two rivers, can easily collide; but if you look at humans, or zebras, or even fish, you will notice that they run into each other much less often than you would expect if you made a simple Newtonian model.

People who believe that the universe has a goal (I'm not really one of them, except on Thursdays) also tend to believe that humans are the culmination or at least the instrument of that goal. Humans are free to try to combat the universe's goals if they want to, but they may just be fulfilling the universe's goal by rebelling against it.

"How would you recognize a natural ethical process if you saw one?"
How would you recognize an ethical process if you saw one? If you saw an ethical process would you think it unnatural, or supernatural, or what exactly? (Sorry if that's a silly question)

I'm new to this whole cryonics debate, so I have a question: How long do you all believe you'll be frozen for? If you think that being revived is scientifically possible, what are the developments that need to be achieved to get to that point?

Off the top of my head, I would think you'd need, at the very least, (1) prevention of cellular damage of the brain cells during the freezing and reviving processes; (2) the ability to revive dead tissue in general; and (3) the ability to perfectly replicate consciousness after it has been terminated.

I would think paying money (I would assume it is very costly) for any freezing service now makes no sense now since a better system might be developed in the future, more closely to the time of one's own death. Also, you don't know how you're going to die, and to what extent your brain will be destroyed in the process. Furthermore, if you're talking hundreds of years, you have no guarantee of whether your physical remains or contractual rights to be unfrozen will survive, since things in the world might change significantly. Finally, if (2) or (3) is achieved at all, I would expect some serious social upheaval that might endanger the ability of anyone to get unfrozen at all anyway.

Based on all this, I would think the small probability of success is not worth giving up dinner and movies. Of course, Paris doesn't really have to make the trade off, so I guess my reasoning doesn't really apply to her. Perhaps its not that she's smarter, just luckier. But I'm not a scientist, so please inform me if I'm missing something.

BS - Cost of cryonics: "no less than US$28,000 and rarely more than US$200,000". One way to fund this is with a life insurance policy.

The cryonics organizations themselves are always seeking better methods of suspension, and your contract is with a suspension provider, not with a suspension technology, so the point about technological advance is moot.

There are in general two conceptions of how revival might work. One is through nanotechnological repair of freezing damage to the cells (along with whatever condition originally caused a person's death). This may be combined with the growth of a new host body if only the brain has been frozen (that's the economy-class ticket to the post-cryo future). The other method would involve high-resolution imaging of the frozen person, as in the Visible Human Project, but with subcellular resolution of neuronal structure and composition, and then comprehensive simulation of the brain structure thus revealed, perhaps in a robot body or just in a virtual reality (at first), under the assumption that this is equivalent to revival. The issues are then the same as in "mind uploading" - what happens to personhood and identity when you can have multiple copies, slightly inaccurate copies, and so forth. I disagree with the computational philosophy of mind, so I don't think that constitutes survival, but the details are not exactly clear, and in any case cryonics is the best existing method of physical preservation after death, so it's the best that we have to work with.

Philosophical issues aside, the two resurrection processes described (reversal of intracellular damage, mapping of intracellular structure) are merely an extrapolation of our existing abilities to image molecules and manipulate them. We have every reason to think they are possible, especially for a material object at very low temperatures. As for timescales, certainly some cryonicists have thought in terms of centuries. But the rising paradigm among the small group of people who follow these matters, is that artificial intelligence is coming, and will boost itself past human intelligence, within decades, not centuries. Those extrapolated molecular capabilities, it is thought, will be achieved very rapidly, as an incidental side-effect of that process. If superhuman artificial intelligence, having become superhuman, is "friendly" towards human beings, then one would expect the Great Unthawing to occur more or less immediately. But as several of the posters above have indicated, human-friendliness is an outcome which will have to be worked for, and which trumps everything else - if we get everything else right, and that wrong, then everything else will count for nothing, and the unfriendly superhuman AI steamrolls the human race in pursuit of whatever imperative does guide its behavior.

So the prognosis is mixed. But if you can afford it, cryonics is a more than reasonable option to take up.

For the sake of brevity, I borrow from Pascal's Mugger.

If a Mugger appears in every respect to be an ordinary human, let us call him a "very unconvincing Mugger". In contrast, an example of a very convincing Pascal's Mugger is one who demonstrates an ability to modify fundamental reality: he can violate physical laws that have always been (up to now) stable, global, and exception-free. And he can do so in exactly the way you specify.

For example, you say, "Please Mr Mugger follow me into my physics laboratory." There you repeat the Millikan oil-drop experiment and demand of the mugger that he increase the electrical charge on the electrons in the apparatus by an amount you specify (stressing that he should leave all other electrons alone).

Then you set up an experiment to measure the gravitational constant G and demand that he increase or decrease G by a factor you specify (again stressing that he should leave G alone outside the experimental apparatus).

You ask him to violate the conservation of momentum in a system you specify by a magnitude and direction you specify.

I find it humorous to use the phrase "signs and wonders" for such violations of physical laws. You demand and verify other signs and wonders.

The Mugger's claim that your universe -- your "spacetime" -- is an elaborate simulation and that he exists outside the simulation is now very convincing.

My reason for introducing the very convincing Mugger is that I believe that under certain conditions, unless and until you acquire a means of modelling the part of reality outside the simulation that does not rely on communicating with the Mugger, the Mugger has Real Moral Authority over you: it is not too much of an exaggeration to say you should regard every communication from the Mugger as the Voice of God.

The Mugger's authority does not derive from the fact that he can at any time crush you like a bug. Many ordinary humans have had that kind of power over other humans. His authority stems from the fact that he is in a better position than you or anyone else you know to tell you how your actions might have a permanent effect on reality. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Probably the only conditions required on that last proposition are that our spacetime, which is the only "compartment" of reality we know about so far -- will end after a finite amount of time and that we become confident of that fact. In cosmology these days this is usually modelled as the Big Rip.

I believe the utility of directing one's efforts at a compartment of reality that might go on forever completely trumps the utility of directing efforts at a compartment of reality that will surely end even if the end is 100,000,000,000 years away and this remains true regardless the ratio of the probabilities that one's efforts will prove effective in those two compartments.

If scientists determine that the universe is going to end in 12 months or 10 years or 100 years and if during the time remaining to us society and the internet continue to operate normally, I tend to suspect that I could convince many people that the only hope we have for our lives and our efforts to have any ultimate or lasting relevance is for us to contribute to the discovery and investigation of a compartment of reality outside our spacetime because it is an intrinsic property of spacetime -- by which I mean the thing modelled by Einstein's equation -- that a spacetime that ends after a finite amount of time cannot support or host a causal chain that goes on indefinitely, and as we shall see, such chains are central to the search for intrinsic value.

Of course we have no evidence for what exists beyond our spacetime, and no concrete reason to believe we ever will find any evidence, but we have no choice but to conduct the search.

And that puts us in the proper frame for us to meet the very convincing Mugger: "Delighted to meet you, Mr Mugger. Please tell me and my civilization how to make our existence and our efforts meaningful."

The very convincing Mugger is "ontologically privileged": he has a causal model of the part of reality outside or beyond our spacetime. More precisely, the signs and wonders he performed on demand lead us to believe that it is much more probable that he can acquire such a model than that we can do so without his help.

Now we come to the heart of how I propose to derive a normative standard from positive facts: I propose that causal chains that go on forever or indefinitely are important; causal chains that peter out are unimportant. In fact, the most important thing about you is your ability to have a permanent effect on reality. Instead of worrying that the enemy will sap your Precious Bodily Fluids, you should worry that he will sap your Precious Ability to Initiate Indefinitely-Long Causal Chains.

The ontologically privileged observer has not proven to us that he has enough knowledge to tell us how to create causal chains that go on indefinitely. But unless we discover new fundamental physics, communicating with the privileged observer is the most likely means of our acquiring such knowlege. For us to communicate to the Mugger is a link in a causal chain that might go on indefinitely if the Mugger can cause effects that go on indefinitely. In the absence of other concrete hopes to permanently affect reality, helping the Mugger strikes me as the most likely way for my life and efforts to have True Lasting Meaning.

Now some readers are asking, But what do we do if we never stumble on a way to communicate with an ontologically privileged observer? My answer is that my purpose here is not to cover all contingencies but rather to exhibit a single contingency in which I believe it is possible to deduce ought from is.

Saying that only indefinitely-long causal chains are important does not tell us which indefinitely-long causal chains are good and which ones are evil. But consider my contingency again: you find yourself in communication with an ontologically privileged observer. After extensive investigation you have discovered no other way to cause effects that go on indefinitely and have no concrete hope of ever discovering a way. Once he has demonstrated that he exists outside your spacetime, the only information you can obtain about him is what he tells you. Sure, the privileged observer might be evil. But if you really have no way to learn about him and no way to cause effects that go on indefinitely except through communication with him, perhaps you should trust him. After contemplating for ~7 years, I think so.

I know I risk sounding arrogant or careless, but I must say I do not consider the possibility that our spacetime is an elaborate simulation important to think about. I use it here only to take advantage of the fact that the audience is already familiar with it and with the Mugger. There is another possibility I do consider important to think about that also features a communications link with an ontologically privileged observer. I would have used that possibility if it would not have made the comment longer.

In summary, I believe we can derive ought from is in the following situation: our reality "contains a horizon" the other side of which we are very unlikely to be able to model. The physical structure of the horizon allows us to become highly confident of this negative fact. But we have stumbled on a means to communicate with a mind beyond the horizon, who I have been calling the ontologically privileged observer. Finally, our spacetime will come to an end, and reality allows us to become highly confident of that fact.

Although a causal chain can cross a communications link, you cannot use the link to construct a causal model of the reality on the other side of the link. Perhaps your interlocutor will describe the other side to you, but you cannot use the link to verify he is telling the truth unless you already have an causal model of the other side (e.g. you know there is a trusted computer on the other side attached to trusted sensory peripherals and you know the "secrets" of the trusted computer and trusted sensors, which is quite a lot to know).

And there is my very compressed reply to You have been rather vague by saying that just as we discovered many positive facts with science, so we can discover normative ones, even if we have not been able to do so before. You haven't really given any indication as to how anyone could possibly do that.

Richard, my objections in my e-mail to you still stand. I suppose to a Pete Singer utilitarian it might be correct that we assign equal weight of importance to everyone in and beyond our reality, but not everyone accepts that and you have not established that we ought to. If I am a simulation, I take my simulation as my reality and care as little about the space-time simulating me (outside of how they affect me) as another simulation someone in our reality might create. Outside of the issue of importance, you still have not established how we obtain oughts. You simply ask that we accept the authority of someone even as you acknowledge that this person may be a liar and/or malevolent. You have hit the "worship" button without regard to whether it is Nyarlathotep/Loki/Lucifer you are worshiping (in that respect you are not all that different from the adherents of the more primitive religions). Your post was also quite long. I suggest you get a blog of your own to host it on. All the cool people are doing it.

The ought is, You ought to do whatever the very credible Mugger tells you to do if you find yourself in a situation with all the properties I list above. Blind obedience does not have a very good reputation; please remember, reader, that the fact that the Nazis enthusiastically advocated and built an interstate highway system does not mean that an interstate highway system is always a bad idea. Every ethical intelligent agent should do his best to increase his intelligence, his knowledge of reality and to help other ethical intelligent agents do the same. That entails consistently resisting tyranny and exploitation. But intelligence can be defined as the ability to predict and control reality or to put it another way to achieve goals. So, if your only goal is to increase intelligence, you set up a recursion that has to bottom out somehow. You cannot increase intelligence indefinitely without eventually confronting the question of what other goals the intelligence you have helped to create will be applied to. That is a tricky question that our civilization does not have much success answering, and I am trying to do better.

I suppose to a Pete Singer utilitarian it might be correct that we assign equal weight of importance to everyone in and beyond our [spacetime].

In the scenario with all the properties I list above, I assign most of the intrinsic good to obeying the Mugger. Some intrinsic good is assigned to continuing to refine our civilization's model of reality, but the more investment in that project fails to yield the ability to cause effects that persist indefinitely without the Mugger's help, the more intrinsic good gets heaped on obeying the Mugger. Nothing else gets any intrinsic good, including every human and in fact every intelligent agent in our spacetime. Agents in our spacetime must make do with whatever instrumental good derives from the two intrinsic goods. So for example if Robin is expected to be thrice as useful to those two goods as Eliezer is, then he gets thrice as much instrumental good. Not exactly Pete Singer! No one can accuse me of remaining vague on my goals to avoid offending people! I might revise this paragraph after learning more decision theory, Solomonoff induction, etc.

You have not established that one ought to "do his best to increase his intelligence, his knowledge of reality and to help other ethical intelligent agents do the same". Where is the jump from is to ought? I know Robin Hanson gave a talk saying something along those lines, but he was greeted with a considerable amount of disagreement from people whose ethical beliefs aren't especially different from his.

That entails consistently resisting tyranny and exploitation.
If a tyrant's goal was to increase their knowledge of reality and spread it which they chose to go about with violence and exploitation, resistance could very well hinder those goals.

But intelligence can be defined as the ability to predict and control reality or to put it another way to achieve goals.
That would make Azathoth incredibly intelligent, and Azathoth isn't called the "blind idiot" for nothing.

So, if your only goal is to increase intelligence
You haven't established that ought to be our goal.

You cannot increase intelligence indefinitely without eventually confronting the question of what other goals the intelligence you have helped to create will be applied to.
The intelligence might have no other goals other than those I choose to give it and the intelligence I am endlessly increasing might be my own.

That is a tricky question that our civilization does not have much success answering, and I am trying to do better.
Why is a "civilization" the unit of analysis rather than a single agent?

I assign most of the intrinsic good to obeying the Mugger
I do not and you have not established that I should.

the more intrinsic good gets heaped on obeying the Mugger.
You have not established that obeying the mugger will actually lead to preferable results.

The blog "item" to which this is a comment started 5 days ago. I am curious whether any besides TGGP and I are still reading. One thing newsgroups and mailing lists do better than blogs is to enable conversational threads to persist for more than a few days. Dear reader, just this once, as a favor to me, please comment here (if only with a blank comment) to signal your presence. If no one signals, I'm not continuing.

Why is a "civilization" the unit of analysis rather than a single agent?
Since you put the word in quotes, I take it you hold something akin to the views of Margaret Thatcher who famously said that there is no society, just individuals and families. You should have been exposed to the mainstream view often enough to notice that my statement can be translated to an equivalent statement expressed in terms of individuals. If we introduce too many deviations from consensus reality at once, we are going to lose our entire audience. Please continue as if I had not used the word and had said instead that if there exists individuals who have a successful answer to the tricky question then they are not promoting the answer to the singularitarian community broadly understood or I would have become aware of them already.

Yes, I take as postulates

  • the desirabitity of increasing the intelligence of whatever part of reality is under your control,
  • the desirability of continuously refining your model of reality,
  • that the only important effects are those that go on forever,
  • for that matter, that the probability of a model of reality is proportional to 2^K where K is the complexity of the model in bits (Occam's razor).

What I meant by deriving ought from is is that what you learn about reality can create a behavioral obligation e.g. in certain specific circumstances it creates an obligation to obey an ontologically priviledged observer. This is not usually acknowledged in expositions about morality and the intrinsic good -- at least not to the extent I acknowledge it here. But yeah, you have a point that without the three oughts I listed above, I could not derive the ought of obeying the Mugger, so instead of my saying that you can derive ought from is, I should in the future say that it is not commonly understood by moral philosophers how much the moral obligations on an agent depend on the physical structure of the reality in which the agents finds himself. Note that he cannot do anything about that physical structure and consequently about the existence of the moral obligation (assuming the postulates above).

I am still reading. I'm inclined to agree with you that if some sort of moral realism is correct and if some demonstrably-godlike being tells you "X is good" then you're probably best advised to believe it. I don't understand how you get from there to the idea that we should be studying the universe like physicists looking for answers to moral questions; so far, so far as I know, all even-remotely-credible claims to have encountered godlike beings with moral advice to offer have been (1) from people who weren't proceeding at all like physicists and (2) very unimpressive evidentially.

I think it's no more obvious that increasing the intelligence of whatever part of reality is under your control is good than that (say) preventing suffering is good, and since we don't even know whether there *are* any effects that go on for ever it seems rather premature to declare that only such effects matter.

I think it's obvious (assuming any sort of moral realism, or else taking "obligations" in a suitably relativized way) that the moral obligations on an agent depend on the physical facts about the universe, and you don't need to consider exotic things like godlike beings to discover that. If you're driving along a road, then whether you have an obligation to brake sharply depends on physical facts such as whether there's a person trying to cross the road immediately in front of you.

(You wrote 2^K where you meant 2^-K. I assume that was just a typo.)

TGGP pointed out a mistake, which I acknowledged and tried to recover from by saying that what you learn about reality can create a behavioral obligation. g pointed out that you don't need to consider exotic things like godlike beings to discover that. If you're driving along a road, then whether you have an obligation to brake sharply depends on physical facts such as whether there's a person trying to cross the road immediately in front of you. So now I have to retreat again.

There are unstated premises that go into the braking-sharply conclusion. What is noteworthy about my argument is that none of its premises has any psychological or social content, yet the conclusion (obey the Mugger) seems to. The premises of my argument are the 4 normative postulates I just listed plus the conditions on when you should obey the Mugger. It is time to recap those conditions:

  • You find yourself in communication with an ontologically privileged observer.

  • After extensive investigation you have discovered no other way to cause effects that go on indefinitely.

  • You have no concrete hope of ever discovering a way.

  • Once the observer has demonstrated that he exists outside your spacetime, the only information you can obtain about him is what he tells you.

  • You have no concrete hope of ever discovering anything about the observer besides what he tells you.

Notice that there are no psychological or social concepts in those two lists! No mention for example of qualia or subjective mental experience. No appeal to the intrinsic moral value of every sentient observer, which creates the obligation to define sentience, which is distinct from and I claim fuzzier than the concept which I have been calling intelligence. Every concept in every premise comes from physics, cosmology, basic probability theory, information technology and well-understood parts of cognitive science and AI. The lack of pyschosocial concepts in the premises make my argument different from every moral argument I know about that contains what at first glance seems to be a psychological or social conclusion.

I think it's no more obvious that increasing the intelligence of whatever part of reality is under your control is good than that (say) preventing suffering is good
When applied to ordinary situations (situations that do not involve e.g. ultratechnology or the fate of the universe) those two imperative lead to largely the same decisions because if you have only a little time to do an investigation, asking a person, Are you suffering? is the best way to determine if there is any preventable or reversible circumstance in his life impairing his intelligence, which I remind I am defining as the ability to acheive goals. Suffering though is a psychological concept and I recommend for ultratechnologists and others concerned with the ultimate fate of the universe to keep their fundamental moral premises free from psychological or social concepts.

All even-remotely-credible claims to have encountered godlike beings with moral advice to offer have been (1) from people who weren't proceeding at all like physicists and (2) very unimpressive evidentially.
Their claims have been very unimpressive because they weren't proceeding like physicists. Impressive evidence would be an experiment repeatable by anyone with a physics lab that receives the Old Testament in Hebrew (encoded as UTF8) from a compartment of reality beyond our spacetime. For the evidence to have moral authority, there would have to be a very strong reason to believe that the message was not sent from a transmitter in our spacetime. (The special theory of relativity seems to be able to provide the strong reason.)

since we don't even know whether there *are* any effects that go on for ever it seems rather premature to declare that only such effects matter.
An understandable reaction. You might never discover a way to cause an effect that goes on forever even if you live a billion years and devote most of your resources to the search. I sympathize!

I'm still reading.

It is not obvious why creating a causal chain that goes on indefinitely is uniquely morally relevant. (Nor is it obvious that the concept is meaningful in reality - a causal chain with a starting point can be unboundedly long but at no actual point in time will it be infinite.) I do see it as valuable to look for ways to escape this space-time continuum, because I presently want (and think I will continue to want) (post)humanity to continue existing and growing indefinitely, but I don't believe there is any universal validity to this value. (If values like this form attractors for complex - i.e. not paperclip-maximizing - intelligences I suppose they would be in a sense "objective", but would not acquire any more normative force, whatever that is.) I don't see this value as "unreal" because it's subjective, though. My subjectivity is very real to me.

Saying that only indefinitely-long causal chains are important does not tell us which indefinitely-long causal chains are good and which ones are evil.

This was Eliezer's point: how could you ever recognize which ones are good and which ones are evil? How could you even recognize a process for recognizing objective good and evil?

Physicists have been proceeding like physicists for some time now and none of them has done anything like receiving the Old Testament from outside of our space-time. Why would you even expect a laboratory experiment to have such a result? It also seems you are postulating an extra-agent (the Mugger), which limits the amount of control experimenters have and in turn makes the experiment unrepeatable.

This was Eliezer's point: how could you ever recognize which ones are good and which ones are evil? How could you even recognize a process for recognizing objective good and evil?

I have only one suggestion so far, which is that if you find yourself in a situation which satisfies all five of the conditions I just listed, obeying the Mugger initiates an indefinitely-long causal chain that is good rather than evil. I consider, "You might as well assume it is good," to be equivalent to, "It is good." Now that I have an example I can try to generalize it, which is best done after the scenario has been expressed mathematically. That is my plan of research. So for example I am going to characterize mathematically the notion of a possible world in which an agent can become confident of a "negative fact" about its environment. An example of a negative fact is, I will probably not be able to refine further my model of the Mugger using any evidence except what the Mugger tells me. Then I will try to determine whether our reality is an example of a possible world that allows agents to become confident of negative facts. I will try to devise a way to compute an answer to the question of how to trade off the two goals of obeying the Mugger and refining my model of reality.

A moral system must contain some postulates. I have retracted my claim that one can derive ought from is and apologize for advancing it. Above I give a list four postulates I consider unobjectionable -- the list whose last item is Occam's razor. I do not claim that you and I will come to agree on the fundamental moral postulates if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, had grown up farther together. I do not claim that we have or can discover a procedure that allows two rational humans always to cooperate. I do not claim that this is the summer of love. I reserve the right to continue to advocate for my fundamental moral postulates even if it causes conflict.

Physicists have been proceeding like physicists for some time now and none of them has done anything like receiving the Old Testament from outside of our space-time.
As far as I know, none of them are looking for a message from beyond the space-time continuum. Maybe I will try to interest them in making the effort. My main interest however is a moral system that does not break down when thinking about seed AI and the singularity. Note that the search for a message from outside space-time takes place mainly at the blackboard and only at the very end moves to the laboratory for the actual construction of the experimental apparatus. Moreover, it is irrational to expect the message to arrive in any human tongue or in a human-originated encoding like Ascii or UTF8. How absurd! The rational approach is an embryonic department of mathematics called anticryptography. Also, the SETI project probably knows an algorithm to detect a signal created by an intelligent agent about which we know nothing specific trying to communicate with another intelligent agent about which it knows nothing specific.

It also seems you are postulating an extra-agent (the Mugger), which limits the amount of control experimenters have and in turn makes the experiment unrepeatable.
I see your point. To explain the concept of the ontologically privileged observer, I borrowed Pascal's Mugger because my audience is already familiar with that scenario. I have another scenario in which a physicist finds himself in a dialog or monologue with an ontologically privileged observer in which physicists retain their accustomed level of control over their laboratories.

I don't think you've established that "You might as well consider it good", I might as well not consider it good or bad. You haven't given a reason to consider it more good than bad, just hope. I might hope my lottery ticket is a winner, but I have no reason to expect it to be.

If you want to persuade physicists to start looking for messages from beyond the space-time continuum, you'd better be able to offer them a method. I am completely at a loss for how one might go about it. I certainly don't know how you are going to do it at the blackboard. Anything you write on the blackboard comes from you, not something outside space-time. Anticryptography would sound like the study of decrypting encryptions, which is already covered by cryptography. As far as I know, SETI is just dicking around and has no algorithms of the type you speak of, but my information just comes from Michael Crichton and others critical of them. I don't see how you can have this other observer and at the same time have the scientist with control over the lab.

You haven't come up with much of a moral system either, you just say to do what the Mugger says, when we are not in contact with any such Mugger and have no reason to suppose what the Mugger wants us to do is good.

In cryptography, you try to hide the message from listeners (except your friends). In anticryptography, you try to write a message that a diligent and motivated listener can decode despite his having none of your biological, pyschological and social reference points.

I certainly don't know how you are going to do it at the blackboard. Anything you write on the blackboard comes from you, not something outside space-time.
I meant that most of the difficulty of the project is in understanding our laws of physics well enough to invent a possible novel method for sending and receiving messages.

I don't see how you can have this other observer and at the same time have the scientist with control over the lab.
It is possible for the fundamental laws of physics as we know them to continue to apply without exception and for physicists to discover a novel method of sending or receiving messages because the fundamental laws are not completely deterministic. Specifically, when a measurement is performed on a quantum system, the result of the measurement is "random". If as E.T.Jaynes taught saying that something is random is a statement about our ignorance rather than a statement about reality then it is not a violation of the fundamental laws to discover that the data we used to consider random in actuality has a signal or a message in it.

No blog yet, but I now have a wiki anyone can edit. Click on "Richard Hollerith" to go there.

In quantum experiments the random outcomes are the same for all experimenters, so it can be repeated and the same probabilities will be observed. When you have someone else sending messages, you can't rely on them to behave the same for all experimenters. If there are a larger group of Muggers that different scientists could communicate with, than experiments might reveal statistical information about the Mugger class of entity (treating them as experimental subjects), but it's a stretch.

Do you consider the following a fair rephrasing of your last comment? A quantum measurement has probability p of going one way and p - 1 of going the other way where p depends on a choice made by the measurer. That is an odd property for the next bit in a message to have, and makes me suspicious of the whole idea.

If so, I agree. Another difficulty that must be overcome is, assuming one has obtained the first n bits of the message, to explain how one obtains the next bit.

Nevertheless, I believe my primary point remains: since our model of physics does not predict the evolution of reality exactly, the discovery of a previously overlooked means of receiving data need not violate our model of physics. The discovery that if you do X, you can read out the Old Testament in UTF-8, would constitute the addition of a new conjunct to our current model of physics, but not a falsification of the model. That last sentence is phrased in the language of traditional rationality, but my obligation in this argument is only to establish that looking for a new physical principle for receiving data is not a complete waste of resources, and I think the sentence achieves that much.

Also, I wish to return to a broader view to avoid the possibility of our getting lost in a detail. My purpose is to define a system of valuing things suitable for use as the goal system of a seed AI. This scenario in which physicists find themselves in communication with an ontologically privileged observer is merely one contingency that the AI should handle correctly (and a lot more fruitful to think about than simulation scenarios IMHO). It is also useful to consider special cases like this one to keep the conversation about the system of value from becoming too abstract.

I do not consider your rephrasing to be accurate. I wasn't giving the measurers choice, they are all supposed to follow the same procedure in order to obtain the same (probabilistic) results. It is the Mugger, or outside agent, that is making choices and therefore preventing the experiment from being controlled and repeatable.

What do you see as the major deficiencies in our model of reality? That the behavior of quantum particles is probabilistic rather than deterministic?

Don't believe everything the tabloids say.

"Paris Sets The Record Straight On 'Ellen'":

http://cbs5.com/entertainment/Paris.Hilton.Ellen.2.598168.html

quote:

The tabloids even stooped so low as to discuss her plans after death. Hilton was quoted as saying "It's so cool, all the cells in your body are still alive when death is pronounced and if you're immediately cooled, you can be perfectly preserved. My life could be extended by hundreds and thousands of years."

Hilton denied ever making those comments and pointed out to DeGeneres that she doesn't speak that way. This made the audience laugh.

"I don't want to be frozen. It's kind of creepy," Hilton said.

Thanks Antoine,

I'll file this with Walt Disney.

Simon Cowell now too, apparently. No, I don't read the Daily Mail!

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