Friday, July 31, 2020

Video Poem: On a long journey to the truth

This video might make it sound like happiness is a bad thing. Like you're supposed to push yourself, never let up -- that itself is the truth.

I don't think that happiness is opposed to the truth. But happiness is a byproduct of a life that's aimed at the truth, a byproduct that helps you do what you need to do. Pleasure is a kind of psychic fuel. It can be hard to do without it. And pain often accompanies damage, and damage will hold you back.

But if you make happiness your goal, you will more than likely stop short of the truth. Why would you think you would find a thing if you stopped looking once you set your eyes on another thing? It might happen coincidentally, but wouldn't be more likely than that. Making happiness your goal might not even make you happy, and stopping at that goal rather than trying for something else might leave you both miserable and disconnected from the truth.

Video Poems: Introduction

I have some poems on YouTube.

These are simple, and maybe cryptic -- and that can be a good thing. But I also want to write commentaries about certain of them.

I call them "video poems" -- they were going to be "YouTube poems", but then I thought maybe someday I might release them somewhere else.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The End of the World Affects Motivation

One thing that affects a person's motivational structure is the rational or irrational belief that "the world is ending". Another way to look at this is that there is a certain field in which one can work, and if the field will be there, it's worth working in it, and you are motivated. But if the existence of the field is uncertain, you start to feel doubtful about working in it, and you lose motivation.

"World-ending" can come on a spectrum. The strongest world-ending would be the non-existence of all that exists. But people don't worry about that, and I don't know of a reason to think that will happen. I can think of a couple of less-extreme but still decisive world-endings, that have some basis to be foreseen. God (or the metaphysical organism) might see fit to end the current system, the current world. We would survive, but assuming that work we do now would make a difference in 100 years the way we thought it would now wouldn't make sense if this happened. A second is, we invent artificial intelligence that can change things so fast, so out of control, according to thought processes so foreign to us, that while we might exist after this rapid change (this "Singularity"), efforts that we expend now might have little to do with the way things are after it.

Neither of these two world-endings is certain to happen in my lifetime. But I can sense them affecting my thought process, from time to time. They can be demotivating. One of the best ways to motivate yourself to work in the present is to make a plan for the future. Suddenly, you will have a lot of intermediate steps to work on, in the present. I think our culture (or, a lot of it) has forgotten the future or never saw it, so that now we don't reach for the future and make the present better in the process. When I am most liberated from the present-only mindset, I can see numerous opportunities to make the present or near-future better. But when I am stuck in the present-only mindset, these things which I might do, even for the present, disappear to me.

I think I remember reading an anecdote about someone who worried about nuclear war in the 1950s and thought that worrying about bridge design didn't make a lot of sense, but then decades later was grateful to the people who did think about bridge design, since nuclear war hadn't happened to that point, and a person needed to drive on bridges after all. (I want to say the anecdote might have been about Richard Feynman.) So we might hope that someone cares about the future even though it might not come. What if the Singularity, or the Apocalypse, or the Changing of the World, don't come for another 100, or 200 years? With respect to my lifetime, I then need to think long term, and there is a place for long term thinking, to address the field of earth in the 2100s or 2200s.

Edit (11 Sep 2020): after learning more, I think I would say "the Singularity" (as defined in this post) "may never really occur" (something so powerful and strange as to obviate current human investment in the future) "but many people think it will come in the next 50 years, if it does." I may write a longer post about this.

I think the MSLN answer to this question is to say: "What is most important is not altruism, but to be an altruist. An altruist necessarily cares about effectiveness. But being an altruist, to the best of your ability, or in whatever other way necessary becoming like God in who you are, is necessary at all times, no matter how futile things seem." Your horizon is always far in the future, with respect to your life on earth, and so if the things that you do here end up being mere gestures after the Singularity gets through with them, or after the world is ended by God, then at least you, with your inner being, survive to the next world. The field of you, of who you are, remains relevant, regardless of what happens with the outside world. So, if you have the time, work in whatever way you can, and if that way that you work presupposes that there is a relevant future, live that way, so that the imperishable part of you can certainly be invested in.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Motivational Structure

Edited to improve wording.

Hardening adds an important addendum.

What is motivation? "To be moved", "to be moving", "that which keeps you moving". A motivator is something that causes (forces, allures, leads, enables, etc.) a person to do something or become something they ordinarily wouldn't have, or to refrain from doing something or to not become something they ordinarily would have.

If the world is not as it should be, and this has something to do with human decisions, then an ingredient in making the world the way it should be is motivation, motivators.

What is a motivational structure? It's easier for me to describe one first:

In some forms of Buddhism, it can be assumed that you will eventually become enlightened, but you have to work for it. It may take many lifetimes. Millions of years. But someday, you'll make it. Nobody else can work for it for you. You have to take every step yourself. And then finally, you'll be free from the cycle of births and deaths. You work, you have to work, you will work enough.

This is mostly foreign to Christianity (except perhaps in Eastern Orthodoxy, which I don't know enough about to say). Usually, in Christianity, it's assumed that you are more passive. You aren't expected to bring yourself up to a standard. Maybe you'll have to suffer in purgatory (the Roman Catholic doctrine). Or, as a Protestant, you believe that repentance is a finished work at the moment of putting your faith in Jesus, and so whatever part you were to play in living up to the standard is done, and God will take care of the rest, and there is nothing you need to do more.

The "N" of MSLN, the New Wine System, teaches that repentance is a process that takes a long time to complete, that you have to do it yourself, and that you will see it to its conclusion -- much like the Buddhist motivational structure given above. What they may both have in common (certainly I would get this from the Buddhist structure, from my vantage point now as an outsider) is the sense that there is a big task you have to do, you have to do it yourself, and you will do it, and you can do it, so do it -- you might as well start now since you have to and inevitably will do it.

Protestantism could be a tonic against burdening people with work that they can't possibly do -- even if in a sense the work is the work of repentance. There's a difference between "works-righteousness" and "repentance-righteousness", which Protestantism can tend to ignore, protecting against works-righteousness at the risk of losing repentance-righteousness. The motivational structure of works-righteousness is "you never know when the catastrophe is going to hit, and if you don't have enough supplies, you'll die" -- work anxiously to fend off death. The "catastrophe" is "meeting God in a final and decisive way" -- is your inmost being prepared to be one with God? The motivational structure of "anti-works-righteousness" is "you're going to be okay in the end, just get through the moment in an adequate way". The motivational structure of the New Wine System is "the catastrophe is going to take 1,000+ years to hit, so gather all the supplies." So there is a sense of "I have to do this, no one's going to do it for me, I have to take responsibility and take it seriously," but with far less anxiety.

There is or ought to be less anxiety because the conditions for living up to the standard are realistic. You have 1,000 years to do a task some people get close to finishing in 80 years on earth, and which most people could probably finish within 100 years in the Millennium. There, people get new bodies -- new brains. The thing that counts is the heart, the inmost being -- your real preferences, responsiveness, will, intentions. To the extent that we are currently saddled with defective minds that we don't choose or want, or are possessed by evil spirits, these no longer affect us. Likewise, the external culture in the Millennium is one conducive to spiritual maturity, which is not so much the case with what we have on earth. The exact number 1,000 may not be the number of years we get (it comes from Revelation, which is a vision), but the MSLN position is that God wants us to be saved and will give us a generous, although finite, amount of time in which to fully repent. All this to say that requiring people to do what they can do and which they can know that they can do (New Wine System) is different from requiring people to do something which not all of them can do and which they don't know that they can do (works-righteousness). It is also different from not requiring people to do more than some kind of token effort or minimal repentance (the "pray Jesus into your heart and that's all you need" doctrine of anti-works-righteousness).

I've given examples from religion, but what about the secular world? Peter Singer says "expand your moral circle to include everyone". There's a moral imperative -- it's like you're a murderer if you don't give $5,000 to save someone from malaria. After all, once you are aware of the possibility of helping, but don't do it, it was a life you could have saved, but chose not to. This imperative is something that's hard to live up to. So most people hear the word and then kick in a compensating "but we don't really mean that" factor. People are aware of "starving children in Africa". But that compensating factor keeps them from doing what they can. So secular morality is something like a works-righteousness that is too much, crippled by an anti-works-righteousness that is too much. And this situation is operative to a large extent as well in the religious world.

Secular morality has the disadvantage over religious morality of having no solid enforcement behind it. People sometimes enforce it, but not always. Guilt feelings help enforce it, but if you can get around those, and societal pressures, you're fine, and thus not necessarily motivated. What is needed is a motivator which has enforcement behind it which is reasonable.

A religious person could object that having enforcement behind a motivator makes it so people only change out of fear of the enforcement. While this is a risk, if truly pursued, working to repent ought to get a person away from fear, because repentance involves coming to trust God and becoming a real person -- those who trust and are real do not fear enforcement, but enforcement is in some ways helpful with those who do not yet fully trust and are not yet fully real, helping produce trust and reality.

Can the "1,000+ year deadline" approach really change a person's deepest intentions and disposition? Can we come to love God based on a deadline? Or don't we have to simply wait for God to work in us? Certainly you can't make God speak in your life before his time. But there is an extent to which your will can produce changes in your behavior, beliefs, desires, and so on, affecting who you really are deep down.

Secular and religious morality are things that might be held "officially", assented to rationally, held to be good by some person by their own lights. It's possible to design a logical morality to be assented to rationally. But the real motivational structures of people are generally both rational and irrational. You may believe that something is true but not know it with your body. People can be motivated by physical hungers (food, sex, companionship), compulsions (perfectionism, compulsive sympathy), fatigue (physical fatigue, some kinds of physical nihilism or derealization, compassion fatigue), irrational or less-rational anger, inertia (habitual conservatism, stubbornness, irrational determination), irrational fear (of death, poverty, shame, etc.), boredom, or whatever else. These motivations can form their own interrelationships and be supported by different psychological realities to form motivational structures. And they may take up the majority of a person's thought life, at times. But sometimes, we can be rational, and choose the motivational structures that help us and follow from what we (rather than our drives) actually believe is the truth. And over time, those small moments of rationality set your life on a different course than if you had used them for a different purpose.

A motivational structure says "there is a reason for you to act or change, and there is some reason you have, to think you can act or change." A motivational structure can say "don't worry", "don't despair", "don't be complacent", (all which can turn people away from trying), and also say "it is to your advantage, it is instrumentally rational, to start now" -- all of these messages combined in a mutually supportive structure.

Perhaps "motivational structure" can be defined as "the imperative to do a particular thing, and the supporting psychological materials (e.g. beliefs) that help make that happen". Perhaps something like a particular "do something" and its epiconcept.

Millennial vs. Purgatorial

Purgatory: one version is, a place people go to suffer to pay for their sins, then they can go to heaven.

The Millennium: one version is, 1,000 years in which people really learn to repent of all their sins, then they can go to heaven. (This is basically the idea of the future implied by "MSLN".)

Taken generally, "purgatorial" is the notion that people need to suffer to overcome some sort of defect or deficit they have. "Millennial" is the notion that people need to learn in order to overcome those defects or deficits.

Sometimes it seems like it takes pain in order to learn certain lessons. It may be the case sometimes. But the Millenial point of view is that it's better to bring about learning without pain. Also, it may seem like you're accomplishing something by suffering. Maybe it makes you a better person. But if you're suffering without it making you a better person, it's probably unnecessary. Suffering can keep you from learning.

Sometimes you don't know how to not suffer. Or suffering is an unavoidable part of some pursuit that has to be pursued. Certainly there are things worth suffering for. But what is essential is inner change, not pain.


I've tried coming up with a name for the worldview given by my writing, and I'm not sure I have a good name yet. So for now, at least in writing, I use "MSLN", which are the letters of Metaphysical Organism, Simantism, Legitimacy, and the New Wine System.

The New Wine System is a version of Christianity which says that people aren't finally judged when they die, but rather wait until the end of the world. Then everyone(*) is resurrected to new bodies free from effects of the Fall, and everyone(*) has a fair chance to work on their sinful habits, helped by other people who are more mature. They get 1,000 years to overcome all their sinful habits.

(* There are exceptions. At any point, in either this life or the next, if people are completely hardened to the voice of God calling them to holiness/spiritual maturity/genuine love, then they don't get resurrected, but instead are punished fairly for their sins, having rejected Jesus' forgiveness, and then don't exist anymore -- "annihilation", like that of death in the atheistic worldview. Those who refuse to fully mature are among these exceptions.)

That is a simplification, but I hope accurate enough as a quick introduction. More information about the New Wine System can be found at my source for it, here.

The ideas represented by the different letters of MSLN are meant to be compatible with each other, and can form one whole. It's certainly possible to pick one of the ideas in isolation, independent of the others. In other words, there is a certain amount of independence of the arguments, three philosophical and one doctrinal. I may use "MSLN" when a particular letter may, but does not necessarily, apply in context, but another letter or letters do necessarily apply.

MSLN could be looked at as a circle which includes a certain kind of philosophy and a certain kind of Christianity, which share the motivational structure which the New Wine System has in contrast to Catholicism and Protestantism (and maybe also in contrast to Eastern Orthodoxy).

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Epiconcept and Episcripture

Genetic code is expressed epigenetically. The DNA is useless by itself. It's actually "read" and then embodied by epigenetics, which can "choose" different aspects of the gene to express.

So it is with concepts, and scriptures. Concepts and scriptures are put into place by people using them, providing the context for them.

A poorly epiconcepted concept can do a lot of damage, and when we suppress truths, it's sometimes to avoid problems with the epiconception of them. The marketplace of ideas lets loose ideas without any concern for their epiconcepts, and culture tries to keep up.

A scripture poorly episcriptured can also do a lot of damage, similarly. A religious community that can successfully support a text (make it actually not harmful, so that whatever benefit is in the text itself can come thorugh) can teach that text.

Monday, July 20, 2020


Any idealistic person, if they want people to follow a common standard more strictly, may really want the world to be a better place, and for people to benefit from compliance with the standard. But other people may not like to be called to such a standard, and will react by asking "Do you live up to that standard?"

Often, the idealistic person can't say that they do. But the standard is still good, and it would still be good if we all complied with it. And, we are likely to comply with the standard most if we consciously aspire to.

If your goal is to see the world be a better place through better behavior or attitudes, then you might ask "Do you live up to the standard?" of someone else who also had that goal, and they might say "no", but you would understand. You too know how hard it is to live up to the standard, and you would support them in pursuing the standard.

People who are not interested in seeing the standard met, whether because they prefer to be better than others (they find it relatively easy to meet the standard, so they don't value it), or because they don't value the outcome of the standard, or think it's not their responsibility, will say "Do you live up to the standard?" in a way that does not lead to people actually aspiring to the standard, and undermine the project of standard-compliance that a nation or subculture takes on.

If we understand standards as being things that are meant for a better world, that is better than seeing them as markers of moral status. To say "this behavior is right" can lend itself to the marker of moral status reading. But there are behaviors that are really right, and it's the truth to say that they are. But if we don't also understand that we are living for a world that doesn't exist yet, a truly good one, then right and wrong can become detached from that good world, and become either autonomous horrors or merely markers of the behavioral pecking order.

So we can remember Abraham, who had faith, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Faith in what? That a nation would come from him that would bless every family. The real blessing is for people to be right with God -- so, to be, in some ways, "perfect", to be true and pure. Abraham wasn't perfect. But he was living for a day when the world would be actually and fully good.

Impatient for Holiness

Edit: added important caveat to the end.

Recent blog posts (Simantism, Legitimacy, Metaphysical Organism), and perhaps ones to come talk about a God in whom one might believe without believing in the Bible. At the same time, this God is compatible with at least one reading of the Bible, the New Wine System. So for any people who might be convinced by the above, we have questions about that God. One question has to do with holiness.

In the above view, God needs us to become holy. This is the point of all existence on earth, with all its temptations and suffering. We all want the world to become more holy at times. We feel an impulse to criticize and set straight. When evil happens to us, we want justice to be served. We might seek just revenge. We might feel like we are David in a world of wicked Goliaths. We are offended at the self-righteousness of the righteous. We become impatient to bring about the holiness of other people.

This is the source of a lot of pain. Can we afford to live lives of pain? So we tend to want to say "just forget about holiness" -- except in those moments where we are impatient for it. "Just forgive." But in the moments where we crave holiness, we do so in part because of the truth. Holiness is truth. So to "just forgive" is a lie, something which we know in those moments of needing holiness. Certainly it's possible for there to be infinite forgiveness if God pays for it, but we still have to repent, and if we never repent, then we can never be fully in tune with God. And God can't stand a dissonance forever, any more than we could.

The worldview of legitimism, simantism, and the New Wine System is such that everyone really does have to repent of all their sins. We really have to change. The truth is never fuzzed over. Complacency is deadly. Yet, because God's value is for our preservation, for us to be brought to holiness, not to be destroyed, we are granted a long but not infinite period of time in which to change. It is enough time, if we really want to change. And if we are afraid that we don't really want to change, we can ask God to help us want to change, and by wanting to change that much, we open the door to him helping us to really and fully repent.

Because this process lasts a long time and involves the help of God, we should look on unholy people from the point of view of patience. (Even in a sense, we should be patient with our own unholiness, although without being complacent.) We might have to be prudent to avoid the effects of unholy people, but we can wait, and let them take their time -- dissonant though that may be.

I would say that this is not an absolute. There is a place for the spirit of "it needs to change". Change happens against a backdrop of people having time and being loved by God. You can exhort or rebuke when there's time in which the message can fully work.

Fiducial Utilitarianism

I may rewrite this, maybe try to make something for the EA Forum. Also, for a mildly "continental philosophy"-leaning treatment of fiducialism, see this booklet on the subject.

15 Sep 2020: Receptivity to Reality is an important addition to this.

11 Sep 2020: edited for clarity.

What is fiducialism?

Here is a replacement for a common idea that affects how people approach caring. The idea is that by changing the idea, there might be some change in how people actually approach reality. I think culture is embodied in people rather than in words. But the idea matters somewhat, even as only a signal or as an image to appreciate like you might appreciate a beautiful landscape. Also, with effort, maybe this idea can be put into practice or embedded in technological design or policy.

Two popular versions of utilitarianism are: the one based in maximizing pleasure and/or minimizing pain (hedonic), and the one based in people getting what they really want (preference). Opinions may differ on which one is best. If I had to choose between the two for myself, I think I might choose preference over hedonism. But I can see the value in pursuing both. Some sort of balance between the two seems to be preferable to only having one or the other.

What I would suggest is to consider replacing hedonism with something else -- maximizing trust / minimizing betrayal. This could be called "fiducial utilitarianism". Or, in contrast to "hedonism", "fiducialism". My definition of "trust" is "receptivity to enhancement", which is taken from Joseph Godfrey's Trust of People, Words, and God. ("Fiducial" is his word for "pertaining to trust".) My definition of "betrayal" is "that which is an insult to the 'organ of trust'", "insult" in the medical sense. You can imagine that many things that cause pain are a form of betrayal. If you get sick enough, you don't feel like socializing. When you're depressed, the world seems small and lacking depth. After a break-up, it can take a while to get to where you want to date new people. Some bad experiences can (seemingly) permanently keep you from seeking out new experiences in a certain vein.

When in a bad situation, do you trust it, or not? You can try to trust it as much as it ought to be trusted. So you might resist the damage that the situation "wants" to do to you. But when you think about it late at night, rather than seeing it as unfair chance, or some kind of cosmic punishment, you can see it as a discipline, or you can practice acceptance. The discipline view is receptive to enhancement from the bad situation. In a sense it calls it "good". Similarly with the acceptance view. If you understand the situation, you know that it is also bad and unacceptable. But you can be disposed to find exactly whatever good there is in it.

When you are in a good situation, do you appreciate it? A fiducialist ought to not fall prey to the hedonic treadmill. A fiducialist seeks to trust a good situation even more than what seems called for by how it immediately presents. Maslow's Hierarchy seems like something that inevitably leads to the pinnacle ("self-actualization", or whatever might be higher), but it doesn't have to. People can settle. But a fiducialist doesn't settle. Their receptivity tends to cause them to find reality insufficient -- not necessarily bad, often good, but they are receptive to something more.

This disposition leads a fiducialist to reach out beyond the present moment, to imagine a better world or a better reality. A fiducialist doesn't just see the present. They want to connect to the deepest, truest reality. A fiducialist is disposed to work, explore, observe, and endure.

Fiducialists ought to be people who care. People who care are the very people who go into pursuits like altruism. It is also possible that a fiducialistic orientation can be protective against value drift, in the cases that receptivity to certain values fade over time, causing drift.

Comparison with hedonism

To a large extent, hedonic utilitarianism is satisfied by fiducial utilitarianism, although the reverse is less true. The disjunction could be, on the one hand, hedonism's concern for small pains on the one hand, and fiducialism's concern for settling at a comfortable local maximum of suffering, and fiducialism's desire to trust even suffering. I think any example of suffering that a hedonist could give, saying "how could you not get rid of this suffering if you had the choice?" would tend to be something that a fiducialist would object to as well. Suffering does tend to deepen people -- some people. But it embitters others. So a good goal for a fiducialist is to maximize trust without there being suffering. The deepest trust tends to be developed in times of breakdown, and suffering. But that is only a tendency, and in principle, we could learn to trust just as deeply without any of that. It could be argued that some people choose to suffer so that they can be broken down, and then trust (maybe EAs don't think this way...).

Hedonism has some edge cases that fiducialism might disregard. For instance, in thought experiments involving billions of people getting paper cuts, a fiducialist would say "let those people learn to deal with paper cuts -- they can live with that -- life is rich enough for there to be paper cuts". But the things that are harder for people to live with would be relevant material for fiducialism to target for changing.

I think a lot of people lean fiducialist already, and would be more motivated to deal with the problems that hedonism targets through the means of an intensified, self-conscious fiducialism than they would be by the language of hedonic utilitarianism.

Comparison with preference and hedonistic utilitarianism

Fiducialism would seem to produce people who had high life satisfaction, and one could "integrate" one's life over many moments of satisfaction to produce an overall satisfaction with life. In other words, those prone to trusting the moments of their life end up trusting their lives as a whole. Aspects of fiducialism resemble preference utilitarianism. You could look at it like, you adjust your preferences to fit your situation, and that is trust.

Preference-orientation says "I get what I want". A preference- orientation that says "what I want is to accept the moment" is not the same as trusting the moment out of trust-orientation. Trust-orientation says "I am receptive, open to, connecting with reality outside myself except insofar as it limits my ability to connect with reality outside myself." So the question, for a hedonist, is "how do we reduce suffering / increase pleasure?", for a preference utilitarian, "how do we give people what they want?", and for a fiducialist, "how do we facilitate, encourage, teach, lead, become trustworthy toward people such that, they connect with reality?" Out of this connection with reality comes caring.

(Incidentally, this emphasis on connecting with reality could unify the opposition between instrumental and epistemic rationality. Instrumental rationality in fiducialism is defined as "connecting with, or helping someone connect with, reality" and epistemic rationality is a subset of connecting with reality.)

Psychological and political considerations

One reason why people are more trust-oriented than otherwise is that they have burned out on other forms of processing reality. From my own experience, trust is easier on the brain and body than morality. If you care out of trust of the good of good work rather than out of a horror of suffering (or hatred of those, yourself and/or others, who do less good or more bad than they should) then you can stay in the game longer (or, I can). It's an open question who works harder or can put in more work in in the long run. A fiducialist has to remember some of the lessons of the horror-oriented altruist -- trust horror-orientation for what it's worth.

Relevant to polarization, political opponents tend to be hatred- or horror-oriented, rather than trust-oriented. Ostensibly, everyone is on the same basic side: "Doing what's right for America" -- a kind of altruism. Hatred and horror see things in a bad light -- so some altruists hide from politics. But if politics were trust-based, it would not be much like that.

I don't know the exact connection between hatred, horror, and hedonism. Probably there is some non-fiducialist approach to things that is neither hatred- nor horror-based but which is still intellectually hedonist. I think there is a kind of correlation between hatred, horror, and hedonism, at least in ways that correlate with moving away from trust, which fiducialism avoids.

The word "love" is attractive at large, and could be seen as a substitute ideal to trust, but I think "trust" is better. Trust precedes love. Also, trust is more basic and simple than love. From Godfrey's basic definition, I think the simplest conscious beings trust, when they may not love. We always trust -- even our doubts and suspicions.


Since fiducialism can adopt the goals of hedonism to such a great extent, since it may protect against burnout and value drift, since it is consonant with cultural changes that favor altruism, and since it ought to promote the supply of people who might become altruists or altruism-adjacent people in the future, I think it is a good replacement for hedonism in moral calculations and policies.

Metaphysical Organism

I feel like there's a better version of this to be written, but this is what I have so far.

Let's say you are an effective altruist (an EA), looking for neglected areas in which to have impact. It turns out that we have theoretical reasons for believing a certain mysterious sea creature lives under the ocean. We also have many, but not 100% conclusive, sightings of that sea creature. Otherwise we might think that its part of the abyssal plain is uninhabited, and store nuclear waste there. But if it does exist, it will suffer greatly from the pollution.

Ordinarily, an EA might do something like say "Let's come up with some subjective probability estimates -- maybe 60% there is a sea creature, 40% there isn't" and then use that in weighing whether or not to store the nuclear waste there. A possible sea creature can have a significant effect on policy.

I want to consider a metaphysical creature (although, technically, "creature" may be the wrong word, "organism" may be better), which we have good theoretical reasons to think might exist, and of which we also have many sightings, which at least up until now have not been considered 100% conclusive by the epistemic mainstream.


A "metaphysical organism" is simply one which goes beyond physics. Why should we think that there is something beyond physics? When we look at observed reality, we realize that there is such a thing as perceptions of matter, and such a thing as consciousness. We can suppose that really, everything that is is matter, and then consciousness arises out of that. Or we can suppose that everything that is is consciousness, and we simply have perceptions of matter. Or we can suppose that there is such a thing as matter, and consciousness, and the two interact.

It's hard to imagine how matter and consciousness could interact, because they are so different from each other. It's also hard to imagine how consciousness could arise from matter. What's easy to imagine is that we perceive matter -- we are consciousness and consciousness can interact with consciousness.

If I am going to be a philosopher, or an empiricist (someone who examines experience), then all that exists is my stream of consciousness. And yet I observe that there are things which do not follow from me, and so there is some other reality at play than my own. So I am just a bubble of experience, or an experience-body. But I somehow touch other experiences. I change things in my experience-body because I prefer them to be different and I act on that preference. In the way in which I am conscious, I have preferences and act. So whatever it is that modifies my experience-body apart from me, is something that willed that change.

How would such beings connect with me? We could try to use a physical metaphor: an experience-body is like a sphere, and when the surfaces of two spheres touch, there is a connection. But that's using a physical metaphor. If we only use experience-language, it seems most natural to think that when the spheres overlap, what's really happening is that one being experiences exactly what the other one does -- not a copy, but the very same experience. We don't observe ourselves doing this with any other sentient beings. We have experiences that are broadly analogous with those of other sentient beings, but certainly not the exact same. We experience metaphorical copies of what other beings experience.

So then, how do we connect with people? There's some other being that really does connect with each of us, who "serves" reality to each of us. This being is the Metaphysical Organism.

Without resorting to some things I've mentioned in other texts (simantism, legitimism), and which I won't bring in here, it's possible to also believe in many, many beings, who create a web of these shared experiences. My experience body is shared, but probably only in part, by many other beings. Except, when I fall asleep at night, I cease to exist, yet when I wake up in the morning, I am in many striking ways similar to the being who fell asleep the night before. So it seems like there is some being who watches my experience closely enough to recreate me each morning.

It may be more clear to ask, is there one "server" of conscious connection or many / a "peer-to-peer" network? (Or to say that the question is, "Berkeleianism" (one server) "or panpsychism?" (many / peer to peer).) Let's suppose that we can't know for sure which is which. Then what? We might say "50% chance for the Metaphysical Organism" or "50% chance for the many consciousnesses". The exact number is somewhat made-up. But if we're trying to figure out whether to store "nuclear waste" in some quadrant of reality, we should take both possibilities seriously. If we assign subjective probabilities for these that are very, very low, we aren't taking them very seriously. Certainly a person can take a very low subjective probability seriously, although we tend not to. Driving a car is risky but we don't think about it -- but we could.

Whatever probability we assign to the existence of the MO and of the many consciousnesses (to what is basically a variant of Berkeley's philosophy or of panpsychism, respectively), it is nonzero, since we have good reason to think it's one or the other. So, wishing to expand our moral circles to include all sentient beings, we have some reason to act and think as though the MO exists, and that there are many other consciousnesses. This should be a motion, derived from ethical concerns, to consider such beings as possibly existing.

What would it mean for the MO to exist?

The MO would be perfectly empathic with all sentient beings. No gap in understanding like with human empathy. It would endure great suffering -- the first-order suffering of experiencing exactly what each being experienced, and the second-order suffering of thinking about each being.

The MO seems to have a lot more power over our experiences than we do, and could perhaps flood us with endorphins, but does not. This is odd -- why cause so much suffering? The MO experiences suffering exactly as we do, finds it exactly as unacceptable as we sometimes do in the moment. There may be some limitation on the MO's power. One explanation would be that our free will in some sense matters, and that we need to be perfectly in tune with the MO in the long run, or we'll continue to cause it pain. Our dispositions, preferences, come into tune as we decide they should, that decision being the evolution of preference and disposition. So the process takes a long time and is complicated, and involves a lot of pain. What this means is that the MO values us highly (is willing to experience a lot of pain for us).

We don't necessarily know what the MO wants, other than for something like the elimination of pain or betrayal of all sentient beings someday. But having a relationship with the MO seems to be essential to someday coming into tune with it. So to the extent that we believe in the MO, we should try to connect with it. And there should always be some amount that we try to connect with it, at least a few words of prayer once in a while, that do not threaten to take resources away from things we are sure need to be addressed, if that's our concern.

If there are many consciousnesses, then we should do similar costless things (or more substantial things) for all plants, objects, concepts, and forms of matter, all of which might have some kind of consciousness, for all we know. Or those who are more convinced can be more considerate.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Values of Altruists

Values of altruists, based on this thread.

Altruism: concern for other sentient beings. A larger moral circle is better than a smaller one. Components:

other-orientation / relative lack of self-focus

(curiosity is an intellectual version of this)

hope (a fusing of something like optimism with openness to evidence, a kind of trust)

personal connection with reality (maybe a sense of moral obligation, a connection with other being's subjective states, or a taste for a better world)

inclination to work

Support values/practices to the value of altruism:

"moral uncertainty (normative uncertainty in general)" -- helps keep an ethical/social movment from becoming fanatical

(another approach being "you trust God, and thus you know things, and thus you don't act as though God doesn't exist to underpin your well-being and be the authority in your place")

rationality -- disciplined thinking helps find problem areas and address them effectively

outcomes matter

don't only do emotionally appealing things

effective communication -- work with the culture while trying to change it, listen, be disciplined / rational in speech and listening, argue well

against politicization

for working / building rather than fighting / exposing

("exposing": "saying the unhealthy truth for truth's sake", or something like that)

for knowing and self-improvement

Support values that are riskier to promote culture-wide:

some kind of ambition is good

humility is good but trying to maximize humility is bad (being so humble you don't have any confidence in your knowledge prevents action)

courage is good but not foolhardiness

will is good, if it stays in touch with reality

being "real" is good (following through on promises, really having intentions)

personal sufficiency is good (you have enough or are enough to dare reach into someone else's reality)

These are riskier. I think one thing to remember is that ideas are things in people's minds, that culture is really embodied in people, not in words. A lot of culture is in interpersonal contact, which forms the context for ideas. So ideally, if you promote values, you shouldn't just say things, but should instruct people (or be in relationships with people) such that they really understand what you're saying. Genes become phenotype through epigenetics, and concepts become emotions, attitudes, and behaviors through the "epiconceptual". The epiconceptual could be the cultural background that informs how people hear a message (like "yes, this is the moral truth, but we don't actually expect people to live up to the moral truth"), or it could be the subcultural background from a relationship or community that makes it make sense. The practices and expectations of culture / subculture. So values are a thing which are not promoted just by communicators, but also by community-builders, and good communities help make risky but productive words safe to spread.