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Saw this on neuroscience recently: An Information Integration Theory of Consciousness

Sounds promising to me. Although I think they need to get a lot more specific, otherwise it's going to end up including too much in the definition. There are many systems which integrate information in various forms (the internet? society?) but most people wouldn't intuitively think of them as being conscious.

In other news, Lubos Motl thinks a multiverse explanation (such as the landscape) for the apparent fine-tunedness of our universe is as poor an idea as gods or aliens having created it. Ironically, the one time Peter Woit agrees with him, I disagree with them both! At least I'm in the company of minds like Leonard Susskind. I posted this objection to Lubos Motl's blog (referring to this Time magazine article):

I don't see why #3 should be lumped in with #1 and #2. Both #1 and #2 require additional explanations as to where the gods or aliens came from, what their universe looks like, and who finely tuned it so they could arise.

The multiverse, on the other hand, requires no additional explanation. It may or may not be right, but it solves the problem of "how did things get so finely tuned?" without complicating things any further than they need to be.

As for the hope that string theory is going to uniquely predict from first principles several parameters which happen to be exactly what's required for life of any kind to exist... well, I'll have to trust the experts here, but it doesn't seem to me a likely prospect for any theory. Evolution is how we explain the miraculous chain of events within our corner of the universe which conspired to create life, so it seems quite natural to expect that's how it would work on a larger scale.

He responded, but didn't make much of a point, other than what I thought I already addressed. I'm not saying it's impossible that we'll find some sort of all-powerful deductive reason why all these parameters are exactly what they happen to need to be, I just find it very unlikely. And although I'll agree that we shouldn't just stop looking for better explanations, I strongy disagree that a multiverse explanation is bad philosophically in the sense he thinks it is. Especially if we can use statistical analysis (anthropic or otherwise) to make predictions with it. There's a pretty huge gap between that and the aliens/gods explanation.

Comments

spoonless
Nov. 29th, 2004 08:19 pm (UTC)
Re: objective ethics

Okay, coming back to the flag, you may be saying that choice of basic values should be non-objective, but I disagree here too.

I'm not saying should be, I'm saying are.

I agree that game theory is an excellent tool for figuring out how to maximize ones chances of achieving a given set of goals. But you always have to input the goals into the system. Those are chosen based on who we are and what we desire, not based on reason or calculation. You'll never be able to calculate, for instance, whether death is preferable to life, or life is preferable to death. It's in the nature of a preference that you have to ask yourself what you prefer. Some people hold as their ideal world peace. Anything else that stands in the way of that goal is considered bad. Others say world peace is too boring, or it hinders the progress of mankind which can be achieved more efficiently through conflict. When you've got a basic clash of ideals, game theory is never going to make the different parties change them. What is can do which is important is tell us how to build a political system which allows us to get along while holding conflicting interests. At least those of us who have certain basic interests in common, and are willing to compromise. But game theory works at the level of politics, not ethics.

We seem to have differing definitions of objectivity. I think we probably agree more or less, but don't like using the same terminology. I think it's important to separate two classes of statements. Consider the following statements:

1.) The World Trade Center fell on Sept 11, 2001.
2.) Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum.
3.) The earth is flat.
4.) Captain Crunch is a better cereal than Fruity Pebbles.
5.) Homosexuality is disgusting and immoral.
6.) Abortion is morally wrong.
7.) Killing someone, even in self defense, is wrong.

The first 3, whether true or false, are matters of objective truth. #1 is a fact. #2 is a fact as far as we know. Even if somehow it turns out to be false later, it is still an objective matter, either true or false regardless of what anyone thinks or believes or wants to be true. The third is a factual matter and is false. #4 thru #7 however, are subjective. We can call them subjective truth, but I'd prefer not even to call them truths at all. They are neither true nor false, they are preferences people have, or ideals that they hold... like art, they are matters of taste.

If someone has a taste I don't like, as long as it's not hurting me, I leave them alone. Occasionally people have tastes for things I severely dislike and which could threaten me or others... classic example being Hilter's genocide. In these cases those of us who feel strongly about it must put a stop to it. But in the end, it's not because there is a right or a wrong, it's because we don't like what's going on.

Again, it's possible we agree. But I've outlined here some of the motivations I have for phrasing it this way. I think there is a good reason to separate these classes of truths, otherwise it leads to two very unfortunate things. One, people saying truths such as whether the earth is flat or whether there is a god are subjective, because they think it's not much different from the subjective set of "truths". And two, it leads to people trying to force absolute moralities on everything because they think their morality is a matter of fact rather than taste. Both of these, in my opinion, are terrible results. I tire of both of these outcomes and think that it's important to maintain the split between the realms of "is" and "ought". Value depends on the valuer. Is does not.
burdges
Nov. 30th, 2004 02:33 am (UTC)
Re: objective ethics
Okay, I understand that 4 through 7 are hard to talk about objectively. But even these have been illuminated / influenced by objective thought. I suppose your claiming that objective though will completely answer these, and your perhaps right.. maybe I should make a distinction and use a word besides objective. However, the enormous impact of rational though on these even ideas prevents me from using the word subjective.

4.) Captain Crunch is a better cereal than Fruity Pebbles.

Our modern understanding of nutrition is going to influence any such determination.

5.) Homosexuality is disgusting and immoral.
6.) Abortion is morally wrong.

Anti-homosexuality / anti-abortion memes are pro-reproduction memes (although Dawkins has other theories with other reasons for anti-homosexual memes). No one needs pro-reproduction memees in a word with 6 billion people. Plus, more objective observation recognizes that anti-homosexuality / anti-abortion memes destroy lives, occasionally lifes from the most productive segments of society (like Turing).

7.) Killing someone, even in self defense, is wrong.

I'm not sure I'm prepared to address this one, as I don't know its history.

My point is that, today, the objective influence on these moral values is far greater then the subjective influence. Your saying that the subjective will never be eliminated from these. But I expect the objective to further dominate the subjective in these values, and for the subjective to become increasingly irrelevant. i.e. "is better" is replaced with "is more nutritious" or "tastes better." There I have just reviled a splitting of the question, which arguably preserves the original subjective question, but I think that in the context of choice between these two new questions, the original takes on only a shadow of its once powerful subjective "awe and mistery" and all the "awe and mystery" now flows from the objective nutrition question. Plus, less dangerous artificial sweeteners provide a means to merge the two objective questions without resolving the original subjective one.

Anyway, you have convinced me that I'm overstating it when I say "objective," but I should probably say either "asymptotically objective" or "decreasingly subjective," as I am refering to a process rather then a state. It is important to distinguish between these and the truly objective.

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