Significance of Right

5-7 Jan ’16 ~QofDay~ The Significance of Right

What is the significance of right if right is not effective?

Like Shar said, “right” has a lot of different meanings.

It can be an indication of the direction of lateral symmetry – if you put your arms out, hand up, palms away from you, thumbs outstretched, the left hand is the one where the hand and thumb make an “L”, the other one is “right”.

In respect of value judgements, it seems to be a very simplistic and childish notion that far too many people take into adulthood. The idea that it is possible to categorise things into two categories, right and wrong, is just too oversimplifying. Sure, we need to all make our best guesses as to the likely outcomes of our choices, and life works well when we take into account the likely risks to others as well as ourselves of our actions (or inactions) – but to pretend that one can clearly put such choices into one of two definite categories is just nonsense.
The further away in time consequences get, the more they mix with the consequences of the choices of others, and the more difficult it is to predict likely outcomes. So all any of us can do is make our best guess, based on the best information we have, and using the best heuristics we have available. And sometimes our guesses work, and sometimes they don’t – that’s life.
I get that the simplest possible mode of judgement is a binary – right/wrong, good/bad, etc, and as adults we need to get that it is the sort of simplistic model that children have to make, and it is not the sort of thing that any adult can reasonably continue to use. As adults we need to be aware of the uncertainties in all information we have upon which to base our choices, and in the uncertainties associated with the outcomes of any action (golf is good game to get really clear about that).
So I can sometimes lose patience when I see or hear adults using terms like right and wrong as if they had any real meaning.
To me, it is responsible to talk about outcomes that usually work for people universally, and ones that don’t, and to talk about likely outcomes, and weighing up probabilities and likely risk and benefit profiles of various dimensions (including time, space, individuals or groups of people, etc).

Right can also be used to mean straight or shortest path. In geometry it can also mean at 90 degrees or perpendicular.

Right can mean correct, as in accurate – and for me, all such assessments have uncertainties associated with them.

In a more general sense right can mean just or equitable treatment or fairness in decision.

Right can mean agreeing with some standard or principle; correct, proper. Also, agreeing with facts; true.

From my perspective one of the worst meanings is in respect of belief: Orthodox, true; that ought to be accepted or followed. This is the sense of control, imposed by cultural norms, usually for the political benefit of some minority (usually a priesthood or nobility). I tend to resist all such just on principle.

Right can mean leading in the proper direction or towards the place one wishes to reach; which is another variation on the theme of utility in some domain.

Right can be used to express affirmation or agreement.

There is a vast list of variations on these themes, most involving some aspect of the ideas of truth, or adherence to moral standards or social utility at some level. And to me, the ideas of truth and moral standards are not on very firm foundations, though they do have a certain utility in early stages of development.

And I am all for each and every one of us acting towards each other with tolerance and respect, most particularly respect of life and liberty, and also of all else in existence, particularly the ecosystems and environment that support us. And that has to be mixed with a need to be proactionary, a willingness to take risks and explore beyond the boundaries of the known (for much of what we think we know is almost certain to be simplistic illusion – which applies equally as much to me as to anyone else).

In respect of effectiveness, the more accurately one can model reality, the more likely one is to take effective actions.
And there is always a tradeoff.
The more time we spend considering something, the greater the cost to us (opportunity costs).
So our brains are very evolved to take shortcuts to actions that have proved their utility over time, both at the level of deep time represented by our genetic influences, and at the somewhat more recent but still quite deep time of our cultural evolution, as well as by our individual experiences of life. So we have many levels of heuristics, that enable to take actions in usefully short amounts of time that usually end up working in practice. And I don’t find the use of the term “right” powerful in any of these contexts, and I understand why it might seem otherwise to others.

[followed by]


Consider the sense that the opposite of “right” might be more like “maybe” than it is like “wrong”.

I did not use the word wrong.
I did not even imply the word wrong.

And I do get, that from within a paradigm of right and wrong, it is almost impossible to see that.

Imagine trying to describe a van Gogh if the only terms you could use were “light” and “dark” – no colours, no shades of grey or intensity.

It’s just not the same!

Recognisable and different.

[followed by]

Hi FOS, Andrew, Torch, Kathy, Judi and OM,

Thank you each and all for your contributions to this discussion.

When you wrote:
“”So I can sometimes lose patience when I see or hear adults using terms like right and wrong as if they had any real meaning.”
This statement (among others) does say that my opinion is wrong & childish, especially since I used the word “right” in a binary way.”

I can really get how it might seem that way to you, and it does not seem that way to me.
I don’t know if any of my understandings are 100% accurate.
Just because I don’t currently have any sufficiently credible evidence to indicate that any of them may have been falsified, doesn’t mean that they are accurate; and it does lend a certain probability of future utility.
I’m not 100% confident of anything, though I may have 99.99% confidence on quite a few things, most things are at substantially less confidence than that.


It is one of the great difficulties of writing for a mixed audience, that it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to adequately convey the ideas one is trying to convey.
All I can do is make my best attempt.

And it is like what OM wrote, when I write here, I do write for this audience, and I also write for a wider audience, the most general audience possible. In large measure I write in a way designed explicitly for a developing AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), intended to give it the best education I can, and the questions asked in this forum, and the discussions that often develop, are potentially powerful tools in that respect. Mitigating the risk of an AGI deciding that humanity generally is too dangerous to survive.

Trying to imagine how a non-human intelligence might make sense of anything is not easy.

And I am also learning as I go. Each sentence, each train of thought, a new exploration, each conversation, adds dimensionality.

[followed by]


Consider that an AGI is highly unlikely to have feelings anything remotely like ours.

It will need as many analogies as possible, as many “Rosetta stones” as possible to try and make some sort of sense of what these human beings are, and why they might be worth keeping around.

Providing those things has been an explicit intention of mine for close to 30 years. I don’t preface everything I write with that provisio, and it has come up often enough over the years for it to be reasonably available.

And I spend a lot of my time in the world of logic and systems, where terms have very precise meanings, and one must be absolutely explicit, before use, of all implications of all terms used. That is not a normal human mode of communication. Humans normally assume vast amounts, and the similarity of culture usually allows that to happen. So sometimes I am in one mode when someone thinks I am in the other one. Communication doesn’t work when that happens.
It is a persistent cause of friction in the Howard household, when I am deep in a logic problem and Ailsa asks me something, and I both interpret her question literally and provide an explicit answer to the question. Far worse is when she gives a non-specific description of a computer problem. Without specificity, the number of possible options rapidly gets out of control. She doesn’t appreciate being told her question is effectively meaningless.

[followed by]

Hi Andrew

(Being quite explicitly clear that I am joking about this, and don’t for a moment think it actually applies to you šŸ˜‰ )

Have you ever seen the children’s TV series “The 10th Kingdom”.

There is a scene towards the end of it, where the village idiot is standing beside the wishing well, with a huge smile on his face, and says something like:
“All my life I have simply been a half-wit, and now, finally, I am a complete idiot!”
He was sublimely happy!

My daughter loved that series, I must have watched it with her at least 5 times. (She has the DVD set.)
Worth a look if you haven’t seen it.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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