Quora Morality

Quora – Can moral be equated to what does not hinder or hurt other life, and what is immoral equated to what does?

Kind of in part, and it seems to be deeply more complex than that.

It seems that morality is an evolved abstract notion.

Evolution is ultimately about the survival of things.

So morality seems to be deeply encoded lessons about survival, and it is more than just the survival of individuals, though that is an important aspect.

We are extremely complex entities. I have been interested in evolution, biochemistry and systems for 50+ years, and have developed some beginnings of an understanding of the depths of our complexity and the depths of the multiple levels that cooperation plays in our survival.

We are very slow to mature. We all use complex language which has taken thousands of years to develop and we all rely on complex arrangements of people and technology for our survival.
So we are individuals, and we exist in social and ecological contexts, and are heavily reliant on both.

So morality seems to encode survival heuristics and survival logic at multiple levels simultaneously.

We all rely on our replicating RNA molecules, and we are more than them.
We all rely on RNA and proteins making DNA, and we are more than them.
We all rely on genes in DNA cooperating to make chromosomes, and we are more than them.
We all rely on RNA, proteins, sugars, DNA and lipids cooperating to make cells, and we are more than them.
And on it goes, cells making organs, and bodies.
Brains allowing for levels of cooperation, and levels of evolution of systems.
Genes and brains working at higher levels of association than just simply bodies (tribes, localities, species, ecosystems, firms, corporations, schools, sects, societies, cultures, cross culturally, ….)

We exist in multiple levels of structure simultaneously, and each has influences on our survival as individuals, just as our actions in reality effect the survival probabilities of every level of structure we engage in.

It is extremely complex.

Our minds are not sufficiently complex to allow us to deal with all the complexity that exists in reality at anything even remotely approaching real time.

So evolution has had to encode within us many different context sensitive methods of implementing heuristics that allow us to make survival oriented decisions in the amount of time and energy we have to do so.

That demands that we simplify the complexity that is present down to something simple enough to allow us to make decisions.

In extreme cases that means simplifying infinite possible chains of potential consequences all with probabilities varying with factors we cannot know in advance, down to simple binaries – like True and False, or Right and Wrong.

Do those simple binaries have any existence in reality ?
In most cases (possibly all cases), no!

Are they useful for survival?
Yes – most certainly that, at least in contexts where urgent decisions must be made on very limited information.

And when one spends long enough looking deeply enough at the systemic complexity within which we exist, one becomes aware of many classes of error in our understandings, and one also becomes aware of many classes of systems that are not knowable with certainty even in theory, let alone in practice.

Facing eternal uncertainty can be too frightening for some who crave certainty – so a retreat from uncertainty to the comfort of simple binaries is very common (even in the heights of academia).

And we now live in very complex environments, where our survival is predicated on ever deeper understandings of the complexities of our social and technological reality.
In anything but the most extremes of urgency, simple binaries are almost always far from optimal in such complex systems.

So morality, our survival, must be much more nuanced and humble and accepting of diversity and risk, than the simple binaries of right and wrong allow.
For many that transition will be difficult, and it is essential. And we must all acknowledge the historical and even contemporary contextual utility of such simple binaries – some contexts demand them, but not all.

Another transition that will be both difficult and essential is understanding that for complex systems, survival and evolution is much more nearly “all about cooperation” than it is “all about competition”.

Evolution certainly has both aspects, competitive and cooperative, and complexity can only survive in cooperative contexts. Competitive contexts always drive systems to some set of local minima on the complexity “landscape”.

So I am a definite yes to morality and survival; and it has to be a morality that is deeply more complex and nuanced than any simple binary of right and wrong. We seem to live in a reality that has the potential for an infinite set of infinite possibilities, even as it has only a finite set of actualities in any specific “instant” (in as much as time has meaning in a non-local context). That idea can be too disturbing for many.

So the question kind of points in the general direction of something, and that direction is vastly more complex than anything embodied in the “normal” interpretations of the terms as written.

[And for the sake of clarity, I stopped making any claims to normality over 50 years ago.
I do make the claim that I am making my best efforts to make as good an approximation as possible available to others of what seems to me to be the most useful approximation I have to whatever reality actually is.
I make the further claims to hold individual life and individual liberty (applied universally) as my highest values; and I acknowledge that having such values demands of me responsible action in both social and ecological contexts).
Beyond that, the complexity that I “see” present is orders of magnitude beyond my ability to communicate in any reasonable time.]

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 www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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