Intelligence and morality

Facebook – FOLogic – Mikael Johnsson asked

How much can pure intelligence “alone” solve the problems of morality?

We are not pure anything.

We are evolved embodied entities.

Our conscious awareness is but a tiny part of the vast multi-leveled computational mass that is a human being.

We have many levels of systems, many levels of valences, all cooperating and competing in real time for phenotypic expression.

We are far more cooperative than we are competitive.

Our levels of intelligence are subject to override by older demands, like air, food, sleep.

Most of the patterns that govern most of our behaviour come from some combination of genetic and or cultural factors – operating at various levels.

Most of our morality seems to be a set of evolutionarily selected heuristics that allowed populations of individuals like ourselves to survive in the contexts of our deep past.

Our present context is changing exponentially in ways that fundamentally alter many of the dynamics that made those moral heuristics as stable and useful as they were.

Certainly there is a sense in which we can explore the games theoretic context of positive sum cooperative game spaces, to get some insight into the sorts of heuristics that offer the greatest probability of long term survival with maximal degrees of freedom; and what we end up actually doing in any particular context is highly unlikely to be that!

[followed by]

Hi Pawel,

In the same sense that a computer is a system, or the internet is a system, or an ecosystem is a system, or New Zealand is a system, or the solar system is a system; then yes, we are a system, that has boundary conditions.

Our consciousness emerges from a lot of lower level systems that need to be in place.
That conscious does not “control” those lower level systems, though it can influence them.

The idea that our consciousness is a singular thing is overly simplistic.

I’m not sure how much meditation you have done.
If you are practiced in meditation, then the idea that we control our thoughts should be clearly visible to you as a nonsense. Thoughts arise within us.
We then have some conscious level influence on what we do with the thoughts available.
One can learn to recurs this through a few levels, and there is some power in those practices and competencies, and they are still just variations on a theme from a systems perspective.

The greater the awareness we can build of all of those systems within us, and the classes of responses they tend to have to different classes of context, the greater the degree of influence we can create in our conscious existence in reality.

And that is a highly dimensional complex structure, and the degrees of complexity present demand that we use simplifying heuristics, and those heuristics will necessarily have failure modalities possible in some sets of contexts. That is what consciousness must necessarily be like – be it human or AGI – the computational spaces and uncertainties are infinite – and demand degrees of approximation – and those approximations necessary lead to uncertainty in all levels of results. That applies to morality as much as anything else – at the level of the specific.

[followed by]

Hi Pawel,

Certainly we are much more complex than most of today’s computers.

Certainly we need to understand the many levels of systems that make us what we are, at least to the best of our limited abilities.

I completed my undergrad studies in biochemistry 45 years ago.

I have maintained an interest in all aspects of the life and intelligence, the systems, the chemistry, the physics, the many classes of complexity. So I have some beginnings of an objective understanding of the complexity of the systems present. I made a conscious decision over 50 years ago to be a generalist, to get as much practical and theoretical knowledge from as many contexts as possible, in an attempt to help safely navigate the exponential changes that rapidly approach.

I would phrase it the other way.

We achieve degrees of autonomy to the degree that we become aware of the many levels of systems and influences within us. To the degree we remain ignorant of them, then to that degree we are at their mercy.

And it is all matters of degree and influence.

We need those subsystems to make us what we are.

And we are capable of eternally becoming, of transcending our prior limits; but only by understanding the nature of those systems and limits.

[followed by]

Hi Pawel,

There is no really simple definition of I and we.

We are not simple entities.
The thing I call me – “I am” is a cooperating colony of cells made up of about 10,000 times as many cells as there are people on this planet. Cells come and go, but the colony remains (at least for now).
Some of those cells are organised into groups that communicate with each other electrically. All cells communicate chemically. My self awareness, and my ability to have memory, and to plan and do things in reality, seems to be an emergent property of that very complex set of systems.

I can lose some of those cells, without the loss being too noticeable to the functioning of the system as a whole, but past a certain point the loss of function becomes noticeable.

Certainly, we have some aspects of our being that map fairly well to cybernetic descriptions.
We have other aspects that map well to social relationships.
We have other aspects that involve levels of abstract communication across time and space (like me reading Einstein or Godel – both of whom were dead when I read their works).
We have other aspects that have been selected and conditioned over deep time.

And certainly, there are relationships.
The really interesting thing to me is what seems to be the context sensitive nature of the strength of those relationships.

If you can think of a class of mathematical functions, you can probably find an instance of it somewhere in the functioning of a human being. We do in fact seem to be that complex.

[followed by To Erik – asked about mean time between failure]

Hi Erik,
Could you elaborate a little on exactly what dimension or range of dimensions you are referring to with that comment – I can’t localise to one, and several are interesting.

[followed by Erik introduced “infinite paralel redundancy”]

Sort of.
And more complex than that -Hayflick limit and all that stuff (as counter cancer strategy).
And it does seem probable to me that we will achieve indefinite life extension, significant progress here –

[followed by Erik introduce enventual failure – running out of universe]

Hi Erik,

I don’t think we disagree about much.

I tend to look at all things probabilistically.
I attempt to do what I reasonably can to put myself on the longevity end of the tails of distributions.
And it is a highly dimensional set of “spaces”.

There can be no such thing as absolute certainty, only probabilities.

It is a little over 9 years since I listened to an oncologist tell me “You could be dead in 6 weeks, you have a 50% chance of living 5 months, and a 2% chance of living 2 years; go home and get your affairs in order.” That conversation was not on my life plan.
I am strict vegan. I have a minimum of 10g of vitamin C every day, in at least 2 doses of at least 5g (usually about 7g twice daily dissolved in a glass of warm water). I supplement with multi mineral and vitamins. I ensure I have enough omega 3s and plenty of B12. I do what I can to assist the transition from scarcity based thinking to abundance based thinking, at every levels of society.

Right now, running out of this universe is a long way off, so not a problem I have devoted significant resources to.
Indefinite life extension – that is way up the priorities list.
Risk mitigation strategies – way up there too.
We have to get self replicating technology off this planet asap. We need serious engineering capacity in space for a host of very good reasons that would put most people into a state of permanent anxiety if I was explicit.
This universe is a very dangerous place looked at on a long enough time span.

So I do what I reasonably can when and where I can.
Develop competencies and networks.
Await situations where minimum effort can deliver maximum result.
So many dimensions of risk. Far more than most are aware of (more than most have ever counted to).

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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