Showing posts from 2020

A Paradox of Rationality and Cooperation

A walrus and a carpenter were walking down a beach on a sunny winter’s day. The sand was still frosty in places, but the frost was melting in the sun. The water was calm, and waves lapped gently on the beach. “Isn’t it beautiful?” said the walrus, after they had been walking along in silence for a while. “Yes, it is,” said the carpenter. “I’m glad you suggested this walk.” “Well, I wanted to share this beautiful day with you,” said the walrus. “And I have a paradox to share with you as well.” “Oh no!” said the carpenter, laughing, “This was a trap!” “Well, maybe a little,” admitted the walrus, “but I really think you’ll enjoy this paradox.” “Okay,” said the carpenter. “Hit me with it.” “You know what the prisoner’s dilemma is, don’t you?” “Yes, it’s an important concept in game theory. It’s an example of a game that isn’t zero sum.” “Right. We can forget about the original idea of two prisoners, and just define it as a simple game with two possible moves: c

A Strange Game

Suppose that you go into an alien casino on the planet Zreebnorf, and you are offered to play a game. It works like this. The casino will match you with another player at random. The players don’t know who they are playing with, so there is no way for them to coordinate their actions or reciprocate after the game. Both players secretly pick a number between 1 and 100. The outcome of the game is then calculated as follows. If both players picked the same number, let X be the number they picked. Both players will receive X credits from the house and have to pay (100 − X) credits to the house. If the players picked different numbers, let X be the smaller number. The player who chose X will receive (X + 2) credits, and the other player will pay (100 − X) credits to the house. (Credits are standard Galactic currency worth approximately $1 USD each.) Some examples: Both players pick 50. They both pay 50 credits and receive 50 credits, for a net payout of 0. Both players pick 100.

Another Victory for Kek

As I write this, the US election is still undecided, but it looks like Biden will eke out a narrow win. Trump is claiming that the election is being stolen. The way the election unfolded certainly created that impression, with vote-counting stopped in key states on election night, and now dragging out over multiple days, as Trump's lead in those states slowly evaporates. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that there was some fraud (there usually is) and probably more than usual, but I don't think Trump will be able to do much about it. Even if there was substantial election fraud, it would be only a small part of the campaign by the establishment against Trump. He has been the target of a massive disinformation campaign by the mass media. He and his supporters have been censored by the major tech platforms. Judges have blocked his orders. Governors and mayors have defied him, to the extent of allowing anarchy in their own streets. There are very good reasons for Trump and

The Conflict Between Hedonism and Altruism

The humanist worldview has two core value assumptions. Hedonism: Pain is negative value and pleasure is positive value. In other words, feeling good is intrinsically good, and feeling bad is intrinsically bad. Other things are only good or bad insofar as they cause pleasure or pain. Altruism: We have a moral duty to act for the good of others, not just for our own good. Hurting others is morally bad. Helping others is morally good. This is the sole moral good, and all other moral goods derive from it. Hedonism defines what is subjectively good and bad for an individual. Altruism defines what is objectively good and bad. These assumptions are almost never explicitly stated, but they are the implicit basis for culturally accepted value judgments. They are tacitly accepted by most people in the modern West. There is a conflict between these two assumptions. Hedonism situates value in the feelings of pain and pleasure. Feelings are subjective. They are tied to a perspective. They

Morality and Bad Faith

Morality includes two big lies. One is that the interests of the collective are the interests of the individual. The other is that the interests of the collective are the interests of the cosmos. The reality is that individuals have their own interests, collectives have their own interests, and the cosmos has no interests. Collective interests can be understood as solutions to problems of cooperation, such as the prisoner’s dilemma and the tragedy of the commons. Life is competitive, and so each individual has an incentive to harm others and take resources from others. However, individuals can also benefit from cooperation. Within a collective, it could be that most people would benefit from a general prohibition on certain types of competition, such as murder, rape and theft. While the individual might benefit from committing such acts, he would also be harmed by others committing those acts against him. Thus, the individual is willing to trade his freedom to murder, rape and steal f

Responding to Conundrum

A YouTube user named “Conundrum” posted a series of questions on the video Efilism: Arguing the Argument . I will answer them here. Each question begins with a quote from me, followed by his questions/criticisms. I will put the quote from me in bold font. Pain is the experience of increased desire. So… when you have a leg blown off by a land mine and you scream from pain, what exactly do you desire, apart from the pain to stop? Desire for what has increased? You don’t desire for the pain to stop. That way of thinking about emotion is fundamentally flawed. It’s a kind of homunculus fallacy. Desire doesn’t start out as being “for” anything. It is preconscious. If you break your leg, the nerves in your leg send information to your brain that simply conveys that something bad happened to your leg. They have location information and they signal “injury”. This then generates the motivation to do something. It’s not the conscious recognition that your leg is broken that ca

What is Morality?

Morality has the following components: Collective values. The individual internalization of collective values. The assumption that collective values are objective, and thus “moral”. A folk theory of morality. Individual and collective moral myths. To understand morality, you need to understand how these components fit together into a system. In this essay, I will describe each component and how it relates to the others. Collective Values As individuals, we naturally make value judgments about what is good or bad for ourselves. For example, a man might want to marry a beautiful woman. He views that outcome as good for himself. In other words, he values it positively. Individual values define what the individual views as good for himself and bad for himself. Individual values are perspective-dependent. They are tied to the perspective of an individual. Different people make different value judgments. Individual values are often in conflict, because

George Floyd and the Madness of Crowds

A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic. — Josef Stalin, paraphrase Over the last week there have been mass protests and riots in the United States and around the world. Buildings and cars have been burned. Stores have been looted. People have been injured and killed. The reason? A mass delusion. This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a rational response to real injustice or real social issues. It was a crowd mania. The spark that ignited this insanity was the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody, while bystanders filmed his arrest. He was resisting arrest, and he was placed on the ground and pinned down by three officers while a fourth officer kept bystanders away. One officer had a knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. They kept him pinned down for 8 minutes, even after he had become unresponsive. He appears to have died while pinned down, although not from direct asphyxiation. The death of George Floyd mi

Free Will, Determinism and Choice

Every now and then, I encounter someone who raises the free will | determinism paradox in a discussion about a choice. It usually goes something like this: Me: We have to make a choice. Either we regulate our population and genome ourselves, or nature will do it for us, with war, disease and famine. Joe Shmoe: Your assumptions are wrong. There is no free will, so we don’t really have a choice. I imagine Joe delivering this brilliant insight with a smug little smile, as if it is the ultimate “gotcha”. In this essay, I will explain why Joe’s comment is an absurd non sequitur. I will also talk more generally about the relationship between free will and determinism. First, what is the point of bringing up the free will | determinism paradox in the middle of a discussion about something else? The real motivation is to derail the discussion, while asserting one’s intellectual superiority. The intended meaning is something like this: You idiots think you have fr

Toward Rational Humanism

We need a new religion or ideology that meets the following criteria: It provides a foundation for a sustainable civilization. It provides individuals with a functional way of life. It isn’t fundamentally deceptive. It has a rational, philosophical basis that is accessible to intelligent people. It can be reduced to a few simple ideas that can be understood by ordinary people. It has good memetic properties. To that end, I propose a new ideology organized around two core values, one for the individual and one for the collective: Reproduction: The individual purpose of life is reproduction. In the short term, this means having children. In the long term, it means having many descendants. Civilization: Our collective purpose is perpetuating and advancing our civilization. Our civilization is “us”, but it is not just a collection of individuals. It is a complex system that has biological, cultural and social components. We inherited a civilization fro