The Virtue of an Almost Right Solution

Earlier today, in my final Sondheim post, I was writing in praise of the grotesque.  This post is on the same topic, but I'm code-switching a bit and doing it a more analytic, not aesthetic framework.  Over at LessWrong, there's a great illustration of how positive bias works: I am teaching a class, and I write upon the blackboard three numbers: 2-4-6. "I am thinking of a rule," I say, "which governs sequences of three numbers. The sequence 2-4-6, as it so happens, obeys this rule. Each of you w … [Read more...]

The gift my weirdo debate friends gave me

Tonight is the summer alumni debate of my philosophical debating group, and I’ve had an awkward time every time someone has asked me what we’re planning to debate. You see, our topic for the night is “R: Heighten the Contradictions,” which tends to throw people for a loop if they were expecting “R: Elect Obama” “R: Repeal the Death Penalty” or something like that.By the end of rationality camp, one of the things that stuck with me was how grateful I am to have been part of this debating circl … [Read more...]

An Objective Immoral Moral Law

My friend Squelchtoad has posed another useful thought example up at his interblag.  I'm excerpting below, but you should pop over and read the whole set up.  It's targeted to people like me, who think morality exists in some objective, possibly neo-platonist way and therefore feel unsettled without a well-grounded moral philosophy.  Squelchtoad writes: Suppose I could demonstrate to you beyond all possible doubt that one of the following two propositions was necessarily true:There does no … [Read more...]

Making Book on God

A reader of Marginal Revolution posed a theological thought experiment this week, and a friend challenged me to answer.  Here's the pitch: In this thought experiment you are a contestant on a gameshow. The host of the gameshow (let’s call him Alex) has a notecard that says whether or not god exists and to what extent he is involved in the affairs of mankind. You start with $1,000,000 that you must allocate across five possible categories:Scriptural literalism. Bet into this category if you … [Read more...]

Epistemology for Time-Travelers

I've been mulling over a weird thought-experiment, and I'd be really interested in your intuitions.  (I'll explain why I've been thinking about it in a subsequent post). Poof! In a burst of special effects, you're confronted by a doppleganger you!"Hi," other!you says, "I'm you from the future."  Future!you knows enough about you that you're convinced it is indeed you, and does something that makes it probably s/he is really from the future (predicts a couple events)."Wow," you say, "my m … [Read more...]

Finding the Morality Pill Hard to Swallow

After a week of talking about transhumanism, brain-hacking, and the persistence of identity, I couldn't pass up a chance to comment on Brian Appleyard's slam on using science to improve people's moral character. Moral enhancement cannot be a scientific project because neither term has any measurable meaning that can be universalised. Rather, it is an ideological project which would hand power to an oligarchy of neuropharmacologists who would be permitted to decide that somebody – probably them – … [Read more...]

Simulated Ethics and Brainmodding

It's a week of tough questions about transhumanism.  After reading my post on moral hazard for uploaded humans, Gilbert asked: OK, so people value other people based on some kind of proximity function. In practice they instinctively use some evaluation procedure that generalizes badly to modern situations (where interactions can be more remote) and even worse* to uploads. Perhaps a bit like different polynomials may be functionally identical on some finite fields but not on others so that using … [Read more...]