Archive for March 15th, 2013

Optimize for Intelligence

Moldbug’s latest contains a lot to think about, and to argue with. It seems a little lost to me (perhaps Spandrell is right).

The guiding thread is utility, in its technical (philosophical and economic) sense, grasped as the general indicator of a civilization in crisis. Utilitarianism, after all, is precisely ‘objective’ hedonism, the promotion of pleasure as the master-key to value. As philosophy, this is pure decadence. As economics it is more defensible, certainly when restricted to its descriptive usage (if economists find their field of investigation populated by hedonically-controlled mammals, it is hardly blameworthy of them to acknowledge the fact). In this respect, accusing the Austrians of ‘pig-philosophy’ is rhetorical over-reach — swinish behavior wasn’t learned from Human Action.

Utilitarianism is often attractive to rational people, because it seems so rational. The imperative to maximize pleasure and minimize pain goes with the grain of what biology and culture already says: pleasure is good, suffering is bad, people seek rewards and avoid punishments, happiness is self-justifying. Calculative consequentialism is vastly superior to deontology. Yet the venerable critique Moldbug taps into, and extends, is truly devastating. The utilitarian road leads inexorably to wire-head auto-orgasmatization, and the consummate implosion of purpose. Pleasure is a trap. Any society obsessed with it is already over.

Utility, backed by pleasure, is toxic waste, but that doesn’t mean there’s any need to junk the machinery of utilitarian calculus — including all traditions of rigorous economics. It suffices to switch the normative variable, or target of optimization, replacing pleasure with intelligence. Is something worth doing? Only if it grows intelligence. If it makes things more stupid, it certainly isn’t.

There are innumerable objections that might flood in at this point [excellent!].
— Even if rigorous economics is in fact the study of intelligenic (or catallactic) distributions, doesn’t the assumption of subjective utility-maximization provide the most reliable basis for any understanding of economic behavior?
— Infinite intelligence already (and eternally) exists, we should focus on praying to that.
— Rather my retarded cousin than an intelligent alien.
— Do we even know what intelligence is?
— Cannot an agent be super-intelligent and evil?
— Just: Why?

More, therefore, to come …

ADDED: A previous excursion into the engrossing topic of hedonic implosion cited Geoffrey Miller (in Seed magazine): “I suspect that a certain period of fitness-faking narcissism is inevitable after any intelligent life evolves. This is the Great Temptation for any technological species—to shape their subjective reality to provide the cues of survival and reproductive success without the substance. Most bright alien species probably go extinct gradually, allocating more time and resources to their pleasures, and less to their children. They eventually die out when the game behind all games — the Game of Life — says ‘Game Over; you are out of lives and you forgot to reproduce.’”

March 15, 2013admin 18 Comments »
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