Intelligence and the Good

From the perspective of intelligence optimization (intelligence explosion formulated as a guideline), more intelligence is of course better than less intelligence. From alternative perspectives, this does not follow. To rhetorically suggest that such other perspectives are consensual, and authoritative, is guaranteed to be popular, and is even conservative, but it is a concession to ‘common moral intuition’ this blog is profoundly disinclined to make.

Naturally, intelligence is problematic. It can cause greater damage to everything — not least intelligence promotion — than stupidity can. Anything that is not an explosion is a trap, and trap engineering finds (nearly?) as much use for cognitive sophistication as explosive catalysis does. If there is a level of intelligence that escapes homeostatic capture, by machineries of systematic self-cancellation, there is no evidence that homo sapiens yet approaches it. The Cathedral is exactly such a machine, and its appetite for intellectual excellence is not seriously questionable. So an easy opening for morally-comforting sophistry readily exists: Intelligence isn’t anything obviously great (it does stupidity with exceptional ability too).

Biological evolution already evidences a deep ‘suspicion’ of unchained abstract cognition, assembling brains only with the greatest reluctance. Societies follow the genetic lead. No coincidence that (synthetic) intelligence is now firmly established as the ultimate X-risk. It’s scary (really) and makes everyone uneasy. That’s without there yet having been very much of it.

Here’s the test:
When rightly appalled (and in fact properly disgusted) by your own stupidity, do you reach for that which would make you more accepting of your extreme cognitive limitations, or, instead, hunt for that which would break out of the trap?

There’s a stupid kind of ‘better’ that is orthogonal to intelligence, and tickles monkey feels. There’s also — alternatively — ‘better’ that is even slightly less of a trapped half-wit.

Even the dimmest, most confused struggle in the direction of intelligence optimization is immanently ‘good’ (self-improving). If it wasn’t, we might as well all give up now. Contra-distinctively, even the most highly-functional human intellect, in the service of an enstupidation machine, is a vile thing.

Being dim animals — roughly as dim as is consistent with the existence of technological civilization — there’s plenty of room for water-muddying in all this. The water is certainly being vigorously muddied.

April 2, 2016admin 35 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations


35 Responses to this entry

  • Brett Stevens Says:

    Naturally, intelligence is problematic. It can cause greater damage to everything — not least intelligence promotion — than stupidity can.

    And yet, sudden explosions have not doomed us, while slow decay always has. Perhaps intelligence has this in its favor.

    Like all things, I suppose we return to the ancient ideal of “balance.” Intelligence is only useful when balanced with good moral character, which includes an aggressive self-discipline toward truth.

    Right now, most of our “brights” are also-rans for the higher intelligence band but use a few relatively trivial accomplishments to proclaim themselves geniuses. All of our public altruists seem to fit this model at least.


    Posted on April 2nd, 2016 at 4:23 pm Reply | Quote
  • Abelard Lindsey Says:

    I’m not certain about this. Intelligence does positively correlate with better social-economic outcomes and inversely correlates with social dysfunctions such as drug abuse and criminality. This, of course, is a powerful argument in favor of intelligence.

    Additionally, is not dysgenic decay the greatest threat to civilization and the HBDbased reason for immigration restrictions, border protection, etc.?


    Posted on April 2nd, 2016 at 6:54 pm Reply | Quote
  • grey enlightenment Says:

    Contra-distinctively, even the most highly-functional human intellect, in the service of an enstupidation machine, is a vile thing.



    Posted on April 2nd, 2016 at 7:13 pm Reply | Quote
  • grey enlightenment Says:

    @Abelard Lindsey

    Agree, but I think since 2015 or so there has been splinter in NRx, with a faction that is more techno-libertarian (which seems to put a higher premium on IQ, which seems to be individualistic) and the traditionalist faction that seems to care less about IQ and more about nationalism and culture (which is more collective). Nationalists may argue that border control is necessary not because of IQ differences but due to a difference in values (like religion, culture etc.).


    Posted on April 2nd, 2016 at 7:20 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    Intelligence does not make us good; but we shall not be good without intelligence.


    Posted on April 2nd, 2016 at 8:39 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jack Says:

    “Contra-distinctively, even the most highly-functional human intellect, in the service of an enstupidation machine, is a vile thing.”

    If “enstupidation” means accelerating stupidity, then, albeit it is vile indeed, it is vastly superior to crystallization of sub-optimized intelligence.

    This may not be a popular sentiment ’round here, but Communism was worse than modern Progressivism. Because immobile, stagnant — but ruthlessly enforced — stupidity can endure, while accelerating stupidity is bound to collapse, or to cease accelerating. So as long as it’s accelerating — as long as new oppressions and microaggressions and prejudices are discovered — I’m optimistic.

    If/when the Cathedral stops just short of falling off of Mount Holiness – then it’s time to sweat.



    Dark Psy-Ops Reply:

    The Cathedral is a like a Titanic vessel that has dropped an anchor many times heavier than itself into a bottomless sink, and is now waiting for the heavy chord to tighten its slack and pull the entire floating apparatus into the depths along with it. The limits of top-down cognitive corruption, of executive orders to restrain intelligent cognition, and disinhibit every hierarchical behavioral structure, will be discovered at the threshold where willful ignorance results in collapse-scale social dysfunction. If the crash can be contained depends on the extent to which a resistance can divest itself from the whole floundering enstupidation institution, and construct a parallel system isolated from the entropic vortex of “late democracy”. How depraved things will get before that is anyone’s guess, we probably haven’t seen anything yet.


    Rucoi Reply:

    This rudderless vessel built upon bureaucracy and a fragile open-ended faith shouldn’t be too difficult to keep below the surface once it sinks. Only in its absence will we discover its true and notable worth – that of providing the space for which this ‘parallel system’ can take root and flourish. Nrx and the like wouldn’t be so amped up without its necessary antithesis.

    Let it drown peacefully. To give it any attention, for good or ill, is to allow it far too much deference. Let us cease defining ourselves on an organization who’s wounds will never heal. The Cathedral provided us with a valuable service, now let it die.


    Grotesque Body Reply:

    If only. It’s going to do its best to take us down with it.

    Posted on April 2nd, 2016 at 8:45 pm Reply | Quote
  • Cassander Says:

    Intelligence is like technology, it’s not so much good or bad on its own as it is a magnifier. for whatever X you want to do, more intelligence or technology will increase the amount of X that you can do. Whether your X is good or not is largely orthogonal to the question of how intelligently X is pursued.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    So “whatever X you want to do” is entirely fixed in a combination of our DNA and how we were acculturated, concrete and absolute. Or rather is that dependent at least in part on intelligence, on possessing the complexity to question your own thinking. Intelligence is never static, it dynamic, always in motion.


    Posted on April 2nd, 2016 at 11:31 pm Reply | Quote
  • Rogue Planet Says:

    It’s always fascinated me how we (“we”) can be so eager to do away with valuation in the name of disinterested descriptions of neutral realities, only to find ourselves forced to sneak values right back in where we’re least likely to notice them.


    admin Reply:

    That’s what things look like when trapped within the orthogonal matrix, certainly.


    Rogue Planet Reply:

    Certainly, although the perspectival response raises the inevitable question of whether there is any such notion as “outside” that isn’t itself another perspective, or, worse yet, dependent on the local for its own (“absolute”) formulation.

    But I suppose that dance is unavoidable when your push any view to its limits.


    Artxell Knaphni Reply:

    Good luck with trying to get them to actually see that, Rogue Planet .
    I’ve been hinting at it for years.
    Btw, I like your other comments, the few that I’ve seen, you’re very good.

    Posted on April 2nd, 2016 at 11:58 pm Reply | Quote
  • Grotesque Body Says:

    “When rightly appalled (and in fact properly disgusted) by your own stupidity, do you reach for that which would make you more accepting of your extreme cognitive limitations, or, instead, hunt for that which would break out of the trap?

    There’s a stupid kind of ‘better’ that is orthogonal to intelligence, and tickles monkey feels.”

    Both tickle monkey feels. They’re with us because they do that. We’re here because we do that.


    Posted on April 3rd, 2016 at 3:00 am Reply | Quote
  • SVErshov Says:

    intelligence also can be described as a flow of explanatory states, which cant be reduced to sub states. from this pow to increase intelligence we need to INntesify flow, or SYncronise multiple flows.

    in first direction we deffinitely going to hit the limits and if insisting outshoot it. quite well explored frontiers.

    second direction explored by musicians mostly who have to sync flow of music in matter to be able to play together. neurologically humans well equiped for such syncronouse action as the same areas of brain innervated by differrent signaling pathways, which can receive feedbacks and generate feedforward signals at the same time.

    in same model stupidity can be described as interruption in flow, that is the point when most cultural phenomenons happens. if true, we can safely assume that human culture is sort of repository stupidity artifacts.


    SVErshov Reply:

    ADDED: two examples of collaborative intelligence from ‘The power of crowds’

    ‘Prototypical examples include the Poly- math Project (7), which helped prove an 80-year-old mathematical theorem, and ePluribus Problem Solver (8), which pro- duced a factually accurate and well-con- structed journalistic article based on just a handful of photographs distributed to naïve public participants.’

    7 Massively collaborative mathematics
    Nature 461, 879-881 (15 October 2009) | doi:10.1038/461879a; Published online 14 October 2009

    8 The power of crowds
    Combining humans and machines can help tackle increasingly hard problems


    Posted on April 3rd, 2016 at 5:38 am Reply | Quote
  • Erebus Says:

    It should be transparently obvious that IQ is not the sole measure of man. As I’ve argued in the Chaos Patch earlier this week, that our age — with its hundreds of millions of intelligent and literate man — has not produced a Shakespeare, but produces tremendous quantities of unreadable garbage, should be ample proof of this. As Moldbug himself has said: “Greatness is not a quality of our time.”

    Modern man lacks something vital. Perhaps it is a certain nobility of the soul. Perhaps it is the [implied] presence of God.

    Yet that intelligence optimization must be humanity’s single most important goal should be clear: Having found no evidence of God or Gods — having declared God dead 150 odd years ago — we must now create Gods for ourselves. This is the inevitable end of eugenics programs and of transhumanism. AGI represents another path to the same end.

    To reverse the prescription of Bostrom and Yudkowski: That these Gods will undoubtedly look upon man with disdain simply does not matter. The Ancient Greek pantheon was very much like that. “Among all creatures that breathe and crawl upon the Earth, there is not anywhere a thing more dismal than man,” declared Zeus himself, who was so utterly supreme among the Gods that the future was identical with his will, and all the rest combined could not dethrone him. Apollo says to Poseidon in the Iliad, “I should not be sensible if I fought with you on account of wretched mortals, who like leaves now flourish, as they eat the fruit of the field, and now fade away lifeless.” (To, I might add, an utterly horrible existence “as a mindless disembodied ghost” in Hades. To quote Achilles: “I would rather work the soil as a serf on hire to some landless impoverished peasant than be King of all these lifeless dead.”)

    The man who declared God dead also declared that man is a stepping stone. This was, in fact, his core message — and is both true and important. Our modern age proves that man in his current state is worthy of nothing but disdain; that if any greatness lies within modern man, it is solely in its ability to give birth to something superior to itself. (Which is, I hope, Gnon’s will. But Gnon can push us backwards, into the dysgenic abyss, as easily as it can push forward.)


    Abelard Lindsey Reply:

    It should be transparently obvious that IQ is not the sole measure of man.

    Of course. Executive function, which includes traits such as future time orientation, conscientiousness, impulse control, and the like, is certainly a better measure of man than IQ alone.


    Abelard Lindsey Reply:

    What is mankind?

    Mankind is a seed that destroys itself in the process of growing into a tree.


    Posted on April 3rd, 2016 at 6:39 am Reply | Quote
  • Nathan Cook Says:

    A “stupid kind of ‘better’ that is orthogonal to intelligence” sounds like the anti-intelligence Venkatash Rao blogged about in connexion to AGI last week:

    Perhaps there are anti-hard problems that require negatively increasing amounts of stupidity below zero—or active anti-intelligence, rather than mere lack of intelligence—to solve.

    If you can get your AI anti-intelligent enough to suffer boredom, depression and precious-snowflake syndrome, then we’ll start getting somewhere.

    Rao is a bit too taken with rough analogies to mathematical concepts, but the piece is readable.

    I’ve thought for some time that an undercurrent of interest in AGI, particularly the Friendly variant, is the drive to make a substrate that can be infected with our ideas – or rather with our memes. Rao’s piece is full of that drive. Aiming to create such a substrate seems a foolish thing to do, regardless of what those memes are. If, however, their function is “homeostatic”, then the danger seems far greater – in creating such an AI we would be creating the most awesome intelligence trap conceivable.


    Posted on April 3rd, 2016 at 12:24 pm Reply | Quote
  • Rucoi Says:


    They’re weak, no ones at the wheel. They’re plodding along on the fumes of their own volition, we’re just watching them drown. All we have to do is keep our heads above water, we’ll sort it out.


    Grotesque Body Reply:

    I’m packing an aqualung for the 2020s just in case. Shit’s going to get especially vicious when I’m admin’s age.


    Posted on April 3rd, 2016 at 7:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • William M Briggs Says:

    It’s worth noting that the highest created being is also the evilest. Even if you don’t believe in the reality of this most-intelligent being, the way we talk about his nature and of his fall tells us much about how intelligence is seen.


    Posted on April 4th, 2016 at 11:31 am Reply | Quote
  • jack arcalon Says:

    But we need an intelligence explosion, and as soon as possible!
    It’s the only way the incredibly advanced technology needed to extract and reconstruct the contents of a human mind could be invented in time to save at least some of us from death.
    If one unknown reader of this blog will be converted into an ‘immortal’ simulation, ALL our life expectancies are bumped up by aeons.
    It’s our only hope since God isn’t real.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    “save at least some of us from death”
    You really don’t get it.

    Trying to avoid individual death is a trap, we want an explosion. The cycle of birth and death is how networked system of individuals is able to be anti-fragile and improve itself, there is an optimum amount of death as evidenced by biology (or economics if you prefer), not enough death and the system stagnates, a trap.


    Erebus Reply:

    I think that he does get it. And I agree with him.

    I would like to avoid my individual death. I care less than nothing for those others — the world’s wretched… if I could destroy them in a way that would not inconvenience myself, believe me, I would.

    To put a more general point on it: “An explosion” is what we’ve had for over 100 years, and it’s not anti-fragile in any way which benefits us — to the contrary, it has been profoundly dysgenic. The Blind Idiot God is not necessarily our friend and ally; we have a firmer friend in social stratification and hierarchy. (Which is at the heart of the political Right.) I say let those who can afford to extend their lifespans do so, and let those who cannot die. The optimal future is one where a small fraction of the population ascends, and the rest are left in the dirt.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    A boom and bust into extinction is a trap even if in the short term a boom looks like an explosion. Besides, we’re talking about an intelligence explosion, eugenics and growing local order, not the decay of the present. Life extension may prove useful for hitting the optimum lifespan but sayings like, science advances one funeral at a time, should at least give you pause. Death has utility, fail to exploit it sufficiently at your own peril. I could see different intelligent castes/species with different lifespans, though the idea that the most intelligent of these should have the longest lives really doesn’t follow, considering that advancing the frontier of intelligence is advantageous in an intelligence explosion, I suspect it will actually be less than our current lifespans.

    Fragments of various consciousnesses might be preserved, but in the competitive environment who has time to wait for consciousnesses to grow slow enough so as to remain intact rather than advance in great strides with new generations optimized for the competitive challenges the red queen’s race imposes. Either way our minds are indeed a product of the blind idiot god but as engineered life gives him eyes the new minds that will take the mantle of most competitive will also be radically different, such that even if your mind is used as the foundation, the line between death and metamorphosis becomes irrelevant.

    To stand in the way of the next (engineered) generation is to become the wretched you so despise.

    Erebus Reply:


    Brilliant stuff, as usual.

    “To stand in the way of the next (engineered) generation is to become the wretched you so despise.”

    I agree completely. Arcalon said that death-avoidance is “our only hope since God isn’t real.” And I agree with him too. If we have a task, it is to create Gods. Having done so, we should step aside and accept whatever is to be our fate. If humanity proves incapable of engineering Godlike intelligences (for social as opposed to technological reasons,) aeons of artificially-extended life will have little meaning, as we’ll still be stuck in the dirt. But if humanity achieves this…. the outcome becomes impossible to predict, as the possibilities are boundless.


    Those [very interesting] papers by Werfel and Bar-Yam appear to center on resource depletion, primarily — “the key conditions under which self-limited lifespan is favored are spatial extent and locally exhaustible resources” — and Werfel and Bar-Yam go on to state that “there are situations where our model would predict that self-limited lifespan is not favored – for example, organisms under such high predation that no further self-limitation is needed, or those for which resources are unlimited.”

    …If we are to define “resources” simply as food, water, and shelter, I think it can be argued that the wealthy already live in a world of [essentially] unlimited resources — and that resource constraints are suffered solely by the materially disadvantaged.

    I therefore don’t believe that this is a compelling argument against radical life extension, at least as applied to a small fraction of the population. Should extreme life extension be applied in an egalitarian manner… I don’t even want to think about that.

    I didn’t have the time to read the papers in a very thorough way, so I could be wrong. I’ll give ’em a careful read over the weekend. Thanks for the links.

    Posted on April 5th, 2016 at 5:13 am Reply | Quote
  • Tom Says:

    “even the most highly-functional human intellect, in the service of an enstupidation machine, is a vile thing.”

    Forgive any potential naivety, but isn’t systematic enstupidation of the Other a potentially rational move for a self-improving intelligence? Imposition of entropy on the external is consistent with the goal of hoarding anti-entropy.


    admin Reply:

    If the Cathedral was aggressively producing local order (with associated exportation of entropy) the criticism would be very different — and quite probably, from this angle, non-existent. It would then be a model of effective government. That isn’t the conclusion formalist analysis reaches.


    Posted on April 5th, 2016 at 8:23 am Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction (2016/04/03) - Social Matter Says:

    […] of Nick Land, here he is on Intelligence and the Good. It’s not clear he doesn’t consider them […]

    Posted on April 6th, 2016 at 7:58 am Reply | Quote
  • The Set of All Possible Minds – ossipago Says:

    […] is problematic (to use a word Land likes a lot).  What would the set of all possible minds look like?  The nature of “mind” remains […]

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