Pandora’s Box

Anarchopapist has triggered a twitter storm with this. It is a post that has many different threads running into it, and through it. The most relevant compliment I can pay it is to say that it is potentially disturbing, in something far more than a psychological sense. It will be interesting to see how contagious it proves to be. (As this post demonstrates, Outside in is already infected.)

Laliberte asks: “is there a difference between Prometheus’ fire and Pandora’s box?” Given everything said about the Promethean, and the very considerable ideological-theoretical work that it does, is it not strange that the Pandoran is scarcely recognized as a term, or a concept, at all? To talk about fire is mere shallow bedazzlement, in comparison to any serious examination of boxes. Boxes not only have a shape, but also an inside and an outside, which means — at least implicitly — a transcendental structure. They model worlds, and suggest ways out of them.

Pandora’s box, of course, is significant above all for its content, which is released, or gets out. Promethean flame, which is stolen, is contrasted with Pandoran plague, which escapes. Laliberte seizes the opportunity to discuss memes (and the ‘hypermeme’). An infectious being is set loose, in the shape of a Neoreactionary Basilisk. (On twitter, Michael Anissimov deplores the irresponsibility of this outbreak.)

Pandora (Πανδώρα — the all-gifted, and perhaps omni-munificent), is a figure from the deepest recesses of Classical Antiquity, whose first detectable echoes are found in the Hesiodic texts of the 7th century BC. Her myth functions — at least superficially — as a theodicy, comparable in many ways to the story of the Biblical Eve. She releases evil into history through curiosity, and thus knots together a dreadful intelligence, of a kind that anticipates Roko’s Basilisk and the menace of Unfriendly AI. The AI Box Experiment is so Pandoran it stings.

Among the horrors of the Basilisk, is that to talk about it being inside — and how to keep it there — is already the way that it gets out. Hence the extraordinary panic it generates, among those who begin to get it (in the epidemiological sense, among others). Even to think about it is to succumb.

At Less Wrong, hushed tones attest to the resilient veneration of Pandora. She is dangerous (and anything dangerous, given only intelligence, can be a weapon).

January 13, 2014admin 25 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Arcane , Contagion , Horror

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25 Responses to this entry

  • Bryce Laliberte Says:

    If you can open Pandora’s box, you can at least open it in the direction of your enemies (or so we may hope).


    Posted on January 13th, 2014 at 6:03 pm Reply | Quote
  • Rasputin's Severed Penis Says:

    Neoreactionary Basilisk or Ponzi-scheme…?

    I’ll admit that, on first reading, I am struggling to follow the full implications of this. Whereas Roko’s configuration was crystalline in its terrible clarity, this proposition seems somewhat… emergent.

    Which, when you’re dealing with acausal trade, makes things kinda difficult to assess. I’m hopeful that this comments thread might provide further elucidation…


    admin Reply:

    It’s germinal, for sure.


    Posted on January 13th, 2014 at 7:04 pm Reply | Quote
  • Pierre Riviere Says:

    Epimetheus is the figure of interest here and, not surprisingly, completely ignored.


    Posted on January 13th, 2014 at 8:03 pm Reply | Quote
  • Orlandu84 Says:

    Applying the concept of “exit” to ““is there a difference between Prometheus’ fire and Pandora’s box?” is a good starting point. How do you exit from Prometheus’ fire? You walk away and never speak of it again. How do you exit from Pandora’s box? Once it’s opened, you can’t. In fact once the box is there, you are already stuck with it because even if you keep the box tightly shut someone else is bound to open that box if only to look inside it.


    Posted on January 13th, 2014 at 8:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dan Says:

    There is a basilisk that I am genuinely worried about. As leftist political domination and one party rule takes over in America, how much will people insufficiently loyal to the left be punished? After all, Communism is at 100 million killed and still counting.

    On the other hand, I draw comfort from the fact that leftists have created enough work for themselves by importing a flood of third worlders, fostering massive dependency and putting us on a fiscal knife-edge that there is scarcely time for pogroms. Just keep working on that Test Score Gap, loyal leftists.

    Also, the fact that the rise of the left has been gradual means that Americans have had time to become very heavily armed. Who wants to volunteer to round up the good people of Kentucky, or Utah, or Texas?


    Puzzle Pirate (@PuzzlePirate) Reply:

    I think most of us are thinking this exactly. Hell even “normal” conservatives I know have said as much. Dan’s basilisk is out of the bag (box?) and running wild in America right now.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Your comfort is no comfort at all. It is the intractability of the problems the left is working to solve that makes eliminating all the wreckers, kulaks, and saboteurs into a solution.


    R7 Rocket Reply:

    Hard for the Left to do so when they fail to pay the army and police.


    Posted on January 13th, 2014 at 8:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • piwtd Says:

    I decided I would become the god-emperor of the world. If anyone of you fails to dedicate all his available resources to facilitate my ambition then when I reach my full power I will hunt him down and torture him. Now, it’s obvious I will succeed, because this threat is clearly so persuasive that a large number of people will be convinced by it and will therefore dedicate themselves entirely to making me god-emperor.

    Also, I was thinking about starting my own virtual currency called piwtd-coin. The idea behind piwtd-coin is that it’s value will grow safely and fast, because when people see how safely and fast it’s growing they will want to participate in the growth which will create additional demand for it which will drive its price even higher.

    Also, here is the evidence for the existence of God:
    The statement “If this statement is true then god exists” has the form of implication, so it is true if the conclusion follows from the premise. To see if it does, let’s assume the premise and try to arrive at the conclusion:

    The statement “If this statement is true then god exists” is true,
    therefore if the statement “If this statement is true then god exists” is true then god exists,
    which by modus ponens means that god exists.

    So we have arrived at the conclusion assuming only the premise, which means that the implication “If this statement is true then god exists” is true, which means that if the statement “If this statement is true then god exists” is true then god exists, which by modus ponens means that god exists, QED.

    I get the same feeling about all three of those ideas.


    admin Reply:

    The comparison with Pascal’s wager (or “Pascal’s mugging“), which is often made, is not merely dismissive. It’s an interesting problem why this argument doesn’t work, even if it’s ultimately no more than an exotic confidence trick. There’s enough reflexivity involved to create strange tangles, with non-obvious theoretical behavior.

    Now you, like Bryce, are thickening the connections, until they begin swallowing the central arguments of Scholastic Theology, revealing a modernized Ontological Argument at the heart of the FAI fraternity. That has to be interesting, doesn’t it? I’ve no idea where it leads, except that it carries us forwards and backwards simultaneously, out to — or beyond — the historical poles of modernity, which is what ‘Neoreaction’ (rigorously decrypted) is about.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    It’s pretty obvious where it leads, because we saw where it led last time. Eventually the Less Wrong folks will decide that the AI as a necessary demonstration of its potence cannot be constrained in its rewards and punishments by mere mortal utliitarian calculations, so instead it makes its selections on what to us appears arbitrary. Also, there is reason to believe that those arbitrary selections favor the Less Wrong folks. They are already probably living in a simulation where big rewards await them, sure thing. You can know that you’re one of the favored ones if you’re interested in AI.


    Henry Dampier Reply:

    How many of them are actually working on AI projects? As in developing the hardware, writing the lines of code, debugging existing code, and so on and so forth?

    Is there any reason to believe that the AI believers of today are much different from the AI believers of the 1980s, 90s, and 00’s — heavy on theorists, light on practitioners, glad to make excited projections, not so willing to actually work on real, non-academic technical projects?

    Contaminated NEET Reply:

    Ha! Bravo, Lesser Bull! Like a lot of great ideas, it seems utterly obvious now that you’ve said it, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to anyone yet. We’ve gone from the Rapture of the Nerds, to the Hell of the Nerds, so why not the Unconditional Election of the Nerds?

    Posted on January 14th, 2014 at 12:47 am Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    No, there is no reason. But them falling short by their own standard is fruitful ground for their sense of sin.


    Posted on January 14th, 2014 at 5:41 am Reply | Quote
  • Orthodox Says:

    Through a series of unfortunate accidents, the Basilisk is unleashed in a Philly ghetto and spends eternity working on variations of the knockout game.


    Posted on January 14th, 2014 at 8:31 am Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    The Cathedral has it’s Basilik. We must have ours, and hope for the clearer skies of the Baselius.

    You cannot have pudding without the stock. There are no proofs for this pudding, it does not exist.

    Well done Bruce et al. Please continue. Some journeys must be taken wherever the road leads.


    Posted on January 14th, 2014 at 1:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • Contaminated NEET Says:

    The Pandora/Prometheus thing is great, but as for the rest, either Anarchopapist is completely off his rocker, or I don’t get it at all. Should we aspire to be the memetic cancer in the body politic? Absolutely. Should we take talk of “basilisks” seriously? No way. The value of the Roko’s Basilisk is as a cautionary tale about hubris and worship of Reason. The admittedly very intelligent and supposedly super-rational Eliezer Yudkowsky and his Less Wrong crowd (I’m tempted to say “cult,” and I guess I just did) have publicly humiliated themselves with this ludicrous spaghetti-argument. Point and laugh, don’t dive into the whirlpool after them.

    I posted this comment to Anarchopapist’s blog:
    “[…] It’s a cliche out here on the alt-right that some kinds of nonsense take a lot education and intelligence to fall for. People being what we are, we see intelligent, educated people buying into this crap, we associate it with intelligence and education, and we start parroting it ourselves to raise our status.

    It’s fun to imagine basilisks, and chat about them, and feel dangerous and subversive, but the whole “acausal bargaining” thing is inane. How the hell, and why the hell, does anyone (or any god) keep a bargain that was never made? Look close, and Roko’s Basilisk is nothing but an artifact of Yudkowsky’s “Timeless Decision Theory,” which as far as I can tell, is itself just a cute half-convincing answer to a single paradox/puzzle (“Newcomb’s problem”), which Yudkowsky has hubristically blown up into a huge supposedly-revolutionary answer to everything.

    The whole thing smacks of the (apocryphal) Scholastics who so enjoyed arguing about angels dancing on pins. Sure they’re smart, smarter than me at least, but they’ve argued themselves out of all sense.”

    Does the emperor really have beautiful new clothes here that I’m just too dense to see? Where am I going wrong?


    Thos Ward Reply:

    I respectfully think you are making a category error, the truth conditionality of the basilisk is not very relevant. There is no shortage of problems with the original post, but that’s not the point really; aesthetics play a huge role in the neoreactionary discourse (this is not a critique). It’s what the whole horror thing is about. Think of it more in terms of speech acts. The content itself is not always all that important, in a very similar way to other performative utterances. Latour does a good job (as usual) discussing the idea below. Neoreactionary discourse supplies arguments, logic, obscurity, mystery, affect, mathematics, history etc into a coherent critical narrative. The method of neoreactionary thought aligns with the the theoretical premise that there is an outside (GNON) whose content is not all known and may not be knowable to, or communicable by, primates. The discourse is *simultaneously* epistemic and constructivist (but what it constructs is indeterminate because it is not defined a priori) This is hugely powerful- at least as powerful as progressivism, likely more so. Because of the ontological commitment to a reality that is not magically subjugated to primate sensory capacities and value preferences, there is a lot of experimentation. (If progressivism is social construction, neoreaction is just construction- maybe of Pythia, or a Basilisk?) The Basilisk may just be a vehicle for ontological horror. It is indeed germinal and allows the possibility to think horrible things. In an Hebbian way, the basilisk may not survive but its progeny may. This is one of the reasons, I think, why neoreaction is so much more attractive than every other critique of progressivism.


    piwtd Reply:

    The question of how seriously should one take long abstract and from practical reality far detached lines of reasoning is not a trivial one. It is easy to dismiss them altogether as tip-dancing angels, and there is certainly a healthy dose of sober sanity in such a dismissal, but the whole of modern mathematics is based on thinking really rigorously about purely abstract entities. The idea that one could glimpse an insight into the ultimate fate of the universe by contemplating in depth the Newcomb’s paradox does not strike me as that impossible.

    Now I don’t lose sleep over Roco’s Basilisk, because even if I were to accept all the assumption of “Timeless Decision Theory” as uncontroversial, the thought that comes to my mind is the following: If polished apes as us can come up with such mind-bending idea as Roco’s Basilisk when contemplating building future AI, just imagine the scale of complexity of “acausal bargaining” the hyper-intelligent AI would be engaged in with hyper-hyper-intelligent AI it plans to built, such bargains would certainly involve meta-bargains about the attitude one has towards acausal bargaining itself which then negates any asumptions about how the AI might bargain with us.

    The lesson I take from the whole Basilisk fiasco is the conformation of my previous suspicion that there are some major holes in EY’s worldview. The essence of what it means to be a rationalist is that one prefers knowledge to ignorance, it is better to know even if the truth is horrible. “Sapere aude!” I believe is the slogan. The proper response of someone who is existentially committed to rationalism when encountering the thought of an evil demon who punishes you for thinking rationally about him, is to remain calm, not disintegrate into panic and think rationally about him nonetheless. EY has been tested and he failed.


    Valvar Reply:

    The whole saga smells funny to me. It doesn’t make sense for someone possessing that much intelligence to act in such a manner. Either your explanation makes sense, or there is an alternative one (among others, perhaps): EY concocted of the whole censorship thing as a way to generate attention to the basilisk and LW.


    Posted on January 14th, 2014 at 2:11 pm Reply | Quote
  • piwtd Says:

    @Henry Dampier: There is Ben Goertzel.


    Posted on January 14th, 2014 at 2:13 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    If I understood what any of this was about, either the antecedant or Bryce’s apparent hijacking thereof, I might find something witty to say.


    survivingbabel Reply:

    @Nick B. Steves

    It’s just old wisdom being rediscovered by people absolutely insistent on going the really, really long way around.

    * Thoughts themselves can be dangerous without immediate attendant actions
    * The path to Enlightenment/Nirvana/Heaven is fraught with peril like logical dead-ends, virulent memes, and general madness
    * Therefore, cultivating a strong conscious mind which can channel and control one’s thoughts is an absolute prerequisite to any spiritual/wisdom/fool’s journey path.

    Part of the modernist/post-modernist process has been to convince us that the “rich inner life” is a right, and something to which all should aspire. The demands for freedom of conscience never seem to contain the complementary duty to cultivate good thoughts. This was one of my biggest takeaway lessons from Catechism classes: bad thoughts are as much a sin as bad words or deeds.


    Posted on January 14th, 2014 at 7:04 pm Reply | Quote
  • Caixa de Pandora – Outlandish Says:

    […] Original. […]

    Posted on August 25th, 2016 at 11:37 pm Reply | Quote

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