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Author Topic: The Principle of Optimism  (Read 587 times)
MoQingbird
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« on: 25/04/11 @ 14:24 »

David Deutsch, in the excellent The Beginning of Infinity, puts forward this principle:

  The Principle of Optimism

    All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge


'Optimism' comes into its title because he is optimistic that expanding our knowledge is the way to reduce the evils in the world.

Discuss.
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LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« Reply #1 on: 26/04/11 @ 04:41 »

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All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge

What counts as an evil? 

A popular argument against the standard kind of Loving, Just, and Omnipotent God is the 'natural evil' and suffering in the world: disasters, 'nature red in tooth and claw', that sort of thing.  Here it can be seen as pretty evil as it's intentional in the design (I saw a particularly horrific example while flipping through Dawkins' Greatest Show....  There's a species of worm that invades and grows inside a caterpillar and when it reaches a certain point of maturity, multiple worms BURST out of the caterpillar!)  It is hard to say if this would count as evil though and if it does how sufficient knowledge could fix it.

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Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
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« Reply #2 on: 26/04/11 @ 09:21 »

Deutsch cites medieval people dying of cholera as an evil caused by their not knowing that boiling their drinking water would have prevented it, so natural evils that effect people come into his scope.

Can caterpillars and worms experience evil?
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LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« Reply #3 on: 29/04/11 @ 02:10 »

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Can caterpillars and worms experience evil?

Yep, probably guilty of assuming too much.  I still don't want to remove 'evil' from the lathe yet though.  Is evil only something that can be experienced by humans?  Only committed by humans?  When humans kill off other life or damage the planet in some way, is this only or mainly evil due to the effects on humans and not on the afflicted life or planet per se?

What about psychological evils: the seven deadly sins? or in Sihkism what they actually call the 5 evils (ego, anger, attachment, greed, lust... just read it this morning while looking up stuff that popped in my head.  These are similar to Buddhist ills and probably other religions too, so they might be a useful starting point).

To what extent would these count as evils?  What kind of knowledge would help ameliorate them?

What is evil's CV?  Does Deutsch go into this more? 

« Last Edit: 29/04/11 @ 05:48 by LostInAShaftOfSunlight » Logged

Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
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« Reply #4 on: 29/04/11 @ 15:37 »

Deutsch doesn't have a specification for evil as such.  I interpret his 'evil' as 'any suboptimal outcome', which accords with my own view of evil.

Are the sins 'evil' per se, or is it acting on them that is evil?

The five Sikh evils, for example, all seem to be extreme variants of natural emotions.  I'm mean, what's married life if you don't have the odd row, or get mutually overcome by a bit of lust now and again?  I think they become evils when you use them to define yourself.

Psychotherapy is the long, slow process of understanding why a psychological evil is effecting you.  The knowledge you gain about yourself and others is supposed to alleviate your problems, however, there's a world of difference between book knowledge and fully grokked understanding that changes your life.

When it comes to damaging the planet, I have a very strong conviction that damaging it is evil, though my perspective has nothing to do with the humans on it.  Life on Earth subsists on the energy gradient between the Sun and the Earth's surface.  Life takes the energy from the Sun and transforms it, increasing entropy in the process.  The more life there is on Earth, the more energy it can process.  The more diverse life is, the more sustainable it is, too.  The Universe 'wants' to transform energy, producing higher entropy in the process.  Saying the Universe 'wants' something is attributing intentionality to it, but really it's just the way things work.  There's no intentionality behind it, no God, no extra-dimensional aliens, no reason; it's just the way the system behaves.

If we go with the Universe's apparent intention then that which contributes to the sustainable transformation of energy and production of entropy is 'good', and that which decreases it is 'evil'.

That's how I connect science to morality, and I think it's a definition that scales from the quantum level all the way up to people, nations, ecosystems and life on Earth.

Any thoughts?
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LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« Reply #5 on: 06/05/11 @ 14:03 »

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Any thoughts?

Yes: I wish I was a better thinker myself!  I didn’t reckon I’d have to tangle with entropy or a morality that ranges from quarks to ecosystems!  Actually that’s pretty pleasing as I do marvel at the natural world, but am ignominiously ignorant of it.

Your definition of evil as ‘suboptimal outcome’ is interesting.  I was certain you’d said that you were a relativist about morals somewhere here, but couldn’t find it.  A search did reveal that you said that a useful philosophy would acknowledge the relativity of good and evil. This is something I agree with in a sneaky sort of way (I still want people to follow my ‘goods’).  It seems obvious that there are significant moral disagreements between groups of people.  C..S. Lewis (my sharpening stone; like to read him, disagree with nearly everything) argued that this was more of a myth and nothing like a total difference exists between the moral commandments of groups and this similarity points to an objective foundation for them in God.  However people don’t agree on issues like who it is appropriate to hurt or even kill or under what circumstances and I think this is significant.  Now (and to the point!) what is the root cause of these differences between moral codes?  Can they be reduced by knowledge? If we have different ideas of what a suboptimal outcome is, is this a big threat to any optimism we might have? Is relativism a case for pessimism?


The idea of emotions is interesting and perhaps problematic.  So… the initial statement of optimism is framed completely in epistemic terms.  No one lives completely in these terms or completely rationally.  Emotions are an enormously important part of our lives (not saying they’re completely irrational though) and often motivate us even when we do know better.  Sometimes sufficient knowledge isn’t enough to stop evil or harm, because knowledge can be completely impotent against emotions.

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I think they become evils when you use them to define yourself.

This is a great point, but maybe another threat to optimism.  As you point out: 

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Psychotherapy is the long, slow process of understanding why a psychological evil is effecting you… there's a world of difference between book knowledge and fully grokked understanding that changes your life.

There’s an issue with self knowledge.  One, it’s hard to get.  You may never get it.   Two,  It might be normal (whatever we want to say about the actions morally) to define yourself in terms of those natural emotions, to decide that these are the things you enjoy or are just necessary and are going to spend your time on (lust sounds like a pretty good one, and could even be good for everyone I involve in it). So, there’s this ongoing project of defining yourself in terms of interests and some of them might turn out to be damaging.  The problem is that perhaps the only way you can realize it has become an evil is by actually practicing it and carrying it out and doing it over a period of time.  It might be that for a lot of things we call evil we can only know they’re evil when we experience them firsthand, through ourselves or loved ones.  So that rather than this kind of knowledge leading to optimism, there’s a deep price for this knowledge in the need to repeat these mistakes, these evils over and over as individuals or even as societies.

I’m not sure if I got any of these points across well enough.  You'll let me know.   Sorry it took awhile.
« Last Edit: 06/05/11 @ 14:07 by LostInAShaftOfSunlight » Logged

Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
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« Reply #6 on: 06/05/11 @ 23:56 »

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I didn’t reckon I’d have to tangle with entropy or a morality that ranges from quarks to ecosystems!  Actually that’s pretty pleasing as I do marvel at the natural world, but am ignominiously ignorant of it.

Ha, ha, ecosystems are just entropy in action  Cheesy

The natural world is freakin' amazing.  The second law of thermodynamics (the one about entropy/disorder always increasing that gives people the impression that the universe wants to tear everything down) has a little known offshoot called the Law of Maximum Entropy Production http://www.lawofmaximumentropyproduction.com/ that practically guarantees the emergence of life in the universe.

But I take your point about tangling with such a far ranging way of viewing the world.  I find it very frustrating that a short version of the philosophy comes across as some kind of New Age wibble, while a proper tracing of entropy's effects from the structure of raw space to how to live with one another would take a whole book.  :/

Re: Relativism

Once upon a time, I said this:

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Personally, I have no problem with the idea of relativism in, say, morality.  A moral code for a 'normal' peacetime context can say, 'do not kill', while the code for a wartime context can say, 'kill the enemy.'  As far as I can tell, this is an appropriate in change in morality relative to the change in context from peacetime to wartime.

in the Science and Uncertainty thread.  Smiley

Slightly Off Topic:

I'm having a little contretemps with Alonzo Fife over at the Atheist Ethicist at the moment, http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2011/04/concerning-sam-harris-and-science-of.html because the basis of his morality definition is defined purely in terms of what other people want, and I think that what other people want has been shown by history to be very, very immoral at times.  Fife is down on Sam Harris because he's taken a pragmatic approach and said that morality should promote people's well-being.  Fife is claiming that we should want what other people want us to want sufficiently strongly enough that they'll hit us with sticks if we don't want it, and give us carrots if we do.  Then he assumes that people will want only good things like peace, love and honesty, but we all know that that ain't how people work!  His philosophy describes how morality already works; not how it should work.  If you're interested in moral codes then you should find his Utilitarian Desirism philosophy interesting.

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Now (and to the point!) what is the root cause of these differences between moral codes?  Can they be reduced by knowledge? If we have different ideas of what a suboptimal outcome is, is this a big threat to any optimism we might have? Is relativism a case for pessimism?

Ahem, yes... back to the point  Wink

I think that moral codes develop in response to local scope issues in the interaction of people.  The Israelites living in really harsh conditions, and being surrounded by other tribes who would kill, enslave, rape, and steal from them, developed a harsh philosophy, with a harsh God who sent them out to commit genocide on the neighboring tribes.  Later, under the heel of the Roman empire, their descendants developed a philosophy of turning the other cheek, meek inheriting the Earth (or at least continuing to evade extinction by practicing tolerance towards others (especially if they're Roman)), etc.

Morality is an incredibly flexible thing.  It changes to suit your circumstances, whether the changes are due to war, famine, migration, sudden wealth, or the discovery of new knowledge.  Those who practice a moral code that doesn't change according to circumstances are liable to be weeded out of the gene and meme pools.  In short, moral codes evolve or die.

Knowledge of, say, the birth control system in humans, has changed our morality enormously.  While the Catholic church preaches an anti-contraception morality, a whole lot of catholics are on the pill.  Knowledge of technology has also lead to the growth of the consumer 'morality' which cuts across a lot of traditional moral codes, and so weakens them.

When it comes to relativism, you can be a pessimist or an optimist according to whether you see the glass as half empty or half full.  A pessimistic view might say that you're on a slippery slope towards evil; an optimistic view (mine!) says that we know which direction good lies in... let go that way instead.  On the other hand, I've heard it said that inside every pessimist is a disappointed optimist.  Slogging uphill is way harder than drifting downwards.

Emotions are fascinating, as they so often cut across what is logically the right thing to do.  Returning to the PR agent analysis above, you might say they were press releases from those other non-verbal departments of Brain Corp.  Do you remember when Mel Gibson got arrested from screaming anti-semitic abuse at a Jewish policeman?  He had just fallen off the wagon after spending a day drinking with a Jewish couple who were great friends of his.  When he sobered up he was horrified at what he'd done.  Eagleman makes the case that an emotional, anti-semitic part of his brain had got control of Gibson's PR agent, thanks to the alcohol.  Emotions don't just take control of our thinking, they take control of our whole body.  When they do that, they're a powerful signal to other PR agents about what's going on in your head.  You see someone who's looking down, and you ask them what's wrong.  'Nothing,' they say, 'I'm just tired.'  But their body language is screaming that the words are a lie.  Later you find out that they've just split up with someone, or had some other bad thing happen to them.  Why did they lie?  Because their PR agent is used to spinning everything to put them in a good light, avoid rocking the boat, conceal their problems, and so on.  But their body doesn't know how to lie.  My motto: every time a person's words and actions don't match up, believe their actions, not their words.

I think knowledge relates to emotions in two ways.  Firstly, when you're on the receiving end of a 'sub-optimal outcome' it can be quite painful.  Pamela Stephenson is a sex therapist who writes an advice column in the Guardian newspaper.  Her last piece handled the case of a woman who only enjoyed sex when there was bondage and submission involved, but she couldn't tell her partner that.  Now I image that her partner is suffering because she shows no interest in sex with him.  Knowledge of the reason for her lack of interest would immediately release him from his suffering, and probably bring an end to hers as well.  I have personally suffered horrifically painful 'sub-optimal outcomes' at the hands of people who have used the 'L' word on me.  But I have also never failed to feel better upon learning the emotional reasons behind their actions.  I get this, 'ah ha,' feeling when the truth comes out, and all the pain starts to fade as I realize that things couldn't have been any different.  And that's also the point when I can forgive them.

The second way that emotions relate to knowledge is when you come to understand the real reasons behind your own emotions.  It took me forever to realize that if I eat lunch then I get ratty with people in the afternoon.  Eating lunch makes me want to sleep; not being allowed to sleep makes me ratty.  Simple.  Now I don't eat lunch, my afternoons are way more productive, and I don't get ratty.  Other emotional responses are driven my much deeper causes, and that's what psychotherapy is all about.  One short cut to deeper insight comes from the metaphor schema described by Lakoff and Johnson, in Philosophy in the Flesh - highly recommended.

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There’s an issue with self knowledge.  One, it’s hard to get.

Eagleman certainly backs that up.  In fact he thinks that there are huge chunks of self-knowledge that Brain Corp doesn't want its PR agent to know. Smiley

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Two,  It might be normal (whatever we want to say about the actions morally) to define yourself in terms of those natural emotions

Absolutely.  Lakoff and Johnson believe that large-scale metaphors lie at the heart of how you define yourself.  I have always had this love of travel and an insatiable curiosity about how things like the universe, computers and people work.  After reading L&J I summed my life metaphor as 'Life is a journey of exploration'.  (I blame it on my childhood exposure to Star Trek)  I get emotionally down when my journey of exploration is thwarted, and up when it's making progress.  A friend of mine who's much more people-oriented says her metaphor is 'Life is like gardening' and all the plants are relationships.  Another has the metaphor 'Life is service' and her passive approach to life really bugs me because it clashes with mine.

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So, there’s this ongoing project of defining yourself in terms of interests and some of them might turn out to be damaging.  The problem is that perhaps the only way you can realize it has become an evil is by actually practicing it and carrying it out and doing it over a period of time.  It might be that for a lot of things we call evil we can only know they’re evil when we experience them firsthand, through ourselves or loved ones.  So that rather than this kind of knowledge leading to optimism, there’s a deep price for this knowledge in the need to repeat these mistakes, these evils over and over.

True.  I know from experience (in hospital) that morphine is wonderful.  But I also know that it's addictive so I don't take drugs unless a doctor prescribes them.

Guns are an interesting case in point.  The UK has 65m people and about 450 gun deaths a year.  Guns are very hard to get in the UK.  The USA has 250m people, so it should have a pro rata gun death rate of about 1,800 a year.  Instead, the figure is around 32,000.  The NRA lobby like crazy to prevent the government taking away their guns, but the figures speak for themselves.  Now what I'd like to know is, how many NRA members change their tune when they experience a gun related evil in their personal lives?

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I’m not sure if I got any of these points across well enough.  You'll let me know.

Heh, ditto.  Once I start writing I enjoy it, so apologies if this is a bit long.
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LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« Reply #7 on: 14/05/11 @ 12:06 »

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Heh, ditto.  Once I start writing I enjoy it, so apologies if this is a bit long.

No prob... I would only object to a drab, uneventful prolixity which yours isn't.  Obviously I won't be able to follow up on all the threads immediately, some perhaps never, but it's fun in a weird sort of way and expanding for however brief or long to be exposed to the new or vaguely familiar (e.g. entropy) ideas. 

I'd like to focus in on this for now:

What is your case for optimism?

Deutsch submits: "all evils are caused by insufficient knowledge", and I think there are some solid examples supporting this, like with cholera , or other developments in medicine, psychology and technology.   Knowledge can certainly reduce some evils or suboptimal outcomes. 

The optimism bit is still hard though.  For one, I can imagine our knowledge always being insufficient in some regard, and the insufficiencies vastly outweighing the known.  I saw a bit of the documentary Collapse recently.  The interesting thing about it was that in this film the particular knowledge I gained was about peak oil, and how many of the gains in knowledge and technology over the past hundred years have really screwed us over, and we may not be able to overcome them. (I should add that I haven't finished the film or looked into it further)
Sometimes knowledge means knowing you've lost.  It isn’t even just about oil and energy usage though – it’s about us and who we are and how we’ve evolved over time, how we interact with the world and each other,  how there are so many “we”s (greedy executives, people who don’t think about the problem, people who lead demonstrations, people who are trying to increase industrialization in their countries, etc. etc. etc.), and how entrenched we are in this form of life and why any of this is the case and what of it can be changed.

Climate change might be another one, because there are so many problems and people are implicated in it.  We might really know what needs to be changed in terms of the resources we’re using and the ways we’re using them – but can we do it?

Are there some things that simply cannot be surmounted, because you will never know enough about them or be able to integrate that knowledge?  Whence optimism?

Two, sufficient knowledge can be a great source of evil itself.  Our knowledge of physics increases massively and then we use it to make more destructive bombs. 

You say “we know which direction good lies in”, but if “we” is exclusionist, “know” is uncertain or even unattainable in some way, and “good” is something changing and flexible… I’m imagining a cartoon where 5 people are each saying “we know which direction good lies in!”, all running off into different directions, some on a collision course with other people running off from other groups, and good nowhere to be found.

I guess I’m feeling pessimistic today?
« Last Edit: 16/05/11 @ 02:03 by LostInAShaftOfSunlight » Logged

Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
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« Reply #8 on: 16/05/11 @ 12:11 »

WARNING: MASSIVE POST AHEAD

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I guess I’m feeling pessimistic today?

I'll see what I can do about that, then  Smiley

We've got two theories of optimism here:

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What is your case for optimism?

Deutsch submits: "all evils are caused by insufficient knowledge"

First Deutsch's, then mine.

Deutsch's optimism springs from the experience that knowledge has always made things better, albeit in the long run.  Yes, knowledge gave us atomic weapons, but knowledge of what those weapons could do then stopped us from using them.  It's worth emphasizing that only two atomic bombs have ever been used in anger.  We saw what they did to people and haven't used them since.  Chemical warfare went through the same process in WWI.  Now we have treaties to ban the use of gas and biological weapons.  Meanwhile, the low-tech Kalashnikov has probably taken more lives that any of the 'weapons of mass destruction' technologies.  Rifles kill people one-at-a-time, so we put up with them.

It seems that every time technology advances, we have to learn to cope with it.  This Internet that we're using to communicate is no exception.  It gave us the dot.com boom, 24/7 porn, on-line shopping, and access to an incredible wealth of human knowledge.  Society is still trying to absorb its impact.  The bigger the leap in technology, the worse the unintended consequences, and the longer it takes us to identify and control its downside.

Deutsch's optimism comes for the fact that we have always mastered our evils through more knowledge, even if it was knowledge that introduced them in the first place.

My optimism is somewhat different, though not completely unrelated.

The universe, at the most mechanistic level, cares only about one thing: increasing entropy, which is the same as dissipating energy.

The universe increases entropy/dissipates energy by creating order where there was no order before.

Galaxies, stars, planets, and the life clinging to the skin of this planet, are all the ordered products of a physics that increases entropy by creating order.

The richer the life on Earth is, the more effectively it dissipates energy on the universe's behalf.

The more we humans flourish, i.e. co-operate to live effectively and sustainably in our environment, the more we dissipate energy on the universe's behalf.

We 'know' this in our DNA, and in the structure of our brains that it codes for.  It's why we feel happy when we are socially connected, and miserable when we are isolated. 

 - I feel it when I see a particularly majestic sunset
 - I feel it when I watch my kids sleeping
 - I feel it when the band comes together and the music seems to be playing me
 - I felt it when Einstein's curved model of spacetime suddenly 'clicked'
 - I feel it when a photograph/poem/song expresses something 'just right', though I can't explain how
 - I feel it when my friends and I laugh at an in-joke

It's the 90% of the brain that your Self doesn't have direct access to saying, 'Yes, this is going with the universe's purpose.'

We have a lot of words the different experiences above, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they're all different instances of one phenomena: love.

ARGH *cringe*  the 'L' word!  All those connotations of drippy adoration, the swooning, the romance... my daughter's going through it for the first time at the moment.  I'm happy for her, but I'm also thinking about the fall out when her 12-year old heart gets broken down the line.

I've been wrestling with the definition of the 'L' word over the last few years.  It seems to give people cause to inflict horrendous pain on each other in its name, so I've been soliciting definitions from people to find out what they think it's about. 

The non-definition: this type says it can't be defined.  Instead, they produce a list of examples, from chocolate to their pet to their mother and/or lover.

The anti-definition: this type say that they can't define it, but they can define what it isn't.  It isn't controlling, hurting, critical, cruel, and various other negative experiences they've suffered in its name.

The sacrificial definition: 'Love is wanting the best for someone else, even if it's at a cost to yourself.'  I see this as the self-abnegating Christian love that allows people to keep maintaining that they love someone as that loved one inflicts suffering on them.

None of these definitions say anything that spans all the uses of the word.  My definition is (I think) different.

Love is the experience of being part of something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

I think this definition covers all of the examples above, and all the others I've managed to come up with.  It's anti-definition works, too, i.e. it is anti-love (aka, evil) if the experience is one of being less than the sum of its parts. 

Note that the definition has two important consequences:

1. Love is something you do to yourself.  It's your experience, not theirs.
2. Love is a process, not a result.  You cannot own it or hold onto it; you can only enjoy it in the moment.

It explains why you can't 'make' someone love something.  You have no direct control over their internal experiences, over what makes them feel like they're part of a greater whole.

It explains why love sometimes ends: things change so that the experience of being is less than the sum of the parts.

And it explains why people do horrible things in the name of love.  They do them for a purely selfish reason: they are afraid of losing the experience of being part of something that is greater than the sum of it's parts.  A typical postmortem explanation that I've heard over and over again is, 'Of course I lied... I didn't want to lose you.'  If you don't trust someone with the truth - with knowledge about you - then what are you doing with them in the first place?

Love's experience- and process-oriented nature is rooted in our biology.  At this lowly level, it's all about oxytocin, vasopressin and endorphin levels, and their effects on the pleasure and reward circuits in our brains.  These are all signals released by the body in real-time to indicate that something is good for us.  Of course, that's not how our Selfs experience it.  Our Selfs experience eros, agape, obsession, delight and a host of other domain-specific labels drawn up to suit the many circumstances in which the experience can occur.

(Next day)

Hmm, looking back over that it occurs to me that I could substitute 'good' for the 'L' word, but I wandered into this area while attempting to understand 'love', so that's how my brain has always framed it.  The 'entropy' stuff evolved separately in a bottom-up way.  There's quite a jump in the middle there, from physics to love.  Let me know if it needs more fleshing out.

Anyway, to optimism (finally).  Smiley

They say that inside every pessimist is a disappointed optimist, and that's the direction I migrated in over the years.  I did the school thing and got good marks.  Then I did the university thing (three times) and got the degrees.  I did the career thing, the homeowner thing, the mate thing, the nest building and children thing, the fast car and fast bike thing.  I bought into the whole consumer society thing, ticking off all the milestones along the way.  Optimism drove me on to the next one, and disappointment followed like a shadow.  At each milestone I experienced a small buzz of achievement, but it always left an empty feeling behind.  As the years went by the pattern became undeniable, and hence the pessimism.

Philosophy looked like a way to get to grips with life, so I went into it with my customary excess of zeal.  As far as I could make out, though, it consisted of a lot of ideas based on groundless assumptions.  The idea seems to be either to set out some personal axioms and see what follows from them, or wander off into the land of introspection where everything is an illusion based on insufficient knowledge of how the mind works.

Optimism vs. pessimism?  Positive thinking vs. negative thinking?  In the end, they are both illusions based on our built-in confirmation bias and its subsequent frustration.  The answer for me is realism.  Working out what the world is actually doing, rather than trying to impose our illusions on it, is the way out of that bind, and knowledge is the vehicle.  My explorations have led me to the understanding that there is a 'purpose' in life, originating in the basic laws of physics and filtering up through everything to the level of consciousness.  And that purpose has a direction to it that defines good and bad, love and evil.  And these are experienced in the process of working towards goals, rather than in the achievement of them.  It's about the journey, not the destination.

Now that I have a grip on the process-orientation of life and the fact that reality is running the show, I find myself optimistic again.  I work towards processes that drive myself and others in the direction of good, and oppose the direction of the suboptimal outcome.  It's a lot easier to get somewhere if you know what direction to go in.  Wink  For instance, instead of bitching about the lack of initiative in this little country town w.r.t. having open mic nights for musicians to get together, I've set one up myself.  And when I play I'm not a result, i.e. 'delivering' my songs unto the people; I'm there to get people to play with other musicians, mixing up styles and numbers so that something new emerges and friendships are formed.  It's early days still, but the response has been overwhelming.  Everyone leaves at the end of the night full of enthusiasm and looking forward to the next time.  Deep inside, their brains know when they're flourishing as musicians - co-operating to live effectively and sustainably in their musical environment.

So that's my philosophy.

Any questions?   Smiley
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LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« Reply #9 on: 16/05/11 @ 15:17 »

Warning heeded!  I'll need some time on this one as I've used all my spare cognitive resources on something else.  However I'll post that one in the Religion forum, as I'd like to get some opinions on it and see if I've got it right or not.
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Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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but you are the music while the music lasts...


« Reply #10 on: 17/05/11 @ 13:56 »

Quote
My optimism is somewhat different, though not completely unrelated.

The universe, at the most mechanistic level, cares only about one thing: increasing entropy, which is the same as dissipating energy.

The universe increases entropy/dissipates energy by creating order where there was no order before.

Galaxies, stars, planets, and the life clinging to the skin of this planet, are all the ordered products of a physics that increases entropy by creating order.

The richer the life on Earth is, the more effectively it dissipates energy on the universe's behalf.

The more we humans flourish, i.e. co-operate to live effectively and sustainably in our environment, the more we dissipate energy on the universe's behalf.

Chunk one:

Alright, now I'm officially lost!

1.  What is entropy?  A dummies version would be nice.  I think you said elsewhere that this was the concept that most interested you.  I have only the dimmest notion of it (and didn't understand the maximum entropy page you linked to at all).  Part of my dim notion was the idea of energy dissipating, but also of disorder increasing, which seems to be wrong as you've pointed out a connection between increasing entropy by increasing order.

2.  "The universe at the most mechanistic level..." does this mean there are different levels and that it is only at the most mechanistic level (i.e. the bottom, perhaps the quantum world) that this obtains, or in all the levels?

3.  How are you using the word "care" in the opening shot?  You've mentioned this before, but why is entropy so important in the universe?

4.  Given the enormity of the universe, from top to bottom, how significant could our contribution be?

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Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
MoQingbird
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« Reply #11 on: 17/05/11 @ 15:02 »

Re: 1

I'll write a primer on Entropy and stick it in another thread.

Re: 2

Consider water.  At one level we can view it as lots of molecules blindly banging into their neighbors.  At another level, we see waves marching across the sea.  These are both views of the same thing, but one is at the level of our sensory experience, while we need special instruments to study it at the lower level.  Note that the lower levels appear mechanistic - the H2O molecules behave according to mechanical rules and have no 'intent', while at the higher level the waves seem 'intent' on going somewhere.

Re: 3

As mentioned above, at the lowest levels the Universe doesn't 'care'.  At the higher levels though, we tend to frame its behavior in human terms, and hence the 'care'.  I'm at odds internally about the use of intentional language like 'care'.  Non-intentional language would be more accurate, but difficult to read and off-putting to the average reader (a bit like reading raw Kierkegaard).

Re: 4

Our contribution is important because it's the only one that we can make Smiley
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MoQingbird
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« Reply #12 on: 25/05/11 @ 14:25 »

FYI, I have not forgotten about writing an Entropy Primer  Smiley

I sketched one out a week ago using cartoons.  Trying to get entropy across without pix, i.e. with only words,  makes it just too hard to grasp the ideas.  I'm rehearsing like mad for a gig on Saturday, but after that I hope to make a little film with the cartoons and post it on YouTube.
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LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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but you are the music while the music lasts...


« Reply #13 on: 26/05/11 @ 02:22 »

No prob... can wait.  Look forward to it.  It's not as though I'm endowing the Gareth Southwell chair in internet philosophizing or anything and we've all got life pulling us in at least a few different directions.  Good luck with your gig. 
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Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
Gareth Southwell
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« Reply #14 on: 06/06/11 @ 20:50 »

What's this? I have a chair now?! Well, anything would be better than my current chair, which is falling apart.
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