Defining growth, choice and joy

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sat Feb 21 2004 - 13:47:03 MST


A brief essay that integrates some of the various ideas I've been posting

(I can feel my recent bout of philosophy-disease about to pass though --
guess I'll be getting back to technical work! Of course there is some
cross-pollination though... I started thinking about free will and ethics
and such due to some issues that were coming up in my current revision of
some chapters of the Novamente book... a revision which is going quite
slowly due to my greater focus on the actual Novamente system development
and its applications...)

-- ben g


Growth, Choice and Joy

Toward a Precise Definition of a Universal Ethical Principle

Ben Goertzel

In my recent essay Encouraging a Positive Transcension (Goertzel, 2004a), I
proposed an ethical principle of “Voluntary Joyous Growth” – which holds
basically that a good ethical system is one that tries to balance the three
factors of choice, joy and growth. Defining these three concepts is not
easy – they’re all a bit slippery, and each one conceals a vast mass of
ambiguity, subtlety and human history. This brief note indicates my line of
thinking regarding the definition of these concepts in terms of (human and
AI) psychology.

I note that, in order to impart an ethic to another mind (AI, human,
whatever), explicit definitions are of limited use. Examples are more
important, and most important of all are the collective exploration of
scenarios – living and working through the ethic in “real life.” But
nevertheless, explicit definitions can be of some value in guiding these
more practical and essential aspects of ethics.

Growth is the simplest of the three basic principles. I conceive growth as
the creation of more and more pattern. If one defines a simplicity measure,
one can mathematically define the “intensity” of patterns (Goertzel, 1997),
thus quantifying what it means to have more and more pattern. Furthermore,
if one accepts the theory of consciousness I’ve presented in (Goertzel,
2004b), then more intense patterns correspond to more intense qualia, so
that more patterns means more experience. So growth means that the universe
becomes more aware.

Choice is a little more complicated: choice, as I analyze it in (Goertzel,
2004c), has to do with the maintenance within intelligent systems of a
“virtual multiverse model” of the universe, in which multiple potential
future universes are studied, and this study is used to guide system
dynamics. Valuing choice means valuing systems that guide their actions
using internal virtual multiverse models. In essence, then, choice means
valuing the explicit embodiment of the multiverse within the universe.
Valuing choice means valuing virtual multiverse creation.

In brief: More pattern is good, more experience is good, and multiplicity of
possibility is good.

Choice helps with growth, because systems that embody virtual multiverses
tend to be good at generating new patterns and experiences. Growth helps
with choice, because it takes fairly complex patterned systems to spawn
internal virtual multiverses.

Joy – as I analyze it in my essay on emotions (Goertzel, 2004d) – is what
happens when a system finds itself overwhelmed with system-wide response
patterns that occur in reaction to the successful achievement of its goals.
More specifically, what I refer to there as “spiritual joy” is what happens
when a system is overwhelmed with a complex dynamical pattern that embodies
harmony between the inside of the system and the world in which the system
is embedded.

Valuing joy means valuing systems setting goals and achieving them. Valuing
spiritual joy means valuing the quest for harmony between self and universe.

Achieving goals is good; harmony with the universe is good.

Successful goal-achievement, in combination with the values of choice and
growth, means that the values of choice and growth are propagated through
the various systems of the universe via their goal-systems.

Spiritual joy is a reflection of the basic dynamic by which the universe
seeks to overcome the paradox of one-versus-many (for a poetic exploration
of this theme, see Goertzel, 1998). All is one, yet each thing is separate
and distinct – this paradox lies at the heart of being, and one view of our
ultimate purpose is to overcome this distinction and completely manifest
both our unique separateness and our oneness at all times. Seeking harmony
between the interior and exterior worlds is the way to fufill this purpose.

One point to note is that, in my perspective, all of these three values are
defined in terms of the concept of “pattern” – but “pattern” is not an
objective concept. The mathematical theory of pattern defines pattern in
terms of a more elemental concept of “simplicity.” Thus, judgments of the
amount of choice, growth or joy in the world are ultimately dependent on the
simplicity measure implicit in the judging mind. This leads to an important
point regarding the creation of nonhuman AI’s valuing growth, choice and
joy. If these AI’s measure simplicity very differently from humans, they
will perceive different things as growing, joyful and free. Of course, it’s
not viable to restrict a superhuman AI to have the same simplicity measure
as humans – but at very least, one can ensure that one’s AI has a simplicity
measure that’s inclusive of human assessments of simplicity, in the sense
that whatever humans perceive as simple, so does it. This means that the AI
will see choice, joy and growth where humans do – but may also see it in
other places.

Finally, a cautionary note is in order: Of course, I don’t claim to have
fully explicated any of my three basic values – joy, growth or choice – but
I hope to have elucidated a little bit of what lies inside them. There is
much more to discover.


· Goertzel, Ben (1997). From Complexity to Creativity. Plenum
· Goertzel, Ben (1998). The Journey of the Void

The following references are to essays posted on the Dynamical Psychology
e-journal, at

· Goertzel, Ben (2004a). Encouraging a Positive Transcension
· Goertzel, Ben (2004b). Patterns of Awareness
· Goertzel, Ben (2004c). A Virtual Multiverse Theory of Free Will
· Goertzel, Ben (2004d). A General Theory of Emotion in Humans and Other

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:46 MDT