Re: [Bulk] Re: [Bulk] Re: Objective morality?

From: Charles D Hixson (
Date: Sun Aug 27 2006 - 13:19:50 MDT

micah glasser wrote:
> ...without saying that much of what passes as moral in Islam would be
> unthinkable in a secular state (such as the treatment of woman).
> This is why I see morality as primarily a very plastic memetic
> epiphenomenon emerging from the interaction of our inherited
> neurological architecture with various environments. Also, for all of
> these reasons, i believe that human morality has the potential to
> change rapidly as society rapidly evolves - but perhaps this is too
> optimistic.
> ...
> --
> I swear upon the alter of God, eternal hostility to every form of
> tyranny over the mind of man. - Thomas Jefferson
The problem is not that morality doesn't evolve rapidly, but that rapid
has a different meaning when applied to technological flowering and to
cultural habits. Morality does evolve quite rapidly, in any ranking of
social habits and customs. It can turn on it's head in 40 years. But
the last forty years took us from mainframes to the World Wide Web and
from 300 baud modems to broad-band connections that are artificially
limited to the slow speed of 240 Kilobaud (peak). It also took us from
a world where homosexuality wasn't talked about...but usually wasn't
considered important (unless you were a politician or a minister) to a
world dominated by AIDS. From a world where all diseases were about to
be wiped out, to a world where new exotic and virulent diseases were
being imported from distant corners of the globe (or at least where this
threatened). It took us from a world where genes as the basic unit of
evolution was a heretical new theory to a world where epigenetics has to
fight against for acceptance...because the "Selfish Gene" has such a
powerful hold on people's minds.

But note that evolution is still not accepted by most people. Nearly
150 years and people still don't accept it. And most of the ones that
do accept it don't understand what they're accepting, but they've
decided to accept the term, without understanding the referent...or
misunderstanding it.

Morality is a social way of aiding individuals to come to socially
responsible choices without understanding what's behind them. It's
originally taught through traditional means. (Usually by the parents.)
It depends on "hooking into" certain mental "vulnerabilities" that we
have built into us. (E.g., "parents are more trustworthy than
strangers" is probably built-in.) These vulnerabilities allow us to be
taught to behave in "customary ways" without understanding why. An
adult is someone who makes "small corrections" in the model before
passing it on to the next generation. But notice that this system has
hysteresis built into it. Parents teach their children not what they
have learned works, but a mix of what they have learned works, and what
THEY were taught. I doubt that the system can adapt to changes on a
shorter time-scale than 20 years...unless the changes themselves are
either episodic or periodic. Neither of those describes a technological

Note that I'm avoiding the term "Singularity". One doesn't need a rate
of change even approaching that to cause a thorough breakdown of
"traditional morality". What changes would "positronic robots with the
3 laws" cause? All traditional labor would immediately become obsolete,
but then how do people "earn a living"? (Warning: We are a good
portion of the way there, people have seen it coming for 50 years or
more, and we don't have the glimmer of an answer.) What changes would
"free energy" cause? (Robot factories building solar cells +
supercapacitors yield a system that approaches that. Free...but not
unlimited in quantity.) This kind of change comes faster and faster
even WITHOUT a Singularity. And traditional morality can't cope with
it. This month someone announced "mitochondrial repair" on a mouse.
It extended the mouse's life to the equivalent of 125 years for a human
without noticeable adverse effects. But it was done when the mouse was
quite young. They proposed a technique that *MIGHT* work on elderly
adults. It was done with a simple injection (of a complex substance).
What happens to morality if people stop aging? (Actually, most of this
change has already happened, as parents no longer typically die just as
their children are 20-30. So the kids already are adapting to living as
adults while their parents are still alive and healthy.)

Morality adapts rapidly. But it also has numerous breakdown modes.
They don't all result in savagery. Think of the "Fairy Tales" as
preparation for drastic changes. Notice how common fantasy has become.
Also notice that fantasy normally operates in certain conventional
modes. Those rigidities are warning posts for changes that are likely
to yield savage breakdowns. They reveal directions that people don't
like to think.

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