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Beyond the Reach of God
October 9, 2008 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Beyond the Reach of God. Thought experiments involving the God-universe and the Nature-universe, the Turing-complete Game of Life, and a lot of insightful back-and-forth in the comment section, to boot. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking essays I've read on the Internet in a very long time, by Eliezer Yudkowsky on his blog, Overcoming Bias (via).
posted by WCityMike (64 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
What can a twelfth-century peasant do to save themselves from annihilation? Nothing.
This is my new favorite riddle.
posted by odinsdream at 12:48 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


Hardcore quote:

I should note that I actually intend to fix the universe ... I'm not just complaining here
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:57 PM on October 9, 2008


In short: there is no god, might makes right, and all things die. This certainly seems to be an accurate description of the universe to me.

But then, after writing an entire essay about the futility of immortality and the inevitability of death, he goes on to imply that we should invest in cryonics and invent a supercomputer that'll "pad the universe"! Color me boggled: we live in an entirely indifferent world, yet paying the equivalent of a third of a lifetime's rent on a freezer is going to defeat entropy? And human effort is going to still not just the Khan's sword, but the sword of Death itself? Not likely, to say the least. I loved the essay, but it seems to me that this guy is on the right track, with a little bit further to go...
posted by vorfeed at 1:01 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is going to make most people very unhappy. And therefor encourage people to turn to their biases even more.

As witnessed by this utterly predictable comment, one of the first:

Summary: "Bad things happen, which proves God doesn't exist." Same old argument that atheists have thrown around for hundreds, probably thousands, of years. The standard rebuttal is that evil is Man's own fault, for abusing free will. You don't have to agree, but at least quit pretending that you've *proven* anything.

Over the dude's head entirely.
posted by tkchrist at 1:09 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


This may just be a reflection of my personal belief system - but that entire article seemed like a needless restating of things which are self-evident.

At any rate,
And human effort is going to still not just the Khan's sword, but the sword of Death itself? Not likely, to say the least.

There is nothing within our universe to indicate that this occurring is any more or less likely than landing on the moon back when simple computers were still the size of a refrigerator. Just because Transhumanists are rosey-eyed and dogmatic does not mean they are fundamentally wrong when they assert that there are people alive today who will never die. The corollary, of course, is that it doesn't mean they are right, either.

Before someone brings up the second law of thermodynamics as proof that there is no means of forever avoiding cessation: over a long enough timeline any intelligence will develop means by which to resist entropy, and eventually to circumvent it entirely.
posted by Ryvar at 1:11 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The author sounds like he's struggling with some guilt about abandoning his jewish faith and in general with his atheism, but at the same time he maintains a paralyzing fear of death:

Could it really be that sentient beings have died absolutely for thousands or millions of years, with no soul and no afterlife - and not as part of any grand plan of Nature - not to teach any great lesson about the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life - not even to teach any profound lesson about what is impossible - so that a trick as simple and stupid-sounding as vitrifying people in liquid nitrogen can save them from total annihilation - and a 10-second rejection of the silly idea can destroy someone's soul?

Yes, they have died absolutely. There is no "soul" because that would render death meaningless. A function of religion is to assuage the fears of death, but having abandoned that (and being unwilling to accept the physical reality of death and the consequences that imposes on us in life) the author flounders for some foothold.

It's hard to argue against this essay because it's nearly impossible to understand what his point is, but there is something grossly undisciplined about his arguments that make me question if he even knows what his point is.

Given such-and-such initial conditions, and given such-and-such cellular automaton rules, what would be the mathematical result?

Not even God can modify the answer to this question, unless you believe that God can implement logical impossibilities. Even as a very young child, I don't remember believing that. (And why would you need to believe it, if God can modify anything that actually exists?)


First, that is hardly a profound question. The mathematical result would be that predicted by mathematics. ??? And where does "unless you believe that God can implement logical impossibilities" come from? That God not only can implement logical impossibilities but is Himself a logical impossibility is the basis of the belief in God. God is all knowing, right? He knows a thing and he knows that what can render that thing impossible. God knows the thoughts of the annihilated 12th century peasant. That is the definition of God.

The author is talking here as if God is constrained by the rules. No, the point of a belief in God is that he isn't bound by the rules. God is an appeal to the miraculous, to that which defies the laws of the universe. God isn't a computer program.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:28 PM on October 9, 2008 [7 favorites]


over a long enough timeline any intelligence will develop means by which to resist entropy, and eventually to circumvent it entirely

That's a bold statement.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:28 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I thought the "Game of life" thought experiment was very clever. It shows that the problem of evil can't be resolved without throwing away most of determinism, probably including the inescapable-ness of logical truths.

I can't read most of EY's essays, but this worked very well for me.
posted by grobstein at 1:31 PM on October 9, 2008


That's a bold statement.

Indeed, it sounds suspiciously like a statement of faith.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:35 PM on October 9, 2008


Just because Transhumanists are rosey-eyed and dogmatic does not mean they are fundamentally wrong when they assert that there are people alive today who will never die.

They aren't fundamentally wrong because they are rosy eyed or transhumanists, they are fundamentally wrong because death is a certainty. If the author wants to play sophomoric arguments, no, I can't prove today that everyone alive today will die eventually, but the inability to offer a formalistic proof of that given their argument absolutely no weight.

Can I prove the sun will absolutely rise tomorrow? No, because there may be intervening events that would prevent that outcome and those events have a non-zero probability of occurring. Will the sun rise tomorrow? Yes.

See what I did there? On the other hand, can they prove to me that there is at least one person alive today who will live to be 300 years old? No. Nor can they point to a historical trend in data which might lead a reasonable person to conclude that there is a significant likelihood of someone alive today living to 300.

but that isn't the point at all. They point is this: Why is the author afraid of dying? In other words, what is it about his life that makes him fear death? That's a much more interesting question.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:39 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


shout be "but the inability to offer a formalistic proof of that gives their argument absolutely no weight."
posted by Pastabagel at 1:40 PM on October 9, 2008


I think I've found the problem. from a Wired 2001 article:

"I've devoted my life to this," says Yudkowsky, a self-proclaimed "genius" who lives in Atlanta and opted out of attending high school and college.

It's not for lack of smarts. He's a skilled, if verbose, writer and an avid science-fiction reader who reports he scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs.

Yudkowsky's reason for shunning formal education is that he believes the danger of unfriendly AI to be so near -- as early as tomorrow -- that there was no time for a traditional adolescence. "If you take the Singularity seriously, you tend to live out your life on a shorter time scale," he said.


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that if you want to tackle the deep, fundamental issues of philosophy and theology, which have a 2000+ year history of complex, subtle, and sophisticated arguments from all sides and angles from some of the greatest minds in Western civilization, maybe you might want to, oh I don't know, graduate from high school.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:49 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh, and one more thing. If he opted out of high school, when did he score this perfect 1600 on his SATs? In 8th grade? Or am I to believe that he skipped high school and had no intention of going to college, but simply decided to pay for and take a 3 hour long college entrance exam just for kicks?

Not only does this explain why I don't take Yudkowsky seriously, it also explains why I don't take Wired seriously.

I'll be quiet now.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:54 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


what is it about his life that makes him fear death?

Is that the right question?

You can easily answer: What is it about death that makes us fear death?

First and foremost it's Biology. We fear death becuase we are programmed to fear it. We feel pain. We have a fight or flight reflex. We are geared inherently to have a mostly negative physical response to the close proximity to actual real danger. Over time this biological response informs and conditions our psyche. (Adrenaline junkies excepted which - is really either simulated danger or prolonged exposure with psychological conditioning and training like in the case of soldiers).

We can train ourselves to not fear death in the abstract with our intellectual rationalizations, religious convictions, or with conditioning. But our bodies STILL want to be afraid of death nonetheless.

I don't think it's that big a deal this guy has a hang up about death. We all do if we are honest about it.
posted by tkchrist at 1:57 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


C'mon dude, almost everything the guy has written is available online. Therefore, you don't have to point to his lack of credentials to discredit him.

Honestly, I don't think most people find their high school education really helps them with the Big Questions. It helps them achieve a basic socialization, and limited knowledge of history and math. Arguably those are tools you need to read about the Big Questions, but they're rudimentary and it's obvious EY has picked them up by himself (although in interviews you can still see some odd social tics).
posted by grobstein at 1:59 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't wait 'till he fixes the universe.

I report that I scored a perfect 1600 on my SATs too, and I am an avid science fiction reader too!

Nut. Fucking. Job.
posted by sfts2 at 2:05 PM on October 9, 2008


Pastabagel: "Oh, and one more thing. If he opted out of high school, when did he score this perfect 1600 on his SATs? In 8th grade?"

From what I remember from my own experience long ago, people are legally required to attend high school through their sophomore year, at least in the state I went to high school in; after that, they have the option of dropping out. I presume when he speaks of "opting out" of high school, he is referring to opting out once it was a legal action.
posted by WCityMike at 2:08 PM on October 9, 2008


Also, I don't necessarily agree with the author's conclusion. But I thought it was a fascinating bit of reading, and I thought the comments were extraordinarily intelligent and that an interesting discussion was taking place there. Thus the FPP.
posted by WCityMike at 2:09 PM on October 9, 2008


"Nut. Fucking. Job."

Woah.
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 2:15 PM on October 9, 2008


what is it about his life that makes him fear death?

I could just as easily ask what it is about your life that makes you afraid of wanting more of it.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:15 PM on October 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


The author is talking here as if God is constrained by the rules. No, the point of a belief in God is that he isn't bound by the rules.

Can god make True=False? Serious discussion here, not snarking.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that if you want to tackle the deep, fundamental issues of philosophy and theology, which have a 2000+ year history of complex, subtle, and sophisticated arguments from all sides and angles from some of the greatest minds in Western civilization, maybe you might want to, oh I don't know, graduate from high school.


Weak.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:20 PM on October 9, 2008


"I can't wait 'till he fixes the universe."

Yeah, fuck him for trying. Even if it doesn't amount to anything, he could be doing worse things with his life. You have to agree with that?
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 2:21 PM on October 9, 2008


Just because Transhumanists are rosey-eyed and dogmatic does not mean they are fundamentally wrong when they assert that there are people alive today who will never die.
[...]
Before someone brings up the second law of thermodynamics as proof that there is no means of forever avoiding cessation: over a long enough timeline any intelligence will develop means by which to resist entropy, and eventually to circumvent it entirely.


First of all, define "a long enough timeline". Second, assuming that your answer isn't counted in the hundreds or low-thousands of years, please reconcile this with your statement that "they are not fundamentally wrong when they assert that there are people alive today who will never die".

The idea that we're living in the early part of Asimov's The Last Question is cute, but you might want to read the story again: all of the people in the early part died.

Also, given that we live in an indifferent and unfair world, I'd say that it's vastly unlikely for any intelligence or even society to survive long enough to "develop means by which to resist entropy, and eventually to circumvent it entirely", even if that were possible. If we do live in a world in which all possible outcomes are equally likely, as this essay suggests, then I'm afraid that probability strongly suggests that human civilization will end in one of the infinite number of possibilities other than the defeat of entropy. In fact, even if there are a hundred thousand different ways we could defeat entropy, or a billion, or a hundred billion, that's still absolutely insignificant next to the chances of everything else. The defeat of entropy is certainly possible, given a universe as described in the article, but the probability (the number of ways the entropy escape can occur divided by the total number of possible outcomes) that it will actually occur is zero. The limit of x -> infinity of 1/x is 0; throwing larger numbers in for 1 doesn't change the eventual outcome.

In short: straight up on number 1 might be a big winner, but red or black is a much surer thing, and the roulette wheel doesn't care whether we win or not. That being so, the outcome is pretty obvious... especially when the Big Wheel has an infinite number of pockets, not just 38.
posted by vorfeed at 2:27 PM on October 9, 2008


“The obvious example of a horror so great that God cannot tolerate it, is death - true death, mind-annihilation.”

Why is so much of this stuff divorced from reasoning with time? True death would be eradication from existance. This doesn’t, and has never (in any practicable way) happened. Something that existed in the past - has existed. Now it’s gone. Before it was there, there wasn’t any lack of it, it merely wasn’t there.

There is no death, only change.

“Technology has done so much good up until now, that there can't possibly be a Black Swan technology that breaks the trend and does more harm than all the good up until this point.”

Neil Postman has some very specific points on that topic. But generally speaking - nothing comes without cost. Everything is a trade off. And everything brings change.


“equivalent of Genghis Khan can murder a million people, and laugh, and be rich, and never be punished, and live his life much happier than the average.”

Empathy is a hellava drug. Genghis Khan is not “me” - except he’s Genghis Khan.
He may have been rich, but he was never happy. He had one of the harshest lives on earth. On top of which, he had a miserable childhood with an abusive family. He was influential, not happy.
(And since when is murdering millions of people a hallmark of any kind of self-esteem?)

“Belief in a fair universe often manifests in more subtle ways than thinking that horrors should be outright prohibited: Would the twentieth century have gone differently, if Klara Pölzl and Alois Hitler had made love one hour earlier, and a different sperm fertilized the egg, on the night that Adolf Hitler was conceived?”

Not one bit. Alois and Klara would still be the people they were. Alois would still have gotten drunk, screamed about Jews, and beaten the hell out of Adolf every night. And they still would have created the monster that Adolf became.

“it seems that events were mostly driven by Hitler's personality”

Exactly. Which would not have been mitigated in the slightest by the timing of Alois Hitlers’ orgasm.

“But why not? What prohibits it?”

Nothing is true, everything is permitted .

“So it helps to imagine that there is a God, benevolent as you understand goodness”

God is perfectly fair. All things change. Everything else is ego resisting it.

“Life is allowed to be a little dark, after all; but not darker than a certain point, unless there's a silver lining.”

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter - to quote Yoda.
It doesn’t matter than Einstein is dead, never to return. His ideas exist. And even if they didn’t - they were mere representations of existance which is, for all intents, eternal (there could not be said to be “time” before the universe - after it is, whether there is an end, is still up in the air, but either way - same deal).

I am the sum of tens of thousands of years of human thought, millions upon millions of years of evolution and billions and billions of years of physical interactions from the microdot from which all matter came to the endless iteration of physical law that came to create me. Billions of my progenitors have died making countless correct decisions after learning by far more numerous mistakes and have passed that knowlege and those forms on to me.

Who am I to argue that I should be allowed to continue to exist or dictate the manner of my existance in violation of all of that has led to my being in the first place?

I’m here now. It’s enough. Indeed, it’s all there is.

And whether there is a God or not does not matter to that. Nor does the inevitable change that is my death.
Hell, we’ve all changed in the time this has been written/read. We’re not the same persons we were a few minutes ago.

To argue against change is to argue against free will. Death is the cost? So be it. We need to move aside for other iterations of the pattern anyway. Last damn thing you want is the world being exactly the same all the time with your *self* frozen into immortality.
(In fact I believe Dante described Satan as being in exactly such a plight)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:40 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


over a long enough timeline any intelligence will develop means by which to resist entropy, and eventually to circumvent it entirely.

It's not necessary to circumvent it to achieve immortality. There's at least two conceivable ways (as well as combining the two) in which life might be immortal without breaking the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

First, the maximum possible entropy of a system is dependent on its volume. If the universe had a fixed volume, it would have some finite maximum entropy, and once that maximum was reached, nothing interesting, including metabolic processes, could happen. But all available evidence indicates that the volume of the universe isn't fixed. It's expanding. As it expands, its maximum possible entropy increases, ad infinitum.

Second, even if the universe did have a fixed volume and thus a finite maximum entropy, the Second Law does not necessarily require that that maximum ever be reached. It could be that the maximum value was approached asymptotically. In this case, life might continue, although metabolic processes would need to become slower and slower with time.

I'm not saying it's likely that humanity, or its successors, would ever achieve such a thing. I'm just pointing out that immortality is not inconsistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:45 PM on October 9, 2008


Dude. Did you just quote Yoda?
posted by tkchrist at 2:48 PM on October 9, 2008


Alois and Klara would still be the people they were. Alois would still have gotten drunk, screamed about Jews, and beaten the hell out of Adolf every night. And they still would have created the monster that Adolf became.

You're missing the forest for the trees here. Even if one's personality is determined entirely by environment and not at all by genetics, that doesn't refute the author's argument. Just replace "if Klara Pölzl and Alois Hitler had made love one hour earlier" with "if Klara and Alois had been hit and killed by a car and the infant Adolf was sent to live with kindly foster parents." Or for that matter, "if Alois had been hit and killed by a car before having sex with Klara and Adolf never existed at all."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:56 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure we are supposed to shield ourselves from a fear of death with an armor of lies. IT'S IN THE BIBLE!
posted by I Foody at 3:09 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


...over a long enough timeline any intelligence will develop means...

The sign said "Checks Cashed, Any Kind." So I went in with the personal check that I had been mailed. But they wouldn't cash it.

The man said, "The sign says any kind, not every kind."
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:14 PM on October 9, 2008


I prefer (most of) the essays I read to not sound like the writer's just coming down from a hellish trip on a particularly bad batch of acid. Honestly, I can almost picture him there, shivering in the corner, repeating "Game of Life... Hitler... Khan... Godless universe... Death... Annihiliation... Ultimate horror..." over and over again for a full six hours while everyone else is wanting to go wander around and look at trees and stuff.

Yes, of course the universe is unfair and heartless. The bit I don't understand is being surprised by this.
posted by xchmp at 3:19 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just to throw some fuel on the fire here, Overcoming Bias is not Yudkowsky's blog, it's Robin Hanson's.

I see nothing in either science or rationality that implies that death is anything but an outcome of evolutionary math and therefore conceptually vulnerable. I sure as heck don't want to die, there's so much left to be done.
posted by Skorgu at 3:22 PM on October 9, 2008


The author seems to take it as axiomatic that any universe in which a Turing machine can exist is capable of supporting consciousness. (Or perhaps he addresses that in another post; I've only read the one post here.) I'm not sure I agree. A Turing machine is deterministic. Conway's game of life is deterministic. Our universe, demonstrably, is not.

Perhaps consciousness is only possible in non-deterministic systems? Granted, I can't think of a particular argument right now why that would be the case, but I also can't see any good argument that it wouldn't. (Note: I'm not suggesting that a deterministic system couldn't produce something that appears to an external observer to be conscious, but rather that that thing might be a philosophical zombie.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:23 PM on October 9, 2008


“Or for that matter, "if Alois had been hit and killed by a car before having sex with Klara and Adolf never existed at all."”

Yeah, fair point.
But I did think that was addressed by my argument implicit in the Genghis Khan thing and the (yeah that was Yoda) luminous beings and ideas stuff.
Essentially - the roots for the war were laid down and it was inevitable.

And Hitler didn’t create Jew hating. There was a long long history of it not only in Germany but throughout the world back since before the Romans.
So he exploited it. So, just a matter of time before “good old fashioned Jew hating” became actual policy.

Would it have gone down exactly the same way? Of course not. But Hitler didn’t create human suffering or genocide.

But such is free will and how much of humanity is about ideas - which are - while mutable - representational of objective reality and as such useful - and futher - as functionally eternal as the universe itself. Ergo we are practically eternal (insofar as our thinking represents, or tries to, objective reality - which is why ‘evil’ always ultimately loses - that which is contrary to continued existance, generally, dies off, albiet it mutates along with everything else).

And furthermore - the past is immutable (as far as we know according to relativity). That too is a form of immortality. Hitler will have always been. It’s meaningless (although I’ll cede useful) to argue what if Hitler never existed. He did exist.

Even if we have a 1984 type dystopia - he will have always existed, excepting that people would have forgotten.
Nice thing about that is it doesn’t much matter whether you pay attention to reality or not, it’s effects are going to be felt either way. Maybe we lose the representational name “Hitler” etc. But the events still occured. Just as whatever killed the dinosaurs still occured.

“Can god make True=False? Serious discussion here, not snarking.”

Yes. In fact, even humans can do nifty tricks with language, logic, and math .
(sure it’s elementary planar geometry, but y’know it’s ‘tricky’)

Really it’s all in one’s conception of God. I don’t think any God short of omni-everything is in any way possible (given my own conception - I’ll cede perhaps some beings can be God-like).

That is - if there is a state of being that is not only omnipotent but omniscient - and compassionate - it must be omnipresent. That is, you stub your toe, God stubs it right along with you.
(Otherwise God really isn’t infinitely compassionate or capable of judgind my actions.)
Sort of like a hologram. Each bit contains the whole.

Of course, put on that scale the term “God” is as meaningless (in terms of deriving what God thinks or says or what we should do in the light of God or rules, etc) as the “universe” or “eternity” or any of the other big or infinite concepts.

We create preconceptions and then derive meaning from it while forgetting we ourselves laid the ground for the initial conception - so yea you get “any kind, not every kind” of check cashed or “coffee - all you can drink for 25 cents” and one cup is all you can drink for 25 cents - and the bickering over that - while forgeting it’s derived from an arbitrary point in the first place.

So the personification and human morality and authority are the things that get in the way.
Because really - who would presume to speak for the entire universe? And yet all kind of people presume to speak for “God.”
If each bit contains the whole - we can allow you can see the whole (like anyone else) but you can only speak for the bit.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:25 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Scott Aaronson has suggested that the blog would be more accurately named "Wallowing in Bias."

I remember reading Yudkowsky's web pages years ago. It's interesting to see that his current website says Most of my old writing is horrifically obsolete. Essentially you should assume that anything from 2001 or earlier was written by a different person who also happens to be named "Eliezer Yudkowsky". 2002-2003 is an iffy call. His current writings don't seem all that different to me, which makes me wonder if he'll be disowning them in a few years' time.
posted by frankchess at 3:40 PM on October 9, 2008


The author bases his entire essay on a few entirely unoriginal theses that have been pounded into the ground countless times and then throws in a few odd personal biases and complains about the unfairness of life for a few thousand words. Nothing to see here.
posted by Autarky at 3:46 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sorry, unoriginal premises
posted by Autarky at 3:46 PM on October 9, 2008


First, that is hardly a profound question. The mathematical result would be that predicted by mathematics. ??? And where does "unless you believe that God can implement logical impossibilities" come from? That God not only can implement logical impossibilities but is Himself a logical impossibility is the basis of the belief in God. God is all knowing, right? He knows a thing and he knows that what can render that thing impossible. God knows the thoughts of the annihilated 12th century peasant. That is the definition of God.

The author is talking here as if God is constrained by the rules. No, the point of a belief in God is that he isn't bound by the rules. God is an appeal to the miraculous, to that which defies the laws of the universe. God isn't a computer program.


Ok, I'll bite.

The profundity comes not from the fact that 2+2=4, but that God can't change the answer from 4 to 5 given the framing of the question. By asking a hypothetical with the "given" built in, you take God out of the equation, and he can't intervene. Yudkowsky isn't saying "God is a computer program." He's not asking God to flex his impossibility powers. He's saying if you show God a computer program, and you don't let him fiddle with the coding, he's powerless to change the result. If you ask the question so that the rules can't be changed, you put it out of the reach of God; his omnipotence is left on the sidelines.

If you ask God, "Can 2+2 ever equal 5?" he, being God, could answer "Yes, I can do the impossible, I'll change the rules of math and make it so." But Yudkowsky is not asking that. He's asking "God, assuming that '2' means 2, '+' means +, '=' means =, '4' means 4, and '5' means 5, what is the answer for '2''+''2''='?" And Yudkowsky argues that God has to answer '4' given the constraints, "unless God can implement logical impossibilities." The Game of Life Yudkowsky refers to is, or whatever simulator you want to work with, is ultimately just a really complicated version of "2+2=". And so in that simulator, governed by that really complicated version of "2+2=" and filled with sentient beings, evil and torture of those sentient beings might end up being the really complicated version of "4." And God would be unable to stop it.

I'm not saying I agree with Yudkowsky, but I don't think you've parsed his argument correctly.
posted by shen1138 at 3:48 PM on October 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


On review, I should retract the "And God would be unable to stop it." I think the more accurate formulation is "And God would have to answer that, yes, evil and torture of those sentient beings is the inevitable result of the simulator's rules." And then, being God, he could reach into the simulator and stop the torture.
posted by shen1138 at 3:54 PM on October 9, 2008


I've had this same argument multiple times with different kinds of theists over the years, and it's never yet changed their opinions (although it may have influenced readers of the arguments, to one side or the other). It's not so much "the problem of evil", although that's a subset of it; it's "the problem of divine apathy". No matter what bar of evil or heresy or blasphemy or abomination you choose to raise for your God to take action against, he continues to slide, snoozing, under it. God does nothing. All of his powers are in potentia. Therefore it does not matter whether or not God exists, for in practice, things are as though he does not.

These arguments are just ontology. Existence is interaction. That which does not interact, does not exist. It may interact later, at which point it can be said to exist, perhaps to have always existed, but unless and until interaction of some kind occurs, the question remains open. We can certainly argue that the "concept of God" exists, interacts, and greatly influences humanity. A God with independent reality is a different thing from this.

To my way of thinking "does God exist?" is an empty question, well-settled, and continuing to argue it is pointless except for the exercise (if needed) and enjoyment (if any). On the other hand, discussing "given that God cannot be expected to interact with us, what should we do?", and coming to conclusions individually and collectively, is essential and universal. Consider as simple a question as "what kind of pizza should we order?". There are useful answers to this: "I'll decide, like it or not" "Everyone gets a half pizza of their choice" "Let's get one each of the first five". "Let's pray for the answer" is not useful. But this is equally the case for the question "what should we do about starvation and war in Africa?"
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:08 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


One of the most interesting and thought-provoking essays I've read on the Internet in a very long time

Seriously?

I've read some of this guy's writing before (I'm pretty sure he's been linked here previously) and arrived at the same conclusion then as I have now. What a load of wank. I did not spot a single original premise, argument or conclusion. The sophomoric musings are not redeemed by the stultifyingly tedious style. I'm at a complete loss as to what there is to recommend his writnig to anyone who's not stoned, 14 or a hippy.
posted by Jakey at 4:29 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting article, and fun discussion :)

However it strikes me that this person is inescapably entrapped in the little world of Judeo-Christian theism. Even his attempts to rationalize atheism are advanced in opposition to a benevolent Jehovah. Yudkowsky seems to miss the point that the "God" hypothesis really is un-falsifiable. Sure, you can try to disprove the existence of an arbitrarily-constrained God (for instance we can be fairly sure that God does not exist if we insist that The God must rain yellow lollipops down on Thursdays). But demonstrating the nonexistence of God, or even the existence of a vaguely defined God like that of the Judeo-Christian faiths, is an exercise in futility. I guess the point of the article is that there is no God up there to prevent our misery or destruction, and we have to watch out for ourselves. I would tend to agree with him, but I not that impressed by his logic.

Also, if I was working on a massive game-of-life simulation and I noticed MY creatures creating a simulation in which they were torturing simulated creatures, I would just modify my simulation so their simulation crashed or something....take the analogy to the next level dude...it's not that hard. Basically,

if
Me:my game-of-life-creatures::God:Me
then
Why the heck couldn't God change stuff around as much as he wants to get whatever outcome he wants? Just teleport all the Jewish concentration camp prisoners a few thousand miles west and land them in NY, NY! I could do that in the game of life, no prob. So if God exists, he's a lazy jerk...or maybe just a jerk.

My simulated creatures can go over and over the source code and try to figure out what went wrong, then scream and curse God (me), then eventually quit their simulated-torture-programming jobs and become monks. Heck, I regularly suspect that the hand of God is thwarting me whenever Windows crashes. What is the point of a God if he plays by the same rules as we do? If Yudkowsky is really postulating an omnipotent God, why is he arbitrarily constrained by the apparent laws of physics, instead of being actually omnipotent?

As long as I'm here, I'll take up some disk space to speculate. It seems to me that the "God" that is spasmodically imagined and reimagined throughout human culture is really just a vast yearning for compassion and order within human society; i.e., WE are the God that we've been looking for. The morality that people desperately impose on God is really the morality that we wish to have in our own culture. If any deity or deities exist inside or outside our universe, I think the chances are that they'll be indifferent to the brief squirmings of our species. But in the off chance they're hostile, we'd better fund high-energy physics (read: LHC v2.0) and start working on a God-killer device before they take an active interest in us. Just in case.

Sorry for the long post, but I figure this thread is probably just about over anyways.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:30 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


To give God a fair shake, I suppose if I were running a game of life on a super-duper-computer so large that sentient beings were arising, I probably wouldn't even notice! It's funny, but most people (myself included) don't really spend much time imagining a semipotent God. Maybe he started up this universamagummy but it's gotten a little out of hand. Ok, done now.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:33 PM on October 9, 2008


What an absurdly stupid essay. He doesn't even have the courage to reexamine his most basic premise: that total annihilation would be a bad thing. Do you know what would be worse?

As for the problem of evil, that horse won't ride anymore. If I were a theist, I would argue, quite simply, that death and suffering on Earth, however painful or horrible, is not only not a problem for Christianity but a requirement (we were told as much upon our expulsion from Eden). The good stuff comes after you die, of course--and in comparison with the happiness of Heaven and the torment of Hell, your suffering on Earth is just as petty and ridiculous as asking God for lemonade.
posted by nasreddin at 4:43 PM on October 9, 2008


I should note that I actually intend to fix the universe ... I'm not just complaining here

If you need to note this, you're doing it wrong.
posted by symbollocks at 5:22 PM on October 9, 2008


As for the problem of evil, that horse won't ride anymore.

The problem of evil has ridden, currently rides, and always will ride, and it's hunting dog will hunt as well. It is a prima facie philosophical slam dunk touchdown homerun against the notion of an omnipotent, maximally benevolent god. Checkmate.

death and suffering on Earth, however painful or horrible, is not only not a problem for Christianity but a requirement


Then either god is not omnipotent, because there are laws ('requirements') that even he cannot intervene against, or he is not maximally benevolent, because there is suffering that he imposes that is not necessary.
posted by Pyry at 5:56 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yudkowsky's reason for shunning formal education is that he believes the danger of unfriendly AI to be so near -- as early as tomorrow -- that there was no time for a traditional adolescence. "If you take the Singularity seriously, you tend to live out your life on a shorter time scale," he said.

As a machine learning researcher, I hereby apologise for the ongoing delays in the development of sentient killer robots.
posted by kersplunk at 5:58 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


By the way, I do agree that total annihilation isn't the worst possibility. Indeed, it may even be the best possible outcome.
posted by Pyry at 5:59 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


All these binary thinkers, like this Yudkowsky character and so many others, it is like they've never heard of Gödel's incompleteness.
posted by Chuckles at 6:00 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's a bold statement

One of the basic observed properties of intelligence is that over time it exceeds limitations, circumvents obstacles, learns how to stretch the rules, or operate entirely outside of them.

It's our fundamental function. Whether it's gravity, limits of detector resolution for astronomical observations, or photolithography - we always manage to find a way to break free of our current constraints. It seems a far bolder statement that other aspects of physics will forever withstand the relentless assault of human ingenuity.

they are fundamentally wrong because death is a certainty

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the general transhumanist view that geriatric medicine and anti-senescence technologies could advance from their current state at an exponential rate sufficient to keep someone alive until a new, less fragile medium for consciousness is created. Whether that's their stock adolescent Matrix fantasy come true or something beyond current comprehension is utterly immaterial. The basic principle is sound - and in need of a sufficiently disruptive individual, group, or philosophy to manifest.

The near certainty that any such individual, group, or philosophy would hold transhumanism and its most vocal proponents in absolute contempt is also utterly immaterial.

In other words, what is it about his life that makes him fear death?

I can only speak for myself on this one: from a starting point of Cartesian doubt, I've built up an elaborate mental model of the universe in which I supposedly dwell, because I lack evidence for any other explanation for my own existence. If, as that model suggests, my death results in the annihilation of my awareness, then this model and all my experiences that have informed its construction are similarly endangered. Everything I have ever done - all my effort and moments of true ingenuity - go with me.

I don't fear dying, I fear an existence without real, identifiable meaning.
posted by Ryvar at 6:33 PM on October 9, 2008


To a certain type of person, the picture of reality painted by modern science of a materialist and uncaring universe devoid of the divine is an almost unbearably depressing thing. (For the record, I'm pretty much one of those people myself.) The author of this essay strikes me as being such a person, and the essay as being his attempt to grapple with fearing death and continuing to have a religious impulse, and nevertheless believing what he does about the nature of the universe. Almost no one who feels this way can ever manage to truly and fully accept that depressing reality, I find, (I am no exception) and so they attempt to find some way of reconciling it. I am sympathetic to this in itself, of course, but in Yudkowsky's case, transhumanism seems to be his method of doing so. And IMO, it's also one of the worst ways of doing so, for the same reason that "intelligent design" is such a fraud- when you attempt to impose a religious ideal onto science, the result is both bad science and bad religion. The religion is more disguised in this case, yet the majority of the transhumanists I've come across describe an eschatological vision of a future paradise in which there is no suffering, everyone lives forever, and the very laws of physics are overturned. What exactly does that sound like? (The parallels don't stop there, either- among many other examples of such I could name, I've seen transhumanists talk about "bioconservatives" facing the "Singularity" in exactly the same sneering, gloating tones as fundamentalist Christians talk about non-believers facing the Last Judgement.)

Seriously, if you believe that we can overcome the friggin' second law of thermodynamics, you might as well start believing in the second coming of Christ while you're at it, since as far as I can see they are both equally rational beliefs with the same degree of scientific support behind them, and, I think, tend to fulfill a similar psychological need in both cases. Christians believe that Christ came to deliver us from death and hell, the transhumanists imagine "science" delivering us from entropy. It is, of course, utter bullshit when creationists claim that "evolutionism" is a religious belief. However, people who attempt to turn science into a religion definitely exist, and transhumanism, in my opinion, is essentially an example of such. Mostly, this essay served to further confirm that opinion for me- he may have come to a more sophisticated form of it, but he still clings to his religion. (And the most obnoxious thing about people who do this kind of thing, IMO, is their utter conviction that their beliefs represent the purest essence of science and rationalism. I mean, "Overcoming Bias", for God's sake, as if they had found the one true, objective, bias-free perspective, and as if the beliefs of Singularitarianism were absolutes beyond question or challenge, more certain than even the second law of thermodynamics.)


Yeah, fuck him for trying. Even if it doesn't amount to anything, he could be doing worse things with his life. You have to agree with that?

Actually, though he could indeed be doing worse things, I can't entirely agree, in the sense that I don't really think what he's doing is a positive thing. I think transhumanism as it tends to be conceived is rather dangerous, and for the most part antithetical to my own ideals. I don't think it's a coincidence that so many transhumanists seem to be Randian "virtue of selfishness" libertarians- it is an idea that appeals deeply to those who long to be at the top of a hierarchy. The thing is, economic factors (like the laws of physics) don't go away, and the enhancements transhumanists seek to bring about won't be free or cheap. As such, (this is of course assuming that much of what they imagine is even possible, something I'm not so sure of) I think the most likely outcome of the sort of transhumanist developments frequently envisioned would be a great increase in inequality and hierarchy- when the rich really are physically and mentally enhanced over the poor and live much longer, what else could happen? To an extent this already exists, of course, in that the rich tend to be healthier and better educated, but the degree of difference transhumanists imagine will be far beyond what exists now. Virtual immortality may seem appealing if you think about the implications of it only as far as yourself and your loved ones living forever, but now picture John Roberts ensconced on the Supreme Court for as long as such a thing exists.
posted by a louis wain cat at 6:34 PM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's our fundamental function. Whether it's gravity, limits of detector resolution for astronomical observations, or photolithography - we always manage to find a way to break free of our current constraints. It seems a far bolder statement that other aspects of physics will forever withstand the relentless assault of human ingenuity.

Our fundamental function, if that is even a useful notion to speculate on, is to exploit properties of nature for useful purpose. We sometimes find ways to break free of constraints, but that's rarely related to fundamental limits, real or imagined. Certainly apparent fundamental limits are exceeded from time to time -- when we learn that the limit wasn't so fundamental after all -- but it is really rather rare. I'll concede that lots of false fundamental limits are imagined after the fact. The myth of belief in a flat earth, or the myth of belief in the speed of sound as fundamental speed limit are good examples. I've no idea where that kind of mythologizing comes from..
posted by Chuckles at 6:54 PM on October 9, 2008


Seriously, if you believe that we can overcome the friggin' second law of thermodynamics, you might as well start believing in the second coming of Christ while you're at it, since as far as I can see they are both equally rational beliefs with the same degree of scientific support behind them, and, I think, tend to fulfill a similar psychological need in both cases.

We don't ever directly contravene the laws of physics. What we do is continually develop increasingly broad frameworks - and techniques derived within them - in which the ability of those laws to hinder our progress is circumvented or rendered meaningless.

That's not a religious belief, that's a dispassionate observation concerning the whole of human history.

I'll concede that lots of false fundamental limits are imagined after the fact.

Exactly. We find ourselves bound absolutely and inarguably to entropy? Then the question becomes whether we can hold it at bay long enough to fabricate a new universe in which that is not the case and leave this one for it.

Human history consists of one long string of attempts to build microcosms in which the entropy of our environment - be it physical or social - can no longer prey on us effectively. I don't see a compelling argument for this changing anytime soon.
posted by Ryvar at 7:05 PM on October 9, 2008


If you ask God, "Can 2+2 ever equal 5?" he, being God, could answer "Yes, I can do the impossible, I'll change the rules of math and make it so." But Yudkowsky is not asking that. He's asking "God, assuming that '2' means 2, '+' means +, '=' means =, '4' means 4, and '5' means 5, what is the answer for '2''+''2''='?"

What you're trying to get at is for a way for you to ask God "assuming that A is true, is A true?" and God to be able to say "A is false". Since A only exists as a concept in your mind, why couldn't God just go back in time and tweak your mind so that you actually think "assuming A is false"? Or rewrite your memory so you think that you said false originally. Or just say "actually, I don't assume that A is true". Or, as a professor once said, "2 is a constant in this equation, but for large values of 2, like 50, here's what happens....". Or, think about all the plausible proofs that 2=1, and think about how an omnipotent being could totally come up with such a proof for "assume A is true -> A is false", one that would be good enough to convince everyone on Earth, including you.

The notion that the logical statement is a real thing that has existence outside your brain seems to me to be an unprovable belief.

And I'm sure that any real philosophers are out there cringing at our n00bishness.
posted by breath at 7:09 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Classic book from the 80s using Conway's Game of Life to illustrate various physical/metaphysical principles: The Recursive Universe by William Poundstone.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:57 PM on October 9, 2008


Human history consists of one long string of attempts to build microcosms in which the entropy of our environment - be it physical or social - can no longer prey on us effectively. I don't see a compelling argument for this changing anytime soon.

Throughout history, every single one of those microcosms has eventually been defeated by entropy, despite our efforts. Human history consists of one long string of attempts "to build microcosms in which the entropy of our environment - be it physical or social - can no longer prey on us effectively", 100% of which have been completely unsuccessful. I don't see a compelling argument for that changing anytime soon, either.

Since you're the one claiming that it will, despite all available evidence, I wish you'd provide something other than a bunch of baseless assertions to back it up. There are many problems which have eluded us for millions of years, including this one, so your "we humans are great at solving problems" argument seems rather weak. In particular, it's not convincing without some evidence that we can and will solve this particular problem, and you've provided none at all, mainly because there isn't any.

As I said earlier, the probabilities are against you, and nothing you've said here changes that. All the gumption and starry-eyed faith in the world cannot overcome odds of zero; that only happens with incredible luck, and if we are to accept the premise of the article, luck has taken a few billion years off to go fishing. Thus, it might be possible that we could defeat entropy, but we're not going to; it's as simple as that.

As the article says: "There are all sorts of clever arguments why such things [as total extinction] can't possibly happen. But the source of these arguments is a much deeper belief that such things are not allowed. Yet who prohibits? Who prevents it from happening? If you can't visualize at least one lawful universe where physics say that such dreadful things happen - and so they do happen, there being nowhere to appeal the verdict - then you aren't yet ready to argue probabilities."

I see nothing from you other than this very belief that "it just can't happen". You seem to have a religious faith that human society must and will survive, despite the fact that a godless universe operates under no such rule. The Romans lived under the same faith, as did the Greeks, the Aztecs, the Han Dynasty, and probably various bands of Neanderthals; the fact that you still believe it, even though you know from their stark example that utter destruction can and does happen with astonishing regularity, suggests that you're not being honest with yourself. Tony Banks said it very well: "Take a look if you're not sure / At the millions gone before."

It's our fundamental function. Whether it's gravity, limits of detector resolution for astronomical observations, or photolithography - we always manage to find a way to break free of our current constraints. It seems a far bolder statement that other aspects of physics will forever withstand the relentless assault of human ingenuity.

The problem is that no one (except you) has said anything about "forever". Entropy doesn't have to withstand our "relentless assault" forever -- it only has to do so until we are dead. We're the ones who would have to withstand it forever in order to make your dream come true, and that's exactly why we're bound to fail.
posted by vorfeed at 10:17 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


nasreddin,
Your answer is not a satisfactory one to the "Problem of Evil". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good article on it, but basically it actually breaks down into two problems: the logical and evidential problem of evil.

The logical problem is essentially, "How can there be evil if God is all-good and all-powerful?" The linked article has many answers to this, but the strongest one, by people like Alvin Plantinga, which says that it is logically possible that God allows evil for the purpose of free will. (Though one problem with this explanation is that it might account for moral evils, ie ones caused by us, but not natural evils that cause suffering regardless of personal decisions.)

The second is the evidential argument, which says that even if some evil is logically possible for the purpose of free will, God would not allow the level of evil we see in the world. This is premised on the idea that even if some level of evil is needed, an all-good, all-powerful God would not allow any more evil than that. Any extra bit would be unneeded suffering. This is a more inductive/probabilistic argument, because we'd have to prove exactly how much evil/suffering is needed in the world to show that there is too much. An example of this problem is something like, "Would God's aims have been achieved if 5,999,999 Jews had died in the Holocaust instead of 6 million?" This also addresses why your response is not adequate. There might be some level of suffering needed in this life for the next, but what level? An all-good God wouldn't allow any unneeded suffering.

Of course, there has always been a way for a trapped theist to get around both questions, which is to say that God moves in mysterious ways, and is so far above us that we cannot possibly understand His methods.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:24 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's our fundamental function. Whether it's gravity, limits of detector resolution for astronomical observations, or photolithography - we always manage to find a way to break free of our current constraints. It seems a far bolder statement that other aspects of physics will forever withstand the relentless assault of human ingenuity.

I agree with you, in principle. However, it's one thing to cheat thermodynamic heat death by, say, slowing down consciousness, as much as it's another to circumvent the finality of that law altogether.

We don't really break free of gravity so much as harness existing useful energy to get out of its skeletal grasp, for example. The gravitational pull is still there, even in outer space, much like everything ordered progresses inevitably, empirically towards entropy.

Slowing down the rate at which we process information might make it seem like we can indefinitely stave off (our notion of) death, but that seems a bit of a cheat. Moreover if the universe keeps expanding and useful bits of energy grow old and snuff out, it won't be much of a nursing home left to snooze in.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:32 AM on October 10, 2008


(I should note that when I said in my last comment that Yudkowsky may have come to a more sophisticated form of his religion, I meant a more sophisticated form of transhumanism, not that transhumanism is more sophisticated than the Orthodox Judaism he left behind. Evaluating both strictly as religions, I'd say Orthodox Judaism is by far the more sophisticated of the two- not even a contest there, really.)

Ryvar: Exactly. We find ourselves bound absolutely and inarguably to entropy? Then the question becomes whether we can hold it at bay long enough to fabricate a new universe in which that is not the case and leave this one for it.

Human history consists of one long string of attempts to build microcosms in which the entropy of our environment - be it physical or social - can no longer prey on us effectively. I don't see a compelling argument for this changing anytime soon.


This seems to assume that because humans are good at escaping the entropy of their environment and have gotten better at it over time, there is no limit to their potential skill at it, and in the long run humanity therefore must escape that entropy entirely. The implication that seems to follow from this is that the laws of physics must in all cases prove flexible enough to allow us to bend them to our will in whatever we desire to do- given time, humanity will have the power of God, up to the point of creating a universe. It sounds a little like Teilhard de Chardin and the idea of the Omega Point, actually.

And like de Chardin's theories, that still sounds a lot more religious than scientific to me. It is not falsifiable, is psychologically comforting, and assumes humans are special in some metaphysical way, that there is some inherent meaning to our existence- in this case, overcoming entropy. That you talk about our "fundamental function" seems to me like a reflection of a belief in something metaphysical, even if it is not acknowledged as such- such language has an implication of some meaning and purpose bestowed on us. From what you've said, the outcome of this function, and by extension the nature of that meaning and purpose, is to advance technologically to the point of overcoming entropy entirely, whether through defeating the second law of thermodynamics or creating a new universe without it, both of which would pretty much make humanity equal to God. Again, it reminds me of Teilhard de Chardin, but without a pre-existing God. I'm not saying that there is absolutely no possibility such a thing could ever happen- but I wouldn't say that about the second coming of Christ, either. (Or the coming of Maitreya, or Kalki, or your eschatological figure of choice.) All the same, it does not really strike me as being any more likely than any of those.

On the general topic of religion as it relates to all this, I should say that I don't view the religious way of thinking as, in itself, a bad thing or as something that should be overcome. My views on all that would be going off topic, and probably rather unpopular here anyway- but one thing I definitely agree with the average MeFite on is that no good comes of trying to make religion into science, or vice versa. Either way, it creates something that, as religion, is a meager and pathetic thing next to the traditional religions, and as science, well, just isn't.
posted by a louis wain cat at 12:46 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Synopsis: Bad shit is unstoppable!

Unspoken corollary: Good shit is unstoppable!

Relevant quote from Babylon 5: You know, um…I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.
posted by Sparx at 3:27 AM on October 10, 2008


This article reminded me of a quote I've seen variously attributed: "We see things not as they are, but as we are." It seems to me, the blogger's whole effort of coming to terms with pain and death and the apparent purposelessness of life is an effort to overcome, not bias, but everything that makes him who he is.
posted by wobh at 5:47 AM on October 10, 2008


Since A only exists as a concept in your mind, why couldn't God just go back in time and tweak your mind so that you actually think "assuming A is false"? Or rewrite your memory so you think that you said false originally. Or just say "actually, I don't assume that A is true". Or, as a professor once said, "2 is a constant in this equation, but for large values of 2, like 50, here's what happens....". Or, think about all the plausible proofs that 2=1, and think about how an omnipotent being could totally come up with such a proof for "assume A is true -> A is false", one that would be good enough to convince everyone on Earth, including you.

This is still rule fiddling. You're letting God change the rules of the program, and I'm pretty sure Yudkowsky's formulation is intended to prevent that.

Again, the idea isn't to test God's ability to do the impossible. The idea is get God to admit that 2+2=4 assuming '2' means 2, etc. If God changes my memories to make me think I asked 2+3=5, or makes me think that '2' means 50, or comes up with a new version of the rule of addition that makes 2+2=5, he's fiddling with the rules. In all those cases, you're not going by the conception of addition we were looking for. It's no longer 'addition,' its a new rule, 'addition prime.' Rule breaking isn't beyond the reach of God. Yudkowsky is claiming that changing the answer to hypotheticals which presume unbroken rule sets is beyond his reach.

In some ways, I think this Game of Life simulator could be imagined to be a God test. Assume that God exists, and further assume that one property of God is that there is some level of depravity that he will not allow to occur to innocent sentient beings. If we could build a program with rules that led to the creation of sufficiently sentient beings and that suffered depravity beyond that level, presumably we could watch for that moment, and if God exists and has a point where his infinite compassion would require him to step in and prevent it, we could prove or disprove the existence of that conception of God. If God steps in and saves those beings, God exists. If God never shows up, we either know that 1) he doesn't exist, or 2) he's willing to allow that degree of depravity to be inflicted upon innocent sentient beings. We could repeat this to the extent we could extend our software to make deeper and deeper levels of depravity.

Of course, God is smarter than that, so he'd probably just find a way to prevent the program from happening in the first place, like giving Yudkowsky a heart attack, or making it so that the rules of math and logic cannot create such a sophisticated program. Clever bastard.
posted by shen1138 at 8:21 AM on October 10, 2008


2+2=5 is trivial if we just assume God knows that arithmetic is inconsistent. On the other hand, it is impossible for him to supply a proof!

What's that Chuckles? You thought Godel was relevant in some other way, but didn't want to explain it?
posted by grobstein at 8:27 AM on October 10, 2008


“"Let's pray for the answer" is not useful”

Yeah, bingo. (er, no implication there other than agreement).

I remember thinking, as a kid, how horrible Heaven would be, because everything would remain the same. In Hell it’s the same, but at least there was the distraction of torture.

The nice thing about infinity (and in part the philosophical implication in Godel) is that it goes on forever and any model you have will always be incomplete so you’ll never figure it out thus - you’ll never truly be trapped within the self and the hell of endless echos and reiterations of things you’re already far too jaded by.

The bad thing is, it goes on and on forever in endless night that you can never fill or hope to understand in a vastness that is so terrifying and a universe in which even your most comprehensive and grand notions are less than a speck of dust and even the comfort of knowing one might be part of God or even the whole, hiding from being in endless iteration in the dance of existance, means having to dodge the absolutely horrific knowlege that your existance is infinite and that you must eternally avoid knowing yourself or be hopelessly damned to a single unified state of endless stagnant being (by the scenario in the ‘nice’ thing).

Or at least that’s what I tell my kids that every night before bed.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:57 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Your answer is not a satisfactory one to the "Problem of Evil". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good article on it, but basically it actually breaks down into two problems: the logical and evidential problem of evil.

I'm very familiar with these arguments, thanks. I took Phil 101 too.

What I'm saying is that suffering is not an evil. Suffering consists of two things: an experience of pain and premature death. Pain, for God's purposes, could be morally neutral--we don't like pain, because it feels bad, but who are we to say that it's Bad? After all, in nature pain serves all sorts of useful purposes. Premature death, likewise, is not an evil in itself--in fact, it may be a good, since it hastens the moment of reunion with God.

Obviously, the objection could be that this means God is not benevolent. But that implies that benevolence is an attribute we confer upon God if He satisfies certain criteria of the Good. That's totally backwards; God (in the Christian sense, at least) is benevolent by definition. If you are a theist, you are committed to deriving your idea of the Good from the attributes (or commands) of God, not vice versa, and you give up any right to judge God by His own standards. As to whether a God that doesn't care about earthly suffering can be trusted to deliver happiness in the afterlife--that's where faith comes in, I guess, I wouldn't know.
posted by nasreddin at 4:57 PM on October 10, 2008


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