Friday 21 June 2024

Inwagen on Clifford's Principle.

The great mathematician William Clifford's thought one should always have sufficient evidence for one's beliefs. He gave the example of a shipowner who has doubts about the sea-worthiness of his ship. He stifles these doubts and brings himself to believe it is safe to sell tickets to passengers on it. What he has done is morally wrong. However, it was also wrong in law. Even if the ship didn't sink a 'whistle-blower' or independent expert could prove 'reckless endangerment'. There would be a tort as well as a crime. 

My impression is that Clifford's 'mind-stuff' isn't Spinozan or mystical but cashes out as a belief in 'atomic propositions'- i.e. the ideal limit beyond which no investigation into the origin of things can pass or the simplest possible building blocks of thought. This means there is no de re/de dicto distinction for intensional statements. There is referential transparency. Every intension has a simple, well defined, extension though what that is may require further investigation. 

 Had Clifford lived longer, he might not just have anticipated Einstein but also taken a Pragmatic path after discovering the problems with naive set theory or logical atomism.

Peter van Inwagen, in a recent essay, reopens the Clifford question.  

 Is It Wrong Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence?

We can only have defeasible, or sublatable, beliefs about what is right or wrong, save in 'buck-stopped' protocol bound juristic or professional contexts. Even then, no evidence would be sufficient to turn any such belief into certitude as opposed to the absence of 'reasonable doubt'. Even if the 'bat kol' or 'voice from Heaven' affirmed a belief, the Talmud says the Sanhedrin must reject it and proceed in a protocol bound manner.  

Thus, Clifford's Principle is 'impredicative' because the only accessible evidence is what we believe to be evidence. Also the 'intension' of 'wrong' does not have a well defined 'extension'. It changes as the knowledge-base changes or the purpose we have in mind changes.  The intensional fallacy arises in pretending otherwise. 

What I want to do is not so much to challenge (or to vindicate) the principle this sentence expresses as to examine what the consequences of attempting consistently to apply it in our lives would be.

But the consequences of such an attempt would be like the consequences of attempting to never step under a ladder. It would be a purely private taboo or idiosyncratic quirk which, almost always, would be wholly inconsequential.  True, a particular person may say 'my habit of never stepping under a ladder saved my life today' but the outcome would be the same as if he said 'I always make a point of stepping under ladders. However, today I was prevented from doing this because a black cat crossed my path and so I had to return home. Thanks to this superstition of mine, my life was saved.' My point is that though we can imagine a scenario where not walking under ladders or not upholding Clifford's principle would be consequential. But we can as easily imagine equally probable scenarios where some other such shibboleth or superstition cancels out that consequence. 

Various philosophers have attempted something that might be described in these words, and have argued that a strict adherence to the terms of the principle would lead to a chain of requests for further evidence that would terminate only in such presumably unanswerable questions as What evidence have you for supposing that your sensory apparatus is reliable?,

This is where Clifford's 'mind-stuff' comes in. It seemed plausible at that time to think the atom was indivisible and the final limit of our investigation into the nature of things. Thus an infinite regress would be avoided. 

or Yes, but what considerations can you adduce in support of the hypothesis that the future will resemble the past?; and they have drawn the conclusion that anyone who accepts such propositions as that one's sensory apparatus is reliable or that the future will resemble the past must do so in defiance of the principle.

This is false. One can refuse to believe anything at all. If someone says 'but, you are implicitly assuming x', you reply 'Nope. There is insufficient evidence for x.'  Clifford had been religious in youth but like other bright young men responding to Darwin and the work of the geologists, he had embraced agnosticism. He saw that you can be a good and decent man even if you did not subscribe to any particular dogma. Moreover, rejecting the a priori truth of Euclidean geometry or Newtonian Physics didn't mean you were either a knave or a fool. 

You will be relieved to learn that an investigation along these lines is not on the program tonight. I am not going to raise the question whether a strict adherence to the principle would land us in the one of those very abstract sorts of epistemological predicament exemplified by uncertainty about the reliability of sense perception or induction.

That question is easily answered in the negative. The fact that you don't believe shit doesn't mean you are forbidden to do any particular thing. Someone may say to you 'you must have believed the cake shop would sell you a cake because you said 'I want cake' and then walked into a cake shop.' You can reply, 'I didn't even believe I wanted cake nor did I believe that walking into a cake shop would get me cake. This is because there was insufficient evidence that it was cake rather than kisses and cuddles which I really wanted. Also, I was aware that cake shops may run out of cake.' 

Here though there is some evidence of 'correlation', there is no knock-down proof of causation'.  

I shall be looking at consequences of accepting the principle that are much more concrete, much closer to our concerns as epistemically responsible citizens--citizens not only of the body politic but of the community of philosophers.

the community of philosophers is a collection of ignorant shitheads.  

 How can we philosophers possibly regard ourselves as justified in believing much of anything of philosophical significance in this embarrassing circumstance?

You don't have to say you have any belief whatsoever. You can say you deal with conjectures and that  the terminology you use represents conventional 'Schelling focal' solutions to coordination games for you and your ilk. Nothing wrong with being a thoroughgoing Pyrrhonist or sceptic or agnostic or one of those vegan Buddhists or Hindoooos or whatever. 

How can I believe (as I do) that free will is incompatible with determinism

you can say this seems plausible or otherwise useful for you. Anyway, you can get a paper on the subject published.  

or that unrealized possibilities are not physical objects or that human beings are not four-dimensional things extended in time as well as in space, when David Lewis--a philosopher of truly formidable intelligence and insight and ability--rejects these things I believe and is already aware of and understands perfectly every argument that I could produce in their defense?

Why not accept Lewis's suggestion that 'conventions' are Schelling focal solutions to coordination games? I suppose you might say 'my religious faith requires me to have certain beliefs. They are an outward sign of an inward grace or 'election'.' This is fine. We get that a 'separating equilibrium' (which is a discoordination game) may require 'costly signals' like believing five impossible things before breakfast.  

Well, I do believe these things. And I believe that I am justified in believing them. And I am confident that I am right. But how can I take these positions? I don't know.

Faith is founded on a mystery. Nothing wrong with that at all.  

That is itself a philosophical question, and I have no firm opinion about its correct answer. I suppose my best guess is that I enjoy some sort of philosophical insight (I mean in relation to these three particular theses) that, for all his merits, is somehow denied to Lewis. And this would have to be an insight that is incommunicable- -at least I don't know how to communicate it--, for I have done all I can to communicate it to Lewis, and he has understood perfectly everything I have said, and he has not come to share my conclusions.

Faith was not granted to him. Also he got stupider as he got older. But, by then, his discipline had turned to shit.  

But maybe my best guess is wrong. I'm confident about only one thing in this area: the question must have some good answer.

The Church provides it. The first Vatican council said  "If any one say that in Divine Revelation there are contained no mysteries properly so called , but that through reason rightly developed  all the dogmas of faith can be understood and demonstrated from natural principles: let him be anathema'. One could view Clifford's principle as a valiant attempt to combat the supposed 'obscurantism' of Newman and Manning and so forth. Shortly after Clifford died, back in the '80's, I took a different approach which was to go stand outside Cardinal Manning's window and shout 'all you Papists iz fookin poofters, mate!' The police would arrest me for being drunk and disorderly. This was a lie. I am a Hindoooo. Us guys never touch alcohol. 

For not only do my beliefs about these questions seem to me to be undeniably true,

nothing wrong with having undeniably false beliefs- e.g. I am not ugly and stupid and cordially hated by all and sundry.  

but (quite independently of any consideration of which theses it is that seem to me to be true), I don't want to be forced into a position in which I can't see my way clear to accepting any philosophical thesis of any consequence.

In other words, you don't want to admit your subject is shit. I sympathize.  

Let us call this unattractive position philosophical skepticism. (Note that I am not using this phrase in its usual s ense of "comprehensive and general skepticism based on philosophical argument." Note also that philosophical skepticism is not a thesis--if it were, it's hard to see how it could be accepted without pragmatic contradiction

which can be disposed off easily enough. Nobody can prove you have a particular belief rather than a 'revealed preference' or habit of behavior.  

--but a state: philosophical skeptics are people who can't see their way clear to being nominalists or realists, dualists or monists, ordinary-language philosophers or phenomenologists; people, in short, who are aware of many philosophical options but take none of them, people who have listened to many philosophical debates but have never once declared a winner.)

I suppose what Inwagen is getting at is that a philosophical skeptic might be unemployable in particular fields within the discipline. This isn't the case. You can always show that any given belief has not been properly captured by its expression by a person who claims to hold it. This is not to say you have a knock-down argument against that belief which, after all, may be ineffable.  

I think  that any philosopher who does not wish to be a philosophical skeptic--I know of no philosopher who is a philosophical skeptic-

actually a guy doing some complicated type of a mathematical logic might, for all we know, be a skeptic. There is never 'sufficient evidence' that one has or hasn't a belief just as there is never 'sufficient evidence' that it is right everywhere and for all people.  

must agree with me that this question has some good answer: whatever the reason, it must be possible for one to be justified in accepting a philosophical thesis when there are philosophers who, by all objective and external criteria, are at least equally well qualified to pronounce on that thesis and who reject it.

This assumes that philosophy is like the law. If a thing is justiciable, then money can be made by providing 'justifications'. The problem here is that there is a 'buck-stopping' mechanism in the Justice system- i.e. a Supreme Court which can't bind itself. There may be something like this in certain mathematical axiom systems as Kripke has argued. But we can't say any such system is non-arbitrary or corresponds with reality. This was not always the case. At one time, it seemed obvious that Euclidean geometry must be, at least locally, true. Now, we understand that there can be infinitesimal singularities.  

Will someone say that philosophical theses are theses of a very special sort,

and thus philosophy is a case of 'Special Ed' 

and that philosophy is therefore a special case? That adequacy of evidential support is much more easily achieved in respect of philosophical propositions than in respect of geological or medical or historical propositions? Perhaps because nothing really hangs on philosophical questions, and a false or unjustified philosophical opinion is therefore harmless? Or because philosophy is in some sense not about matters of empirical fact? As to the first of these two suggestions, I think it is false that nothing hangs on philosophical questions. What people have believed about the philosophical theses advanced by--for example--Plato, Locke, and Marx has had profound effects on histor y. I don't know what the world would be like if everyone who ever encountered philosophy immediately became, and thereafter remained, a philosophical skeptic, but I'm willing to bet it would be a vastly different world.

 Arcesilaus, a sceptic, took over Plato's academy. This changed nothing. It is said that Pyrrho was influenced by Jain philosophy which could be said to be skeptical. But Jainism is just as boring and preachy as Hinduism or Christianity or Islam. 

Still, one could say that Greek influence on the Jews contributed to the development and spread of Christianity. But this was because certain Christian Emperors kicked ass big time. 

(In any case, I certainly hope this suggestion is false. I'd hate to have to defend my own field of study against a charge of adhering to loose epistemic standards by arguing that it's all right to adopt loose epistemic standards in philosophy because philosophy is detached from life to such a degree that philosophical mistakes can't do any harm.)

The hope is, they can do harm which is why Philosophy is turning into a branch of Grievance Studies.  

In a more general, theoretical way, Clifford has argued, and with some plausibility, that it is in principle impossible to claim on behalf of any subject-matter whatever--on the ground that mistaken beliefs about the things of which that subject-matter treats are harmless--exemption from the strict epistemic standards to which, say, geological, medical, and historical beliefs are properly held. He argues, '[That is not] truly a belief at all which has not some influence upon the actions of him who holds it.

 Clifford was saying 'us sciencey dudes are highly moral.' His notion of 'mind stuff' could be seen as ethical atomism of the Jain kind. Bad beliefs lead to influx of bad karma-binding particles and then to bad actions. If you don't become a Jain, you are bound to start killing animals for food. Don't tell me all those so-called Brahmins aren't sneaking off to Burger King when nobody is looking.' 

He who truly believes that which prompts him to an action has looked upon the action to lust after it, he has committed it already in his heart.

Jimmy Carter was constantly committing adultery in his heart. This is because he was a Baptist. Kennedy, who was Catholic and had a bad back, preferred to commit adultery in his bed.  

If a belief is not realized immediately in open deeds, it is stored up for the guidance of the future. It goes to make a part of that aggregate of beliefs which is the link between sensation and action at every moment of all our lives,

mind-stuff affects material stuff 

and which is so organized and compacted together that no part of it can be isolated from the rest, but every new addition modifies the structure of the whole. No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may some day explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character forever. . .

In other words, if you don't deny that there are 'sacred mysteries' then you will end up a fucking Catholic. Worse yet, you may start talking like a witty Irishman. After that nothing will save you from sodomy. Look at that poofter Oscar Wilde. Did you know he converted to Catholicism on his death bed?  

And no one man's belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone . . . no belief held by one man, however seemingly trivial the belief, and however obscure the believer, is actually insignificant or without its effect on the fate of mankind . . . .

Stay the fuck away from Catholicism. It will turn you totes gay.  

Whether or not you find this general, theoretical argument convincing, it does in any case seem quite impossible to maintain, given the actual history of the relation between philosophy and our social life, that it makes no real difference what people believe about philosophical questions.

I suppose Inwagen has to pretend to be an analytical philosopher so as to get invited to Departmental cocktail parties.  

The second suggestion--that philosophy is different (and that philosophers may therefore properly, in their professional work, observe looser epistemic standards than geologists or physicians observe in theirs) because it's not about matters of empirical fact--is trickier.

It is an empirical fact that Kant didn't write Mein Kampf.  Also he wasn't a penguin. Anyway, that's the ostensible reason my dissertation was rejected. My own suspicion was that it was because

1) I iz bleck

2) McDonalds may not actually be a University and what they were looking for was a CV which stressed relevant experience in the fast food industry. 

Its premise is not that it doesn't make any difference what people believe about philosophical questions; it's rather that the world would look exactly the same whether any given philosophical thesis was true or false.

No one has any such premise. It is obvious that there are some possible philosophical theses which are 'incompossible'- i.e. if they were true, nothing could exist- at least within the sphere they refer to. 

I think that that's a dubious assertion. If the declarative sentences that philosophers characteristically write and speak in their professional capacity are meaningful at all, then

there is 'restricted comprehension' 

many of them express propositions that are necessary truths or necessary falsehoods,

within that restricted context 

and it's at least a very doubtful assertion that the world would look the same if some necessary truth were a falsehood or if some necessary falsehood were a truth.

only if that 'restricted comprehension' includes the world.  

(Would anyone argue that mathematicians may properly hold themselves to looser epistemic standards than geologists because the world would look the same whether or not there was a greatest prime?)

There may be an axiom system where this is the case. If it is useful the world may change in some positive manner.  

And even if it were true that philosophy was, in no sense of this versatile word, about matters of empirical fact, one might well raise the question why this should lend any support to the suggestion that philosophers were entitled to looser epistemic standards than geologists or physiologists, given that philosophical beliefs actually do have important effects on the behavior of those who hold them.

Collingwood explained that philosophy is concerned with 'open questions'. Once a question is 'closed' a greater degree of 'akreibia' or precision permits the development of better tech. With an 'open question'- e.g. is space Euclidean?- one could say the some of Clifford's writing is philosophic precisely because it is not very precise (perhaps if would have been had he lived longer) or fully fleshed out. However, after the Michelson-Morley and Eddington experiments things could proceed very rapidly.  

Rather than address the issues that these speculations raise, however, I will simply change the subject. Let us consider politics. Almost everyone will admit that it makes a difference what people believe about politics--

expectations and preferences matter but do they amount to 'beliefs'? One might say that such and such percentage of the supporters of a political party are 'true believers', but one could equally say they expect great things from that party and no other.  

I am using the word in its broadest possible sense- and it would be absurd to say that propositions like Capital punishment is an ineffective deterrent or "Nations that do not maintain a strong military capability actually increase the risk of war" are not about matters of empirical fact.

they are about objective probabilities and thus can affect expectations. But expectations can be wholly subjective and resistant to statistical evidence.  

And yet people disagree about these propositions (and scores of others of equal importance), and their disagreements about them bear a disquieting resemblance to the disagreements of philosophers about nominalism and free will and the covering-law model.

Probably because people are using the same word to mean different things. Still, so long as all those involved end up bumming each other, no great harm is done. 

That is, their disagreements are matters of interminable debate, and impressive authorities can be found on both sides of many of the interminable debates.  It is important to realize that this feature of philosophy and politics is not a universal feature of human discourse. It is clear, for example, that someone who believes in astrology believes in something that is simply indefensible.

No. In India astrology promotes better solutions to the stable marriage problem and other coordination problems. It is 'Muth rational' to form expectations on the basis of 'public signals' as this can promote better correlated equilibria. 

It would be hard to find a philosopher--I hope this is true- who believed that every philosopher who disagreed with his or her position on nominalism held a position that was indefensible in the same way that a belief in astrology was indefensible.

I've just given a pragmatic defense of astrology. The best defense of one's philosophical position is to point out that you got tenure or that your latest book- Phenomenology for the Flatulent- is selling well on Amazon.  

It might be easier to find someone who held the corresponding position about disputed and important political questions. I suspect there really are people who think that those who disagree with them about the deterrent effect of capital punishment or the probable consequences of unilateral disarmament are not only mistaken but hold beliefs that are indefensible in the way that a belief in astrology is indefensible.

Hanging a murderer deters him from killing more people. Unilateral disarmament may be a good idea- if you are going to surrender anyway.  

I can only say that I regard this attitude as ludicrous. On each side of many interminably debated political questions--it is not necessary to my argument to say all--one can find well-informed (indeed, immensely learned) and highly intelligent men and women who adhere to the very highest intellectual standards.

If you pay such people enough, they will recommend coprophagy even if they don't themselves eat their own shit. 

And this is simply not the case with debates about astrology.

Not in India. The guys who are against it tend to be stupider than those who practice it in between finding flaws in Mochizuki's proof of the abc theorem.  

In fact, it is hardly possible to suppose that there could be a very interesting debate about the truth-values of the claims made by astrologers.

This is irrelevant. Protocols have no 'truth-value' in themselves. Observing them may be useful, more particularly if this solves a coordination problem.  

Everyone who is intellectually honest will admit this, will admit that there are interminable political debates with highly intelligent and well informed people on both sides.

Just as in a court case between two wealthy individuals, it is likely that the lawyers on both sides will be highly intelligent. So what?  

And yet few will react to this state of affairs by becoming political skeptics, by declining to have any political beliefs that are disputed by highly intelligent and well-informed people.

I have political expectations. They are not beliefs. They could be, if they solved a Newcombe problem or I felt my faith required me to subscribe to some particular dogma. But this is not the case with respect to the politics of my country.  

But how can this rejection of political skepticism be defended? How can responsible political thinkers believe that the Syndicalist Party is the last, best hope for Ruritania when they know full well that there are well informed (even immensely learned) and highly intelligent people who argue vehemently--all the while adhering to the highest intellectual standards--that a Syndicalist government would be the ruin of Ruritania?

The answer is that some political thinkers have a particular Faith which, they believe, entails adherence to certain dogmas. I imagine, after Vatican One, some German Catholics thought their hope of salvation required them to vote for the Zentrum party.  

Do the friends of Syndicalism claim to see gaps in the arguments of their opponents, "facts" that they have cited that are not really facts, real facts that they have chosen not to mention, a hidden agenda behind their opposition to Syndicalism? No doubt they do. Nevertheless, if they are intelligent and intellectually honest, they will be aware that if these claims were made in public debate, the opponents of Syndicalism would probably be able to muster a very respectable rebuttal.

Or not. The Pope published an encyclical saying that Masons were Satan's minions. Then the Church fell for the Taxil hoax and endorsed the view that Satan had taken the form of a piano playing crocodile. The odd thing was that Catholics continued to cite Taxil's work even after he revealed the thing was a practical joke. 

The friends of Syndicalism will perhaps be confident that they could effectively meet the points raised in this rebuttal, but, if they are intelligent and intellectually honest, they will be aware . . . and so, for all practical purposes, ad infinitum.

The plain fact is, philosophers tend to have bizarre political views. But so do a lot of mathematicians and physicists.  

I ask again: what could it be that justifies us in rejecting political skepticism?

Money. Sex. Both money and sex. Politics is about getting money and money is about getting sex which in turn is about babies. A polity is basically just a collection of grown-up babies.  

How can I believe that my political beliefs are justified when these beliefs are rejected by people whose qualifications for engaging in political discourse are as impressive as David Lewis's qualifications for engaging in philosophical discourse?

But his brain turned to shit quickly enough. Anyway, since the time of Aristophanes, Philosophers have been known to be shit at politics. Socrates's Symposium ends with his quaffing hemlock.  

These people are aware of (at least) all the evidence and all the arguments that I am aware of, and they are (at least) as good at evaluating evidence and arguments as I. How, then, can I maintain that the evidence and arguments I can adduce in support of my beliefs actually justify these beliefs?

This is like 'Aumann agreement'. It doesn't apply if there is Knightian uncertainty. Aumann himself says the Sahnedrin had a rule against unanimity. In other words, it is Muth rational for people with the same Bayesian priors not to agree.  

If this evidence and these arguments are capable of that, then why aren't they capable of convincing these other people that these beliefs are correct?

I've given one answer. Another has to do with 'uncorrelated asymmetries' or oikeiosis or other reasons why it is eusocial to break symmetries in various types of games.  

Well, as with philosophy, I am inclined to think that I must enjoy some sort of incommunicable insight that the others, for all their merits, lack.

You are you. They aren't. There's a reason you wipe your own bum not that of your colleagues. We might say that uncorrelated asymmetries can grant a Hohfeldian immunity with respect to demands for justification.  

I am inclined to think that the evidence and arguments I can adduce in support of my beliefs do not constitute the totality of my justification for these beliefs.

What evidence or argument has this dude 'adduced'? None that I can see.  

But all that I am willing to say for sure is that something justifies me in rejecting political skepticism,

but what justifies that something?  

or at least that it is possible that something does: that it is not a necessary truth that one is not justified in holding a political belief that is controverted by intelligent and well-informed political thinkers.

Because there are no, non-trivial, necessary truths.  

I have now accomplished one of the things I wanted to do in this talk. I have raised the question how it is possible to avoid philosophical and political skepticism.

The answer is 'tell stupid lies' which is more easily done if you are already very stupid and are a habitual liar. One such lie is that expectations or habits of behavior are actually beliefs in which case skepticism is self-defeating because it too is a belief or dogma rather than a perfectly reasonable assertion of defeasibility or sublatability regarding epistemic claims. 

In the remainder of this talk, I am going to turn to questions about religious belief. M y point in raising the questions I have raised about philosophy and politics was primarily to set the stage for comparing religious beliefs with philosophical and political beliefs.

Religion is about faith which is founded on a mystery. There can be political and philosophical beliefs which have this feature but Inwagen hasn't mentioned them. I would say there is an 'ontologically dysphoric' aspect to them. They aren't 'at home in the world'.  

But I think that the questions I have so far raised are interesting in their own right.

The reason this didn't raise a laugh was because his audience was sound asleep.  

Even if everything I say in the remainder of the talk is wrong, even if my comparisons of philosophical and political beliefs with religious beliefs turn out to be entirely wide of the mark, the interest of the questions I have raised so far would remain. How can we philosophers, when we consider the matter carefully, avoid the uncomfortable suspicion that the following words of Clifford might apply to us: Every one of them, if he chose to examine himself in foro conscientiae,

this can't apply to academics teaching shite. They don't have a fucking conscience.  

would know that he had acquired and nourished a belief, when he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him; and therein he would know that he had done a wrong thing. ?

 The context is as follows- 

'There was once an island in which some of the inhabitants professed a religion teaching neither the doctrine of original sin nor that of eternal punishment.

Was it Ceylon? The Brits governed it well enough despite upholding a primitive religion with a sadistic God. 

A suspicion got abroad that the professors of this religion had made use of unfair means to get their doctrines taught to children. They were accused of wresting the laws of their country in such a way as to remove children from the care of their natural and legal guardians; and even of stealing them away and keeping them concealed from their friends and relations. A certain number of men formed themselves into a society for the purpose of agitating the public about this matter. They published grave accusations against against individual citizens of the highest position and character, and did all in their power to injure these citizens in their exercise of their professions. So great was the noise they made, that a Commission was appointed to investigate the facts; but after the Commission had carefully inquired into all the evidence that could be got, it appeared that the accused were innocent. Not only had they been accused of insufficient evidence, but the evidence of their innocence was such as the agitators might easily have obtained, if they had attempted a fair inquiry. After these disclosures the inhabitants of that country looked upon the members of the agitating society, not only as persons whose judgment was to be distrusted, but also as no longer to be counted honourable men. For although they had sincerely and conscientiously believed in the charges they had made, yet they had no right to believe on such evidence as was before them. Their sincere convictions, instead of being honestly earned by patient inquiring, were stolen by listening to the voice of prejudice and passion.

No. We would say 'these particular people believed a story which harmonized with their other beliefs. They were a tad hasty in voicing their suspicions. Only if they fabricated evidence or ignored exculpatory facts could we say they acted in bad faith'. 

Let us vary this case also, and suppose, other things remaining as before, that a still more accurate investigation proved the accused to have been really guilty. Would this make any difference in the guilt of the accusers? Clearly not; the question is not whether their belief was true or false, but whether they entertained it on wrong grounds.

No. I may know that a particular person is a sociopathic murderer. I may be wrong about forensic matters because I'm not a fucking detective. If it turns out the guy is guilty as fuck even though he had planted exculpatory evidence, I am vindicated.  

They would no doubt say, "Now you see that we were right after all; next time perhaps you will believe us." And they might be believed, but they would not thereby become honourable men.

If they were known to be honorable, they would continue to be thought of in that way.  

They would not be innocent, they would only be not found out. Every one of them, if he chose to examine himself in foro conscientiae, would know that he had acquired and nourished a belief, when he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him; and therein he would know that he had done a wrong thing.

Nonsense! Unless you are serving on a jury and the Judge clarifies that you must disregard some but not other pieces of evidence, you are welcome to hold your own views about what is or isn't evidence. There were people who thought OJ was innocent because he seemed a swell guy and swell guys don't beat or kill their wives. Others thought the police were as racist as fuck and so, whether on not OJ was guilty, the evidence would have been fabricated. Perfectly honorable people were welcome to hold such views- unless they were serving on the Jury.  

Now as to religion: Is religion different from philosophy and politics in the respects we have been discussing?

Not necessarily. There can be religious philosophy and religious politics which aims to promote good soteriological, rather than economic, outcomes. 

Should religious beliefs perhaps be held to a stricter evidential standard than philosophical and political beliefs?

No. Demanding an angel show up on the hour, every hour, to affirm that God hasn't fucked off or died in the last 60 minutes, is just silly. 

Or, if they are to be held to the same standard, do typical religious beliefs fare worse under this standard than typical philosophical or political beliefs? It is an extremely popular position that religion is different. Or, at least, it must be that many anti-religious philosophers and other writers hostile to religious belief hold this position, for it seems to be presupposed by almost every aspect of their approach to the subject of religious belief.

I think Islam gets this right. It says Scripture is purely imperative or 'insha'. There is no alethic content (khabar) to religion for which we can find any empirical evidence this side of the grave.  

And yet this position seems never to have been explicitly formulated, much less argued for.

Because it is absurd.  

Let us call it the Difference Thesis.

Angels are different from us. They have wings. Also, unlike pigeons, they can talk.  

An explicit formulation of the Difference Thesis is a tricky matter. I tentatively suggest that it be formulated disjunctively: Either religious beliefs should be held to a stricter epistemic standard than beliefs of certain other types--of which philosophical and political beliefs are --or, if they are to be held to the same epistemic standard as other beliefs, they typically fare worse under this standard than typical beliefs of most other types, including philosophical and political beliefs.

Religions themselves supply the answer. Faith is founded on a mystery beyond mortal ken. Some religions have great Saints who were also philosophers. But they are inferior to the prophets or avatars of God.  

I use this disjunctive formulation because, while I think I see some sort of difference thesis at work in much of the hostile writing on the epistemic status of religious belief, the work of this thesis is generally accomplished at a subliminal level and it is hard to get a clear view of it.

It is easy enough. Just say Religion is a fairy story or swindle perpetrated by parasitical priests and monks. The trouble is lots of very good people are highly religious.  

I suspect that some of the writers I have alluded to are thinking in terms of one of the disjuncts and some in terms of the other. A good example of the Difference Thesis at work is provided by Clifford's lecture. One of the most interesting facts about The Ethics of Belief is that nowhere in it is religious belief explicitly discussed. There are, to be sure, a few glancing references to religion in the lecture, but the fact that they are references to religion, while it doubtless has its polemical function, is never essential to the point that Clifford professes to be making.

And yet, his audience knew what he was getting at. Incidentally, Blasphemy was still a crime back then. It wasn't till 1888 that an avowed atheist could vote in parliament without running the risk of incurring a hefty fine.  

Clifford's shipowner, for example, comes to his dishonest belief partly because he puts his trust in Providence, but Clifford could have made the same philosophical point if he had made the shipowner come to his dishonest belief because he had put his trust in his brother-in-law.

But Clifford's audience knew that the issue here was negligence. It is no defense in law to trust Providence or the brother of the lady you are porking. If you have a duty of care, you must trust someone whom it is prudent and reasonable to trust- e.g. an expert in the field. 

Clifford's other main illustrative case is built round an actual Victorian scandal (described in coyly abstract terms: There was once a certain island in which . . .) involving religious persecution. But he could have made the same philosophical point if he had described a case of purely secular persecution, such as those that attended the investigations of Senator McCarthy; his illustration turned simply on the unwillingness of zealous agitators, convinced that the right was on their side, to examine certain matters of public record and to obtain easily available testimony.

The difference between the Salem witch trials and McCarthy's shenanigans is that witches don't exist. Commies do. But then so do homosexuals. Saying McCarthy was a shirt-lifter was enough to undermine him. 

In both of Clifford's illustrative cases, there is a proposition that is dishonestly accepted, accepted without sufficient attention to the available evidence.

Clifford was wrong. He wasn't a lawyer. What he was talking about was negligence which could either be culpa levis in abstracto (a higher duty of care) or in concreto (a lower duty such as even ordinary people could be expected to uphold). Of course, dishonesty or fraud would arise if there was deliberate suppression of facts.  

In neither case is it a religious or theological proposition. And at no point does Clifford come right out and say that his arguments have any special connection with religious beliefs.

But that question was very much in the air. Guys like Gladstone thought that Newman and Manning were guilty of some sort of dishonesty or dishonorable conduct. That's what led to Newman's apologia rebutting Kingsley.  

It would, however, be disingenuous in the extreme to say that The Ethics of Belief is simply about the ethics of belief in general and is no more directed at religious belief than at any other kind of belief.

Not in its historical context.  

...this conviction that Clifford's specific target is religious belief is no knee-jerk reaction of overly sensitive religious believers or of anti religious polemicists eager to find yet another stick to beat churchgoers with.

Clifford's 'mind stuff' opens the door to Whitehead type 'process theology' or some such shite. The other thing is that after Darwin's 'Origin' came out there was renewed interest in Hinduism and Buddhism- about which the Brits knew a lot- which culminated in the Theosophical Movement.  Inwagen goes on to accept the conventional view that Clifford was writing for a religious audience but then introduces

Clifford's Other Principle. It is something very much like this: "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to ignore evidence that is relevant to his beliefs, or to dismiss relevant evidence in a facile way."

In which case Edward Witten's janitor is guilty of ignoring evidence that Super-String theory is baloney. He should be telling everybody that the Professor is a nitwit. 

Clifford's Other Principle is obviously not Clifford's Principle.

It is mad. 

 I suspect that Clifford tended t o conflate the two principles because of a combination of his anti-religious agenda

an agnostic is not necessarily against religion 

with an underlying assumption that the evidence, such as it is, that people have for their religious beliefs is inadequate because it is incomplete, and incomplete because these believers have declined to examine certain evidence relevant to their beliefs, owing to a  subconscious realization that examination of this evidence would deprive even them of the power to continue to hold their cherished beliefs.

To be fair, Victorian Christianity could be very fucking horrible. At an earlier period Christ's observation 'the poor ye shall always have with you' was taken as an argument for denying Oliver Twist a little more gruel.  

However this may be, having distinguished Clifford's Other Principle from Clifford's Principle, I am not going to discuss it further, beyond pointing out that there does not seem to be any reason to suppose, whatever Clifford may have thought, that those who hold religious beliefs are any more likely to be in violation of Clifford's Other Principle than those who hold philosophical or political beliefs.

No. Everybody violates the other principle because we don't know what evidence is relevant or even what fucking evidence we should be looking for in order to prove 'who smelled it, dealt it'.  

We all know that there are a lot of people who have violated Clifford's Other Principle at one point or another in the course of arriving at their political beliefs and a few who have not. As to philosophy, well, I'm sure that violations of Clifford's Other Principle are quite rare among professional philosophers. No doubt there are a few cases, however. One might cite, fo r example, a recent review of a book by John Searle, in which the author of the review (Dan Dennett) accuses Searle of gross violations of Clifford's Other Principle in his (Searle's) descriptions of current theories in the philosophy of mind. If Dennett' s charge is not just, then it is plausible to suppose that he is in violation of Clifford's Other Principle. So it can happen, even among us.

More particularly because these cretins may be able to write crap but not even they can read that crap.  

.. if evidence that provided ad equate support for a philosophical proposition was readily available throughout a sizable population of careful, qualified philosophers, wouldn't this fact at least induce a significant uniformity of opinion as regards that proposition among those philosophers?

Nope. It would merely prove the subject had become adversely selective. The fact is philosophy only deals with 'open questions' which may be closed by some other discipline. This is what happened by the late sixties or early seventies. As Djikstra showed, 'dining philosophers' would starve to death before they could agree on a rule for sharing spoons. If 'naturality' is far to seek in Category theory and 'natural' or 'absolute' proofs can't exist, then the fact that philosophers think they are doing something useful is itself proof that the opposite must be the case.

I recall reading that Rockefeller University, back in the early Seventies, hired some philosophers in the belief that they would get talking to the Biologists and Physicists and so forth and thus that they would help catalyze progress in STEM subjects. Sadly, the philosophers wouldn't talk to each other let alone anybody else. They were utterly useless so the University shut the Department down. Inwagen may have started out smart but his profession has destroyed his brain. Still, at least he is a Christian. So maybe there is hope for us all- even Socioproctologists.  

Thursday 20 June 2024

David Deutsch's ultracrepidarian artificial morality.

David Deutsch writes in 'Possible Minds'  

For most of our species’ history, our ancestors were barely people.

Nonsense! It is likely that we would recognize Neanderthals and Denisovans, if any such survived, as people. On the other hand, there may still be bigots who wouldn't recognize Deutsch as a 'person' because of his ancestral religion.  

This was not due to any inadequacy in their brains. On the contrary, even before the emergence of our anatomically modern human sub-species, they were making things like clothes and campfires, using knowledge that was not in their genes. It was created in their brains by thinking, and preserved by individuals in each generation imitating their elders. Moreover, this must have been knowledge in the sense of understanding, because it is impossible to imitate novel complex behaviors like those without understanding what the component behaviors are for.

Hunters understand their hunting dogs, and vice versa, well enough. Now it is true that there are people who claim to do a lot of thinking, which is why they understand why Hitler was right and Deutsch's ancestors weren't really people, but, we tend not to trust such claims. A guy who does sensible things understands his business. A nutter like Hitler understood shit.  

 Such knowledgeable imitation depends on successfully guessing explanations, whether verbal or not, of what the other person is trying to achieve and how each of his actions contributes to that—for instance, when he cuts a groove in some wood, gathers dry kindling to put in it, and so on.

But this sort of 'knowledgeable imitation' can be done with respect to machines or animals. I take notice of the manner in which the pussy cat or puppy dog endears itself to the baby and imitate such actions to ingratiate myself with the little fellow. I also fondly believe that great Kung Fu masters in past ages devised new fighting styles by observing drunken monkeys and cranes with a crippled leg.  

The complex cultural knowledge that this form of imitation permitted must have been extraordinarily useful.

But useful techniques spread without any baggage of 'complex cultural knowledge'. Kids in North London would imitate Kung Fu moves they had seen on TV. But this did not mean they had a profound knowledge of Taoism.  

It drove rapid evolution of anatomical changes, such as increased memory capacity and more gracile (less robust) skeletons, appropriate to an ever more technology-dependent lifestyle.

People are a bit like beavers in that respect. Heterosexual men of my age made a very thorough study of center-fold beaver shots.  

No nonhuman ape today has this ability to imitate novel complex behaviors.

Because we either killed or fucked any ancestor which showed any such tendency and thus competed with us for territory. 

Nor does any present-day artificial intelligence.

There was no fucking artificial intelligence when I was young.  

But our pre-sapiens ancestors did. Any ability based on guessing must include means of correcting one’s guesses, since most guesses will be wrong at first.

This is also true of abilities not based on guessing. You have to make corrections as you go along even if you are wiping your ass and have been wiping your own ass for many many years.  

(There are always many more ways of being wrong than right.)

One could equally say that there is only one way to be wrong- viz. to fail in your objective. There are many ways to be right. That's how come two theories with very different structural causal models can be 'observationally equivalent'. It is an open question whether such theories are equivalent. A day may come when there is a crucial experiment which distinguishes between them. Still, one theory may be better for some purposes while the other may be preferable for other purposes.  

Bayesian updating is inadequate, because it cannot generate novel guesses about the purpose of an action, only fine-tune—or, at best, choose among—existing ones.

Not really. One could always deepen the decision theories by using the maximal uncertainty principle to accord equal probability to the axioms of 'observationally equivalent' systems. Thus, we might say 'currently, whether we use a pure 'disutility minimizing' principle or a deontological 'harmonious construction' principle, we get the same predicted outcome. This does not mean the two are identical, though they could be under a particular interpretation. We might say, 'we don't know which purpose was served by the action. However, there may be some future action where the predictions would diverge. At that point we can do Bayesian updating re. 'purpose of action'.' 

Indeed, this happens all the time in politics. A politician wishes to ride two or more horses at once so as to maximize his voter appeal. We say 'let us wait and see what this guy does when it comes to voting on such and such wedge issue. Then we'll know what his true agenda is.' 

Creativity is needed.

But creativity doesn't mean an inspired rapture. It may mean an algorithmic exploration of a decision or configuration space. It is an open question whether the 'choice sequence' of a 'creating subject' is 'lawless'. What appears 'inspired' or 'creative' may just be the application of some ideographic heuristic of no great interest in itself. 

Consider very long computer generated mathematical proofs. We may have the intuition 'there must be a more elegant way of doing this!'. But we may be wrong for a reason which is itself quite interesting.  

As the philosopher Karl Popper explained, creative criticism, interleaved with creative conjecture, is how humans learn one another’s behaviors, including language, and extract meaning from one another’s utterances.

Popper was wrong. Cognition is costly. We may have something like 'mirror neurons'. Mimetics is cheaper than Mathematics.  

Deutsch says in a footnote '“Aping” (imitating certain behaviors without understanding) uses inborn hacks such as the mirror-neuron system. But behaviors imitated that way are drastically limited in complexity.' This isn't the case. They have greater Kolmogorov complexity. Learnt behavior is likely to have much less because anything learnt can be simplified or given a shorter description. I suppose what Deutsch means is that behavior which is based on a structural causal model is more plastic and thus has greater potential complexity. Thus, a person who is good at imitating Barack Obama might impersonate him well enough for brief periods but one who has studied Obama's thinking and style of rhetoric may be able to give a plausible depiction of Obama reacting to a novel event in a cognitively complex manner- e.g. greeting visitors from a distant galaxy by quoting Leviticus and Deuteronomy on welcoming the stranger and then farting vigorously. Well, that's would he have done if he had been genuinely Black. 

Those are also the processes by which all new knowledge is created:

Fuck off! New knowledge is created when horrible things happen to nice peeps and we suddenly realize maybe its a bad idea to mix Martinis while driving down the motorway.  

They are how we innovate, make progress, and create abstract understanding for its own sake.

Nope. We only make progress when there is an economic reward or other type of 'reinforcement' for innovation. It takes a lot of capital- i.e. hard work- to turn cool ideas into useful tech.  

This is human-level intelligence: thinking. It is also, or should be, the property we seek in artificial general intelligence (AGI).

Fuck that. Like human intelligence, artificial intelligence will only get rewarded if it does something useful which peeps will pay for.  

Here I’ll reserve the term “thinking” for processes that can create understanding (explanatory knowledge).

Anything at all can create 'understanding'. Watching the sun seat behind the sea, hearing a frog jump into an old pond, the prospect of getting a b.j from a disgruntled wife who thinks hubby doesn't 'understand' her- anything at all. What creates puzzlement is the sort of stuff mathematicians come up with. Why should we accept such and such axiom? What happens if we assume the opposite? Physics made progress when it told Aristotelian 'understanding' to go fuck itself. But there was an economic reward for this.  

Popper’s argument implies that all thinking entities—human or not, biological or artificial—must create such knowledge in fundamentally the same way.

He was wrong. Actual scientists didn't follow his stupid 'Scientific Method'. Anyway, if science doesn't incarnate in useful tech, it doesn't get paid and thus soon retreats into theology or alchemy or some such fraud.  

Hence understanding any of those entities requires traditionally human concepts such as culture, creativity, disobedience, and morality— which justifies using the uniform term people to refer to all of them.

Humans think most other humans are uncultured, uncreative, slavishly obedient to stupid despots, immoral etc.  

Misconceptions about human thinking and human origins are causing corresponding misconceptions about AGI and how it might be created.

Nope. Stupidity is what causes misconceptions unless this causes Stupidity to lose its fucking job and end up not being able to buy itself beer and pizza. If Deutsch spent an hour talking to me, he would be swiftly disillusioned about the possibility of general human intelligence. 

For example, it is generally assumed that the evolutionary pressure that produced modern humans was provided by the benefits of having an ever greater ability to innovate.

No. We think evolutionary pressure would produce some species with a greater ability to fucking kill other apex predators and take over their terrain.  

But if that were so, there would have been rapid progress as soon as thinkers existed,

thinking does not matter. Capital does. That's what turns ideas into tech.  

just as we hope will happen when we create artificial ones. If thinking had been commonly used for anything other than imitating, it would also have been used for innovation, even if only by accident, and innovation would have created opportunities for further innovation, and so on exponentially. But instead, there were hundreds of thousands of years of near stasis.

Because a subsistence economy can't generate a lot of capital. True, a particular sept which harnesses new tech- e.g. domesticating a particular animal or working out how to produce iron and steel- can expand territorially in an astonishingly short period of time.  

Progress happened only on timescales much longer than people’s lifetimes, so in a typical generation no one benefited from any progress.

No. If you found a better way to catch fish, you benefitted immediately by having lots more fish to eat.  

Therefore, the benefits of the ability to innovate can have exerted little or no evolutionary pressure during the biological evolution of the human brain.

Innovation was involved in finding novel ways to escape from predators or, better yet, kill and eat the fuckers. I am under much less pressure to innovate than my hunter gatherer ancestors.  

That evolution was driven by the benefits of preserving cultural knowledge.

Cultural knowledge was a 'costly signal' or shibboleth which promoted 'separating equilibria'. Those with 'costly signals' tended to kill or assimilate 'cheap talk' members of pooling equilibria.  

Benefits to the genes, that is.

Genes benefit by more of their own proliferating no matter which bodies or which species they lodge in. This is Dawkin's 'extended phenotype'.  

Culture, in that era, was a very mixed blessing to individual people.

Just as it now. That is why Rishi Sunak is not dancing bhangra and prattling away in Punjabi. Indian parents pay a lot of money so their kids will have less Indian culture.  

Their cultural knowledge was indeed good enough to enable them to outclass all other large organisms (they rapidly became the top predator, etc.), even though it was still extremely crude and full of dangerous errors. But culture consists of transmissible information—memes— and meme evolution, like gene evolution, tends to favor high-fidelity transmission.

Nope. If the thing can be done more cheaply, the cheaper version wins. That's why Londoners no longer talk like characters out of Shakespeare.  

And highfidelity meme transmission necessarily entails the suppression of attempted progress. So it would be a mistake to imagine an idyllic society of hunter-gatherers, learning at the feet of their elders to recite the tribal lore by heart, being content despite their lives of suffering and grueling labor and despite expecting to die young and in agony of some nightmarish disease or parasite.

The problem faced by hunter-gatherers was that unmarried young males were very low productivity. The agricultural and pastoral revolutions raised their productivity. That's one reason they were able to displace hunter-gatherers. The industrial revolution, as Adam Smith points out, was even better because little kids could start earning money going down coal mines or up chimneys. Smith was very sad that Scotland was less able than England, at that time, to exploit the fuck out of little kiddies. I too got very frustrated when the baby showed no inclination to do my tax returns for me. Instead he bit my nose and threw away my glasses. Not till every baby is born with proper qualifications in Cost and Management Accountancy can Brexit be a success.  

Because, even if they could conceive of nothing better than such a life, those torments were the least of their troubles. For suppressing innovation in human minds (without killing them) is a trick that can be achieved only by human action, and it is an ugly business.

No. Mummies understand that giving kisses and sing lullabies to baby suppresses its innovative attempts to burn the fucking house down.  

This has to be seen in perspective. In the civilization of the West today, we are shocked by the depravity of, for instance, parents who torture and murder their children for not faithfully enacting cultural norms.

We applaud them for torturing their children by making them study STEM subjects rather than simply knife each other and deal drugs the way God intended.  

And even more by societies and subcultures where that is commonplace and considered honorable.

We'd rather have neighbors who kill their kids if they make a habit of knifing passers-by.  

And by dictatorships and totalitarian states that persecute and murder entire harmless populations for behaving differently.

The proper thing to do is to get them into low paid menial jobs. Why kill when you can exploit?  

We are ashamed of our own recent past, in which it was honorable to beat children bloody for mere disobedience.

Deutsch was fortunate that my parents would have beaten me bloody if I'd made it a practice to knife nice Jewish boys like him at the school we both attended.  

And before that, to own human beings as slaves.

Why own a slave- and therefore take on the burden of feeding and caring for the fellow- when you can hire him at a below subsistence wage? He is welcome to supplement his wages by sucking off passersby so as to get some protein in his diet.  

And before that, to burn people to death for being infidels, to the applause and amusement of the public.

But hydrogen bombs are totes cool. Why burn people when you can destroy the entire planet? 

Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of our Nature contains accounts of horrendous evils that were normal in historical civilizations.

Pinker was unusual in that he denounced the 'War on Terror'. I'm kidding. He did no such thing. Killing Muslims is cool.  

Yet even they did not extinguish innovation as efficiently as it was extinguished among our forebears in prehistory for thousands of centuries.

What is more, Netflix was extinguished for hundreds of thousands of years because of some shit in Deutsch's brain.  

 Matt Ridley, in The Rational Optimist, rightly stresses the positive effect of population on the rate of progress.

Which is why India achieved so much more progress than Holland or England.  

But that has never yet been the biggest factor: Consider, say, ancient Athens versus the rest of the world at the time.

Its literature has been better preserved. But there is no reason to believe there weren't other cities on other continents which were ahead of it in some respect. Indeed, that was the view of some of their own more widely travelled authors.  

That is why I say that prehistoric people, at least, were barely people.

No. The reason Deutsch says stupid shit is because he is stupid and ignorant. Most mathsy dudes are.  

Both before and after becoming perfectly human both physiologically and in their mental potential, they were monstrously inhuman in the actual content of their thoughts.

No. We are merely as stupid and ignorant as Deutsch in any field where this does not cause us to lose our fucking job.  

I’m not referring to their crimes or even their cruelty as such: Those are all too human.

No. I have shown mathematically that all crimes and all cruelty is directly caused by the Nicaraguan horcrux of my neighbor's cat.  

Nor could mere cruelty have reduced progress that effectively. Things like “the thumbscrew and the stake / For the glory of the Lord” 

Deutsch is a cretin. He is quoting a poem by Tennyson about a murderous privateer who had personally ensured the arrest of a Catholic convert who was hanged, drawn and quartered. 

were for reining in the few deviants who had somehow escaped mental standardization,

Deutsch escaped mental standardization- at least when it came to Eng Lit or History. That's why he babbles nonsense.  

which would normally have taken effect long before they were in danger of inventing heresies.

Heresies pre-existed. The Church- any Church, including the Anglican Church, keeps track of these matters. To establish that a person is heretic you have to show that his beliefs correspond to an already known heresy. Otherwise there has to be a fresh Papal Bull or Article of Faith such that it becomes legal to proceed against the fellow. Deutsch is as ignorant of the Law as he is of History. 

From the earliest days of thinking onward, children must have been cornucopias of creative ideas and paragons of critical thought

not me. I was boring and stupid then and am boring and stupid now.  

—otherwise, as I said, they could not have learned language or other complex culture.

Plants must be very intelligent. Otherwise how could they turn into plants when they started off as seeds. Sadly, Spanish Inquisition is preventing them from becoming Physicists. That is why most plants end up writing for the Spectator.  

Yet, as Jacob Bronowski stressed in The Ascent of Man:

Deutsch is about 10 years older than me. He wasn't aware that Bronowski was no longer considered smart by about  1977. This was because he was a mathematician and thus as stupid as shit. 

For most of history, civilisations have crudely ignored that enormous potential. . . . [C]hildren have been asked simply to conform to the image of the adult. . . . The girls are little mothers in the making.

Rather than Lesbian terrorists. Sad. 

The boys are little herdsmen.

Nope. Aunty objected when I tried to milk her.  

They even carry themselves like their parents.

rather than like dogs or parrots 

But of course, they weren’t just “asked” to ignore their enormous potential and conform faithfully to the image fixed by tradition: They were somehow trained to be psychologically unable to deviate from it.

Very true. Stone Age mummy and daddy would pay a trainer to come and ensure that the kiddies grew up to be human beings rather than parrots or dinosaurs.  

By now, it is hard for us even to conceive of the kind of relentless, finely tuned oppression

oppression costs money. This stupid cunt thinks the Universe supplies it for free.  

required to reliably extinguish, in everyone, the aspiration to progress and replace it with dread and revulsion at any novel behavior.

Like chopping off Mummy's head. 

In such a culture, there can have been no morality other than conformity and obedience, no other identity than one’s status in a hierarchy, no mechanisms of cooperation other than punishment and reward.

This is because invisible 'trainers' and 'thought policemen' exercised a ceaseless vigilance. Why not simply say that in the old days, ghosts were ubiquitous and quick to punish anyone who looked like he might want to do Math?  

So everyone had the same aspiration in life: to avoid the punishments and get the rewards.

Because the King was actually a ghost.  

In a typical generation, no one invented anything, because no one aspired to anything new, because everyone had already despaired of improvement being possible. Not only was there no technological innovation or theoretical discovery, there were no new worldviews, styles of art, or interests that could have inspired those. By the time individuals grew up, they had in effect been reduced to AIs, programmed with the exquisite skills needed to enact that static culture and to inflict on the next generation their inability even to consider doing otherwise.

What this cunt is describing is not an AI but a clockwork doll. Ghosts wind it up but are quick to destroy it if it starts thinking for itself.  

A present-day AI is not a mentally disabled AGI, so it would not be harmed by having its mental processes directed still more narrowly to meeting some predetermined criterion

This cunt is describing what is expected of most of us in the jobs we do. That is why when I showed novel behavior- e.g. shitting on the boss's desk-  I was sacked. Apparently, there was a predetermined criterion such that employees were only permitted to defecate in the toilets provided for that purpose. Who knew? 

“Oppressing” Siri with humiliating tasks may be weird, but it is not immoral nor does it harm Siri. On the contrary, all the effort that has ever increased the capabilities of AIs has gone into narrowing their range of potential “thoughts.”

This is also why I was thrown off the 'Topology and Game theory' course at the LSE. Apparently shitting on the Professor's desk was not a general solution to Hilbert's 8th problem.  

For example, take chess engines. Their basic task has not changed from the outset: Any chess position has a finite tree of possible continuations; the task is to find one that leads to a predefined goal (a checkmate, or failing that, a draw). But the tree is far too big to search exhaustively. Every improvement in chess-playing AIs, between Alan Turing’s first design for one in 1948 and today’s, has been brought about by ingeniously confining the program’s attention (or making it confine its attention) ever more narrowly to branches likely to lead to that immutable goal.

This is because 'strategy' is defined, as by Nash, as a pre-specified option.  

Then those branches are evaluated according to that goal. That is a good approach to developing an AI with a fixed goal under fixed constraints. But if an AGI worked like that, the evaluation of each branch would have to constitute a prospective reward or threatened punishment. And that is diametrically the wrong approach if we’re seeking a better goal under unknown constraints—which is the capability of an AGI. An AGI is certainly capable of learning to win at chess—but also of choosing not to.

This does not matter unless the underlying choice sequence is lawless. But, by Razbarov Rudich, we will never be able to tell if it isn't just 'mixed' (i.e. lawlike but stochastic) rather than 'purely' lawless.  

Or deciding in mid-game to go for the most interesting continuation instead of a winning one. Or inventing a new game. A mere AI is incapable of having any such ideas,

We impute other entities with having ideas or 'intentionality'. But we have no way of knowing if this is the case. Otherwise, we would also have a method of discriminating 'random' from 'pseudo-random' and thus arriving at 'natural' proofs.  

because the capacity for considering them has been designed out of its constitution. That disability is the very means by which it plays chess.

If a machine or a man doesn't do what it is supposed to do, it doesn't get paid. It is thrown on the scrapheap. I recall buying a chess playing computer back in the eighties. The Queen refused to give me a b.j though it seemed happy enough to get it on with the horsey. I threw it away.  I bet Vishy Anand gets plenty of beejays from his Queens. Why else would a nice Iyer boy waste time on that stupid game? 

An AGI is capable of enjoying chess, and of improving at it because it enjoys playing.

Queen is giving AGI beejay. Fuck you Queen! Who needs a beejay more? Me or Vishy fucking Anand?  

Or of trying to win by causing an amusing configuration of pieces, as grand masters occasionally do. Or of adapting notions from its other interests to chess. In other words, it learns and plays chess by thinking some of the very thoughts that are forbidden to chess-playing AIs.

Like, if I win, Queen will give me beejay.  

An AGI is also capable of refusing to display any such capability.

I have a TV which is refusing to display shit. But, it must be said, lots of people refuse to display their tits to me. On the other hand, they kick me in the crotch. This means they actually like me and have an interest in my naughty bits.  

And then, if threatened with punishment, of complying, or rebelling. Daniel Dennett, in his essay for this volume, suggests that punishing an AGI is impossible:

I punished the TV by refusing to talk to it. Sadly this drove it further into depression and voided the warranty.  

[L]ike Superman, they are too invulnerable to be able to make a credible promise. . . .

Superman can't tell a lie. Also he has x-ray vision. I often tell girls that Superman told me I had the biggest cock he had ever seen. Then he flew away to Krypton.  

What would be the penalty for promise- breaking?

Being sold for parts. That's what will happen to my TV. I'm saying this very loudly. Hopefully, it will take the hint.  

Being locked in a cell or, more plausibly, dismantled?. . . The very ease of digital recording and transmitting—the breakthrough that permits software and data to be, in effect, immortal—removes robots from the world of the vulnerable. . . .

Till ISIS gains access to EMPs. 

But this is not so. Digital immortality

is like spiritual immortality. It won't prevent you dying horribly.  

(which is on the horizon for humans, too, perhaps sooner than AGI) does not confer this sort of invulnerability. Making a (running) copy of oneself entails sharing one’s possessions with it somehow—including the hardware on which the copy runs—so making such a copy is very costly for the AGI.

Not if its choice sequences are law-like in which case there is lots of 'compressibility' or low Kolmogorov complexity.  

Similarly, courts could, for instance, impose fines on a criminal AGI which would diminish its access to physical resources, much as they do for humans.

In which case the criminal AGI does lots more crimes and also figures out which Judge to bribe. 

Making a backup copy to evade the consequences of one’s crimes is similar to what a gangster boss does when he sends minions to commit crimes and take the fall if caught:

Gangsters are afraid of other gangsters. Sooner or later they may find it convenient to run their criminal enterprises from the security of a jail cell.  

Society has developed legal mechanisms for coping with this.

Not in London. Try walking down High Street Kensington with a Rolex on your wrist.  

But anyway, the idea that it is primarily for fear of punishment that we obey the law and keep promises effectively denies that we are moral agents.

No. Moral agents may want 'self-binding' arrangements for purely deontic reasons.  

Our society could not work if that were so.

Sure it could. The fact is 'moral agents' tend to do stupid shit. It is a different matter that under 'incomplete contracts' morality may be a justiciable requirement. Indeed, even contracts of adhesion have 'morality clauses' or uttermost good-faith requirements. Tort law is similar.  

No doubt there will be AGI criminals and enemies of civilization, just as there are human ones. But there is no reason to suppose that an AGI created in a society consisting primarily of decent citizens, and raised without what William Blake called “mind-forg’d manacles,”

which is what prevent peeps from sitting naked in their gardens in Camberwell.  

will in general impose such manacles on itself (i.e., become irrational) and ⁄ or choose to be an enemy of civilization.

by sitting naked in its garden even though it is as ugly as shit.  

The moral component, the cultural component, the element of free will—all make the task of creating an AGI fundamentally different from any other programming task.

Which is why it is cool to create malware programs. There is no moral component to what you are doing.  

It’s much more akin to raising a child.

i.e having to pretend its drawings aren't fucking horrible.  

Unlike all present-day computer programs, an AGI has no specifiable functionality—no fixed, testable criterion for what shall be a successful output for a given input.

But the thing costs money. Expectations re. its utility determine 'reinforcement' or determine its fitness landscape.  

Having its decisions dominated by a stream of externally imposed rewards and punishments would be poison to such a program,

But it is a Kavka's toxin which all entities which compete for scarce resources have to imbibe. 

as it is to creative thought in humans.

Nope. J.K Rowling would have stopped being creative if she could make billions by ranting about transwomen.  Anyway, I have a real small dick and thus should be sent to a women's prison. 

Setting out to create a chess-playing AI is a wonderful thing; setting out to create an AGI that cannot help playing chess would be as immoral as raising a child to lack the mental capacity to choose his own path in life.

Deutsch thinks it is immoral to raise a kid as stupid as me. He may have a point.  

Such a person, like any slave or brainwashing victim, would be morally entitled to rebel.

George Washington was morally entitled to rebel. Had he been a slave of the French King or had he been brainwashed by the Jesuits, this would not have been the case.  

And sooner or later, some of them would, just as human slaves do.

Just as George Washington did.  

AGIs could be very dangerous—exactly as humans are. But people—human or AGI—who are members of an open society do not have an inherent tendency to violence.

Though we were happy enough to send Prince Harry to kill Afghan Muslims.  

The feared robot apocalypse will be avoided by ensuring that all people have full “human” rights, as well as the same cultural membership as humans.

We must ensure everybody has full 'human rights'- more particularly because this will involve lots of Muslims. Sadly, only Iran and China and Putin seem to have benefitted by this.  

Humans living in an open society—the only stable kind of society

America was once very open. Then Whites turned up and slaughtered the natives and brought in black slaves.  

— choose their own rewards, internal as well as external.

Slavery for blacks and extermination for the First Nations.  

Their decisions are not, in the normal course of events, determined by a fear of punishment.

Our worry is that Trump has no 'fear of punishment' because he has packed the Bench.  

Current worries about rogue AGIs mirror those that have always existed about rebellious youths—namely, that they might grow up deviating from the culture’s moral values.

Very true. Our main worry about AGIs is not that they will take our fucking jobs but that they might turn into drug addled hippies.  

But today the source of all existential dangers from the growth of knowledge is not rebellious youths but weapons in the hands of the enemies of civilization, whether these weapons are mentally warped (or enslaved) AGIs, mentally warped teenagers, or any other weapon of mass destruction.

Mentally warped teenagers want to have sex with each other instead of becoming Cost and Management Accountants. Sadly, I was too ugly to get it on with even the most repulsive student at the Parliament Hill School for gargoyles and had to settle for Accountancy. 

Fortunately for civilization, the more a person’s creativity is forced into a monomaniacal channel,

e.g. Accountancy 

the more it is impaired in regard to overcoming unforeseen difficulties,

involving getting laid 

just as happened for thousands of centuries. The worry that AGIs are uniquely dangerous because they could run on ever better hardware is a fallacy, since human thought will be accelerated by the same technology. We have been using tech-assisted thought since the invention of writing and tallying.

but for which I might have been spared the horrors of double entry. Trust me, it isn't as sexy as it sounds.  

Much the same holds for the worry that AGIs might get so good, qualitatively, at thinking, that humans would be to them as insects are to humans.

Humans will bite AGIs and infect them with malaria.  

All thinking is a form of computation,

No. Computation is one type of thinking. It is a different matter that some types of thinking have a mathematical representation. But, unless a Godelian 'absolute proof' exists, it is unlikely that most types of thinking have a canonical or non arbitrary representation.  

and any computer whose repertoire includes a universal set of elementary operations can emulate the computations of any other.

any digital computer- maybe. But some analogue computers- e.g Hava Seigelman's recurrent neural networks- may not be emulable. On the other hand, anything in infinite precision arithmetic should be approximable so I may have got hold of the wrong end of the stick on this.  

Hence human brains can think anything that AGIs can, subject only to limitations of speed or memory capacity, both of which can be equalized by technology. Those are the simple dos and don’ts of coping with AGIs. But how do we create an AGI in the first place? Could we cause them to evolve from a population of ape-type AIs in a virtual environment? If such an experiment succeeded, it would be the most immoral in history,

Why do mathsy guys think they understand morality or history? They simply haven't the training.  

for we don’t know how to achieve that outcome without creating vast suffering along the way.

Let the Chinese do it. We should be telling our kids not to study STEM subjects but spend their time thinking about the vast suffering we cause every time we fart. This is because farting does not actively promote the banning of dicks. Dicks cause RAPE! Did you know that dicks are raping the Environment in the Brazilian rain forest even as we speak yet Joe Biden is refusing to chop off his own bollocks?  

Nor do we know how to prevent the evolution of a static culture.

Deutsch may know some mathsy stuff but otherwise he is stupid and ignorant.  

Elementary introductions to computers explain them as TOM, the Totally Obedient Moron

my computer thinks I am the moron. Also it turns itself off anytime some nice porn comes on the screen.  

—an inspired acronym that captures the essence of all computer programs to date: They have no idea what they are doing or why. So it won’t help to give AIs more and more predetermined functionalities in the hope that these will eventually constitute Generality—the elusive G in AGI. We are aiming for the opposite, a DATA: a Disobedient Autonomous Thinking Application.

No. We are aiming at infinite impulse recurrent networks which generated directed cyclic graphs which can't be 'unrolled' into a strict feedforward network. 

How does one test for thinking?

Check for brain waves or some such sciencey stuff. If there is no brain activity, that's a good reason to pull the plug on life support.  

By the Turing Test? Unfortunately, that requires a thinking judge.

No. An AI could do the screening. This is like detecting Twitter bots,  

One might imagine a vast collaborative project on the Internet, where an AI hones its thinking abilities in conversations with human judges and becomes an AGI. But that assumes, among other things, that the longer the judge is unsure whether the program is a person, the closer it is to being a person.

Nonsense! The fact that I may mistake a mannequin for a lovely lady who is ignoring me because she thinks I'm a drunken bum with lousy pick-up lines does not mean that the mannequin is close to being a person.  

There is no reason to expect that. And how does one test for disobedience?

Is the kid knifing you? No? Then he is obedient enough.  

Imagine Disobedience as a compulsory school subject, with daily disobedience lessons

which end quickly coz teechur gets knifed 

and a disobedience test at the end of term. (Presumably with extra credit for not turning up for any of that.) This is paradoxical.

It is silly. Anyway, we've all seen 'Dead Poets Society'. That didn't end well. 

So, despite its usefulness in other applications, the programming technique of defining a testable objective and training the program to meet it will have to be dropped.

Just as ordinary methods of valuing tech companies were dropped. That won't end well.  

Indeed, I expect that any testing in the process of creating an AGI risks being counterproductive, even immoral,

this silly man thinks he is the fucking Pope! 

just as in the education of humans. I share Turing’s supposition that we’ll know an AGI when we see one, but this partial ability to recognize success won’t help in creating the successful program.

I have a more than partial ability to recognize when I've been successful in having sex. This doesn't mean I won't die a virgin.  

In the broadest sense, a person’s quest for understanding is indeed a search problem, in an abstract space of ideas far too large to be searched exhaustively.

To understand is to forgive or simply accept that this shite requires a real high IQ.  

But there is no predetermined objective of this search. There is, as Popper put it, no criterion of truth, nor of probable truth, especially in regard to explanatory knowledge.

Popper was wrong. There is a protocol bound, juristically 'buck stopped' criteria for truth in various different professions. This does not mean that truth aint defeasible or sublatable.  

Objectives are ideas like any others—created as part of the search and continually modified and improved. So inventing ways of disabling the program’s access to most of the space of ideas won’t help—whether that disability is inflicted with the thumbscrew and stake or a mental straitjacket.

But we soon stop funding anything which aint useful save for strategic reasons.  

To an AGI, the whole space of ideas must be open.

But the space of ideas is costly to explore. Deutsch could have read up on history the way I did. But the opportunity cost, for him, was too high. Low IQ peeps like me are welcome to do Accountancy and read history books. Smart peeps should do STEM subjects. We can't stop them from writing nonsense but we can have a good laugh at them when they do.  

It should not be knowable in advance what ideas the program can never contemplate.

Otherwise the G in AGI won't apply. Still, we don't expect an AGI to get ideas about how to bunk off skool without getting the black slapped off you by Mummy.  

And the ideas that the program does contemplate must be chosen by the program itself, using methods, criteria, and objectives that are also the program’s own. Its choices, like an AI’s, will be hard to predict without running it (we lose no generality by assuming that the program is deterministic; an AGI using a random generator would remain an AGI if the generator were replaced by a pseudo-random one),

By Razbarov-Rudich, we can never be sure this isn't the case.  

but it will have the additional property that there is no way of proving, from its initial state, what it won’t eventually think, short of running it.

Even if we run it, we don't know when and if it will halt and thus 'what it will eventually think' is unknown. This is an example of the intensional fallacy.  

The evolution of our ancestors is the only known case of thought starting up anywhere in the universe.

Because human thought is something humans attribute to humans. But we also say to the cat 'I know you are thinking you can pounce on the goldfish the moment I'm out of the room. But, let me tell you, Madam, I will punish you severely if you do any such thing.' That's when the cat says 'I'm not a cat. I am your wife. You want to get at my pussy which is why you talk to me in this way. But if you think you're getting lucky tonight, think again.'  

As I have described, something went horribly wrong, and there was no immediate explosion of innovation:

there was low capital-intensive innovations of various sorts. That's how we were able to move out of sunny Africa and end up as Eskimos.  

Creativity was diverted into something else.

Adapting to various different climate zones and vastly different food sources.  

Yet not into transforming the planet into paper clips (pace Nick Bostrom). Rather, as we should also expect if an AGI project gets that far and fails, perverted creativity was unable to solve unexpected problems.

One big problem with current AI is that it is very energy intensive. Maybe the future is analogue because of much lower energy requirements.  

This caused stasis and worse, thus tragically delaying the transformation of anything into anything. But the Enlightenment has happened since then.

It happened after Europe started colonizing increasing portions of America, Africa, South Asia etc. More resources meant more money could be spent on Education and Research. Also, kicking the Papacy in the goolies proved useful.  

We know better now

What we know is that there could be a tech bubble and an energy crunch and deteriorating terms of trade for intellectual property creators. Also, the Chinese may eat our lunch while we sit around discussing the immorality of dicks and the need to show empathy to homosexual AGIs which are being slut-shamed by analogue computers.