Saturday, July 2, 2011

Premises, Part 1 - Objective Reality

This series was probably supposed to come before the post on defining good for the sake of addressing our operating premises. The premises represent the foundation on which morality is built. The first stage in any attempt to sway opinion must be to achieve agreement on the premises. From there, it's a matter of following the logical thread until you determine the primary point of contention, and building your case on that leverage point.

First, a definition:
Premise - A previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion.

In creating the rationalist philosophy, there are three basic premises that we are going to need to accept:
1. The world around us represents an objective reality. It exists independent of our consciousness, and independent of our life. Alterations to our brain chemistry can modify our subjective perception of this reality, but this has no impact on the facts of the world, only in the way we perceive them.
2. We are all hardwired by evolution to each have the same drives, urges and emotions with the purpose of perpetuating our individual survival and reproduction, and to a smaller extent the survival of our species as a whole. The totality of these evolutionary drives represent an objective morality.
3. We have to assume that free will exists. We have to assume that humans have the capacity to make good or bad decisions in order to punish them for their decisions.

In part one of this series, let's take a look at the first of these.

Objective Reality
Major hat tip to Richard Nikoley from Free the Animal for including the Hitchens video in this post. The video is one of seven, and in the second video, there is an extremely interesting discussion of a philosopher at Oxford, Nick Bostrom. Bostrom has a theory called the Simulation Hypothesis, which has been featured to various capacities in movies.

The simulation hypothesis posits that it is very likely that we will achieve singularity at some point in the future. This means a number of things, one of which is that we will be able to take a human brain, break it down to its most basic elements, and simulate it in a computer program. Once we can do that, it is not far off to create a virtual universe in which all of the simulated humans perceive themselves as having free will. Once we can create a simulated universe, we can and presumably will create a large number of these simulated universes on computers. As technology advances, the number of simulated universes will approach infinity, and the likelihood that any individual is in the objective reality as opposed to a simulated universe will approach zero. The question then becomes, are we in a simulated universe? Can we know for sure either way? Does it matter?

It is impossible for a person who is scientific minded to reject the possibility of the above scenario. However, it is also irrelevant. If you ever watch the show House, M.D., you will see that occasionally House comes up with a diagnosis that fits better than anything else, but he refuses to accept it, not because it is illogical, but because that diagnosis is untreatable and it would mean giving up on the patient and letting him die. By the same logic, worrying about whether we are in an objective reality or a simulated one is irrelevant, because unless someone is going to come and unplug you Morpheus style, it leaves no course of action other than to continue to try to achieve your own happiness. So here at Armchair, we accept that the world around us represents an objective reality. However, our experience of the world is entirely subjective, as it is filtered through our senses. Still, as the breadth and depth of our experience of the world increases, our concept of the world asymptotically approaches that of the objective reality.
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  1. Kenji David OkochiJuly 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    We may or may not have "free will". I have yet to see any conclusive proof one way or the other, and coming up with an experiment to test it is difficult to say the least.

    However there is a tendency in the universe for entropy to increase, and life, and thus thinking life, and thus the "free will" that accompanies it. Thus the more choices we have, the greater the entropy. The fact that I chose to write this comment, while providing some order in the universe, vastly increased the disorder as a result of the energy I'm spending coming off as sweat, etc.

    But your point is correct, "free will" is irrelevant. The only thing we can do is pursue happiness, which is a worthwhile endeavor of its own.

  2. Hey Kenji,

    Free will is post three of the series. I'll probably write the post tomorrow, so you shouldn't have to wait too long. The short answer though is that while I do believe in a deterministic universe, and thus no free will, regardless of whether or not our actions are predetermined by the interaction of matter at the most basic particle level, we still believe that we can influence our future decisions. Thus we can be assumed to have free will.

    Thanks for commenting.