Friday, May 13, 2005

Chas, Nate and Tim's shift in topic

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with the comments to my last post, starting with a comment from Chas, the conversation has shifted, via Tim and Nate, from same-sex marriage to an attempt to find the system that would best yeild a happy society. Since the scope of this conversation is wider reaching and, I think, gobs more important-- I felt like a post devoted solely to this topic is a splendid idea.

To recap-- Correct me if I’m wrong-- (you can still read Chas, Tim and Nate's own words under the comments section of the last post)

It seems there is a general consensus between nate and tim that what we are searching for is a system that has the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people—although, nate is still unsure as to whether it is better to have (a) 100 people with a happiness state of zero [net of zero] or (b) 99 people with a happiness state of -1 and one ridiculously happy person with a happiness state of 100 [net of positive one].

It has also been agreed that, as a base, one person's happiness state should not physically impede the happiness state of another person; that is, there should exist protection to keep people from gaining happiness at the expense of other persons physical (and arguably emotional) pain.

Nate’s definition of what we’re searching for:
“Given that we both respect each other's desires to obtain states, what is the set of mutual status states that minimizes our mutual interference with each other's desired states?”

I guess the big question I have for both of you and everyone is whether we should prefer the happiest (net) society or a society with equal possibility for happiness—This relates to the scenario that Nate brought up about a net happiness of 0 possibly being better than 1.

To bring this back to same-sex marriage—it seems completely likely that the pleasure that conservatives get from keeping their word “marriage” from the sinful clutches of homosexuals would amount to a higher net happiness than if we allowed homosexuals to marry. Considering the population of homosexuals (and those who support gay marriage) is so small the average amount of happiness gained by homosexuals (and those who support gay rights) would have to be considerably higher than the average happiness lost by those in the majority who oppose gay marriage.

I guess I’m not really bringing anything new to the conversation—I just can't figure it out. If we go for the greatest happiness while still maintaining equality it seems like we're shafting society-- because there could potentially be a happier society. If we don't maintain equality then we're shafting minorities-- because they could potentially be happier. So which is it? Somebody solve it for me.


Anonymous natie pie said...

sorry for introducing something off topic. but there is a certain applicational utility that we obtain from laying down principles as opposed to treating special cases one after another. as tim said before, this approach indirectly addresses the gay marriage ban.

the main problem with this approach stems from the fact that we must first form evaluation criteria for systems of principles in order to determine the optimal principle set.

given an evaluation criteria, which principle sets are satisfactory? in particular, for which criteria do we obtain a unique principle set that satisfies the criteria?

it has always struck me that if actions are not harmful (intentional reduction of another's status) , or harmful but consensual (agreed upon reduction of status), then they should not be restricted. it follows from this principle that gay marriage should not be banned.

furthermore, it restricts unions between our species and the non-communicative species as long as they are considered to be individuals in the system. this is because they don't have the ability to express consent and intercourse can possibly reduce their status.

i prefer the mode of existence that this principle engenders, but i still don't have a way of supporting it by any thing other than preference of consequence. another person may have the preference of consequence that restricts gay marriage and thus choose principles to support this view. why would my preference have preference over their preference? in the end, only the view point that survives and will be promulgated.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous tim said...

You are right, mathematics does well when our goal is to eliminate vague notions and slippery terminology. I posted too soon, before the shock of novelty had worn off. I'll have to stick to what i know best, though, especially as I don't believe there is any real solution to be had to the problem, as you've stated.

How do we evaluate the evaluation criteria? It seems that asking this question leads to an endless loop, similar to that of searching for a First Cause. It seems impossible to evaluate a system from within the system. I would imagine that you know a good deal more about that formality than I do, and may shed some light on the finality and/or correctness of that statement. But, all these lines of questioning inevitably lead to "because that's the way it is", or "that's what intuitively feels right".

i agree that we need to pin down the definition of optimal status in order to have discourse. two schools of thought that can coexist -- either we begin with basic principles and derive everything else from those, or we figure out how we would like things to work and choose supporting principles.

This statement is somewhat true, although it does nothing to pin down the somewhat arbitrary nature of any set of morals one would care to assume. It seems more like a superficial difference, as it is impossible to separate the choice of basic principles from the world engendered by said principles.

If this world really is arbitrary and random, then all well and good; there is some utility in having a set of principles for everyone to follow, but it is ultimately meaningless. I'll do what I've said I wouldn't, and extrapolate from the existence of purposes that transcend individuality to an ultimate transcendental purpose. This leads to the following assumptions:

1. there is a purpose to reality such that there is a desired state or set of states
2. reality will eventually end up in this final state

From this it then becomes a matter of determining the general course of history of the universe to determine where everything came from and if there is a general direction. I would say there is, that the history of reality has been one of the propagation of information processing structures that have increased in complexity as time continues. There also does not seem to be any foreseeable check to this process. It then falls to me to aid this process as best as I can. To the extent that mankind can be viewed as some sort of distributed supercomputer that is growing ever more powerful, if I am to aid this process then I must strive to improve myself and those around me, to foster cooperation and communication.

This approach has the benefit of doing more than describing a list of things to avoid. It provides a series of actions we should avoid, but also things we should strive for, goals for us to reach. I do not believe in happiness as a purpose, as it is no more than a state of mind, one that can be brought about by drugs, money, simply shifting one's point of view. Even lasting happiness lasts only till death. Is our goal then to create as many neural structures that feel good as we can? As well hook electrodes into our brains, and we can all become the equivalent of the psychotic patient in Terminal Man, with constant stimulation to make us all permanently happy until the day we die. Any argument against this involves redefining happiness as something other than a feeling or a state of mind; in this case, as well use some other word and avoid the confusion.

So, I've sidestepped the whole question by deciding that happiness as an end is pointless, moving away from the original thrust of my argument. I really don't agree with happiness as a purpose; it seems incidental and arbitrary, awarded to some in the face of adversity and removed from others at the pinnacle of success.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous natie_pie said...

my apologies for being too busy to really concentrate on a focused discussion. i've been directed to the following website for interesting reading which may pertain to this conversation:

1:05 AM  

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