Love is not special

Of all the stupid things that have come up on Overcoming Bias, this is probably the stupidiest.

Love is not a miracle.  It is not a mystery.  It is not an unimaginable enigma beyond human ken.  It is not the light pouring through the windows of the universe.

It’s a behavior, an input-output pattern more complex than, but ultimately belonging to the same class as, the avoid-approach responses of paramecia.  Some conditions trigger receptors that alter the activity of cilia, and the movement of the whole changes.  That’s all.

This talk of ‘moral miracles’ isn’t reasoned argument.  It’s not even appeal to emotion.  It is conceptual heroin, mainlined directly into the mind’s eye.  Yudkowski has been pushing his tainted wares for years, and at this point he’s surrounded by people who tried his free first sample and came craving back for more.  There are only a few who question him, much less challenge him, and fewer who oppose him.

This sort of thought-abolishing, oblivion-seeking excess needs to be called out and acknowledged for what it is, in order to ameliorate the damage it does.  And it’s produced faster than it can be recognized and named.

There aren’t enough of us, out there.  There are far too many of them.


21 Responses to “Love is not special”

  1. Z. M. Davis Says:

    “Love is not a miracle. It is not a mystery. It is not an unimaginable enigma beyond human ken. It is not the light pouring through the windows of the universe.”

    But that was exactly Yudkowsky’s point! You’re right: love isn’t magic; it’s a behavior produced by evolution. However, that being the case, we can continue to value love, without any grander Cause than our own conceptual heroin addiction.

    I mean, what would you suggest we do instead?

  2. melendwyr Says:

    It’s not just not-magic. It’s not inherently special, or desirable in itself for itself.

    It’s a behavior, or a set of constraints that directs behaviors, and its existence is predicated by its usefulness.

    It is *not* a precious gift we offer the future. If we create a future at all, it will be to us what airplanes are to birds. Expecting our mindchildren to ‘love’ in any sense we would recognize is as silly as expecting airplanes to peck at red spots to receive food.

  3. There aren’t enough of us, out there. There are far too many of them.

    Paranoid groupthink is also an evolved response. Who exactly is “us” and “them”?

  4. Z. M. Davis Says:

    But nothing is inherently desirable in itself for itself: there is no goal shared by all possible minds. All Yudkowsky and friends want to do is make sure our mindchildren share some aspects of our particular conceptual heroin addiction. It can be argued that this is an unrealistic goal–but I figure it’s at least worth a shot. Again, what else are we supposed to do, exactly?

  5. Nick Tarleton Says:

    Usefulness toward what end?

  6. melendwyr Says:

    Existence. What other end is there?

    Minds can arise with a variety of goals… but, given time, the only ones that remain are those whose actions are compatible with continued existence.

    It may be logically possible for bees to build nests with septagonal cells. But if you introduce that property into a population, the trait will decrease to extinction.

    Likewise, there are conceivable configurations of the cellular machinery of paramecia that would cause them to move towards, not away from, lethal conditions. But those configurations would not persist if they were made real.

  7. Z. M. Davis Says:

    “[I]f you introduce that property into a population, the trait will decrease to extinction.”

    Right–that’s why we’ve got to stamp out evolution.

  8. melendwyr Says:

    That can only be done with massive intervention, and so can only be accomplished in those domains in which you can maintain control.

    It’s not an attitude that could be sustained for long if you tried to implement it generally – and it’s still lethal if you try to implement it selectively, just on a longer scale.

    I’m not one to stand in the way of something wishing to hare after self-destruction. Have a nice death!

  9. Z. M. Davis Says:

    I will, thanks!

  10. Caledonian, you’re starting to live up to your potential as a blogger. And I agree with you Caledonian on two counts: (1) you’re trying harder than Eliezer to have and transparently promote the best model of reality possible, and (2) you’re a useful corrective to Eliezer on OB. I’m glad their editing high-handedness is driving you to make content for your blog.

  11. mitchell porter Says:

    There is in fact a “mystery” or two here, as there is with every emotion, and it is the same old qualia-mystery. There is no discernible intrinsic relationship between the motion of matter in space, and any form of feeling, perception, or subjective experience. Certain relationships between matter and mind are in fact discernible, but only through the observation of their co-occurrence, and there is no reason known to us why being what we are physically should feel like it does, or indeed should feel like anything at all. To identify love with the behavior of love is to glide serenely past this problem without even acknowledging it.

    As a challenge to the status of love, I find far more interesting those analyses which from start to finish treat it as a phenomenon of subjectivity; I’m thinking especially of Nietzsche’s will-to-power ontology, the best exposition of which is probably the posthumous collection of notes published under the title “The Will to Power”. The section on physics is especially interesting because it directly tackles the problem of interpreting physical ontology – basic concepts such as force and substance – in some way beyond the formal and mathematical. To some extent he is psychologizing the inanimate – saying that a mathematical law is merely descriptive, and that the why of the events described by the law must be sought somewhere deeper – but in another sense he is seeking a common ontological reduction of both animate and inanimate. The “will” of his elementary “quanta of power” is an inhumanly simple and pure thing, compared to the elaborately complicated will of human psychology; it is the ultimate stuff behind all events and all causality. But make no mistake, this problem – the relationship between the phenomenal ontology of the psyche, and the ultimate ontology of the simplest things – must be faced; the psyche and the particle must be placed on an ontological continuum; or else the Kantian approach must be adopted, according to which the noumenal, the ultimate nature of things, is simply inconceivable.

    Until the relationship of subjectivity to physics has been understood, it will be more or less impossible to really grasp the place of love, or any other subjective phenomenon, in the scheme of things, since we presently understand the whole in terms of physics, but we do not understand ourselves thus.

  12. Pyramid Head Says:

    Wow, it seems like Caledonian’s sole purpose in life is to disagree with Eliezer whenever possible. Reminds me of a quote from Stephen King:

    “These days if Stu Redman said a firetruck was red, Harold Lauder would produce facts and figures proving that most of them these days were green.”

    Just exchange Stu Redman for Eliezer, and Harold for Caledonian…

  13. and it is the same old qualia-mystery

    Just like thte mysteries of spontaneous generation and vitalism.

    We already know how moving matter encodes information, and there’s no mystery about qualia: it’s an illusion. There’s nothing there.

  14. Have you considered you don’t experiece qualia, but that others do? I’m skeptical of the starting assumption that everyone experiences the theatre of consciousness. It’s like not being colorblind, and thus assuming that no one is colorblind, or not sleepwalking/sleeptalking and assuming nobody you’re interacting with is ever sleepwalking/sleeptalking. Similarly, perhaps only a subset of us are experiencing the theatre of consciousness.

  15. Colors have distinct properties, and we can determine by the behavior of others whether they are capable of perceiving them. That’s how we can tell that some people are colorblind in the first place, after all.

    What properties do we need to create a new category of things to explain? How would a person who doesn’t perceive qualia behave differently from those that supposedly do? (Denial of qualia-experience doesn’t count.)

  16. In the latter paragraph, great question. I think a rich starting place for answers is careful study of the phenomena of sleep walking, sleep talking, and “black out period” for example when people are drunk. These all may be states where people aren’t experiencing the theatre of consciousness, and yet engage in behavior other people only engage in when experiencing that conscious state.

  17. mitchell porter Says:

    You know, I could be equally insistent that only words exist. After all, all these references to an alleged world “outside the text”, made of mysterious things other than words – I can’t help but notice that people always use words to talk about them! So why not drop the nonsense and admit that these mysterious entities like “people” and “behavior” are just more words?

  18. You know, I could be equally insistent that only words exist.

    You believe you’re making a distinction, but ultimately that assertion does not have different properties than the others you refer to obliquely. They’re actually equivalent. It’s the associations of everyday life that teach us to respond in different ways to different statements, but their meaning is the same.

    I should write a post about this point; it doesn’t seem to be generally appreciated.

  19. Mitchell, you may have hit on something brilliant. Although perhaps written as an attempt to make The Garderner Formerly Known As Caledonian look ridiculous, I’m not sure it’s an easily solvable problem (demonstrating from these exchanged written interactions, or from the world of spoken and written arguments, that we’re more than that).

  20. by “us” I assume you mean “repulsive nerds”.

    I suggest avoiding comment on matters you are incapable of understanding or experiencing.

  21. Imagine replacing every instance of ‘love’ in Eliezer’s post with ‘thumbs’. Does the result make any sense?

    Replace ‘love’ with any human-specific attribute, and ask yourself whether it makes sense to talk about future intelligences possessing them.

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