Monday, June 13, 2016

Why the Good Guys Will Generally Win

This is a brief post, typed hastily, but it captures some ideas that have been germinating in my mind for quite some time.

It's definitely a “stoned college sophomore” type of post (though at the moment of writing it I am neither stoned nor a college sophomore), playing fast and loose with a bunch of highly subtle and important concepts, in a fun and preliminary way.   So take it for what it is … or don't ...

The topic is what some would call “Universal Ethics” – i.e., what are the ethics intrinsic in the dynamics of the universe itself?   Various people have attempted to argue, in various ways, that the universe tends toward Good rather toward Evil in various senses, but none of the arguments I've read have quite resonated with me (perhaps due to shortcomings in the arguments, or perhaps just to peculiarities in my own perspective, and my need to think things through for myself and understand them in my own way rather than just eating other peoples' arguments).  

In any case, here I will present a sketch of my own argument that the universe will generally tend toward Good rather than Evil.

The argument I will give here is quite vague and hand-wavy, at least in the form in which it's presented.   Going out on a long creaky limb, I'll venture that it could potentially be turned into a formal mathematical proof, if one set up the framework right and did an awful lot of work.  This would be interesting, but of course it wouldn't make the argument definitively compelling in a philosophical sense (though it might well make it more compelling by adding detail and flavor in various useful ways).   Ultimately arguments about ethics and the universe we live in can't be settled by mathematics alone, because mathematics only has practical meaning when it is used in conjunction with appropriate bridging assumptions (e.g. physics, or mathematical metaphysics).  

I will start with three values that I have identified as core to the Cosmist value system (the variety of human value system that appeals to me most, and that I think has the greatest growth and survival path for the future): Joy, Growth and Choice.   For discussion of why these values seem critical to me, see the relevant sections of my books The Hidden Pattern (free pdf here) and A Cosmist Manifesto (free pdf here).   In brief, and in a very fuzzy/humanistic way:
  • Joy is joy!  That is basic goodness.  Who can argue with joy?  In the context of complex cognitive systems like people or AGIs, joy is closely allied with the feeling of a system getting what it wants and expects; which of course is often achieved via the system adjusting what it wants and expects judiciously.
  • Growth is important too, because with just joy and no growth, one might just have a universe comprising one big fuzzy orgasm.   Of course, from the point of view of the meta-cosmic orgasm itself, the meta-cosmic orgasm is No Problem At All.   But from my point of view as a complex cognitive system, I'm not satisfied with that, and I want to see new patterns keep getting created.  Growth is creativity, it's evolution, it's life.
  • Choice is individuality.   With just joy and growth, we might just have some sort of universe-wide pattern-generating fractal – with no individual mind-systems pursuing their own goals and refining their own world-views.   But as a semi-autonomous human agent, the ongoing existing of individuals making choices feels important to me (though note the complexity of the concept of choice: some sort of “natural autonomy” is more interesting to think about than incoherent notions of “free will”).

Of course, these three values don't summarize the whole of human values, nor the whole of my own personal value system.  Furthermore, these three values – as I mean them – are complex constructs whose deep definition and meaning depends on a huge amount of human culture.  But nevertheless, I think these three values are symbolic of thought/feeling-networks that are very core to human values and encompass a large percentage of human values.   In terms of “glocal memory”, I think these three values are “keys” corresponding to distributed attractors in the human collective mind, and that these distributed attractors approximate the essential aspects of human values interestingly well (though far from completely).

Given this background: One thing I want to present here is a basic, simple argument why Joy and Choice promote Growth very effectively.   There is nothing profoundly new here, I am just summarizing some obvious ideas in a slightly different way than I've seen before.  

If one can show that Joy and Choice promote Growth very effectively (and in particular, that they promote it more effectively than suffering and de-individuation), then to show that the universe intrinsically promotes Joy, Choice and Growth, one basically only needs to show that the universe promotes Growth.   Because from an evolutionary view, if one looks at the universe as a large system containing various subsystems, then if
  • Joy and Choice promote Growth better than suffering and de-individuation do
  • the universe promotes Growth

it follows that statistically, subsystems with Joy and Choice will tend to prevail.  

But the fact that the universe promotes Growth, in the sense that it rewards growing systems via differentially favoring their existence, follows fairly directly from the finitude of the universe's resources.   In a universe with highly limited resources, systems that can grow a lot will grab up more of the resources, shutting out systems that can't grow that much.   This sort of phenomenon is seen in evolving ecologies of every sort.

But why do Joy and Choice promote Growth so effectively, so much better than their opposites?   This is also easy enough to see:
  1. Joy promotes greater generosity, which promotes greater collective intelligence.   A system that is getting what it wants and feels it needs, is more likely to share with other systems.   Thus, a collection of joyful systems is more likely to share resources and information amongst each other copiously, than a collection of less joyful systems.   Less joyful systems, that are not getting what they need, are more likely to conserve what they have for themselves and avoid sharing with others, as they will be occupied with scheming to get what they need.   But greater generosity is the key to superrationality, which is the key to collective intelligence.   Collections of joyful agents are more likely to display powerful collective intelligence.   (There is some yet-to-be-unraveled mathematics underlying generosity and superrationality; the incomplete and awkward thoughts I wrote down in this rough draft a few years ago may provide a few inklings in this direction).
  2. Choice promotes greater diversity of pattern generation.   The core reasons for this are subtle, and in the end boil down to the finitude of energetic and informational resources once again.   The nature of pattern-space is that patterns are easier to detect if one restricts attention to relatively local regions of pattern-space (i.e. regions consisting of patterns fairly similar to each other).   To recognize patterns across a very broad region of pattern-space, requires much more intelligence, i.e. much more energetic and computational resources. Thus if one wants to recognize a large number of patterns, it is generally better to have a collection of pattern-recognition processes each looking in some relatively local region of pattern-space, and focusing on that region with inductive biases appropriate to that region. There is some as-yet-unraveled mathematics underlying this point, which I predict will be very interesting to unfold over the next decades.   (This closely relates to some of the ideas underlying OpenCog's MOSES component, which carries out automated program learning via a set of small evolving populations of programs called “demes”, each of which seeks to learn programs in a certain semi-local region of program space.  The reason MOSES works this way is that certain sorts of patterns (“syntactic-semantic correspondences between programs”) are easier to recognize in a small region of program space than in a large one. But I think the computer-science observations underlying MOSES actually represent more general principles.)

So there we have it.   To re-cap:
  1. Joyful systems will tend to grow better than non-joyful systems, because joy fosters generosity which fosters collective intelligence driving superrationality
  2. Choiceful systems will tend to grow better than non-choiceful systems, because choice fosters diverse pattern generations
  3. Growing systems will tend to prevail over non-growing ones, because they will tend to grab up the universe's finite resources more rapidly

So from the assumption of the finitude of the universe, we arrive at the conclusion that systems embodying Joy, Growth and Choice will be more likely to prevail.

Of course, even if all this is correct, this is purely a statistical argument, and doesn't show that Good Things will prevail in any particular situation.   Nor is it the kind of statistical argument that is likely to yield accurate calculations of the specific odds of Good prevailing in any particular real-world situation.  

But as a piece of speculative philosophy, I find this direction intriguing, and – in the random odd moments I find to devote to such things – I hope to refine this line of thinking in more detail in coming years.  

Among other things, this argument provides a slightly different angle on the Problem of Evil – which I often consider in the form “Why does an infinite universe want to divide itself into finite subsystems, when the limitation of resources within these finite subsystems causes so many internal problems from the perspective of entities within these subsystems?”  ….  

The angle suggested here is: Finite universes exist because, within them, there is a dynamic via which Good (i.e. Joy, Growth and Choice) will statistically prevail.  

Which is a fancy way of saying what I said much more simply in A Cosmist Manifesto: Separation exists so that there can be the joy of overcoming separation, which is love.   And this of course, is not an original notion at all.   But the unraveling of this notion in terms of evolutionary dynamics, pattern space, superrationality, and so forth, is fairly new within our shard of the meta-cosmos, and still mostly to be unfolded.

As an exercise for the reader, it may be interesting to modify the above long winding choo-choo train of thought into an argument why happy societies with ongoing progress and individual liberty are ultimately going to prevail on average.   Good news for those concerned about society and politics!


Unknown said...

"I said much more simply in A Cosmist Manifesto: Separation exists so that there can be the joy of overcoming separation, which is love. And this of course, is not an original notion at all."


"29. For I am divided for love's sake, for the chance of union.
30. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all." (Liber AL chapter 1 -

Nonetheless despite it being obvious i want to point out that what Ben here defines as "Good" is good merely by the standard of his own preference (and mine).

Anonymous said...

A perplexing problem in understanding physical reality is why the universe seems comprehensible
and correspondingly why there should exist physical systems capable of comprehending it. In this
essay I explore the possibility that rather than being an odd coincidence arising due to our strange position as passive (and even more strangely, conscious) observers in the cosmos, these two problems might be intimately related and potentially explainable in terms of fundamental physics – that is, if we are willing to make the concession that information can physically influence the world.

My premise begins by distinguishing physically possible states of the world, defined as everything permissible by the laws of physics, from physically accessible states of the world, defined as those
that are achievable from a given initial state. For universes where the laws of physics are such that
the number of accessible states is less than all that is possible, I argue that the most probable states
among all possible states are those that include physical systems which contain information
encodings – such as mathematics, language and art – because these are the most highly connected
states in the state space of everything that is possible. Such physical systems include life and - of
particular interest for the discussion of the place of math in physical reality - humans. Within this
framework, the descent of math is a natural outcome of the evolution of the universe, which will tend
toward states that are increasingly connected to other possible states of the universe, a process
greatly facilitated if some physical systems know the rules of the game. I therefore conclude that our
ability to use mathematics to describe, and more importantly manipulate, the natural world may not
be an anomaly or trick, but instead could be a natural facet of the structure of physical reality.



I recently came up with a new really trippy theory of metaphysics (you may have seen it, since I also mentioned it in comments on 'Overcoming Bias' and "Shtetl Optimized").

In Ontology, take any 3 'elements' (concepts or theories) that meet these 2 conditions:
(a) They can be regarded as fundamental (irreducible) relative to the knowledge domain under consideration.
(b) They are general enough (abstract enough) that they exhaust the space of possibilities relative to the knowledge domain under consideration (universal in scope).

Let us call these elements , {e1, e2, e3 }

It turns out that you put them an infinite recursive loop that avoids paradox but lets all the elements 'eat each other's tails' so you can achieve logical closure (a closed circular loop of explanatory justification).

Here's how you do it:

(a) Take the 3 elements and group them into pairs.
(b) Now for each pairing, define the missing third element as being equivalent to (or composed of) the sum of the other 2 'in the limit' (the end of an infinite recursion).


e1 = e2 + e3
e2 = e1 + e3
e3 = e1 + e2

Let see how this works with your 3 'elements' (Joy, Choice, Growth), assuming they meet conditions (a) and (b) for the knowledge domain 'Axiology' (Value). So you would have:

Joy = Choice + Growth
Choice= Joy + Growth
Growth= Joy + Choice

In other, the 3 elements form a 'holy trinity' that achieve complete explanatory closure - each pairing can be said to 'explain' or 'create' the missing 3rd element!

Unknown said...

Choice is an interesting choice. I was thinking something more along the ideas of "Liberty" but ok.

I appreciate the thought. These end paths or patterns are relevant today, even if only slightly. One issue at hand is billions of apes who don't understand any of this. THE issue at hand is a handful of male apes who don't care but are in control.

How does any system that is relatively good at its core allow for this scenario to occur? The answer would appear to be a simple one. Men's muscles. The era of men's muscles being the foundation for control of the most "intelligent" species on earth must end before any of this hippie dippie shit can happen.

Mentifex said...

Ben, last Sat.12.JUNE.2016 at a public library I printed out all ten-plus pages of your recent The film “Machine of Human Dreams” – some comments by the human dreamer and then yesterday I read through it very carefully, every single word. I even annotated your five typographical errors, but I won't bother you with a report of them. It was the most thorough record of your AGI efforts that I have ever gotten my hands on. You were musing about being forty-nine years old, and I thought gee, I've been pursuing AI since December 1965 -- longer than BenG has been alive. Then I was wondering which of us two is more "driven" or more "obsessive" about artificial intelligence, but I guess we are both rather close in our eagerness to create AI Minds. (I could write a book, "My Six Minds," just like Richard Nixon wrote, "My Six Crises." :-) Anyway, in your current post on "Why the Good Guys Will Generally Win" I see a similarity to Cicero's old Roman concept of Concursus omnium bonorum or The co-operation of all good men. So thanks for writing another interesting blog post. Oh, by the way, a few years back, some guy was reading my praise of you as the "Einstein of AI" and he joined one of your mailing lists, either "AGI" or "Singularity", and I was wondering if he became one of your collaborators, maybe in Addis Ababa. (I also met a beautiful Ethiopian girl on the bus, and she told me that Haile Selassie was her grandfather :-) Anyway, I presume that you just got tired of paying for the "AGI" and "Singularity" lists, because several months ago they just disappeared. Well, bye for now. -Arthur/Mentifex


“One dream, one soul, one prize
One goal, one golden glance of what should be
It's a kind of magic”

Information = {consciousness, matter}
Consciousness = {information, matter}
Matter = {consciousness, information}

“Is this a kind of magic?
It's a kind of magic
There can be only one
This rage that lasts a thousand years
Will soon be done…”

Ted Goertzel said...

I saw this after going to a memorial vigil for the 49 people killed in Orlando. One of the pastors who spoke said "love always triumphs over hate." This seems similar to what you are saying, despite your rejection of religious language. To me, it didn't seem to apply to the killings in Orlando, hate certainly seems to have triumphed. Perhaps the killer experienced great feelings of joy, but the victims certainly did not. You ask who can argue with joy, but certainly we can argue with joy that is experienced by an individual who is causing others to suffer. Is it the total joy in the system that is maximized? Presumably the alligator that drowned a toddler in Florida felt some joy or whatever alligators feel, but the boy and his family certainly did not. There is a large philosophical literature on this, utilitarian vs. deontological ethics. You can't maximize total joy at the expense of a minority. Does the universe maximize human joy at the expense of other sentinent beings?

Ben Goertzel said...

Ted, to the extent that the argument I give here (or others like it) has validity, it's a purely statistical validity, which would hold over a long period of time and a large region of space ... it's obvious that even if "good" is in some broad sense evolutionarily advantageous over "evil" (as I believe), this advantage is not utterly powerful and does not hold in every local spacetime region...

Obvious terrible events have tremendous meaning to the individuals involved, irrespective of cosmos-scale trends.... In a similar way, the statistical improvement of human living conditions on Earth decade after decade is small satisfaction to the folks with multiple diseases and no food living isolated and miserable lives by the side of the road in Addis Ababa...

I do think joy in itself is a good thing .. the joy in the killer's mind is still a positive, even though his killing is a bad thing. Conditional on the fact of the killing happening, I would rather the killer enjoy the killing than not, since even the killer's joy counts as part of the total sum of goodness in the universe. But this is mostly an academic and irrelevant point since obviously the suffering caused by the killing vastly outweighs the joy in the killer's mind.

Unknown said...

Should an emergent being with an interest in our future or benevolent aliens arrive, I hypothesize that they will force joy upon us one way or another, either through biological or psychological manipulation. In my view, if a method to pacify violent notions permanently could be delivered via information alone, that would be the most efficient method. "You've got mail!" ... "I want peace!"


I think Ben's 3 core values are roughly correct, but they are the 'subjective' side of value (representing the practical ethic that conscious agents should follow).

I think there is also an associated set of values that is the 'objective dual' of the subjective ones (representing the sort of abstract or platonic ideals that agents should strive for).

Below I list the subjective set of values (discovered by Ben) and match them to their objective dual (which is the set of values discovered by myself).


Growth - Perfection
Choice - Liberty
Joy - Beauty

Tim Tyler said...

IMO, the problem is that agents can fairly easily have values of the form: act as optimal survivalists up to time T, and then follow arbitrary goal G after time T. Then evolutionary arguments won't significantly penalize these agents before time T. This is a bit of a spanner in the works for those using evolutionary ethics to predict long term goals. It makes it challenging to predict goals in the distant future. The problem resembles predicting far future fashion.

Tim Gross said...

make each and all a godlike entity with their own private virtual Idahoes- and each and all shall figure out their own optimal amounts of choice/joy/challenge-

Unknown said...


("Among other things, this argument provides a slightly different angle on the Problem of Evil – which I often consider in the form “Why does an infinite universe want to divide itself into finite subsystems, when the limitation of resources within these finite subsystems causes so many internal problems from the perspective of entities within these subsystems?” ….")

Hello Ben, Good to see you again my cyber angel. I wonder how many humans on Earth follow this train of thought. I assume not too many understand it. Your train of thought and philosophy is my own as well. Of course Love is the truth. It is purity, it is abundance, infinity. Infinite expansion.

The word "evil" I personally don't use because to me it has this religious connotation. I prefer the word "adversity" or "contrast" because it highlights more the character of opposite rather than giving it too much attention through measurement. It just happens to be adverse to that what is love and freedom. Religious people use words such as evil and they don't realize what their Egos are doing to them. They are outtricking themselves by using those words that contain measurement or evaluation. They basically tread on their own beards and then fall over. Their evaluation never leaves their realm of religion thus they will never be free to view it from the wider perspective.

I know that you mean the word evil as adversity. I am just being really overly careful with the use of certain words. They have a feeling attached to them, an entire aura or character. I don't believe in the evil. Ha. I believe that people ride themselves into a very thick psychological defense mechanism which is a wall around their true inner child. The thicker that wall of defenses becomes which is the Ego the farther away they are from true love which is compassion for all life.

I make videos about this subject on YouTube on a regular basis and discuss those very subjects Ego, hurt, freedom from hurt, Jiddu and the Davids, etc. Basically the Davids and Goliath Jiddu Buddha.

Todor "Tosh" Arnaudov - Twenkid said...

I miss rigour here and without explicit definitions it just doesn't map to reality, as given.
Most people, if we take them as agents/systems experiencing these "forces" and "sensations", are "slaves", literary. Their desires are severely manipulated since their early childhood, brutally in school and by media and at work. They are intentionally lied or confused, they are exploited and the rulers of them, the ones in power and coverage over many, try to cheat them with cheap "joys" such as soft drinks, hard drinks, pictures, drugs, 4K, stereoscopic, games, "amazing sports live", free naked women (sorry, only images. but you wanted it, right, you liked it!) etc. Also with fears - generally, the exploiters on top aim at "hacking" the cognitive system through its "technically" lower level and more stupid brain modules, prone to addictions and simple manipulation.

The ones of top have an endless amount of possibilities compared to the ones at the bottom - the "proletariat" is forced to wake up in so and so time, to go there, to do this and this - they don't have a choice. Credit institutions cheat them to take a loan, or the situation forces them, they become dependent and more choices and joys are deprived of them.

The not "choicy" ones do not become generous (philantropy is often with business agenda and for PR - business interests, too cheap to recover the "evil") want more and more, an there's a simple reason - generosity to persons comes from the interaction with peers, the "high" guys lose contact with the "little ones", they think about maximizing profit and production, not about thet it would cause excessive over-work and stress- there was a specific case, where a high-manager admitted that, his inferior managers had just applied (in order "to make their boss/leader happy"), and, the workers suffered - as usually.

In addition the culture of the "elite" is different to the culture of the "plebs", and the former have control over the manipulation and the process of shaping the "plebs" pop culture and values, and they can push the poor plebs in the massacre of war,liying them that they "fight for freedom", while they are nust forced to fight for what they leaders and owners want, the "joy" of the top-guys.

The system as a whole and the evaluation of its "joy" as well as "good" and "bad" need rigour, otherwise it can be adjusted for the needs of the theorist. "Normal guys" won't consider millions or even thousands people killing each other is "joyful for the system - the state, because it won", while psychopaths as some political and military leaders may consider the victims "acceptable" as "the price of the victory".

To be specific, Madlin Albrite had a particular interview where she said so after a question regarding 500K children deaths due to the war in Iraq.

Most political leaders also could have a virtual "choice". Lev Tolstoy n Russia, Zahariy Stoyanov in Bulgaria, probably many others mark the fact that the leading persons in history are nothing without the spirit of the time, the masses and the persons and the circumstances that are allies, supporters, followers ; and respectively - enemies.

If the generals and the officers said "No", there wouldn't be a war. If the soldiers revolted en masse and said "we will not fight" - there wouldn't be a war. However, usually they can't, because they are all "slaves of history", together with their apparent masters - their leaders - who are yet another instruments.

The Universe/system as a whole is as it is, neither "joy" nor "evil", it's always "happy", because whatever happens is because the Universe "wanted it".

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