Saturday, 8 February 2014

On hedonism and egoism

I once explained my "three-system maximization" theory to David Pierce - and then asked why he cared so much about maximizing happiness, and so little about maximizing genes and memes. He replied (I paraphrase) that it was only happiness that produced the subjective feeling that he actually cared about.

Here's Curt Welch expressing a similar sentiment:

Our society is highly ignorant, because our society is deeply infected with the memes of survival that blind people to their true purpose, which is to maximize human happiness, and not to maximize the odds of the survival of our memes, or our genes.

These are broadly similar sentiments to Dawkins:

We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.

Stanovich expands on these ideas in his book The Robot's Rebellion.

According to the thesis that all values come from differential success at reproduction we are the product of three main maximizing systems, based on DNA genes, memes, and the reproducing agents inside brains associated with individual learning - which I will refer to as "pemes". Dawkins, Welch, Stanovich and Pearce are apparently on the side of the pemes - and are against the genes and memes.

Human motivations are the product of genes, memes, and pemes - which pull our motivation systems in multiple conflicting directions. I think we have to classify the idea that the "true purpose" of humans excludes two of these systems as scientific bunk. There's no "true purpose" of humans - just the various (and often conflicting) purposes associated with their genes, memes and pemes.

Similar to hedonism is egoism. There are some who value their minds so much that they are prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars freeze their heads in order to preserve their essences. This seems as though it is an extreme form of a preference for pemes and memes - over DNA genes.

I think it is fair to say that different reproducers get the upper hand in different individuals. Some feel their sex drive or maternal instinct strongly - and act as DNA gene propagators. Others have religious conversions - and devote themselves to spreading their memes to others. Still others value their memories and personality so highly that they freeze their own heads. It's a diverse world, with many types of self-reproducing agents in it. Not all are of equal value - and few would argue with the claim that the AIDS virus should be exterminated. However, let's not pretend there's any scientific merit to the claim that our preferred bunch of information reproducers are the only kind that really matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment