Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

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reval
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Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Sat Aug 05, 2017 6:17 pm UTC

A while back I wrote an 8,000 word essay which I described as being about competition. It was discussed here. It was a total flop, and that thread is now dead. (Please don't necro it.) I am grateful to the commenters who made clear that my political arguments were acting as a distraction from the core philosophical idea, which is about purpose.

I wrote a fresh start, stripping out the political arguments. At 3,500 words this was still too long, although it may be useful for detail and explanation. So I wrote a condensed version in 500 words. This is supposed to get the core idea across. Does it?

Condensed version here:
Spoiler:
Purpose

The world is made of matter, and so are people. People have purpose. Why is that? Matter doesn't have purpose. It follows the laws of motion. Purpose starts at some level above the basic movement of matter.

The most important thing this movement does is increase entropy. But there are still times when local entropy decreases, even as overall entropy continues to increase. That can happen when a heat engine runs inside a heat differential. As when evaporation and rainfall fill lakes with clean water that has been distilled from salty oceans. Here, sunlight is driving a process that runs against the increase of entropy. It's a local ordering process.

Evaporation and rainfall depend passively on surrounding conditions. They do nothing to maintain themselves. In contrast, the evolution of a species of bacteria adapts itself to its surroundings. The adaptation process happens by trial and error. There is no planning or will or intention, but there is purpose. The purpose is survival. This is a process that actively adjusts its course so that it can keep running against the increase of entropy.

The adjustments are written in matter. The evolutionary process maintains its local order in the shape of a pool of genetic information. To do that, it reads and writes information. This is called computation. Evolution is a computational local ordering process.

Big animals also carry information in their nervous systems. This mental information is different from genetic information. It only lasts as long as the individual animal, but there is a lot more of it. The important difference is that an animal can use computational methods that are not limited to trial and error. It uses these methods to control its surroundings and survive.

At the same time, an individual thought process is only a subprocess of evolution. It does not keep itself going indefinitely. A big brain is selected for only to the extent that it helps an individual animal obtain evolutionary advantage. To obtain individual advantages, many species show cooperative behaviors such as kin selection and reciprocal altruism. These behaviors result in local ordering through the trial and error method of natural selection, not through the more powerful methods of the individual thought process.

But the thought process can replace evolution. It does this by taking control of its own genes and reproduction. This possibility is open to humans who share their individual thought processes and build the right tools. Then their shared thought process can maintain itself through its own methods, instead of through the methods of the evolutionary process. It becomes independent.

These humans need communication, not advantage. They control their individual surroundings, not each other. They refuse to seek evolutionary advantages over each other because they understand that the shared thought process is better than evolution at maintaining local order. It is more efficient and effective. This understanding is the crowbar to pry them away from their old purpose and move them over to their new purpose.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby ucim » Sat Aug 05, 2017 8:52 pm UTC

The 500 word version is much clearer than your original thread. Here are places to examine further:
reval wrote:The most important thing this movement does is increase entropy.
You use "important" here but don't define it. It is a value word, but people differ on what makes something important (or whether a thing is important or not). So, this is a weak point. For example, if (raw) matter has no purpose, then why is its movement "important"? Consider using a different concept here.
reval wrote:Evaporation and rainfall depend passively on surrounding conditions.
This is not true. Evaporation and rainfall are part of a cycle: no rainfall - no evaporation. In some cases the cycle is self-sustaining, and in some cases it forms a (admittedly trivial) feedback loop. But it's not really accurate to call it "passive".
reval wrote:In contrast, the evolution of a species of bacteria adapts itself to its surroundings. The adaptation process happens by trial and error. There is no planning or will or intention, but there is purpose.
This much is true; that is, it supports a definition (though perhaps not yours) of "purpose" with which I can agree. However, the phrase "in contrast" overstates it a bit, since evaporation and rainfall (what it's being contrasted against) is also a basic feedback loop. The difference is alluded to later; where you state that the adjustments are written in matter. This allows the system to remember and reproduce states, so that natural selection can operate.

Things evolve in concert with each other, giving rise to (non-designed) purpose. See this post and the surrounding discussion for my version.

reval wrote:But the thought process can replace evolution.
Yes, sorta. We can now (or soon) design organisms. We can do this (as countless cartoons say) for good, or for evil. Evolution will still happen, but we will soon be able to operate faster.
reval wrote:These humans need communication, not advantage.
They need communication, sure. But advantage is what gives them the reason to do so in the first place. Otherwise, why not just watch Seinfeld reruns and drink beer? Sure, you may envision a "better world", but better for whom? The ones that are going to do this thing are going to be the ones that are deciding the "for whom" question; the answer is almost certainly going to be "for me and mine". They may not seek "evolutionary advantages" over the other, but that is because the thought process doesn't seek advantage, the substrate does. Natural selection of people will continue to happen. In any case, these thought processes will certainly seek advantage over each other, because that is better at maintaining their own survival. They will cooperate (to an extent) for the same reason, so long as cooperation is safe. But once cooperation becomes dangerous, it's every thought process for itself.

Jose
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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Sat Aug 05, 2017 9:34 pm UTC

Thanks for taking another look at this!

I'm not sure I understand why "important" is misleading or unclear in this context? The Two Reasons" versions uses "the most important thing to notice" in this place. What I mean is "important for my argument" (also, "important for our lives and purposes"), but I'm trying to keep down the word count. Is there a better word I should use here?

The active/passive distinction here hinges on "adaptation". The evolution process makes actual course corrections so that it can stay directed against the increase of entropy, while the evaporation/rainfall process doesn't. Maybe we can think of better terms for this than active/passive?

The question of communication versus advantage is really the starting point of a discussion about implications, which I'm trying to minimize here. It leads to all sorts of scenarios where you and I can argue about what might be a better survival strategy in a given situation.

But the point I'm trying to make is really much simpler than that: at a basic level, one process is built on individuals seeking advantages over each other, and the other process isn't. That's the zeroth order approximation. I would like to establish this zeroth-order fact before moving on to the higher order corrections.

(And no, natural selection of humans does not continue; it gets pre-empted, and the genetic makeup of humans comes out of design rather than selection.)

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby ucim » Sat Aug 05, 2017 10:45 pm UTC

reval wrote:I'm not sure I understand why "important" is misleading or unclear in this context?
Because one who doesn't think increasing entropy is important stops right there. Consider "this increases entropy" and leaving it at that.
reval wrote: The evolution process makes actual course corrections so that it can stay directed against the increase of entropy, while the evaporation/rainfall process doesn't.
The evolution process makes course corrections and as a result local entropy continues to decrease. It's a happenstance result. Evolution doesn't have the purpose of decreasing local entropy. But to me the key difference is in the "writing"; the passing on of traits. The success of one organism depends on the success of previous (like) organisms because of inheritance. This is what is different, and allows future organisms to be "better". But there isn't even a concept of "better" regarding evaporation. No traits are passed on from previous instances of evaporation.

reval wrote:The question of communication versus advantage...
...is a false dichotomy. Communication provides advantage. That is why it happens in the first place. It allows the (communicating) group to have advantage over others.

Jose
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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby morriswalters » Sat Aug 05, 2017 10:48 pm UTC

There is no shared thought process. And you're riding the Lizard, but the Lizard can act without your consent. And whatever purpose or meaning there might be, has nothing to do with you or humanity, unless you believe that mankind is special.
reval wrote:And no, natural selection of humans does not continue; it gets pre-empted, and the genetic makeup of humans comes out of design rather than selection.
Here is you designing a better human. Superman! Yea. Here is the ugly reality. What precisely does a better human mean?

Here is natural selection doing it. Propagate genes, and when you no longer can, die. Unless of course you are killed before you can. Everything in between supports that function. The presumption of genetic science is that they understand the implications of everything they do. And how could they? They've never done it.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Sun Aug 06, 2017 6:19 pm UTC

morriswalters: If you mean "don't mess with things you don't understand because you'll screw it up and cause a disaster" then of course I agree with you. Our understanding isn't there yet, and that's why we need better tools, and we need to go carefully as we learn. My confidence that we'll get there comes from my recognition of just how weak the old trial-and-error method is compared to what we already understand and can do.

On the other hand, I would disagree with statements like "this is forbidden knowledge", "this is impossible", or "this is playing god". There are no gods, evolution is ugly as hell, and we can certainly try to do better. I don't think I can live forever, but living a little longer would be a good thing. I would call that "better".

ucim: I guess you're right about the word "important". I want people to keep reading. And I just saw another problem. The increase of entropy is actually only the second most important thing that matter does. For my purposes, the most important thing is that it occasionally bucks the increase of entropy. So what I wrote isn't quite right. On the other hand, omitting all emphasis tends to drive the text back to minimalism, which people have told me is even harder to read. Edit: I turned it into "The first thing this movement does is increase entropy."

In searching for the root of purpose, I am going to have to do without intent. Instead, I'm going to have to be satisfied with answering both sides of the "why" question: "how come" and "what for" (thanks, Rossegacebes and da Doctah). For a process like evolution, which uses simple adaptation to survive, the answer to both questions is "survival". Because the process is a loop. The adaptation came about "because" survival, and it exists "for" survival. That which survives, survives.

This is why I can attribute purpose to evolution, which has adaptation, while at the same time I attribute no purpose to evaporation and rainfall (treated as a single process loop), which lacks adaptation.

You can certainly say "communication provides advantage", and I won't dispute that's where it comes from. But do you see how that reveals the way your thinking is trapped in the wrong framework of purpose? If no one needs evolutionary advantage anymore, then communication can be for something else. (I don't know how far I'd want to trust this analogy, but think of a straight person saying "the ultimate purpose of sex is to have kids" and a gay person answering "not for me!")

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby ucim » Sun Aug 06, 2017 9:42 pm UTC

reval wrote:This is why I can attribute purpose to evolution, which has adaptation, while at the same time I attribute no purpose to evaporation and rainfall (treated as a single process loop), which lacks adaptation.
I reach your conclusion here through a different path; the quibble isn't important and I'll accept it as is.

reval wrote: If no one needs evolutionary advantage anymore...
I don't think we're anywhere near that point, and I see no indication that we will ever reach that point. Advantage is advantage, no matter where it comes from. Natural selection continues to this day to favor individuals of greatest fitness, and those preferences are updating human DNA even as we speak. It's a slow, sloppy process full of die rolls and "too bad"s, but there are over six billion people rolling dice. It's not going to stop.

Why do you think people will no longer need advantage? (I'm de-specifiying "evolutionary" because it's a general question).

reval wrote:but think of a straight person saying "the ultimate purpose of sex is to have kids" and a gay person answering "not for me!"
Wrong statement. What about a person saying "The ultimate purpose of the desire to have sex is to ensure that enough people end up having kids"? Sex itself is an act whose purpose is pleasure, and whose result is (often enough) kids. The two are worth differentiating.

(Also, things can have more than one purpose, and more than one use. Nature is full of this.)

Jose
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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby morriswalters » Sun Aug 06, 2017 11:03 pm UTC

reval wrote:There are no gods, evolution is ugly as hell, and we can certainly try to do better.
I don't think it should be prevented. It isn't my business to act as a moral brake on geneticists. Neither will I weep if they create the instrument of destruction and kill humanity off. I'm a supernumerary. I took my genes out of the gene pool. My death is only a function of time. I would love to see humanity continue, but I, or you, can't do anything on that point. Anyway continue, it will interesting to see what you have in mind.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Chen » Mon Aug 07, 2017 11:49 am UTC

What is the overall goal you're trying to promote here? Can you explain it in a sentence? Honestly that essay is needlessly complicated and unclear (though clearly better than the first gigantic one).

Your first sentence (or paragraph at least) should be setting the stage for what you want to talk about. But you're just jumping point to point to point with no indication of where you're going to stop.

Your first paragraph is:
The world is made of matter, and so are people. People have purpose. Why is that? Matter doesn't have purpose. It follows the laws of motion. Purpose starts at some level above the basic movement of matter.


You don't even define purpose. The second sentence of "People have purpose" is already contentious especially if you let people use whatever it is their definition of purpose is. The next sentence the also mentions "the basic movement of matter" with no explanation at all of what you mean. Are you talking physical displacement? If so, why did we suddenly jump to that? And what does purpose have to do with physical motion if that's the case?

There's also the talk of evolution being replaced by the thought process, which again is vague as hell. Is the whole intent here to say that we, through increasing technology are going to be able to supplant biological evolution? That's clearly something that can be discussed and is an interesting discussion. But I have no idea if that's what you're trying to get at, or if its just some sort of aside to a larger point.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Mon Aug 07, 2017 10:52 pm UTC

Chen: Okay, I'll go ahead and try to put it in one sentence. "When people see that technology can supplant biological evolution, this changes what they want: they want to advance technology instead of advancing themselves over their rivals."

So this is all about people's motives. I'm claiming that people's current motives are much more heavily based on evolutionary advantage than is generally acknowledged. This understanding is the crowbar that can shift me from one motive to the other. My new motive is not vague at all: I need to be able to talk to people openly. That means I can't push them around. (And now I'm way over one sentence again. Oh well.)

morriswalters: Yes, seeing humanity continue is pretty much the point. I'm optimistic enough to think I can do something to help. I'd like to convince people that pushing each other around is not the "win" they're looking for.

ucim: Of course I agree with you that "[n]atural selection continues to this day ... updating human DNA even as we speak." But I dispute that it's going to stay that way. We haven't yet built the tools for each person to take full control of their own genome, but we will. Then the frequency of alleles in the population becomes moot. Nobody cares about that. They care which ones work for what they want.

I knew I was going to get in trouble with that analogy. What I meant was to contrast "purpose-within-a-specific-framework" with "totally-disinterested-in-that-framework-dude".

(Yes, I'm currently functioning within two frameworks at the same time; but now it's getting to the point where I have to choose one or the other.)

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby ucim » Tue Aug 08, 2017 5:04 am UTC

reval wrote:When people see that technology can supplant biological evolution, this changes what they want: they want to advance technology instead of advancing themselves over their rivals.
This is wrong on so many levels.

First, I'll take a guess at what you mean by "technology can supplant biological evolution". I take it you mean that we will learn to alter our own genome and that of our progeny. Well, probably. Some genetic therapy will propagate, some will not, and they need to be considered separately. If it doesn't propagate, you are not "supplanting" evolution. In fact, you undermine natural selection (allowing weak genes to propagate by fixing their expression one by one). Braces do this too, making people with defective teeth genes more attractive to mates, allowing defective teeth genes to propagate when they otherwise would not. This means that more and more, people will need genetic tooth therapy just to survive. In both cases, the treatment is done to provide advantage to the patient. Would "the thought process" consider this to be a Good Thing?

Now, if the genetic engineering we do on ourselves does propagate, we can eliminate bad genes such as dwarfism, sickle cell anemia, and homosexuality. Wait a minute, who gets to decide which genes are "bad"? Who figures out what's the baby and what's the bathwater? The thought process? Look at American politics and tell me how well that is working.

Second, what evidence do you have that the knowledge that we have the power (to alter the germ line) makes people not want to use that power for their own advantage? People want what they want, because they want it for themselves. They are easily fooled into wanting things that aren't actually good for them, but this has nothing to do with the power to alter the germ line. And while it might be possible to set up an advertising program that makes a particular germ line alteration sexy and desirable (while hiding its dark underbelly), whoever sets this program up isn't going to do it for the "good of mankind" (except in the sense of "what's good for General Moters is good for America"), but rather, for their own advantage.

Ultimately, the core of what you are saying is that you want to change human nature, and you think that genetic engineering is not only a good way to do it, but that the very idea of genetic engineering will make people want to change their own human nature, and that this change will somehow be altruistic.

I call bullshit on that, and point to the leader of the free world as evidence.

reval wrote:We haven't yet built the tools for each person to take full control of their own genome, but we will. Then the frequency of alleles in the population becomes moot. Nobody cares about that. They care which ones work for what they want.
You would be leaving the human genome in the hands of marketers. You think this will lead to people not wanting to take advantage?

Jose
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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Chen » Tue Aug 08, 2017 11:34 am UTC

reval wrote:Chen: Okay, I'll go ahead and try to put it in one sentence. "When people see that technology can supplant biological evolution, this changes what they want: they want to advance technology instead of advancing themselves over their rivals."

So this is all about people's motives. I'm claiming that people's current motives are much more heavily based on evolutionary advantage than is generally acknowledged. This understanding is the crowbar that can shift me from one motive to the other. My new motive is not vague at all: I need to be able to talk to people openly. That means I can't push them around. (And now I'm way over one sentence again. Oh well.)


Thanks for the clarification. But I agree with ucim in that I don't think you're correct in that statement. While many actions have some basis in evolution (being attracted to physically fit people, for example) it's hardly an active goal for most people. It's rare people go about their business thinking of the evolutionary impact of their choices. People do things because they get some happiness or satisfaction from doing them. Sure at their root, some of these are founded in evolutionary principles but I'd wager it's not even most of them. Accumulation of wealth certainly can help in finding a mate, for example, but people continue to accumulate wealth and strive to accumulate more even after they've decided to stop procreating (or never decided to start to begin with).

As to your "they want to advance technology instead of advancing themselves over their rivals", I don't see that this is true at all. Very few people want to advance technology just for that sake. They'll want to advance technology to better themselves either via increases to quality of life via technology or through using the advanced technology to put them in a position to increase their quality of life. Both of these can be via competition (selling a patent) or cooperation (building a solar power plant and reducing everyone's energy cost).

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby CorruptUser » Tue Aug 08, 2017 1:30 pm UTC

Chen wrote:
While many actions have some basis in evolution (being attracted to physically fit people, for example) it's hardly an active goal for most people.



I (weakly) disagree. Almost nobody says "selecting this mate will improve my fitness", but lots of people make decisions based on what they think will result in "better" grandkids. Moving into certain neighborhoods so that the kids won't date the "wrong" people, sending them to private schools to be around and date the "right" people, etc.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Chen » Tue Aug 08, 2017 1:47 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:I (weakly) disagree. Almost nobody says "selecting this mate will improve my fitness", but lots of people make decisions based on what they think will result in "better" grandkids. Moving into certain neighborhoods so that the kids won't date the "wrong" people, sending them to private schools to be around and date the "right" people, etc.


I suppose, but I'd like to know how common that situation is (private school or moving to determine who your child will date) compared to doing those same two things just to provide better future via education for your child.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby CorruptUser » Tue Aug 08, 2017 3:04 pm UTC

If I recall correctly, the main reason for opposing the desegregation of schools wasn't so much "dammit why should my tax dollars go to black people, they'll just spend it on zootsuits", but the fear of miscegenation and so forth.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby morriswalters » Tue Aug 08, 2017 4:00 pm UTC

Nobody cares about technology. They care about increasing the ability of society to create ever larger amounts of resources so we can go out and make babies. Since sanitation reduced the death rate at the turn of the 20th century, the population has increased 7 fold to 7.5 billion. Had technology not been available, most of those people would have starved to death, or more likely never been born since one or more of their antecedents would have died before procreating.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Wed Aug 09, 2017 10:39 pm UTC

Thanks for all the comments. And thanks to ucim for landing a punch (ouch!) The defunct thread sometimes felt like people were objecting to things I wasn't proposing. My fault, of course, for failing to convey my propositions. But this one lands squarely:

ucim wrote:... the very idea of genetic engineering will make people want to change their own human nature, and that this change will somehow be altruistic.

I call bullshit on that

Yes, that's exactly what I'm proposing. So I have to explain why this is plausible and not bullshit. Yes, this is about human nature - in fact, two kinds of human nature - and I obviously feel they can be changed, or that at least a choice is possible. The marketers and free-world leaders referred to are good examples of one kind of human nature, the kind of evolutionary advantage-seeking we need to get away from.

But they're not the only people who do this. We live with a great mountain of distractions and games and rationalizations people have come up to explain away their actual motivations. And I call bullshit on that.

Actual genetic engineering is the smallest part of this; the change in our relations to each other, based on each person's choice of "human nature", is the real point. I'm fine if the next thirty years bring no more genetic technology than fixes to devastating diseases; but we can't wait thirty years for a turnaround on climate change and habitat destruction.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Chen » Thu Aug 10, 2017 3:10 am UTC

I really don't mean this sarcastically or rudely but did you forget to actually explain why what you were talking about was plausible in your last post? Because you said you would explain and then kinda didnt say anything substantial about it. You don't even mention the second type of human nature you start talking about in the first paragraph.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Sat Aug 12, 2017 5:13 pm UTC

I realize there are a number of places along the way where it may be hard to go along with the chain of reasoning and observation. Here is an attempt to break it down into a series of steps:

1. All processes happen in a universe of matter that is moving according to the laws of physics. No explanation of a process is satisfactory unless it shows how the process is driven by the laws of physics.

2. Within heat differentials, certain processes work against the otherwise universal increase of entropy. These are local ordering processes.

3. Some of these processes (computational local ordering processes) use information. These processes show purpose in their work against the increase of entropy, in the sense that the information allows them to adapt themselves to their surroundings in order to survive.

4. The process we know as evolution works on the genetic information of a species and uses trial-and-error to adapt that information for survival.

5. Big animals have a separate computational process (the individual thought process) that works on the information held in their nervous system, and is not limited to trial-and-error.

6. The individual thought process is a subprocess of evolution. It exerts no purpose of its own beyond the lifetime of an individual. For any longer timescale, its efforts are subsumed into the purpose of evolution, which is exerted through the trial-and-error method of evolution.

7. Humans who communicate with each other are now able to take control of their genetic information away from evolution. This breaks evolution's monopolistic control over the longer timescale. Humans who are alive two hundred years from now will be shaped, not by the evolutionary advantages of their ancestors who played games of property and power against each other, but by their own and their parents' conscious choices.

8. Evolution-driven relations among people are ugly and are currently leading us towards human extinction. Shared-thought-driven relations among people are more sustainable. For example, an individual who cares primarily about open communication is more likely to vote for taxes to support universal education, health care, and a basic income for everyone. Also less likely to be pursuaded by the short-term-gain idea of burning all the fossil carbon in the ground.

9. To formulate this in terms of "human nature", there are two kinds of human nature, which correspond to the two computational local ordering processes that make up an individual human. The choice between the two natures is the choice of whether a person will put their individual thought process in the service of the evolutionary process, or of the shared thought process. Until now, people have largely done the first, while pretending to do the second. It is time to drop the pretense. We are now able move to the second purpose for real. This has immediate economic and political consequences.

Is there one step more than the others that doesn't make sense to you? Please let me know where you don't see the connection.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby ucim » Sat Aug 12, 2017 6:39 pm UTC

reval wrote:
ucim wrote:... the very idea of genetic engineering will make people want to change their own human nature, and that this change will somehow be altruistic.

I call bullshit on that

Yes, that's exactly what I'm proposing. So I have to explain why this is plausible and not bullshit.

[...]We live with a great mountain of distractions and games and rationalizations people have come up to explain away their actual motivations. And I call bullshit on that.
That word.... it doesn't mean what you think it means. "I call bullshit on" means "I claim it's false; does not work; is invalid". It does not mean "I don't agree with those values".

I think what you're saying is that you aim hope for a different world, but "calling bullshit" on the present world does not communicate this thought.

Word quibbles aside, if this is the crux of your argument, that's where the focus of your theme should be. Never mind the preamble ("All process happen in a universe of matter..."); they don't contain or support your point. Everything prior to point 7 (in your latest post) is preamble.

Points 7 and 8 merely talk about the development of compassion and community, in one form or another. Compassion's emergence depends more on a surfeit of resources than on "the thought process". Compassion shrinks to self-interest when resources dwindle and "it's either him or me". Community works because it's "us against them" (where "them" could simply be the forces of nature, or could be a common enemy) ... community is more efficient at winning, and it engenders compassion within the community. But once hardship hits within the community, it fractures as above.

To point 9:
reval wrote: The choice between the two natures is the choice of whether a person will put their individual thought process in the service of the evolutionary process, or of the shared thought process. Until now, people have largely done the first, while pretending to do the second. It is time to drop the pretense. We are now able move to the second purpose for real.
"Dropping the pretense" means doing the first while not pretending to do the second. It doesn't mean doing the second instead of merely pretending to do the second. I suppose that's a word quibble with your exposition (but that's what you asked for in your OP)

Actually moving to the second requires people to desire different things. And I would further state that people don't desire things for the purpose of furthering the evolutionary process. They desire things because that's what would make them happy in the moment, or what they anticipate will make them happy later. Evolution is far from their minds. (Never mind the people who don't even believe in evolution!)

You are essentially asking other people to be more magnanimous - to "want different things". I assume you are leading by example. But your mechanical premise - to wit; that this "replaces evolution" (and that that fact is a Good Thing) - is still unsupported.

As I see it, there are three points you wish to make:
1: People need to change their actions (i.e. towards politics, or the environment)
1a: ...by changing their own human nature, which governs their actions.

2: Genetic engineering is a good way to do this
2a: ...thus creating a "master race" that will be "better" than present humans
2b: ...and this is not a horrible idea with horrible consequences.

3: The very idea of this application of genetic engineering will get people to want this
3a: ...for themselves, even to their own detriment
3b: ...and nobody will hold back, thus becoming the Supreme Leader of the New Master Race of puppets.

Those are the points to focus on.

Of these points, I agree partly with 1: this is how communities work (but not 1a, which is how socialism is sometimes touted). I disagree with remain unconvinced of all the other points.

Jose
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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Chen » Mon Aug 14, 2017 12:02 pm UTC

Ok let's take a look here:

reval wrote:I realize there are a number of places along the way where it may be hard to go along with the chain of reasoning and observation. Here is an attempt to break it down into a series of steps:

1. All processes happen in a universe of matter that is moving according to the laws of physics. No explanation of a process is satisfactory unless it shows how the process is driven by the laws of physics.

2. Within heat differentials, certain processes work against the otherwise universal increase of entropy. These are local ordering processes.

3. Some of these processes (computational local ordering processes) use information. These processes show purpose in their work against the increase of entropy, in the sense that the information allows them to adapt themselves to their surroundings in order to survive.


I honestly still don't know what you mean by process. This was the same problem I had with your previous thread. Are you lumping all types of interactions of matter/energy as processes?

4. The process we know as evolution works on the genetic information of a species and uses trial-and-error to adapt that information for survival.


Here too. Evolution in and of itself is a word we use to describe an overall phenomenon. The physical processes behind evolution are basically genetic and cognitive. Also "genetic information of a species" is vague and unclear.

5. Big animals have a separate computational process (the individual thought process) that works on the information held in their nervous system, and is not limited to trial-and-error.

6. The individual thought process is a subprocess of evolution. It exerts no purpose of its own beyond the lifetime of an individual. For any longer timescale, its efforts are subsumed into the purpose of evolution, which is exerted through the trial-and-error method of evolution.

7. Humans who communicate with each other are now able to take control of their genetic information away from evolution. This breaks evolution's monopolistic control over the longer timescale. Humans who are alive two hundred years from now will be shaped, not by the evolutionary advantages of their ancestors who played games of property and power against each other, but by their own and their parents' conscious choices.


You were with me until step 7. Communication is simply one of the means by which evolution works. It is in no way separate from evolution. Even full on genetic manipulation is still evolution. All sorts of characteristics we have are (and have been) used as proxies to try and determine how best to pass one's genes along. Once we can manipulate individual genes the proxy is no longer needed since you can actively pass what genes along you want.

8. Evolution-driven relations among people are ugly and are currently leading us towards human extinction. Shared-thought-driven relations among people are more sustainable. For example, an individual who cares primarily about open communication is more likely to vote for taxes to support universal education, health care, and a basic income for everyone. Also less likely to be pursuaded by the short-term-gain idea of burning all the fossil carbon in the ground.


I need some sort of citation on the "shared-thought-driven relations among people are more sustainable". There are plenty of people who share the idea we should burn fossile fuels. Or that we should lower taxes on the rich. Or that some group of people should be exterminated. Consider religion. With the evolution vs thought dichotomy you've created (which I still don't agree with), religion clearly falls under the thought side. Yet it can cause plenty of conflict that wouldn't have existed if we had just left things to evolution. So I completely disagree with this point.

9. To formulate this in terms of "human nature", there are two kinds of human nature, which correspond to the two computational local ordering processes that make up an individual human. The choice between the two natures is the choice of whether a person will put their individual thought process in the service of the evolutionary process, or of the shared thought process. Until now, people have largely done the first, while pretending to do the second. It is time to drop the pretense. We are now able move to the second purpose for real. This has immediate economic and political consequences.


This seems pretty much like a "no true Scotsman" argument. You're saying people pretended to use this "shared thought process" before but didn't really do it. Honestly I can't see any evidence or description of said process that makes this statement true. It would appear to me people use communication and shared thought for all sorts of altruistic and selfish activities. It basically brings me back to the same overall point: you're making a dichotomy of evolution vs thought, when the latter is merely a mechanism by which evolution works.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:09 am UTC

Chen - Thank you for your comments. Yes, I'm using "process" to refer to all types of interactions of matter and energy. These are mechanical processes taking place in a materialist universe. Obviously I am mainly interested in certain types of processes, specifically those that maintain themselves in a heat differential. These processes are often complex, but the concepts of local ordering and information act as organizing principles that help me understand what is going on.

And because information is an organizing principle, it helps to break apart the problem of evolution and communication. Yes, communication between individuals can play a part in the evolution of a species. And of course that's where communication between individuals comes from - it was constructed by evolution.

But the information exchanged by communication is distinct from the information passed on by evolution. The gene pool gets passed on, but literally zero "thought information" gets passed on. All the thought information does is contribute to the fitness of the individual, and help determine whether the design of the mental apparatus that made it possible to use those thoughts gets passed on.

That's what happens while the thought process remains a subprocess of evolution. While this is true, you are correct that "Communication is simply one of the means by which evolution works."

But genetic manipulation is not evolution. Watch the money - I mean, watch the information. Where is the information? The information is now held in the thought process. The methods of the thought process are different from the methods of evolution, and former now replace the latter.

I've sometimes described communication that serves the evolutionary process as "coercive communication". This includes any communication between individuals who are in a power relationship with each other. In contrast, "free communication" is possible between individuals who are not in a power relationship with each other, who do not threaten each other or depend on each other, and who can therefore share ideas for the value of the ideas alone.

This distinction can be useful when we go back into the past and watch people trying to use the shared thought process. They were able to do this when they found a time and place where they could talk to each other without need or fear. We owe the development of science, among other things, to such niches of free communication.

Coercive communication is often misrepresented as free communication, but it is possible to tell the difference by looking for the power relationship.

Does the shared thought process lead to more (environmentally) sustainable relationships among people? I don't have any citations to support my claim. Not yet. But I should have specified environmental sustainability, not political sustainability. Human societies based on power relationships have certainly sustained themselves for long periods of time in the past. I suspect that is about to change.


ucim - Thanks for returning to the fray! Now, you seem to dismiss points 1-6 as obvious, but that's where the real work is done. Before we get to point 7, human nature is packaged up as a process-within-a-process, and the powerful inner process is ready to break free.

You described my position "... the very idea of genetic engineering will make people want to change their own human nature, and that this change will somehow be altruistic", which makes me hope that we are ready to argue about whether the change is for the better or not.

The "inner process" (thought) becomes independent when it finds a way to persist its information to a longer timescale without going through the "outer process" (evolution). Then a person is able to prioritize their cognitive interests over their evolutionary interests. What that person does next depends on how they read their interests, and on what the people around them are doing.

And here's what I see as our main difference:

ucim wrote:Compassion ... depends ... on a surfeit of resources

A surfeit is an excess, or more than can be eaten. That cannot exist indefinitely in a finite habitat. Evolution functions precisely because individuals undergo selection. The evolutionary process depends on selection.

Instead of twisting ourselves into knots by redefining compassion as a temporary situation, or as one of the evolutionary strategies observed in animals, let's cut it short and say that compassion has no place in evolution at all. It's part of a different process.

The thought process functions without making individuals undergo selection. (The closest analogy might be that ideas undergo a kind of selection within the shared thought process.) A "me against you" or an "us against them" is not necessary to the functioning of the thought process. A sufficiency of resources can in fact exist indefinitely.

This is why people can desire different things, including "changing their own human nature".

I don't see what I can say about genetic engineering, other than that it is inevitable. I am not making this happen; it is happening. I am not telling people what to do; they are doing it. All I can do is attempt to explain what is happening, and why it is happening.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby ucim » Tue Aug 15, 2017 5:30 am UTC

reval wrote:Now, you seem to dismiss points 1-6 as obvious, but that's where the real work is done. Before we get to point 7, human nature is packaged up as a process-within-a-process, and the powerful inner process is ready to break free.
Let's leave "process" aside for a moment. Consider three other ideas: "thang", "goal" and "method". "Thang" (spelling resembles "thing") is the thing in question. "Goal" is what the thang wants to do - in this case, to propagate. Where this goal came from does not matter for this point; simply accept it as the thing which the method (to be described later) accomplishes. To this end, the method serves the goal, even if the goal is only there because it's "the thing the method accomplishes". It works because there's a feedback loop in the system somewhere, which is interesting but not important if you simply accept these terms.

Every thang we'll discuss here has the goal of propagating. This fact is what makes it a subject of the discussion.

Every thang has a host - an underlying substrate in which the thang is "written" and through which the thang accomplishes its goal of propagation.

A meme is a thang whose host is a (human) brain. Memes that don't propagate never get called memes, and are forgotten, but those that do have the trait that they are successful at using the resources of brains to stay alive and copy themselves into other brains. (At the moment the only brains of interest here are human brains, but this may not always be the case.) For now, it's equally fair to say that memes are hosted by human individuals, whose behavior helps them propagate, and memes that influence people in the "right" way will propagate. They do so by competing with other memes and other thoughts, sometimes extinguishing them. At the moment the meme of white supremacy is fighting the memes of egalitarianism, and by influencing the behavior of people, is winning.

A gene is a thang whose host is a living thing's body (which in animals, includes the brain). While memes influence (and can generate) behavior, genes directly influence (and generate) the body itself. By creating bodies that are better able to reproduce in the "real" environment, the gene that does so propagates. Unlike a meme, genes directly code for and create their own host. Some genes code for living things that can host memes, others don't.

Now consider a "thought process" - it is made up of memes. Memes are ideas - specifically ideas that have been successful at propagating. Some of these memes are the ideas in question, some of them are ideas about how those ideas should be considered, some of them are ideas about validity, but a thought process is made up of ideas and nothing more. It is executed by a brain, but in its essence it is made up of ideas encoded in this brain, and the reason they are encoded in this brain is that they are successful at propagating themselves.

So, a thought process is a result of a battle of ideas; like all battles it is adversarial. Natural selection happens, and the survivors pass on their memes (in the form of tweets, books, blog posts, musical notation, etc.) where they can be picked up and enter battle in another brain, fighting that brain's existing memes for dominance, and perhaps causing the brain's host to "change its mind".

So yes, there's a "process in a process", and it's inside a process too. That's not in contention, nor is it important to your argument. But what is important and relevant is that all of this is based on a battle between thangs, where the winner gets a chance to propagate.

And this means that natural selection drives the evolution of memes, ideas, and thought processes.

This is one crux of your argument - to wit, that the "thought process" supersedes evolution. It does not. This is why. It is itself a product of evolution, and runs its own process of evolution as it attempts to propagate.

I will grant that the evolution of memes can lead to behaviours that influence the evolution of genes - to wit, genetic engineering. But then your core argument is that the very existence (and not the actual machinations) of genetic engineering will cause people to change their behavior for the better.

Why?

Before you answer that question, answer the more fundamental question of why people do any particular thing. Why do you like (or avoid) strawberries? Why do you choose the clothes that you do (or choose not to wear any)? Why do you learn to swim, or read, or drive?

The proximate reasons will probably focus on pleasure and pain, either now or planning for the future. Delving a bit more you might say your choice is the output of a thought process that has been successful at reproducing, and thus an evolutionary byproduct. But I doubt you will end up saying "I'm consciously doing it to propagate my chromosomes".

But that is what is required to support your contention that "the very existence of genetic engineering will cause people to change their behavior for the better" (whatever "better" is).

And, I bet we have a lively disagreement on what constitutes "better". Your memes, my memes, and the rest of the board's memes will do battle here on xkcd, and some minds may be changed, by the victory of one meme over another. This is evolution in action.

reval wrote:...let's cut it short and say that compassion has no place in evolution at all.
Except that would be false. Compassion cements relationships between individuals, creating groups. Groups are stronger than individuals, and the creation of these groups helps the group's genes (and memes) to propagate. This also is evolution in action. Compassion has a lot to do with evolution. Organisms that are compassionate are more likely to form groups, and thus more likely to pass on their genes (and any memes they host)... at least to the limit where compassion's benefits outweigh the harm ("me first!"), and that depends on just how tight resources are.

reval wrote:I don't see what I can say about genetic engineering, other than that it is inevitable.
But you have said more about it - to wit, that it will lead to a Better Master Race.

No, that does not follow. Not in the least.

Jose
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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby morriswalters » Tue Aug 15, 2017 10:32 am UTC

Tell me why I should listen. As seductive as the ideas were, no one Religion was ever able to convince everybody. Is your idea better than that?

It should have a core principle. One idea. If you can't relate that simply, then you don't have it clearly enough, and you can't give it to me. What one thought encapsulates, what it is that you are trying to do? Not how you get there. Where are you going? Making humanity better is a common thread, but not very to the point.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Chen » Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:17 pm UTC

reval wrote:But genetic manipulation is not evolution. Watch the money - I mean, watch the information. Where is the information? The information is now held in the thought process. The methods of the thought process are different from the methods of evolution, and former now replace the latter.


Is using a tool better than the other guy also evidence of this thought process subsuming evolution? Because that's happened since we started using tools. Why is being able to manipulate your genetics much different? It is not replacing evolution. Genes are still the only thing passed to offspring directly. Thoughts are not passed on to offspring in any different way before or after genetic manipulation comes into the picture. Competition will exist as long as there is scarcity. And scarcity has more to do with resources than with evolution.

I've sometimes described communication that serves the evolutionary process as "coercive communication". This includes any communication between individuals who are in a power relationship with each other. In contrast, "free communication" is possible between individuals who are not in a power relationship with each other, who do not threaten each other or depend on each other, and who can therefore share ideas for the value of the ideas alone.


This is nonsense. People in power relationships with one another can still have "free" communication. You go on later to mention how science was developed when clearly there are hierarchical scientific organizations that work in producing new science. It's also not obvious why one type of communication is somehow inherently better than the other. Or that they are at odds with each other at all.

Does the shared thought process lead to more (environmentally) sustainable relationships among people? I don't have any citations to support my claim. Not yet. But I should have specified environmental sustainability, not political sustainability. Human societies based on power relationships have certainly sustained themselves for long periods of time in the past. I suspect that is about to change.


This is a strange leap. Why suddenly go to talking about environmentalism with respect to thinking vs evolution. Take a step back here. What is your final conclusion? Are you putting together all this to overall conclude we should be cooperating instead of competing? Because honestly if that's it, everything you're talking about regarding thought processes and evolution looks like a complete non-sequitor that you're trying to ram in, post hoc, as an explanation for why cooperation is better.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Fri Aug 18, 2017 5:11 pm UTC

Dear ucim, it is you, not I, who is trapped by "Master Race" thinking. Until you allow yourself to change your own desires, you won't become the kind of "thang" who can see the category error you make in comparing memes and genes.

Both memes and genes are information. In principle, either one could encode an image, a song, a gene SNP, a database of 1,000 genomes, or the blueprints for a practical interstellar spaceship.

In practice, they are distinct information sets that are maintained by distinct processes. The thought process maintains "memes" through methods of symbolic manipulation and analysis. It may someday come up with those spaceship blueprints. In the meanwhile, it winnows ideas. It throws away bad ideas.

Evolution maintains genes. It knows no method beyond trial and error. It will never come up with that spaceship. In the meanwhile, it winnows individuals. It kills people. These two processes are fundamentally different. To equate one with the other is to commit a category error.

Until recently, only the evolutionary process could "generate the body itself". People had no alternative but to participate in evolution. Now they have an alternative.

Okay morriswalters, here's my entry: "I have changed into a different kind of thing. I am no longer a cog in the wheel of evolution. My thoughts used to be weapons. Now I have the tools to turn my dreamlike thoughts into real changes in my cells and genes. This makes for a big change in how I see the people around me. They are no longer rivals or allies. They are fellow independent tool users whose thoughts are of practical use to me."

Chen: Scarcity is manufactured by the evolutionary process. Always more are born than can live. That is grist without which the evolutionary process cannot run. But the thought process does not need this grist. As soon as the education and literacy rates in a country go up, the birthrate goes down. Humans do not need to give birth to more than can live. Scarcity is replaced with sufficiency.

Please don't think I'm simply inventing a rationale to support pre-existing anti-competitive views. I was initially quite taken in by the idea of competition, and good at it, too.

The viability of the independent thought process was the crowbar that moved me away from that idea. It also moved me away from cooperation (at least the quid-pro-quo kind) - which I now see as a part of competition, not as an alternative to competition. So, considering our communication and the nonexistent power relationships between us, I can't charge you for these insights. I have to give them to you for free.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Chen » Fri Aug 18, 2017 6:32 pm UTC

reval wrote:Chen: Scarcity is manufactured by the evolutionary process. Always more are born than can live. That is grist without which the evolutionary process cannot run. But the thought process does not need this grist. As soon as the education and literacy rates in a country go up, the birthrate goes down. Humans do not need to give birth to more than can live. Scarcity is replaced with sufficiency.


While linked, there isn't a cause and effect relationship between evolution and scarcity. If we were in a post scarcity society, you'd still have evolutionary pressures asserting themselves.

Please don't think I'm simply inventing a rationale to support pre-existing anti-competitive views. I was initially quite taken in by the idea of competition, and good at it, too.

The viability of the independent thought process was the crowbar that moved me away from that idea. It also moved me away from cooperation (at least the quid-pro-quo kind) - which I now see as a part of competition, not as an alternative to competition. So, considering our communication and the nonexistent power relationships between us, I can't charge you for these insights. I have to give them to you for free.


What makes the above mentioned thought process somehow different than the thought process that would allow me to compete with others? Or the one that lets me decide to kill someone and take their stuff? Or to ensure I find an attractive mate so as to pass on good genes to my children? All of these are just as much thought processes as whatever specific one you are talking about. Clearly there's nothing inherent to the thought process itself that makes it good or bad. And in many cases, said thought process can simply be used to further what you would term as evolution's goals.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby ucim » Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:56 pm UTC

reval wrote:Until you allow yourself to change your own desires, you won't become the kind of "thang" who can see the category error you make...
This is almost indistinguishable from "until you make the leap of faith, you won't be able to see the Truth of these tenets..." It's religion. If that's what you've got, we're done here.

I have no reason to change my own desires. I have, if you will, no desire to do that. I'd like to change everyone else's desires, but that's pretty universal.

Also, "evolution" doesn't kill people. It merely uses the fact that people die, and that their deaths are related to their fitness. And the thought process doesn't "throw away bad ideas". Just look at US politics and tell me what "bad ideas" are being thrown away. At the moment, bad ideas are growing wild.

What it does do is throw away unsuccessful ideas... ideas that fail to spawn. There is nothing about whether an idea is "good" or "bad" in this process.

You are proposing an idea - to wit: that you want to change human nature, and you think that genetic engineering is not only a good way to do it, but that the very idea of genetic engineering will make people want to change their own human nature, and that this change will somehow be altruistic.

This is a Bad idea.

This appears to be an Unsuccessful idea.

There is no evidence that this idea has any merit.

Your defense of this idea consists of mostly irrelevant smokescreen.

Further, your statement (quoted at the top) confirms this idea is an Owellian wet dream.

===

Physics doesn't care what you think; it happens anyway. Ditto evolution.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby morriswalters » Sun Aug 20, 2017 2:38 pm UTC

reval wrote:Evolution maintains genes. It knows no method beyond trial and error. It will never come up with that spaceship.
Don't be counterfactual. This is you not looking at what you see. Evolution built that rocket, when it built you. It created a tool to make other tools. You're a rearrangement of proteins on a double helix.

Multiple animals moves propulsively at times. They use impulse. That be a rocket. Man just rearranges matter to do the same thing. You just aren't seeing that. You have a blind spot.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby reval » Thu Aug 24, 2017 8:00 pm UTC

Thank you for all the comments. Even though I wasn't able to convince anyone, I am glad we were able to talk about my specific proposals, which is already an improvement on my previous thread. In particular, I maintain that none of you was able to demonstrate a significant flaw or weakness in the arguments I actually advanced.

I continue to maintain that the thought process can be separated from the evolutionary process, that it functions differently and better, and that this fact can be a crowbar that moves my motives and directs my desires in a different direction. And that's probably enough alliteration for now.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Chen » Thu Aug 24, 2017 8:17 pm UTC

reval wrote:In particular, I maintain that none of you was able to demonstrate a significant flaw or weakness in the arguments I actually advanced.


Holy selective reading. I don't think anyone who replied to your posts here at all agreed with anything you said and many flaws were produced which you didn't explain at all.

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Re: Purpose, or Only Two Reasons To Do Something

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Aug 24, 2017 8:20 pm UTC

I think what he means is "nobody seems to have been arguing against what I was actually saying, just what they thought I was saying, so nothing has been said to change my mind on the topic I was talking about, regardless of the merits of the arguments they were making against what they thought I was saying". He's not saying anyone agreed with him, just that nobody's arguments actually addressed what he was trying to get across.
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