Sunday, September 30, 2018

What is a problem or pseudo-problem we should do nothing to fix? Why?

We asked our faculty members, and this is what some of them think:

Dr. G. Randolph Mayes:
Death is a problem if anything is, but it is also a solution and there’s the rub. It’s a problem for individuals, but it’s nature’s solution to the survival of species. Steve Jobs said, while dying: “Death is likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent.”

On the current plan, the reason you must die is so new creatures may live. And the reason new creatures must live is that they instantiate the novel traits and ideas required for the species to survive in an ever-changing world. Currently, you are stuck with the genes you were born with. As you grow older, you become less desirous of novelty and less able to adapt to change. You instinctively see new notions, practices, technologies and behaviors as indicative of social decline, because they scare you.

Maybe you think death is a certainty, a brute fact of life that nobody is ever going to solve. You may be right, but that is not what some of the richest and smartest people on the planet believe. They are preparing to live forever.

Most of the problems we encounter today arise from solutions to the problems of yesterday. When we address them, it should be with a full appreciation of the good they are doing and the harm we may unleash in eliminating them. Mosquitoes are the most dangerous creature on the planet. What good are they? Nobody knows. But we better find out before we solve them.

Dr. Chong Choe-Smith:
A lack of evidence to prove an allegation of sexual assault? This isn’t really a problem.

In both criminal and civil cases, “the testimony of a single witness is enough to prove any fact” (CALCRIM 301; CACI 5003).

The testimony of a single witness, say, a victim of sexual assault, if credible, is sufficient to prove any fact. This testimony IS evidence—indeed, maybe sufficient evidence. So the problem is not a lack of evidence.

Maybe what people mean is that there is a lack of corroborating evidence. No DNA or testimony from other witnesses.

This too isn’t a mystery. Sexual assaults often occur when a person forces himself on another when no one else is around. Sexual assaults also often go unreported. One in six women have been victims of attempted/completed rape. Yet over two-thirds go unreported and only six in 1000 result in a conviction. Victims have their reasons for distrusting the system and not immediately subjecting themselves to being probed and prodded for biological evidence.

Imagine this. Person A is alleged to have forced himself on person B. Person A may have been too drunk to remember. Person B later describes the incident in detail and is certain that it was A who assaulted her. If credible, person B’s testimony is sufficient evidence of A’s wrongdoing. Person A categorically denies it. But it is entirely compatible for person A to have committed the act while drunk and still believe he is incapable of such behavior.

Dr. Marnie Binder:
Can we find non-problems in considering those “well, duh, sure” moments? Nozick’s “experience machine” comes to mind: “well, duh, sure” human beings seem to generally prefer to be in this world as we understand it rather than hooked up to a virtual world free of pain and full of pleasure. We invest heavily in technology, yet it seems certainly not to be (at least knowingly) fully inside it—that technological example of virtual reality, we seem to believe, would be quite problematic.

Still, could there be any instance of life inside virtual reality that we might often agree would be better, or a possible solution?

The film Upgrade comes to mind (spoiler alert): a man loses his wife to thugs, and he is left a quadriplegic. He has no will to continue living, until he is offered a computer chip implant that gives him super powers to take his revenge. Turns out, the implant is a very intelligent AI that takes over his body and leaves him in a permanent dream world where he is walking again with his wife, while this computer chip, called STEM, endeavors to take over the world. He does not know where he is, and he seems happy.

Technology is historically and circumstantially-embedded; at one time it may seem to be the solution and then become the problem, or vice-versa, depending thus on the moment of time in reference. A computer implant may one day make us super humans, and it may ultimately destroy us.

Dr. Kyle Swan:
All of them...

...are probably too costly to fix. I mean, why else would we have them?

For example, maybe we have too much pollution, but we don’t want zero pollution. We want the optimal amount. Similarly, maybe we have too many automobile deaths, but we don’t want zero automobile deaths. We want the optimal number of them.

Anything we want is like this. For example, in a competitive-enough industry, something’s (S) price will be the opportunity cost of all the resources that went into its production. So, what from everything available in the world should I use to make S? One filter is going to be technological feasibility. But after that, I want to know if what I use to make S is economically feasible — is this the optimal use for these resources?

Tough question. Because I may know a lot about S, but next to nothing about the many other somethings that S-resources could be used for. Luckily, I don’t have to know. I just look at their prices. Prices are knowledge surrogates. If they’re too high, I’ll be driven to use some cheaper alternatives.

Now consider these questions about the resources I could use to produce S:
Which ones cost less?
Which ones have higher opportunity costs?
Which ones waste fewer resources?
Which ones impose the least harm?

Different people may prioritize these questions differently. But it looks like it doesn’t matter. Any one of them gets them to move in the right direction.

Dr. Tom Pyne:
Reason has less influence than it should. But this provides little guidance on how much it should have.
Many philosophical claims are like this: Practice P is not grounded by any universal, necessary principle. Alternative practice A is conceivable and possible. Therefore, we have no reason to prefer P to A.
A stronger version: A is a universal, necessary principle itself. So we have a compelling reason to substituteA for P.
Examples abound. Utilitarian distributions don’t depend on arbitrary distinctions like egoism. Families lack the universalism required for properly moral action. Sexual jealousy should (must) give way. The Categorical Imperative. The Original Position.
Such claims are some of the strongest in philosophy. However, they derive their power from an assumption about the scope of reason.
Here’s a precept to provide guidance on how far we should press such claims: A basic substratum of human practices lies beneath the reach of reason. Therefore, attempts to apply reason there will be incoherent and self-defeating.
That stratum derives from our specific – and contingent – natural and cultural history. What we find cognitively salient; what we consider interesting; who we care about. And it is, emphatically, not a deliverance of reason.
We may think that we can prefer alternative practices, but we can’t. We can’t get below our lowest stratum.
Or, to put it another way, we are not platonic souls.
That is why attempts to extend the reach of reason (the term is ‘Utopianism’) produce the results they do.

Dr. John Park:
Given the 70 sextillion (7x1022) stars in the observable universe from Earth and countless others in the non-observed universe, many astrophysicists argue that even if the possibility of intelligent life developing on another planet is small, there is likely many intelligent alien life forms in the universe. Assuming this is so, there is likely to be many life-threatening moral problems in at least some of these alien societies if life on Earth provides an indication. A monstrously big problem spanning the universe then is to try and establish moral goodness and justice across the universe to prevent harm from occurring. For example, it very well may be physically possible for humans to right now try and build up to resolving various future galactic issues via many generations of scientific knowledge acquisition even though we cannot resolve the moral issues right now. We could spend many additional resources now to explicitly try and fix galactic problems by trying to build a weaponized space program built specifically to interfere in galactic affairs. However, we should not try to begin to fix and resolve all of these issues by enhancing our knowledge of space with the express intention of resolving outside galactic moral issues and having extra resources devoted to such specific endeavors. For, at minimum, we have too many moral issues here on Earth to expend such extra resources, inter alia. While the regular space program can remain, extra funds and energy should be spent addressing the moral issues on Earth now.

Dr. Saray Ayala-López:
For many people, lacking a romantic and/or sex partner is a problem. Let’s call the state of lacking a romantic and/or sex partner “X” (for space reasons I take them together). Seeing X as a problem triggers a desperate need to solve it, and this need both brings and reflects moral evils.

First, it assumes amatonormativity:
X is a problem when we accept that the best, happiness-guaranteed status for a person is that of a (usually exclusive) romantic relationship, and/or one that involves sex. Friendships and other social relationships (e.g. asexual romances) are diminished. This assumption impoverishes our social life and makes our romantic and sexual relationships toxic and unhealthy. It also makes many people in state X unhappy.

Second, it invites the idea of entitlement to sex and romantic affection:
A visible and disturbing case of this is the incels, or involuntary celibates: heterosexual men who think that society, and especially women, owe them sex and romantic affection. This assumption takes everything about sex and affection wrong (e.g. it confuses sex with domination), it draws on and promotes misogynistic ideas, and it leads to abusive relationships and crimes.

Third, it sets us up for a morally controversial technological future:
We’ll desperately try to solve X with robot companions(we already are), giving up on social skills, falling in love with à la carte dolls (most of them, marketed for heterosexual males, recreate an exaggerated ideal female body), and exploring all sorts of sexual (and emotional) exploitationof human-like maybe-one-day-conscious artificial organisms.

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