Whether to accelerate is not so much a question of values

To oversimplify, but catch the essence of, the case for acceleration versus putting a band aid on the status quo, the agreed seems to be that:
Right now x=h people are dying/being substantially harmed/bad thing per year.
Accelerating would increase that to an average of h=x+a for y years, but then decreasing it to h=x-b for z years.
The band aid Bernie would decrease it to h=x-c for w years.

If you think b*z-a*y>c*w, you accelerate. If not, you put a band aid on things. But of course since the latter option is closer to the status quo, we conveniently ignore the magnitude of x in the first place. People endorsing such an option point to the damage done to a and c while sweeping under the rug the damage done to b.

I think b is massive. The group b also includes at least intensively defined pretty much the entire sets of a and c. So the question is less of values (unless an extreme focus on short terms gains is a value in play) and more an empirical difference.

A new answer to the trolley problem, plus follow-up on likely outcomes

The problem: A train is going down some tracks, as trains do. I am standing many yards away. I can see the train, but I cannot get any nearer to it. The track the train is on will soon have it run over and kill five people, because they are tied to the tracks. But! I have a lever that will make the train go down a different track. However, that track has one person tied to it. What am I, a moral agent, to do?

The solution: I close my eyes and rapidly pull the lever back and forth. This takes my agency out of the question and leaves it to God. Since God is perfectly good, they will make the morally best decision.

The follow-up: My friend who knows a bit more about track-based transportation than I do pointed out to me that this answer leads to multi-track drifting. The front of the train will go down one set of tracks. The rear will go down another. Thus, this solution kills all six people.

If the tracks are too far apart, then the train will derail. Then the surrounding environment will determine what happens. If the tracks are in a secluded area, then nothing of further note will happen. If there are things on the train’s new, freer path, then the train will hit them.

Regardless, the train is unlikely to be usable again, thereby solving the problem once and for all.

An inverted values argument for the importance of whether skeptical hypotheses matter

Skeptical hypothesis are nice philosophical quandries. Do we have reason to believe the world we perceive is real? Maybe we’re brains in vats or under the spell of an evil demon.  (What is this “we”, anyway? How do I know there’s any experiences besides my own?) I spend a fair bit of my thinking time on these problems. Berkeley wrote a substantial amount on why skeptics are wrong, and I also spend a fair bit of time thinking about Berkeley.

But someone might think that these questions don’t really matter. They might say the quandries are fun little puzzles, but don’t ultimately matter. I think that’s entirely wrong, and here’s one argument against it:

Let’s assume there is some value. If there isn’t, then this whole point is rather moot. Moreover, value happens at the level of reality. If anything at an imaginary or virtual level is of value, it’s only in virtue of impact on the real. For example, nothing in a video game matters in itself. But, what happens in a video game can matter for the real players.

For the sake of argument, let’s say petting kittens is good, and kicking kittens is bad. But of course we’re concerned with real kittens. Enter the skeptic. She suggests that there is a demon that inverts our perceptions of these two things. Whenever you appear to pet a kitten, in reality a kitten is kicked. But whenever you appear to kick a kitten, in reality a kitten is petted. If that were the case, then you should act to appear as though you are kicking kittens. When you see someone pet a kitten, you should condemn them.

This could be generalized to nearly any pair of values. You could also remove the pairing and just have a neutral thing correspond with a good or bad thing. Perhaps tapping your fingers on a table in appearance causes a real kitten to be kicked. Then you better not tap your fingers on a table in appearance.

(Of course, I think that hypothesis is wrong, but my point is that its being wrong is important.)

I’m all out of charity for the GOP politicians

A more…eloquent(?) way of putting what I’ve said before: Try as I might, there’s no charitable reading of the current GOP plan. There’s no understanding them as doing good with some different values or set of knowledge. I could see why a good-hearted person would vote for things I find abhorrent (anti-abortion bills, anti-gay bills, pro-trickle down bills, etc.)

The only explanation for this is a mix of
1. Abandoning any idea of good for people and just using the law to attack political opposition and
2. Abandoning explaining away pro-wealthy and pro-ownership class policies as good for everyone and just ignoring almost all of the population entirely.

Conservative defenses welcome. (A conservative defense of raising income taxes would be interesting.)

A bad argument for abortion rights

So I’ve seen a post floating around to an ad-laden clickbait article that’s just a screenshot of a tweet that “destroys the pro-life side”. Something about the argument seemed pretty off to me, and I think I figured out what.

The argument is as follows: If you were in a room and had to save either a five year old child or a container of a hundred viable embryos, which would you save? Almost everyone (allegedly) chooses the five year old. Therefore you don’t value the unborn as much as the born, so the anti-abortion position can be laid to rest.

To this I propose a parallel argument: You’re in a room with many of your closest loved ones. Friends, parents, spouse, children, siblings, whatever. You have two buttons before you, one that kills all of your loved ones (lets limit the number to ten), another that kills a thousand people in faraway places. (Randomly, but within a pool and distributed such that there’s no lasting geopolitical impact.) If you press neither or otherwise try to subvert, both options die. Which do you press?

Odds are you’re saving your loved ones. Does this mean going on a thousand-person killing spree would be okay? Of course not. It means emotional connections influence decision-making.

(That the situation in the original argument puts you in a room with the five year old and hundred embryos just shows this isn’t some surprising revelation. If the child and embryos were in remote locations, I imagine the scales would tip a bit. If the five year were unknown to anyone (i.e. totally feral) the scales would tip further. If the option were kill an unknown, uncared about five year old or terminate a hundred late-stage very wanted pregnancies, I’m guessing even much of the pro-choice side is saving the pregnancies.)

The Collatz Trolley Problem

I enjoy a good trolley problem (meme). I came across this one and it presents an odd problem:

No automatic alt text available.


All initial values of n thus far tested end up looping with 4, 2, 1, so if it’s any of those, I’m not sure how many people are sucked into the black hole. (Though it’s fewer than 5, so if the goal is minimization of deaths, pulling the lever is ideal regardless.)

This one is a bit odd to think about. On the one hand, at least 5×2^60 initial values have been shown to result in that loop. But many, many more have not (infinitely many, if you believe in infinities).

And if you look at the odd numbers in any sequence the geometric mean of the ratios of outcomes is 3/4, though this only means no divergence. Maybe there’s some cycle involving numbers bigger than 5×2^60.

Also it’s apparently been shown that for any m, the number of option for n between 1 and m is at least proportional to m^.84.

So on the one hand my gut says pull because that evidence sounds kinda compelling. But then some part of me recognizes that m^.84 isn’t even half of m for most m, and 2^61 is relatively small. But then there seems to be some sort of abductive principle allowing the practical inference that pulling is probably right, but I can’t tell what it is.

Sometimes disrespect is the point

In my continued disdain for loaded language in lieu of actual arguments: Yes, the students who walked out on Mike Pence at the Notre Damn graduation ceremony were disrespectful. To say otherwise is to miss the point.

There are varying levels of respect. There’s the respect you default to giving every person. There’s the respect you give to people who have done great things, in general or for you. Presumably, when you meet someone you give them a basic modicum of respect. If your parents did a good job raising you, you give them some respect for it. When you have a good teacher, you respect them. If someone is particularly virtuous, they get some bonus respect, too.

Clearly not everyone should get the same kinds and levels of respect. If you encounter a stranger on the street, while you’ll give them the basic human respect, you don’t treat them like a good parent or teacher. You won’t show the same regard for strangers as friends.

Going further in the opposite direction, some people are worthy of disrespect. If you’ve ever sworn someone out or given the finger, etc., you wouldn’t have much room to argue it was anything other than an act of disrespect. Maybe it was deserved. Maybe it wasn’t. There’s varying levels here, too. Someone who cuts you off in traffic might get a brief show of disrespect. Someone who commits genocide is probably worthy of much graver disrespect.

Now, whether Pence is someone worthy of any given level of respect or disrespect is something that can be argued, which I’m not doing in this status. To simply say walking out was disrespectful and assume that means bad is lazy. On the other hand, to deny it was disrespectful is just falling for the ploy. The words “disrespectful” and “bad” are different words.