A Thought Experiment on Progress

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HungryHobo
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Thu Dec 04, 2014 6:24 pm UTC

Chen wrote:Barring something that stops us from dying of old age, what kind of examples of this do you foresee in our lifetimes? Something that paradigm shifting that I would be utterly horrified by it, seems difficult to think of right now for me at least.


I don't know what age you are I'm going to assume you have some small chance of living another 60/70 years. That's a long time socially.

So there could be a gulf as big as between 1940's morality when eugenics was sexy and now, perhaps even bigger.

The problem is that I'm a child of current morality as well so it's also hard for me to plan a path from current views that seems reasonable to me because, almost by definition, it's unlikely to seem reasonable to me.

It's hard to avoid simply descending into an approach where you simply think of a group/philosophy which you disagree with right now and imagine a dystopia where they're in charge rather than trying to imagine people who just don't care about the things you care about or people who take your own morality to reducto-ad-absurdum levels with a straight face.

but for an easy one: Perhaps kids will start getting routine cognitive enhancements and split open the issues Ormurinn mentioned from the 80's and/or social views will shift back in that direction.

Perhaps payday loan company owners will start to be considered decent human beings deserving of life and even social respect.

Perhaps society will shift in the direction of china and I'll find myself trying to explain to my great grandchild that freedom of speech is about more than child porn and the design of nerve gas bombs on the internet and get nothing but "the party is good, free speech is bad" in response

Perhaps we'll go all brave-new world on intimacy and start sending children who don't want to be intimate with each other at a young age to counselling.

Perhaps mind reading will become easy, jury trials will be done away with and literal thought-crime will seem utterly reasonable to younger people.

Combined with the above, perhaps people will be punished for violating new laws retroactively. "But debating serious adult issues on internet forums without confirming that all participants are over 18 wasn't illegal in 2014", "Doesn't matter, the mind scan showed you debated morality with pseudo-anonymous parties. To jail with you you disgusting freak"
Give a man a fish, he owes you one fish. Teach a man to fish, you give up your monopoly on fisheries.

Derek
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Thu Dec 04, 2014 6:52 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:Are there any other contracts you're allowed to break on a whim? It's actually impossible to sign yourself up to a credible marriage contract anymore. In economic terms, divorce is actually incentivized today, in the benefits system and family court.

Most employment contracts in the US are at will, meaning that either the employee or the employer can terminate the contract at any time, with some amount of minimum notice.

HungryHobo wrote:your decendents will say the same thing: And eating sea kittens or a creature which doesn't want to be eaten or isn't capable of clearly expressing that desire is also obviously wrong.

it's dangerous to assume that people will just agree with your current morals harder in the future.

the point isn't to say that there is no such thing as morals, just to recognise that they're not something set in stone. Society will change in ways that scare and horrify you if you live long enough.

The point is not that we have finally found the perfect and correct set of morals. The point is that ours morals are objectively better now than they were in the past, and will probably be better in the future than they are now. Rejecting moral relativism does not mean that our morals are objectively correct, it means that there exists an objectively correct set of morals, and it is our goal to identify this set.

leady
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Thu Dec 04, 2014 7:31 pm UTC

Derek wrote:The point is not that we have finally found the perfect and correct set of morals. The point is that ours morals are objectively better now than they were in the past, and will probably be better in the future than they are now. Rejecting moral relativism does not mean that our morals are objectively correct, it means that there exists an objectively correct set of morals, and it is our goal to identify this set.


thats a very strong statement - how are you objectively proving them better?

Zcorp
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zcorp » Thu Dec 04, 2014 8:54 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:The problem is that I'm a child of current morality as well so it's also hard for me to plan a path from current views that seems reasonable to me because, almost by definition, it's unlikely to seem reasonable to me.

Maybe you should 'imagine harder' :roll:

Reason isn't subjective. Sure, something can 'seem reasonable' to you while not being reasonable, but that is just you being bad a reason. Something can 'seem reasonable' to you given the information you have at a specific time, and when you get more information be found to not be reasonable. However, if you are good at reason you only put as much trust in an idea as there was evidence to support it and when you have new information you correctly adjust your understanding of the concept based on it.

but for an easy one: Perhaps kids will start getting routine cognitive enhancements and split open the issues Ormurinn mentioned from the 80's and/or social views will shift back in that direction.

Cognitive enhancements are example you are using to propose something that people would find unacceptable today?

Moving back to some of the 80's social views, take the changes of American perception on gays and gay marriage, thats certainly imaginable but its also in direct contrast to the goal of social progression. It's easy to imagine the future people doing stupid and regressive things but that doesn't make them right in doing so.

Perhaps payday loan company owners will start to be considered decent human beings deserving of life and even social respect.

So, to are you just coming up with random things that you think might happen? Are you just ignoring the reasons and trends in social progress that actually happen in history? Are you familiar with basic utilitarian ethics?

---------------
leady wrote:
Derek wrote:The point is not that we have finally found the perfect and correct set of morals. The point is that ours morals are objectively better now than they were in the past, and will probably be better in the future than they are now. Rejecting moral relativism does not mean that our morals are objectively correct, it means that there exists an objectively correct set of morals, and it is our goal to identify this set.


thats a very strong statement - how are you objectively proving them better?

Obviously we first have to define what we mean by better. If by better we mean that the quantity and quality of life of the average individual is improving, we can look both at average and total utility of the world, there are heaps of evidence to show improvement, do you really need us to show it to you? If so where do you want us to start? Greater opportunity, greater equality, less murder, less violence, longer life-spans, better treatments and cures for disease, greater access to education and information, more powerful tools, greater productivity, greater GDP. Which of those do you want evidence for (as there is evidence for every single one of them)? Then as we learn more from our discoveries our morals change so that the things that make those areas of measurement worse are considered bad relative to the ones that make them better. Sometimes the difference can even be small, say could somehow measure a 1% increase in average utility, people that don't change their behavior to meet with this greater utility are considered wrong. Gay marriage would again be a good example of this, and a 1% increase in average utility isn't terribly far off from the increase it provides, but for any reasonable person it is the obvious and right change in morals. It is objectively better to allow gay marriage than not.

leady
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:09 pm UTC

all collective ethics are subjective rationalisations though.

If one could prove that wiping out sub-culture x through non-violent means (special sterility virus etc) that inreased everyone elses utility significantly I seriously doubt you use the same logic

Zcorp
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zcorp » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:14 pm UTC

leady wrote:all collective ethics are subjective rationalisations though.

If one could prove that wiping out sub-culture x through non-violent means (special sterility virus etc) that inreased everyone elses utility significantly I seriously doubt you use the same logic

That you doubt it is an example of your inexperience at critical thinking. I would certainly apply the exact same logic (and by the exact same I simply just mean actually applying logic, rather than whatever you think logic is if you imagine it to be subjective).

To give you two extreme examples, I believe we were entirely correct to 'wipe out' Nazis and slavers even through violent means.

I find it somewhat sad at how shortsighted it is to propose sterilization as a means to wipe out a culture though, cultures aren't dependent upon children, they are built around ideas. Sure it is easy to indoctrinate children (although it is becoming harder due to increases in education and information), not having children does not wipe out a culture.

And ethics are not subjective rationalizations, the goals of the ethics are only in the most technical and detailed argument subjective, but for nearly every discussion the goal of 'increasing well-being' can be considered objective. Then all of the ethical systems to strive toward that goal can be measured in relative efficacy toward that goal, making them quite objective.
Last edited by Zcorp on Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:39 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

leady
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:38 pm UTC

so would you say breed out the gay if the utility costs made it cost in for the remaining 95% of society? or it is as I suspect that you'll rationalise that away as different somehow.

Zcorp
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zcorp » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:48 pm UTC

leady wrote:so would you say breed out the gay if the utility costs made it cost in for the remaining 95% of society? or it is as I suspect that you'll rationalise that away as different somehow.

We have no evidence that you can breed out being gay, in fact most evidence would suggest you can't. Supposing we could, you would need to show me how it costs the rest of society anything, and then explain what part of 'being gay' causes harm to the rest of society and how the best solution for that explanation is to 'breed them out'. Finally you would need to justify how that harm is greater than the costs it would take toward the effort to 'breed out the gays.'

If somehow you could breed out being gay (to slightly steel-man you, assuming changeable aspects of DNA were found that cause only gender preference), being gay caused actual harm, the harm was caused simply by 'being gay' and you could justify the cost to society to remove that harm, then yes. I would 'rationalize' it the same way, again rationalization is not subjective, that you keep using it as a subjective term shows you don't know how to speak about rationality. I can give you some reading material if you would like to learn more about logic and reason.

As not a single step in that chain of events and truths that need to happen or understood for breeding out gayness to be a rational course of action seems true now or is likely to be true in the future it is a pretty terrible hypothetical. If you want to challenge rationalism you are going to have to do a lot better than that.
Last edited by Zcorp on Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:55 pm UTC, edited 3 times in total.

Cres
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Cres » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:50 pm UTC

leady wrote:
Derek wrote:The point is not that we have finally found the perfect and correct set of morals. The point is that ours morals are objectively better now than they were in the past, and will probably be better in the future than they are now. Rejecting moral relativism does not mean that our morals are objectively correct, it means that there exists an objectively correct set of morals, and it is our goal to identify this set.


thats a very strong statement - how are you objectively proving them better?


Do really think the statement "slavery is wrong" is a matter of opinion? So if you woke up tomorrow, and found everyone else in the world had changed their mind and decided they were OK with slavery, or with murdering infants for fun, then you would just be like 'heh, it's all subjective anyway' and carry on with your day?

HungryHobo
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:50 pm UTC

Cres wrote:Do really think the statement "slavery is wrong" is a matter of opinion? So if you woke up tomorrow, and found everyone else in the world had changed their mind and decided they were OK with slavery, or with murdering infants for fun, then you would just be like 'heh, it's all subjective anyway' and carry on with your day?


imagine an alien spacecraft turned up, we make radio contact and they gleefully declare that since we've not fired on them we must be babyeaters! oh happy day!

http://lesswrong.com/lw/y5/the_babyeating_aliens_18/

alternatively you wake up in one of those pod things like from the matrix...

http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/03/asches-to-asches/

There’s a woman standing in front of you, wearing a lab coat, holding a clipboard.

“Hi,” she says. “This is the real world. You used to live here. We erased your memories and stuck you in a simulated world for a while, like in The Matrix. It was part of a great experiment.”

“What?” you shout. “My whole life, a lie? How dare you deceive me as part of some grand ‘experiment’ I never consented to?”

“Oh,” said the woman, “actually, you did consent, in exchange for extra credit in your undergraduate psychology course.” She hands you the clipboard. There is a consent form with your name on it, in your handwriting.

You give her a sheepish look. “What was the experiment?”

“You know families?” asks the woman.

“Of course,” you say.

“Yeah,” says the woman. “Not really a thing. Like, if you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense. Why would you care more for your genetic siblings and cousins and whoever than for your friends and people who are genuinely close to you? That’s like racism – but even worse, at least racists identify with a group of millions of people instead of a group of half a dozen. Why should parents have to raise children whom they might not even like, who might have been a total accident? Why should people, motivated by guilt, make herculean efforts to “keep in touch” with some nephew or cousin whom they clearly would be perfectly happy to ignore entirely?”

“Uh,” you say, “not really in the mood for philosophy. Families have been around forever and they aren’t going anywhere, who cares?”

“Actually,” says the woman, “in the real world, no one believes in family. There’s no such thing. Children are taken at birth from their parents and given to people who contract to raise them in exchange for a fixed percent of their future earnings.”

“That’s monstrous!” you say. “When did this happen? Weren’t there protests?”

“It’s always been this way,” says the woman. “There’s never been such a thing as the family. Listen. You were part of a study a lot like the Asch Conformity Experiment. Our goal was to see if people, raised in a society where everyone believed X and everything revolved around X, would even be capable of questioning X or noticing it was stupid. We tried to come up with the stupidest possible belief, something no one in the real world had ever believed or ever seemed likely to, to make sure that we were isolating the effect of conformity and not of there being a legitimate argument for something. So we chose this idea of ‘family’. There are racists in our world, we’re not perfect, but as far as I know none of them has ever made the claim that you should devote extra resources to the people genetically closest to you. That’s like a reductio ad absurdum of racism. So we got a grad student to simulate a world where this bizarre idea was the unquestioned status quo, and stuck twenty bright undergraduates in it to see if they would conform, or question the premise.”

“Of course we won’t question the premise, the premise is…”

“Sorry to cut you off, but I thought you should know that every single one of the other nineteen subjects, upon reaching the age where the brain they were instantiated in was capable of abstract reason, immediately determined that the family structure made no sense. One of them actually deduced that she was in a psychology experiment, because there was no other explanation for why everyone believed such a bizarre premise. The other eighteen just assumed that sometimes objectively unjustifiable ideas caught on, the same way that everyone in the antebellum American South thought slavery was perfectly natural and only a few abolitionists were able to see through it. Our conformity experiment failed. You were actually the only one to fall for it, hook line and sinker.”

“How could I be the only one?”

“We don’t know. Your test scores show you’re of just-above-average intelligence, so it’s not that you’re stupid. But we did give all participants a personality test that showed you have very high extraversion. The conclusion of our paper is going to be that very extraverted participants adopt group consensus without thinking and can be led to believe anything, even something as ridiculous as ‘family'”.

“I guess…when you put it like that it is kind of silly. Like, my parents were never that nice to me, but I kept loving them anyway, liking them even more than other people who treated me a lot better – and god, I even gave my mother a “WORLD’S #1 MOM” mug for Mother’s Day. That doesn’t even make sense! I…but what about the evolutionary explanation? Doesn’t evolution say we have genetic imperatives to love and support our family, whether they are worthy of it or not?”

“You can make a just-so story for anything using evolutionary psychology. Someone as smart as you should know better than to take them seriously.”

“But then, what is evolution? How did animals reproduce before the proper economic incentives were designed? Where did…”

“Tell you what. Let’s hook you up to the remnemonizer to give you your real memories back. That should answer a lot of your questions.”

A machine hovering over you starts to glow purple. “This shouldn’t hurt you a bit…”
Give a man a fish, he owes you one fish. Teach a man to fish, you give up your monopoly on fisheries.

Zcorp
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zcorp » Thu Dec 04, 2014 11:29 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:imagine an alien spacecraft turned up, we make radio contact and they gleefully declare that since we've not fired on them we must be babyeaters! oh happy day!

You missed the point.
The baby-eaters assumed we ate babies, as due to the realities of their existence baby eating became the best solution they came up with to perpetuate survival of the society. So because humans acted in an cooperative way, and 'eating babies' was a synonym for 'cooperating' in a game theory sense they made an assumption.

The point is not that our kids are going to start eating babies and we should accept it. The point is that cooperating to further society can mean very different things for different cultures based on the reality of their resources and other aspects of their existence.

The far more interesting dilemma relating to baby-eaters - and actually more on topic- is not how they cooperate, but their memetic wars. If scientists/humanists/ratonalists gained sufficient power to wipe out all other cultures and sub-cultures and believed and had sufficient evidence that it would add the most utility, even if they had to do so by killing a large portion of people, should they?

Or more simply/broadly, what is the ratio of harm we should accept in the present for expected gains in well-being in the future? And how much evidence and risk should be acceptable for those expected gains? This is really one of the only difficult questions left in ethics, and there are not great arguments for either side. The baby-eaters chose genocide of the all of the less rational cultures on their planet, which in the story had great cultural benefit, and they believed it was the right thing to do, that any amount of present harm justifies large gains in future utility. What is interesting is how few readers focus on it, partially cause the story doesn't either but it is still incredibly interesting that more readers don't notice the significance of it.

The other interesting aspect of the story - relating to the baby-eaters specifically, is that the Xenopsychologist believes that it is not worth the short-term harm (caused by the forced change in culture, related shame and shunning etc) of changing their genes to have less children so they wouldn't need to eat babies for the long term gains of them not having to torture and kill billions of the equivalent of 6-12 year olds in the future (which also relates to the other big question in ethics, which springs forth from the repugnant conclusion, is it worth adding more life, and more total utility at the cost of average utility, or what is the right ratio and risk). The Xenopsychologist believes this despite that the baby-eaters themselves made the most extreme version of short-term losses for long-term gains already.

It is also important to note that the baby-eaters are wrong about and think poorly about a number of things, including enhancing the human evolutionary process. They were also lucky that the more enlightened among them won their war seemingly early in their history. Where in our history we had many instances where that was not true and caused harm to our social and technological progression, although we have also fortunately and barely averted one that likely would of greatly regressed progress (the cold war).

The most likely change that our children might make in ethics is changing this ratio of allowed harm in the present for future gain (killing elderly or disabled who can't contribute to society for example) or that people who have more more than one or maybe two kids are defectors and decreasing average utility by adding more people to the equation. It is extremely unlikely that cooperating so we have a healthy society is good despite the realities of what cooperation means will be something they change (minority voting for example).

dc2322
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:35 am UTC

Ormurinn wrote:
See, here you're literally baking in "conservative" as something negative. A majority of americans describe themselves as conservative!

You seem to be advocating really strong Moral Realism, and saying we're definitely closer to the one true morality than we used to be. How can you know?



By conservative I meant the general, social concept. Preferring the status quo over unfamiliar changes. NOT merely the political kind, which is what you seem to be referring. Although, most grandparents would count in both categories...

You are thinking of progress like its a Top-down process- there is a specific goal at the end at which we are aimed. I was thinking of progress in a bottom-up sense. I don't know where we are going but I know our situation has improved. Its similar to evolutionary theory: life isn't evolving towards anything. Its just becoming better at surviving in its environment than it used to be. There is no "perfectly fit" being at the end. There is not *necessarily* a perfect morality towards which we are progressing.

Derek
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:50 am UTC

HungryHobo wrote:http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/03/asches-to-asches/

lol, this reminds me of an erotic fiction story I once read.

(Also, dear god why does everything on LW have to be a novel)

dc2322
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 1:47 am UTC

I read through most of these. Sorry if I don't address your point.

Moral relativism is annoying. When you adopt this position you are giving up. You are saying that after all of your searching for the truth you haven't found anything so you might as well sit down and mope. Yes, you might be right. But can you really say that you have exhausted all possibilities of moral explanation??? Are you really willing to say there is no use trying to figure out what is the best moral framework for human society to live under? Maybe there is a true moral system, its just reallllyyy complex (like, Seldon levels of complex). Or maybe its just too far outside of [your] box. The point is, Dont give up so easily!

I really have a hard time imagining some moral shift in future humanity that would horrify me. All the really disturbing ones (baby-eating,thought crime, etc) don't seem realistic (if only because someone wrote a book about them. so now we are always like "HEY asshole, remember 1984??")? Morality will undoubtedly change more in the future. We might continue making progress, we might not. But it doesn't matter. I'm not going to banter about possible (?), ridiculous future dystopias. I'm looking at the past compared to the present. Things that actually exist/existed.

DON'T FORGET: In my thought experiment you can ONLY choose the date (July 6, 1814). This leaves you open to ANY demographic or location. You want the date which has the lowest possibility of ending up in a shitty scenario and the highest possibility of a comfortable/productive/stable/autonomous/enjoyable life. I am arguing that the desirability of a date increases as you approach the present. Thus, progress has been made.

Puppyclaws
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Puppyclaws » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:36 am UTC

dc2322 wrote:I read through most of these. Sorry if I don't address your point.

Moral relativism is annoying. When you adopt this position you are giving up. You are saying that after all of your searching for the truth you haven't found anything so you might as well sit down and mope. Yes, you might be right. But can you really say that you have exhausted all possibilities of moral explanation??? Are you really willing to say there is no use trying to figure out what is the best moral framework for human society to live under? Maybe there is a true moral system, its just reallllyyy complex (like, Seldon levels of complex). Or maybe its just too far outside of [your] box. The point is, Dont give up so easily!


Absolute moral relativism is a position not entirely dissimilar to giving up, I guess, from a certain frame of mind. But this not a serious position. Morals are, there is no question in my mind, relativistic to an extent. To say otherwise is imperialistic, ultimately, because there are other sets of values than your own which function. They are playing out right now in China, on Canadian Indian Reserves, in gay ghettos, and a million other places. Another phrase for relativism is pluralism. I believe there is a plurality of valid moral positions. One of the least valid ones is the one that says there are no other valid moral positions.

I really have a hard time imagining some moral shift in future humanity that would horrify me. All the really disturbing ones (baby-eating,thought crime, etc) don't seem realistic (if only because someone wrote a book about them. so now we are always like "HEY asshole, remember 1984??")? Morality will undoubtedly change more in the future. We might continue making progress, we might not. But it doesn't matter. I'm not going to banter about possible (?), ridiculous future dystopias. I'm looking at the past compared to the present. Things that actually exist/existed.


A failure of imagination on your part is not an argument.

DON'T FORGET: In my thought experiment you can ONLY choose the date (July 6, 1814). This leaves you open to ANY possible demographic or location. You want the date which has the lowest possibility of ending up in a shitty scenario and the highest possibility of a comfortable/productive/stable/autonomous/enjoyable life. I am arguing that the desirability of a date increases as you approach the present. Thus, progress has been made.


Well if you're going to assume your conclusion...

Anyway if you gave a person from 1450 AD a chance, I bet they'd choose 1450 AD, not today; just as you choose what you know, as opposed to what you don't know.

morriswalters
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby morriswalters » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:46 am UTC

Then you haven't imagined hard enough. I'll help you get started. what if this were true?
Stewart and Plotkin’s previous study examined an iterated and evolutionary version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which a population of players matches up against one another repeatedly. The most successful players “reproduce” more and pass along their winning strategies to the next generation. The researchers found that, in such a scenario, cooperative and even forgiving strategies won out, in part because “cheaters” couldn’t win against themselves.

In the new investigation, Stewart and Plotkin added a new twist. Now, not only could players alter their strategy — whether or not they cooperate — but they could also vary the payoffs they receive for cooperating.

This, Plotkin said, may more accurately reflect the balancing of risk and reward that occurs in nature, where organisms decide not only how often they cooperate but also the extent to which they cooperate.

Initially, as in their earlier study, cooperative strategies found success.

“But when cooperative strategies predominate, payoffs will rise as well,” Stewart said. “With higher and higher payoffs at stake, the temptation to defect also rises. In a sense the cooperators are paving the way for their own demise.”

Indeed, Stewart and Plotkin found that the population of players reached a tipping point after which defection was the predominant strategy in the population.

Zcorp
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zcorp » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:56 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:Then you haven't imagined hard enough. I'll help you get started. what if this were true?

sigh....
Did you even read what you quoted?
It is true, that's why the changed the game, to make it more realistic. One example is called the market. One of the current problems with the market is that we don't have much or any punishment for defectors so people are cheating quite often. Especially those at the top.

Why is it that nearly everything you post displays a failure in reading comprehension, often within what you are directly quoting?

Derek
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:07 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:Absolute moral relativism is a position not entirely dissimilar to giving up, I guess, from a certain frame of mind. But this not a serious position. Morals are, there is no question in my mind, relativistic to an extent. To say otherwise is imperialistic, ultimately, because there are other sets of values than your own which function. They are playing out right now in China, on Canadian Indian Reserves, in gay ghettos, and a million other places. Another phrase for relativism is pluralism. I believe there is a plurality of valid moral positions. One of the least valid ones is the one that says there are no other valid moral positions.

It's not imperialistic to say that you believe there is a single correct moral system (most moral systems hold this, moral relativism is pretty new). It's imperialist to impose your own moral system on others. But rejecting moral relativism does not imply accepting any particular moral system (in particular, your own) as the correct system. Any rational person would subscribe to the moral system that they believe is correct, or the closest to correct, but if you want to impose your moral system on someone else's then you need to strongly believe your own system to be significantly more correct than theirs.

Ie, if Alice believes toilet paper should be hung in the over position, and Bob believes toilet paper should be hung in the under position, it's a very small difference without strong evidence either way. There is no reason for Alice to violently impose her beliefs on Bob. But if Bob believe that he should have the right to own people as property and do absolutely anything he wishes with them, and Alice believes that slavery is grossly immoral, then there is a strong case (in Alice's morality system) for her to impose her morality on Bob, violently if necessary (ex, if Bob is actively hurting people according to Alice's "slavery is immoral" morality).

Anyway if you gave a person from 1450 AD a chance, I bet they'd choose 1450 AD, not today; just as you choose what you know, as opposed to what you don't know.

I think this basically agrees with his point. Given a choice between the present and any point in the past, pretty much anyone would choose the present. If the future is also a choice, then it comes down to how willing are you to extrapolate, and how far. Bug the point is that historically we have made significant progress, and very few people born today would choose to be born in the past.

dc2322
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:27 am UTC

I would agree about pluralism as a possibility. It could be a complex net of "best moralities" dependent upon culture.

Again, I could sit here and try to come up with some really good Sci-fi scenarios where our paradigm shifts in some wacky way. I personally love that sort of thing. However, this argument is about present conditions in relation to past conditions. Not about possible future conditions.

I don't see how I'm assuming my conclusion. In the scenario, do you think you would want a date different from the type I described? After that I stated what I was arguing.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Puppyclaws » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:40 am UTC

Derek wrote:It's not imperialistic to say that you believe there is a single correct moral system (most moral systems hold this, moral relativism is pretty new). It's imperialist to impose your own moral system on others. But rejecting moral relativism does not imply accepting any particular moral system (in particular, your own) as the correct system. Any rational person would subscribe to the moral system that they believe is correct, or the closest to correct, but if you want to impose your moral system on someone else's then you need to strongly believe your own system to be significantly more correct than theirs.


I would disagree with the idea that most systems believe in a single morally perfect way, or that moral relativism is at all new; people change viewpoints all the time via contact with other forms of thinking and throughout history have done so. Rejection of all other systems, and certainly the sort of values expressed here that there is a single discoverable moral system, forms the seeds of imperialistic approaches. It's one thing to say, e.g., stoicism is better than other systems-- and another to say stoicism is discoverable as the best of all possible systems.

I think this basically agrees with his point. Given a choice between the present and any point in the past, pretty much anyone would choose the present. If the future is also a choice, then it comes down to how willing are you to extrapolate, and how far. Bug the point is that historically we have made significant progress, and very few people born today would choose to be born in the past.


My point is a): people in the past (and now) may not wish to be born in the future, suggesting that there is not an eternal march of progress but instead a preference for current morals, whatever current is; and b): there may be reasons for choosing "now" as opposed to choosing the past that are not evidence for the idea of the eternal march of progress.

ETA:

dc2322 wrote:I don't see how I'm assuming my conclusion. In the scenario, do you think you would want a date different from the type I described? After that I stated what I was arguing.


The assumption is that someone making the decision to choose today means that you are right about the march of progress. My argument, in part, is that people choose this not because it is the best time, but because they perceive it as the best time. It doesn't answer the question "is there progress" at all, it assumes it, based on the popular idea that there has been progress (which is itself often based on Whiggish historical inaccuracies).

(anyway I am sure many historians would choose the past, whatever that means for your thought experiment).

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:53 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:I would disagree with the idea that most systems believe in a single morally perfect way, or that moral relativism is at all new; people change viewpoints all the time via contact with other forms of thinking and throughout history have done so. Rejection of all other systems, and certainly the sort of values expressed here that there is a single discoverable moral system, forms the seeds of imperialistic approaches. It's one thing to say, e.g., stoicism is better than other systems-- and another to say stoicism is discoverable as the best of all possible systems.

Changing viewpoints on morality does not imply moral relativism. It only implies a change in the belief of what morality system is closest to correct. If a slave owner becomes an abolitionist this does not imply he is a moral relativist. It means that he has come to the conclusion that "slavery is immoral" is a more correct moral statement than he previously believed. Additionally, it is likely that he now believes that it was always a more correct statement, and he was just wrong before.

My point is a): people in the past (and now) may not wish to be born in the future, suggesting that there is not an eternal march of progress but instead a preference for current morals, whatever current is; and b): there may be reasons for choosing "now" as opposed to choosing the past that are not evidence for the idea of the eternal march of progress.

I don't think this shows a preference for present versus future morals, it shows a preference for certainty versus uncertainty. I don't think the OP's point was that moral progression is inevitable, but rather that moral decline is not supported historically.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:58 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:
My point is a): people in the past (and now) may not wish to be born in the future, suggesting that there is not an eternal march of progress but instead a preference for current morals, whatever current is; and b): there may be reasons for choosing "now" as opposed to choosing the past that are not evidence for the idea of the eternal march of progress.


A)I would say a more likely explanation of why you wouldn't want to travel to the future is that we don't know what happens. We don't know if the progress continues. We do know how things were in the past and how things are now.

B)Could you list an example or two?

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Puppyclaws » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:10 am UTC

Derek: I am suggesting that people in general have been open to many possibilities and that this requires an openness to other ideas to be able to convert, generally. Though certainly one can imagine a person changing from one strongly held view to another with no relative position, I think that is more exceptional than the person who holds many

dc2322 wrote:A)I would say a more likely explanation of why you wouldn't want to travel to the future is that we don't know what happens. We don't know if the progress continues. We do know how things were in the past and how things are now.

B)Could you list an example or two?


On A: And my point was, if you exposed someone from 1450 AD to the real actual future that has played out since then I would put down twenty bucks they'd choose in or around 1450 AD, what with its familiarities to them and their value structure, as opposed to a known "enlightened" future.

On B: see my edited reply for one example; we have distorted views of both today and the past, and as contemporary people share today's values as opposed to some yesterday's values. Also, as you mention above, fear of the unknown (for who really knows the past? Especially the past on a cost-benefit analysis scale, to every place in existence?). These are at least equally plausible alternative explanations for choosing now as opposed to then that suggest a flaw in your approach.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:22 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:Derek: I am suggesting that people in general have been open to many possibilities and that this requires an openness to other ideas to be able to convert, generally. Though certainly one can imagine a person changing from one strongly held view to another with no relative position, I think that is more exceptional than the person who holds many

You still seem to be equating moral relativism with openness to new ideas, or acceptance that other people can hold different moral beliefs. What I'm trying to say is that the two are unrelated. The belief that there exists a single correct moral framework does not imply that you have to hold the framework you currently believe in strongly, or resist change to that framework. To draw an analogy, any scientist worth his salt believes that there is a single correct set of laws that govern the universe, and is simultaneously open to new ideas that challenge his or her existing beliefs. Two scientists can even simultaneously disagree on what theories are correct, while acknowledging each other's views. That's because a scientist recognizes that his current beliefs, while they are the most accurate beliefs he has available, are probably not absolutely correct, and he should always seek a more correct set of beliefs. Basically, I'm saying that we should treat morality like science: We use a current "best guess" moral system while seeking to get closer to the one correct system.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Puppyclaws » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:37 am UTC

Derek wrote:You still seem to be equating moral relativism with openness to new ideas, or acceptance that other people can hold different moral beliefs. What I'm trying to say is that the two are unrelated. The belief that there exists a single correct moral framework does not imply that you have to hold the framework you currently believe in strongly, or resist change to that framework. To draw an analogy, any scientist worth his salt believes that there is a single correct set of laws that govern the universe, and is simultaneously open to new ideas that challenge his or her existing beliefs. Two scientists can even simultaneously disagree on what theories are correct, while acknowledging each other's views. That's because a scientist recognizes that his current beliefs, while they are the most accurate beliefs he has available, are probably not absolutely correct, and he should always seek a more correct set of beliefs. Basically, I'm saying that we should treat morality like science: We use a current "best guess" moral system while seeking to get closer to the one correct system.


I now see that I stopped writing midsentence in the part you quoted. Probably because I am a little tired of this discussion because I am certain it's at an impasse. Science doesn't function like that at all, but it'd be nice if it did maybe. Regardless, I am pretty sure that beliefs about physical reality are not like morals, and I am pretty sure that toilet paper is not a moral issue.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:21 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:and I am pretty sure that toilet paper is not a moral issue.

Clearly you have never gone into a bathroom with the toilet paper hung the wrong way! (It's a joke)

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby morriswalters » Fri Dec 05, 2014 9:50 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:
morriswalters wrote:Then you haven't imagined hard enough. I'll help you get started. what if this were true?

sigh....
Did you even read what you quoted?
It is true, that's why the changed the game, to make it more realistic. One example is called the market. One of the current problems with the market is that we don't have much or any punishment for defectors so people are cheating quite often. Especially those at the top.

Why is it that nearly everything you post displays a failure in reading comprehension, often within what you are directly quoting?
Good morning or afternoon or whatever. I am always happy when I rate a comment by you, it absolutely makes my day. The article at question appears to me to be one about evolutionary biology, am I mistaken?
dc2322 wrote:A)I would say a more likely explanation of why you wouldn't want to travel to the future is that we don't know what happens. We don't know if the progress continues. We do know how things were in the past and how things are now.
Immigrants make those types of leaps all the time. As does youth.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Cres » Fri Dec 05, 2014 10:39 am UTC

Derek wrote:Also, dear god why does everything on LW have to be a novel


How else would they hide the fact that all the actual arguments are terrible? :wink:

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Fri Dec 05, 2014 11:22 am UTC

Derek wrote:(Also, dear god why does everything on LW have to be a novel)


simple: it's effective.

Origionally they had a lot of dry articles and discussion but they found that people weren't really passing it on and it wasn't getting much interest/traffic. At some point a few short storylike articles were added whch illustrated some points and they got massive traffic and people were then more willing to read the dry backing material that the story was based on.
They discussed it at length, they brought up some research papers comparing memory retention when things are made part of stories. It resulted in them including more short stories more.

Most of it is still dry articles but the things that people link still tend to be stories so to an outsider they'll appear more story oriented than they really are.


dc2322 wrote:DON'T FORGET: In my thought experiment you can ONLY choose the date (July 6, 1814). This leaves you open to ANY demographic or location. You want the date which has the lowest possibility of ending up in a shitty scenario and the highest possibility of a comfortable/productive/stable/autonomous/enjoyable life. I am arguing that the desirability of a date increases as you approach the present. Thus, progress has been made.


That mixes together a lot of things. Even if all social morals were static and never changed I'd still choose today because I like penecilin, painkillers and antivirals. You're framing your question to get the answer you want.

There's quite a lot of older conservatives who, if you added the caveat that they got to keep modern things like antibiotics and artificial hips would choose the 50's, old hippies who'd choose the 60's and aging rockers who'd choose the 80's.

If technology/economics was static and only morals changed most people would choose some point in time when they were a young adult.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:20 pm UTC

Zcorp wrote:We have no evidence that you can breed out being gay, in fact most evidence would suggest you can't. Supposing we could, you would need to show me how it costs the rest of society anything, and then explain what part of 'being gay' causes harm to the rest of society and how the best solution for that explanation is to 'breed them out'. Finally you would need to justify how that harm is greater than the costs it would take toward the effort to 'breed out the gays.'

If somehow you could breed out being gay (to slightly steel-man you, assuming changeable aspects of DNA were found that cause only gender preference), being gay caused actual harm, the harm was caused simply by 'being gay' and you could justify the cost to society to remove that harm, then yes. I would 'rationalize' it the same way, again rationalization is not subjective, that you keep using it as a subjective term shows you don't know how to speak about rationality. I can give you some reading material if you would like to learn more about logic and reason.

As not a single step in that chain of events and truths that need to happen or understood for breeding out gayness to be a rational course of action seems true now or is likely to be true in the future it is a pretty terrible hypothetical. If you want to challenge rationalism you are going to have to do a lot better than that.


A simple yes would have sufficed without the amusing veiled insults. I assume you are also aware that this line of thinking on the collective level is intensely dangerous?

Oh and by "rationalise" I'm using it the context of "justify after the fact" and in that context its absolutely is subjective, even if the blinkered specific logic in the rationalisation is not. But then an immense rational mind like yours will know this already :)

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:37 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:There's quite a lot of older conservatives who, if you added the caveat that they got to keep modern things like antibiotics and artificial hips would choose the 50's, old hippies who'd choose the 60's and aging rockers who'd choose the 80's.
Are you changing the nature of the question now?

It's one thing to say that the values and state of the times was something you liked, but chose a different time because, say, you didn't like living before the Internet. But the OP wasn't asking you to pick and choose your favorite things from every time. Technology and progress *isn't* static. That's the point.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:05 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote: Technology and progress *isn't* static. That's the point.


yes, it's not, but they are not the same thing. one can sometimes allow or encourage change in the other but they're 2 totally separate issues. If you invent a new antibiotic you haven't invented a new, better set of morals or made social progress.

Society could get worse for one group while technology could still improve everyones lives so much that they end up better off than before. Everyone else gets flying houses and immortality while that minority only get 150 years and a hoverbike.

So someone could say that society is getting worse (for that group) and be correct while even members of that group wouldn't want to go back to when they were likely to die in pain, at a young age but equal with everyone else.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:19 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:. If you invent a new antibiotic you haven't invented a new, better set of morals or made social progress.


People of the future in fact might well look back on the development of the antibiotic as a point that broke the world, given enough time for human genetic resistance to disease to diminish and antibiotic effectiveness to run out. I think the same could well be said of a lot of technological and social changes believed largely correctly to be benign in the present.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:27 pm UTC

leady wrote:People of the future in fact might well look back on the development of the antibiotic as a point that broke the world, given enough time for human genetic resistance to disease to diminish and antibiotic effectiveness to run out.


It would take thousands of generations for human genetic resistance to disease to diminish to a notable degree.
MRSA is no more deadly than it's non-antibiotic resistant ancenstors were before antibiotics.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zcorp » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:40 pm UTC

leady wrote:A simple yes would have sufficed without the amusing veiled insults. I assume you are also aware that this line of thinking on the collective level is intensely dangerous?

No one insulted you. If being shown wrong, or offering suggestions for you to further develop your critical thinking skills, is something you find insulting SB might not be the place for you.

Please explain why you believe it is 'intensely dangerous.'


Oh and by "rationalise" I'm using it the context of "justify after the fact" and in that context its absolutely is subjective, even if the blinkered specific logic in the rationalisation is not. But then an immense rational mind like yours will know this already :)

Even in that context it is not subjective. Simply because people sometimes, or often, display faulty thinking or a defense mechanism does change the accuracy of their statement.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:52 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote: Technology and progress *isn't* static. That's the point.


yes, it's not, but they are not the same thing. one can sometimes allow or encourage change in the other but they're 2 totally separate issues. If you invent a new antibiotic you haven't invented a new, better set of morals or made social progress.

Society could get worse for one group while technology could still improve everyones lives so much that they end up better off than before. Everyone else gets flying houses and immortality while that minority only get 150 years and a hoverbike.

So someone could say that society is getting worse (for that group) and be correct while even members of that group wouldn't want to go back to when they were likely to die in pain, at a young age but equal with everyone else.


... Ok. Last Time I am saying this. No one is arguing that moral progress and technological progress are equivalent. In my original post I mentioned two different types of progress society is making: Medical and Moral. They are two different types. Technological progress is another type. One does not imply any of the others. BUT I argue that we DO have technological progress and medical progress AND moral progress. There are probably types of progress which we are not making (I would argue in academic philosophy-- but this is off topic).

I am framing the question like I did because it doesn't change how the world actually is (it doesn't make tech. static) and I don't see how that is unfair/biased. But lets say we applied your change. I think the only people who might choose the past would be white affluent males. BUT!!!!!! There is still the issue that you cannot choose your demographics once placed in that time period. If you chose to go to a technologically-present past and ended up [black,female,gay,disabled,etc] you would be in a MUCH worse moral scenario than if you chose the present. (I didn't make this rule arbitrarily. You cannot choose your demographic because we are talking about humanity's progress as a whole-- not just progress for white males, pacific islanders, the gay community, etc.)

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:06 pm UTC

I would like to add an interesting scenario to my thought experiment::

Imagine you were a poverty stricken Ethiopian woman in the present and the genie approached you...

My first thought was that she might actually benefit from choosing a time in the past. Statistically, she would probably end up with a better life than her life now (even in the distant past).
However, she would still benefit from choosing a time period closer to the present than in the past. Her best option would be to say "I choose to be born again on the same day" or something. It would still maximize the probability of her living a comfortable/autonomous/stable/enjoyable/healthy life.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Chen » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:20 pm UTC

dc2322 wrote:I would like to add an interesting scenario to my thought experiment::

Imagine you were a poverty stricken Ethiopian woman in the present and the genie approached you...

My first thought was that she might actually benefit from choosing a time in the past. Statistically, she would probably end up with a better life than her life now (even in the distant past).
However, she would still benefit from choosing a time period closer to the present than in the past. Her best option would be to say "I choose to be born again on the same day" or something. It would still maximize the probability of her living a comfortable/autonomous/stable/enjoyable/healthy life.


Why would she statistically end up with a better life if she was born in an earlier time? I mean your second paragraph tends to completely contradict your first.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby morriswalters » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:48 pm UTC

Just out of curiosity is there a bias built into the topic? What you choose may have more to do with how you feel about what is happening to you now. If you are one of the millions in slavery today then anytime is better than now, if on the other hand you are wealthy and fat these days are the salad days. An example, your leg is blown off in a old minefield in Vietnam, might not your choice be more related to your trauma than anything else.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:59 pm UTC

Zcorp wrote:No one insulted you. If being shown wrong, or offering suggestions for you to further develop your critical thinking skills, is something you find insulting SB might not be the place for you.

Please explain why you believe it is 'intensely dangerous.'


chuckles - yes double down on being patronising :)

Its intensely dangerous because every major genocidal movement of the 20C were all collective and at their heart based on the idea that the greatest good for the greatest number (or whatever variant you want to choose). They all determined what they thought increased "utility" and escalated to its natural conclusion. All of them would have identified themselves as doing good.

Even in that context it is not subjective. Simply because people sometimes, or often, display faulty thinking or a defense mechanism does change the accuracy of their statement.


well thats your subjective preference as rationalised by your emotional defense mechanism talking. "how I calculate the increase in socielital utility is the correct objective one, it is, it is , it is!"

Chen wrote:Why would she statistically end up with a better life if she was born in an earlier time? I mean your second paragraph tends to completely contradict your first.


It all comes down to the definition of "better life". I can well imagine that a woman born in Abyssinia in 1900 would have a happier life that one born now - particularly if you don't get the knowledge to compare.


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