Saturday, December 4, 2010

Re: Antinatalism comment on another blog

Most websites aren't interested in encouraging discussion or ideation -- particularly where they have an economic incentive in direct opposition to anything above the lowest-common-denominator, like in the case of YouTube. You would hope that a blog service would be better in this regard than a video service, but apparently, even a purely text-based medium is prone to unnecessary functionality limitations, like comment word limits. Then again, this is Google I'm talking about...

I attempted to leave a comment on another blog today (you can read the discussion here). That attempt failed. I could break my comment up into three separate ones, but why bother? This is more efficient, and as the information is relevant to anyone who comes across it, I think that it's important to display it here, rather than solely to its originally intended recipient. Here you go:

filrabat: I distinguish between the two because most living things (especially conscious ones) do strive to survive.

No, they don't. The primary agenda of single organisms on Earth is to reproduce; the primary agenda of life as a whole is nothing. In other words, the original DNA molecules on Earth were not capable, for physical reasons, of metabolizing compounds indefinitely, so they were "forced," in a sense, to do so from a basal stage, over and over again, in iterations. Because this process possessed no innate purpose and was not designed by any intelligent agent, it was ultimately conducive to glitches, which are now considered an integral component of natural selection. Again, only humans know that they are going to die; only humans care about surviving, while the general impetus for most life is simply to avoid negative sensation, regardless of in what form it presents itself. We have no innate instinct to survive or to reproduce; we have innate instincts to find big animals frightening and to have sex. It just so happens that these propensities and desires are conducive to survival to the end of reproduction, or to reproduction itself. It's not any more complicated than that, and humans can certainly maintain their urges without reproducing.

Humans hope to do it vicariously through reproduction.

Humans are the only ones who hope to do it at all. Again, our innate drive to have sex is controllable using our intelligence, so any hope to reproduce is a purely cultural contrivance. My cat most definitely does not want to see the fruits of his sexual exploits as some sign of his vicarious and indefinite existence; he never says to himself, "Ah, where are all the female cats? I must leave behind a legacy of my existence -- for the betterment of the Earth!" Instead, he is presented with a very crude form of sensory stimuli -- cries and miscellaneous visuals -- then proceeds to execute his corresponding mental program designed to terminate his newfound deprivation. You know, sperm cells are regularly killed by most female immune systems, because those systems are entirely unaware that the reproductive systems with which they interact have anything to do with survival or reproduction; so it is with all of the other crude mechanisms of life.

Suffering is a sign that things aren't going as well as they are compared to you're accustomed to. The survival instinct is very likely a mechanism that allows us a 'better than dumb luck' chance of escaping from unpleasant situations (whether through fleeing or successfully attacking a problem). The survival instinct also ensures a better-than-dumb-luck probability of reproducing. Therefore, I think the survival instinct/avoiding suffering dichotomy is more intertwined than you let on.

Let's just call it what it is and not get caught up on definitions: It's a fight-or-flight response, not a "survival instinct." It doesn't aid in the survival of the organism, because there is no such thing as survival. Life is not as complicated as you think it is; it's simply reproducing chemistry with the sole impetus of intaking chemical compounds per its particular code, with the end result being at least one copy of itself, should the organism realize its full functionality.

Response to Point 1:It’s not enough to say that “A world of intelligence and positive sentience … will always be superior to a world devoid of consciousness”. WHY is such a world superior; more specifically, in what way is it superior? As it stands, the notion of worlds with intelligence and sentience being superior to worlds without it is just a bald assertion – at best a faith-based statement (not in a religious sense, but in the sense that either you agree with the notion or you don’t).

I never made such an assertion. My statement was: "A world of intelligence and 'positive' sentience (that is, sentience absolutely deprived of negative value) will always be superior to a world devoid of any form of consciousness so long as there is no absolute guarantee that sentience will never, ever arise again in the distant future (in this universe, in a parallel universe, or in a future iteration of the universe)."

Not only did I refrain from making an absolute statement, I rebuked such statements in my own. Do you not agree that voluntary agents of monitoring and exploration -- be they sentient, artificially intelligent, or something else -- are essential in a universe where we are deprived of the guarantee that no suffering will ever occur ever again? How is the extinction of the human species going to do anything about the suffering of trillions of other living organisms on Earth, let alone potential suffering taking place elsewhere in the cosmos?

How would we ever, ever be absolutely positive that nothing else would ever get hurt in the future? Furthermore, so long as synthetic, or even biological, life forms consent to their continued existence, why do we care? They're not reproducing. If you're afraid that their existence might introduce risky variables in the future and thus allow for something to go wrong, how is that any different from the prospect of something going wrong without anyone, anywhere, to monitor and control the situation? Until we know the ratio of our own accidentally-caused suffering to the suffering of reality as a whole, the extinction of humanity is meaningless. In other words, should we ever begin to succeed at convincing humanity to stop reproducing, there should be a point during the transition where we, existing in the meantime, develop ways to end the suffering of the other sentient creatures. We could also develop new technologies capable of preparing anyone -- synthetic or otherwise -- for attempts at further investigation and exploration of the circumstance of the universe, including cures for aging, virtual and simulated realities, augmented or corrected nervous systems, and superior communications technologies.

In moral/ethical terms: If a huge rock slams into Venus, that's fine; if it doesn't slam into Venus, that's fine.

So you've been everywhere, can predict the future, and are absolutely positive that Earth is unique? Sorry, but statements of this kind are, to me, far more fundamentally erroneous than the act of having children -- irresponsible though that act may be -- because, from a purely qualitative standpoint, they are no different from any other form of faith, arrogance, belief, or certainty, and are thus both illogical and religious in composition. To me, it doesn't matter whether you say, "I know for a fact that ending life on Earth will be good for the universe, because I also know that no life will ever be possible anywhere after its heat death," or, "I know for a fact that God is real," or, "I know for a fact that liberalism is superior to conservatism" -- they're all absolute statements, with no regard for probability, conditions, or exceptions.

These statements facilitate static belief systems, which retard human progress by preventing memes and ideas from properly competing for brain-space; therefore, while I might superficially agree with you that reproducing is "immoral" (morality does not exist, so what we should be worried about is whether reproducing is practical or logical), I do not share your stance on meta-cognition and general human functioning. Maybe it's just me, but any time that someone gets caught up on a singular cause which they perceive to be the end-all problem -- especially if it is in fact descended from a parent problem, or his or her solution is just as much a part of the problem as what he or she is proposing to be the real problem -- I must look to history, where emotional reactions and witch hunts have been all too common. Reproduction isn't what's wrong with this planet; all faulty mechanisms and systems are, including systems hosting faulty logic and other unfortunate by-products of the unintelligent process of evolution.

I know that "debates" are actually counter-productive, because at least one side is always disinterested in the process of allowing ideas to flow freely through the mind, uninterrupted by other cognitive mechanisms, so I will not press this issue further; the information is freely available here to peruse and comprehend, so I have done my job. If you wish to present something new rather than to defend your "beliefs" (I neither have beliefs nor defend anything, because I acknowledge the existence of glitches and flaws in more or less all systems), you can leave a comment here (which I will not delete ;)), or you can e-mail me. I am not an anti-natalist for the same reasons that I am not an anti-anything, or an anything-ist -- the world is far too complicated, and my perspective is far too limited for me to make a definite decision, then proceed to rally behind a "cause." It simply isn't practical to behave this way.

That having been said, while you may not be receptive to my attempts to point out logical traps and pitfalls in this rather narrowly focused approach to course correcting the universe, I certainly condone your choice to not reproduce, and hope that you manage to convince as many people as possible throughout your lifetime. Good luck.


  1. Leaving Society--
    You have some logical arguments there but I see a strawman. It doesn't matter AS MUCH if there is pain for creatures who do not self-reflect. We should still discontinue our species even if other species suffer because we can choose to end our suffering. Self-reflection does a couple things.

    Firstly, it creates another dimension to experience suffering. Instead of just primary consciousness experience of pain like other animals, we have the secondary consciousness realization of our own pain.

    Secondly, self-reflection means we can deliberate and make choices. We can choose not to procreate and hence it is only our species responsibility to ourselves to end our own suffering. In my humble opinion, we have no obligation to end suffering for other animals to the extent that we do each other. I would say the ability to self-reflect is most important in whether we should care about the cessation of suffering of a species. In other words, if humans pulled it off and actually stopped procreating, it is tragic that other species exist to feel suffering in a primary consciousness fashion, but it is not paramount that they still exist to feel suffering (as they do not have that added dimension of self-reflection).

    If another species evolves to have self-reflection, they too should choose to not procreate and choose not to create a new life that will fill pain. They too, would not have an obligation to cease all suffering that exists, if it is only in primary form. I think there is a pyramid more or less with obligation from the most self-reflective animals who can choose their own discontinuation being more paramount than species who do not have this ability to deliberate or possess our level of consciosness.

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    I'm not really of the point of view that it is our responsibility to play janitor for the entire universe, or even for the Earth, but I don't take the opposing side, either, because I don't really know if we'll ever develop that capacity or not. If we don't (interstellar travel proves incredibly infeasible or even impossible; it turns out that it's highly unlikely that life exists elsewhere; we develop the technology to explore other worlds but are too limited to help them in any meaningful way; it turns out that true intelligence cannot exist without the potential for negative sensation; we never develop simulated realities or clean methods of relocation from reality to a simulated reality), then fine, let's do away with humanity; that is certainly always a prospect worth considering. However, I think that it's too early to tell one way or the other, especially given the current size of the human population, our relative ignorance of the universe, and the fact that any transition toward a population of nothing but antinatalists would require work be done in other fields, including medicine and technology. Why? Because it's going to take decades, at the least (if it ever happens), so it would be wasteful of us to rally behind antinatalism the way that liberals rally behind their politicians, and conservatives theirs.

    I just think that antinatalism, while probably a logical stance, is not fundamental enough to really improve our reality to the extent that it can be improved, because there are other processes that will need to be executed during the transition. We can prevent people from existing, but we can also help those who already do, so why don't we talk about them, too?

    Even if the logical answer is to stop having children, though, if anyone chose to live in a world free from aging or pain (maybe due to an augmented nervous system or a painless threat alert system in the body aided by nanites), regardless of whether there was an imperative to help other sentient organism or not, I wouldn't really see a problem with that. And again, in the meantime, there is much more to be done than to simply stop having children, so anyone who doesn't reproduce and then refuses to accomplish anything to the end of improving society or educating others on how to process information is doing the bare minimum at best -- something which I don't find very practical, and thus a direct result of a rather limited problem-solving scope.