Math, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life: A Dialogue: Part 1

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David: I have slowly been adopting this belief that humans are fundamentally incapable of political thought, like a dog learning math. We can understand certain concepts, but we are heavily clouded in our mental ability to integrate all of it into a quantified working framework.


David: When we do politics, we try to put these individual concepts and ideas, with a highly fragmented understanding of their interdependency and interconnectedness, into a supposedly optimised framework. We fail due to the arbitrary, biased, and unquantified nature of our decision making process. We “quantify” them based on how we feel, and even on whether we’ve had a good or bad day.


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David: Another problem I see with politics is the lack of a unified goal for all decisions; basically a single thing you’re trying to make better with every decision you ever make, like maximising the integrated happiness, or probability of it, for all sentient beings. (This is kind of my quirky idea of the meaning of life.)



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David: You may argue that that’s too idealistic. But when you think about how algorithms learn to perform a highly abstract task like driving, they have a single fitness parameter they’re trying to optimise, and they do pretty well in their abstract working spaces. I believe the whole world can be mathematically structured in such a way. Even highly abstract concepts like politics.


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David: Evolution is a very simple algorithm, and it created designs that are optimised for survival in an extremely dynamic and highly abstract, ever-changing environment. Basically, I believe human decision making is shit.


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Andrew: Haha I agree that human decision making is shit, but I wouldn’t say that we’re incapable of political thought, because there’s no right way to think about politics. I would extend the necessity to oversimplify, due to the impossibility of analyzing all relevant factors, without our biases affecting them. I would extend it to apply to thought about all subjects. I don’t think that this is unique to politics. We do this with every other field, and every other aspect of life in general.


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Andrew: There is no objective meaning of life, so everyone chooses their own meaning whether they want to or not. That’s because if you don’t decide to delude yourself, you wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. I think that increasing happiness for everyone is an excellent goal for/meaning of life. I try to incorporate that into my own meaning of life, and practice it as much as possible. That’s also basically what a hallucinated toad says is the meaning of life to the main character in a drug trip at the beginning of my novel: the pursuit of everlasting happiness for everyone. Sam Harris has also said that this is an admirable meaning of life in his book called The Moral Landscape.


The Cold Darkness of the Night: Chapter 2


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Andrew: What does your perception of the meaning of life have to do with math and algorithms though? I don’t think that’s mathematical at all. I agree that the world can be organized mathematically, but I don’t think it will, and I don’t necessarily think it would be a good idea either. Like you said, our decision making is shit. So why would our perceptions of how to organize the world mathematically end up as mathematical as we want it to? Would this even be good? It might attempt to make the world so rational that it’s incompatible with humans. That’s because we are much less reasonable than we think, and emotions are important too, which are not really mathematical at all. I don’t think that organizing politics mathematically would necessarily work that well. Even though it seems like people are getting more reasonable, in the last presidential election, most Americans voted for the least rational candidates. Gary Johnson, who in my opinion, was the most reasonable, got waaay less votes than Trump or Clinton. We’re just too tribal, and again, our decision making is shit.


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Andrew: Also, how is evolution an algorithm? Maybe it can be viewed that way in some ways, and there are aspects of it that seem very organized and mathematical. But I don’t think that anyone knows anywhere near enough about the myriad of details to justifiably make that conclusion. There are also so many random aspects of it that don’t seem mathematical at all. Evolution seems to choose the best adaptations. But the way they occur in the first place doesn’t seem mathematical, especially the adaptations that don’t spread, and go extinct within one or a few generations.


Andrew: I know that you’re really good at math and you like it a lot, and that’s awesome. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s admirable, and I’m impressed by your skill and fascination. But honestly, no offense, but I think you’re just biased in favour of math because it has so much explanatory power. Even though it does, mathematicians sometimes make a lot of completely unfounded assumptions/extrapolations about reality for which there is no evidence. There are many ways that a lot of aspects of the universe, including those to do with our daily lives, are not mathematical at all. Physicists and mathematicians could be right about some of their massive claims, but they could easily be fundamentally wrong. I like the way you think, and these are just my opinions. But I think that even though you notice a lot of important, interconnected factors, you take some conclusions too far. I could be wrong though.


…To be continued…


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