Yet another weird SF fan


I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Judging by Past Experience…

An attempted counterexample to pro-life reasoning comes from John Allen Paulos:

Let's ask ourselves what position opponents of abortion — say on the Supreme Court or elsewhere — might take if two biological facts about the world were to change. The first assumption we'll make is that for some unknown reason — a strange new virus, a hole in the ozone layer, some food additive or poison — women throughout the world suddenly become pregnant with 10 to 20 fetuses at a time. The second assumption is that advances in neonatal technology make it possible for doctors to easily save some or all of these fetuses a few months after conception, but if they don't intervene at this time all the fetuses will die.
The third (unstated) assumption is that technical progress comes to an end.

Judging by past experience with supposedly-intractable overpopulation problems, not long after the above scenario researchers will either find a cure or invent a method of creating basements universes with sharp negative curvatures. (In such universes, exponential growth can be accomodated.) Either assumption is less fantastic than the original.

I noticed, while looking for comments on the above quote, the following from an anonymous commenter at One Good Move:

My right wing friends wouldn't have a problem if the birth rate increased 20 or 30 times. Most of them believe the rapture will occur in their lifetime, so the population explosion would just be a laugh to them.
That's close to my opinion. The Singularity (also known as “The Rapture of the Nerds”) is only decades away.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does an increase in birth rate connect with the abortion debate? Are you arguing for abortion as a preferred method of population control vs. contraceptive methods? I really do not see any moral point made in your blog entry.

chsw

1:55 PM  
Blogger JesseM said...

I would say that believing a singularity is likely would make most people be more pro-choice--thinking about the posthuman era forces you to try to come up with a moral philosophy that isn't tied too specifically to human biology, so you can deal with stuff like sentient A.I., genetically engineered superintelligent gorillas, and other such fun sci-fi possibilities. In a world like that, what criteria should we use to judge who is deserving of full "human rights" and who isn't? I think in such a world most people's moral intuition would be that it's mental qualities like complexity of consciousness, self-awareness, ability to use language and so on that qualify a being as having "personhood", not genes or evolutionary history. A human fetus in the first or second trimester is just as unconscious and mindless as any other animal fetus in the early stages, so only human chauvinism would lead you to treat them differently.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Milhouse said...

This quote betrays a common leftist theme - an inability to distinguish between action and inaction, between killing someone and refraining from rescuing them. For some reason, many leftists refuse to make this obvious distinction. I think it may be a result of an ends-based system of morality, while rightists generally profess a means-based morality. To the leftist, all that matters is the result - a living person or a dead one - while to the rightist what matters is that the individual act justly, no matter what the result.

12:36 AM  
Blogger Joseph said...

On the other hand, once Intelligence Amplification gets under way, growing new neurons may be considered to be a normal part of thought even if nothing is going through those neurons at the moment. In that case, somebody in the process of growing a brain would be considered as sentient even if the brain is not yet active.

1:06 AM  
Blogger JesseM said...

On the other hand, once Intelligence Amplification gets under way, growing new neurons may be considered to be a normal part of thought even if nothing is going through those neurons at the moment. In that case, somebody in the process of growing a brain would be considered as sentient even if the brain is not yet active.

I guess part of our basic disagreement here is that I don't think that unrealized future potentials determine how you should treat an entity in the present. After all, it is also "normal" (there's that word again) for a human sperm approaching an egg to eventually develop a brain, but that doesn't mean we'd call the sperm and egg "sentient" and treat contraception as murder. And if intelligence amplication is possible, it may be possible to "uplift" any animal with a reasonably complex brain into a being with human-level intelligence--would that mean we should grant every single animal on the planet with the potential to be uplifted full human rights? Or should we grant such rights only to those individual animals we are planning to uplift, even if we haven't done so yet?

12:47 PM  

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