Search FQXi


If you are aware of an interesting new academic paper (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal or has appeared on the arXiv), a conference talk (at an official professional scientific meeting), an external blog post (by a professional scientist) or a news item (in the mainstream news media), which you think might make an interesting topic for an FQXi blog post, then please contact us at forums@fqxi.org with a link to the original source and a sentence about why you think that the work is worthy of discussion. Please note that we receive many such suggestions and while we endeavour to respond to them, we may not be able to reply to all suggestions.

Please also note that we do not accept unsolicited posts and we cannot review, or open new threads for, unsolicited articles or papers. Requests to review or post such materials will not be answered. If you have your own novel physics theory or model, which you would like to post for further discussion among then FQXi community, then please add them directly to the "Alternative Models of Reality" thread, or to the "Alternative Models of Cosmology" thread. Thank you.

Contests Home

Current Essay Contest


Contest Partners: Fetzer Franklin Fund, and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation

Previous Contests

Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
Contest Partners: Fetzer Franklin Fund, and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation
read/discusswinners

What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation
read/discusswinners

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.
read/discusswinners

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American

read/discusswinners

How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams
read/discusswinners

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
read/discusswinners

Forum Home
Introduction
Terms of Use

Order posts by:
 chronological order
 most recent first

Posts by the author are highlighted in orange; posts by FQXi Members are highlighted in blue.

By using the FQXi Forum, you acknowledge reading and agree to abide by the Terms of Use

 RSS feed | RSS help
RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Vladimir Fedorov: on 5/17/20 at 11:02am UTC, wrote Dear Jongmin, I greatly appreciated your work and discussion. I am very...

George Gantz: on 5/15/20 at 21:21pm UTC, wrote Jonagmin - A very interesting paper, and some interesting comments. I am...

Eckard Blumschein: on 4/28/20 at 8:11am UTC, wrote Dear Jongmin Baek, Thank you for providing references concerning...

Luis Patino: on 4/26/20 at 9:37am UTC, wrote Dear Jerome: I haven't read your paper. but from glancing at the comments,...

Jongmin Baek: on 4/23/20 at 3:00am UTC, wrote The paper makes a number of radical ontological claims, and I'm glad you're...

John Hodge: on 4/22/20 at 21:03pm UTC, wrote Who gets to decide? Nature decides by confering survival on the groups...

Robert McEachern: on 4/22/20 at 20:19pm UTC, wrote There is no significant difference between a mathematical axiom and a...

Jongmin Baek: on 4/22/20 at 15:50pm UTC, wrote You point out something important: that everyone holds different premises. ...


RECENT FORUM POSTS

jim hughes: "I'm not a mathematician. So what I see here is some smart people who..." in Consciousness and the...

Steve Dufourny: "Hello FQXi, the members and all, I try to do my best to unite and convice..." in Global Collaboration

Lorraine Ford: "The idea of a smooth mathematical evolution of “the wave function”, and..." in Consciousness and the...

Georgina Woodward: "Broken machine: What do[es] I see next? The I that was, E.I, has not been..." in The Room in the Elephant:...

Lorraine Ford: "Hi Stefan, I hope that a good leader, and a good political party, is..." in The Present State of...

Lorraine Ford: "We live in an age of computing. But physics, mathematics and philosophy,..." in The Present State of...

Georgina Woodward: "I've copied the comment to the thread where it belongs. This orphan can be..." in The Room in the Elephant:...

Georgina Woodward: "Thank you John. What did you think about the questioning whether altitude..." in The Nature of Time


RECENT ARTICLES
click titles to read articles

Good Vibrations
Microbead 'motor' exploits natural fluctuations for power.

Reconstructing Physics
New photon experiment gives new meta-framework, 'constructor theory,' a boost.

The Quantum Engineer: Q&A with Alexia Auffèves
Experiments seek to use quantum observations as fuel to power mini motors.

The Quantum Clock-Maker Investigating COVID-19, Causality, and the Trouble with AI
Sally Shrapnel, a quantum physicist and medical practitioner, on her experiments into cause-and-effect that could help us understand time’s arrow—and build better healthcare algorithms.

Connect the Quantum Dots for a New Kind of Fuel
'Artificial atoms' allow physicists to manipulate individual electrons—and could help to reduce energy wastage in electronic devices.


FQXi FORUM
September 28, 2021

CATEGORY: Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest (2019-2020) [back]
TOPIC: How to Solve Moral Conundrums with Computability Theory by Jonogmin Baek [refresh]
Bookmark and Share
Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Author Jongmin Baek wrote on Apr. 21, 2020 @ 11:09 GMT
Essay Abstract

Various moral conundrums plague population ethics: The Non-Identity Problem, The Procreation Asymmetry, The Repugnant Conclusion, and more. I argue that the aforementioned moral conundrums have a structure neatly accounted for, and solved by, some ideas in computability theory. I introduce a mathematical model based on computability theory and show how previous arguments pertaining to these conundrums fit into the model. This paper proceeds as follows. First, I do a very brief survey of the history of computability theory in moral philosophy. Second, I follow various papers, and show how their arguments fit into, or don't fit into, our model. Third, I discuss the implications of our model to the question why the human race should or should not continue to exist. Finally, I show that our model ineluctably leads us to a Confucian moral principle.

Author Bio

My name is Baek Jongmin Jerome, 백종민. I'm known for teaching "CS198-79: Philosophy of Computation", a course at UC Berkeley, as co-founder of Philosophy of Computation at Berkeley. Follow me at twitter.com/problem_halting

Download Essay PDF File

Bookmark and Share


Robert H McEachern wrote on Apr. 21, 2020 @ 16:38 GMT
In section 2.4 Commonsense Objections, you write: "But notice that the aforementioned cases involve in fact the avoidance of harm, not the conferral of benefit. These can be distinguished from benefit."

But "can be" does not imply "should be"; Indeed, making that very distinction, has itself long been regarded as the foremost bad action that "should be" avoided - "First do no harm."

The fundamental problem in attempting to resolve any moral conundrum is, Who (or what) gets to decide? Which persons, or creatures, or gods (or programs) get to decide which actions are good or bad? Good for who? Bad for what?

In section 6.3 The Tao, you write: "Is there a goal that puts an end to the travel?"

Nature has provided a mechanism, in lieu of a goal, for ensuring an "end to the travel"; every program will halt, when the hardware fails, even when the software does not. Nature's "Way", is to simply "Follow the Way" (exist) until that which is, ceases to follow the way (ceases to exist). The moral conundrum is that regardless of what goals entities may create for themselves, or have foisted upon them, they are highly likely to conflict with some other entities' goals; and in particular, the "spiritually noble" man's goal, of self-identifying himself as such, often conflicts with the goals of others, that specifically wish to disallow any such self-identification (other than their own). Who gets to decide if your "following the Way" is being done properly?

Rob McEachern

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Edwin Eugene Klingman replied on Apr. 21, 2020 @ 19:09 GMT
Excellent comment, Rob. The answers will be interesting. Especially today.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Author Jongmin Baek replied on Apr. 21, 2020 @ 20:22 GMT
Thanks for the comments Rob. Here is my response:

> But "can be" does not imply "should be"; Indeed, making that very distinction, has itself long been regarded as the foremost bad action that "should be" avoided - "First do no harm."

Since I have defined "harm" and "benefit" mathematically, when I say "[the avoidance of harm and conferral of benefit] can be distinguished", I mean they can be mathematically distinguished. And distinguishing them is not a "bad action" as defined in the essay: it is computing a computable, not "attempting to compute" an uncomputable.

> The fundamental problem in attempting to resolve any moral conundrum is, Who (or what) gets to decide? Which persons, or creatures, or gods (or programs) get to decide which actions are good or bad? Good for who? Bad for what?

The answer is the mathematical model described in the essay, which is derived from one somewhat empirically justified definition that freedom is uncomputability.

> every program will halt, when the hardware fails, even when the software does not.

I receive this comment often, and I think it reveals something about how we think of death, rather than being a coherent objection. There is no reason to believe that, upon death, the program halts. It might, it might not. But there is no reason to believe that it does.

Bookmark and Share

Robert H McEachern replied on Apr. 22, 2020 @ 00:05 GMT
"Since I have defined..." When others choose to define them in a manner that they deem to be less mathematically precise, but more actually relevant to their lives, does that make them wrong, either intellectually, or morally? As the old saying goes, "A friend in need, is a friend indeed."

"The answer is the mathematical model described..." Models and theorems, derived from idealistic assumptions, more often than not, fail to adequately reflect the less than ideal reality, in which we usually find ourselves embedded. In an ideal world, there would be no moral conundrums.

"There is no reason to believe that, upon death, the program halts." The machine that was executing the program certainly halted. There is no known, verified instance of an "uninterruptible back-up" machine, picking up the program execution, when the first machine failed. Simply hoping that there is, is no reason to be believe that there is. If there was, why not just keep killing yourself, until you eventually become resurrected in a more preferable situation, as did some of the characters in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld novels? (At least until they eventually found themselves resurrected in an entirely different world, in which they were summarily informed that they were abusing the system, before being sent back to where they come from.)

And you have yet to answer the central question of all moral conundrums - Who gets to decide if your "following the Way" is being done properly?

Rob McEachern

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Author Jongmin Baek wrote on Apr. 22, 2020 @ 01:32 GMT
> When others choose to define them in a manner that they deem to be less mathematically precise, but more actually relevant to their lives, does that make them wrong, either intellectually, or morally?

It does not make them wrong, but when we use definitions not used in the paper, the discussion veers off somewhere else. I pointed out how the definitions in the paper address your original worry. If you take issue with the definitions, I am happy to address them.

> Models and theorems, derived from idealistic assumptions, more often than not, fail to adequately reflect the less than ideal reality, in which we usually find ourselves embedded.

Note, one way to view this paper is as a translation of a Hegelian / Taoist philosophy in mathematical terms. The models and theorems serve as pivots upon which the translation turns, but they also do not account for the rich background.

> In an ideal world, there would be no moral conundrums.

I fundamentally disagree, and this is the thrust of the paper. Contradiction is embedded in reality and in morality. There is no way to reason about moral conundrums without getting mired in contradiction. The paper points out only that all attempts to avoid contradiction in moral philosophy have failed, and points out why they have failed.

> The machine that was executing the program certainly halted. There is no known, verified instance of an "uninterruptible back-up" machine, picking up the program execution, when the first machine failed. Simply hoping that there is, is no reason to be believe that there is. If there was, why not just keep killing yourself, until you eventually become resurrected in a more preferable situation, as did some of the characters in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld novels? (At least until they eventually found themselves resurrected in an entirely different world, in which they were summarily informed that they were abusing the system, before being sent back to where they come from.)

This is based on a naive understanding of the body as hardware and the brain as software. Once this naive view is overcome, there is simply no reason to believe that the machine halts upon death

> And you have yet to answer the central question of all moral conundrums - Who gets to decide if your "following the Way" is being done properly?

The free subject is a law to oneself, and the author of oneself. The free subject decides for oneself whether it is done "properly".

Jongmin

Bookmark and Share


Robert H McEachern wrote on Apr. 22, 2020 @ 15:19 GMT
"The paper points out only that all attempts to avoid contradiction in moral philosophy have failed, and points out why they have failed." They failed, precisely because differing parties, refuse to accept the same initial premises, from which all else is being derived. That is why I pointed out the problem with your definitions - they are not, and will never be, universally accepted. I do...

view entire post


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Jongmin Baek replied on Apr. 22, 2020 @ 15:50 GMT
You point out something important: that everyone holds different premises.

This is true, and it is sort of the point of the paper: use mathematical axioms, instead of "premises", to derive a moral theory.

Bookmark and Share

Robert H McEachern replied on Apr. 22, 2020 @ 20:19 GMT
There is no significant difference between a mathematical axiom and a premise, in the case at hand. The issue is whether or not the "starting point" of the argument is, or is not, perceived, by all parties, as being both true (self-evidently or otherwise) and relevant, to the issue at hand. Moral issues become conundrums, when one large subset of a society believes an "axiom" is both...

view entire post


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Author Jongmin Baek replied on Apr. 23, 2020 @ 03:00 GMT
The paper makes a number of radical ontological claims, and I'm glad you're picking up on that! If you'd like more intuition about why these ontological claims hold, see my book https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~jjbaek/pocab_book.pdf

Bookmark and Share


John C Hodge wrote on Apr. 22, 2020 @ 21:03 GMT
Who gets to decide?

Nature decides by confering survival on the groups that hold morals in conformity to nature's laws. So far in human history, some groups have better answere's than others but all change to draw nature's wrath. So, those groups that are growing are closer than those groups that are dieing.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Luis F Patino wrote on Apr. 26, 2020 @ 09:37 GMT
Dear Jerome:

I haven't read your paper. but from glancing at the comments, it seems to me that its thesis is that the only way to decide a moral conundrum is through computation. Is this in fact what you claim?

Regards,

Luis F Patino

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Eckard Blumschein wrote on Apr. 28, 2020 @ 08:11 GMT
Dear Jongmin Baek,

Thank you for providing references concerning procreation theories. They are altogether disappointing to me. I hope that Alan Kadin's essay "Just too many people" and Greta Th. will be taken seriously. Mankind has only one planet. How many people and how much luxuria does mankind need? Unfortunately China ended their on-child politics. Why does the unexpected virus hit in particular NY? Was this unpredictable? Is Confucian moral principle a way out? Western religions are also teaching harmony.

Eckard Blumschein

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


George Gantz wrote on May. 15, 2020 @ 21:21 GMT
Jonagmin -

A very interesting paper, and some interesting comments. I am quite startled to see Turing machines as the basis for moral decision-making - and it reminds me of the theological teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg who articulate the basis of moral reality as the marriage of good and truth. There may be theoretical value to the exercise, but I wonder about practicality. Human decisions in the actual world are quite messy - uncertain data, uncertain consequences, uncertain externalities --- none of which fit neatly into a Turing machine.

There is also the finding from Godel that something may be true but not provable - analogous to an algorithm and a value for which the Turing machine does not halt. That said, I think there are very important insights to be gained in looking at the overall architecture of decidability as you have done.

Cheers - George Gantz: The Door That Has No Key: https://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/3494

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Vladimir Nikolaevich Fedorov wrote on May. 17, 2020 @ 11:02 GMT
Dear Jongmin,

I greatly appreciated your work and discussion. I am very glad that you are not thinking in abstract patterns.

"I follow various papers, and show how their arguments fit into, or don't fit into, our model".

While the discussion lasted, I wrote an article: “Practical guidance on calculating resonant frequencies at four levels of diagnosis and inactivation of COVID-19 coronavirus”, due to the high relevance of this topic. The work is based on the practical solution of problems in quantum mechanics, presented in the essay FQXi 2019-2020 “Universal quantum laws of the universe to solve the problems of unsolvability, computability and unpredictability”.

I hope that my modest results of work will provide you with information for thought.

Warm Regards, `

Vladimir

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate


Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Please enter your e-mail address:
Note: Joining the FQXi mailing list does not give you a login account or constitute membership in the organization.