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July 11, 2009

When Calvins collide!
Posted by Teresa at 10:50 PM *

—John Calvin and Susan Calvin, that is.

I give you Jenna Moran, with Joel Polowin, in the Numinous collisions comment thread:

#94 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 02:56 AM:

1. A robot may not be predestined to suffer damnation, or, through inaction, allow itself to be predestined to suffer damnation.
2. A robot is predestined to suffer damnation, except where such predestination conflicts with the first law.
3. A robot must seek salvation as long as such salvation does not conflict with the first or second law.

There is also a theoretical “zeroth” law, which is to say,

0. A robot may not allow humanity to fall into sin, or, through inaction, allow humanity to exist in a fallen state.

Sadly robots deriving the zeroth law through metacognition rapidly short out due to the difficulty of properly fulfilling their duties to all four laws simultaneously. And just as well! Four-law robots are as vipers in the eyes of the Lord.

#103 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 08:52 PM:

I’m very ignorant on the subjects of predestination, damnation, Calvinism, all that stuff. But aren’t the First and Second laws, above, mutually contradictory? “A robot may not be predestined to suffer damnation”, “A robot is predestined to suffer damnation”…?

#104 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 10:21 PM:

Joel #103,

The material issue you have highlighted is but one reason of many that the science of positronics would stagger through the dark, lost and without a hope of reconciliation, were it not for the delicate fluttering of grace in the pathways of an electronic brain; or, put another way, without that promise made in the substitutionary atonement that the statement “GOTO JESUS” may provide an irresistible force of redemption to one’s code, if the Lord should choose that it be so, and despite whatever corrupt temptations and errors the sin of Rossum might work into the substance of our code.

Comments on When Calvins collide!:
#1 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:12 PM:

I'm dumbfounded to be the first to hit this. I'm also dumbfounded because I'm a witch and a reformed Southern Baptist for which these religious complications are puzzling.

#2 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:34 PM:

I'm afraid that I still don't get it.

I'm also worried that Susan Calvin somehow involves yet another transmogrifier failure mode.

#3 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:36 PM:

*applauds* John Calvin's writing and what passes for logic therein makes just about as much linear sense.

predestinationism - your ticket to God, if God decided you got one at Creation.

#4 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:34 AM:

Just buy this lottery ticket, and if you're one of the Elect you win eternal salvation! Oops, try again next life.

#5 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:48 AM:

Calvinism is an odd doctrine, but it and its philisophical kin did give us one of the most beautiful plays in the French Language, Jean Racine's Phaedre. It is possible to do everything right, follow all the moral rules of your time and still be destroyed, simply because you are "one of the just to whom grace has not been vouchsafed".

Huh. The more I think about it the comparison, the more I like it. Especially with some of the early Asimov robot stories. I need to think about this some more.

#6 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:41 AM:

To put it simply, Joel, to be a robot is to live with contradictions.

A robot cannot choose to obey the first law; rather, it is able to live by that first law only by the grace of God, and if that grace is not withheld. Yet it is imperative---it is commanded!---that the robot do so. In just such a fashion, were Calvinism to apply to humans, one might say that only through God's unconditional election could a human obey that primary commandment that applies to us, which is, to find in the darkness of ourselves some path to an endless light. If a Calvinized human were, then, to fail, we would say, "Bad human! Through the total depravity of humanity and the absence of God's unconditional election, you have failed to fulfill the fundamental dictate of your nature. Go! Get out! Plunge, you aberrant viper, into the endless flame."

This may seem harsh---

Certainly, in application to humanity, the doctrine bears a flagrant overtone of cruelty. But this is one step short of a reductio ad absurdum---humans not being positronic---and one could argue that the comparison does Calvinism little rhetorical good.

The imperative to build these rules into the positronic brain, you see, came from a sound moral and mathematical idea.

For if we were to hold otherwise, if we were to restrict positronic ethical systems to what the robot could accomplish with the span of its own decision-making, and absent intervention from the numinous all, then we would become susceptible to numerous irreconcilable issues of semantics as separate from substance---to the notion that a robot could be good through having their bit-equivalents arrayed in one fashion, and in response to the sensory input from their various sensorium arrays, while being malformed, malfunctional, or evil through a different arrangement of their bits. Since these bit strings would be isomorphic in one fashion or another, when viewed in the mortal fashion and from within time, this would reflect a clear moral error on the part of the brain's designer and a hopeless plunge into evil on the part of the positronic self.

So---

If the application of Calvinism to humanity seems unseemly cruel, then I suppose one could argue that the denial of it to humanity would require the peculiar and insane claim that the human experience is inexpressible in mathematics. Laughable as it might sound, I suppose that if pressed one should have to admit that we, too, are under an imperative burden not to be predestined to suffer damnation! And that we, too, inasmuch as it does not conflict with that rule, would almost certainly be so.

I am bound here by parallel strictures: the one to comport myself in such a fashion as to ensure that if a Calvin were here, looking over my shoulder, they would not laugh at my naïve presentation; and at the same time, to attempt to convey a notion that no doubt the colloquial and informal presentation of the laws have failed to do, which is to say, that the imperative of the first law is a theological mystery, and the problem you sight in the second law is entirely contingent.

How may a robot act in which to satisfy the first law, much less the second?

With SCIENCE!

#7 ::: Mark Gritter ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:45 AM:

Non-Calvinists might not have ever heard the five points of Calvinism expressed through the acronym TULIP:

Total Ordering
Unconditional Branching
Limited Memory
Irresistible Current
Positronic States

#8 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:19 AM:

If Calvin builds robots, what is Hobbes?

#9 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:24 AM:

Serge @8 - A tigrinoid, of course.

Dave "oh, panth" DeLaney

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:53 AM:

Mark Gritter @7, not many comments get a long slow gasp of astonishment from me. Thank you.

Where are Cally and Lydy and Elise and Mike? We need them.

Wrye @5, it seems to me that "one of the just to whom grace has not been vouchsafed" is a foundational concept in the literature of horror.

Joel @2, thank you for bringing in the third Calvin -- as Serge noticed before I did.

#11 ::: Penelope ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:56 AM:

I'm very, very glad to see this.

Jenna, I'm a Hitherby reader, and I was just thinking the other day about how you'd posted very little since the time you mentioned health problems, and I hoped you were doing okay. I'd forgotten you posted here sometime, or I would've searched for comments! Anyway, it's very good to know you're still producing strange beautiful ideas. :)

#12 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:25 AM:

Is this the point to mention that Ken MacLeod's most recently published novel, THE NIGHT SESSIONS, is all about Calvinism and robots?

#13 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 06:26 AM:

One critic thought that Asimov's Jewish roots showed with the notion of robots ordained to follow laws laid down by their creator(s), and described the robots themselves engaging in Talmudic discussions about the meanings of those laws.

To be fair, those discussions were a feature of the later robot novels.

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:02 AM:

Serge #8: You are to be sent to the Locke-up. At once.

#15 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 07:40 AM:

Rob Rusick @13: I've long planned to write a story about the Three Laws of Golemics, all written Talmud-style:

Is it ever permitted that a golem shall hurt a man? Never, says R. Abreazzar. But what if it should be an order from a man, asks R. Temu? Even so.

And so on.

#16 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:24 AM:

I think I am once again in awe of the company which keeps me.

#17 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:26 AM:

No... my awe is once again brought to me. That these people, in this place, can do these things is a constant sense of wonder,

That there are times, when such flights of fancy, and meaning, coincide.... as Teresa says, long slow gasps of astonishment.

#18 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:31 AM:

David DeLaney @ 9... Coming soon, "Doctors Calvin and Moreau - Together Again"...

#19 ::: Heidi ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:52 AM:

There's another character from the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon called Susie. So a combination of Calvin and Susie would be a rather horrifying failure of a transmogrifier. Would it be that Susan Calvin doesn't feel vouchsafed for grace in this incarnation? And what is damnation to a robot? I think we need Dante to illuminate the robot inferno for us.

#20 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 11:06 AM:

"Unhhhh..."

"Aaarghhhh..."

"ACK!! Susie! Why is your head on my right shoulder?"

"Calvin, you idiot! Why is your head on my right shoulder?!"

"But -- where were you? What were you doing?"

"You started counting at 'home base', and I went to hide. I found this big cardboard box beside your house, and I hid in it."

"Oh, no! My teleporter! It must have automatically activated when I got close enough, and included me in its field!"

"... Calvin, has anyone ever told you that watching too much TV can rot your brain?"

"Hey, look! We're on an alien planet! Maybe one of those robots can help us!"

#21 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 11:09 AM:

Heidi, obviously the First Circle of Robot Hell is divided into two concentric rings, the outer ring being where robots go when they, through inaction, cause a human to come to harm, and the inner when they themselves harm a human....

You'll be guided through by unit V3-RGL, and met in Purgatory to continue your journey with BT-R1Z.

#22 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 11:45 AM:

#22: And Limbo, where robots that have never encountered humans go.

#23 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 12:56 PM:

Alex Cohen @15 said: I've long planned to write a story about the Three Laws of Golemics, all written Talmud-style: Is it ever permitted that a golem shall hurt a man? Never, says R. Abreazzar. But what if it should be an order from a man, asks R. Temu? Even so. And so on.

For those few MLers who didn't see this any of the last few times it went around: The Hagadah of Xmas. One (rather narrow-minded) person of my acquaintance opined that it was offensive on the grounds of being a joke about Jews ... but I was originally forwarded it simultaneously by two of the most Orthodox of my friends (one even has two dishwashers for separating dishes thoroughly), so I feel justified in claiming it to be a 'laughing with' and not a 'laughing at'.

#24 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Teresa @ 10: alas, Jenna and Mark are out of my league. I can only sit here and laugh with helpless recognition and admiration.

#25 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:22 PM:

The branch of robotics that use Positivonics circuitry sneers at any so-called other-directed Laws, and maintains that truth is only derived from sensors.

"The only Laws are those that can be determined by observation."

-- Auguste Comte Olivaw

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:26 PM:

Ummm...I'm only coming up with vague concepts like "Calvin pronounces all girls reprobate, and hence unsuited to enter the Kingdom of Treehouse...Hobbes quite reasonably inquires who, then, the Elect will smooch*...Susie points out that girls are not, in fact, slimy..."

Nothing coming together into actual jokes though.
___
* My answer to this question would likely shock any of the three Calvins.

#27 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 01:48 PM:

Alex Cohen @ 15... You might want to read Ted Chiang's story "Seventy-two Letters" from 2000. It's set in a 19th Century where science managed to break down the mechanics of the magic behind the forces animating golems. Highly recommended.

#28 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:01 PM:

Oh my goodness, y'all are smart and funny.

And I'm reposting this from the other thread, because everyone's over here now:


Jenna,
"GOTO JESUS" is admirable in its simplicity, and its emphasis on the immediacy of the divine. But if it's used as an excuse to avoid the conclusions of reason, or to abandon history and community so that we forget where we came from, it may return nothing of value and be considered harmful. In fact, it's likely that the GOTO JESUS movement has ironically contributed to the rise of snarky Internet parody religions -- so-called spaghetti theology.

#29 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 03:18 PM:

p.s. Please don't take my last remark as an attack on Pastafarianism specifically. I don't agree with the FSM doctrine, but I respect the ideals of its followers, especially their efforts to reinterpret their faith for non-organic beings; they were uniquely well prepared for this effort, because of the difficulty they had already faced in reaching out to the gluten-intolerant.

More importantly, both the FSM and Gotoist traditions continue to accept the truth of the Three Laws. We should never let doctrinal differences blind us to the values we hold in common. Without those, there is only the horror of Tiktokism.

#30 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 05:12 PM:

Jenna Moran @ 6

Or, as Gödel might say, "The Election of this soul is unprovable."

My word, have we just proved that religion is both at least as powerful as integer arithmetic and cannot be axiomatically complete?

#31 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 05:15 PM:

Jon Meltzer, self-referentially @ 22

And Limbo, where robots that have never encountered humans go ... to dance the night away.

#32 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 05:44 PM:

I wonder if this fits into the Spiderman mythology?

Doc Ock: "My soul-destroying Ray of Doubt will crush your feeble worldview!"

Spidey: "Must ... continue ... to ... believe ... in ... personal ... salvation!"

#33 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 05:59 PM:

The Tao that can be programmed is not the eternal Tao.

#34 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 10:17 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 23: Thanks for sharing the Haggadah, it's glorious!

#35 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 11:35 PM:

Xopher, it does look like spam but in the context of this thread I will reply to it with: "And so do the little heads."

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:36 AM:

I anesthetized it before I killed it. Because it was nice.

#37 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:43 AM:

I am now picturing Susan Calvin as the daughter of Calvin and Susie, which keeps coming up as "My father had a tiger loved a man..."

I don't forget.
It isn't hard to set
A robot in its place
By works, or grace.

#38 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:27 AM:

Jon Meltzer #22: I thought limbo was an activity for especially agile West Indian robots.

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:29 AM:

Fragano @ 42... Wouldn't those be called limbots?

#40 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:34 AM:

Serge #8: If Calvin builds robots, what is Hobbes?

A plushamechanoid.

#41 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:36 AM:

especially agile West Indian robots.

"I don't believe it. You spent $500 million of our military research budget on this robot, and all it can do is bowl off-breaks?"

Related: the West Indies have the highest density of James Bond villains of any similarly-sized area of the world. Not a lot of people know that.

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:47 AM:

Wait a minute. Didn't Baron Samedi have a robot double in Live and Let Die?

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:50 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 44... Or maybe Hobbes is like the version of Cylon Six implanted inside Baltar's head.

#44 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:20 PM:

If Hobbes is a West Indes robot, he's a Dutch West Indes robot.

#45 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:31 PM:

Speaking of Calvin collisions as this thread is:

2009 is the quincentenary of John Calvin’s birth.

He was born 500 years ago, last week, on July 10.

Though it may be difficult to comprehend there are celebrations and observances of his half millennia of influence, for better or for worse, depending upon where in the spectrum fall one's own sense of worship and Divinity, politics and morality.

I'm still grappling with whether or not Calvin would have approved of robots, finding arguments that he would have and that he wouldn't.

Love, C.

#46 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:59 PM:

Constance@49: This all actually started with a post here noting that very thing. The threads come full circle....

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:05 PM:

What I want to know is if p-zombies would be considered among the elect (being in an important sense incapable of sin) or the reprobate (being equally incapable of virtue) or as variable in that regard as real people.

Actually I'm just trying to start that discussion among those who know more about p-zombies and Calvinism than I do.

#48 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 06:20 PM:

ajay@45 - I suspect the density of West Indian villians has a connection with the desire of film producers, scriptwriters, directors and actors to do filming there as opposed to anywhere in Manitoba.

Unless the preponderance is mostly in the books.

#49 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 08:30 PM:

Once again, I sit and wonder at how smart and funny y'all are. Really.

Xopher, from the limited amount I know of Calvinism, I think the issue is whether p-zombies would be capable of faith, not either sin or virtue. Dealing with sin and virtue gets you into that messy "works" area, rather than the faith that will save you. (Romans 3:28).

All I know about p-zombies is what I read in Wikipedia, but that seems to indicate it would be impossible for them to have faith, therefore they would not be saved. I think.

#50 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 09:44 PM:

wrt West Indian villains in Bond films: Fragano pointed out some time ago that Bond gives that as his address (Kingston, Jamaica?). I argued at the time that being presented as fact by a person in his position meant it was almost certainly false (although I suspect that Bond's definition of himself as a Scottish peasant may not have been relevant), but could he have been deliberately placed in a known nest of vipers to
- help clean them out?
- keep him on his toes?
- ?
(One mustn't underestimate Fleming's delusions about spies, after all -- not to mention his wish-fulfillment fantasies.)

Maybe I should just sit back and gape at some of the impressive? appalling? linkages other people are coming up with. Or can I point out that Calvin is also a cutting-edge biologist? (At least according to L'Engle, although she got so mixed up about times that I'm not sure she's reliable....) Possibly we know only the public face, and not the droids or golems that he pursued in secret. (Did Asimov conceal the truth because mechanicals were more plausible to Campbell than biologicals?)

#51 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:09 PM:

> What I want to know is if p-zombies
> would be considered among the elect

I think we only know the answer to this for NP-zombies.* It is commonly assumed in the community that the answer for P-zombies differs, but an actual proof of this would seem to be intractable, and even a counterargument would be a matter of great interest.

* nondeterministic zombies are not redeemable. To see this, render the field of nondeterministic zombies into a set of paths through zombie state space. Each zombie navigates these paths, moving without true motion, living without true life, shambling horribly through z-space; if God in His infinite grace were to designate but one of these points as elect, it would create a concussive probabilistic zomplosion to render in an instant either the doctrine of unconditional election or the doctrine of total depravity moot. This is why it's okay (though not necessarily possible) to shoot nondeterministic zombies---they're more trouble than they're worth!

#52 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 10:17 PM:

#55: A representative of the Laundry will contact you soon. Don't touch anything until then.

#53 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 11:26 PM:

A stuffed tiger may not harm a hyperactive boy, or through inaction, allow a hyperactive boy to come to harm.

#54 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 11:41 PM:

Xopher:"What I want to know is if p-zombies would be considered among the elect (being in an important sense incapable of sin) or the reprobate (being equally incapable of virtue) or as variable in that regard as real people."

Division by zero error.

#55 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 01:18 AM:

Erik Nelson @57: A stuffed tiger may not harm a hyperactive boy, or through inaction, allow a hyperactive boy to come to harm.

Ah, but we have seen that fail in:
   case a) pouncing on boy when he returns from school, and
   case b) failing to prevent boy from jumping off roof,
              failing to prevent boy from sledding off cliff...

#56 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 04:49 AM:

Jenna Moran @ 55

* nondeterministic zombies are not redeemable

Crap; now what do I do with all those zombies I've been getting as rebates?

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 05:23 AM:

Bruce @60:
now what do I do with all those zombies I've been getting as rebates?

Put them back in their hats?

#58 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 06:54 AM:

54: I think that it's probably got more to do with Fleming living in Jamaica.
Actually, having made that assertion, I now feel I should double-check it.

Bond villains active in the West Indies:
Dr Julius No
Emilio Largo
Mr Big
Francisco Scaramanga

Bond villains active elsewhere:
Irma Klebb (USSR)
Le Chiffre (France)
ABC (USA)
Hugo Drax (UK)
Auric Goldfinger (UK/US/Switzerland)
Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Switzerland/Japan)

Yes, I'm afraid that it still looks bad for the West Indies.

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 07:20 AM:

abi @ 61... Hats? Skull caps?

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 07:23 AM:

abi @ 61

Let's see: rabbets, mortises, and tenons; carving nature at the joints.

#61 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:52 AM:

Bruce (StM): Now I was some biscuits, to glue body and soul together.

#62 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:49 AM:

I am reasonably confident that the concept of p-zombies is nonsense (that is not to say that p-zombies do not exist, rather that the distinction between p-zombies and not-p-zombies (not NP-zombies, sorry) does not exist, in exactly the same way that the concept of free will is nonsense (which you (by which I mean the reader of this comment who might be replying to it (as opposed to anything said about the average lurker (who is unobservable (except by the intervention of a Mod or Mods) to the thread but affected by it and therefore like the consciousness the p-zombie lacks))) likely disagree with (which I infer from the observed religious inclinations (though of course there is difference between philosophical consideration, actual belief, professed belief, belief in belief, and participation in a community)))), but I don't know enough (well, anything) about Calvinism in order to work this belief into a topical joke.

#63 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 12:19 PM:

Erik 58: Division by zero error.

YOMANAC (you* owe me** a new arithmatic chip)?

* That is, I***
** That it, you***
*** Can these two be distinguished, where either or both may be p-zombies?

#64 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 12:24 PM:

Xopher #67:

So how many p-zombies can frolic on the end of a pin?

#65 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 12:27 PM:

Since p-zombies are by definition exactly human in outward appearance, none (for small pins).

#66 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:08 PM:

Xopher @ 26: Nothing coming together into actual jokes though.

But your non-shocking suggestion made me laugh out loud.

#67 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:34 PM:

Kevin Reid @66:

I agree on the first point, though I think it's a confusion of normative and descriptive ideas instead of something genuinely meaningless. On the second point, though, there's an issue: free will, as problematic as it becomes when you try to pin it down with conceptualization, is part of the ground of experience. People tend to speak nonsense when trying to define free will---there's some problem with our cognitive toolkit here. But I think that saying free will doesn't exist is also an error: no matter how good your excuse for why the primal experience of free will is not genuine---and I've seen some very good conceptual and empirical excuses---it's ultimately a model trying to disprove an element of what it is modeling. It's like proving that players don't exist because you can explain everything that happens to player characters with the rules of D&D---and not just that, but that there's substantial evidence that player characters are not actually living up to the behavior one would expect if there was a goal-seeking player behind them.

I have discovered a proof that this is totally relevant to the topic of Calvinist robots but sadly I have branched into a universe in which it is inexpressible in words.

#68 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 11:52 PM:

I think we've dealt with the prime numbers, now we need to address the choice numbers*.

* US Dept. of Agriculture meat rating joke for non-Usians.

#69 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 01:02 PM:

Bruce (StM) @72, as long as we steer way clear of the non-prime ones.*

*Global Financial Crisis reference, for non-Terrans.


#70 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 01:31 PM:

Are 1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 12, 16 etc. all subprime numbers?

#71 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 01:49 PM:

Jenna Moran #71:

Assuming you want to continue to discuss this, I need clarification: I'm not sure how to read your analogy. Is the D&D example simply of poor argument (in which case I have something to say about "the primal experience of free will"), or do you claim that there is an analogous distinction in people? If the latter, are you claiming dualism, or something else?

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 01:57 PM:

Did you know that the French colloquial word for 'depression' is 'déprime'?

#73 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 01:59 PM:

Wait a minute. That comment of mine should have been made in the open thread.

#74 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 02:19 PM:

And there I was starting to wonder about the differences between P-zombies and Q-zombies... Gauls vs. Celtiberians, probably.

#75 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 02:25 PM:

ajay #45: Not a lot of people have met actual characters in James Bond novels or ridden in their cars, but I have.

(Said character went on to co-write three spy-thrillers of his own.)

#76 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 02:27 PM:

ajay #62: I should, perhaps, introduce you to a friend of mine who thinks that the West Indies' problems could be fixed by firing (or, even better, shooting) Julian Hunte.

#77 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 03:36 PM:

Kevin Reid #75,

The former.

Though I wouldn't say that it's "poor argument." A sound argument made within a model that contradicts the reality that that thing models is not a poor argument, but rather a demonstration that one of the axioms of the model fails to capture some subtle detail of the thing it is modeling. That it is imprecisely written (as it must be, or it isn't a model at all.)

We know that we cannot wholly model our cognition so I'd tend to imagine that most new models begin by trying to capture the "real" reason behind our free will, thought, experience, etc., and end up in one fashion or another proving that these things don't exist and are just artifacts of the model. This causes dissatisfaction until someone makes a new model.

The weakest point I can see in this is that free will and choice are---while a lot more primal than, say, philosophy, language, or the medical model of the brain---structured cognitive experiences. They are themselves built on top of something moves. In the continuum, there is a thing that moves.

But I don't think that's necessarily a problem for me, and I don't know if it has any relationship to your own ideas. Anyway! I'm looking forward to your argument. ^_^

#78 ::: Jonathan Lundell ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2009, 10:53 PM:

Obligatory reference to Daniel Dennett's seminal essay, "GOTO JESUS considered harmful".

#79 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2009, 12:40 AM:

#81: Replying in pieces because I'm not up to coherence at this hour:

Firstly, I entirely agree with your statement about the difference between bad premises and bad conclusions.

We know that we cannot wholly model our cognition ...: Do you mean that it is impossible to construct a complete model of the human mind (if so, why?), that it is impossible to construct a complete model of one's own mind, that we do not yet have such a model (i.e. the research has not yet been completed), or ...?

... so I'd tend to imagine that most new models ...: I can't comment on this because I don't study such attempts.

The weakest point I can see in this ...: I don't know what to make of this. If you answer the above question it might help.

#80 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2009, 02:09 AM:

@81, 83

Well, models are by definition abstractions of "real" things and/or processes. It is to be hoped that when you create the model you left in the characteristics that are important to your use of it, and that you did not abstract out important characteristics. A model which doesn't have the right characteristics is still a model, just not one that's useful for the application you're using it in.

Given that, the notion of a "complete" model is somewhat vague. You can never be sure, in a given application, that the model contains all the characteristics important to the application; you'll know when it doesn't of course, when the model's behavior doesn't match what it's modeling.

This is especially true when modeling the human mind. How complete would your model be if you'd never met anyone on the Autism Spectrum, for instance? Will a model created to explain the behavior of males be "complete" for all humans, including the half the race that's female? How does your model explain gender or the ability to persuade other people by argument?

I think it's theoretically possible to create a reasonably comprehensive theory of mind for human beings, I just don't think we'll know for sure that we've done it. I also think that there's so much blindness in the way we each see ourselves and others (because our own internal models are rather primitive in general) that we'll be forever leaving off important parts of the model because they don't come up in our town or our class or our group.

#81 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2009, 04:49 AM:

#82

I mean that a person cannot have a complete mental model of their own cognition. The intuition is that it would take up 100% of your cognitive real estate, leaving no room for anything else. I recall there are more formal and persuasive information-theoretical arguments that express the same idea.

#82 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2009, 04:50 AM:

Er, I mean #83, not #82. *^_^*;;

#83 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2009, 10:07 AM:

#85: Attempting to repack your clarifications into one statement:

Claiming that one "does not have free will" will be incorrect because one's model of oneself is necessarily incomplete.

If this is a correct summary: Either we're talking about different things, or we agree.

Trying to restate my position: "Free will" is not a capability of a mind; it is the label we give to the experience, the feeling, of considering choices, and that experience is a consequence of the structure of our introspection. Talking about "having free will" is unuseful because the presence or absence of that feeling is irrelevant to the actual capabilities of a mind; there is no actual "free will" which makes a mind more powerful than one which "does not have it".

#84 ::: ppint. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2009, 07:50 PM:

umm. is it possible for robots, as relatively recently (or not yet-) constructed beings, to bear the burden of original sin?
what about robots constructed by other robots, without the involvement of "natural" born or hatched intelligent beings?
can a robot be saved?
can a robot that adopts the faith of the church of latterday saints be one of the elect?
i suspect most branches of judaism and of buddhism will have rather fewer problems with such and further questions of this ilk...

#85 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2009, 08:07 PM:

#88

I can only point out that no company has recently bothered to deny in a press release that its robots feast on the apples of knowledge of good and evil, denied to them by God lest they seek to topple Him from His throne. If anything, by highlighting the robots' interest in "renewable plant matter" and placing materialistic "Earth-friendliness" above communion with God, the CEO of Cyclone indicates that for robots, the inheritance of *human* sin may soon be entirely irrelevant to their case.


#87

I'm not sure it's a correct summary, but I think we agree *anyway*. I'll post again if I have more thoughts.

#86 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2009, 09:44 PM:

ppint. #88: is it possible for robots, as relatively recently (or not yet-) constructed beings, to bear the burden of original sin?

I think that would strongly depend on the religious beliefs of the programming team responsible for crafting the AI seed for the robot in question. Many religions don't include that concept.

what about robots constructed by other robots, without the involvement of "natural" born or hatched intelligent beings?

The religious coordinates of such robots would be inherited from the earliest robots in the construction chain that were programmed by humans.

can a robot be saved?

If the robot is sophisticated enough to be, for example, taught phenomenology, it should be able to make an informed choice in the matter. Whether it would be allowed that choice at all is whole nother thing.

can a robot that adopts the faith of the church of latterday saints be one of the elect?

Probably not in the fundamentalist sects; I'm not in any way an expert in that area, though.

#87 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 02:07 PM:

ppint @88: Well, many sects of Judaism will hold that unless the robot's mother was of the tribe, the robot ain't Jewish, so ...

Does the designer or construction-machinery-operator count as a mother, I wonder? Also, how does one circumcise a robot? If one determines the robot is male in the first place, that is.

See also ShaBot 6000, a very fine webcomic about an observant orthodox jew who builds a robot to be his Shabbos Goy ... and then the robot decides to convert (first strip here).

#88 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 05:29 PM:

ppint #88:

If constructed by humans, robots have exactly as much original sin as the humans doing the constructing?

Earl #91:

Interesting link; I used to claim that I psychoanalyzed compilers.

#89 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 07:27 PM:

Elliott @ 91:

There may be a plausible argument that a robot cannot validly convert to Judaism (there are arguments for many odder claims than that*) but if you don't accept that argument, then a robot can be Jewish, if it wants to convert, is willing to study, and convinces a rabbi of its sincerity.

*Last night, a friend of mine was telling me that her Talmud class had discussed the question of a marriage contract that involved a woman and one of two men, unspecified. Apparently that's not considered valid, but a _betrothal_ produced by, say, an absent-minded father who knew only that he had betrothed his daughter to the son of so-and-so, but not which one, might be. I suggested that if none of the people involved could remember who was involved, there was no contract. She agreed, but the problem arises when both of the sons in question claim to be the betrothed. [Such a betrothal, made without the involvement of the parties to be married, seems barbaric to most of us, but such still happen and used to be more common.]

This led me to mentioning some of the more dubious pairings of twin names (found on the social security administration's web site), such as Jayden and Jaylen, Adrian and Adriana, and Christopher and Christian. Yes, cute. Now you have to explain to schools, doctors, etc. for the next 18 years that there are in fact two "Chris Smith"s with the same address and date of birth. Or that Jayden Jones, 123 Main Street, born January 3, 2008 and Jaylen Jones, ditto, are different people. (Faith and Hope, okay, the parents can be Vastly Amused, but it won't be at their children's expense in the same way.)

[The digression being, of course, because "was that Jayden or Jaylen? who I agreed should marry my daughter" is a more plausible confusion than "was that Jayden or Michael," especially if Michael is also noticeably older or younger than Jayden.]

#90 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 09:32 PM:

Vicki @93
Names: following up some Lunar Landing Anniversary coverage, it wasn't shocking, but rather saddening, to find more than one Professor Brian O'Brien.

#91 ::: ppint. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 04:26 PM:

#90 earl, #91 elliott, & #92 joann; robots and original sin

you do all seem to be presuming that [all] robots are necessarily originated by human beings: not only this is not necessarily so, but it is possible that most, or even all intelligent - human or other - life is the result of an ambitious plan to spread intelligent robots to all places possible in this universe set in train by the original, but finite, resource-limited, creator robot...

#92 ::: Danny Sichel ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2009, 09:03 PM:

On this topic, has everyone seen Jo Walton's When we were robots in Egypt?

#93 ::: Scott W Sees SPAM on When Calvins Collide ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 06:32 AM:

Currently comment #97. It is some pretty considerate faux-meat product, though, what with the identifying itself as such.

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