All posts by Jared Friedman


I would like to raise the concept from class regarding the development of intentions and the supposed necessity for children to understand complex philosophies to eliminate the discussion of mental states. Firstly I would like to pose the question to the class: who is responsible for the detonation of the atomic bomb? Was it the man who built the bomb? The man who theorized the concept and developed the theory, or the man who “pulled the trigger”. If we subscribe to the biblical notion of justice the man who created the  theory or the first bomb would be therefore responsible for all the consequences of his initial action. Similarly a man who killed the butterfly which caused the resulting chain of events leading to JFK’s assassination would be therefore responsible for the ultimate murder of our late president.  However, it is the recognition of intention that manages to not only separate cultures, but different thought processes and alternate views of ourselves and our actions.

By recognizing the idea of intentions, we are granted a different view and concept of how our mind and body works, and our personalties and actions would be different as a result of this differing view.

Conversely, the elimination of folk psychology would require a complete understanding of neurological biology. However, it is important to recognize the fact that a common eight year old is not only more intelligent than an adult man of the 18th century, but can explain concepts that would be completely alien and incomprehensible to even the greatest geniuses of that time. By increasing the inherent knowledge of civilizations, the even most common members of said civilizations will inch towards increased mental capabilities. In short, it is the continuing evolution of technology and science that drives the new language of neuroscience and the resulting knowledge of even children.

Ancestor Simulations and Ayer

In response to a comment on my first post I wrote another one, as I wanted to connect A. J Ayer’s examination of moralism and determinism to the concepts of skepticism discussed earlier in the course. However, I felt my original post would have been too long winded if I included all of these thoughts.

If we are in fact living in a computer simulation or a false world of some sort then it becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile the argument with the moralist with that of our false reality. However, if we postulate that the determinist is indeed correct in his thoughts that we cannot change the past, future, or any part of our destiny, then reconciling these thoughts with that of a false world is actually quite simple. As our world itself is false then our actions are simulated, pre-determined, and any actions we take in our false world would have absolutely no bearing on the future as our world has no connection to any “true” future, and no connection to the true world in which the computer simulating our world exists.

However, coming back to the argument of the moralist. If all of our actions are our own, and we are responsible for the consequences of our actions which in turn shape the future, then it is required that our simulated world have some preexisting connection to the “real” world, which can be found in the simulating computer and the scientists observing the aforementioned simulation. So if we postulate that scientists are observing our simulation and that these observations somehow alter the scientist’s mentality or perspective on life or the human experience, then our actions in our false world did in fact have consequences that shaped the future and can be accounted for.

I recognize for the moralist view to be reconciled with a ancestor simulation people from the “real world” must observe the simulation and gain some experience from the observation. However, if an ancestor simulation were to be created it would surely have some observers of some sort because without people to study the ancestor simulation creating the simulation itself would become pointless. Furthermore, for the argument of the moralist to succeed in an ancestor simulation the simulations cannot merely be “zombies” but rather need to be unaware simulated beings that believe themselves to living in a “true” reality. If all simulated beings were zombies then they would not develop any organic thoughts that would lead to any significant observations from the simulation. So based on this previous postulation we can indeed infer that the simulations would indeed by unaware organic simulations, and that people would be observing and learning from these organic simulations. So the actions of these simulations do indeed shape the future and we can indeed reconcile the argument with of ancestor simulations with that of the moralist.

I understand that one could attempt to refute my argument through postulating that by creating the ancestor simulation the scientists observations would be “pre-destined” as his observations were induced by actions in the simulation that would have not taken place if the simulation had not been created. So if he is pre-destined to learn from the ancestor simulation, which he himself created, then did, the actions of the scientists really alter the future at all? All I can say in response to this argument is that there is no degree of certainty to what the scientist will learn from observing the simulation. He could learn people are evil, people are lazy, or people are philanthropic and generous. And while one could predict what the scientist could learn by examining his character and his life experiences, one could never be 100% certain with that prediction. And once again, I postulate that this randomness associated with the human experience, is what enables realism and determinism to be reconciled, because while stimuli and experiences may shape one’s destiny, it does not make it 100% certain.

A Prisoner of Destiny and The Dilemna of Fate

In his essay Freedom and Necessity A. J Ayer attempts to reconcile the views of the moralist with those of the determinist. Specifically he attempts to examine the argument of predestination in contrast to the freedom of will. Essentially we are presented two conflicting views on the nature of humanity. The notion that all are choices are a result of preexisting causes, and we are powerless to change are destiny essentially makes us ignorant prisoners and subsequently drains a great deal of meaning from the human existence. Furthermore, if all of our actions were predetermined morality would become meaningless since people would not be able to claim responsibility for their actions.

Conversely, the moralist suggests that all our actions are the result of our own character and the corresponding consequences are the result of our choices and our choices alone. However, Ayer counters this premise with the fact that our environment inherently shapes our characters, and therefore our actions can be somewhat predicted based on our unique life experiences. Therefore the moralist’s choices cannot be entirely attributed to their character since their character was shaped by other events, and they are not entirely responsible for the consequences of their actions since they are not entirely responsible for the content of their character.

Above all else I find it very interesting reconciling these differing worldviews since as Ayer points out, the world we live in is a mixture of free will and causality. Yes humans can be very predictable creatures. We are typically motivated by greed, jealousy, love, and various other emotions. Provoking any of the aforementioned emotions can be done for any person with minimal information, proper situation framing, and minimal effort. However, despite the fact that science has shown how any action can shape a person’s psyche, and their resulting actions, a degree of randomness still is inherent within the human condition.

As Ayer points out, we may be able to predict that a person will yell, cry, or become violent, but we are unable to predict exactly what form this emotion will take. We cannot predict how loud a person will be, how long the emotion will last, or what words the person will use. At the end of the day it is this degree of randomness that provides humans with “the freedom of will” or at least the illusion of one.

I say the illusion of free will because one could argue that you could further predict a person’s behavior based on childhood experiences, their images of their parents, their vocabulary, education, and religious/ethnic background. Specifically, you could predict that a child raised in a loving environment, with stable parents, a good religious upbringing, no behavioral or medical issues, and a successful parent, would most likely be led towards a life mirroring their parents. However, due to the randomness of the human condition, and the experiences of childhood, the child may find their career looking much different than their parent, i.e. a priest for a father and a doctor for a son. True the randomness associated with human development may have inherent causes and stimuli (books, movies, television), but it is the person’s own unique psyche that determines how each of this stimuli affects their overall development.  In conclusion the world is a mix of fate and freedom of will. And while many of our free decisions do have inherent predetermined causes, it is the fact that these causes can lead to different choices for different people that reconciles the argument of determinism with that of the moralist.

Lucid Dreaming & Computer Simulations

G.E Moore’s “Certainty” tackles the concept of dreaming and how the possibility we may be dreaming alters our supposed conceptions of thought, reality, and knowledge. He presents us with the argument that at any point in one’s existence one cannot “know for certain that [they] are not dreaming”(Moore, p361). He utilizes the example of the Duke of Devonshire who is dreaming about giving a speech to the House of Lords and awakes to actually find himself giving said speech. Through the example Moore illustrates the paper-thin nature of reality and the powerful nature of our subconscious. As dreams can simulate images and correctly deceive many of our senses it becomes very hard to distinguish dream from reality. Moore further argues that despite the fact that we can argue that dreams have occurred, we can still not definitively state that we are not currently dreaming. Moore does make the single concession that it would be very unlikely for one to have all of their memories and sensory experiences and yet be dreaming, which points to the likelihood of one actually being awake. However, to this point I would like to raise a question, what if what we assume to be reality is actually in fact a massive evolving dream and the dreams we have when “sleeping” are just dreams within a dream?

Now to make sure we don’t get too Inceptionesque I would like to compare my proposed “dream within a dream” scenario with that of an “ancestor simulation within an ancestor simulation” proposed by Bostrom. Each is based on the same principal, a deviation from reality existing within another deviation from reality. Those in the first simulation would incorrectly assume that they are living in the “real” world, much like people in the first dream level would assume their world to be “real”. However, the second ancestor simulation and the second dream level would be assumed to be “false” but it’s inhabitants would not correctly “know” the second dream level and second ancestor simulation is false since they do not have correct preexisting assumptions regarding the nature of reality itself since their original world is in itself “false”.

I also want to raise a question regarding the nature of ethics in dreams and ancestor simulations. If our world is “false” and our actions have no bearing on the nature of the universe and the real world, and we become self-aware of this, then should we have any concern for ethics or morality? Bostrom argues that humans should act accordingly regardless of whether or not they believe they are in a form of a simulation since there is always a chance that they are assuming incorrectly. However, if we strongly believe that we are in some form of simulation, and are in fact correct in our beliefs, then our actions and their consequences would be rendered irrelevant. This would be the case providing our actions have no consequences on reality. For example if I was in an “ancestor simulation within an ancestor simulation” and my actions had consequences on the preceding ancestor simulation my behavior remain identical to my behavior in the world I believe is “true” i.e. the first ancestor simulation.

Based on these assumptions I would like to make the point that since we cannot correctly know that we are not in a simulation or dreaming, nor can we definitively assume that if we were in such a “false” world that our actions in our “false” world have no consequences on the “real” world. Therefore we must act as though or world is real despite our assumption that it may not be, and believe that our actions have consequences on all aspects of “reality”.