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Morality Isn’t Real

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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05 March 2018 22:12
 
NL. - 04 March 2018 10:04 PM

When you say that people have different sexual preferences, for example, or different tastes in food, visual arts, or music - I mean… how different, really? As a species, we still seem to find it wildly unique when two sapiens of the same gender want to mate. I mean, seriously, if you look at something like 100% entropy (which, thanks to Anil Seth, I now know means “the number of possible states a system can be in”,) is saying “Men and women can be together… or… men and men can be together! Or women and women!” all that many states? I think that totals three all together, and again, humankind already often considers this - three different states - scandalous. Same for taste in music, food, art and so on. I doubt the statistical range for such things is actually that broad - and even where it is, as in cases of things like pica, disorders themselves tend to have predictable shapes, trajectories, and features.

Well, the variation in sexuality is, I think at least two distinct things. First it’s the actual behaviors we witness. Second is the nominal identities that people apply or self apply. Role, orientation, desire and behavior are all distinct here and present in all manner of combinations. Many people who engage in homosexual acts, for instance do not identify as homosexual. I think these variables and their combinations provide a fairly diverse variety.

More importantly I think sexuality is probably the most immediate example of a moral issue that is geographically and culturally relative. Most communities seem to have some concept of a sex crime but the particulars change pretty dramatically. And not just between nations or religions but within small communities and even families. Now of course some acts are fairly universally blame worthy but many only gain that feature by virtue of a very specific circumstance.

This might point to something deeper within in regards to moral codes and prohibitions. Sometimes the act is reprehensible. Sometimes the act is only wrong when it trespasses on some convention or commitment. The slipperiness of principle is conveyed in slogans like ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’.

It’s a well tread staple of contemporary moral philosophy to dissect the particulars of sexual ethics just as it’s a stable of mono theism to construct some kind of rigid code. I’ve always felt depressed and bored by the way sexuality is manipulated in my own culture to be simultaneously sacred and profane. It feels like a protection racket. I do think there is something sacred or at least uniquely intimate about sexual expression that moral theory should take seriously. I feel like a lot of pop psychology and pop culture fails in this regard.

 
sojourner
 
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sojourner
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06 March 2018 10:52
 
Brick Bungalow - 05 March 2018 10:12 PM

Well, the variation in sexuality is, I think at least two distinct things. First it’s the actual behaviors we witness. Second is the nominal identities that people apply or self apply. Role, orientation, desire and behavior are all distinct here and present in all manner of combinations. Many people who engage in homosexual acts, for instance do not identify as homosexual. I think these variables and their combinations provide a fairly diverse variety.

More importantly I think sexuality is probably the most immediate example of a moral issue that is geographically and culturally relative. Most communities seem to have some concept of a sex crime but the particulars change pretty dramatically. And not just between nations or religions but within small communities and even families. Now of course some acts are fairly universally blame worthy but many only gain that feature by virtue of a very specific circumstance.

This might point to something deeper within in regards to moral codes and prohibitions. Sometimes the act is reprehensible. Sometimes the act is only wrong when it trespasses on some convention or commitment. The slipperiness of principle is conveyed in slogans like ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’.

It’s a well tread staple of contemporary moral philosophy to dissect the particulars of sexual ethics just as it’s a stable of mono theism to construct some kind of rigid code. I’ve always felt depressed and bored by the way sexuality is manipulated in my own culture to be simultaneously sacred and profane. It feels like a protection racket. I do think there is something sacred or at least uniquely intimate about sexual expression that moral theory should take seriously. I feel like a lot of pop psychology and pop culture fails in this regard.


I see what you’re saying - any topic can be infinitely complex or relatively simple, depending on how much you want to zoom in. Certainly this seems central to mindfulness, after all, the idea of finding worlds of complexity in the seemingly simplest things. So I understand what you’re saying - you can take the topic of sex and talk about gender, specific preferences, fetishes, consent, age, number of people involved, and on and on, and have a hypothetically infinite set of issues to agree or disagree on.


Viewed from the vantage point of something like complete and total entropy, however, I think you can also say that there are really only so many ways to mash two human bodies together, when it comes to sex. When was the last time you saw a young couple on a date getting intimate by ceremoniously rubbing the tips of their elbows, or their earlobes, or their scalps together? The last movie you saw where an actor whispered seductively “I want to put my knee in your ear” or “I want to pour pinecones all over you?”. Out of the infinite number of possible things human beings could want to do, the things that we tend to actually want to do is a smaller subset of a much larger infinity, in the grand scheme of things. Still enough for us to really worry about and have serious moral arguments over, of course - but this particular post is in response to your wondering if there is an element of chaos in moral intuition. I would call moral intuitions serious and consequential, even complex, but I do not think they are chaotic. At least not from my zoomed-out vantage point. But then again, I usually try to find and optimistic angle (at least at times when I am not mired in gloom about how game theory prevents utopias.) “Hey, you know what? We seem to be having a national crisis over men harassing women in the workplace, but I mean, look on the bright side, it could be much worse! We could live in a world where people routinely broke into your house because they wanted to have sex with your toaster! And you don’t see that happening, do you? So, see - there’s one of an infinite number of physically possible potential problems that don’t exist! I mean, so far as you know, your neighbors aren’t stealing your trash cans to have sex in! Yet another nonexistent problem that could hypothetically exist, look at that!”.


So again, I’m not saying differences in human moral behavior and ideas aren’t consequential. But I am saying I don’t know that they’re actually that broad, in the grand scheme of things.

[ Edited: 06 March 2018 10:57 by sojourner]
 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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06 March 2018 13:19
 
NL. - 06 March 2018 10:52 AM
Brick Bungalow - 05 March 2018 10:12 PM

 

So again, I’m not saying differences in human moral behavior and ideas aren’t consequential. But I am saying I don’t know that they’re actually that broad, in the grand scheme of things.

I agree with that. A majority people probably engage the same small handful of activities. The variety probably represents a small segment of the population
(insert midget joke)

But what about the applied ethics and laws? Do you feel that the norms around sexual behavior flatten out in the same way? It doesn’t seem to me that they do.

 
sojourner
 
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sojourner
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06 March 2018 14:57
 
Brick Bungalow - 06 March 2018 01:19 PM

But what about the applied ethics and laws? Do you feel that the norms around sexual behavior flatten out in the same way? It doesn’t seem to me that they do.


I’m not sure what you’re asking, can you be more specific?

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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06 March 2018 15:14
 
NL. - 06 March 2018 02:57 PM
Brick Bungalow - 06 March 2018 01:19 PM

But what about the applied ethics and laws? Do you feel that the norms around sexual behavior flatten out in the same way? It doesn’t seem to me that they do.


I’m not sure what you’re asking, can you be more specific?

I’m agreeing that sexual activity and identity isn’t all that various when viewed from a wide angle.

I’m saying that laws, norms and sensibilities around what counts as offensive or immoral or illegal DOES vary on the wider view. In other words; the same act in one location can be the norm or could be impolitic or even illegal if it happens somewhere else. There is something about sexuality that seems to push our moral buttons and push them in inconsistent ways.

 
sojourner
 
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sojourner
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06 March 2018 17:36
 
Brick Bungalow - 06 March 2018 03:14 PM

I’m saying that laws, norms and sensibilities around what counts as offensive or immoral or illegal DOES vary on the wider view. In other words; the same act in one location can be the norm or could be impolitic or even illegal if it happens somewhere else. There is something about sexuality that seems to push our moral buttons and push them in inconsistent ways.


I agree that it varies, I said in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t necessarily vary that much. There are an infinite number of hypothetical debates about sexuality that humankind has never had and likely never will have because there are an infinite number of possibilities that don’t interest us to the point of never having occurred to us. Again, you do not find cultural divides on the topic of having sex with other people’s toasters, in pretty much any culture. You see the same debates on the same topics over and over again, with only extremely significant shifts, I think, when you see huge shifts in human dynamics such as the appearance of civilization. (Before that, strange as it is to think, our great great great great x 300 great grandmothers probably spent a lot of time hanging out in caves in a makeshift community where most of the guys were naked half the time.)


Regarding moral intuitions - I think most people’s moral intuitions are inconsistent on most if not all topics.

 
 
Chaz
 
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Chaz
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21 April 2018 17:01
 

I haven’t checked this thread in too long. I lost interest and reading the last couple pages made me sad. The discussion went away from morals a little bit but not much. I started this as part of a game of devil’s advocate, but I’ll share my actual view which should clarify some things for you, including the recent comments on homosexuality.

I came to the conclusion that morality is the result of life acknowledging it’s own actions as beneficial or hindering to it’s own preservation, development, or future.

Homosexuality initially seen as wrong because procreation isn’t possible, later seen as acceptable, but still not right, because homosexuals aren’t damaging to the development of mankind, and honestly they are the main hope we have for the overwhelming adoption problem, specifically referring to the united states.

That’s the best example of objective morality, in a broad sense, that I can think of. It’s not right, but it’s acceptable, because it’s not wrong.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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10 May 2018 04:50
 
EntropyPhoenix - 28 February 2018 07:06 AM

There is a correlation between neurological dynamics and subjective state. Change the configuration of the brain (e.g. conceptualize something differently) and the resulting set of possible subjective states change.

Morality can be defined as managing neurological dynamics since these are what result in subjective experience, which is all that can matter for conscious creatures.

The traditional systems of morality were too simple - based on small sets of over-generalized rules and forced dichotomies such as good and evil.

Thinking in terms of managing neurological dynamics, morality becomes an objectively clear pursuit. The brain and civilization are still too complex to fine-tune existence, but the fact is that the nature of subjective experience is perfectly objective given its nature in physical correlation. As such, the goal is to refine understanding of the relationships instead of pretending our experience works some other way.

The are clearly more or less desireable subjective states even though the brain itself fails in its self-evaluations of what’s better in an absolute sense. For example, what’s better: enjoying childhood nostalgia or looking at the stars?

Some people might have a preference, but many will find they are comparing apples to oranges. Both states are obviously preferable to suffering, however, which is reflected in how the brain is designed.

Even though the brain itself fails to manifest a perfect, utilitarian objective function in terms of desired subjective states, what it experiences is nonetheless objective in origin and there are clearly more desirable states of being that can be understood in scientifically-refined ways. We also have to consider the whole system of conscious creatures when thinking of evaluations - or at least that consideration exists in empathetic people, which is a desireable subjective state for those who have experienced it. The well-being of conscience creatures is also important when it comes to managing existential risk.

Isn’t there more than a “correlation” here?  More like an isomorphic mapping derived from two distinct points of view.  “Neurological dynamics” are instrumentally derived observations where the terminal properties of observation are more or less equivalent to their local origin, like when one observes a table or a chair when moving around them in a room, just with an fMRI observing the brain, not the unaided eyes observing the objects.  While moving around the room, however, the same dynamics are operative in the “subjective states” as in “the brain”, only the former observations are centered in the organism such that the terminal properties of observation are inferred when ‘observed’ in others, or experienced directly when observed ‘in’ oneself.  But in any case, “correlation” almost implies there is a non-observational difference between the subjectivity and the neurology, such that “change the configuration of the brain and the resulting set of possible subjective states changes.”  True enough, to an extent, but I would say there is no explanatory gap here for an if-then to occur; therefore “correlation” is inapt.  Neurological states and subjective states are isomorphic mappings of the same observable events, just the nature of the observation differs.

If this is so, there is no more benefit to moral theory for ‘focusing on the brain’ as opposed to ‘focusing on subjective states’, meaning one is not more or less subject to natural laws than the other, both being points of view on a single natural process.  Although a slightly different tack than your post, this would bear on Harris emphasis on neuroscience in The Moral Landscape, meaning: the neuroscience adds nothing to the traction of the theory that a proper conceptualization of the “subjective states” equally provides.  Harris seems to think that ‘being realized in the brain’ subjects “well-being” to some kind of robust scientific scrutiny that ‘mere subjective states’ can’t provide, as though one is more ‘factual’ than the other, and therefore less ‘subjectively value laden’.  What he misses is that neurological dynamics only take on the meaning that they do by conceptual identification with subjective states, otherwise they are simply particles moving in space that could mean anything; they would have no more meaning than the moon orbiting the Earth.  Where else is one to get the meaning of an fMRI but through its isomorphism with subjective states, and given this, what, precisely, does the neurological dynamics add?  Your point about “correlation” goes part of the way to understanding the role of observing the brain in developing a moral theory, but I don’t think it goes quite far enough.  Simply put, if the neuroscience is accurate, one already has all one needs for moral theory prior to the development of the neuroscience.  The latter may help reveal some counter-intuitive facts, but it will hardly be more foundational than the robust phenomenology it presupposes.

 

[ Edited: 10 May 2018 11:54 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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