The Demandingness Objection

"Well, I'm not giving up dairy, but I can probably give up meat, and milk is at the very bottom of Brian's table of suffering per kilogram demanded, so I'd be contributing to much less evil than I was before. That's good, right?

"For all the unimaginably terrible things our species do to each other and to other creatures, we're not—we're probably not any worse than the rest of nature. Gazelles suffer terribly as lions eat them alive, but we can't intervene because then the lions would starve, and the gazelles would have a population explosion and starve, too. We have this glorious idea that people need to consent before sex, but male ducks just rape the females, and there's no one to stop it—nothing else besides humans around capable of formulating the proposition, as a proposition, that the torment and horror in the world is wrong and should stop. Animals have been eating each other for hundreds of millions of years; we may be murderous, predatory apes, but we're murderous, predatory apes with Reason—well, sort of—and a care/harm moral foundation that lets some of us, with proper training, to at least wish to be something better.

"I don't actually know much history or biology, but I know enough to want it to not be real, to not have happened that way. But it couldn't have been otherwise. In the absence of an ontologically fundamental creator God, Darwinian evolution is the only way to get purpose from nowhere, design without a designer. My wish for things to have been otherwise ... probably isn't even coherent; any wish for the nature of reality to have been different, can only be made from within reality.

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Revisionist History I

"It is my considered opinion that Emily Dickinson was a time-traveling cryonicist."

"That is an opinion I have not previously heard advanced."

"C'mon! 'Because I could not stop for Death, / He kindly stopped for me; / The carriage held but just ourselves / And Immortality'? It's obvious!"


Dear reader, you know what's way more fun than feeling sad about the nature of the cosmos? Data compression, that's what! Suppose you want to send a message to your friends in a nearby alternate universe, but interuniversal communication bandwidth is very expensive (different universes can't physically interact, so we and our alternate-universe analogues can only communicate by mutually inferring what the other party must be saying, which takes monstrous amounts of computing power and is not cheap), so you need to make your message as brief as possible. Note that 'brief' doesn't just have to do with how long your message is in natural language, it also has to do with how that message is represented over the transuniveral communication channel: indeed, the more efficient the encoding, the more you can afford to say on a fixed budget.

The classic ASCII encoding scheme uses seven bits to represent each character. (Seven?—you ask perplexedly, surely you mean eight? Apparently it was seven in the original version.) Can we do better? Well ... ASCII has a lot of stuff that arguably you don't need that badly. Really, upper and lower case letters? Ampersands, asterisks, backslashes? And don't get me started about those unprintable control characters! If we restrict our message to just the uncased alphabet A through Z plus space and a few punctuation marks, then we can encode our message using only a 32 (= 25) character set, at five bits per character.

Can we do better? Seemingly not—24 = 16 isn't a big enough character set to cover the alphabet. Unless ...

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"I remember feeling like a person, and feeling like people were ontologically distinct from animals, and I don't know how it's possible to pick up the pieces after that illusion has gone.

"I remember caring about parochial political concerns. I cared about gender equality, and educational freedom. And, and, I cared very badly about being respected for being intelligent. But now that I see that the latter was just a standard male primate status-seeking drive gone haywire—or not gone haywire, but functioning normally—and that my less-obviously-selfish concerns were driven by idiosyncratic features of my own psychology that few others have any reason to care about—none of it seems as compelling anymore.

"Then what is compelling? Well, I'm terrified of the pain of being physically hurt, so if I don't know what's real and I don't know what's right, I can always fall back on 'pain and suffering are bad.'

"But there has to be more to morality than that. I complained about how people in institutional contexts optimize for not-being-personally-blamed and no one is actually trying to do anything. But of course passive helplessness is the result when you don't have any goals except not-being-hurt.

"I want to be Innocent and Safe with Probability One, but Probability One is an absurdity that can't exist. In a sufficiently large universe, random fluctuations in maximum entropy heat death form a Boltzmann brain Judeo-Christian God who will punish you for masturbating. But somehow I'm not worried about that.

"But I shouldn't be thinking about any of this. I have my own life to tend to, and it looks great; the rest of space and time will have to take care of itself. I seem to have memories of being in the save/destroy/take over the world business, but now it seems more convenient to be agnostic about whether any of that actually happened."