The Origin of 'right' and 'wrong' and 'gut feelings'

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The Origin of 'right' and 'wrong' and 'gut feelings'

Postby BarnabyG » Fri Mar 21, 2014 12:36 am

I absolutely loved the punch-line to 0522.

Beyond that, I want to talk about Tailsteak's comment "Most human's navigate their day-to-day moral choices more or less from memory and instinct."

I heard a fascinating discussion about moral codes, and 'gut instinct' the other day. The speaker commented that in most cases, the 'gut reaction' was correct. If you felt something was right/wrong, it would be correct.

But different societies will have different 'gut reactions'. To any given issue, there will always be a different perspective. In small, village-sized communities, most people will always have similar reactions, and so the imposition of a 'law' is almost needless.

When you add in bigger communities, or different societies, then people's 'gut reactions' will be different. This means different people will have different ideas as to what is 'right' and 'wrong.' This is when a strict, independent moral code is required.

The speaker then made an analogy to a camera, and the difference between 'point and shoot' and a 'manual' mode. In most circumstances, the automatic mode (or 'gut reaction') will be correct. But if you want to get exactly the right picture, or the circumstances are not ideal, then the manual mode might be necessary.

But this takes longer, and requires skill. The speaker likened this to developing a legal system or system of ethics. This conscious application of intellect is slower, but more likely to be accurate than the gut reaction.
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Re: The Origin of 'right' and 'wrong' and 'gut feelings'

Postby snowyowl » Fri Mar 21, 2014 6:50 am

BarnabyG wrote:The speaker commented that in most cases, the 'gut reaction' was correct. If you felt something was right/wrong, it would be correct.
I'd say he has it backwards. Our notions of right and wrong are a way of formalising our gut reaction.

Look at some of the moral systems that philosophers have come up with. As a rule, they're rather complicated for something that should be simple and fundamental. Fundamental things should be simple and elegant - the Schrödinger Equation describes all the fundamental physical processes in the universe. Now take Kantian ethics, for example - quite a lot of different rules, many of which are either vague or contradictory.(Substitute any moral philosopher you want here, Kant just makes a good example.)

How on earth did Kant come up with something so complex? How do we examine it and compare it to other ethical systems that have been invented over the years? I mean, we can check it for completeness (has an answer for every situation) and consistency (doesn't have two different answers for the same situation), and that's fine, but at some point we have to see how ethical systems relate to the real world (or else you might end up with Paperclip Maximiser ethics, which are consistent and complete and coherent yet clearly nonsensical). And then you might say "No, this system says you should tell the truth if a crazed axeman asks where his victim is, which is clearly wrong".

How did you know that was wrong? You used your gut reaction. Which is the same way ethical systems are codified in the first place - Kant strongly believed that lying is wrong, but he had this belief before he'd finished his system of ethics, and built his system partly to justify his beliefs.

In short, ethics is difficult because we're taking our "gut reaction", which is an ad-hoc bunch of arbitrary rules that evolution has determined are useful to a particular type of society, and we're trying to shape a formal and logical framework around them with as much overlap as possible, while also benefiting society and ourselves. There may be more than one way to do this, and there may be none at all.
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Re: The Origin of 'right' and 'wrong' and 'gut feelings'

Postby crayzz » Fri Mar 21, 2014 2:52 pm

The speaker commented that in most cases, the 'gut reaction' was correct. If you felt something was right/wrong, it would be correct.

But different societies will have different 'gut reactions'.


Can you expound on this? Taken plainly, its a contradiction.

As a rule, they're rather complicated for something that should be simple and fundamental. Fundamental things should be simple and elegant - the Schrödinger Equation describes all the fundamental physical processes in the universe.


I see no reason why this should be true; it seems intuitive, but that's all that it has going for it.
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Re: The Origin of 'right' and 'wrong' and 'gut feelings'

Postby Leibowitz » Mon Apr 07, 2014 12:51 pm

Our gut reactions are instinctive reactions to certain game-theory setups. We evolved, through trial and error, both culturally and genetically, to react certain ways to certain situations, because those reactions produce the most survival-tastic outcome.

Of course, neither evolution nor culture are INTELLIGENT, so we don't understand the logic behind our reactions, we just tried everything until we hit on what worked and then kept doing that. But the math, the logic is there.

Here's a basic game, an expanded Prisoner's Dilemma:

There are 40 people in the village. Everyone wants to maximize their score. Each individual can choose one of two strategies:

A: work the fields and add food to the storehouse, which gives everyone +1 score.

B: rob the storehouse, which gives everyone else a -1 score, but you personally a +5.


How should everyone choose? How should YOU choose, villager? What is the optimal outcome for you?

Well, obviously, the optimal outcome for you is for everyone else to choose A and you to choose B. That gives everyone else a 39, and you a 44, the max possible score. It's pretty clear that your primary goal should be maximizing how many people choose A. It's even worth choosing A yourself, if by doing so you can get 4 more people to choose A with you. But how do you make that happen?

Well, a simple option is to talk to everyone and say "Everyone needs to choose option A, and beat the shit out of anyone who chooses option B."

This is a pretty solid option. So solid it's been reinforced through a million iterations and engraved deep in our psyches. We can recognize B-type behavior, and we react to it by getting angry and wanting to punish it. We disincentive B-type behavior, by yelling and throwing rocks and shunning and punishing. We feel that it is "bad." And we praise and reward A-type behavior, people who work hard, people who help others at cost to themselves. We feel that it is "good." Your average bipedal monkey isn't going to sit down and solve the score option matrix to find the optimal response, but he doesn't have to: we've already drilled the right response into everyone's head.

And the great thing about "good = cooperation" and "hurting others to gain personal benefit = bad" schema is that it works for damn near any set of goals! What do you, villager 27, want out of life, what do you think is the highest goal? Praying to Ganesh? Ok, cool, you're gonna need to be alive and fed and not murdered by bandits to do that, so your definition of good naturally expands to include cooperating with the rest of the village. How about you, villager 18? You're a hedonist, just wanna eat and drink and bone? You're gonna need to be alive and fed and not murdered by bandits, so following strategy A and punishing strategy B is part of your philosophy too. Villager 33? You're a Paperclip Optimizer? You just love those paperclips? Well, to amass paperclips, you need to be alive and fed and not murdered by bandits, so your personal paperclip-based moral system also requires that you work in the fields, and contribute to the town's defense, and not lie (lying makes people not believe you next time, and is a bad long-term strategy for whatever you're doing,) and help people you find injured in the road (adopting such behavior as a social standard increases your chances of receiving help when you need it,) and so forth.

Good is RIGHT. Not just in the sense of righteous, but in the sense of being the correct strategy to accomplish your goals. It's the smart call.
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Re: The Origin of 'right' and 'wrong' and 'gut feelings'

Postby Merle » Mon Apr 07, 2014 12:53 pm

What's important as intelligent beings is to intelligently select your goals. Figure out what you want to happen, and then try to rewire your "gut feelings" towards that end.

Humans are, in many ways, machines, but we are machines that can change our own operational parameters.
Neither a creeper nor a jackass be; if you manage these two things, everything else should work itself out.
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