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Ayn Rand's Immortal Indestructible Robot

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Godless Capitalist
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In "The Objectivist Ethics" Ayn Rand gives an example of an immortal indestructible robot. She says that such a robot could not have interests or goals. Certainly it would not have to worry about basic needs such as keeping itself alive, but why could it not be interested in reading novels, or discussing philosophy, or going hiking, or whatever? After all, many human interests and goals are not directly connected with keeping one's self alive.

As an aside, assuming this robot had the same rational capacity as humans, would it have any ethical obligation to respect our rights in the same way other humans do? Or would the whole concept of ethics not apply to it?

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Robot is programmed. How could it ever be interested in anything. It doesn't have free will nor is it conscience. What it does is what it is programmed to do. But if it did somehow have free will and rational capacity like humans, it would not be a robot. It would be an intelligent being and should be treated at par with other humans.

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After all, many human interests and goals are not directly connected with keeping one's self alive.

The point is that all the values we pursue are made possible by the fact that we are living beings – including our need for philosophy, aesthetics, or knowledge of the world.

As an aside, assuming this robot had the same rational capacity as humans, would it have any ethical obligation to respect our rights in the same way other humans do? Or would the whole concept of ethics not apply to it?

Since morality is the means by which we achieve the values necessary for our life, and since an immortal being would have no need for values, no morality would be possible either.

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GC: Could you explain further? I'm not following why all goals and interests have to be ultimately linked to keeping one's self alive. To give a personal example, I enjoy whitewater kayaking. That has nothing to do with sustaining my life; in fact its actually a little dangerous. If I gave it up my life would go on just fine. I do it purely for enjoyment; why could the robot not engage in similar pursuits purely for enjoyment?

Robot is programmed. How could it ever be interested in anything. It doesn't have free will nor is it conscience. What it does is what it is programmed to do. But if it did somehow have free will and rational capacity like humans, it would not be a robot. It would be an intelligent being and should be treated at par with other humans.

Sorry, I should have been more clear. Assume that the robot has the same mental capacity as humans. The only difference would be that it could not be killed and thus does not have the goal/interest of keeping itself alive.

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Even an immortal being would need values to live a prosperous and happy life. It also needs a morality.

That is the exact opposite of what Miss Rand was pointing out in "The Objectivist Ethics":

     To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.

     Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism's life.

This point is further elucidated in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand in the section, "'Life' as the Essential Root of 'Value'," found in Chapter 7.

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If you think that an immortal, indestructible robot could have goals, what would you suggest for it to do? Why?

Should it set its goals by whatever is pleasureable? Why not by whatever is painful? Can you justify a difference for this robot? What makes you think it would even have a pleasure-pain mechanism? Where would it get it? Certainly not through natural selection by survival of the fitest; it has no concern with survival since it is immortal nor any need to be fit since it is indestructible. Could a pleasure-pain mechanism be programmed? Then its goals are not its own, but rather the goals of the programmer.

Should the robot set its goals by whatever makes it happy? Again, why specifically happiness and not suffering? Also, we know that all emotions are depend upon values, but we haven't yet been able to justify the existence of values in this robot. Again, why would this robot even have an emotional apparatus? Just as the the pleasure-pain mechanism, its existence can only be explained by natural selection and its survival-value to the entity in selection process? But this obviously doesn't apply to the robot.

Should the robot read novels? Why, to learn? It doesn't need knowledge to survive. For entertainment? Apart from the pleasure and happiness that are impossible to it?

Should the robot study philosophy? Again, no need for knowledge and no entertainment is possible.

Should the robot go hiking? Sure, why not?

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That is the exact opposite of what Miss Rand was pointing out in "The Objectivist Ethics":

This point is further elucidated in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand in the section, "'Life' as the Essential Root of 'Value'," found in Chapter 7.

But Ayn Rand is talking about a robot which cannot thing. The robot in question here can think and act like humans, only it is immortal.

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But Ayn Rand is talking about a robot which cannot thing. The robot in question here can think and act like humans, only it is immortal.

No, she's talking about a robot which cannot be destroyed or injured. In other words, for this robot, no action can enhance its existence, and no action can diminish its existence. Thus no action will make things worse or better. So what could it possibly value? Why would anything matter to it?

AndrewSternberg's above concretization of this is quite illuminating.

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Certainly it would not have to worry about basic needs such as keeping itself alive, but why could it not be interested in reading novels, or discussing philosophy[...]?

God protect us from those who discuss philosophy without being interested in life. It is that kind of people who gave us Kant and the rest of his ilk.

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Talk about missing the point. Fine, lets throw out any hypothetical alterations to our modern concept of a robot for the sake of illustrating a philosophic principle; obviously, thats too much to ask for.

How about Superman? Lets say there is no kryptonite left in the universe, and no being powerful enough to destroy him. He is basically immortal, but still possesses a rational faculty and the ability to feel pleasure. He is simply far too powerful to experience physical pain in his environment. Now can you address ethics in regard to this being? It is a simple question; I don't see why we have to quibble over the definition of what a robot really is. Just because no action can diminish its existence, why does it automatically follow that no action can enhance its existence? I agree in essence with the positions offered earlier, but the arguments are insubstantial. They just like to throw "life" as the standard of value because that is the word used in Rands writing, without elaborating upon the concept for the benefit of a greater understanding. The possibility of death cannot be the only aspect of existence that gives life value; life, even in Rands definition, means far more than "survival," which is what I believe Godless Capitalist was trying to get at. Simply deconstructing the definition of robot has not furthered anyones understanding of the Objectivist ethics.

Yes, I am aware that the possibility of death is the fundamental alternative that a human faces; but even if that threat were removed through medicine, the objectivist ethics would still be immutable. Now how about someone actually answer GC's question?

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LW: Good points; thank you.

life, even in Rands definition, means far more than "survival," which is what I believe Godless Capitalist was trying to get at.

Yes, that's right; the exact nature of robots is not really relevant to my question.

Let me take my own life as an example: I work partly to earn money to buy food etc. to keep myself alive. Yet meeting my basic survival needs requires only a small part of my efforts. I also spend considerable time and effort on pursuits that seemingly have no direct relevance to furthering my life, such as kayaking. How does kayaking help maintain my life? Where do recreational interests, hobbies, etc, fit into Objectivist ethics?

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If you think that an immortal, indestructible robot could have goals, what would you suggest for it to do?  Why?

Perhaps it would be curious and would decide to be a scientist. It wuld not need a salary, presumably, but its work would give it something interesting to do with its time. After all, many people work for more than just a paycheck to buy food to survive.

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If you think that an immortal, indestructible robot could have goals, what would you suggest for it to do?  Why?

Perhaps it would be curious and would decide to be a scientist. It would not need a salary, presumably, but its work would give it something interesting to do with its time. After all, many people work for more than just a paycheck to buy food to survive.

You have suggested an activity but neglected to give a reason for that activity. Why would the immortal entity be curious or feel anything for that matter about becoming a scientist. You claim that it would give it something intersting to do, yet don't mention why it would find this activity intersting.

What I'm saying here is that there is nothing about the nature of this robot/entity that makes one course of action better than any other.

Thus your answer boils down to this:

What will it do? Perhaps it will do X. Why? Because it feels like it. Why does it feel like it? It just does.

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You have suggested an activity but neglected to give a reason for that activity.  Why would the immortal entity be curious or feel anything for that matter about becoming a scientist.  You claim that it would give it something intersting to do, yet don't mention why it would find this activity intersting.

What I'm saying here is that there is nothing about the nature of this robot/entity  that makes one course of action better than any other.

Thus your answer boils down to this:

What will it do?  Perhaps it will do X.  Why?  Because it feels like it.  Why does it feel like it?  It just does.

Or maybe you could do better than that. It was acknowledged above that Rand indicated not only survival, but the enjoyment and fulfillment of ones life as the standard of value. Is the standard of all value contingent upon the ability of humans to die? Are all of our feelings the result of our destructibility? I don't think it takes a Psyche degree to see the issue from a lens encompassing the many facets of man. Even an immortal human faces an alternative: a life of joy, or a life of monotony or despair. Why does he face the potentiality of monotony and despair, despite his being immortal? Why did Rand say that a rational man requires romantic love to survive? Perhaps you could enlighten us all and elucidate exactly what it is regarding human nature that gives rise to values, as you still haven't answered GC's question.

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There is an urgency attached to mortality that would not be present in something or someone immortal. That is why, in my opinion, value is derived from life and mortality. Even the smallest things we do for enjoyment or for adding value to our life, while it may be inconsequential to the act of physically surviving, is something that holds value as we may never have the opportunity to do it again.

I would surmise an immortal would have no sense of urgency or drive to accomplish anything. What would it matter? Forever is a long time to try to keep one's self entertained and fulfilled.

Why are shopping sprees exciting? You only have a short time to grab as much as you can. Now imagine a shopping spree that never ends, no time limit.

Imagine a bungie jump where the bungie never stops and theres no ground to rush up to you, just a space that goes on forever.

It is the finite that makes things interesting, that makes things valuable and worth keeping or trading.

My humble ramblings....

VES

Edit:

As a personal example, I just started playing the guitar three months ago. I'm 40 years old. One of the tings I've thought about and wished was why didn't I start this when I was 15 or 20 years old. I could have been so much better. My potential for improvement would have been far greater. Starting somewhat late in life, how good can I get now? While I try not to let my mental approach get in the way, there are certain physiological factors that will inevitably affect how good I am and how good I can become. There is a lot of life left in my fingers but still aren't quite what they used to be.

Guitar playing is certainly not inextricably tied to my ability to live, but my enjoyment of that activity is derived from the time remaining I have to engage in it and how much I can improve.

VES

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There is an urgency attached to mortality that would not be present in something or someone immortal.  That is why, in my opinion, value is derived from life and mortality.  Even the smallest things we do for enjoyment or for adding value to our life, while it may be inconsequential to the act of physically surviving, is something that holds value as we may never have the opportunity to do it again.

I would surmise an immortal would have no sense of urgency or drive to accomplish anything.  What would it matter?  Forever is a long time to try to keep one's self entertained and fulfilled.

Why are shopping sprees exciting?  You only have a short time to grab as much as you can.  Now imagine a shopping spree that never ends, no time limit.

Imagine a bungie jump where the bungie never stops and theres no ground to rush up to you, just a space that goes on forever.

It is the finite that makes things interesting, that makes things valuable and worth keeping or trading.

My humble ramblings....

VES

Superman could still desire Lois Lane and the pursuit of a Romantic relationship, even if he knew he would live forever; the alternative then would be an eternity with a value or an eternity without it. I think it is apparent that some values are not dismissed merely by the absence of a ticking clock; Superman could still enjoy eating hamburgers because they taste good and provide him with comfort, even if he didn't need them to live. That taste buds are ostensibly the product of natural selection and a guide to "survival" is not what is essential or relevant; that it brings him comfort and satisfaction, in terms of a pleasurable taste and texture, is, even if "survival" in the absolute sense is not a concern for him.

Whatever the basis for our desires, they can be destructive or beneficial; thus our passions must be tempered by a rational mind in order to determine what actions will truly be to our benefit. Thus, it is the capacity for happiness that determines the potentiality for the pursuit of values, not simply death. Mortality may provide urgency to those values, but they are not the source of values.

Even if one could scientifically extrapolate the link between mortality, natural selection, and desires, such a discovery would be a physiological one, and philosophically inconsequential.

To paraphrase Andrew Lewis (from when he was on the Radio): " I don't even need to know why I want to eat the candy bar, I can simply look at the result that the consumption of the candy bar has on my life and make the decision."

Thus, if a being is rational, it must take into account all other facets of its nature and come to a determination as to what it must pursue for its long term well-being. If the robot has been programmed with feelings, or lets say it has the brain of a man but it is still immortal and invincible, it can still pursue values, so long as it has the capacity for happiness. Its means can only be determined by introspection and scientific study, but that it can is irrefutable if one is adhering to Rand’s definition.

After all, what would be the purpose of living for a rational being if it did not have the capacity for happiness? Such an animal would be the Houyhnhnms of Gulliver's Travels, pursuing reason for reasons sake.

In short: It is the possibility of a positive and a negative in any action, and the faculty of volition that necessitates purposeful action, that gives rise to values; not simply "death".

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Superman could still desire Lois Lane and the pursuit of a Romantic relationship, even if he knew he would live forever; the alternative then would be an eternity with a value or an eternity without it.

I probably should have just stayed out of this discussion. I find the Superman example about as useful as the popular kid's argument, "who would win a battle between Superman and Batman?" One can come to any conclusion they desire and really not have to back it up. However, in the interests of fairness, I will give you the opportunity to explain how you come to the conclusion that Superman's psychology would be essentially unaffected (within the context of this topic) by immortality. Please differentiate any factual evidence from your opinion.

That is why I attempted to use somewhat "real world" examples (although there really isn't any), rather than Superman or the Robot.

Whatever the basis for our desires, they can be destructive or beneficial; thus our passions must be tempered by a rational mind in order to determine what actions will truly be to our benefit.
My point is, I disagree that they can be destructive or beneficial to someone with nothing to gain or nothing to lose, or in other words, immortal. The fundamental dissagreement we have is the effects of immortality on the psychology of the immortal being. I see that "ticking clock' as having far more significance on human psychology than you do. Having been in situations where the distinct possibility of death was ever present, it has given my that much more appreciation for the time I do have to live, fleeting though it may be.

In short: It is the possibility of a positive and a negative in any action, and the faculty of volition that necessitates purposeful action, that gives rise to values; not simply "death".

I contend there would be no positive or negative results to an immortal. I contend that an immortal would have such a radically different comprehension of time that they wouldn't look at something as succeeding or failing, but rather it happens now or it eventually happens later, I got time. Whereas to us, time is frequently our most precious resource, time would have no bearing on an immortal. I contend that life and death are what give rise to values as we have an alloted amount of time to seek these values out. I would even venture to say that time is the one common element in virtually every rational use of that "faculty of volition", if not in absolutely every use.

VES

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How does kayaking help maintain my life?

If you learned how to kayak properly, it probably keeps you alive as you whisk down the river. :)

Why do you like to kayak? Does it help you reduce stress? Does reducing stress in your life help you "maintain" your life? Don't all of your recreational pursuits help balance out your work endeavors and the other things that cause negative stress in your life? Does that not in some small (or perhaps large) way increase the likelihood of prolonging your life? I would suggest that it does. Try going through life with only negative stressors sometime and watch the impact it has on your health.

VES

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Per the section I cited above from OPAR, Miss Rand used the example of the idestructible robot to illustrate the point that the concept 'value' has at its root the concept 'life.' An indestructible being could not have values since any action such a being were to take would have no impact on its existence or non-existence; indeeed, there is no alternative between existence and non-existence for something that is indestructible--in other words, it isn't alive.

I found Miss Rand's example of the indestructible robot to be quite illustrative of the fundamental alternative that living creatures face (i.e., existence or non-existence). I do, however, have a problem with how this example has been warped and put to "use" in this thread. There is no such thing as immortality and if you understood the nature of life you would understand that were anything actually immortal, it would not be alive (and values would not exist for it).

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Per the section I cited above from OPAR, Miss Rand used the example of the idestructible robot to illustrate the point that the concept 'value' has at its root the concept 'life.' An indestructible being could not have values since any action such a being were to take would have no impact on its existence or non-existence; indeeed, there is no alternative between existence and non-existence for something that is indestructible--in other words, it isn't alive.

I found Miss Rand's example of the indestructible robot to be quite illustrative of the fundamental alternative that living creatures face (i.e., existence or non-existence). I do, however, have a problem with how this example has been warped and put to "use" in this thread. There is no such thing as immortality and if you understood the nature of life you would understand that were anything actually immortal, it would not be alive (and values would not exist for it).

You mean to say that if we one day discover a technology to bring dead people back to life, we would not need values to live?

Life is not just escaping death. Even a robot has to have values to live a prosperous life. Self-love is necessary psychologically.

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