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Building Ayn Rand"s robot.

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Leonid
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"... 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."

“The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 15

Suppose, with the advance of biotechnology and medical science we managed to create such a being. Immortality already has been transferred from the realm of mythology to the ream of scientific inquiry. Cure of infectious, metabolic and genetic diseases, genetic manipulation of the chromosomes' ends together with enhanced ability of regeneration may give immortality to man even in this century. Major accidents aside, man will live forever, or at least as long as Universe exists. Moreover, there is a possibility to create a human being which is completely independent from the environment. His source of energy could be provided for example by an intracellular process of radioactive decay, or some other process not yet discovered. He wouldn't need no food, nor air and could comfortable live in any environment, including deep space.Would it be right to assume that such a transhuman being " could have no interests and no goals? I don't think so.Human mind is activated by the process of perception. The 1 day old newborn infant is responding to the sensory input and in in very short time learns to integrate sensations to perceptions. This is automatic process. The second step-integration of percepts into concepts follows. In spite the fact that such a process is volitional, no human child with normal brain failed to develop conceptual thinking. What is than the driven force beyond of this process? What makes a child to perform the enormous work of learning how to create concepts and use them by means of language? I think that this is a simple pleasure of the learning the world. Happiness could be achieved simply by experience of pleasure caused by exercising one's mind, regardless to the one's needs of physical survival. Man's life qua man is primary intellectual.

Resolving of highly abstract mathematical problem or creating a symphony often has nothing to do with the physical survival and yet it can bring deepest satisfaction. Curiosity lies in the foundation of man's inquiring mind and he shares this quality with animals. However he does it on conceptual level. Why, then, immortality or indestructibility should eliminate this feature of man's mind? Why it will stop him to value the knowledge and understanding as such? Why couldn't he explore Universe for the sheer pleasure of it?

Edited by Leonid
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He could still explore just for the fun/pleasure of it,

I don't think so. Fun and pleasure would have no meaning either in body or spirit. The words probably wouldn't exist and if they did they would be floating abstractions unconnected to reality -- they would have no referents in reality.

Edited by Marc K.
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"... 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."

“The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 15

Suppose, with the advance of biotechnology and medical science we managed to create such a being. Immortality already has been transferred from the realm of mythology to the ream of scientific inquiry. Cure of infectious, metabolic and genetic diseases, genetic manipulation of the chromosomes' ends together with enhanced ability of regeneration may give immortality to man even in this century. Major accidents aside, man will live forever, or at least as long as Universe exists.

............

Why, then, immortality or indestructibility should eliminate this feature of man's mind? Why it will stop him to value the knowledge and understanding as such? Why couldn't he explore Universe for the sheer pleasure of it?

Leonid,

Surely that's a flaw right there? As you first posited, he is actually not indestructible - as nothing can ever be -"major accidents" will bring about his end.

Then his life is still connected to reality, and is no longer a floating abstraction. As Marc says.

In which case, he can certainly continue gaining pleasure from cognition and exploration for as long as he lives (or chooses to.)

Yes?

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I don't think so. Fun and pleasure would have no meaning either in body or spirit. The words probably wouldn't exist and if they did they would be floating abstractions unconnected to reality -- they would have no referents in reality.

Are we talking about the robot or the (newly) immortal man? Because I think the man could still find pleasure in things. But wouldn't it be interesting if, after a few generations, everyone basically becoming listless and not really caring about anything. And it does seem likely that eventually the concepts would become floating abstractions.

This is all speculation, but if (medically immortal) people did find less meaning in their lives, they might turn to religion in greater numbers. That promises them eternal happiness after death so they stop taking whatever medication is keeping them immortal. So after hundreds of years of scientific research, we finally cure ageing, and the vast majority of people refuse to take it?

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There is no immortal robot. Ayn Rand never suggested such a thing was possible, it was merely a mental exercise, with its only purpose to help explain something else.

Taking it as an argument is pointless. Nothing can be inferred from it: not that men will stop caring about things if living longer, and definitely not that concepts like "pleasure" are just as valid as floating abstractions as they are when connected to the reality of mortal, living beings.

Its only possible purpose was what it was used for in the original context: as a tool for explaining what the author meant.

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Are we talking about the robot or the (newly) immortal man?

I completely agree with Tanaka, the OP is a completely absurd fantasy: I believe immortality is an impossibility beyond the nature of organic matter. I wouldn't have answered the OP at all, I only intended to address you. I'll let my first post stand as it is with the caveat that whYNOT provided -- I took the OP at his word that the man was actually immortal and must have somehow missed the fact that he wasn't.

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He could still explore just for the fun/pleasure of it, but without facing the alternative of existence or non-existence he could not claim it as a morally right activity."

Moral is every thing which promotes and betters life. Pleasure is not only moral. it is a perceptual foundation of Objectivist concept of value.

Surely that's a flaw right there? As you first posited, he is actually not indestructible - as nothing can ever be -"major accidents" will bring about his end.

Nothing exists forever. Even AR robot could be destroyed by nuclear blast. But for all practical reasons the constant alternative to live or to die doesn't exist for him.

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Are we talking about the robot or the (newly) immortal man? Because I think the man could still find pleasure in things. But wouldn't it be interesting if, after a few generations, everyone basically becoming listless and not really caring about anything. And it does seem likely that eventually the concepts would become floating abstractions.

This is all speculation, but if (medically immortal) people did find less meaning in their lives, they might turn to religion in greater numbers. That promises them eternal happiness after death so they stop taking whatever medication is keeping them immortal. So after hundreds of years of scientific research, we finally cure ageing, and the vast majority of people refuse to take it?

And why so ? Why do you think that immortal man will turn to religion instead to explore Universe? For example he could reach distant starts in his own life time.He can start thousand years projects,he can create wisdom and beauty on such a scale that it may take thousands of years to comprehend it. Liberated from the need to struggle for his physical existence,he can reroute his resources to pursuit of new knowledge or simply contemplate the beauty of Universe for the sheer pleasure of it. My point that knowledge and beauty are values for man even if they don't have survival value.

Edited by Leonid
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I completely agree with Tanaka, the OP is a completely absurd fantasy: I believe immortality is an impossibility beyond the nature of organic matter. I wouldn't have answered the OP at all, I only intended to address you. I'll let my first post stand as it is with the caveat that whYNOT provided -- I took the OP at his word that the man was actually immortal and must have somehow missed the fact that he wasn't.

Don't be so sure about it. First, immortality is actually exists among unicellular organisms-they don't die, just multiply. Second, there is very serious research in the field of aging. Without doubt it will bring immortality even in our times.

http://www.imminst.org/

http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/06/can-genetic-mutations-generate-immortality-harvard-research-team-says-yes.html

Edited by Leonid
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Even AR robot could be destroyed by nuclear blast.

I believe that to be false, under the conditions she mentioned:

[...]indestructible robot, [...] but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed.

So it's either indestructible, or it's no longer the robot she uses as a thought exercise...

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My point that knowledge and beauty are values for man even if they don't have survival value.

Which sidesteps the objective identification that knowledge is a value for man, precisely because it is a requirement of survival.

Even if moving immortality from mythology into the realm of 'scientific inquiry' - you are implying that it is via the value of the knowledge gained from the study of 'immortality' we could then apply it to man.

Just out of curiosity - what life form out there is immortal from whence we could study it and gain knowledge of it? What is currently being studied is mortal life, and the observations derived from it will be knowledge of mortal life.

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Moral is every thing which promotes and betters life.

Life? As opposed to what? Death? When there is no death there is nothing to promote. Nothing is better because nothing is worse.

Pleasure is not only moral. it is a perceptual foundation of Objectivist concept of value.

There is no morality since there is no fundamental alternative. There is no good and bad because bad would have to refer to something. There is no difference between pleasure and pain because pain is the harbinger of death.

First, immortality is actually exists among unicellular organisms-they don't die, just multiply.

Absolutely untrue. Every organism can be killed.

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Even if one posits that human beings could live forever, you have to be clear on exactly what that means. The one thing that isn't metaphysically impossible would be simply the prevention of aging. A human would not age but could still die of accident, or of starvation, exposure, thirst, suicide....

If that comes to pass we will still need to pursue values--and for the same reasons--like we do today, because we will still have to sustain our lives and prevent their involuntary termination.

It would be impossible to create a life form that doesn't need upkeep--even the "non-aging" human I am postulating is non-aging because damage to his cells' biochemistry is being reversed on a continuing basis, and this requires energy and raw materials (nutrients).

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Don't be so sure about it. First, immortality is actually exists among unicellular organisms-they don't die, just multiply.

For the love of God, think a little. This is ridiculous. You'd be better off bringing up Santa as your proof of immortality.

Where do you think all these immortal creatures go, if they never die, but keep multiplying? Shouldn't they have filled the Earth many times over by now? What do you think happens to a single cell organism when a multi-cell organism eats it? Or if you cook one?

Edited by Tanaka
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Nothing exists forever. Even AR robot could be destroyed by nuclear blast. But for all practical reasons the constant alternative to live or to die doesn't exist for him.

No, by inserting your own idiosyncratic understanding instead of the writer's literal meaning of invulnerability you have completely destroyed the value of the example.

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Unicellular organisms do need food. They could be killed or eaten but they don't die naturally. Every organism could be killed,nothing exists forever, the Universe itself will demise from an entropy. But in my and Ayn Rand example it would be an extremely unlikely event.How often do you act, or how much knowledge you struggle to get in order to avoid death as result of supernova explosion? You missed the point completely-it is possible to create a sapient organism, call him trans-human, who would be practically immortal and independent from his environment. Such an organism wouldn't face an alternative of death and life as part of his living routine. Contrary to Ayn Rand,my claim is that such trans-human will be a moral being, and will act to pursue non-survival values, like knowledge, beauty, happiness and pleasure. They may or may not be survival values. If hungry man found food, he is obviously happy. But so is a writer who just completed his master piece or mathematician who resolved Fermi Theorem. In short-not all values are necessary survival values. Rand's example is didactic exercise to demonstrate that life is foundation of morality. She didn't mean it literally. The alternative could be not life and death, but life of happiness and life of frustration. BTW, I don't love God.

Edited by Leonid
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Unicellular organisms do need food. They could be killed or eaten but they don't die naturally. Every organism could be killed,nothing exists forever, the Universe itself will demise from an entropy. But in my and Ayn Rand example it would be an extremely unlikely event.How often do you act, or how much knowledge you struggle to get in order to avoid death as result of supernova explosion? You missed the point completely-it is possible to create a sapient organism, call him trans-human, who would be practically immortal and independent from his environment. Such an organism wouldn't face an alternative of death and life as part of his living routine. Contrary to Ayn Rand,my claim is that such trans-human will be a moral being, and will act to pursue non-survival values, like knowledge, beauty, happiness and pleasure.

Ayn Rand's immortal robot is literally immortal - it cannot be destroyed by anything. This is impossible for living organisms, of course, but as you pointed out, its purpose is as a thought experiment illustrating the connection between life and values. In your "trans-human" example, the trans-human still must act to maintain his life - he still needs food, water, shelter, clothing, and money, and still needs to practice all the virtues necessary to obtain these and all his other values, including spiritual ones like knowledge, friendship, and love. His "immortality" is not automatic either - he would need to seek out the medical treatments that counter aging and disease. For the robot, no such action is required. It can't destroy itself or improve itself, so it can value nothing. The trans-human is not "contrary to Ayn Rand," because he is not immortal in the sense she was using the term.

They may or may not be survival values. If hungry man found food, he is obviously happy. But so is a writer who just completed his master piece or mathematician who resolved Fermi Theorem. In short-not all values are necessary survival values. Rand's example is didactic exercise to demonstrate that life is foundation of morality. She didn't mean it literally. The alternative could be not life and death, but life of happiness and life of frustration.

All values are necessarily "survival values." Values are the things that living organisms seek out in the maintenance of their own lives. Spiritual values like art and friendship are needs of human consciousness, and a healthy consciousness is essential to man's survival. Happiness doesn't arise in a vacuum, it's the result of successful living, i.e. of surviving, so there's no way to meaningfully detach "life of happiness and life of frustration" from "life and death."

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Unicellular organisms do need food. They could be killed or eaten but they don't die naturally. Every organism could be killed,nothing exists forever, the Universe itself will demise from an entropy. But in my and Ayn Rand example it would be an extremely unlikely event.

No, in Rand's example it would be impossible, not unlikely, and that's the whole point. You're misconstruing the essence of her example by even supposing that it could ever be built in real life.

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Rand's example is didactic exercise to demonstrate that life is foundation of morality. She didn't mean it literally.

Yes she did. You might look to her writing before the paragraphs on the robot to get the original expression of what she meant. "Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible", she wrote. The robot is meant to be a being that exists without alternatives. It cannot even have the experience of beauty versus not having the experience of beauty. Even in order to perceive it would have to possess internal parts that could change and conform to stimulus it was presented with, but nothing about this robot can change in any respect. It cannot gain new memories. To be invulnerably unchanging is to be inanimate, that is the lesson.

"Value" is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.

I quote from Galt's speech: "There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil."

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.

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Contrary to Ayn Rand,my claim is that such trans-human will be a moral being, and will act to pursue non-survival values, like knowledge, beauty, happiness and pleasure. They may or may not be survival values.

Your second sentence contradicts the first: are they or are they not so-called "survival values"? (This question is rhetorical, please don't answer).

I consider all of those things as absolutely essential values for my life without which I couldn't survive and nor would I want to.

But knowledge? You don't consider knowledge to be a survival value? This repudiates the entire Objectivist philosophy and is evidence of troll-like behavior.

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