Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Method of the Impartial Observer

When considering certain philosophical questions, try using the point of view of a computer acting as a completely impartial observer.

Consider this: You are a computer, floating in space, observing the activity of human beings on the earth's surface through a telescopic lens. Humans perform actions: some of these will turn out to be beneficial for them, and others will not. Making no judgement either way, from the computer's point of view 'good' or 'bad' are concepts created by humans in their attempt to define and understand the relationship between their actions and the favourability of the outcome for them. In any case, the computer is not interested in the reasoning behind a human's actions, only the events themselves.

Imagine the situation wherein the earth is barren of all living things, humans, animals and plants included. If, for example, a volcano was to erupt, covering half of the planet with hot ash that prevented the sun's light reaching the earth's surface, would this event be 'good' or 'bad'? To the computer, it would make no difference whether the volcano erupted or not. It would be just another event. Now if the earth was densely populated and teeming with life - both flora and fauna - would a volcanic eruption that caused the death and destruction of half of all living things be 'good' or 'bad'? Again, the computer is unconcerned for the welfare of living things, and merely records the event and outcome.

Now consider that there is no computer recording all these events. Is any event 'good' or 'bad'?
It all comes down to the interpretation, which the computer neglects.

What can we deduce from this particular foray? That 'good', 'bad', an 'moral action' are human inventions. That events continue on unabated in our absence.

Give it a go. I'd be interested to hear of other questions viewed using this method, or of other methods for considering problems.

7 Comments:

Blogger Goatboy said...

I have just made some toast. My toaster is quite temperamental and on this particular occasion it overcooked the toast. I decided to use your computer technique in my decision of whether or eat the toast or to throw it away. The result: it is neither good toast nor bad toast, it is just toast. So I ate it.

It tasted like shit.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Shewbie said...

The impartial observer cannot tell us if it was 'good' shit or 'bad' shit :(

3:03 AM  
Blogger J.L. said...

Precisely. From the point of view of the impartial observer, there is no such thing as good or bad. The purpose of this is to be able to differentiate out human constructions from the inherent properties of the universe.

<engineer_humour>
d/dx h(x) ≠ i(x)
</engineer_humour>

1:33 PM  
Blogger Custard said...

I think it's all implicit in your definition of "impartial".

In your schema, God would be a partial, omniscient observer (and more than an observer), who could therefore provide some non-human basis for good or bad.

But I agree that if there is no God, then "good" and "bad" are only subjective terms. Which is pretty scary in a way when you think about genocides and stuff.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Custard said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:12 AM  
Blogger J.L. said...

Hey Custard,

'Impartial' means "making no judgement", neither agreeing nor disagreeing, only observing. Hence "The Impartial Observer". How else can 'impartial' be defined?

An analogy would be the statement "I dropped my ice cream" (without interpretation, impartial) versus "Ah crap, I dropped my ice cream" (with interpretation, partisan, indeed somewhat disappointed).

I make the point that our existence is immaterial, regardless of who or what is watching us. The fact that I dropped my ice cream doesn't change if someone happens to be watching me at the time.

"In your schema, God would be a partial, omniscient observer (and more than an observer), who could therefore provide some non-human basis for good or bad."

Not necessarily, but possibly.
You're saying that 'good' and 'bad' are inherent in the universe, and exist, if 'god' exists, which would concur with what I have postulated.

I must note that your belief that 'god' controls everything takes away your free will to control your own actions. Thus you are not making a decision about how to act, and have no say in the matter regarding how 'good' or 'bad' you wish to be.

2:07 AM  
Blogger Psychiatric Geriatric said...

Hi, hehe, this is the first time I am leaving a comment. Don't yell at me. Well, I thought human constructions are inherent properties of this universe. NO?

6:40 PM  

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