X-Message-Number: 16881
Date: Thu, 5 Jul 2001 06:27:14 -0400 (EDT)
From: Charles Platt <>
Subject: Value

Re life and value:

Alice Sheldon (who wrote science fiction under the name James Tiptree, Jr
while she was alive) once suggested to me that since our species is
survival-motivated, it is natural for us to place positive value on
entities similar to ourselves; and since we are complex, anti-entropic
creatures, it is natural for us to place positive value on other entities
that are anti-entropic and complex.

More simply put, life loves life (of course, there are exceptions, such as
self-destructive people and sociopaths).

I think it was Shannon, originator of the word "cybernetics," who
suggested mathematical means to determine noise in a message. Similarly I
believe there are objective ways to determine entropy in a system. So, if
we accept that human beings find value in low-noise, low-entropy
phenomena, this is an objective basis for value. It explains why, for
instance, destruction of insects is seen as less heinous than destruction
of people, since insects are less complex; and why destruction of a
unique, well maintained building is more disturbing than destruction of a
slum. I suggest it also explains why a newborn baby is viewed by many
people as more valuable than a zygote, although this gets us into more
controversial territory.

I suggest that in the future, when life can be similated or replicated in
large computing systems, a crime such as homicide will be redefined more
generally as the crime of destroying unique, complex data of which no copy
exists. Personally, I already find the destruction of unique data almost
as disturbing as the destruction of life.

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=16881