A Thought Experiment on Progress

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Chen
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Chen » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:08 pm UTC

leady wrote:It all comes down to the definition of "better life". I can well imagine that a woman born in Abyssinia in 1900 would have a happier life that one born now - particularly if you don't get the knowledge to compare.


Again I ask why you say that. What aspect of it being 1900 would make it BETTER than today? All the indices seem to point to Ethiopia only getting better over time. Back in 1900 unless you were part of the aristocracy odds are you were a subsistence farmer. Today you're at least less likely to be a subsistence farmer (although still probably a high chance).

dc2322
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:19 pm UTC

Chen wrote:
dc2322 wrote:I would like to add an interesting scenario to my thought experiment::

Imagine you were a poverty stricken Ethiopian woman in the present and the genie approached you...

My first thought was that she might actually benefit from choosing a time in the past. Statistically, she would probably end up with a better life than her life now (even in the distant past).
However, she would still benefit from choosing a time period closer to the present than in the past. Her best option would be to say "I choose to be born again on the same day" or something. It would still maximize the probability of her living a comfortable/autonomous/stable/enjoyable/healthy life.


Why would she statistically end up with a better life if she was born in an earlier time? I mean your second paragraph tends to completely contradict your first.


I think its reasonable to say her life right now is at the low end of any "satisfaction meter" you employ. Lets say her life scenario represents 5% of today's population. If she chose 100 years ago that percentage might be 15%. She could still choose 100 years ago and have an 85% chance of being born into a better scenario- a good gamble. But if she were to choose her own birthday (relatively close to today) she would bump up her chances of being born into a better scenario to 95%- a better gamble.

HungryHobo
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Fri Dec 05, 2014 4:30 pm UTC

dc2322 wrote: I think its reasonable to say her life right now is at the low end of any "satisfaction meter" you employ. Lets say her life scenario represents 5% of today's population. If she chose 100 years ago that percentage might be 15%. She could still choose 100 years ago and have an 85% chance of being born into a better scenario- a good gamble. But if she were to choose her own birthday (relatively close to today) she would bump up her chances of being born into a better scenario to 95%- a better gamble.


so are we only comparing social inequality then?

ie: to avoid people simply choosing the latest time they can just to get the best technology and the most useful manufactured goods we'll assume that if they pick 1900 they'll still be able to get antibiotics or modern consumer goods as easily as they would today with difficulty adjusted based on the comparative wealth of the sector of society they've been placed into as if todays level of technology and wealth was distributed across the past society adjusted for how wealth was distributed at the time and relative population levels and you have to live with that eras social beliefs?
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Derek
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:20 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:yes, it's not, but they are not the same thing. one can sometimes allow or encourage change in the other but they're 2 totally separate issues. If you invent a new antibiotic you haven't invented a new, better set of morals or made social progress.

Society could get worse for one group while technology could still improve everyones lives so much that they end up better off than before. Everyone else gets flying houses and immortality while that minority only get 150 years and a hoverbike.

So someone could say that society is getting worse (for that group) and be correct while even members of that group wouldn't want to go back to when they were likely to die in pain, at a young age but equal with everyone else.

Yes, but the original question stated that you would get the morals and technology of the time you chose. So even if you think morality has declined, if technological improvement has outweighed that then you should still choose today. The discussion just happened to focus on morality for awhile.

Chen wrote:Why would she statistically end up with a better life if she was born in an earlier time? I mean your second paragraph tends to completely contradict your first.

I think he is saying that even if the average 100 years ago is worse than the average today, it is still better than the bottom 5% today. So being reborn 100 years ago could be better than her status quo. She would still probably prefer the option to be reborn today though, if it was a choice.

HungryHobo
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:24 pm UTC

Derek wrote:Yes, but the original question stated that you would get the morals and technology of the time you chose. So even if you think morality has declined, if technological improvement has outweighed that then you should still choose today. The discussion just happened to focus on morality for awhile.


Under that scenario I'd go for today or a few decades in the future 100% of the time but that's very much based on tech and total world wealth.
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leady
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:46 pm UTC

Chen wrote:
leady wrote:It all comes down to the definition of "better life". I can well imagine that a woman born in Abyssinia in 1900 would have a happier life that one born now - particularly if you don't get the knowledge to compare.


Again I ask why you say that. What aspect of it being 1900 would make it BETTER than today? All the indices seem to point to Ethiopia only getting better over time. Back in 1900 unless you were part of the aristocracy odds are you were a subsistence farmer. Today you're at least less likely to be a subsistence farmer (although still probably a high chance).


It depends on how you look on the more abstract measures. I think certainly some performance measures are sneaky upwards, but I suspect that an average Ethiopian now is actually considerably more miserable. What you don't know etc. Plus being a subject of the only remaining African kingdom adds a lot of national pride points.

what makes people happy is not necessarily freedom and technology, which is why women generally are more miserable now :)

dc2322
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:36 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:
dc2322 wrote: I think its reasonable to say her life right now is at the low end of any "satisfaction meter" you employ. Lets say her life scenario represents 5% of today's population. If she chose 100 years ago that percentage might be 15%. She could still choose 100 years ago and have an 85% chance of being born into a better scenario- a good gamble. But if she were to choose her own birthday (relatively close to today) she would bump up her chances of being born into a better scenario to 95%- a better gamble.


so are we only comparing social inequality then?

ie: to avoid people simply choosing the latest time they can just to get the best technology and the most useful manufactured goods we'll assume that if they pick 1900 they'll still be able to get antibiotics or modern consumer goods as easily as they would today with difficulty adjusted based on the comparative wealth of the sector of society they've been placed into as if todays level of technology and wealth was distributed across the past society adjusted for how wealth was distributed at the time and relative population levels and you have to live with that eras social beliefs?


As I said before, there are various aspects of society which make the present a better choice than the past: technological, moral, medical, etc. A very important aspect of moral considerations is social equality-- although I would prefer the term egalitarian.There would undoubtedly be other factors the woman would weigh but social inequality is a pretty huge factor since you could potentially be born as anyone in the world.

I am not sure what you meant in the "i.e" section but it read like you were changing the rules again. Yes, if you change the basic rules of the experiment or the world itself to something different than the real world then you end up with different results. Are you trying to say that my experiment doesn't work because if you change it completely it no longer makes a clear case for human progress? Or that my thought experiment doesn't make a clear case for progress in non-real worlds?

Chen
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Chen » Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:12 pm UTC

leady wrote:It depends on how you look on the more abstract measures. I think certainly some performance measures are sneaky upwards, but I suspect that an average Ethiopian now is actually considerably more miserable. What you don't know etc. Plus being a subject of the only remaining African kingdom adds a lot of national pride points.

what makes people happy is not necessarily freedom and technology, which is why women generally are more miserable now :)


Once again what are you basing this on? You're just repeating yourself. Why are current average Ethiopian women more miserable now? Are you sayings its because they can see what other nations have that they don't?

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LaserGuy
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:22 pm UTC

dc2322 wrote:
HungryHobo wrote:
dc2322 wrote: I think its reasonable to say her life right now is at the low end of any "satisfaction meter" you employ. Lets say her life scenario represents 5% of today's population. If she chose 100 years ago that percentage might be 15%. She could still choose 100 years ago and have an 85% chance of being born into a better scenario- a good gamble. But if she were to choose her own birthday (relatively close to today) she would bump up her chances of being born into a better scenario to 95%- a better gamble.


so are we only comparing social inequality then?

ie: to avoid people simply choosing the latest time they can just to get the best technology and the most useful manufactured goods we'll assume that if they pick 1900 they'll still be able to get antibiotics or modern consumer goods as easily as they would today with difficulty adjusted based on the comparative wealth of the sector of society they've been placed into as if todays level of technology and wealth was distributed across the past society adjusted for how wealth was distributed at the time and relative population levels and you have to live with that eras social beliefs?


As I said before, there are various aspects of society which make the present a better choice than the past: technological, moral, medical, etc. A very important aspect of moral considerations is social equality-- although I would prefer the term egalitarian.There would undoubtedly be other factors the woman would weigh but social inequality is a pretty huge factor since you could potentially be born as anyone in the world.

I am not sure what you meant in the "i.e" section but it read like you were changing the rules again. Yes, if you change the basic rules of the experiment or the world itself to something different than the real world then you end up with different results. Are you trying to say that my experiment doesn't work because if you change it completely it no longer makes a clear case for human progress? Or that my thought experiment doesn't make a clear case for progress in non-real worlds?


I think the problem is that certainly by any reasonable metric, a point sometime within the last, say, 20 years or so, is almost overwhelmingly the best choice in terms of medical or technological progress. In those specific areas, the present is certainly better than all but possibly the very immediate past. By framing the question in the manner that you have, the conclusion that the present is the best time to live in is rather inevitable and not very interesting. For example, suppose I believe that the 1500s was the height of social and moral thought and it's been all downhill since then (I don't). It's still hard for me to consider that I would ever want to go back to that era and lose the luxuries of instant worldwide communication, good sanitation and public services, relatively abundant food and clean water, vaccines for dangerous communicable diseases, antibiotics, etc.

Your question is a little more interesting if you ignore the present, actually. If the furthest date forward you could pick to be born was, say, 1900 CE, it's less immediately obvious that particular year is the date you should pick (especially given the turmoil in many parts of the world in the early 20th Century that you'd be exposed to during the prime years of your life).

HungryHobo
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Sat Dec 06, 2014 12:35 am UTC

dc2322 wrote: I am not sure what you meant in the "i.e" section but it read like you were changing the rules again. Yes, if you change the basic rules of the experiment or the world itself to something different than the real world then you end up with different results. Are you trying to say that my experiment doesn't work because if you change it completely it no longer makes a clear case for human progress? Or that my thought experiment doesn't make a clear case for progress in non-real worlds?


look, you want to make the point that the "Remember the good ol' days when people..." people are wrong. That society is better.
I happen to agree with this position but your argument is a really really really awful, bad, illogical, nonsensical argument that proves exactly nothing.
That doesn't mean there's nothing to prove or that what you're trying to prove is wrong.

But you don't seem to be able to grasp that you're setting up a strawman.

In your introduction you skim over tech and medicine briefly and then latch on to "MORAL" like a staffie with a toddlers leg.
It's clearly the one you care about, it's clearly the one you want to make some kind of political point about but you throw it into a pot with wealth, economics, technology, war and literally everything else that has changed in human history.

There's orders of magnitude more of all the other things than there is of "MORAL" and they're things that people really really care about but you keep talking about the things you put under "MORAL" as if they're the only change that matters to the choice.

Your strawman is a strawman because you assume that people are nostalgic about some time in the past that it means that they must love [EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE THEN] more than [EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE NOW].

Myself and my SO often say to each other that life was better a few years ago when we had more space where we lived and a pet dog and had more free time. You seem to think my missing or being nostalgic about one element or small subset of elements of the past is proved wrong/foolish if you can show that if I got in a time machine and was assigned a random identity on earth 5 years ago that I'd likely be slightly worse off than I am now.

Some old fogie talking about how something, perhaps some element of society or some element of morals or some element of how people acted was better at some point in the past may be utterly correct. They aren't proven wrong just because they're unwilling to trade modern effective cancer treatments in exchange for that element of the past.

your style of "logic" is bad and you should feel bad.
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dc2322
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Sat Dec 06, 2014 3:26 am UTC

Ok. So, that got heated for no reason at all....

Firstly, I focus on the Moral aspect of progress because it is the aspect which is most debatable- it has the weakest case. No one is arguing against medial or technological progress. PLENTY of people are arguing that today's society is devolving morally. Another that might be debatable is whether we have made interpersonal progress (i.e. have we gotten better at relationships with other human beings). Or sexual progress (are we better at reproducing? are we better at fulfilling the desires of mates?)... The point is I focused on one of the difficult ones because it is a more interesting discussion. Medical and Technological progress are easy to establish.

Secondly, I'm not arguing with people who liked a particular aspect of the past. I wish I could go off and establish a self sufficient farm, like they did back in "the good ol' days". It's not really feasible today. Of course, I'm not going to go along with the genie's offer in the hopes of that. But that not what the thought experiment is about. I'm arguing with people who are saying that the world is getting worse, that we are devolving into chaos, etc. By making this claim they are arguing that there was some point in the past when things were generally better-- Some never-pinpointed "golden years" of humanity. I am denying that.

Side Note:: I wonder if the reason people seem so pessimistic about human progress is because if they admit that it is getting better, they also have to admit they might die before the best part. And by denying progress, they think "Yay, I was here for all the good stuff. I won't be missing anything."....

LaserGuy-- Your second point was probably the most interesting point I've seen brought up as of yet. I would say yes there are probably spans of time when it would be better to live in the past [of the past] rather than the present [of the past]. But I think all this means is that general progress has been inconsistent and fluctuating a bit. Right now though, I would say we are on a definite upswing that is better than all prior.
As to the first point, if the 1500's actually were the moral peak I might consider going back. Particularly if the moral degradation included a drop in egalitarianism-- which would mean I might have very little access to technological or medical advances anyway. I don't think my conclusion is inevitable within the setup of the experiment (Sci-fi alternatives have been brought up throughout this discussion where the results differ). However, I do think it makes an *abundantly clear* case for the real world.

HungryHobo
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Sat Dec 06, 2014 11:49 am UTC

The reason is that you have to control for the things you don't care about.

You care about the [MORAL] element a lot.

Lets step away from society for a moment and pretend you were trying to prove a different point.

Lets imagine you had a pill which you believed made peoples lives better. We'll call this pill [MORAL].

So you set up an experiment with a placebo sugar pill and your pill and created 2 groups but you don't randomly select your participants or control for the differences between them.

Instead you do your experiment really badly.

You select all the participants for your control group from a slum in the poorest part of town.
You select all the participants for your intervention group from the wealthiest, most affluent part of town.

You then run your trial and show that it looks like your drug works really really well. The people getting the real drug are more likely to kick alcoholism, they're less likely to commit suicide, they're less likely to die of preventable diseases, they even do better in intelligence tests. this drug of yours is looking like a miracle drug isn't it!

Anyone would be mad to want to be in the control group rather than the intervention group!
You recruit a few more people and you show them the data and ask them if they'd like to go live with the control group or the intervention group.
Of course they all say they want to live with the intervention group. Happy day! they've proved your point!

But of course rich people tend to do better than poor people anyway and nobody sane would choose the slum over the mansion.

You wouldn't accept a cancer drug that was "proven effective" like this so don't accept this approach for anything else.

A few years later someone else comes along and does a real randomised controlled trial making sure that the only difference between the 2 groups is the pill [MORAL] making sure that there's no difference between the 2 groups except your pill.

They follow up by showing the results to some new people who seem a lot more iffy about which group they'd like to be in because they're no longer choosing between slums and mansions.

Also you think of morals as a steady progression but many things are more cyclic, more like fashion over the centuries as each generation rejects the position of the previous one.

Small example, gay relationships were much more accepted a few centuries ago than they were in the 1940's:
http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/when- ... e-1.181956
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morriswalters
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby morriswalters » Sat Dec 06, 2014 1:07 pm UTC

Imagine a [deity,genie, etc] offered you the option to be reborn in the time period of your choosing. You could choose any point in time you desired but you cannot pick any demographics (sex, location, social class, race, etc.). Which time period would you choose?
So, you can see my point. We might make some mistakes. We might have some setbacks. However, the general trend is moral/medical/social progress. To say otherwise is to ignore how bad the past was. It is to blindly romanticize. Its a good time we live in now. It isn't perfect, but it is better than any point in the past.
You start with a specific and move to a more general case. But what is true in general,is not always true in its specifics. This last isn't true for everyone.

dc2322
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Sat Dec 06, 2014 4:23 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:The reason is that you have to control for the things you don't care about.

You care about the [MORAL] element a lot.

...

They follow up by showing the results to some new people who seem a lot more iffy about which group they'd like to be in because they're no longer choosing between slums and mansions.

Also you think of morals as a steady progression but many things are more cyclic, more like fashion over the centuries as each generation rejects the position of the previous one.

Small example, gay relationships were much more accepted a few centuries ago than they were in the 1940's:
http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/when- ... e-1.181956


I can't read the article because I'm not a subscriber so I apologize if I misinterpret. It seems to be an account of gay marriage being allowed in Ireland during a certain span of years. While it might have been more acceptable there it was EXTREMELY unacceptable anywhere else. You could have also mentioned certain tribes that had social mores far outside the norm.

I get your point. You think that in order to establish the case for moral progress I have to set all other types of progress as equal in order to avoid a "false positive". I think your error lies in thinking of this "thought experiment" as a "scientific experiment" rather than a explanatory tool used as part of a larger argument.
So, lets say that I present my scenario to someone and they say "Duh, I'm choosing the present". I could not tell on what basis they chose the present over the past--it could be moral concerns, it could be a love for present day technology, or the comfort of modern medicine. If I were to at this point conclude that we are therefore making moral progress specifically, I would be risking a false positive and making a really bad argument. However, what I could do is ASK THEM why they chose the present. This would pinpoint what type of progress they are basing their decision on.
Now, whether or not they mention moral progress as part of their reasoning isn't strictly relevant UNLESS we had just been debating societies moral direction. If they had been saying that society has been devolving into immorality then they still chose to live in the present, I would know that their decision is not based on moral progress but on other areas of progress which they had given more weight.
However, since we had been talking about morality I would then point out certain moral "downsides" to living before a certain time. The technologies and medicines you "lose" by living before a certain time are obvious but they provide a useful framework for thinking about the moral "perks" lost prior to certain times.
You'll notice that the part about not being able to choose a demographic or location don't obviously come into play when deciding based on technological or medical progress. It does when dealing with moral issues. You don't know if you'll be born male,female, rich, poor, black, asian, white, gay, straight, or with a disability. So, If you could end up being anyone what type of world would you want to live in? Definitely a medically and technologically advanced one. But ALSO definitely a morally advanced one. I continue, "Here are a list of lost moral 'perks' which pile on each other as you go back in time...". Hopefully I have made the case for moral progress convincing enough: "Oh, I see now it is advantageous for me to choose the present based on moral reasons AS WELL". It would be very hard to then argue that the moral state of society is getting worse since they have just conceded that there are significant moral advantages to the present over the past.

In summary, I'll admit many people are going to choose the present based on Medical and Technological progress. Luckily, this isn't an isolated, scientific experiment where the ultimate conclusion is an answer "Past" or "Present". I can glean out more information and continue the conversation. I am arguing that they should ALSO choose the present based on Moral progress. "Oh you don't believe in moral progress yet? Well lets look at how we treated medicine and technology in this scenario and apply it to moral concerns..."

HungryHobo
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Sun Dec 07, 2014 12:16 pm UTC

Sorry, I didn't realise the newspaper had a weird payment structure.
If you search for the title of the article with no cookies showing previous viewings it will let you read the article but direct links or re-viewings get a paywall.

So here's a relevant excerpt:

Professor Boswell discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient church liturgical documents (and clearly separate from other types of non-marital blessings of adopted children or land) were ceremonies called, among other titles, the "Office of Same Sex Union" (10th and 11th century Greek) or the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

These ceremonies had all the contemporary symbols of a marriage: a community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar, their right hands joined as at heterosexual marriages, the participation of a priest, the taking of the Eucharist, a wedding banquet afterwards. All of which are shown in contemporary drawings of the same sex union of Byzantine Emperor Basil I (867-886) and his companion John. Such homosexual unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th / early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis) has recorded.

Unions in Pre-Modern Europe lists in detail some same sex union ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century "Order for Solemnisation of Same Sex Union", having invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, called on God to "vouchsafe unto these Thy servants [N and N] grace to love another and to abide unhated and not cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God and all Thy saints". The ceremony concludes: "And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded".

Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic "Office of the Same Sex Union", uniting two men or two women, had the couple having their right hands laid on the Gospel while having a cross placed in their left hands. Having kissed the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.

Boswell found records of same sex unions in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, Istanbul, and in Sinai, covering a period from the 8th to 18th centuries. Nor is he the first to make such a discovery. The Dominican Jacques Goar (1601-1653) includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek prayer books.

While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, it was only from about the 14th century that antihomosexual feelings swept western Europe. Yet same sex unions continued to take place.

At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope's parish church) in 1578 a many as 13 couples were "married" at Mass with the apparent cooperation of the local clergy, "taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together", according to a contemporary report.

Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century. Many questionable historical claims about the church have been made by some recent writers in this newspaper.

Boswell's academic study however is so well researched and sourced as to pose fundamental questions for both modern church leaders and heterosexual Christians about their attitudes towards homosexuality.

For the Church to ignore the evidence in its own archives would be a cowardly cop-out. The evidence shows convincingly that what the modern church claims has been its constant unchanging attitude towards homosexuality is in fact nothing of the sort.

It proves that for much of the last two millennia, in parish churches and cathedrals throughout Christendom from Ireland to Istanbul and in the heart of Rome itself, homosexual relationships were accepted as valid expressions of a God-given ability to love and commit to another person, a love that could be celebrated, honoured and blessed both in the name of, and through the Eucharist in the presence of Jesus Christ.


Some things go in cycles.

The other thing is where you draw the borders of "society". Someone living in australia, who was allowed to limit things to australia rather than the world and on the condition that they got to keep modern tech etc might find 30,000 years ago living in extended family groups to be preferable (close connections with family does tend to be good for peoples mental health and modern society can tend to spread families across the globe).

Some things you'd put under [moral] are also likely artefacts of modern technology and economics. Society has all this lovely excess production capacity that it can use. If you were an elderly or disabled Inuit a thousand years ago you'd eventually be left on the ice when the tribe moved on. Not out of hatered but out of simple necesity. People didn't want to leave mom on the ice to die. They just didn't have the excess production capacity to carry members of sciety who couldn't carry themselves.

Compare that to now where our society is so rich that health services can plough the equivilent of a dozen or so peoples entire lifetime productivity into individuals with significant care needs.

Refusing to allow people to limit it to a single country and instead the world also makes it less likely that you'll convince them of anything. They care about [America] ,[Australia] or perhaps even their state 10,20,30 years ago, not the mess of sub saharan africa.

As your scenario is described I wouldn't willingly get into your time machine even if the dial was set to "now" because odds are I'd find myself dying of cholera in a refugee camp or farming rice on the side of a mountain somewhere in asia.

It would be like playing the misery simulator for real:http://www.educationalsimulations.com/

So if they're talking about "society" you might be hearing "the world" but they almost certainly mean "my society, my town, my county, my country" and you aren't going to convince them of anything by making them roll for whether they end up as a palestinian refugee.
Give a man a fish, he owes you one fish. Teach a man to fish, you give up your monopoly on fisheries.

morriswalters
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby morriswalters » Sun Dec 07, 2014 8:18 pm UTC

Why did that sound so much more literate when you said it?

dc2322
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:08 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:Sorry, I didn't realise the newspaper had a weird payment structure.
If you search for the title of the article with no cookies showing previous viewings it will let you read the article but direct links or re-viewings get a paywall.

So here's a relevant excerpt:

Professor Boswell discovered that....... through the Eucharist in the presence of Jesus Christ.


Some things go in cycles.

The other thing is where you draw the borders of "society". Someone living in australia, who was allowed to limit things to australia rather than the world and on the condition that they got to keep modern tech etc might find 30,000 years ago living in extended family groups to be preferable (close connections with family does tend to be good for peoples mental health and modern society can tend to spread families across the globe).

Some things you'd put under [moral] are also likely artefacts of modern technology and economics. Society has all this lovely excess production capacity that it can use. If you were an elderly or disabled Inuit a thousand years ago you'd eventually be left on the ice when the tribe moved on. Not out of hatered but out of simple necesity. People didn't want to leave mom on the ice to die. They just didn't have the excess production capacity to carry members of sciety who couldn't carry themselves.

Compare that to now where our society is so rich that health services can plough the equivilent of a dozen or so peoples entire lifetime productivity into individuals with significant care needs.

Refusing to allow people to limit it to a single country and instead the world also makes it less likely that you'll convince them of anything. They care about [America] ,[Australia] or perhaps even their state 10,20,30 years ago, not the mess of sub saharan africa.

As your scenario is described I wouldn't willingly get into your time machine even if the dial was set to "now" because odds are I'd find myself dying of cholera in a refugee camp or farming rice on the side of a mountain somewhere in asia.

It would be like playing the misery simulator for real:http://www.educationalsimulations.com/

So if they're talking about "society" you might be hearing "the world" but they almost certainly mean "my society, my town, my county, my country" and you aren't going to convince them of anything by making them roll for whether they end up as a palestinian refugee.


Super interesting article. I never knew any of that.

So, yeah, specific moral issues go in cycles but I would still say the general trend is progress. Even if it was a more accepting climate for homosexuals during those time periods, you still have to account for women's autonomy, slavery, religious persecution, poverty, etc. All issues taken into account, today is still a way better choice. A homosexual might focus on the acceptance of homosexuality during that time and say "Yeah, I choose then over the present" but they have forgotten that they probably won't end up homosexual. All moral issues are placed on a level playing field since you don't know which will be relevant to you in your new life.

Your other point is very interesting: Narrowing down to country. You would inevitably end up with more varied results. Some Africans would undoubtedly be right to choose a pre-slavery date when the African kingdoms had yet to be decimated. However, for Americans it would still be advantageous to choose the present (again, any possible demographic is on the table). Cool implications and scenarios.

.... But my scenario is meant for society as a whole. Yes, some people will be ethnocentric in their thought. They might not care about "the mess of sub Saharan Africa". But they should care- since they might be there in whatever time they choose.

Maybe using the term "society" wasn't the best choice. Humanity might have been better because what I am ultimately trying to establish is that we, as a species, are making general progress and, specifically, moral progress. My apologies.

Moral, Technological and medical progress are undoubtedly intertwined (birth control and women's rights is a good example). That's why I didn't "set technology as fixed". It makes the scenario unrealistic. But one type of progress isn't causing "pseudo-progress" in another area, if that is what you are getting at.

And I agree, the true "best choice" is to not play the game. I'm sort of assuming that you are going to. We could change the scenario a little bit and say that the genie comes to you on your death bed, offering you another existence at the past time of your choosing. Or say "if you had to choose one...". Something. The point is to show the Now is a better choice, not that the now is a perfectly safe choice.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby morriswalters » Mon Dec 08, 2014 2:12 am UTC

What is your state of knowledge about the event?

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:17 pm UTC

I think a lot this exposes a blinkered view of history. Almost everyone of your "measures of progress" have been issues for less than a century. What do I mean by this? that for the mass of humanity before say 1850 life was universally awful and even before 1950 for 90% of people in the west life was pretty damn awful.

Being a woman in 1750 anywhere is indistinguishable to being a man - your life is completely awful by any modern comparison. No one is enmancipated and your day to day life is 99% survival not esoteric discussion of political enfranchisement :) Slavery in all forms for all people has existed for 1000s of years pre 1850 .

However the interesting thing though is that taking away the technology discussion there are several of your categories that in the absence of additional knowedge may well be more "content" in the society that they land. Womens happiness has collapsed in all the self reported measures since the 50s. Back in 1890s upto 40% of people would be considered disabled by modern standards so it was normalised (note I'm not saying its ever good but...), unhappiness due to racial pressures 300 years ago are close to zero (bar in the Sultans harem ) etc. Combine all that with "what you don't know, can't make you miserable" and you may take different choices

bascially I don't think its anything like as clear cut socially as you make out :) economically its always a no brainer unless you ask the question in the middle of a world war.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:35 pm UTC

leady wrote: racial pressures 300 years ago are close to zero


That's a bit of an exaggeration, they were different, not zero. In the UK 300+ years ago the Scots and the Irish were bottom of the ladder with hundreds of thousands being sold into slavery and persona non grata in the british cities while black people were so rare that there weren't enough for a sterotype to form around them.

There were plenty of racial tensions, they just weren't the same racial tensions.

Happiness through ignorance is an interesting one though, people do derive happiness from their perceived social status and being more aware of how close to the bottom you are (or even believing you're near the bottom when you're not) can make people more miserable.

For me that takes the same status as getting put in a tank and being drip-fed heroin. It might make me feel good but I wouldn't choose it for that alone.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Mon Dec 08, 2014 2:07 pm UTC

don't mess up my attempt at a selective time period and problem ! :)

actually I suspect very few people back then ever met a different nationality to have proximity issues, even land national borders typically exist due to isolating natural barriers. A lot of people would have had oppression by a foreign ruling faction unhappiness though :)

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zamfir » Mon Dec 08, 2014 4:26 pm UTC

Oh, please. 300 years ago, Brits (and other Europeans) were busily building the plantation system of the Americas. Based on working black people to death, then shipping in new loads to replace them. Based on very explicit stereotypes that black people were beast-like subhumans. If that's not "racial pressure", then what is?

And it's no accident that were few black people in the metropolitan regions. People were quite aware of the horror of the system, and everyone preferred if that horror stayed a distance away,where it was easier to ignore or rationalize.

Later in the 18th century,there is a famous London court case about a ship that dumped half its slaves over board, and then demanded compensation for its losses form the insurer. As was the common practice. The court has to twist itself six ways from Sunday, because they know very well that they are deciding against everything their laws and morality stand for. It would be so much easier if such details stayed in Jamaica or Virginia, and only the money came home.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby CorruptUser » Mon Dec 08, 2014 5:12 pm UTC

And the cruel irony is that the horrid system of Caribbean/Brazilian slavery, where the life expectancy was around 2 years, was an improvement. Before that, the slaves were sold to the Ottomans where SOP was to castrate them. The fall of the Ottoman Empire began when Europe undermined the Ottoman economy via the trains Atlantic slave trade. The Ottomans turned to the Crimean Tatars to supply their eunuchs and 'bed slaves' from Poland and the Ukraine (that's the reason Eastern Europe lagged behind the West), which was finally crushed in the Crimean War in one of those curious cases where the genocidal maniacs were the least awful side.

Fuck slavery. Fuck it to hell.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Mon Dec 08, 2014 11:32 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:And the cruel irony is that the horrid system of Caribbean/Brazilian slavery, where the life expectancy was around 2 years, was an improvement. Before that, the slaves were sold to the Ottomans where SOP was to castrate them. The fall of the Ottoman Empire began when Europe undermined the Ottoman economy via the trains Atlantic slave trade. The Ottomans turned to the Crimean Tatars to supply their eunuchs and 'bed slaves' from Poland and the Ukraine (that's the reason Eastern Europe lagged behind the West), which was finally crushed in the Crimean War in one of those curious cases where the genocidal maniacs were the least awful side.

Fuck slavery. Fuck it to hell.

...Which of course contributed to the Crimean crisis of 2014.

Isn't history fun?

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby CorruptUser » Tue Dec 09, 2014 3:24 am UTC

Actually it did. The Crimeans hated the Russians for decades, and the Russians responded with VERY heavy repression. During WWII, the Crimeans sided with the... Godwin's, and after the war the Russians doubled down on the repression.



History is weird. Enslaving and working others to death is only "wrong" to us because we live in a world where it's even possible for everyone to 'just get along, maaan'. A thousand years ago, if there wasn't enough food to go around, and due to a lack of birth control there never was, SOMEONE had to die. And if you weren't willing to murder your own children, it was because you planned to murder someone else's. History is metal dude.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Tue Dec 09, 2014 1:21 pm UTC

The cynic in me can't help but notice that the breakdown of the major empire tends to lead to periods of opitunistic strife. 2030s for the US I think....

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Wed Dec 10, 2014 1:46 am UTC

While the 'happiness in ignorance' response is interesting I don't think it would be a good reason to choose the past.

Yes, many studies say that people in the 3rd world are happier today but I sure as hell wouldn't want to be one. Their happiness comes from "resistance is futile so I'll learn to be happy with it". And often they do (or at least play out some Sartrian "bad faith"). In my life, I'm not stuck in those conditions. I don't have to "just deal with it". So, to me, their scenario cannot seem better than mine-- despite what some happiness study says. The same is true when choosing a time.

I think anyone who says "I would choose the distant past so I could live a simple happy life" are reaallyyy romanticizing what it was like to live back then. It wasn't all sing-songily tillin' crops and tellin' stories to the childrens. Maybe a few people pulled that off but most were hard, strife filled lives where you were far more likely to be part of a subjugated population rather than in some free-as-a-bird, little house on the prairie family.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Indy » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:16 am UTC

If you went around tilling your crops you wouldn't last long! /pedantry

dc, I'm still getting a very US-centric vibe from your posts, with your view of the past being mainly American, and some British puritanism thrown in for good measure. It seems like your thought experiment is for the last few hundred years in American history, rather than all human history ever. (Which would be fine, of course, if you wanted to set that parameter. It would produce quite a different set of answers as far as I am concerned.)

Also, where are you getting your info for the source of happiness of people in third world countries?

Something I've been mulling over (apologies if this has already been mentioned and has flown under my radar) is that recent decades have produced more and more efficient ways to kill larger and larger numbers of people. I'm thinking of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. This means that one deranged group of terrorists is able to wreak much greater havoc than they were in the days of yore, potentially wiping out millions of people in one fell swoop. I guess what I'm saying is that the number of (e.g.) deranged terrorists in the present or the future would need to be very very very much less than past numbers in order to pose an equally low risk of being killed by one.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Dec 11, 2014 5:03 am UTC

Indy wrote:Something I've been mulling over (apologies if this has already been mentioned and has flown under my radar) is that recent decades have produced more and more efficient ways to kill larger and larger numbers of people. I'm thinking of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. This means that one deranged group of terrorists is able to wreak much greater havoc than they were in the days of yore, potentially wiping out millions of people in one fell swoop. I guess what I'm saying is that the number of (e.g.) deranged terrorists in the present or the future would need to be very very very much less than past numbers in order to pose an equally low risk of being killed by one.


You do realize that to produce a nuclear weapon you would require tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to procure the uranium, set up the processing facilities, build the weapon, etc etc, right? And if you are just using deranged terrorists, they are more likely to kill themselves from radiation poisoning than do anything with it? Same goes for chemical. Biological warfare has existed since the day a siege engineer figured out how to fling plague victims.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Indy » Thu Dec 11, 2014 6:57 am UTC

Yeah, I do realise that. To obtain a nuclear or chemical weapon, though, you don't necessarily have to make it yourself. Sometimes baddies steal things. And sometimes governments contain baddies who can use things that they already own. Of course they don't have to be deranged terrorists. Agreed, biological warfare is old, but it has been (on a conceptual level, at least) somewhat refined since the days of plague-victim-flinging. I'm not sure if any country currently has BW capability to rival the effect of the Black Death, but with technological advancements such capability would be, in theory, only a matter of time.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:56 pm UTC

Indy wrote:If you went around tilling your crops you wouldn't last long! /pedantry

dc, I'm still getting a very US-centric vibe from your posts, with your view of the past being mainly American, and some British puritanism thrown in for good measure. It seems like your thought experiment is for the last few hundred years in American history, rather than all human history ever. (Which would be fine, of course, if you wanted to set that parameter. It would produce quite a different set of answers as far as I am concerned.)

Also, where are you getting your info for the source of happiness of people in third world countries?

Something I've been mulling over (apologies if this has already been mentioned and has flown under my radar) is that recent decades have produced more and more efficient ways to kill larger and larger numbers of people. I'm thinking of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. This means that one deranged group of terrorists is able to wreak much greater havoc than they were in the days of yore, potentially wiping out millions of people in one fell swoop. I guess what I'm saying is that the number of (e.g.) deranged terrorists in the present or the future would need to be very very very much less than past numbers in order to pose an equally low risk of being killed by one.


Honestly, I cannot remember the source. I recall hearing it a few years back. Here is the link to "the Happiness Report"-- might be in there.
http://unsdsn.org/wp-content/uploads/20 ... online.pdf

But if it isn't true then ignore the point. Not a huge deal. I was arguing against a phantom issue.

Yes. We have more ways of killing people today and we are more efficient at it. However, the relevant statistic would be whether not the PERCENTAGE of people killed (compared to the total population) has gone up or down. So, If 100 terrorists existed in 1200ce and 100 terrorists exist now the chance of being killed by one has gone down. Of course, they wouldn't have been called terrorists back then..... but you get my point. Has the percentage of people being killed by other people gone up or down? I would definitely place my bets on down.
Notice, I am not including the "potential" killings we could do with WMDs because I'm not judging the state of the humanity on the horrible things we could do but haven't. Only on what we have actually done.
Last edited by dc2322 on Thu Dec 11, 2014 2:31 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Thu Dec 11, 2014 2:12 pm UTC

Also, as many have pointed out, the further back you go the less difference between years. Choosing 700ce over 600ce might not be that much better of a choice (it might be worse) but 2000 definitely a better choice than 700. In my mind this suggests a more exponential trend than a linear one-- The present being waaayy better than the distant past but two times in the distant past being relatively equal in desirability.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Fri Dec 12, 2014 11:48 am UTC

thats just the exponential growth of technology, but actually I think you are looking at that from a modern perspective too, the gap from 0AD to 100AD is probably as big a jump and looking at the progress in 100AD you would go "wow I'm so glad I didn't live 500 years ago, things are so much more advanced now " :)

there are some pretty nasty blips though - black death, fall of the roman empire, Khaaaannnnn!, WW1, napoleonic wars that wiped out decades of human progress

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby nicklikesfire » Fri Dec 12, 2014 5:49 pm UTC

Knowing what I know now, I might choose to be born in 1930 or so. This gives me about a 3% chance of being born a male citizen of the united states. I think this gives me the best shot at being one of the astronauts that goes to the moon.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby elasto » Sat Dec 13, 2014 12:47 pm UTC

nicklikesfire wrote:Knowing what I know now, I might choose to be born in 1930 or so. This gives me about a 3% chance of being born a male citizen of the united states. I think this gives me the best shot at being one of the astronauts that goes to the moon.

Hmm.

If that's your aim, why not choose to be born today (or slightly in the future assuming that is allowed).

One would hope that 35+ years into the future manned spaceflight would be more common than it has been to date. Perhaps in the 2020s or 2030s China or India will head to the moon in much greater numbers than the US did from '69-'72.

And there's even the outside chance of manned missions to Mars.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Autolykos » Thu Dec 18, 2014 1:41 pm UTC

Indy wrote:recent decades have produced more and more efficient ways to kill larger and larger numbers of people.
Efficiency matters much less than you might think, as long as there's the determination to do it. Genghis Khan is still leading the score, and he had nothing more than swords and arrows. Killing more than "all of them" is a thing not even nukes can accomplish.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Cradarc » Sun Dec 21, 2014 1:06 am UTC

I think it's good to consider the original question:
Imagine a [deity,genie, etc] offered you the option to be reborn in the time period of your choosing. You could choose any point in time you desired but you cannot pick any demographics (sex, location, social class, race, etc.). Which time period would you choose?


Keyword: "you"
Assuming being reborn involves a complete memory wipe, there really isn't an objective way to respond to this. After you make your choice, you wouldn't have any memory of making the choice, or any concept of life other than the new one. For all we know, each of us could have made the choice and are now leading our "new" lives. So are we living in the past, present, or future with respect to when we made our decision?

Whether or not you think the present is better than the past is merely a reflection of your own psyche rather than an examination of how society changes with time. The past is certain, the present is confusing, the future is unknown. It's a matter of which state of mind you prefer.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Dec 22, 2014 10:06 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:After you make your choice, you wouldn't have any memory of making the choice, or any concept of life other than the new one. For all we know, each of us could have made the choice and are now leading our "new" lives. So are we living in the past, present, or future with respect to when we made our decision?


If that is indeed how the universe works, then clearly, each age tends to have more people choosing it. The modern era is more popular.

This seems unlikely to actually be a real mechanism, or at least, it's unsupported by evidence, but it leads to a similar conclusion.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Cradarc » Mon Dec 22, 2014 10:17 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:If that is indeed how the universe works, then clearly, each age tends to have more people choosing it. The modern era is more popular.

This seems unlikely to actually be a real mechanism, or at least, it's unsupported by evidence, but it leads to a similar conclusion.


If it is reality, I doubt everyone in the world would be offered the choice. You may just be that one special person. If everyone had to make the choice, it would lead to a massive paradox because of collisions due to population differences.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby justbennett » Wed Dec 24, 2014 12:51 am UTC

Interesting thoughts from everyone. It makes me wonder how one could measure such a thing. If we are talking about "total world progress" then you have to take into account that there are at least four times as many people now as there were in 1920. So does that require things to be four times as good, or does it multiply the effect of progress made. If there is a 20X better life available but only 2X people are experiencing it, is that a net gain or loss?

I agree with the sentiment of the original post. When people say, "things are getting worse" that is more a sign of societal attitude than empirical data. However, I don't know if there is a way to actually know if things are getting better or worse. Further, I wonder if that is even an important question.

Am I getting better or worse? That's a question I should be able to answer, and the answer can have a real consequence for me. You know. Theoretically and all.


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