Transcript of Episode 134 – Forrest Landry on Non-Relative Ethics

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Forrest Landry. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Jim: Today’s guest is Forrest Landry. Forrest is a thinker, writer, and philosopher. And this is the fourth time he’s been on our show. Actually, it’s the fifth time, now that I think about it. He first appeared in Ep 31 where we engaged in a broad survey of his thinking on various topics. And then more recently, in Ep 96, Ep 109 and Ep 128, we explored his Immanent Metaphysics. That’s Immanent Metaphysics. And no people, I did not reach for my pistol.

Jim: So, welcome back Forrest.

Forrest: Good day. Great to see you again.

Jim: Yeah. I’ve always enjoyed this. I was telling Forrest in the pregame discussion, philosophy is not my natural field but I always feel like I work on my muscles when I’m talking to Forrest and I really enjoy our conversations. I think they’ve been really good. We’ve been getting some good feedback on them.

Jim: So, today we’re going to talk about his thoughts on his non-relativistic ethics as he calls it. I’d like to start out by having you place, if you could, your non-relativistic ethics in the broader domain of ethical philosophy and maybe tell us a little bit about what you mean by the non-relativistic part. When I talk about the domain of philosophy of ethics, generally people, talk about it being divided roughly into three domains. One is the consequentialist school, in which utilitarianism is probably the most well-known. The consequentialists essentially say you should evaluate your ethics based on the result, the consequences.

Jim: In utilitarianism, the measure is the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers. The second school and it’s been a big tradition of this in the west, at least until recently, is what’s called the Deontological School of Ethics, which is based on reason and or some kind of deep universal morality, if such a thing, where do we exist. And cons categorical imperative, which says that if you behave such that if everybody else did what you were proposing to do, it would be good as an example of deontological ethical rule.

Jim: And then the older school of ethics is so-called virtue ethics, most famously probligated by Aristotle. That’s also making a bit of a comeback at the present and that’s an ethics based on right behavior from an internal perspective. Am I courageous? Am I truthful? Am I temperate? Et cetera.

Jim: So, anyway, frankly, after having read your paper, I can’t place you squarely in any one of the three but I see aspects of it that fit in all three. So, maybe talk a little bit about what you mean when you say non relativistic ethics and how that relates to these historical schools of philosophical thought about ethics.

Forrest: Awesome. Yes, that’s a great question. So, the first notion is to look at the relative versus non-relative. So, what do we mean when we say an ethics is relative, which is the more common position to be thinking about these things. So, in the sense that there is a chooser or a person engaged in some action and a world in which those actions will have effects, there’s also the relationship between the chooser and the world, right? So, there’s a conduit of connection that exists between the two. And so, in a sense, when we’re talking about what ti choose, right? If we’re looking at ethics as a guide to choice, then the basis of that choice could be defined in terms of what is outside of this. This would be the consequences or what is inside the self? I.e. This would be values and things like that. Or some logic that has to do with the channel and with the connection between self and reality.

Forrest: So, in this sense, we do actually have all three, as you mentioned, branches of ethical thinking kind of engaged. But the notion here is that if it’s relative ethics, then what is right to do is going to depend upon the situation that one is in. So, if I’m in one particular environment then the choices about what’s right to do is going to depend upon specific features of that environment. And the of historical perspective that has emerged from this is that there is no such thing as a single set of principles that fits in all circumstances that can be applied universally. So, in this sense, when I’m saying it’s a non relativistic ethics, I’m actually making a fairly strong claim. I’m saying, “Yes, there are principles that could be characterized as being relative to choice itself.”

Forrest: In other words, not relative to situation or relative to the particular chooser. Obviously, if we were to say, “Well, that person has this body of ethics and this other person has that other body of ethics,” then we haven’t actually created a general something, which is a study of ethics that is not specific to either person or to situation. So, in this sense, what we’re talking about is a set of principles that basically create good choices or that would inform what is a practical worthwhile or meaningful choice or something that has value or embodies character or things that we would normally regard as good in some way or another.

Forrest: So, in one sense, the notion of ethics has to do with, how do we make good choices? What are the principles that would inform how to make a choice that will have a beneficial a outcome, either with respect to the world or to self or to, again, something to do with the relationship of integrity that exists either in the self or the world or the connection.

Forrest: So, in this sense, the flavor of the ethical thinking that I come from, in one sense sort of looks like it has a virtue ethics sort of basis, in the sense that I say, “Well, there are things that can be used characterize goodness of choice.” Like somewhere along the way, we have to define a little bit about what we mean by a good choice or a choice that has benefits or that is worthwhile or virtuous in some sense. And so, in that degree, we’re starting from a values-based orientation but then we move into a way of thinking of, “Well, there is a set of principles that will translate those values into practices that will move us from the general notion of principles into the specific notion of what do we choose at any given moment.”

Forrest: In so far as those principles are, again, in specific to self and in specific the situation, they are truly universal principles about how to make good choices. Then in that sense, we’re in that second category of ethics that you mentioned, which would be an ontological or foundational perspective of what it means to do good ethical thinking. I think the one thing that also does play into this, although not as obviously or as strongly, is that to some extent, we are actually concerned about, what are the effects of these choices? But in a sense of, we’re not talking about it from a purpose point of view but more from an integrity point of view, like what would increase the integrity of self, the universe and the relationship between self and universe?

Forrest: So, in the sense that we would describe integrity as being an enabling characteristic that would allow for the continuance, the conscious sustainable evolution of self world and the relationship between them. Then in effect, we are to some extent concerned with the kind of consequentiality but it’s not a consequentiality that is just observed in the world. It’s also observed in the self and in the relationship. So, in this sense, yes, the ethics, the way I’m thinking about it does actually partake or at least integrate some aspects of all three of the schools of thought that you’re speaking to. But I do feel that, like I said, it begins with the values-based orientation and then moves through a foundational perspective and only in the notion of how we characterize integrity, does it have a utilitarian aspect.

Forrest: But on the other hand, there is a very strong sense that ethical thinking and philosophy, unlike, we could have a conversation on AI, for example, but that’s not something that we would personally be able to do much with unless we happen to be an AI researcher. Whereas anything that we say about the nature of ethics that helps us to really know how to make good, effective choices that genuinely have benefits personally and interpersonally and globally, that this is an inherently practical in a very deep way.

Jim: I think that’s really good. And one of the things I really enjoyed about this paper is that you use the term, “Effective choice.” I should have counted it. But it’s a bunch, right. And it’s the pivot around which you organize your thinking that this is not about intent necessarily or some kind of soft and gauzy kind of spiritualistic kind of thinking. It’s really about effective choice. Now, of course, that does cause me to ask the question, in your mind how does one think about what does effective mean?

Forrest: Well, in one sense, we would say we could refer back to value and then of course we could get into a whole thing about how to characterize value. But it actually turns out to be much easier then that. In the same sense, as say with a game of pool, the way in which I make the shot can set myself up to be able to make the next shot. So, for example, if I make a choice that somehow results in my not ever being able to make a choice again, then that wouldn’t really be a very effective choice because in effect, it doesn’t promote the capacity to continue to choose. So, there’s essentially two sides, right? An effective choice has the sense of having a consequence. In other words, having an effect in the world, doing something and making something happen but it also has this potentiality aspect.

Forrest: It has to result in the potential for future choices that themselves could be effective. So, in effect, there’s… Not really meaning to do the pun but there’s this kind of dual aspect. There’s the effectiveness in the sense of creating change and there’s effectiveness in the sense of preserving the capacity to create change or potentially to even increase the capacity to have effect and to create change. So, there’s an emphasis on capacity building. There’s an emphasis on the potentials that are associated with the choices that we make, as well as the manifest results of the choice.

Forrest: So, in effect, when we’re looking at, what is the notion of an effective choice, we’re looking at a product of all of the changes that have happened and all of the capacities or the changes that could happen. And in this sense, the notion of maximizing effectiveness can therefore take a very mathematical character or actually a fairly substantive one in the sense that we’re including the notion of potentiality as being an inherent part of it.

Jim: You never used the word but in economics and some social change domains, we sometimes use the term, optionality, right. And I got the sense that your potentiality is very similar to the concept of increasing ones optionality in any given situation, which is generally considered to be good, even in something as hard-nosed as economic analysis.

Forrest: Yeah. I would definitely agree that, that’s very consistent with the way I’m thinking about it. So, there’s a sense of optionality as in the future capacity to make choices and that can be represented in a lot of different ways. Obviously, we can think about, what a monetary instrument allows us to do as a capacity building thing. But in a sense, we’re looking at potentiality as effectively being much more connected to an almost physical substrate.

Forrest: It’s like when we think about our own minds, for example, we have the capacity to remember experiences from the past and the selection of any one of the things that we might remember is a kind of optionality but there’s no real way to characterize the total things that I can remember very easily or the rate at which I can remember. There’s ways to think about it in a information theoretic sense but we have to make a lot of assumptions about how the mind or the brain works in order to do that. And these end up being assumptions, which should probably be held with considerable agnosticism.

Jim: That makes sense.

Jim: Now, early on in the paper, you make a careful set of distinctions between what you call ethics and what people call morality. Might be useful to run through that for a bit.

Forrest: Great. Yeah. Part of the reason for making this distinction is to highlight, what is the aim? Where am I trying to go? So, in a sense that we’re looking at, what are the general principles of choice, we’re again, treating the relationship between self and reality as a fundamental. So, I don’t necessarily pause it that selves live in realities and that, in the sense, the notion of reality is primary in the sense of some sort of container or collection of objects and interactions and stuff like that. I take the notion of the relationship between self and reality as if I don’t know anything about it. Like I’m just presuming that there is a subjectivity and there’s an objectivity and there’s this connection between them but I don’t necessarily presume that any particular self is going to be in any particular world or that there’s a single world that has all selves as proper contents.

Forrest: So, these are kinds of things that might be default assumptions associated with a lot of thinking in this space but in so far as, I can think about ethical behavior on the internet in some form like on Facebook or in an email context or something like that. And I can think about ethical behavior at the workplace as being very different than what might be ethical behavior in some sort of family setting or on a sports team.

Forrest: Now, normally, like I said, we would treat these as essentially specific contexts in which I, as an actor, would be acting and that if we’re looking for general principles that work across all of these different domains of action or worlds in which one is having and sharing experience, then in effect, we’re trying to distinguish it from codes, which are specific to any one of those worlds. Like for instance, with a sports game. What is the set of rules that define how to play the game and what’s allowed and what isn’t allowed, would be a kind of code that’s specific to just that world. But the game that is being played there, of course, could be very different than the kind of game that we might be playing on some sort of Facebook app or someplace that is a completely virtualized setting. A mud or Eva online or something like that.

Forrest: So, in effect to talk about what are the principles of effective choice, we want to disentangle it from the specific circumstances that we would normally characterize as the kind of rules of the game. So, when I’m thinking about moral codes, I’m thinking about codes which are particular to a game or particular to a world. When I’m thinking about ethics, I’m thinking about, what is it that lives in the self, which could be participating in many different worlds that would act as a guide or a generalization as to, what do we mean by effective choice, in so far as it attaches and connects directly to the notion of choice itself. In other words, to the notion of agency or to action or to something that somebody does that there’s an expression of some sort or another that moves information or energy or pattern from the self into the world, whichever world that happens to be and from whichever self that happens to be in thinking about this.

Forrest: So, in that sense, the notion of ethics is about principles whereas the notion of moral codes is more about rules and both of these can affect how we engage in practice.

Jim: And you actually, warn a couple of different places that tendency to define right or wrong in some absolute sense can actually impinge upon the ability to act ethically.

Forrest: Yeah. So, in this particular observation, we’re making a transition from, what are the ethical principles, to, what are the kinds of implications that these ethical principles would have? So, for example, if I were to assert that the entire universe was just perfectly causal. If there was no optionality or choice at all. If everything was essentially completely deterministic, then in effect, the kinds of things that would be defined as values or the kinds of things that would allow for the optionality of being of good character or not would, would essentially be removed from the possibility of even being considered. So, in one sense, we’re pointing out that the notion of ethics connects to the notion of choice and that in order for us to have a theory of ethics, we have to actually have a theory of choice. We have to have a well founded concept of choice connected to that, not just to a notion of effectiveness or goodness.

Forrest: So, part of the infrastructure that essentially allows for us to know that choice is real, that there is essentially a truth to the fundamental notion of the sense that we have personal agency and that we can select among multiple options and that there’s an emergence from potentiality into actuality that isn’t completely defined by prior circumstances, that this is a big part of what life is about. To some extent, we can’t really validly consider the notion of life without having some notion of value associated with that and the values themselves are connected to things which have to do with these non-deterministic and what would seem to be random and nonetheless, meaningful engagements that a person can have in the world.

Jim: We talked about this before on a couple of the earlier episodes but I think it bears talking about again in this particular context. And that is the concept of self is always important in your work. And in my own work, thinking about the scientific study of consciousness and closely related ideas in artificial general intelligence, human level and beyond. When we talk about self, are we smuggling in the idea of a human type self or is your use of self broad enough to include both super and supra human conscious cognition entities or maybe even unconscious cognition entities? So, when you say self, what are you loading in with that?

Forrest: Well, I’m not loading in just the human. I would view that if the theory of non relativistic ethics is genuinely what it claims to be, that it would be true for aliens living in some other universe. Not just on a different world in this universe but just literally inherent in the nature of consciousness itself. If there’s any sense in which the notion of choice or consciousness or being this happens in a kind of subjective way, that these principles of ethics would actually be applicable. And so, no, it’s not connected to human in any specific sense or even the notion of animal or what we would might regard as, how we relate to consciousness. But it is definitely much more connected to the foundational substrate of what it means to be subjective.

Forrest: And in that sense, I’m not necessarily importing any kind of humanistic way of thinking, particularly, but I am basically importing something. Well, I wouldn’t say importing, I’d say it was already present that the notion of consciousness is genuinely relevant to these kinds of considerations. That the notion of choices is genuinely relevant. And that in a certain sense, we can start to get into the notion of what is the relationship between self and choice?

Forrest: And so, to clarify that and this is something which is probably going to be a little bit unexpected, but while the common way of thinking about this in much discourses, that we presume from our own experience and so on, that self has choice. But it’s actually interesting to really look at the notion of, what does it mean to have something. If I begin to analyze that concept or begin to really understand the relationship between choice, change and causation and to really understand the relationship between the subject of an objective, which is what the content and the body of the description of the metaphysics actually is about. Then it quickly becomes apparent that it’s more correct for us to say that, choice has self. That the notion of ownership is actually in the other direction and that choice is in some really basic sense and more basic and more fundamental than even our notion of self, in any specific characterization or even the general notion as a totality.

Forrest: So, in effect, when we’re saying, self, we’re basically saying it’s a kind of epiphenomenon of the continuance or the common co-occurrence of choice.

Jim: Actually, I like that. That actually cleans up things a lot. In the scientific study of consciousness, you end up with some odd cases. Like for instance, one of the leading theories is called, integrated information theory, which claims that everything has consciousness, including a rock, right? And to the degree that a rock doesn’t have any capacity for choice, at least in your formalization, one might say that Iraq is not a self.

Forrest: Yeah. This is part of the direction. There’s a lot of nuances that could be brought into this conversation. But I think that the general principle that you’re describing is basically correct.

Jim: The other thing I like about it is, I find an awful lot in consciousness studies of human centricity. People smuggle in the human way too much. And I often use as a model, animals, a white tail deer, which is reasonably intelligent and has some social behavior but is nothing like a human. It has no language, has probably no ability to manipulate symbols, et cetera. And yet it makes choice all the time. And some of those choices are effective and some of them are ineffective. So, I find it useful to have frameworks of this sort that are equally applicable to some of our near neighbors in conscious cognition. And it also is very interesting because it highlights what’s different for us than for a deer.

Jim: For instance, a deer does not appear to be future oriented, particularly, it’s essentially an instantaneous decision maker. And we’ll talk about that a little bit later, where you actually highlight the fact that probably more than we think of our decisions actually are future centered. So, I find that useful to remind people that when we’re thinking about this question, don’t make it overly human centric because it is a more general argument.

Forrest: Yes. Agreed. And I think that to some extent, the question about smuggling in… So, first of all, agreeing with all that you’re saying and extending from that same basis. But on the mirror image, it’s very easy for us to smuggle in a set of assumptions associated with just even the nature of how we think about consciousness from a scientific perspective. So, for example, when we think about, what is the scientific method, one of the things that we can see about its capabilities as an epistemic process is that it’s very good at working with things that are both observable and repeatable. So, if I have a phenomenon that I can measure and I can have multiple people basically do those same measurements and end up with the same results, we can create an objective correspondence that, yes, we are actually investigating a phenomenon that is part of the real world and not an element of any one of our choices.

Forrest: But in this sense, there’s a presupposition that phenomenological process that is observable and repeatable is amenable to the scientific method and anything that is neither observable nor repeatable or just not observable and repeatable or not repeatable but observable, would therefore be fundamentally outside of the scope of what could be considered using the scientific method as an epistemic process. And so, in effect, when we think about choice and we think about things like choice. And so, for instance, if we say in the same sort of way that we can consider determinism as connected to existence, we can talk about choices connected to creation. And in that sense, creation like the creation in the sense of the big bang theory or something like that is, as far as we can tell and have any possibility of being able to tell, is a unique event. It’s not going to occur more than once. At least so far as any observer in the universe would be able to discern.

Forrest: So, in that sense, it’s fundamentally not repeatable. It’s certainly observable. We can see that there are sorts of side effects from that event. But on the other hand, because of its non repeatability, our capacity to study that is actually much more limited when using the scientific method. We can’t do independent tests, so to speak. But when we’re talking about things like consciousness or perception or expression, any interaction between the subjective and the objective, we notice right away that the subject is not observable and not only that, the perception and the expression is not necessarily observable, we can observe the consequences of the expressions but we can’t necessarily observe the forces that are involved directly. So, in effect, there’s a sense of having to interpose something in order to measure the forces, at which point you’re part of the interaction.

Forrest: To interpose something in order to measure the forces, at which point you’re part of the interaction. But in the same sort of way that if I have a person looking at a painting, what I see is their body. I don’t see their looking, I see their eyes. I don’t see the light that passes from the painting into their eyes. I don’t have the sense of their subjective experience. I can certainly have theory of mind and have all sorts of hypotheses about what they’re thinking and experiencing, but I don’t see their consciousness or their perception. And I only see the expressions or the choices they make once the expressions have reached the real world in some sense and had an impact that I am, myself, engaged with.

Jim: Though of course, be a little careful with that argument. For instance, with better brain imaging, we’ve just gotten to the point where you can tell what a person, at least in a very rude sense, what a person is seeing, what their perceptions are. This has actually been done. Have a person look at an X or a heart, right? And a person who doesn’t know, double-blind experiment, but it’s looking at the brain scanning images, could tell you whether they’re looking at an X or a heart. So the ability to see perception is already crossed the line from invisible to barely visible and it will only get better. Also, with respect to the phenomenology of the subjective state, I will admit it’s a bit of a fudge in the science of consciousness, one of the tools that’s used and has been validated to reasonable level of satisfaction is very simple. It’s called the self-report.

Jim: What were you thinking at the time? And there’s been some very clever experiments using very narrow experiments that show that people’s self-reports are actually fairly accurate. They’re not 100% accurate, but they’re not bad. So I’d be a little skeptical of this trying to wall off cognitive processes like perception and even the nature of phenomenology. There are things that can be reported and saying that, “It’s thinking about my first love.” It’s probably fairly realistic compared to, “I was thinking about doing my taxes tomorrow.” And one can actually use that kind of self-report in building scientific experiments. I like to warn people away from thinking that the nature of consciousness is not amenable to at least some reasonable degree to the scientific method.

Forrest: Well, I appreciate your argument tonight. I definitely understand what you’re referring to and such like that. I think part of the thing that I would just kind of point out is that there are definitely neural correlates. Like we can make observations as to changes in brain state. We can get down to the level of measuring individual neurons themselves and establish correlations between individual thoughts or particular experiences and things like that. But what is definitely part of the nature of the notion of conscious experience is a sense of localization in time and position and things that have a character that are very difficult to account for when looking at it from a purely physical point of view. So for example, if we look at science from the point of view of what the theory is describing, there’s a strong sense in which there’s a temporal symmetry.

Forrest: You have no particular present moment as privileged relative to any other particular moment. And there’s no real reason for the arrow of time to be subjectively perceived as going one way versus the other. So for example, from a scientific perspective, there was a question as to why I can’t just remember tomorrow’s lottery numbers. So in this sense, there’s some actual nuanced arguments that want to be discussed in this space. And I think that, in preparation for that, I would have you look at the considerations of the hard problem on the MFLB website.

Jim: We’ll have to do that another day because, of course, we could spend the whole day talking about that, but I just wanted to push back a little bit and gently. Might be fun just to do nothing but that one day.

Forrest: Well, I definitely agree. This is why I was kind of hoping you might get curious about what I was thinking about those things, but it is definitely far field of the topic of ethics. And I guess my point would be is that I’m pushing back a little bit, gently, but mostly it’s just to point out the nature of the question. These questions are tricky questions. There’s a lot of apparatus that’s needed philosophically to kind of grapple with this stuff. And that would take quite a bit of time to set up well. But, I’m basically wanting to just communicate that I really appreciate your point of view and been there and with you on that. And, let’s explore that sometime.

Jim: Yeah. Yeah. The next thing I’m going to get into, and just as a editorial comment, I wish you had pulled this up earlier in the paper. It’s down near the end. And that is that all of choice is uncertain and that one can never know all the consequences resulting from one’s least action. And I wrote a number of notes to myself as I was reading. “The poor boy doesn’t consider the fact that we’re actually fairly poor at making choices and we don’t have full information. Our models are incomplete and, by laws of chaos and complexity, we can’t predict very far into our future.” And so I was essentially smashing straw men because you didn’t put on the table, right up front, that all of our thinking about such things must be based on the fact that our choice-making is always going to be relatively weak.

Forrest: I put it last because I thought it was kind of obvious. First of all, I do all the things that you’re referring to, chaos theory and kind of fundamental non-determinism. It seems to be written into the very laws of the universe. I’m thinking particularly of things in quantum mechanics and such that, yeah, we obviously can’t use reason alone because reason, no matter how good it’s going to be, is going to have its limits. Now this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t use reason. We should use the tools that we have to predict as well as we can, what are the likely consequences and to understand in the model and to do all these kinds of things. Mostly, I was just putting that into forestall the sense of expectation that somebody might have that someday we could make choices that were, in some sense, perfect.

Forrest: And so when we’re talking about the notion of effective choice, I’m basically saying, these are practical things and they’re more than heuristics. They’re actual principles. But on the same sense that heuristics aren’t going to give you guaranteed results, that no deterministic process is going to, essentially, co-align with your chosen process such that it’s going to have a hundred percent predictable results. So in effect it’s a little bit more of an expectation setting as far as this is concerned and then some sort of epistemic observation.

Jim: Yep. Even though, yeah, it’s easy to assume people would know that, when one is dealing with philosophy, sometimes philosophers don’t know that, or at least they haven’t imported it in their model and they write things that are way too perfect. So it would be really useful to put that right up front.

Forrest: Well, I definitely will take that under advisement and you’re probably right. I tend to assume quite a bit of natural philosophy as being imported and incorporated. So I wouldn’t think that a person had done philosophy well if they weren’t at least somewhat aware of the way the world actually works. To some extent, there’s obviously a lot of opinions about that and so on and so forth. But if we’re going to be thinking about these things clearly, we should avail ourselves of the efforts of people who have been attempting to think clearly on these things as much as possible.

Jim: Now we’re going to start digging a little bit more into the meat of what you’re trying to communicate, at least what I took to be some of the meat. This is a pretty dense couple of sentences here, but I’m just going to read them and then get your reaction to it. “To consider how to increase the effectiveness of one’s choice is to determine what is meant by simultaneously preserving the integrity and increasing the potentiality of both life and evolution.” You introduce, for the first time, the word integrity with that sentence. And then you also brought in evolution. So what were you getting at with that sentence?

Forrest: Well, obviously, several things. So first of all, that’s a delightful thing to pick on. So one of the notions is the idea that when we’re talking about life and so, I’m basically combining. The word life and evolution is just to sort of hint at, or to point to, the broad scope in which these things would effectively be thought about or considered. So in other words, I’m trying to sort of say, here’s where we’re trying to go or what we’re trying to address. So in effect, the exploration that is involved in thinking about ethics now, first of all, just as an aside. This whole section, this entire paper, none of it’s trying to prove any of these particular statements. There’s other work that does that, some of which has been published, some of it has not yet, although it is, just as an aside, something I’m very much endeavoring to get into print pretty quickly.

Forrest: But in any case, the notion of how do we arrive at these ideas is connected to the notion of integrity. Integrity is a concept that is actually pretty important with respect to how do we come to understand these principles of ethics is in any sense being realistic or reasonable to use as a basis of one’s choice in any world which one encounters. So in effect, there’s kind of a hint here in this particular phrase that says, one of the ways in which we can come to understand how to live well and fully, or how to essentially have evolution as a process work well, is to shift our orientation to thinking about it in terms of integrity. That this effectively opens the door for us to come into an awareness as to what do we mean by effective choice.

Forrest: So, in this sense, the notion of integrity is treated as a kind of primary concept. And so to define that, we’re basically looking at, to act as one together. So that’s coming from the roots, as I understand it, to be into [Grosse 00:36:25]. So to act as one together as, essentially, the translation of those root terms. So, in effect there’s a sort of notion of coherency. There’s a notion of cooperativeness. There’s a notion of essentially that there are many different aspects and they have diversity and that they each kind of work in their own way, but in a sense, they combine their efforts to be able to produce a result that is greater than the sum of the parts. That there’s a product that’s happening that is more than can be accounted for just in terms of the individual components or the individual diversity, but is itself a result of the combination of the cooperativeness or the kind of community that emerges from that process.

Forrest: So in effect, the notion of ethics as a set of practices effectively comes from, how do we think about integrity? How do we think about integrity in terms of my integrity as a chooser, the world’s integrity as effected by my choices, and particularly in terms of the capacity building, in terms of the channel of connection between self and reality. So, in other words, if I think about the integrity of the communication channel, or the integrity of the relationship, then insofar as I increase the potential of that communication channel, I increase the degree to which that channel, as a cooperative structure, as a connective tissue between, again, diverse parts, cause self and world are obviously different. But if we are to understand in the sense, this sort of holographic perspective of how to think about integrity, both in the sense of the connective tissue and in the sense of the origin point of those choices and the effect of those choices, then in effect, we can start to see a perspective that allows us to, essentially, solve for all of this at once.

Forrest: And so the specific statement of non-relativistic ethics comes from this orientation. And it ends up in resulting in a network effect both individually and collectively. And so this assertion, this statement that you read back to me, is effectively sort of a way point. It’s kind of a hint as to how all that fits together.

Jim: Then the next sentence, I think these two sentences together, I circled. I said, this is kind of the center of this paper. “To maximize potentiality and integrity is to maximize the combination of symmetry and continuity in the relationship between self, the subjective, and reality, the objective.” There is an even more heavily loaded sentence. Maybe you could unpack that one a little bit. Particularly try to elucidate how potentiality and integrity are related to the maximization of the combination of symmetry and continuity.

Forrest: So, the principle concept to think about as a way of understanding this is in the channel. So if I think about the events of the self and the event of the world and the events of some communication occurring between them. So every choice is a communication event. It shows up as an action, but it’s a signal that passes through a conduit or kind of communication channel. So in this sense, we can, as an approximation, we can start to think about the kind of work that’s been done with information theory, and we can say, “Well, what is it that defines a good channel of communication? What is it that defines a communicative process that actually works well?” And some things immediately become apparent. One is that, say we’re talking on the phone, or as we actually are, in the internet at the moment. If there was a absence of correspondence between what I said and what was actually recorded, or what you heard, then in effect, the communication channel would be degraded.

Forrest: We’d say that there was some mutation process, some modification, that was occurring that was, basically, taking what I had said and garbling it, adding noise or randomness, or just some other agency, some other person’s intention. Maybe they edited what I said as part of the recording. And so in effect, the notion of symmetry is effectively to say that there is a correspondence between what is at one end of the channel and what is at the other end of the channel. Or what’s happening in the subjective, and what’s happening in the objective with respect to a particular choice or communicative intent. And so in this sense, the absence of symmetry between those two things would effectively indicate a degradation in the integrity of the communication channel, or in this case, the integrity of the relationship between self and reality.

Forrest: So, obviously, if we’re wanting to build the capacity of the communication channel, we’re wanting to increase the degree to which it has this symmetry, and therefore is faithfully representing from, essentially, the subjective to the objective. The notion of continuity comes up in a similar way, although this is a little harder to describe in obvious terms, because it wasn’t part of the original thinking about Shannon’s description of information theory and so on. At least as much. It was kind of implied, but it wasn’t really described explicitly. Which is essentially to talk about the relationship between the contents of the communication channel, i.e. what’s flowing through the pipe versus the nature of the pipe itself. So for example, if I say we were having a conversation on the phone, but the phone had some sort of voice recognition software that was connected to the structure of the phone itself and I was saying to you as some sort of psychological argument, “Yeah, I have these hangups about such and such a thing.”

Forrest: And the phone heard the words “hang up” and assumed that that meant that the communication should be cut off. Then there would be a very abrupt shift of our being in contact or our not being in contact, and that the overall event would effectively be not only the loss of communicative context, but also the loss of any communication actually happening. So in a sense to sort of generalize this a little bit, we’re basically saying that there needs to be a smoothness in the amount of energy that is essentially being connected across the channel. So for instance, if we think about signal as being patterned, interposed on some sort of atomic structure or some sort of energetic structure, that we don’t necessarily want to have the underlying substrate under which that pattern or that communication is occurring have wide variances in the level of intensity that it’s basically being conveyed with.

Forrest: So for example, if I have a communicative channel that involves writing messages on a paper airplane and then throwing them over to, and you receive the paper airplane by catching them out of the air. That if I were all of a sudden to transition to writing the message by inscribing it on the side of a bullet and then firing the bullet out of the gun, it would probably be improper for me to expect you to manually try to catch the bullet. So, wide variations in terms of the intensity of the energy transmission for the signal can make a huge difference as far as whether or not the channel integrity is any good. And again, I’m just sort of creating examples on the fly here. But anything that results in a substantial increase or substantial decrease in a kind of discontinuous way, or a very abrupt shift in the amount of energy through the channel can result in, obviously, a failure to receive the message and, or a degradation of the process itself.

Forrest: In this sense, the notion of continuity also turns out to be critically important as far as understanding in an abstract sense, what is the notion of a high integrity communication channel. It wants to have this smoothness and it wants to have this symmetry in order for it to operate as a channel. And, obviously, these two things have a bit of a conjugate relationship because if I have perfect smoothness, then I’m not going to necessarily get signal. But if I have no signal, then I don’t have any symmetry either. So to some extent, we can have a lot of both of these, but not perfection in both characteristics at once. And this is part of the reason why ethics, as a subject matter. Has a lot of actual translation from principles to practice in order to get it right. There’s no one size fits all or a specific set of rules that are going to work in perpetuity in any particular world that is, essentially, immutable with respect to the totality of time.

Jim: Things like Shannon information, as we know, are sort of very abstract ideas of a communication channel, ability to provide interesting signal, but tell us nothing about the payload. When I’m thinking about the relationship between self and reality, one of the things that very much comes to my mind at least, but you don’t address at all, and I’d like to know why you don’t address it, or maybe you would like to address it, which is every animal that is reacting with reality seems to create some form of model of reality. And the model, of course, is much coarser grain than reality itself because the map is not the territory. But if you don’t have such a map, the ability for the self to navigate the universe usefully or successfully is not going to work very well. And so in addition to the communications protocols, the interaction between the model of reality, and that includes both physical reality and social reality, so when dealing with other people, seems to be at least as important as the attributes of the communications channel itself.

Forrest: Well, I think there’s a truth to that. But again, when we’re looking at, first of all, just bearing in mind that when we’re talking about the non-relativistic ethics or the way of thinking about ethics, we’re talking about really primitive concepts. So for example, I’m basically tying it to the notion of consciousness, but I haven’t really described what are the contents of consciousness? And I’m talking about world, but I haven’t really talked about the contents of the world. But you are correct to point out that to have some correspondence in the communication channel that is meaningful, that there really wants to be some structure or some correspondence between the structure of what’s in self and the structure of what’s in world, just so that the richness of the communication channel or the dimensionality through which that connection occurs, of course, becomes much greater.

Forrest: So for example, say I’m a young person, I’m 10 years old, and my family takes me out camping. And I’ll look out and I’ll see lots of trees and bushes, and they’ll more or less just be this field of green. But say I decide I want to know more about that. I go to college and I learn about botany, and I get to the point where I understand, “Oh, that’s an example of the species conifer, or this hear is an example of a fern.” And now when I go back to that same place that I was camping previously, when I was much younger, I’m going to have a completely different experience of that same space. I’m going to basically see a lot more of what’s there in terms of individual species that basically represents a whole new layer of interaction.

Forrest: So in other words, if I draw an envelope around the body and I basically say, there’s forces of signal flowing through that. The dimensionality of that experience or the dimensionality of that expression has increased drastically because, rather than just interacting in a physical way, I’m now interacting in a deeply cognitive way as well. And so, in effect, if we’re looking at what maximizes the integrity of the communication channel between self and reality, then to the degree that I can increase the capacity of that channel to handle all of these extra dimensions of process, then in effect I’ve, definitely, this is not just a small upgrade. This is a substantial upgrade to the notion of what we mean by the communicative context and the content in terms of just going beyond data as we would have, say, in Shannon’s entropy and those descriptions to the notion of information, which has more context associated with it, to the notion of meaningfulness, which has even more context associated with it.

Forrest: So, in a sense, we’re basically observing that in order for the process to effectively have its maximum effect, both in the sense of the meaningfulness of life, we need to go beyond just thinking about it in terms of the individual signals to the correspondences that those signals have both internally and externally. So yes, I’m agreeing with you, but I considered all of this to be considering the level of abstraction that was already in place, I figured I was pushing the limits already. I didn’t know that I had much room to address these kinds of concepts.

Jim: Gotcha. But I think it’s actually kind of important because, as you said, we’re going to now pivot to a domain which, perhaps, we’ve been kind of down in the weeds in sort of interesting intricate stuff here. But now we’re going to pop up a bit for a little bit, the things that people probably come to their mind when they think about ethics, which are value, meaning and purpose. And, particularly, it kind of pays off in meaningfulness. Maybe if you could dive in a little bit into your model of value, meaning, and purpose, and then how that leads to the concept of meaningfulness.

Forrest: One of the things to know about that particular collection of concepts, so value, meaningfulness, and purpose, first of all, those terms are kind of archetypal in a sense. So we’re kind of using those notions as a proxy for a lot of other concepts that could also be considered. But, they are, essentially, exemplars of a way of thinking about the relationship between self and reality. So insofar as these exemplars have what would be considered a triple aspect. So in the metaphysics, the underlying dynamics of the axioms, there’s an Axiom three statement which would say that value, purpose, and meaning are distinct concepts, but they are also inseparable and non interchangeable. So, there’s never a circumstance where I can just think about purpose without thinking about both value and meaningfulness. That anytime I think about any one of these concepts that, at least implicitly, I’m engaging with the other two as well.

Forrest: So in this sense, we can start to recognize that the other axioms may also play. That there’s essentially an applicability of Axiom One to this statement. To basically say that of these three concepts, that the notion of meaningfulness is the underlying concept and that the notion of value and purpose, or those two concepts taken together, are in a reciprocal relationship that is, essentially, held within the context of meaningfulness.

Forrest: So in this sense, when we’re thinking about values, we are grounding the notion of value in the notion of meaning. And when we think about the notion of purpose or purposeful actions, or I’m engaged in purposeful actions, that there is, underneath that, a grounding in the notion of meaningfulness. And so in this sense, if I find myself getting entangled in purposes, I’m thinking too much about the goal. And I forget, why was I even interested in that goal? You can get into this sort of a metaphor of when you’re up to your eyebrows and alligators, sometimes it’s hard to remember that the whole purpose was to drain the swamp, right? So, there’s a meaningfulness notion as to why is even that important? What is the thing that was, essentially, the underpinning that made selecting that particular-

Forrest: … that was essentially the underpinning that made selecting that particular goal out of all other possible goals that you could have picked, what was the basis of that choice? And so, again, there’s a kind of reification that occurs that we essentially continually check to make sure that our path, or our goals, or our actions are consistent with this underlying notion of meaningfulness. And that if we don’t know what is the meaning of life, or what is the meaning of our particular lives, then it can actually become quite difficult to make good choices.

Forrest: So in this sense, there’s a kind of, “Yes, we need value, purpose, and meaning. We need all three.” And to some extent, we don’t want to just have our thinking process confined to just working in the terminology of one of those terms. If we just think in terms of values, for example, but never actually achieve anything in the real world, don’t have those translate into goals, then, to some extent, again, the meaning of those values isn’t going to be realized. So in this sense, what we’re doing is we’re using the underlying topology of the axioms to clarify how we think about choices using the language of value, purpose, and meaning as a kind of reification basis.

Jim: And maybe you could lay a nice, homey example of the three together, and particularly try to pay it off on meaningfulness. Meaningfulness is this concept that gets used more and more, but I continue to find slipperier and slipperier. So to the degree that you can pay it off with the simplest example, that would be great.

Forrest: Well, okay. I’m hearing the question, you want an example. I’m not entirely sure of what? I mean, are you looking to have me use those three terms in a sentence?

Jim: Yeah, use the three terms talking about a single situation. here’s the value, here’s the purpose, here’s the meaning, and the meaningfulness links the value and the purpose there, something like that. Use those three lenses simultaneously on the same situation, or same action, or same scenario.

Forrest: Great. Yeah, I have a metaphor to define what the terms are and help people to understand how I’m using them. One of the examples I give is of a toaster. So, we have this item, it’s sitting in our kitchen. And when we think about it, our relationship with it is to basically say, “Well, the toaster’s purpose, its function, is to cook toast. So I put toast in it, I push the button, and a little while later I get breakfast.” And in one sense, that defines a way of our relating to it, but it’s not the only one. So for example, as has been kind of presented in intellectual games, for example, “How many other things can you think to do with a toaster?” So you may decide, “Well, I can use it as a paperweight, or I could basically use it as a doorstop, or maybe I need something that I got to tie together and I can use the cord to do that. Obviously, you probably don’t want to have it plugged in.

Forrest: But the notion here is that the item itself can have very many purposes, but all of these purposes are things that I ascribe to it from the outside. The toaster has no agency of its own. It’s not going to complain if I basically decide to use it as a paperweight rather than as a toaster.

Forrest: And so in effect, there’s a sense here that, from the point of view of the toaster, the otherness, which is myself, essentially ascribes to it function. It imposes purpose from the outside. And if I were to shift into a different way of thinking, so for instance, perhaps I have just purchased the toaster or I’m planning to sell it to somebody. Then I would be making comparisons as to what its intrinsic worth is.

Forrest: In one sense, we could say, “Well, it’s intrinsic worth is measured by the functions it could have.” But to the purchaser, maybe the value of the toaster is measured in the fact that it has so many grams of iron in it, and so many grams of copper, and so on, and so forth. So for someone who’s basically receiving a toaster that is maybe not functional because the elements are burned out or something, they are thinking about it in terms of salvage or what is its molecular composition, and do those things have a utility to me, not in the sense of what I might do with them, but in a sense of what they are in themselves.

Forrest: So for example, if the toaster was made out of solid gold, that would effectively be valuable regardless of whatever function it might have. There’s a sense of intrinsicness associated with value. So in that sense, the value of the toaster isn’t something that I’m imposing upon it from the outside. Obviously, we could talk about money and so on, but there’s a sense in which there’s a uniqueness associated with its atomic constituency that is fundamental to itself and not something that is essentially dependent upon whether or not I think gold has value. So that’s now a notion of value that is, to some extent, described entirely within the envelope of the toaster.

Forrest: So, if I draw an imaginary container that the toaster is sitting in, the notion of purpose is something that comes from the outside towards the inside of that container. And the notion of value is something that is inside, that moves towards the outside of that container. In other words, it’s something that I perceive of the toaster as being an intrinsic.

Forrest: The notion of meaningfulness has to do with the relationship, so it’s neither an inside thing nor an outside thing. It’s essentially in the dynamic of the relationship. So I might basically be cooking toast, not because I’m looking for breakfast, but because I’m wanting to serve it to someone else, and it’s maybe my significant other, and I’m serving her breakfast in bed. And to that extent, there’s a romantic element associated with this that goes well beyond just the notion of the function of the toaster or anything to do with its atomic constituency. So in this sense, when we’re looking at the romantic elements or the connotative elements, or the way in which this connects to the larger frame of life, or through the larger dynamics of the flow of my day, and things like that, then I may be describing the toaster as a kind of narrative element in a story. Or, I might be thinking about it as something as a subject for a painting, for example. Maybe I’m doing a still life with flowers and the toaster is in the background.

Forrest: So in a sense, there’s a whole different notion of what we think of as the relationship between self and toaster, which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with its value or purpose as described previously.

Forrest: So if I’m wanting to essentially engage in ethical choice with respect to the toaster, to some extent, it’s incumbent upon me to actually think about all of these dimensions. Obviously, in daily practice, this might be a bit much. But on the other hand, when we’re talking about another person, for example, so for instance let’s say I’m back in the Middle Ages and I’m a farmer, and my wife gets pregnant, and I have a son. And on one sense, I could describe the function of the son relative to the farm and relative to the economic entity that that is to essentially help me in the fields, and provide for common defense, and to do all the chores, and things like that.

Forrest: And so in effect, there’s a sense in which, for a long period of time, that people were treated as if they were objects of function and didn’t have much regard for the agency or the inner life that that child might have on its own. So in a sense, we’re now basically saying, “Well, if we take the neural correlate thing too far, we basically describe that human beings are machines. They’re biochemical machines, and they’re all essentially to be understood in terms of purely reductive process.” Then the argument could be made philosophically that there’s no real difference between the human being and a toaster.

Forrest: But on the other hand, if we are going to ground the notion of ethics as applicable, then, to some extent, we have to go beyond just looking at the function of something, we have to actually start thinking about the inwardness versus outwardness because it’s in that, that we can account for the notion of agency. The child has agency in a way a toaster generally doesn’t. This goes back to the reference you made earlier about a rock and whether or not it’s conscious.

Forrest: So in effect, there’s a sense here in which by recognizing agency, I can start to think about the notion of meaningfulness in a more grounded way than if I were to just try to treat it from the notion of value or purpose.

Forrest: In any case, it does help to resolve some of the philosophical differences that would otherwise come up if we didn’t get down to this level of detail of really being correct about how we use this language.

Jim: I’m going to ask you a question, it’s not exactly relevant, but it’s one of my kind of head scratchers, in the world of people that you and I both know, a lot of people talk about something called the Meaning Crisis. And I go, “I don’t know about any Meaning Crisis.” I mean, it seems to me the meaning, in the sense you just said, seems to be ubiquitous and everywhere. Do you have any idea what people are talking about when they say there’s a Meaning Crisis?

Forrest: Well, it’s funny you mention that. So I’ve actually been thinking about this a fair bit, but I don’t think I’m thinking about it in the same way that other people were thinking about it. So I can tell you what my hypotheses are. But, honestly, this is a question of open research. I know that there were people that have put together a particular thing of as to why to have this particular orientation. In fact, I’m looking, hopefully, to speak more with John Vervaeke because I believe him to have more of an insight into this.

Forrest: But in any case, the notion that I’ve sort of come to be thinking about it in terms of a sociological process is that, as physical beings, as human beings, a lot of our relational capacity and biological process literally has to do with physical contact, like being able to give somebody a hug, or to shake their hand, or to just be in the same room and see what their expressions are, and things like that. And so in effect, the sort of shared context. If I’m sitting in a room with somebody and somebody slams the door, or something falls off the ceiling, or whatnot, we’re both going to, in a sense, be experiencing the same thing at the same time. And so in effect, my attunement to his nervous system and his attunement to my nervous system allows us to essentially ground ourselves a little bit better with respect to that event.

Forrest: Whereas, if we’re looking at things like Zoom calls, or internet communications, or all of the virtualization that’s associated with the technology, all of which interposes or intermediates that relationship, that I think that at a functional biological level, the sense of relationship that we have and the sense of self-soothing of the nervous system, the sense of having a groundedness in life, which is connected to these biological processes in non-trivial ways, largely gets supplanted. And so in effect, you see a higher incidence of people feeling depressed. You see people that are basically saying that my life feels empty. And part of the reason that I think that that is, it’s simply because we’ve become over engaged with technology.

Forrest: And to really describe that from a psycho-emotional point of view is to enter into a state, “Well, why am I here? What is this all for? These are deeply metaphysical questions, but in another sense, they are also actually biological questions. We are part of the great chain of life. We have children and continue the species. And we have interaction with the natural environment, with the plants, and animals, and so on. And so in effect, our sense of groundedness in community, our sense of groundedness in life, is to a large extent directly a part of how we’ve come to be in the world as evolution has essentially prepared us for.

Forrest: And to a large extent, when we start looking at the side effects of social media engagement as a primary mode of interaction, it’s not so surprising to me that we would have an increasing number of people, basically feeling very ungrounded in their choices, particularly in their life choices. And so that’s kind of where I’m going with the notion of the Meaning Crisis, but I think that there were other social political observations that probably go well beyond what I was just suggesting.

Jim: Yeah. It’s interesting. I have signed up to watch all 50 hours of John Vervaeke’s Meaning Crisis video series, and I booked him for three podcasts in October. So, hopefully, I’ll know a little bit more about this Meaning Crisis thing when I’ve done all that, but it’s still a bit of a head scratcher to me.

Forrest: Well, I’m definitely looking forward to hearing your observations and summary of that because that would be, as I said, some information to me as well. I have notes on the topic. I’ve definitely done some looking into this. But as I said, my ruminations have mostly been in the direction I just mentioned.

Jim: Yeah, of course, that’s something I’ve talked about quite a bit is that weak links are weak, right? And online discussions are almost always, unless they’ve been going on for years and years, weak links. And person-to-person are strong links. And combining weak links and strong links is a lot stronger than both because weak links are cheap and far ranging while strong links are strong. And then there’s a lot of functional debate on where the Zooms sit in between. I mean, it seems to me, they sit somewhere between weak links and strong links, but probably closer to weak links, unless they’ve been grounded in strong links previously. Like Jordan Hall and I have a Zoom, it’s not much different than being face-to-face, but with somebody I’ve never met before, it’s a very different kind of thing.

Forrest: It’s especially encumbersome for someone who has neurodivergent interactions. So for instance, if you’re already someone that’s had a lot of intense psychological process in the sense of interpersonal relationship in the immediate way, then all these factors get compounded.

Jim: Yeah, that makes some sense.

Jim: Now, in the same section here, we’re talking about value, purpose, and meaning, you return to the concept of morality and you say, “Systems of morality, which are defined in black and white terms are fundamentally antithetical to life and consciousness and are to be avoided.” Say a little bit about that. Then I’m going to turn that back around and make an argument for something a bit like morality.

Forrest: I think, in hearing that again, at this point I think I would soften that a bit. At the time I was reacting a little bit to the overemphasis that is often given to rule systems as a defining of entire ways of being. I think at the time I was spending a lot of research on cults, and cult dynamics, and really kind of saying, “These rules systems that create that are problematic in a fundamental way.” But I think at this point, I’ve come to appreciate in the intervening years… Keep in mind this was written 30 years ago now… that there are a lot of circumstances where I actually see the value of well calibrated rule systems. So legal codes and things like that, I’ve really come to appreciate that there’s a lot of civilization process that is actually quite well thought of, and so on. Again, I don’t want to defend any particular rule system or point of view in that sense, but I definitely want to just indicate that I think I took too hard a stance in that one statement.

Jim: God. Good.

Jim: The way I look at this is that things like norms, and rituals, and legal systems, and means of adjudicating contract disputes, et cetera, one of the main reasons they’re so important for us as humans may not be as important to your alien that’s a million times smarter than we are, is that they can reduce our cognitive load. We can’t really think through from first principles, how to adjudicate a dispute between two business people, unless there’s some structure.

Jim: So in the Anglosphere, we use English common law, plus some statute law, plus the norm of writing it all down in a contract. And you’re a business guy, you know that a contract never is complete. There’s always ambiguity in it. And so then you have to have a way to resolve the ambiguity, and that to figure out all that shit from scratch is way beyond even the smartest person, much better to essentially build this expertise over the English common law since probably 1500 years where we have a experimentally derived, relatively tried and true set of mechanisms. Same is true for things like rituals. I mean, what’s the best way, or what’s a good way, at least [inaudible 01:08:23] that’s a good way to, say, recognize our gratitude to each other?

Jim: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a ritual where we sit down for dinner, we each express something of our gratitude to the other people in the room? If we did that repeatedly and without having to think it through and how to do it each time, we’re more likely to do it and to build habits. There’s a big part of virtue ethics that argues that, frankly, just building the right habits is a good part of virtue. So less skeptical about these kinds of rules systems. But, on the other hand, I’m very much a pragmatist on it, which is that they aren’t handed down by some dude with a stone set of tablets who came down Mount Sinai, rather they’re things humans invented because they help reduce our cognitive load to live well and they help us build good habits.

Forrest: Yeah. I think I’m in agreement with all that. I basically find that, again, like I said, at the time I was looking at moral systems more in connection to religious things, which were usually by fiat, some leader basically said, “I want to have this rule in place so that I can maybe extract benefit in this sense”, or, “I can try to basically make this thing happen.” At which point, the environment changes or leaders come and go and centuries pass, and the circumstances of which that rule was created are very, very different than the circumstances in which that rule is being applied.

Jim: Yeah. I think we agree on this. Yeah, I think we strongly agree on this. And I think it’s very important to acknowledge that these things are man-made constructs, and that we own them. And if they don’t work anymore, it’s time to change them. And the idea of assuming that they are metaphysical in some sense is where you really get into trouble.

Forrest: Well, as you probably guessed, my sense of metaphysics doesn’t really have much in common with the one that you’re-

Jim: Yeah. I mean, I better not use the M word or we’ll be discussing the meaning all day. Metaphysics, shit I don’t like, God dammit.

Forrest: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: Or, at least in that sense. Actually, my definition of metaphysics is, “Shit people make up with no evidence, and claim to be true.”

Forrest: Understood.

Jim: Anyway, so it sounds like we’re closer on the same page there that these things are useful, utilitarian, but they can certainly go too far, particularly when they’re respected for more than their utilitarian purpose, I guess, I would say describe it as.

Forrest: I think you’ve made that point rather well. I don’t know that I have much to add other than to say that, when we basically come to a place where we need to re-examine what are the rules, the notion is that we got to go back to the principles and to the practices. So, in effect, there’s a kind of stepping back from hardened defined rule systems to looking at what are the principles and what are the practices.

Forrest: So in the overall work of philosophy that I’m presenting here, in this sense in which I’m thinking about this, is to provide a toolkit to understand what those principles are. And so I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to define practices. I mostly avoided that because I figured that if I were to put together practices, they would themselves become too quickly a basis for some new religion or some new rules system. And therefore, in effect, be more cumbersome. Whereas, if I focused on the principles, then what could happen is, is that different cultures and different communities of people could effectively develop practices that were culturally significant to them, that they would be able to embody these principles in ways that were specific to each of their circumstances, and that the diversity of life would continue to be upheld.

Forrest: So, in this sense, to just kind of couch the overall conversation in terms of what was my emphasis in thinking about ethics, it was largely to get back to the principles and to encourage people to develop practices around those, rather than try to encode those as some sort of a rule system, as you’ve stated.

Jim: Yeah. You did lay out one principle which gets into this space. I’m going to read it back to you, this may be one that you want to back off of, I don’t know, which is, “To act in accordance with ethics is an affirmation of the integrity of self and the significance of others. To require others to be ethical or to label them as being unethical is itself inherently unethical.”

Forrest: I’m going to stick with that. So there’s a lot going on in there.

Jim: Yeah. This is an interesting one, which is how do we build a society if we can’t have some way of nudging each other towards some common way of being, right?

Forrest: Well, there is a translation of those principles into practice. So the nudge that you’re talking about is a practice. And so in effect, there’s communication that’s going on to basically say, “Hey, listen, I don’t know all the things that are involved in what’s going on inside your mind. I don’t know all the things that are involved in your process, but it feels to me like this is maybe less of an optimal choice for any sense of value that I would know of than you might like.” And so in that sense, I could be given a pretty strong nudge to somebody without necessarily having to assume things, which I can’t possibly be able to assume.

Forrest: So, for instance, if we’re looking at what is ethics as a process or as a practice. So it’s a set of principles that effectively help me to make good choices. And in that sense, they’re connected to the specifics of my choices. So in other words, I’m taking these principles and I’m applying them to myself in this specific situation. And so in effect, because that’s an inherently subjective to object of transition, it’s inherently an expression, there’s a localization in the sense that I can’t necessarily predict in advance what’s going to be ethical. I don’t necessarily know. There’s no real way to basically convert this to a omniscient frame where I’m going to say, in general, this is the right thing to do without basically moving away from principles and trying to encode to some sort of a rule system.

Forrest: So in effect, I’m basically saying, to think about ethics is to think about it in terms of its principles and its practices as embodied in the here and now in the specific relationship between the subjective and the objective. Then in any attempt to move outside of the here and now to try to basically look at it from an outside point of view, in terms of not myself the chooser, but in terms of someone else doing the choosing. Then at best, all I can really do is make assessments that are essentially incomplete. I don’t really know, but I can definitely say, with respect to my own choices, if I’m using these principles and I’m coding them into the particular practices of how I’m acting in this day, then to some extent I can be ethical. I just can’t know whether or not anyone else’s being ethical, because all I can see is the outside of things.

Jim: And we’re going to, of course, assume the nature of the ethics is about the interaction between self and the other. What does that tell us about things that we’re not supposed to judge other people’s ethics, but what about sociopaths? Favorite topic as a thought experiment. I could imagine a highly integrated, consistent sociopath acting with strong integrity, and I still don’t want that God damn sociopath in my community.

Forrest: Well, I have obviously mixed feelings about these things. So one part of me, I’m basically agreeing with you because that particular type of personality can be very destructive to communities. You could have a highly integrated community of a hundred people and you get one real, particularly smart, bad actor, and it can just literally wreck the whole thing. But on the other hand, there is sort of an evolutionary impulse here. So for instance, if I stand way, way, way back, and I basically say, okay, well, say for example, that community happens to be in a war situation. They’re attacked. It’s already fragmented all the hell and you end up with people basically trying to survive. And you look at it from an evolutionary point of view, and that one psychopath maybe the guy that knows how to basically deal with the war situation, and survive, and endure to move on to the next generation, and no one else does.

Forrest: So in one sense, you can basically say, when we look at the overall schema of human beings in relation to environments, it’s like search around discovery niche, and then exploit that niche to essentially continue. And so you have this explore behavior and you have this exploit behavior, and you have it occurring at the individual level, and you have it occurring at the collective level. So in effect, if we’re going to model this well, we need to think about it in those terms. And if we are really looking at this in a dispassionate way, again, not making judgements as to what right, or wrong, or whatnot, we’re looking at it more from the point of view of effective as in continues to live or doesn’t, then to some extent you might say, “Well, the sociopath is not very good at creating new things, but they’re really good at exploiting them.”

Forrest: Whereas, on the other hand, you’ll have essentially autistic people who are really, really good at creating things and terrible at exploiting them. And if you don’t have both as part of the genetic code, as part of the neurodiversity of the species, then there’s likely to be circumstances in which that particular tribe just doesn’t endure. So, in effect, when I’m looking at these particular things, I’m basically saying the nerve diversion hypothesis actually makes a lot of sense. It really works well. But in terms of the specific integrity of a particular community, and so on, and so forth, yeah, you might want to have some realistic barriers that detect sociopathy and detect, essentially, people defecting from the common good and stealing from the commons, and all the things that go wrong with rules of rulers dynamics and/or multipolar trap dynamics that can-

Forrest: Dynamics and/or multipolar trap dynamics that can be very destabilizing and also cause essentially a failure to thrive and so forth. So at the individual level, having a particular position in the neurodivergent spectrum, and then also kind of recognizing this in a very general philosophical way, I could say that my individual response and my collective response might be slightly different.

Jim: That’s always interesting when that happens, right? Mr. Kant, you were wrong, right?

Forrest: That’s a whole other topic. I think I’m going to leave that one alone.

Jim: You mentioned sociopathy and autism, although you’re probably actually talking about Asperger’s. A true, deep autistic isn’t going to create anything. Right? Can’t talk, has no verbal skills at all. But I’ve come to describe Silicon Valley as the place where armies of autistics are led by sociopaths.

Forrest: Well, I really, really agree with that assessment. And at this particular point, I think that’s one of the major hazards at a civilization level.

Jim: Absolutely. This is, I think, something we strongly agree on. And what’s interesting is that both of those classes, sociopaths, and let’s say high-function autistics, Asperger type people, are about 1 in 100 in the population, and they’re probably useful in the sense you talked about, the idea that your sociopath might be just the person to be your platoon leader when you got to fight it out with the tribe next door. But the inner dynamics of Game A has initially pulled sociopaths into positions of power, and now seems to be pulling high-function autistics into highly remunerative occupations in places like Silicon Valley. You get this very, very strange effect. You go to a place like Google and you go, “Fuck.” Right? Facebook, even worse. Right? Or there’s lots and lots of both, not just the 1%, a little bit of spice. You have much of the management team dominated by sociopaths. You have much of the production inventors dominated by high-function autistics. Not a good place to be probably for the longterm stability of the human race.

Forrest: Well, it’s interesting. So that 1% I would agree with, but I think that was true maybe a few hundred or a few thousand years ago. But I think that actually, when you look at it now, the percentages have increased. The socioeconomic civilization toolkit that we’re currently using tends to favor the development of both autistic traits and sociopathic traits. And so in effect, I think that we’re seeing an increase in the population on both ends as far as the neurodivergency is concerned. So in the same sense that we have with civilization an increase in the level of specialization in terms of the total types of skills and manifestations thereof, we’re also seeing that same thing happen at a neurodivergent level as well. Last I checked, when I was specifically looking into this to try to assess on a kind of, again, sort of prime metrics basis, both the sociopathy and the autistic side of things had gone up to something like four and a half percent from one.

Jim: Each?

Forrest: Each. Yeah.

Jim: Whoa. We’re fucked. Hopelessly.

Forrest: No, no. Actually, in one sense, this may actually be a good sign. I mean, I think at this particular point, I find myself being a little more optimistic in that sense, but there’s definitely a need for civilization structures that are far more resistant to, as you said, Game A sociopathic kind of process. But I think that to some extent, the creativity process has gone up somewhat as well. And so there’s at least a chance that the forces of goodness will prevail.

Jim: That’s a hopeful thought we’ll leave for another day. I think we’re going to skip over two very deeply nerdy topics unless you want to get into them.

Forrest: No, I think we’ve been nerdy enough. I’m going to leave it be.

Jim: Okay. Symmetry and continuity, the principles of. Let me go onto the next page here. We get this more interesting thing. This is where you talk about the differences between and relationship between perception and expression. And the choices are not just about actions, but also about expressions.

Forrest: This is maybe a much simpler point than would initially seem. It feels more complicated than it is just in the sense that there is a self to object relation, or there’s a subjective to objective relation or there’s any kind of thinking about that, that there’s two ways things can flow. They can flow from the self to the world, or they can flow from the world to the self. And if we just label those two directions of flow, a flow from the world to the self is going to be called perception. And the flow from the self to the world is going to be called expression. And so in effect, when we’re thinking about choices, we’re thinking about essentially a flow from the self to the world. And so I wasn’t really trying to get into any kind of elaborate process there. I was actually just trying to just remind people that this was the way in which I was thinking about those terms though.

Jim: Though you do lay an interesting ethical loading on it. I’ll redirect it back to you. One must always and can only be responsible for the totality of their choices and expressions. Neither more nor less. One cannot be legitimately required to account for one’s perception or knowing in any domain, world, or universe. Expression is always public. Perception is always private. That’s an ethically powerful statement, actually.

Forrest: It is. And it is in the sense that it’s actually based upon the notion of ethics that we’ve already given, which is that insofar as ethics is connected to choice, it’s not connected to causation. So in effect, there’s a sort of figure-ground relationship that we’re trying to sort of bring to awareness with that statement, which is that if we’re wanting to think about ethics as a topic, it’s helpful to sometimes point out all of the things which are not within that topic space. So for instance, if I basically had 100 ideas written down on a piece of paper, and I can say, “Well, these 90 ideas have nothing to do with this topic, aren’t going to of help us to figure this thing out at all, because they’re literally about something else.” Then I can focus my attention on the 10 remaining ideas that are going to be able to provide some information or some sort of insight.

Forrest: And so in this sense, what I’m really trying to do is to delimit the notion of how to think about ethics and the notions that would be involved in that thinking versus the kinds of things that we could just immediately dismiss from being even as questions as being interesting. So for example, if I basically try to say somebody’s knowing of something has a requirement that they are to do X or to do Y to do Z, then in effect, I’m trying to take their choices away. I’m basically saying, “Well, the notion of requirements is effectively an obligate thing. And then to some extent, it’s no longer a choice. And to the extent that it’s no longer a choice, it’s no longer going to be something which is described by the principles of effective choice, because that applies to just choices.”

Forrest: So there’s a kind of tautological element here, which I think is on one hand, it’s interesting because it allows us to clarify what we’re thinking about in very specific ways. But in another sense, it’s not that interesting simply because we had kind of implied that already when we described what ethics was in the first place.

Jim: That’s actually reasonable. And it also tells us what domain ethics applies in, which is in the movement of signal from self to world, but not what happens inside self, which means that thought crime should not be unethical.

Forrest: As stated. No need to add anything. Got it.

Jim: Yeah. All right. Now here’s, again, something quite topical to the world we actually live in at the moment. And this is about your claims for things that must be there for a good, honest communication. The process communication is best facilitated when each participant freely, honestly, and fully grants to the other these three rights: the right to speak, the right to be understood, and the right to know that one has been understood. If there’s any things that are not happening in our world today, those three seem to be it.

Forrest: Yeah, I would agree. I still feel very strongly that these notions about the three rights are granted. So for instance, I grant these three rights to you. And I can’t compel you to grant these three rights back to me, but on the hope that you do, then we have communication. Communication becomes possible in the handshake of each granting to the other these… I mean, you could call them privileges if you wanted to, but there’s essentially a notion that I’m essentially honoring and allowing freedom of your choice to speak or to not speak, what topics you choose, all that kind of stuff. And that in order for communication to happen, there’s a kind of sort of structural handshake that happens. If you say something to me but you don’t know that I’ve heard you or understood you, then you don’t know whether you need to resend the message or whether the message got through. And therefore, you’re basically supplanting further communication with the redundancy of repeating the message that you’ve just said which wasn’t received.

Forrest: And so in effect, there’s a kind of protocol that’s associated with good communication, which allows for us to do error correction, to basically notice when things get out of sync or when things basically become off the rails because of some basic protocol issue that really wasn’t relevant to the topic at hand. So in that sense, for example, I will sometimes say to people, “Is this what you meant?” Or, “I’m hearing you in this specific way,” and you get the option to basically say, “Yes, I meant that,” or, “I didn’t.” And so in this sense, we have a sort of recognition that in the same way that as protocol designers or as communication engineers or people that are trying to do good public speaking or all these kinds of things, that there are these deep principles that facilitate integrity in the communication process.

Forrest: So this is actually why it occurs in a section on ethics, because in effect, if we’re looking at again, the theory about the relationship between self and reality as being a kind of communication channel, then one of the things that sort of emerges out of this is what makes a good high-integrity communication channel? What are the kinds of practices that we would be engaged in that would allow us to essentially trust that the process of communication is actually working, that we are engaged in a interplay between two minds that each can’t necessarily know the contents of the other fully, but that the nature of the communicative process allows for a larger reason to emerge or a larger connectivity to emerge, that effectively something happens in the communication that goes beyond the self, both in the sense of, I’m obviously talking to someone who is not me, but in a sense that it has a meaningfulness that exceeds just the ingredients of myself and the other person.

Jim: Yeah. I think it’s hugely important in our Game B world. In our online system, we have something we call Rule Omega, which addresses the point number two, which is probably the one that’s most being abused at the moment out in the wild. And Rule Omega basically says, assume the other person is attempting to send you a signal and work in good faith to figure out what that signal is even if they’re not doing a very good job of it. Don’t assume that they’re sending you nonsense or something evil or something like that. And yet, as we know, particularly if you’ve ever participated in out-in-the-wild Facebook or Twitter conversations, people love to just jump the gigantic assumptions that what you’re saying is either stupid or evil or both, and that’s not the way to have a good, ethical, high-generative conversation.

Forrest: So first of all, there’s this beautiful body of work that’s basically considering conflict theory versus mistake theory. So I’m referring to a body of work… I believe it’s Slate Star Codex that mentioned this, or at least that’s the place I first encountered it. But the idea here is that for a conversation that is not a conflict-oriented conversation, we have people trying to dominate one another or convince one another to do something or we’re to take some action or something like that, that there’s essentially already an assumption that we’re trying to figure something out, that we’re working cooperatively to learn something new about the universe. So there’s a question. We’re standing side by side, and we’re basically just trying to make sense of the world. And so when I hear about Rule Omega, I generally interpret is as being particularly in the, “Can we correct perceptual mistakes? Can we correct thinking mistakes? Can we figure something out?”

Forrest: And that for topics like this, for ethics and philosophy and things that have a very subtle character, obviously consciousness and stuff like that is not the easiest thing to talk about. There’s a lot of difficulty and assumptions and abstractions that are involved and things that have very immediate practical consequences, but aren’t necessarily obvious as to why that is the case.

Forrest: And so in a sense, for any person that’s engaged in a conversation like this, there may be some deeply-held intuition that actually has a lot of merit that may be connected to something that’s real, that is a valid basis of perception and consideration. But it might actually be the case that although they have the perception and they have the sort of nuanced feeling of the thing, they might not be at all skillful at knowing how to encode that into words in a way another person would understand.

Forrest: So in that sense, if someone’s trying to communicate something that’s particularly subtle or particularly delicate, and we’re already in a context where we’re knowing that we’re trying to do this hard thing of communicate something that is genuinely difficult to communicate, that it is incumbent upon the receiver of that information to try to work cooperatively with the transmitter so that the transmitter gets the maximum possible assistance. So if I was to use a Star Trek metaphor, I’s boost the gain on the receiver and I would try to filter out the noise, and I might send enough feedback messages to let them know that they’ve been heard or what’s been heard and what hasn’t, and so on. So in effect, I’ve now become an active participant in a communicative process rather than just a passive listener.

Jim: Yep. And it’s one of the great failures of our age, of course, or at least one of our big political tendencies. The goddamn wokies make it as part of their principle to suppress all three. Right? And how the hell can you build a society based on that? And to your point, how can you act ethically when you can’t communicate, when you try to suppress communications actively as part of your ideology?

Forrest: Well, again, you’re going back to the notion of that’s conflict theory, right? They have a political agenda. They’re basically trying to make change happen. And so there’s a sense of kind of this addressing social inequality issues or addressing one another kind of issues. And to some extent, they’re basically treating the issue as being more important than the process by which they engage in it. And so I personally would say, “Well, maybe there’s a means-ends conflict there,” but-

Jim: That’s exactly what I say. That’s exactly what I say. In fact, I put out a call to see if I can get one of the more famous woke writers on my podcast, and I’m going to tell her right up front, “I think we agree with respect to ends, but I think we have a huge disagreement with respect to means. So let’s try to be respectful to each other, keeping in mind that we’re in part in agreement and part disagreement.”

Forrest: Well, bear in mind that the signaling theory… So for instance, if you bring someone like that onto your podcast, her or his or whoever just literally coming on your podcast would basically be signaling that they have some respect or willingness to engage, or if they did actually say that they agreed, then in effect, they’re signaling membership in a different tribe than they would otherwise be doing. And so in effect, there’s a whole lot of implications associated with, “Am I showing up in a way that would help other people to know that I’m with them? Or am I basically giving conflicted signals that essentially indicating that I’m not trying to indicate membership as a member of a particular orientation?” [inaudible 01:34:25] like that.

Jim: I’m well aware of that. When I floated this to my community of people, a good percentage of them thought, “You got to be crazy as shit to do that.” Right? And I go, “Yeah, could be.” But I’ve done it before. I actually invited one of my worst enemies onto the podcast. And we had a quite constructive conversation because we agreed in advance to only focus on the things we agreed on, which was kind of fun.

Forrest: Oh, well, that’s cool. I mean, again, I’d be interested to see how that goes. At this point, I’m not going to speculate as to what actually happens.

Jim: Yeah. I think that’s probably wise. Unfortunately, that’s so much to cover and so little time. I’m going to pick one thing to talk about for our exit because it’s kind of rich and interesting, and that is the meanings, relationships, et cetera, between want, need, and desire.

Forrest: Beautiful. So remember the example we used earlier of the toaster. That becomes a way of thinking about these. So for instance, where do wants, needs, and desires get… Where do they come from and where do they get resolved? So for example, if I have a want, I basically have to go into the outside world to get it. If we’re talking about food, I might want a candy bar, and I can’t produce a candy bar out of my own body. Obviously, I can’t take my finger and magically transform it into this thing. I’m basically looking at something that can only really be satisfied through a purchase.

Forrest: Whereas if I’m looking at something that’s a need, we may say we need food, but it’s not the food per se. It’s the energy and it’s the growth. And these are things that happen internally. So for instance, I can have a bunch of food sitting on the table, but until I actually ingest it and make it part of myself, it doesn’t really do any good. So in effect, there’s a sense here in which the notion of growth and the notion of love and the notion of things that can only really be satisfied through an internal process. And in that sense, there’s a sort of deep inner working that occurs to create growth or to create the capacity to move around and to do things.

Forrest: And desire is something that isn’t satisfied externally as it would be with a want or purely internally as it would be with a need. But it’s something that happens that is satisfaction occurs on the boundary between the inside and the outside.

Forrest: So for example, in the same sort of way that we would kind of draw an envelope around something and just basically say, “Okay, well, what’s crossing the envelope?” The notion of meaningfulness, for example, crosses the envelope. In the English language, for example, I can say the word dog, and you might think of a furry creature with four legs. But neither of us defined that term. It’s essentially a term that lives in the shared interrelationships of all the people that speak English. And so in effect, what we’re getting to with the notion of desire is that the same sort of way, it’s an interrelational process. It’s something that I can’t satisfy internally or externally, but I can only satisfy in relationship. And so in these senses, it’s important to, first of all, distinguish these three terms, because if I basically I’m trying to engage in externally seeking behaviors for something which can only be satisfied internal to myself, then that’s obviously going to be ineffective.

Forrest: In the same sort of way, if I try to solve deep inside of myself something that can only be solved by essentially engaging with external process, then that’s also going to be ineffective. So in effect, there’s a kind of clarification as to at a personal level, how do we get better at identifying needs, wants, and desires and fulfilling those in cases where we are actually knowing that we have them.

Jim: I’ll turn it around, let you pick one last topic that you would like to talk about that we did not cover.

Forrest: Well, there’s actually two things that I feel really deserve mention. One is the notion of how ethics is treated academically. A lot of people think that we can think about ethics and consider the topic through things like trolley problems. Imagine a scenario where we can create a no-win situation. And how do we understand the topics of good choice on the basis of this situation? And I think that just about every class of hypothetical of that particular term is immediately removal from the sense of a person making a choice in a real situation. I might try to predict what should I do tomorrow given such and such a scenario, which may or may not happen. But as most people who are finding themselves in actual such situations, the thing that they ultimately choose to do might not have anything to do with the kind of intellectual considerations that they thought that they should be having beforehand.

Forrest: And so I think that one of the things that can really be misleading when we’re thinking about these topics is that the topic matter itself is not one that is essentially addressable through abstract considerations taken in absentia. We basically need to engage with the practice of feeling as much as with the process of thinking in order to be able to actually make good, high quality choices. So this was connected to the notion you mentioned earlier about no amount of intellectual process is going to predict the future, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make good choices.

Forrest: What it basically means is that we have to find other ways to do it. We can’t just rely on intellect alone to do the job. So in effect, this is part of the reason why I was emphasizing the notion of value ethics earlier, because to some extent, if I feel through the situation, I say, “Can I be coherent? Can I be a whole being? Are all parts of myself ones that could align behind a particular choice that I’m being faced with?” then the notion of goodness in that choice is being affirmed in a different way than it would be if I could predict the outcomes and establish that those outcomes corresponded to some virtue ethics that I had selected in advance.

Forrest: So in effect, I’m basically describing virtue ethics as an embodied truth, not necessarily something as an intellectual truth. And so I mention this specifically because of a lot of people basically get confused by this particular distinction and it ends up becoming one that leads to a lot of needless debate about nothing, essentially. So I did want to highlight that specifically.

Forrest: The other thing that I think would be maybe relevant to mention is that again, there’s this really fundamental, abstract way of thinking about ethics, but there’s kind of key ideas that come out of this, which basically says a lot of cases, we can make good choices. It is possible to do. And that by understanding these principles, we can understand how better to do that both individually and collectively.

Forrest: So in kind of the sense of we have developed technology, we’ve got all of these newfound powers with chemistry and computer science and all the rest of these sorts of things, that it’s actually become more and more incumbent upon us to make really, really good choices. This is why topics of X-Risk and civilization design and all the rest of this sort of stuff basically are mentioned very much in consideration with the topics of ethics, because the principles of ethics become the ways in which we as an embodied culture, we as an embodied community can effectively be in right relationship with the natural world, with other people.

Forrest: And so in a sense, there’s a sense in which we’re not just embodying the ethics as individuals, but we’re embodying the ethics as communities, as entire nations, or in this case, as an entire planet. And so in that sense, because of the increased capacities that technology has brought to us, the increased relevance of ethical thinking and ethical feeling in the sense that I’m describing here becomes evermore important as a topic to understand well and to basically engage with considerable skillfulness.

Jim: Well, that’s a great place to roll out because this is not just philosophical bullshit. We have to get this stuff right if we’re going to survive as a species.

Forrest: That’s correct.

Jim: Well, I want to thank you again, Forrest. I want to chastise myself for not doing a better job of getting through my topic list on a timely basis, but Forrest did as usual, interesting job of answering the questions I was able to get to. And people would like to learn more about this paper, we will have a link to it on the episode page at as usual. So thank you Forrest for a wonderful conversation.

Forrest: Many blessings, and I look forward to our next occasion.

Jim: It’ll be good.

Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at