Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Moral priorities

Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Utilitarianism. And the ultimate purpose: the perpetuation of intelligent life.

These can be unified into a moral theory whereby the first priority is the perpetuation of intelligent life, the second priority is ensuring the physiological needs (bottom of the pyramid) of the existing community of intelligent life (greatest number), the third priority is ensuring the safety needs (next level of the pyramid) of the existing community of intelligent life, etc.

The obvious interpretation of this theory is that it is a moral traversty that the rich worry about their self-actualisation needs, whilst the poor worry about there physiological needs. But then we knew that anyway...

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


The swear words used in the English language are atrocious. Most these days (post-racism, post-misogyny, post-xenophobia) are related to sex, possibly deriving from victorian prudishness, and have unfortunate consequence of perpetuating the stigma of sex in society. And yet the worst thing a person can be is arrogant. There is just one noun, egotist, to call someone that's arrogant. And even that hardly rolls off the tongue.

How much to do?

How much should we do to help our fellow man, our environment, future generations, etc? A complete altruist would work hard all day (at an ethical job), spend their free time working in soup kitchens or some such, never have any indulgences and give all their spare money to charity. Can you really justify going to the cinema once a month, costing ~£8, when just £2 a month can cure all sorts of ills? Well yes, in fact you can. You do. Everyone does. Even crazy hippy types have luxuries and they certainly aren't doing all that is possible to make the world a better place. So how do we do it? Perhaps this graph will help. I think the relevant variables are the impact on your quality of life (for most people £2 a month is very low impact) and guilt.

All we need now is some data, and we can start predicting how much people are prepared to do...

Penny for your thoughts

Ever noticed how when someone asks "penny for your thoughts" you completely forget what you were thinking about. It's a perfect example of the observer effect, which is often confused with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. I wonder what happens when someone asks "penny for your thoughts" when you've been thinking about position and momentum...