It is intrinsic to physical reality and universal

How could Altruistic Cooperation morality be intrinsic to reality and universal? What might that even mean?

If we were to travel to any of the over 100 billion galaxies in the universe, I expect we would find that physics works the same. Chemistry is the same, hydrogen fuses into helium in the core of stars by the same processes, planets orbit their suns by the same physics, and the mathematics that describe all this is the same. We could then conclude (as people have already done based on other evidence) that physics and the mathematics describing these phenomena are intrinsic to our physical reality and universal. Different species, and even hypothetical intelligent computer societies, might have different levels of understanding and different interpretations of this physics and mathematics, but they are observing and describing the same phenomena.

We might reasonably conclude that any phenomena that are species, and even biology, independent are intrinsic to physical reality and universal.

So is Altruistic Cooperation morality species independent and intrinsic to reality? That is, is it a description of phenomena similar to physics?

The intrinsic phenomena Altruistic Cooperation morality is based on are:

1) Beings can often, and intelligent beings can almost always, produce more benefits by cooperative efforts than by working only as individuals.

2) Cooperation often exposes cooperators to exploitation and altruistic cooperation (cooperation maintained by altruism) always does.

3) Exploiting other cooperators gets the individual the most benefits in the short term, and therefore can be attractive, but destroys potentially larger long term benefits of cooperation.

4) This problem in how to overcome short term self interest in order to sustainably obtain the benefits of cooperation in groups can be solved by a) beings being motivated to accept the short term cost of not exploiting other cooperators, and thereby benefiting other cooperators and b) punishment of beings who exploit other’s altruism.

5) Biological evolution implements this solution (point 4) by evolving emotions such as empathy, loyalty, guilt and shame that motivate altruism, evolving the emotional experience of durable well-being that rewards altruistic cooperation in groups, and evolving the emotion indignation that motivates punishment of people who exploit altruism. All this biology is selected for by the reproductive fitness benefits of increased cooperation in groups.

6) As a separate process, cultural evolution exploits this solution (point 4) by selecting enforced cultural norms (enforced moral standards) that advocate altruism and punishing people who exploit altruism. These enforced moral standards are selected for by whatever benefits of cooperation in groups people find attractive; reproductive fitness benefits may not be present.

7) Game theory provides altruistic strategies (composed of usually reliable, but still fallible heuristics) for choosing altruistic behaviors that have some protection against exploitation and are likely to increase the synergistic benefits of cooperation in groups. These mathematical altruistic strategies are also intrinsic to physical reality and universal.

Since these phenomena are species independent and a description of phenomena based in physics, Altruistic Cooperation morality is intrinsic to reality and universal. (Note that when discussing morality as an evolutionary adaptation, altruism is most usefully defined as “Acting without consideration of future net benefits, at a cost to one’s self, and benefiting other people”.)

Imagine that on our hypothetical trips to any of the over 100 billion galaxies in the universe we meet intelligent species. We might ask, “Do you observe the above seven phenomena and, if so, do they have social implications?” I expect the answer would most commonly be “Oh of course, they are the basis of the universal morality, the mother of all social moralities. Everyone knows that!” 

4 thoughts on “It is intrinsic to physical reality and universal

  1. What a great blog! Wonder how your view differs from the “nice nihilism” of Alex Rosenberg (in his recent book ‘The Atheist’s Guide to Reality’). He devotes considerable attention to game theory, but his conclusions don’t share the grandeur of yours, and I wonder if there’s much substance behind that difference.

    • Thanks Rob. Glad to hear my attempt at going for the grandeur has at least had some success. One big problem with the cultural utility of science based morality is generating emotional engagement. Since cultural utility is my overriding goal, I have spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to make Altruistic Cooperation emotionally engaging. Suggestions on how to do that would be particularly appreciated.

      I have not read Alex Rosenberg’s book carefully. I was put off by the nihilism description of a science based morality. Perhaps he only means that reality does not support imperative oughts, which I agree with. But In my view, morality as an evolutionary adaptation is very real and objective.

      In Chapter 1, he conveniently provides short answers to three questions that differ from my answers in important ways. I’ll contrast our answers:

      What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad?
      Nice Nihilism: There is no moral difference between them.
      Altruistic Cooperation: By focusing on the subcategory of morality defined by past and present enforced moral standards, we can know as an empirical fact that “Altruistic acts that increase the benefits of cooperation in groups are moral” and the implied inverse, “Acts that decrease the benefits of cooperation in groups are immoral”.

      Why should I be moral?
      Nice Nihilism: Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.
      Altruistic Cooperation: Because acting morally is important for maintaining the synergistic benefits of cooperation in groups. In societies with money economies and rule of law, these benefits (outside of family life) may be mostly psychological and include the emotional experience of “durable well-being” or happiness.

      Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory?
      Nice Nihilism: Anything goes.
      Altruistic Cooperation: In a particular society, enforced moral standards may make the above “forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory”. However, the decision to conform to these enforced norms (sometimes enforced by rule of law) is only an instrumental choice.

      Rosenberg is a kindred spirit, but seems to be coming to different conclusions.

  2. How does your philosophy deal with those who refuse to participate in the discourse?

    If people refuse to cooperate with the group, and are willing to die to try and destroy the group, the most beneficial thing for the group is to exterminate that Other. If you are to consider the Other part of the group, then the group must destroy some of itself (the other), or do as the other demands and destroy all of itself.

    Al Qaeda is the foremost manifestion of this that I am aware of. How are we to altruistically cooperate with Al Qaeda?

    I was watching an interesting show on the Adult Swim network called “super jail” last night. It raised the idea of “cooperative chaos”.

    • @The Laughable Daffodil

      There is no logical problem with refusing to cooperate with people who act badly. In fact, such refusal and other, more active, punishments are morally required to maintain the benefits of living in a society and to defend that society, such as from outside attack.

      The key idea is the science of morality reveals morality to be a biological and cultural adaptation for increasing the benefits of cooperation in groups. If a society wishes to increase the benefits of cooperation, then they can do so by enforcing moral codes that are optimized to advocate altruistic cooperation strategies. If they do not wish to do so, then morality is irrelevant to them.

      The science of morality only defines moral ‘means’. People still have to agree what the benefits of cooperation in those societies will be and how people to destroy those benefits will be punished.

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