About Giles

I’m Giles Edkins. I believe in physicalism, and I believe the universe can very likely be described completely by a mathematical model. The universe at its most basic level is essentially an uncaring place, indifferent to our lives or ethics or suffering. We have to impose our own ethics on our own little section of it – which is difficult because ethics mean so many different things to different people.

For me, I imagine laying out different alternative courses that the history of the world could take, and ranking them according to which are nicest. Generally, when things happen to people against their will, that decreases the overall niceness (and decreases it by a lot of it involves intense pain or death). I want to act in such a way as to maximize the amount of niceness, somewhat constrained by the resources which I’m not greedily spending on myself. I’m aware that the utility function that I describe is both extremely vague and may involve concepts that are not meaningful when the universe is reduced to its physical description. I don’t think this is a fundamental flaw in the approach, but it’s going to come back to bite me at some point.

I believe that statements of fact are either true or false. If I want to help make the world as nice as possible, it’s important to know which is which and to get it right. This means having a set of beliefs which are consistent with each other and with reality as I observe it. For things I’m unsure about (i.e. everything) it means assigning probabilities (although I don’t know how to do that yet). The most important thing is that I don’t want to accept untruths, even comforting ones.

This search for consistency is all well and good, unless it leads to a conclusion that most people are wrong about something important. Then it gets awkward, because either I’m wrong or they are. With that in mind, here are some unusual things that I believe:

1. Humans are not rational animals. Our decisions are mostly made by what we could call the “unconscious” mind – and we don’t really know how it makes those decisions. The “conscious” mind is essentially a justification module – it can cook up a plausible-sounding justification for those decisions in the language that we understand. Sometimes it will be consulted before a decision is made and will reject that decision if it is unable to produce a plausible justification. This means that learning about how human behaviour is biased doesn’t necessarily help fix those biases – it just gives the conscious mind extra stuff to talk about. It also means that when someone’s mind is made up, it can be really difficult to change their mind. It’s not enough to simply provide enough evidence to tip the balance – you effectively need to counter every possible argument, because the conscious mind will keep coming up with new arguments for old decisions for as long as it can.

2. Giving to charity brings social benefits to the donor. From an evolutionary perspective, this may be why people do it (although it won’t feel like that’s the reason – see point 1 – and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing). But there’s very little pressure of any kind to donate that money effectively, i.e. actually helping as many people as much as possible, per dollar. Again this might not be a bad thing on its own, but a consequence is that some charities are vastly more effective than others. The optimal philanthropy movement is growing, but right now there don’t seem to be all that many people who have that exact motivation, and not much stuff out there to help us make our decisions.

3. There is a reasonable chance that before the end of the century, humanity will be wiped out by superintelligent robots.

4. There are substantial opportunities to make the world a better place by addressing the issues described in points 2. and 3.

The other thing you need to know is that I’m new to blogging, never previously having felt that I had anything to say. To start with, I’ll mainly be using this for my own benefit rather than yours, as a place to dump my ideas. Expect posts to be sporadic, poorly written and poorly researched until I get the hang of it. And what’s the blog going to be about? I expect that a lot will be about thinking of the world as a big system and trying to understand how it all works.

Wikipedia: physicalism consequentialism rationalization bias intelligence explosion

Less Wrong woke me up.

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1 Response to “About Giles”


  1. 1 Mr WordPress September 18, 2011 at 20:48

    Hi, this is a comment.
    To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.


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