Iron Man Extremis is a awesome comic, at least partly because it portrays Iron Man as a sort of naive hero, someone who doesn’t quite understand the situation of the intellectual heavyweights he believes he associates with, Maya and Saul. I’m quite certain that this is the only comic I’ve truly fallen in love with. To be frank, I have not read many comic books, but this one just struck very close to home. I’ve read Watchmen, V for Vendetta and The Killing Joke, yes maybe I’ve only read Alan Moore’s stuff, and I’ve found it poignant and inspiring much like everyone else has.
One of the early themes of the story was the idea that we can lie and cheat in order to get at that goal, or more idiomatically, the ends justify the means. And for some, namely Iron Man, it has. He’s secured this government funding not necessarily by being deceitful in his intentions, but certainly by keeping them in the dark about some of the things he is doing, but this is done through most of the accepted capitalistic infrastructure. He has blood on his hands, but everyone does. His end, of course is the idea of transcendence, to improve upon the human race technologically, by augmenting the human core.
Maya Hansen, well, she’s the one who is the latecomer. She tries to do the same thing, on perhaps a bigger scale. Iron Man’s crime was only found after the fact, while she had the bad luck to be caught in flagrante delicto. She has that same end of transcendence, of improving what fundamentally defines the human race, to recreate life of its own design, much like J Craig Venter’s own pursuits.
There’s that smbc comic, if we think of the ends justifying the means, then we must conclude that acts of heroism propagate backwards in time. If we say that batman has directly saved N lives. Then we will be forced to conclude that the man who shot batman’s parents has saved precisely N-2 lives. That batman could not have emerged from Bruce Wayne had not he been traumatized by that lone gunman, ergo it was that murderer who has rights to claim on the formation of this great hero. Arguably this is the embodiment of some post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but I don’t think so. I think this represents a deep and permeating issue in our ability to comprehend the world.
Lives saved is such a terrible metric, even worse than the idea of killing lives. We as a society have agreed that it’s cruel and inhumane to assign a definite value to a person’s life, but were often implicitly forced to. Contriving the mathematics of it, we can draw out these numbers that nobody is comfortable interacting with. A life is just this unit of value that we can’t be bothered to comprehend, lest we offend. So we evade the question and measure the merits of any accomplishment in units of lives. We can’t reduce it any further or compare it any more, but lives is a number and it can be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided.
Yes, sixteen million people died. Another fifty million. That’s much more than the seventeen thousand saved, and the hundred thousand who can now live longer.
It’s the only metric we can think of for measuring the value of an action, because this status quo forbids us from passing it. Dealing with value in terms of anything else is simply too taboo to be worth dealing with.
When we valuate something, it’s interesting how valuation ends up affecting that judgement. We tend to differentiate between the value of the present and the value of the future, but in truth, there is no such difference. If we know what the value of something in the future is, then it might as well be worth that much in the present. Any reason to discount from that prediction is because you’re making a margin in case your prediction is wrong, but if there is no doubt to that prediction, and you know for certain that it will be true at one point, then it might as well be worth that right now.
Lets say Facebook. In terms of contemporary events, Facebook is a company which has quite recently had its initial public offering. While I’m not too acute on the nuances of economics and trading, that if on the first day it was known without any doubt that the value would be at one point, 100 billion dollars, then that is what the value at that moment that it is known should be. You’re just hedging an investment which you are certain will pay out of that precise value, and it’ll always work so there’s no risk involved.
But in real live there are never things without risk, because we have to understand that actions have consequences. Assuming that Facebook is worth 100 billion dollars on day one means that you’re setting up the opportunity to be proven wrong, and when you can be proven wrong, you quite probably have created an opportunity for someone else to exploit. And as such, taking account of that, makes some rather unfortunate paradoxes. Now the system of variables which affect the outcome has expanded to virtually the whole universe. That’s why in the real world, we can’t escape risk, and so we have to account for them.
So we assign a value to each potential outcome and we multiply it by its probability and we get the present value, which is not so much a reflection of the company but all the knowledge we have of it, how much we think it could be worth and how certain we are of that outcome. The company and its value is no longer some physical entity which can be passively observed, but it becomes a looking glass. As Nietzsche said, when we gaze deeply into the abyss, take note that the abyss gazes also into you. Our valuations are not of the present, but of the future, based on the observations of the past.
Under this definition of value, it’s quite obvious that life does have a value, quod erat demonstradum. In fact that’s not even something which needs to be demonstrated, because those who argue that life can not be given a quantifiable value still believe it has a value, just something which is infinite or indeterminate.
We have computer algorithms for finding solutions in large, complex spaces. We only have so much information, and we are forced to make a decision, as choice to not make one is one ipso facto. A first degree thinker could implement a somewhat naive approach, assuming that there are no gambits. I think this could be thought of sort of like Djikstra’s algorithm for searching a path with the least possible cost while minimizing the space needed to be traversed. The problem is that the algorithm is absolutely hopeless when faced with the possibility that certain nodes have negative costs. That there exists in this situation something of a gambit wherein one path may yield the ideal solution just a few steps past the horizon.
We’re stuck with the idea that life is something which has value, something that can’t be numerically specified. That the value of that person’s life is the final potential value of that person’s life. That a person’s value is a number to be found somewhere between the greatest value that person will ever attain and the lowest, a value which only ever fluctuates when predictions and observations fail to pan out, or when a person’s prime has since passed.
The human mind is pretty much the same way, because this isn’t so much a problem with the algorithm but with the situation. If we allow the idea that certain graph nodes have negative costs, then there is no optimization that can be done. The only possible solution is to traverse every node in hopes of stumbling randomly on that magical move.
And the decision that life has an indeterminate value isn’t one of hubris or a bitter neglecting of reality, but logical consequence of accepting that there exists the possibility of negatively valued nodes in this grand graph-search of reality. Because fundamentally, if we acknowledge that something we have never seen has a chance of happening, then it assumes that the principle of induction itself is fundamentally flawed. And from that, the logical consequence is that you end up having to deal with probabilities that are unknown and possibilities that may be unknowable.
But the thing is that when we focus on a problem, we tend to develop tunnel vision. Especially when the size is too large for us to comprehend. Well, when we
Last edited Jun 4, 2012 9:00 PM.
I read this again on the last day of the year, 2017. Half a decade later, and I have no idea what this means. I’m reminded the quote “writing a book is more dangerous than having a child— you can always disown a child, but there’s nothing you can do to disown a book”. I hope that this is incoherent enough that nobody can be offended by this?