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Scott Adams's Big Plan, or, Goodnight Moon:

From the Scott Adams blog at the Dilbert site. It's actually called "Killer Moon," but I liked my title better. I'm very, very surprised Glenn Reynolds hasn't already linked to it (update: Glenn responds in the first comment). Very, very, very surprised - moon, robots, digitized brains, asteroid collision, space colonization, end of the world, hot robot wife? It (verily) cries out, Glenn Reynolds! Glenn Reynolds! Consider:

Perhaps you think you would miss being human, but that's a subroutine we'd leave out of the robot mind. You would be designed for happiness. And I'm not talking about ordinary happiness. I'm talking about the kind that makes you scream and curl your robot toes. It will be a happy robot planet.

Although it probably counts as Too Much Information, I often find myself reading myself to sleep with old Dilbert collections. I used to read philosophy, then economics, but now ... Dilbert. However. The first paragraph (the block quote below, that is, not above) and its last two sentences particularly amused me sufficiently that I'm thinking of using them as a pop quiz in corporate finance class, something like, "Consider ways in which this paragraph might be taken as an ironic commentary on efficient market theory in the really strong, Panglossian-necessitarian sense (I made that term up, slightly ironically, so no need to comment on it in the comments) - or might not. Discuss." Which, dear readers, I leave to you in the comments. Would the Great Greg Mankiw have thought of that for his freshman seminar?

Lately I have been looking at the moon and wondering if it will someday kill me. If I live another 50 years (which is entirely possible) I assume I will eventually be a robot, having shed my old skin and bones body and uploaded a scanned and digitized version of my brain to a machine. My fellow robots and I will live among the meat people for eons until the moon's orbit degrades, either gradually or because a meteor gives it a nudge, and Earth is annihilated in the collision. You might say I worry too much. But I've successfully avoided death so far, so I say I worry just enough.

Because of this impending moon problem I have been planning an exit strategy. By the time the moon starts heading our way I imagine we'll have the technology to send me into space in an escape rocket, searching for a habitable planet. I could power down my robot brain so the trip isn't so boring.

But even if this plan works it will be lonely when I find my new planet. And then there is the issue of the 400 billion meat people and fellow robots I leave behind, including my hot robot wife, Shelly, and the rest of my robot family. I want a solution for them too. Sure, I could reprogram my brain to not care, but that's not how I roll.

Unfortunately, I assume there would be no practical way to build and launch enough rockets for everyone to escape, at least not in time. So sending the entire population of Earth to the new planet isn't going to work.

We need a better plan than that, and it goes like this ...

(Two additional things: No snark about Glenn or anyone else in the comments, please; I want to hear about 'Panglossian Necessitarianism', as I'm sure you do, too. Also, this post is not actually for Glenn, but for ... Martha Minow, who alas probably has less time than anyone in academia these days for this kind of goofiness, but I wonder whether the Power of the Internet will bring this post to her? Okay, that was my study break; I have to go back to writing about proportionality, military necessity, civilian harm and the laws of war, and correct the page proofs for a Revista de Libros (Madrid) essay on Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent. Adieu.)

Glenn Reynolds (mail) (www):
I already have a hot cyborg wife, so I'm partway there now!
9.14.2009 8:21pm
Disintelligentsia (mail):
Panglossian Necessitarianism, now that you've made it up, will shortly have a Wikipedia entry which will be hotly debated (flamed) by "experts" in Panglossian Necessitarianism and their acolytes. Each, of course, will believe that their version of the article is the best version that can exist or God would have willed it otherwise -- to believe otherwise would negate the existence of God because he permitted a less than optimal Wikipedia entry to exist.
9.14.2009 8:23pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
When I was a little kid I made a first pass at projecting that the tidal transfer of angular motion from Earth to Luna would first expand the lunar orbit, until the Earth day was sinced to the orbital period of Luna, then transfer from the Sun would further tidally slow the Earth's rotation, which angular momentum would be transferred to the lunar orbit, contracting it. I worried about that for a while, so I learned enough math to put numbers to it, and found that, first, Luna would disintegrate when it reached the Roche limit of about 2 Earth radii, becoming a thick ring that would gradually bombard Earth with debris, and second, that the entire process would take more than the 5 billion year life expectancy of Earth before the Sun expands to consume it.

So the Sun will get us first.

Ever since then, my friends have been able to joke that I am the only guy they know with a 5 billion year planning time horizon, and Roland's Panacea: Do nothing for 5 billion years. The problem will take care of itself.
9.14.2009 8:31pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Correction: Should be "synced".
9.14.2009 8:33pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
For more on the Roche limit.
9.14.2009 8:38pm
DiverDan (mail):
There is really no need to worry about the Moon's Orbit degrading, resulting in a collision with the Earth. The Moon is actually receding away from the Earth at a rate of a few centimeters a year - it was actually much closer (and much brighter, with much greater tides) a few million years ago. At the present rate, another 50,000 years will only take the Moon about a mile further away than it is now. Now in another 200 Million Years, it might have receded far enough away so that it no longer stabilizes the Earth's precession, and we'll all be in trouble!

As to Panglossian Necessitarianism, I recognize Pangloss as a character from Voltaire's Candide; it is from the Greek, meaning literally "all tongues", or all languages. Necessitarianism sounds like a behavioral philosophy which postulates that whatever is necessary must occur -or, idiomatically, "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." Hence, Panglossian Necessitarianism must mean a philosophical belief in "Que Sera Sera."
9.14.2009 8:45pm
Splunge:
Putting that kind of drivel in a freshman seminar would be enough to make me demand my tuition back.

I'm also hugely amused when a 50 year old protoplasm machine, still up to date (mostly) and working well, sits in front of a 5 year old computer, already obsolete, riddled with virii and trojans, and requiring reboot thrice fortnightly, and types out a paen to the solid immortality of silicon and metal. Irony, much?
9.14.2009 9:17pm
BillW:
But even if this plan works it will be lonely when I find my new planet. And then there is the issue of the 400 billion meat people and fellow robots I leave behind, including my hot robot wife, Shelly, and the rest of my robot family. I want a solution for them too. Sure, I could reprogram my brain to not care, but that's not how I roll.

Unfortunately, I assume there would be no practical way to build and launch enough rockets for everyone to escape, at least not in time. So sending the entire population of Earth to the new planet isn't going to work.

Rockets? How quaint.

The first team on each new planet sets up a robot factory and a receiver. What's the bandwidth needed to transmit a robust copy of a person?
9.14.2009 9:42pm
Doug Sundseth (mail):
"But I've successfully avoided death so far, so I say I worry just enough."

First, "I say I worry just enough", being a recursive meta-statement, is inherently unfalsifiable. But I have engaged in the following analysis in an attempt to apply Grice's cooperative principle to what the author seems to me to have meant.

Assuming that the author meant to say that the fact of his failure to die either proves or tends to prove that he has worried "just enough", his statement does not follow from the logic of the situation.

We know that at the time he wrote the statement, he had not worried so much as to cause his death by the time that he wrote the statement. We know that at the time he wrote the statement, he had not worried so little as to cause his death by the time that he wrote the statement.

That said, he might have worried so much or so little as to cause his death in the future. Alternatively, his amount of worry might have had no effect on his survival at all. And we have no evidence to indicate whether there is any other positive or negative effect from his worry.

Now, have I analyzed this to death yet? Because I really want it to be dead. 8-)
9.14.2009 9:49pm
Kenneth Anderson (www):
Doug Sundseth: You had me at "recursive met-statement."
9.14.2009 9:52pm
klw (mail):
On military necessity
9.14.2009 10:01pm
one of many:

As to Panglossian Necessitarianism, I recognize Pangloss as a character from Voltaire's Candide; it is from the Greek, meaning literally "all tongues", or all languages. Necessitarianism sounds like a behavioral philosophy which postulates that whatever is necessary must occur -or, idiomatically, "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." Hence, Panglossian Necessitarianism must mean a philosophical belief in "Que Sera Sera."

Close, Panglossian no doubt refers to the Philosphy of the good Dr. Pangloss that a perfect creator made this the best of all possible worlds and that whatever misfortunes happen work out for the best results. Thus Panglossian necessitarianism holds that whatever action is taken out of necessity is the best that is possible, and works out for the best possible results.
9.14.2009 10:25pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Projecting technology no more than a century, we get to the separation of human software (mind, soul) from hardware (meat), and we can expect that this will happen to any sufficiently advanced civilization. After that, we may "live" in virtual worlds (Tron, Matrix), or load copies of minds into synthetic bodies if such are needed for real-world "away" missions. (Some think the reported gray aliens are androids produced for the mission and discarded with completion.)

This leads to speculation concerning what economic interest an advanced alien civilization might have in us. They wouldn't need materials or energy. Those are abundant in the Universe. The one apparent value we could have for them would be as an incubator for the "minds" of new members of their society, an incubator that might produce randomized minds that might be more diverse and creative than ones they could produce in their too-tame environment. A "primitive" planet could be a better incubator than any they could build.

So when religious leaders preach about a soul being "saved", they could mean, "liKe onto a disk drive", for re-use as new (noncorporeal) citizens in a galactic society.
9.14.2009 10:47pm
one of many:
Dang, hit submit instead of preview:

necesitarianism is related to Panglossianism and conflicts with it at the same time by holding that there is only one way in which the world (universe) can possibly be yet the necessitarian rejects causality while Panglossians embrace it, indeed a central point of Panglossianism is causality in that every action results in the best possible outcome. This dichotomy is resolved by reconciling that Panglossian causality is not the type of causality rejected by necessitarians.


Panglossian necessitarianism to efficient market theory. Much like Churchill (Winston, not Ward) is supposed to have said about democracy, free markets are the most inefficient means of pricing except for all the others that have been tried throughout human history. The Panglossian necessitarian rejects this and holds that whatever means of pricing is used it is the only means which the universe is constructed to use (in that particular case) and produces the best possible pricing result. If markets, free or otherwise, produce a price it is the best possible and only possible price. From this we can determine that the most efficient means of producing a price is the one which requires the least expenditure of resources, since whatever price results will be the best possible price as well being the only possible means of producing that price, which would indicate that free markets with no government input are the most efficient (for government) system of pricing. Interestingly using the free market may cost more than other systems in absolute terms (hiring one person to randomly assign prices would probably be cheapest) it is the most efficient for the government, it shifts the costs of pricing to the market which has to spend all kinds of money doing marketing research and advertising and so forth.
9.14.2009 10:51pm
Chris 24601 (mail) (www):
9.14.2009 10:57pm
rmd:

Cf. Bostrom, Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?

Well, it'd be just my damn luck, wouldn't it? I want a reboot.
9.14.2009 11:15pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
These "something will happen to the moon/sun/earth/galaxy in x million years" things are silly, because they fail to take into account human or transhuman intervention. Assume that moore's law continues to hold for the next several thousand years, and other trends about power becoming cheaper, population expanding, etc., and it becomes very plausible to think of some jr high kid with the quantum equivalent of a chemistry set blowing up the moon by accident or as a prank, or to sell as moon rocks to gullible tourists. Or the grey goo problem opportunity, as the moon becomes nanites, tiny spaceships holding the personalities and dna patterns of 15 billion people, heading outward.
9.14.2009 11:15pm
Jeff Dege (mail):
'Panglossian Necessitarianism'

Now that's got me thinking about the old joke:

What's the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?

An optimist believes this is the best of all possible worlds.

A pessimist is afraid that he's right.


Personally, I look to chaos theory, It's only in a world in which systems work reliably most of the time, but fail catastrophically at random intervals, that life can exist.
9.14.2009 11:35pm
Elmer:
In the way a good Briea Zueho song examines any subject, Adams expresses the direct, paleoramonan view of EMT through the fabulously indirect path of a narrative purporting to represent its exact opposite: a telling of the ancient myth of the small band escaping to a new world of freedom and happiness. The account owes much to de Beauharnais'extension of Panglossian necessitarianism, particularly as regards Heiser's explication of the changes that accompany any antiretrix attempts to reorder the social compact. The aproach is alchemical rather than Aristotelian, so that by the story's end, there's no feeling of having learned about EMT, rather that we have always understood it and its limitations, just as we forget learning how to walk.
9.14.2009 11:39pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Bad luck: Being the last guy to die before his mind can be saved.

Worse luck: Discovering that one's mind has only been saved to be traded on a galactic ebay for alien cybersadists.
9.15.2009 12:01am
Leo Marvin (mail):
I agree with Reynolds:

I'd like one of those now, especially if it could also treat migraine headaches. They're working on it! They're already working on vagus-nerve stimulation for epilepsy and depression, and even neural stimulation implants that promote female orgasms. (What, nothing for us guys?)

Yeah, when are we gonna get some female orgasms?
9.15.2009 12:08am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Elmer wins the prize before being dragged out to a wall and shot.
9.15.2009 12:13am
Ventrue Capital (mail) (www):
From Neil R. Jones to John Von Neumann: Been there, done that, read the book, bought the t-shirt.
9.15.2009 12:16am
Pragmaticist:
I needn't look to see if there's a $20 bill on the ground as you claim there is, for, per impossible, if there were one, someone else would have already have picked it up.
9.15.2009 2:47am
BlackX (mail):
VC is already the first hit for Panglossian Necessitarianism. (Though, without quotes, others show up.)
9.15.2009 3:38am
rick.felt:
Yeah, when are we gonna get some female orgasms?

Oh stop. If female orgasms were as good as we're all told, women would like sex way, way more than they do. Sometimes the mask slips on this sort of absurdity, though, like when we find out that childbirth is so horrible that you can accomplish it during a bathroom break at your prom.

This reminds me of the complaining about circumcision. "It reduces men's pleasure!" folks like Andrew Sullivan shriek. Can you imagine what an awful place this world would be if sex felt even better for men? Men will pretty much do anything for sex as-is. Make sex feel even better and the Earth may fall out of its orbit.
9.15.2009 8:31am
egd:
rick.felt:

Make sex feel even better and the Earth may fall out of its orbit.

Only if some man thought it would somehow impress a woman enough to get her to have sex with him.
9.15.2009 9:03am
troll_dc2 (mail):
This may not be entirely relevant, but it is something that I have given some thought to lately. What would happen if the moon just disappeared?

How would our moon-based religions know when their holidays were occurring? What would be the point of starting the holidays on the night before?

What would be the effect on the earth? Would there still be tides at all (due to planetary attractions)?
9.15.2009 9:28am
MCM (mail):
This reminds me of the complaining about circumcision. "It reduces men's pleasure!" folks like Andrew Sullivan shriek. Can you imagine what an awful place this world would be if sex felt even better for men? Men will pretty much do anything for sex as-is.


Most men aren't circumcised. What's your obsession with Andrew Sullivan, anyway?
9.15.2009 9:53am
MCM (mail):
Oh stop. If female orgasms were as good as we're all told, women would like sex way, way more than they do.


... except that many women (1/3rd or so) don't have them at all during sex. And only 1/10th have them reliably.
9.15.2009 9:58am
krs:
VC commenters talking about sex is one of the creepiest things on the portion of the internet that I read.
9.15.2009 10:46am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
troll_dc2:

What would happen if the moon just disappeared?

What would be the effect on the earth? Would there still be tides at all (due to planetary attractions)?

There would still be tides from the Sun of about a third of the amplitude. Some have speculated the effect of that would not be enough to stabilize the rotation of Earth to prevent extreme precession, sometimes putting the rotational poles at as much as 90° from the plane of the ecliptic, but others have pointed out that other planets such as Venus and Mars seem to have stable rotational axes without large moons.

The tidal effects of the other planets are almost negligible, except over very long time periods. Remember my earlier post about projecting the time it would take for the moon to reach the Roche limit. The uncertainty of that time period is due to uncertainties in the effects on the time interval (several tens of billions of years) due to both the other planets and relativistic effects. The other planets confront one with the n-body problem, which I once studied intensely, which has no closed-form solution, but only approximation methods that fail when there are configurations having "cusps", where influences of other bodies are balanced as on a knife edge.
9.15.2009 10:57am
rick.felt:
What's your obsession with Andrew Sullivan, anyway?

I find his fixation on the horrors of circumcision to be hilarious.

except that many women (1/3rd or so) don't have [orgasms] at all during sex. And only 1/10th have them reliably.

Purely anecdotal, but I haven't found that there's much of a relationship between a woman's ability to have an orgasm (or several) and her enthusiasm towards sex.
9.15.2009 11:28am
ASlyJD (mail):
Purely anecdotal as well, but as someone capable of experienceing female orgasm from the first person perspective, let me say that a woman can crave orgasm without that craving being sufficient to desire sex. This is especially true for those not in the 1/10th of women who experience orgasms routinely during sex. (This disconnect of sex and female orgasm is exacerbated by the ready availability of female orgasms with the help of a small electrical motor.) Analogously, I may have a desire for easy money, but that desire will only rarely increase to a level sufficient to impel myself to a casino, particularly if that desire can be satisfied by other pursuits.

As for the gentlemen wondering why women get implants to aid in orgasm while men do not, I assure you that most of these women would greatly prefer a pill that would allow for easy arousal and subsequent orgasm instead of undergoing spinal surgery to obtain any enjoyment from this thing called intercourse.
9.15.2009 11:46am
JRL:
Splunge:
May I politely suggest that "virii" is not a real word?
9.15.2009 12:46pm
egd:
troll_dc2 (mail):

This may not be entirely relevant, but it is something that I have given some thought to lately. What would happen if the moon just disappeared?

How would our moon-based religions know when their holidays were occurring? What would be the point of starting the holidays on the night before?

What would be the effect on the earth? Would there still be tides at all (due to planetary attractions)?

The series, "The Universe" did an entire special on the moon, including what would have happen/will happen if the moon wasn't there/was lost.

Part 1 is here.
9.15.2009 1:11pm
one of many:
JRL, I'm not Splunge but you force me to respond:

virii is an English language variation, the plural of virus. mind you it is considered a less than proper form but is still widely used and should be recognized unless you want take on all the baggage of being a prescriptivist. are you now or have you ever been a prescriptivist?
9.15.2009 2:39pm
Hugh59:

There is really no need to worry about the Moon's Orbit degrading, resulting in a collision with the Earth. The Moon is actually receding away from the Earth at a rate of a few centimeters a year - it was actually much closer (and much brighter, with much greater tides) a few million years ago. At the present rate, another 50,000 years will only take the Moon about a mile further away than it is now. Now in another 200 Million Years, it might have receded far enough away so that it no longer stabilizes the Earth's precession, and we'll all be in trouble!


That's a good point, DiverDan, but we don't have to wait 200 million years. The moon was blasted out of Earth orbit on September 13, 1999:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space:_1999
9.15.2009 2:53pm
JRL:
one of many:
As to your question, I refuse to incriminate myself. And I will never name names of others.
But, seriously, no, I have never cared enough to be called a prescriptivist. I just try to stay in the mainstream of American usage. So when Columbia and Garner and Merriam Webster all said that the plural of virus is viruses, I figured that the reason I had never heard or seen the word "virii" is because it is indeed not used by English speakers.
But if it is indeed used by a significant portion of speakers, I stand corrected.
9.15.2009 3:15pm
JRL:
sorry to turn to questions of usage in what should be a thread about the moon and robots.
9.15.2009 3:16pm
pst314 (mail):
"You would be designed for happiness."

How do we know it wouldn't be like Douglas Adams' cow that wants to be eaten and is capable of saying so?
9.15.2009 3:42pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
rick.felt:

Make sex feel even better and the Earth may fall out of its orbit.

I can live with that.
9.15.2009 4:17pm
Tom B (www):
I think some of you intended to post in the "Devices 'Useful Primarily for the Stimulation of Human Genital Organs' Going to the Supreme Court?" thread... http://volokh.com/posts/1253032890.shtml

Panglossian Necessitarianism sounds like something discussed over a bag of Cheetos and bong hits in a college dorm room. Despite my lack of accoutrements, I shall chime in. Surviving so far only indicates that Adams does not worry too little. I suppose one could worry so much that one does nothing and starves to death, but that seems far-fetched. Adams, though his statement is clever, has not provided any evidence that he does not worry too much. It's a trick.
9.15.2009 4:57pm
one of many:
I dunno Tom B, as with all preventative measures one can never objectively determine what is too much, one can only determine what is too little. Admittedly we could have Adams worry less about things like the moon crashing into the Earth in small increments, and when Adams dies due to not worrying enough we will know he should have worried more than the amount of the final increment, but is that practical? Adams goal is to worry enough to prevent his death, and so far the amount of worry has been sufficient to prevent his death which is the best practical means of determining whether one worries enough or not. I agree though that "just enough" is poor phraseology, more precise would be "at least enough".
9.15.2009 5:10pm
subpatre (mail):
Kenneth - your suggested title of Goodnight Moon was better. Unfortunately the title’s already ‘taken’ by Margaret Wise Brown, author of The Runaway Bunny. After 62 years her book still has a sales rank of 271, and is firmly entrenched in (very early) childhood literature. More important, there are extremely powerful legal interests who enjoy the book and might act to protect the title.

Nice name though.
9.16.2009 7:54am

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