Re: Taking the billion? Re: Gedankenexperiments

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From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Thu Aug 17 2000 - 01:54:07 PDT

Sigh. :-)

> You keep coming back to, essentially, "I'm not listening to anyone who isn't a billionaire talk
> about the value of money."
> That is...
> (1) SILLY. If we held all of our conversations to a such a
> standard, we'd always talk past each other. "I'm not listening
> to you anymore about arguments, you're no Gerry Spence!"

Huh? Okay, let's say you tell me "Koh Pangang has the best beach in the world." I say "really,
you've been there?" You say, "uh, no, but I heard it was." How credible is that? Or you say
"yeah," and I ask "but have you been to all the other beaches?" You're expressing an opinion, and an
uninformed one at that. If you tell me "there's stuff that money can't buy," and I say "really, have
you ever been able to and tried to buy something, and weren't able to?" and you say "uh, no, I've
never had the financial freedom to test that hypothesis," how credible is that? That's not a silly
argument, that's common sense. You've got no proof, and no credibility. You cannot prove that your
inability to buy that thing wasn't a function of financial constraint, rather than some inherent
quality of "unpurchasability."

> Many have suggested flaws in your conception of money's
> value.

In each case I (think I've) dealt with the proposal in some direct sense. I've tried this
"authority" tack as a means of avoiding an unresolvable infinite cycle of argument-counterargument,
see below.

I've never stated any particular conception of money's value, except that to some extent money is an
enabler of happiness. Money's not the *only* way to attain happiness, however, and it's a mistake or
sophistical trick in itself to infer anything about "my conception of money's value" other than what
I've explicitly said.

Aside: Geege pointed out something very intriguing in a private e-mail; her argument, basically and
as I understand it, boils down to "money can't buy serendipity." That's about the most compelling
counter I've heard, but really just requires making the proposition more explicit to exclude it.

I'm not trying to excuse "myself" --- or my argument --- from criticism. (Hell, if I didn't want the
criticism, I wouldn't be sitting here perpetuating this bitch of a thread. The criticism itself is
the whole point at this point; I've got no stake in convincing anyone of anything in this regard.)
I just haven't heard anything yet, possible exception of Geege's example, that convincingly
demonstrates something that money truly cannot buy, or enable, or improve one's odds at attaining.

So, you want to paint that as a sophistical trick, go right ahead. I really, truly, honestly am
taking the position that I don't think you can have a meaningful argument about what money can't buy
unless you've had enough money to try to buy that thing you claim is unpurchasable. Calling an
honestly held position --- even if totally braindamaged, which it very well might be --- a "sophist's
trick" is itself a sophist's trick. Right back at ya. ;-)

> defined competence on this topic as "having a billion dollars",
> and called the opinions and reasoning of people who don't
> meet this standard to be "amusing and pointless".

Note, too, that I am including myself in that category of incompetence; formulating that position as
an attack by me on my "critics'" competence is rhetorical slight-of-hand that inflames rather than
informs. I'm claiming we're all in the same boat of ignorance on this matter. Rather than using
incompetence as an attack against my critics, the substance of the argument is, really, what defines
the level of competence needed to disprove the assertion? That's where the disagreement is. I think
logic and common sense, as pointed out above and below, lead one to the inescapable conclusion that
the only indisputable counter to my assertion would be some personal experience to the contrary. I
haven't heard that yet.

> Well,
> though I trust you when you report that *you* can't imagine
> what it would be like to be a billionaire, note that others
> feel up to the task. There's enough information available on
> real-life billionaires, I know enough about my own preferences,
> I can both extrapolate and predict where extrapolation wouldn't
> apply. Of course, there would be surprises, but not so many
> that discussion is "pointless".

Well, that's all great. Let me point out something about big discontinuities. They're BIG. They're
hard to deal with. While you or I can imagine what it *might* be like, I simply can't state with any
certainty or credibilty whether or not having essentially unbounded financial bandwidth would enable
one to attain every possible desired happiness. Neither can you, or anybody else who hasn't been in
that unbounded financial state. We can state likelihoods, beliefs, and so forth based on simulating
that experience in our heads. But until it comes down to the wire, we just can't know for certain.
The discontinuity involved *in fact* forms a very dispersed sort of experiential / existential event
horizon. What's it like to be inside a black hole? Any answer to that question makes just about as
much sense as conjecture on the power of very large funds when you don't in fact have that.

> pointing out any specific authorities, or claiming yourself
> to be an authority, you've asserted that the number of
> trustable authorities present is "zero", so we can erase
> everything inconvenient that's been said. That's "degenerate"
> like a mathematical function with a zero factor.

Okay, let's suspend the authoritative requirement momentarily. I make a proposition, asserting that
"there's nothing in life that money can't buy." Anyone can challenge that assertion, saying "money
can't buy X," "money can't buy Y," etc. In each of those cases so far it's possible to say "well,
no, look, you *can* buy X." (Serendipity aside, and perhaps it's useful to constrain the phase space
of the argument to goal-directed, intentioned behavior.) Or, at a minimum, it's possible to argue
"you *might* be able to buy X, there's no way to know unless you've tried." We can continue on that
path indefinitely, and you're right to point out that lack of counterproof of my assertion is not in
itself proof of my assertion. So rather than have that unresolvable infinite argument, I simply
observe that *a* definitive disproof of the assertion is for someone with specific credibility to say
"look, no, even with practically unbounded finances I was unable to buy X." (I might make the
observation that X is generally available for a nominal cost of around $20. ;-) Such a personal
counterexample would be absolutely indisputable. Once you agree with that --- and you should ---
it's a short inductive step to realizing that it's impossible to have an indisputable disproof of the
assertion other than by the means indicated, quod erat demonstrandum.

Bottom line: my metaproposition here isn't the indisputable truth of my original assertion per se
but rather the observation that the only way to disprove the assertion is by direct, empirical
evidence to the contrary which none of us here can possibly have. This is a totally well-formed
argument, as far as I can tell.

> Ask Ross Perot how much the U.S. presidency costs.

He didn't have enough cash. ;-) I imagine the presidency could easily be had by simply paying the
general populace somewhere in the 5 to 7 figure range each for their support. (Waitasec, is that
legal? Surely not? Should it be? Interesting discussion. :-)

> Or better yet,
> the constitutionally disqualified Rupert Murdoch.
> Approach a billionaire and ask him if all his money can bring back
> a beloved dead parent. (Be ready to be punched.)

Well, okay, let's get wacky for a second. Enough time and dollars can hypothetically lead to
technology capable of simulating reality to a level of detail indistinguishable from "real" reality.
Life is experience, and if experience can be credibly synthesized at some cost, anything is possible
if it can be afforded; this includes living four years in the White House as well as talking to dead
Uncle Dick, Pops, or whoever.

> - Gordon

C'mon, Gordon, you can do better than this. ;-) Attack the substance, not the form. (Badly, at
that.) We can do endless counterexamples, but there's no entertainment there... or you could simply
create some sort of paradoxical logic bomb that follows from my assertion and thus cast the whole
thing into ambiguity and infinite recursive mumbling, thereby defusing the whole thing. Not like you
haven't sprung that one on me enough times before. :-)

This whole thing's pretty silly, though; my original intent was just to bait out any hypocrites who
sanctimoniously and ignorantly disclaim all materiality and self-interest. :-) Sadly, we don't
appear to have any of THOSE people here. ;-) :-)


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