Is the Good something that exists in the world? Existentialists thought not. They thought we have freedom, but saw this freedom as absurd because there is nothing to help us evaluate our options. Without values, no evaluations. Most religions place the origin of good in a supernatural Being. Existentialists denied that Being. "God is dead," they said, and thus denied any essential objective Good. The traditional source of normative values, of morality, of ethics, of what one "ought to do," has been religion. It is often said that science, the empirical study of the natural world, cannot possibly help us to define the good. David Hume is often cited as saying we cannot derive "Ought" from "Is." This is sometimes called the "fact/value" dichotomy. Science, it is said, can help us to do what we decide to do. It can help with prudential or instrumental decisions about "means," but not with moral decisions that depend on the intrinsic value of "ends." It is difficult to generalize about the thousands of religions invented over the ages by their prophets and founders, but most include a code of moral behavior. Some founders told their followers that they had simply discovered the correct moral codes. Some prophets claim to have been explicitly told the "truth" about good and evil in a conversation with God, or by a mystical vision. With founders and prophets mostly long gone today, moral codes are typically handed down by various traditions. The power of the institutions that has grown up around world religions lies entirely in their ability to limit the knowledge of their members to their beliefs about the "truth." Where these traditions vary in their beliefs, and they do disagree in fundamental ways, they cannot possibly all be right, unless all cultural beliefs are relative, which they may well be at the present time. Humanists think that good and evil are human inventions, that value systems are relative to a local community or society. "Man is the measure of all things," said Protagoras. Comparative ethics is the study of disparate value systems in the hope of finding come commonly held rules, for which one can claim some universal or objective significance, for example, the golden rule, "Do unto others" or commandments like "Thou shall not kill." Some philosophers make human life an objective good. Some make one own's life the ultimate good. Some think the good is the maximization of pleasure, or happiness, or well-being, for all humans (or maybe just one own's family, tribe, community, or nation?), John Stuart Mill, for example. Modern bioethicists hope to avoid all this relativism by situating value in all life, seeing humanism as short-sighted, if generalized, self-interest. A variety of ancient religions looked to the Sun as the sustainer of all life and thus found an objective good outside of human life. They anthropomorphized the sun or the "bright sky" as God. Dark and night were stigmatized as evil and "fallen." Echoes of these ancient views persist in our metaphors of light, of enlightenment, as good. Philosophers have ever longed to discover a cosmic good. The ideal source of a cosmic good is perhaps as remote as possible from the Earth in space and as distant in time. Some theologians and philosophers think the Good must be "outside space and time." For Plato, it was a timeless Good to be found in Being itself. For his student Aristotle, it was a property of the first principles that set the world in motion. For Immanuel Kant, it was a transcendental and "noumenal" God outside the everyday "phenomenal" world of experience. Information philosophy has found that the story of human evolution does not start with Darwin and DNA. It starts much, much earlier, at the very beginning of the universe. For those of you thinking that your origins and place in the universe might be found outside of animal evolution, beyond a mere material explanation, you might be happy to learn that your most distant beginning was in the primeval formation of immaterial, abstract information, a kind of metaphysical spirituality you can tie directly to the information content of your innermost thoughts. Has information philosophy discovered the cosmic good? Does it at least identify the prerequisite source of anything resembling the Good? Yes, it does. Does it resemble the Good anthropomorphized as a God personally concerned about our individual goods? No, not really. But it has one outstanding characteristic of such a God. It is Providence. Information philosophy has discovered the fundamental process in the universe that provides for our well-being. It provides the light, it supports life, it enables intelligence. For all of these things, should we not be thankful and reverent toward such a cosmic creative process, attitudes humans normally feel towards a providential god? Information philosophy replaces the difficult problem of “Does God exist?” with the more tractable problem “Does Goodness exist?” Humanists situate values in reason or human nature. Bioethicists seek to move the source of goodness to the biosphere. Life itself becomes the summum bonum. Information philosophers look out to the universe as a whole, beyond the obviously beneficent Sun to find a cosmos that grew from a chaos. The growth of that cosmos continues today, in a cosmic creative process that formed the galaxies, stars, and planets, that led to life and then to the evolution of the information-processing minds that created language and logic. It is this process that we propose creates objective value. Exactly how that is possible requires a subtle understanding of the second law of thermodynamics in an expanding and open universe. The second law is the tendency of isolated systems to become more disorderly, to increase the "entropy," a quantitative measure of disorder. When entropy increases in the system, information can be destroyed irreversibly. A very small number of processes that we call ergodic can reduce the entropy locally to create macroscopic information structures like stars and planets as well as microscopic ones like atoms and molecules. And most important to human beings, this creative process is not only responsible for our existence, it has made us creative individuals in its own image! In what sense? It is that we are creative beings. We are co-creators of the world we live in, wielding a power to create, for better or for worse, that is unparalleled in the history of the world. Every living thing is an information processor. But the handling of information suggests four different levels of processing among the animals.
Information Theory of Value
A Science of Morality?The idea of a moral science has a long history. John Stuart Mill's Logic of the Moral Sciences was a major influence. Translated into German as Geisteswissenschaft, or science of the spirit, Mill's "moral science" was then back-translated into English as the Human Sciences or what has become the humanities in today's universities. Of course, David Hume and his great English colleague, Adam Smith, had given us a hundred years earlier great insights into what they saw as "natural" moral sentiments or feelings. Hume thought he could make a science of human nature based on laws as definite as Newton's laws of motion. But this was to be a failure. Maybe so, but we believe a moral society should be and can be informed by the best scientific knowledge about human origins, human capacities, and our current status in the universe.
An Information-based Moral Code?The first rule of an information-based morality is that all choices should be made so as to minimize the destruction of abstract information and concrete information structures. All natural processes increase the entropy. Some can decrease the entropy locally. These we call ergodic. In principle, one should calculate the entropy increase and the negative entropy gain for each choice and maximize the production and preservation of information. Because abstract information can be duplicated and disseminated at near-zero cost in the information age, our second rule is that we should share all information (our knowledge Sum) to the maximum possible extent. Practically, this means nourishing and educating all the world's children, especially the females, who are more likely to assist in this project of nourishing and education than are the males. By contrast, a concrete "information structure," or "wealth" in the form of low-entropy information-rich matter and energy, is subject to the laws of economic scarcity. The natural distribution of wealth and income among individuals follows statistics like Pareto's "80/20" rule, where the largest percentage of wealth is "normally" concentrated in a minority of the population. Some inequality is the unavoidable consequence of the "normal" distribution of human intelligence and capability due to chance. It is also the avoidable consequence of the historically random distribution of opportunity, including the inheritance of material property. Redistribution of wealth through a progressive taxation system is the means to regulate income and wealth inequality to a societally acceptable norm that allows even the least capable humans to exercise their creative freedom to their limits.
A Minimum Moral/Political Message?Information philosophy has established that every human being is uniquely capable of creating new information. This includes the abstract ideas that are the Sum of human knowledge. It also includes the creation of concrete information structures which add to the stock of material wealth, although material objects are subject to the laws of economic scarcity. From this, we can formulate our basic insight into human freedom and creativity,
Our Thoughts Are Free, Our Actions Are Willed, Self-Determined,Everything we know and much of the material value that we enjoy today is the product of past and present creative human beings. It is therefore of vital interest, a core value, for human society to protect that free creative power for everyone. Deriving ought from is, we can say that human beings should have the right to exercise their ergodic freedom to create new ideas to the maximum of their individual potential. This right requires a minimum standard of well-being and education, and a minimum of constraints on self-expression so society can hear those new ideas. The right to exercise this creative freedom comes with a responsibility, an obligation to protect that freedom and opportunity for others, and to see that the fruits of that creativity are distributed as fairly as possible to all humanity, while preserving adequate property rights for the creator. This is a kind of freedom that some philosophers have only dreamt of. Sadly, many more have denied this creative freedom as logically or physically impossible. We are finite beings, they say, compared to the infinite powers that they mistakenly imagine are in charge. Ironically, it is their limited finite minds that have created the idea of such infinite powers. The fact is that human beings are the universe's highest form of pure information creator, a natural outgrowth of the universe's cosmic creative process. Humans are inferior to the cosmic process in its power over useful matter and energy. That is the providential gift of incoming negative entropy or Ergo. But humans are superior to it as the creators of ideas. Our ideas are immaterial and potentially immortal if added to the Sum of human knowledge. Those additions ensure that the lives of our descendants can always be richer and fuller than those of our ancestors, both materially and spiritually. As Einstein knew, it is our "free creation of ideas" that let us comprehend the almost incomprehensible power of the universe.
An Information-based Social Contract?With reference to past declarations of human rights, the discovery of a universal and objective standard of value by information philosophy suggests the following elements of a universal social contract, to be accepted by individuals reaching the age of consent, in order to have full participation in the society. As a person coming of age in human society, I freely consent to the following limits on my natural free agency, in order to preserve a more perfect society.