Questions and answers.

This is how I felt when I was inspired to make this post.


I’m making an unexpected post today in the wake of having read this comic which I found on my friend’s facebook wall. Not only is the comic impeccably illustrated / executed, it reminded me of a thought I had long ago, during a time when posting notes on facebook was my equivalent of blogging. Since this is one of few subjects about which I feel exactly the same now as I did a few years ago, and which I still find interesting and intellectually engaging, I will share it here.


This is a transcription of my facebook note from two years ago:


My philosophy of strategy

by Alex Golden Cuevas on Tuesday, 18 May 2010 at 23:41

I have been meaning to write a note such as this for a long time because I thought it might be interesting to share some of my thoughts on philosophy and life and see if what I’m thinking makes sense or is off base for some reason.

Quick disclaimer – I do not really know that much about the field of philosophy or game theory or anything like that, and as such I may not be aware if some of these ideas are already well known, or if my reasoning is fallacious / I make some wrong assumptions, or things like that. Feel free to criticize, that is why I am putting this here.

I am a nihilist, in the sense that I believe there is no objective moral truth in the world. For the sake of simplicity I will assume that the world is as humans percieve it to be, so that there IS objective physical truth, like “the sky is blue.” I have been thinking about this for a while, mostly in random intervals / whenever I get into an intellectual discussion with someone. How do we decide what is right and wrong in a world with no moral objectivity? There are governmental laws and social laws which punish us for making decisions which are considered “bad,” but it’s clear to most of us that laws, especially government laws, are not objectively right just because we have incentive to follow them.

A common thing that people feel about nihilism is that it supposes that, since there is no moral truth, people can just go around killing and torturing etc. and it doesn’t matter, because hell, who knows if they are right or wrong? There is no truth. To that end I would like to add some clarity here. It is true that there is not a general, objective, right or wrong that can be applied in any situation. However, given any goal, there is an optimal strategy to achieve that goal. I assert that this optimal strategy, which is different for every different goal there is to accomplish, is the benchmark for what is “right,” and that as the effectiveness of a given strategy to fulfill a goal decreases, so it becomes more “wrong.”

Of course, then there is the problem of, how do you decide what is the most optimal strategy to fulfill a goal? There are many strategies to go about reaching any goal and it is nearly impossible to choose the most optimal one. If everything could be optimized in this way then all problems could pretty much be solved. However, what is important to me is not how to develop the most optimal strategy, but rather that an optimal strategy exists. If an optimal strategy exists for any goal, then there is an objective right and an objective wrong for any situation, and a vague measure of how right or wrong any strategy in between is.

I’ll give an easy example. Let’s say there is an apple on the table, and your goal is “pick up the apple.” There are an infinite number of strategies to fulfill this goal. However some are more optimal than others. For instance, if you wish to pick up the apple while expending a minimum amount of energy, then your arm would take the shortest possible path to the apple and pick it up. This is the “right” thing to do, given the aforementioned goal. Now, given the goal “prevent the apple from being touched,” the previous strategy would be “wrong”, because it is optimally inoptimal (that is to say, it fulfills the antithesis of the goal optimally). So we can see here that, given the exact same action with two differing goals, the definition of “right” and “wrong” readily changes. There is no objective right and wrong action to fulfill all goals, but for each individual goal, there does exist a right and a wrong.

So, how do we apply this basic concept to the real world? The way that most people use the words “right” and “wrong” is to mean, in a very general sense, that which results in the most happiness in the world, and that which takes away the most happiness. There are many other possible interpretations of these words, but this is a convenient definition. Murder is wrong because it takes away a person’s ability to feel happy in the future. Charity is right because it makes other people who were previously unhappy, happy. Being nice to people is right because it makes them (and you, usually) happy. So, we could say here, that the goal is “to make people happy,” and whatever strategy a person uses is judged based on how much happiness it will ultimately result in. The reason that this is not objective truth is that there is no ultimate law that says that this goal is the best goal to have. Unlike strategies, there can be no optimal goal. A goal must first be chosen, completely arbitrarily, and only then can an objectively optimal strategy be chosen. Hence, right and wrong are completely relative terms and only apply to specific goals / situations and not in a general sense.

I could say more about the subject but I think I have said what I wanted to say. Thoughts?

[post over]

This, again, is the awesome comic I read today:


And this is the original facebook note if you want to read the comments underneath – we had a pretty lengthy discussion:



Since this is all bringing me back to my freshman year of college, here’s one of my favorite songs from that time.

    • Steven Davies (Zero)
    • February 21st, 2012

    that webcomic is amazing. I like the other one a lot too, childhood v adulthood I think.

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