In my first response to Brin at Cato Unbound (and in one followup), I agreed with him that we shouldn’t let each group decide if to yell to aliens. In my second response, I criticize Brin’s theory that the universe is silent because most alien civilizations fall into slowly-innovating “feudal” societies like those during the farmer era:
We need to note that the ability to detect our civilization at a distance has only been possible for less than half a century and the radiated RF power is going down as communications are shifting to lower power transmitters closer to the source. A million cell phone signals starts to look a lot like natural noise at a 100 light years.
That may mean that a more advanced civilization, still limited by general relativity and thermodynamics, may evolve into not wasting any significant amount radiation at any frequencies to space and be less detectable that we are with our old TV transmissions.
Even a civilization radiated to many star systems may communicate via very narrow beams at very high frequencies where all the energy just goes from one to another planet with none wasted in open space, again being undetectable.
Other scenarios require faster than light travel, handling energy densities way beyond material limits and/or lifeforms not limited by ordinary chemistry, all of which violate our existing understanding of the laws of physics and chemistry. Life is a very low entropy state and not real compatible with high energy densities postulated by super advanced civilizations.
The St. Petersburg paradox. If there's a 50% chance of one util, 25% chance of two, 12.5% chance of four, 6.25% chance of eight, etc. the expected utility is infinite, but whatever actually happens is finite. You just aren't sure how finite.
How do you get the same problem without infinities? (You're not alluding to "Pascal's Mugging," are you, which founders for a different reason: the epistemic significance of a particular event [the threat], absent from Pascal's Wager.)
In Pascal's Wager with finite consequences, on the other hand, you have no reason to think the expected value of belief in some opposed god isn't very close.
Pascal's Wager uses infinities, which is extra bad, but you can get a similar problem with 3^^^3. The reasoning used for that implies expected infinities, which are still problematic, but I don't think I'd call them actual infinities.
To cut to the chase, the problem with Pascal's Wager lies with infinite utilities. The contradictions that appear are due to the incoherence of actually existing infinite quantities.
See "Another argument against actual infinite sets" -- http://juridicalcoherence.b...
There are priors, no matter how small. There is evidence, no matter how weak. While it is mathematically possible to add two numbers together and get zero, this is not going to happen in real life.
I admit that adding together all the expected values probably won't result in a convergent sum. This does not solve the problem. It makes it worse. Instead of getting something counterintuitive, you don't get anything at all. It's not like you can look at Pascal's wager, get undefined, and look at everything else on top of that and get what you'd get without Pascal's wager. Adding something to undefined gives you undefined.
Not sure you're getting it: any which way you think of it, the number of possible gods remains infinite so you haven't gained anything, and that was even assuming your suggestions even helped deduce something (I do not agree that you can just assume gods will probably behave something like humans, we have absolutely no reason to think that imo). You can't compare it to a war where you always know at least some basic things about your opponent and he doesn't have an infinite amount of resources or number of tactics.
It doesn't reduce the number of possibilities. It just refines your understanding of the probabilities. Claiming you have no idea isn't helpful when there's that much on the line. Imagine you're fighting a war with the fate of the world at stake. Do you figure that you have no way of knowing what your opponent will do and decide to give up and use some really simple strategy so you can go back to playing on the computer, or do you use everything at your disposal to figure out how to slightly increase your chances of victory? Sure the probability of there being any god is tiny, but the increased stakes more than make up for it.
"You have a general idea of how humans act, so you can guess that gods might act kind of like that."
Why can I guess that and how does that bring it down to less than an infinite number of possibilities (remember that pantheons of any number of gods shoud also be possibilities). Heck, it could even be that the ony path to universal ascension/enlightenment is through cleansing yourself of believing any god(s).
You have priors. You have a general idea of how humans act, so you can guess that gods might act kind of like that. And it's not like you need a huge improvement to be worth it. If there's a one-in-a-trillion chance of realizing something you didn't before that decreases the chance of eternal torture by one-in-a-trillion, it would be well worth it.
All we can conclude is that an entity that will punish you for not blindly (you have no evidence of its existence whatsoever) worshipping it is a cosmic asshole.
That counts as a clue, doesn't it?
Correct, it's undefined. Which means Pascal can't sustain his argument. He can't show worshiping God has more utility than not.
"It just means you'll have to think harder about which god to worship"
Except that you have zero clues to go on so thinking won't help you in the slightest. All we can conclude is that an entity that will punish you for not blindly (you have no evidence of its existence whatsoever) worshipping it is a cosmic asshole.
I'm not saying that I accept Pascal's argument. I'm just pointing out that that particular counter-argument is flawed. Since you asked, I've noticed the bigger problem that, for all intents and purposes, any utility function that seems to allow for Pascal's mugging is divergent. You could justify any total utility by changing the order in which you add the expected utility of the infinite possibilities.
Infinity minus infinity is undefined. If you choose some system where you somehow manage to work with that, it won't cancel. If you just call infinity minus infinity zero so it always cancels, then you can claim total utility is whatever you want by adding it before you cancel the infinities.
The "any exisitng alien civilizations are too far away" explanation can easily apply to all of them. The "active prime directive" explanation doesn't have to apply to all of them, just one of the strong ones.
"Heck, feudalism was not a long-lived system; it was chiefly a kludge to cope with the disintegration of the Roman economy and defense infrastructure."
Brin used the word feudal in quotation marks, you're taking it too literal (and proper feudalism also existed in China, India and Japan, among others, not just Europe).