DP DRUG REGIMEN
Diary Update and Idle Musings
1 OCTOBER 2008
What's new? A daily regimen of vigorous aerobic exercise. Back to Nature? Not quite: I've installed a rowing machine and an exercise bike in my sitting room. Previously, my daily exercise-routine consisted only in walking to Borders Starbucks and back each afternoon wearing my iPhone. The daily battle for the best window-seats has taught me a lot about life. But accumulating evidence that regular aerobic exercise confers physical, emotional and intellectual benefits forced me to contemplate the unthinkable. Puffing like a grampus while running up-and-down Brighton seafront wearing shorts is not an option consistent with my dignity. Nor could I face testosterone-ridden gym culture: one of the glories of our posthuman future may be the demise of the Y chromosome - perhaps humanity's greatest underlying source of war, aggression and global catastrophic risk, yet also the driver of the post-Darwinian transition that will supersede it. However, what will stop me giving up my exertions after a minute or two as of old, leaving the exercise-machines to gather dust?
The solution, naturally enough, lies not in tapping hitherto unknown reserves of character, but in psychopharmacology. Dopaminergics are powerful pain-killers and motivators. So I take my daily amineptine twenty minutes before starting to work out. Amineptine is deemed a banned stimulant by the Olympic Committee; this disqualification doesn't worry me unduly since I have no plans to compete any time soon. Admittedly, amineptine isn't quite so invigorating as Peruvian marching powder. Yet its acute action tides me over the ten minutes or so of physical discomfort before a modest, exercise-induced release of endogenous opioids starts flowing in my pleasure-starved brain. The extra dribble of dopamine and endorphins offers only a fleeting intimation of the smart speedballing to come. But it works. Additionally, I take 1500 mg of the athletes' and body-builders' supplement creatine, three times daily. This is not because I aspire to become a muscle-bound hulk, but because of creatine's mood-brightening and nootropic properties, especially for vegetarians.
Ideally, my video-goggles would display new brain cells and dendritic sprouting in the hippocampus while I pedal away, initiating a virtuous circle of positive feedback. I can almost feel those new neurons growing as I speed past the finishing line to the plaudits of the crowd. Such is the power of auto-suggestion. I'd also like to add a visual backdrop of Mont Blanc and other alpine scenes suggestive of prodigious athleticism. For now, I must make do with pop-music videos. Together with amineptine, pop-music is critical to sustaining my exercise regimen, a vital distraction from thoughts of bodily exertion. I have spent thousands of hours downloading song tracks, exhaustively starring everything with iTunes for my iPod on a one-to-five excellence scale. Currently my collection boasts some 19,000 one-star tracks; 8,000 two-stars; 2,500 three-stars; 380 four-stars; and 35 five-star tracks. I use the social networking feature of Last FM to find musical kindred spirits. It seems I have a taste for Scandinavian punk rock, a legacy of my Viking ancestors perhaps.
New wonderdrugs in my regimen? Alas not. I wrote the Good Drug Guide over a decade ago. Despite minor updates, it ought now to have been superseded - in substance if not philosophy. Sadly, progress has been disappointing. No sign yet of any magic bullets or an insulin for the psyche. Practical clinical treatment of, say, anhedonia is virtually non-existent in mainstream psychiatric medicine. Edward Shorter and David Healey's recent (2007) Shock Therapy [a freebie from the admirable Bruce Charlton; not many academic journal editors are brave enough to make their home page on HedWeb!] makes disturbing reading. Thus [speaking of psychiatry] "...there is probably no other branch of medicine where the outcomes for a core disease are steadily worsening." [p295]
I wish this verdict were mere hyperbole, as one might pardonably assume. Not so. The extent to which Big Pharma has corrupted "scientific" medicine and its academic cheerleaders is hard to overstate. Tainted funding, ghost-writing, and publication-bias can subvert the most sophisticated methodology of randomized, placebo-controlled, prospective, double-blind, crossover [yadda yadda] clinical trials. I've long had qualms about uploading vivisectionist porn evocative of the Nazi doctors. It's troubling to think that one may be colluding by promoting junk science to boot. And first-hand accounts of what it's actually like for human subjects to take these drugs - a whole treasure trove of "anecdotal" information - are simply discarded in favour of the sterile aridities of scientific prose. What a waste.
My own state of mind? Thankfully, the melancholia that used to stain my every waking thought has been banished by a regimen of amineptine (Survector) and selegiline (l-deprenyl, Eldepryl). But I'd like to emit the equivalent of 50khz squeaks all day. More immediately, I'm looking for ways to combat the anxiogenic effects of excess PEA consequent on my selegiline-induced complete MAO-b inhibition. I tried Phenibut: predictably enough, tolerance soon sets in. Carisoprodol (Soma) is enjoyable for special occasions and long plane journeys; but it's not a recipe for getting much done. Benzos are nice but cognitively debilitating; they also give me anxious dreams on the rebound the next night. I wash down my daily blueberry extract and resveratrol tablets with an extremely relaxing glass or two of red wine before bedtime; but it might not be prudent to drink nightcaps all day. So for now, I'm stumped.
I explored tianeptine (Stablon), which is certainly less anxiogenic; but eventually my emotions felt flatter rather than deeper, consistent with its reported partial cross-substitution with fluoxetine (Prozac). Why should a serotonin reuptake accelerator show even partial cross-substitution with a serotonin reuptake inhibitor? As so often in life, I'm left scratching my head.
Other options haven't quite panned out as hoped either. As expected, rasagiline (Azilect) felt cleaner than selegiline. For obscure reasons I prefer the older drug. Whether this is because of selegiline's weaker selectivity for MAO-b, or its activating metabolites, or both, I don't know. For a few days, I tried newly-licensed EMSAM, the selegiline patch. As I suspected, the extra MAO-a inhibition didn't suit me. 2 x 5mg oral selegiline seems best; one pill when I rise in the morning, the second mid-afternoon.
More radically, I am trying to get hold of JDTic, the world's first orally active selective kappa opioid antagonist, for the purposes of long-term mood-enrichment. So many drugs, so little time. Much to my frustration, JDTic is proving hard to obtain. Even chemical supply houses like Sigma Aldrich don't stock it. Alas BLTC doesn't have its own lab; and commissioning the synthesis of a batch would be expensive. Astonishingly, even JDTic's creator hasn't personally tried his new compound yet. I'm not sure if I could sustain such incuriosity. For one recent discovery is that the depressogenic effects of stress are caused by dynorphin; JDTic may offer a clean solution. Somehow the neural balance between the mu and kappa opioid systems must be shifted to improve our ordinary hedonic tone - and make Darwinian life more fun. Indeed I'd like to investigate blocking my central kappa receptors for good, just as I chronically inhibit MAO-b.
Maybe there are clinical pharmacotherapeutic lessons to be drawn from one of the hardest-to-treat (because most acutely rewarding) form of drug-abuse, namely speedballing, i.e. heroin and cocaine combinations. Quite aside from more ambitious transhumanist notions of mental health, I suspect melancholics and bipolar depressives alike need enhancement of both their noradrenergic/dopaminergic (for motivation) and mu opioidergic (pleasure) systems. The tricky part is that any intervention - or self-treatment - needs to be done in socially responsible ways that integrate melancholic spirits into community/family life rather than being drug-focused. Moreover (post-)human progress presumably depends on intellectuals continuing to get their opioid highs suitably disguised as ideas and not via overtly chemical shortcuts.
In the meantime, regrettably, I daren't explore more direct opioidergic interventions. In fact I've never tried anything stronger than the weak partial mu agonist tramadol (Ultram); I find a 100mg capsule or two more than compensates for the malaise of an infection. What shocked me most about tramadol was the extraordinarily vivid dream-narratives it tends to induce. I would not have believed my literal-minded brain was capable of generating such a phantasmagoria. Admittedly no Kubla Khan or similar poetic effusion has emerged fully-formed from my creative muse when I wake. But then I have always had a tin ear for poetry. Dreamworlds have long struck me as useful for the investigation of consciousness because their furniture is (almost) indisputably brain-generated - the "extended mind" is extended beyond one's empirical skull, not one's transcendental skull. [David Chalmers kindly corrects my misapprehension that the hypothetical extended mind that he discusses alludes to an extended conscious mind; sometimes I forget that analytic philosophy conflates conscious and non-conscious phenomena under the rubric of "mind" courtesy of functionalist theory, thereby blurring the biggest conceptual distinction I can imagine.] Thus I greatly enjoyed reading Antti Revonsuo's Inner Presence: Consciousness as a Biological Phenomenon (2005). Revonsuo even uses a terminology of lucid dreamworlds and a world-simulation metaphor. I disagree only with Revonsuo's anti-panpsychism. To my knowledge, only one philosopher-cum-scientist combines inferential realism about perception with a panpsychist ontology, namely the underrated Steve Lehar. There is a tension between my own loneliness-inducing virtual worldism and equal conviction of the logico-physical interdependence of literally everything in the Multiverse on everything else [confirmed by those ubiquitous EPR correlations. Yes, our prison cells are all invisibly interconnected; but that is scant consolation for the lifer in solitary confinement: philosophy really does screw you up.] As a consequence, the less morally serious part of me still yearns for some soul-enriching bliss to remedy the cruelty of Nature's omissions - as appropriate as laughing at a funeral, for sure, but Darwinian life is a protracted cortège. Directly targeting mesolimbic mu receptors might seem the logical solution to anhedonia on a global scale if opiophobic prejudice could ever be overcome.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Pure opiated bliss is not a recipe for effective child nurture. No worries for me on that score at least: given my corrupt genetic code, I intend to remain a proud uncle. Even so, I daren't explore stronger medicine. My acquiring an opioid habit would not serve the abolitionist project. So I just drink plenty of black coffee and tinker with dopaminergics instead. Dopaminergics are not the engine of pure pleasure, but tools for getting things done. I reckon Kent Berridge is right: "Some might even suggest that ‘true’ happiness or bliss might be a state of ‘liking’ without ‘wanting’— which with the current available neuroscientific evidence is actually becoming a testable hypothesis." Presumably Buddhists would concur. Teasing out the dissociable substrates of liking and wanting has been one of the real neuroscientific breakthroughs of recent years. [Sadly, a sympathetic US postgrad tells me his illustrious professor regards global mood-enrichment as "science fiction"; the academic community tends to be more tolerant about speculation on, say, 10-dimensional superstrings in the Planck era than the nature of consciousness a few hundred years hence.]
What are the implications of the dissociability of pleasure and desire for the future of sentience? I still think the argument from selection pressure tells against a near-term posthuman civilisation grounded in pure liking/superbliss stripped of adaptive intentionality. So intimately fusing "liking" and "wanting" as now, while recalibrating the hedonic treadmill (heavenwards!) strikes me as a more sociologically plausible solution to our ills than a regime of uniform bliss - whether orgasmic or contemplative. In short, our emotions will probably be re-encephalised, not de-encephalised. Blissful computronium may be the ultimate destiny of the cosmos, in some branches of the Multiverse at least; but the nature of information-processing in such a medium of reprogrammed matter is inscrutable to a simple Darwinian mind.
Of course, I may be wrong about hedonic gradients, as in so many things. Perhaps everything less than sublime can be computationally off-loaded within a few centuries (or a few millennia). Why be perverse and retain traces of the archaic information-signalling function of pleasure when one can enjoy its pure intrinsic wonderfulness instead? Why not aim to maximise productive efficiency of the engine of positive value in the world? Either way, this sort of speculation involves peering too far into the future to predict with confidence. More troublingly, our entire conceptual framework may be misconceived (worse, perhaps "not even wrong"). Alas one can't step outside its confines to check all one's presuppositions, let alone unearth background assumptions so basic that they may not be explicitly represented. Indeed the only figures to have emerged with credit in the History of Philosophy to date have been the Sceptics of classical antiquity. This is not a good omen.
For a fortnight, I tried intermittent caloric restriction. By alternately eating normally one day, and then fasting the next, the beneficial effects of sustained CR can be replicated without the dietary heroics. Man cannot live by pills alone, though I do my best. Moreover the GHB-like effects of fasting mean that going a day without food is personally no great sacrifice. Ordinarily, I don't eat until late afternoon in any case, since (like sleep) I find most food depressogenic - once any immediate hunger pangs have been assuaged at least. In this instance, I reverted to my older dietary routine after a couple of weeks because I felt sleepier on days of abstinence; but intermittent CR was an interesting experiment that I may repeat. I know that Aubrey de Grey, author of the superlative Ending Aging (2007), is sceptical of the benefits of caloric restriction. Aubrey argues that CR will add only a few years to the healthspan of (comparatively) longer-lived animals like human beings. This may be the case, though it crosses my mind that a fondness for eating may be a source of confounding bias here. A compulsive daily food habit may yet prove more life-shortening than tobacco addiction. In passing, I wonder if a disproportionate number of the oldest female supercentenarians [the great preponderance of the 1000 or so authenticated members of the oldest old to date] dieted to stay slim when young and then retained the abstemious habits of their youth over the course of an abnormally extended lifetime - effectively practising mild CR. Either way, it might be illuminating to launch a prospective, day-by-day study of the diets of living centenarians to see what longevity lessons can be drawn. If I don't get around to signing up with Alcor - a pledge inconsistent with my allegiance to NU - I have notionally committed my future namesakes (countless googols of them; I was a teenage Everettista) to exit in the mid-21st Century with a Brompton cocktail rather than a long-drawn out whimper if paradise pills for my dotage are still lacking. Whether DPs fade out altogether in the cosmos thereafter, as distinct from becoming vanishingly rare, is unclear to me. I can see pitfalls with immortality-guaranteeing Quantum Suicide arguments. By analogy, one would never fall asleep at night, at least in ultra-low density branches of the universal wavefunction, guaranteeing an unbroken continuity of consciousness indefinitely. This is my Quantum No-Sleep Argument. Either way, Reality on any block-universe conception of the world will perpetually support at least a few googols of DPs, a suboptimal configuration of coherent mind-dust which ought to be prohibited in any civilised universe.
It's not that I especially doubt whether a mature superintelligence would have the technical capacity to resurrect primitives like me - or to resurrect anyone else who leaves copies of their DNA plus a significant digital footprint. Even human beings could probably resurrect a prehistoric beetle. The critical issue is the opportunity-cost to resurrection. For if you use finite matter and energy to resurrect Darwinian humans, you thereby deprive far smarter, wiser, kinder, superhappy angelic beings of existence. Only the availability of an infinite supply of matter and energy could conceivably license the (re-)creation of sub-optimal beings in preference to smart angels. And even if, counterfactually, matter and energy were in infinite supply, then would it really be ethical for posthumans to (re-)create an extinct race of brain-damaged savages as well as smart angels? Granted, the Darwinian infirmities of character, mood and ignorance could all be "cured"; yet then the "resurrected" beings wouldn't be brain-damaged savages (i.e. us) at all. Ideally, I think, the matter and energy we comprise would best be converted into smart angels right now, along with the rest of the matter and energy in the accessible universe. This transfiguration isn't a practical engineering prospect in my lifetime. So I don't feel too guilty for existing and squandering their substrates. Reprogramming matter is still a challenge compared to sexual reproduction. My own aspiration is just to be a tiny stepping-stone to a better future, albeit an ultimately invisible stepping-stone. Complete success of the abolitionist project will mean destroying the historical evidence of one's very existence. In the meantime, I keep taking the tablets.
Why not experiment with wholesome personal relationships? Some recreational socialising? Maybe. I dabble. I'm a social primate susceptible to peer pressure. No man is an island, etc, even those with a metaphysic evocative of windowless monads. [I fret that the only thing one can ever know is the intrinsic subjective properties of whichever configuration of matter and energy one happens to instantiate. cf. Lockwood.] Sadly, my conspecifics are a dangerous, expensive and tainted source of opioid supply with endogenous habits of their own to feed. Moreover my inferential realism about so-called perception is a deterrent to intimacy: personal relationships become a branch of speculative metaphysics if each virtual world resembles a solipsistic island-universe. Indeed I worry that the closest I come to staying in touch with the real world is eating bits of it: the epistemology of food, so to speak. And germs. If I meet my end under the wheels of the proverbial London bus, my faith in the mind-independent world will be posthumously vindicated. As it happens, I have just finished reading Simon Critchley's The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008); perhaps my best hope of immortality lies, not churning out philosophical verbiage, but having the equivalent of a tortoise fall on my head. This untimely fate exhausts my knowledge of Aeschylus.
When passing myself off as a normal human being, I enjoy visiting friends in Latin America, despite the wisecracks prompted by my visits to Colombia from devotees of erythroxylum-coca.com. I recently returned from the Caribbean island of Providencia, the only Colombian territory where the natives speak a recognizable approximation of English. Just don't call it patois. Like any true Englishman, I am a monoglot by temperament; but the language isn't really a problem even back on the South American mainland. Speaking in pidgin Spanglish reduces the scope for Darwinian complexities in human relationships. Some day, I would like to keep a harem of fluffy herbivorous robo-pets with turbocharged organic pleasure centres - naturally hyperactive 24 hours a day, for sure, yet exhibiting heightened gradients of bliss when the avatars in which they're embedded are patted or fed by their Master. Admittedly I'm sceptical that one can have truly encephalised emotions in silico without embedding QM-coherence supporting organic nerve cells: a cyborgisation far more intimate than the clanking cyborgs of pulp sci-fi. Pure silicon, I think, can yield only aggregates of mind-dust. For silicon won't make multiple bonds or let go of its four valence electrons; my micro-functionalism about consciousness is extremely fine-grained. Whatever the underlying architecture of my companions, I'd find it emotionally satisfying to own wide-eyed and fluffy organo-silicate robo-pets who could express a loving appreciation of their Creator. Based on investigation of "animal models", the ultimate hedonic hotspot in humans presumably scales up to a cubic centimetre or so. This compares with the cubic millimeter of our rodent cousins. Greater size notwithstanding, my hedonic hotspot is as vestigial as the appendix, despite all my efforts to coax it to life. My own future robo-pets deserve better. As a utilitarian, I'm prepared in principle to grow tissue-culture composed entirely of the magic hedonic biochemistry in vitro when the technology matures. For why not cut out the evolutionary detritus: it doesn't intrinsically matter. Maybe so. But implanting such lab-grown reward centres in cute robo-pets instead of laboratory vats would have the advantage of tweaking my pleasure centres obliquely too - as my robo-pets coo their appreciation of my inexhaustible benevolence. At any rate, I need more reliable forms of companionship than archaic humans to stimulate my reward circuity. Darwinian social life is just too emotionally hazard-strewn for any sensitive soul to endure. Depressives, in particular, are more sensitive to punishment than reward; that is one reason we hide, or at least try to keep our heads down. "Better to die on one's feet than live on one's knees", said Emiliano Zapata. Well, up to a point amigo. I'm here today only because some of my ancestors had the prudence to cower, skulk and burrow. The Web offers a unique opportunity for hormonally low-ranking primates to masquerade as powerful alpha males. In my case, it's a drug-driven façade; let's just hope no one steals my medicine-cabinet.
Looking at stopgap solutions to my multiple dysfunctions, I'm intrigued by the possibility of oxytocin therapy. Oxytocin seems to be the missing key to the mystery of MDMA's unique magic: the dopamine-serotonin E-story didn't quite add up on its own. What else but copious drug-induced oxytocin release can explain the extraordinary trust and emotional honesty induced by taking Ecstasy? [simplistically: add dopamine release for extra pleasure, serotonin release for heightened emotionality, and oxytocin release for soul-baring candour; then just stir.] Thus I would love to see oxytocin experimentally co-administered with all manner of other psychoactive compounds, perhaps further to enhance the magic of MDMA itself, but also to create novel modes of enchantment in social cocktails of the future. Bioavailablility and the blood-brain barrier are a problem; but not insoluble.
Mass oxytocination might even tempt me to become more gregarious: currently only a handful of friends even know the secret ring-code for my front-door here in Brighton. Maybe one day I'll leave the door permanently open and put up a big "Welcome" sign. For now, an Englishman's home is his castle. More seriously, the pro-social action of oxytocin is apt for mass medication, allowing astronomical population densities as the population soars in a post-aging world, thereby maximizing positive utilitarian value while reducing existential risk. This option is probably more practical than my other favoured solution for ultra-high density living, namely the functional emasculation of Darwinian males.
I am currently reading physicist Amit Goswami's Self-Aware Universe: How consciousness creates the material world (1995). I'm sympathetic but frustrated. Goswami's text displays an admirable ethics of responsibility, altruism, service, compassion, forgiveness, universal brotherhood and general high-mindedness. Alas there are darker, almost satanic brands of monistic idealism. Mine belongs to Hieronymus Bosch, albeit expressed in the mathematically austere formalism of quantum mechanics. Again, my feelings about post-Everett QM are mixed. For the only intellectually satisfying interpretation of QM is also the most ethically abhorrent to the negative utilitarian: it generates numerous superhell branches. If you are living in such a branch, then it's no consolation to know that your kind of torture chamber is comparatively extremely rare. In fact hell-branches are vanishingly rare compared to ordinary Darwinian life, which in turn may be vanishingly rare compared to ordinary, sterile Everett branches of the wavefunction whose fundamental parameters are inconsistent with life. But exceptionally rare doesn't mean any less real.
Less obviously, QM without wave function collapse should appal the classical utilitarian too. Here admittedly the evidence is more ambiguous. Yes, post-Everett QM discloses the existence of googols more happiness than naïve classical one-worldism, including sublime superhappiness. The proliferation of awesome paradise-branches is marvelous - as far as it goes. But wavefunction branches where intelligent life evolves to design a regime of perpetual superhappiness are presumably(?) far scarcer than branches where pain-ridden Darwinian life goes on indefinitely. Only a freakishly rare species - i.e. a species blessed with the tool-using language use prerequisite for mastering biotechnology - can go on to manufacture the substrates of superhappiness, redesign the eukaryotic genome and re-engineer the global ecosystem. Even allowing for the possibility of convergent evolution, any species capable of rewriting its own source code occupies only an exceptionally small twiglet on the tree of primordial life. If the bulk of life in the Multiverse is indeed Darwinian life, hence "nasty, brutish and short", and also inaccessible to cosmic rescue missions, then classical and negative utilitarians alike ought to be aghast at the prospect of living in a Multiverse. For completeness, I probably ought to consider the so-called "preference utilitarianism" beloved of academic economists; but it's hard to make much headway if one's analytical tool of choice is an oxymoron.
Naturally enough, such a damning verdict on Darwinian life will be challenged by temperamental optimists. If your own life is currently good, it's hard not to believe that the same is true of Life itself. A pessimistic judgement might be also be contested by proponents of lives "minimally worth living" - lives which a negative utilitarian would say had better never begun. But I think Everett [in effect, just QM without superfluous additional assumption of wave function collapse] is unimaginably bad news all round: a terrible price to pay for making the formalism of QM intelligible. Wavefunction collapse is aesthetically ugly; but it would have been kinder. Mercifully, one is at least spared the implications of one's language: one can write the words "suffering" or "hell branch" and barely feel an itch of discomfort; and study an equation and marvel at its "elegance" while oblivious of the horror that its solutions encode. If one understood the implications of what one writes, then I think one would be traumatized for life rather than enchanted. I say this despite my screeds on the pan-galactic paradises I think are encoded in the universal wavefunction too. Lamely, I pray for a miracle and hope that the scientific conception of Reality will shrink. In my early youth, I came to the tentative conclusion the world's last aversive experience would probably be a precisely dateable event a few centuries or millennia hence in some marine invertebrate. I still think this is true in individual quasi-classical branches of the universal wavefunction: in effect, life-supporting branches whose inhabitants reach our level of technical development. The pleasure principle, I suspect, is a cosmic invariant. Alas the dateability of the world's last aversive experience can't hold true of the Multiverse as a whole, or at least only trivially so if life everywhere in all branches ultimately becomes extinct. Or if the Everett interpretation is false. Perhaps the formalism lies. I hope so.
One feels the conflicting pull of ethics and intellectual elegance elsewhere. Trend-watching in analytic philosophy, I learn that Galen Strawson has come to embrace a panpsychist position that he remarks he had hitherto dismissed as "crazy". Physicalistic panpsychism is perhaps the only scientifically tenable form of monistic idealism; and I reckon it's the only defensible form of physicalism too. There seems to be some seismic ontological shift afoot in the groves of academe, though panpsychist Everettistas are still scarce - barely a few scattered googol's worth amid the massed legions of materialist zombies. At any rate, contra Goswani, a monistic idealist need have no commitment to free will or spiritual uplift; no commitment to stones being consciousness [they are effectively just aggregates of quantum mind-dust]; no revision of the equation of universal QM; and no indeterministically collapsing wave-functions. Intuitively, monistic idealists and their panpsychist fellow-travellers might seem prone to overpopulate the world with mind - a reversion to the animism of our primitive ancestors. And indeed, if one combines an idealist ontology with a mere inferential realism about perception, then one's entire phenomenal world is Darwinian consciousness incarnate - shades of Bishop Berkeley no less. Phenomenal tables, chairs, sunsets, body-images and London buses are no less modes of consciousness in organic virtual worlds than hallucinations, after-images and dreams - though if (in waking life) you step in front of a phenomenal bus, your world-simulation will come to an abrupt conclusion. Yet contra Bishop Berkeley, this local abundance of mind is unrepresentative of Reality writ large. To be viable, a scientifically informed monistic idealism entails that for all practical purposes, the immense bulk of the Multiverse is effectively devoid of consciousness. This is because its bedrock psychons/quanta are (hypothetically) discrete, fleeting flecks of what-it's-likeness - minimal beyond human comprehension. Nevertheless, if monistic idealism is true, then the minimal units of consciousness must be ubiquitous even in the hard vacuum of intergalactic space: virtual quanta/psychons jittering in and out of existence in accordance with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Again, if monistic idealism is true, then consciousness must be ubiquitous in the omnipresent scalar fields; this ubiquity does not mean the Higgs is the "God Particle", though perhaps I might call my forthcoming book "Satan's boson" if I wanted to boost sales.
Of course our intuitions rebel here. One of the main psychological obstacles to the acceptance of monistic idealism, despite the hopelessness of proposed alternatives, is the diminutive size of its building-blocks. Intuitively, the primitive quantum grains of what's-it's-likeness are simply too small to be credible as the "fire in the equations". Stimulating a single nerve cell in the striate cortex via a microelectrode can induce a fleeting, self-intimating speck of colour; but a nerve cell is still a whole lot bigger than a molecule, and a molecule is a whole lot bigger than a vibrating superstring or brane. Fortunately, I don't trust my own intuitions, let alone anyone else's. If physicalistic panpsychism / monistic idealism is true, then the fundamental difference between coherent and decoherent QM systems mirrors the commonsense distinction between conscious mind and non-conscious aggregates. So in that sense, the difference between coherent and decoherent QM systems replicates the dichotomy between conscious mind and insentient matter assumed by contemporary functionalist materialism. In another sense, however, the cosy resemblance between the scientific idealist and materialist world pictures is false. I hope at some stage to write a defence of mathematical physics as the formal language of consciousness. Again, this proposed conceptual revolution in our understanding of the world strikes the Western scientific mind as singularly far-fetched; I don't expect to win many converts. Could the formal apparatus of modern mathematics really be recast as the language of qualia patterns, with the solutions to the equations of the TOE yielding the values/textures of microqualia - and emergent macroqualia as conscious minds? I find that mooting this possibility invites incredulity rather than argument - though the recent defection to panpsychism of a few big beasts of the academic jungle makes acknowledgement of one's idealist credo easier than before. It's a forlorn quest, but intellectually my ambition is to understand, not just the formal structure of the world, but how and why anything in the Multiverse has the exact subjective texture it does - and the (conjectural) logico-physical dependence of every texture on all the other subjective textures - with the rigour of a mathematical proof. [Whether one should be impressed by what currently pass for mathematical proofs is another matter. Fashions change, as do mathematicians and their historically diverse conceptions of "proof". The shifting foundations of mathematical practice reflect the hidden presuppositions of flesh-and-blood mathematicians about "primitive terms", semantic meaning, and an ontology of abstract objects that are deeply problematic.] More generally, it's discouraging that modern science does not explain subjectivity - the only reason anything matters. One has learned to groan inwardly on hearing the words "quantum consciousness", let alone "cosmic consciousness". I assume most readers do likewise. Short of coining further neologisms, however, the stigmatized label may be unavoidable. My working hypothesis is that our macroscopic virtual worlds are naturally evolved quantum biocomputers "jostling" each other in googols of macroscopic branches of the universal wavefunction before decohering and drifting apart. And the (virtual) world-generating mechanism? I think of self-replicating DNA as the phenomenal world-making macromolecule. DNA codes inter alia for modes of experience in the mind/brain; change the nucleotide base triplet code and/or gene expression profile in the vertebrate CNS, and you thereby change the phenomenal nature of individual virtual world-phenotypes.
One obvious problem with monistic idealism's solution to the mind-body problem is that monistic idealism is not a testable hypothesis, an irony for an ontology that postulates a Multiverse of pure experience. Yet rival hybrid ontologies aren't empirically testable either. I don't know how the impasse can be resolved with an experimentum crucis. But whereas materialism entails the notorious explanatory gap, monistic idealism is gapless. And unlike materialism, monistic idealism harnessed to QM can explain why ant colonies, or the population of China, or classical Turing machines, aren't unitarily conscious, whereas coherent macrostates like awake diarists can flicker in and out of sentient existence. Ashes to ashes, mind-dust to mind-dust. So perhaps materialism may fade like phlogiston, a quaint psychopathology of consciousness from a vanished era. Maybe.
Real work? Most recently I've uploaded The Abolitionist Project (plus a sombre postscript) and its more speculative complement, Superhappiness - essentially just HI revamped. Everything else I write about is fluff. And probably misconceived, I'll acknowledge: I've little epistemic faith in anything beyond the awfulness of suffering and the overriding urgency of its alleviation. In my more pessimistic moods, I'm doubtful how much one thinks or writes is even truth-evaluable: there are modes of scepticism more radical than the anxiety that most of one's core beliefs may be false. For the articulation of even a supposedly "radical" scepticism presupposes a question-begging semantic realism. Even the avowedly ultra-cautious sceptic may be condemned to write mostly nonsense; syntactically correct variants of "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously". Sometimes I fear this may be my fate. Fortunately, I don't build aeroplanes; if I did, they would probably crash. Yes, in practice one must assume that something functionally akin to linguistic reference exists, even though one hasn't an adequate theory of meaning. But establishing "broad content" is especially hard if one is only an inferential realist about perception, since on this account, the phenomenal world beyond one's body-image is merely part of a single mind's narrow content. The mind-independent world lies, not beyond one's empirical skull, but beyond one's transcendental skull. Worse, constructing an adequate theory of reference is harder still when one isn't a naïve classical one-worlder. If post-Everett QM is correct, there is no unique classical past or future, just multiple decohering (and very rarely fusing) Everett branches. So which classically inequivalent Everett branch(es) is one putatively talking about in one's everyday idiom and the folk physics it assumes? Is there even a fact of the matter? Post-Everett, the Quinean inscrutability of reference returns to haunt us with a vengeance. Must one master a new discipline of quantum linguistics? The mind reels at the ramifications.
Even this dizzying prospect doesn't exhaust my sense of being intellectually overwhelmed. Youthful experience of psychedelics persuaded me that there are far worse epistemic threats than mere propositional error, cognitive bias or even catastrophic reference failure - namely the fathomless ignorance of other modes of experience presupposed by everyday consciousness. And unlike being blind or deaf, one's ignorance of what one lacks in ordinary waking consciousness isn't explicitly represented in our conceptual scheme. Happily for my peace of mind, psychedelia is now mostly forgotten: the state-dependence of memory protects one's ignorance. Even when one's thought-episodes belong to "ordinary" consciousness, thinking about the implications of modern physics is philosophically disturbing enough. Perhaps the most exotic conundrum I've been forced to wrestle with of late is an unexpected consequence of quantum theory in an infinite universe. Can one have good reason to believe one is anything but a Boltzmann brain [“If the universe lasts forever, it will suffer a heat death and eventually the number of brains arising from vacuum fluctuations — so-called ‘Boltzmann brains’ — will exceed the number of brains that arise the usual way, through evolution. So, if the universe lasts forever, it’s most likely that I am a Boltzmann brain". (John Baez)], or rather a fleeting Boltzmann here-and-now? As it happens, I'm a finitist; as a consequence, I think the argument fails. But maybe Boltzmann brain scenarios infect ultra-long-lasting finite vacua too. I don't know. At times, all I've left to sustain my sanity is Santayana's blind "animal faith".
Are there limits to systematic doubt? Well, in the face of suffering, my ultra-scepticism falters. ["[I]t is true that ‘I seem to see a table’ does not entail ‘I see a table’; but ‘I seem to feel a pain’ does entail ‘I feel a pain’. So scepticism loses its force — cannot open up its characteristic gap — with regard to that which ultimately most concerns us, pleasure and pain." [Galen Strawson, Freedom and Belief, Oxford, 1986, p. 223, n. 29]. Insofar as I have substantive doubts about abolitionism, they revolve around a fatalistic sense that the world's entire structure exists as an unchanging four (or 11?)-dimensional "block" that one is impotent to change. The world just is. Or alternatively, if this fatalism is ill-conceived, there is the opposite worry: perhaps one might unwittingly be causing more suffering by promoting its incompetent abolition. One must hope that La Rochefoucauld is wrong: "Few men are sufficiently discerning to appreciate all the evil they do."
I'm less worried about the air of paradox to a negative utilitarian taking time off-duty to explore the technologies of superbliss. Yes, compared to a focus on the relief of suffering, any investigation of a future lifetime of sublime experiences sounds morally unserious. Which in one sense, it is. But the hedonic transition HI anticipates is intended as a (falsifiable) scientific prediction - a (tentative) discovery about the world - and not just advocacy. Unlike the abolition of suffering, creating blissful experiences de novo - and eventually converting the accessible universe into blissful computronium - lacks any self-intimating moral urgency. Nonetheless I think the positive value created by manufacturing the substrates of superbliss is real. I'm just uncertain whether the creation of such value deserves categorization as a "moral" imperative. Perhaps opting to confine the language of morals to human agency in the era of Darwinian emotional pain rather than post-human superhealth is no more than semantic hairsplitting. Yet using identical terms to denote such disparate kingdoms of experience in different evolutionary eras is problematic. Here I'm genuinely agnostic.
In line with my gnawing scepticism, I don't discount the possibility that negative utilitarianism is an inadequate ethic, even for the Darwinian Era, and classical "positive" utilitarianism is correct after all: a truly universal ethic. The symmetry of pleasure and pain assumed by classical utilitarianism is more "natural" than NU. And in any case, should NU be ethically preferable, there's nothing to lose in creating the molecular substrates of paradise-on-Earth even if it's morally de trop. Such an aspiration seems harmless, too, even in the context of most non-utilitarian ethical systems - and even from a stance of outright fictionalism about value judgements. Unless the textures of unpleasant hedonic tone are functionally indispensable to your ethic(s), there is nothing to lose by detoxification. Most ethical systems grant happiness some weight, even if they exalt other values. Intellectuals, for instance, tend to regard Intelligence as not merely (sometimes) instrumentally good, but as intrinsically good; but it would take a bold form of anti-functionalism to claim that the textures of suffering are essential to intelligence. Thus accelerating advances in artificial intelligence don't depend on our (somehow) "painting on" the textures of misery (or bliss) to the silicon (etc) functional analogues of nasty organic states associated with noxious stimuli. My computer chess software doesn't subjectively care whether it "wins" or "loses". Nor would the chess program play even better against me if subjectively it minded one way or the other. In this vein, I am currently preparing a paper on posthuman superintelligence. Like the cogitations of the congenitally blind on the world of the sighted, writings on superintelligence unwittingly reveal more about their author than their supposed theme. Thus what I explore is really an expression of my hard-wired limitations rather than an essay on my nominal topic - a disincentive to getting much done. Yet I keep going because I know (most) transhumanists find the prospect of superintelligence much sexier than the prospect of superhappiness; and far more interesting than the abolition of suffering. Techno-optimists typically enjoy mood-congruent thoughts. The frightfulness of Darwinian life looms less large for most transhumanists than for darker spirits like me. And the moral urgency of rescuing pain-racked lesser minds barely features in the lifeworlds of techno-optimists at all. By contrast, I'd erect plaques to mark the slaughterhouses and concentration camps of our murdered nonhuman animal cousins, just as we've erected memorial plaques to human victims of the Nazi death-camps. It's chilling to think that such industrialized genocide is unfolding as one writes; but not as chilling as it ought to feel, or else we'd be out tearing down the walls. Yes, it's reassuring that some 80% of transhumanists, according to one recent poll, report that their values embrace the well-being of all sentience; and reassuring too that a commitment to the well-being of all sentience is written into the Transhumanist Declaration. But only a small minority of transhumanists feel that realizing this goal is the most urgent priority. I don't know how to win over more robust minds. Their lukewarm or ambivalent response deepens my sense of inadequacy at the feebleness of my own powers of persuasion. In any event, my own personal commitment to the transhumanist vision of building (blissful) superintelligence rather than "mere" wirehead bliss is no mere lip-service. For the scope for getting things wrong (or at least sub-optimal) during the momentous hedonic transition ahead means that the smarter and wiser we are the better. If history teaches us anything, it's that utopias normally go wrong, both in construction and/or practice; and the law of unintended consequences rules. And some unintended consequences may be irrevocable; that's the real rub. Strictly speaking, of course, the likelihood of unintended adverse consequences isn't a law: eradicating the scourge of smallpox hasn't (yet) unleashed any nasty unanticipated consequences of which I'm aware [beyond allowing the creation of ever more suffering beings, and that consequence is scarcely unanticipated.] Law or not, the prediction that Things Will Go Wrong can seem like a sure-fire generalisation.
In response to this oft-voiced anxiety about any kind of "Brave New World", I normally protest that HI isn't about building utopia any more than is the aspiration to painfree surgery. If we get rid of the substrates of suffering, then it's impossible for anything to go wrong in the traditional sense of the term. However, this facile(?) reply may reflect the limitations of my conceptual scheme, not least my limitation of moral discourse to the eradication of suffering. Assuming instead that NU is an inadequate ethic, or at least redundant in a post-Darwinian world, then a lot could still go wrong by the yardstick of classical utilitarianism. So we need to become smarter and wiser as well as happier. At the very least, intelligence amplification is prudent. As it happens, the biggest dystopian risk that I can personally envisage is conceived firmly in the spirit of NU. It's that we might prematurely give up on cosmic rescue missions and the alleviation/abolition of suffering elsewhere. This risk is itself a powerful reason for pursuing blissful superintelligence rather than orgasmic bliss, at least among policy-makers of the cognitive elite. If, on the other hand, classical utilitarianism is to be our sovereign ethic, then we are obliged to build felicific mega-calculators, interstellar probes and nanorobots designed to investigate and hedonically re-engineer the cosmos as a whole - although the accelerating rate of expansion of the universe throws into question our future capacity to re-engineer anything beyond our local galactic supercluster. This possible constraint still leaves googols of quasi-classical Everett branches to worry about in our galactic neighbourhood. On a more sober note, such pan-galactic interventionism is millennia away at best. Less soberly, I have already been signed up for the Order of Cosmic Engineers, an admirable venture in pressing need of a branding strategist. Although post-human intelligence is worth striving for, I don't think we should wait until superintelligence arrives before laying the biological foundations of superhappiness here on Earth, any more than we should wait until we fully understand the molecular mechanisms of anaesthesia before embracing pain-free surgery. A lack of urgency in curing mental pain is conceivable only to those not in its grip.
Unfortunately, "superintelligence" may not be a panacea. My dark personality notwithstanding, perhaps I don't worry enough about the possibility of hostile AI - or even about benevolent AI which takes a compassionate NU ethic too literally. When dealing with Darwinian humans, I have sometimes to my cost underestimated the human capacity for malice - a form of disguised ignorance admittedly, but more disturbing to one's peace of mind than mere selfishness. So the possibility of recursively self-improving malevolent agents who are more fiendishly intelligent than our fellow Machiavellian apes is a truly sinister prospect. Naïvely or otherwise, I often trustingly assume that authentic superintelligence confers an ability to grasp all possible perspectives, thereby excluding the autistic hostility or indifference to other sentients characteristic of life in the Darwinian Era. Even human beings have grudgingly extended the "circle of compassion" as we've got smarter - though some contemporary hypermasculine conceptions of (super)intelligence just evoke Aspergers on steroids.
Alas for all sorts of reasons, one can't be confident that this Superempaths prediction for an advanced AGI is correct - and not only for reasons of its supposed callousness or hostility. An empathetic understanding of the infernal modes of sentience may one day be biologically impossible. For will mature posthumans really want to know what it's like to be, say, a mean-minded (anti-)social primate? ["where ignorance is bliss tis folly to be wise."] I don't myself want to know in any deep sense what it's like to be an Eichmann, a Gilles de Rais or a Jeffrey Dahmer. Or indeed a slaughterhouse owner - such is the banality of evil. Extrapolating, perhaps mature superintelligence will opt to mothball or efface much if not all knowledge of the subjective textures of what preceded its advent: the whole of history as we understand it might best be forgotten. Once all our ethical responsibilities are discharged - and literally everything has been done that can be done to help suffering sentience elsewhere - then invincible ignorance of the textures of Darwinian life may be the wisest option. Disconcertingly, it would seem such invincible ignorance is morally obligatory on a utilitarian ethic once our obligations to other sentients are fulfilled. Otherwise, one simply perpetuates the evil one is trying to transcend. For better or worse, the (hypothetical) possibility of a biologically underwritten posthuman amnesia would violate some of our deepest moral intuitions - and our conception of what sort of compassionate person one wants to be. Thus we wouldn't keep on partying merrily if a child were drowning before our eyes, even if we were impotent to prevent the tragedy. So does the existence of similar tragedies (and worse) elsewhere in spacetime/Hilbert space license their deliberate neglect because such horrors are not just ineradicable, but unfold out of sight? Framed in such terms, any such response seems inappropriate, unfeeling, even callous. Yet just such lack of empathetic compassion is effectively our response to the ills of the world whenever we enjoy ourselves today. So should we be sunk in perpetual mourning instead?
I hope not. For now, I simply can't decide what's the most likely stance of posterity to past miseries, though I find scenarios of hardwired ignorance or neglect most plausible. Sentient life in civilised regions of the universal wavefunction shouldn't be haunted by its horrible past forever. For one wouldn't memorialize a vanished toothache, whether one's own or anyone else's; should greater evils be commemorated or imaginatively recreated out of piety to the departed? Strictly speaking, full-blooded empathetic understanding of all other sentient beings and the abolition of aversive experience are incompatible goals. In fact, pure superhappiness and abject despair are not so much inconsistent as incommensurable - semantically inaccessible to each other. Mutual empathetic understanding between such states is impossible. For just as it is impossible to understand visual experience without being sighted, it is impossible to understand suffering without having unpleasant thoughts, even though these thoughts are merely ugly shadows of the frightful reality they reflect. Moreover if one is superhappy, then one will implicitly be sure that anything could justify the existence of a gift so sublime. Life will be outrageously, fantastically, exhilaratingly wonderful. The sort of agonized hang-wringing expressed here will seem even more incomprehensibly absurd than it reads to Darwinian life-lovers right now. In fact the sentiments expressed here will probably seem absurd to my future namesake, too, if I switch to a regimen of paradise pills in my old age. By way of contrast, a victim of torture, or the suicidal depressive, or the prisoner of an Everett superhell branch need not be reminded that no degree of pleasure elsewhere could conceivably justify agony so terrible.
Faced with such disparate and mutually incommunicable perspectives, one might intuitively suppose that there is some sort of God's-eye evaluation function - an impartial means to weigh all these multiple conflicting subjective interests, all the world's episodes of pain and pleasure, and then judge whether Life is "on balance" a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. Even now, most people would return a life-affirming verdict. "On balance", Life is good. There is powerful selection pressure in favour of our innate status quo bias, irrespective of how good or bad is your personal situation. [Tellingly, I think, if asked a hypothetical question, we'd probably judge it immoral to create an artificial robot who suffered hideously but was programmed to survive and propagate at any cost. This is the very fate which evolution has thrust upon organic robots like us.] Yet the idea of a God's-eye appraisal of all the world's pleasures and pains presupposes a notional objective Observer, beyond space and time, who could simultaneously apprehend the nature of pure torment and pure bliss. I don't see how even God could simultaneously do both. At any rate, my own interest in cognitive enhancement and (ultimately) superintelligence stems from their potential to maximise cosmic well-being. The interest doesn't stem from any fetish for ratiocination per se. My own early love-affair with knowledge soured because I think the most important ingredients of the world are a function of the pleasure-pain axis. Thus we care about Truth, but it's foolish to care about the truth of Albanian railway timetables. In the primordial biosphere, at least, the most important experiences by this criterion are also the most nasty: and nastiness is more common than peak experiences. An idealised epistemic agent should focus on what's important; but I'm not sure I could stand contemplating the nature of the Holocaust all day. The investigation of epistemic trivia is more emotionally rewarding. For the ethical utilitarian, relative importance is objective not subjective, tempered only by the instrumental significance of the otherwise intrinsically trivial - and conceivably, I guess, the logico-physical interdependence of everything in the world on everything else. On this account, emotional extremes are the most important aspects of the world; yet despite a professed love of knowledge, I don't want to immerse myself in the most important aspects of extreme distress in the kingdom of suffering - or even its unsightly fringes. I want to be ignorant of what it's like to work in an Auschwitz Sonderkommando, to be crucified, burnt as a witch or eaten alive, themselves mere itches compared to the mega-horrors in ultrahell worlds mandated of Everett QM. By contrast, happy thoughts about happy beings are doubtless good for one's psychological health. Yet happy thoughts are arguably epistemically unjustified if the opportunity cost of having such thought-episodes entails the disregard of more significant events elsewhere.
Clearly, a tendency to depressive realism is bad for the soul. So why not contemplate instead the majestic glories that lie elsewhere in the universal wavefunction? Such glories are potentially far more superintense than Darwinian sentience; and maybe they are in consequence more important? Indeed, on a classical utilitarian metric of comparative significance, might one be obliged to focus on such blissful supersentience instead? I'd relish the chance to rediscover my love of knowledge: and to spend all day in scholarly pursuit of the nature of paradise. In fact I'd love to study at an Institute Of Paradise Engineering, devising architectural blueprints for ever more exquisite forms of sentience. Further, these delights lie in what I call the future, and are therefore more personally enticing than if they lay in what I call the past - a delusive source of consolation for sure, but a comforting asymmetry nonetheless. I guess here my negative utilitarianism usually kicks in; but what if NU is wrong? Intellectually, it's at once troubling and grounds for hope that my NU ethic may be just a reflection of my dark personality and life-experience to date - no less biased, for sure, than the competing ethics of positive utilitarians, virtue theorists, deontologists, and so forth, but an inescapably personal reflection of the author's life experience nonetheless. To what extent is my negative utilitarianism - more felicitously if less accurately expressed as the absolute moral priority of building a cruelty-free world - at root quasi-autobiographical, simply reflective of the preponderance of emotional pain over pleasure in my own life; and to what extent does NU reflect a genuine moral asymmetry in the world itself? The problem is not that I overestimate the awfulness of suffering. On the contrary, I know that some kinds of suffering are worse than I can conceive. But the classical utilitarian can tax his NU counterpart with a failure to recognize that such suffering is (in some sense) compensated by the inexpressible awesomeness of what lies ahead in our future light-cone - or even outweighed by the balance of pleasures and pains in the Darwinian world today. After all, a majority of people, if prompted, will at any given time report they are either quite happy or very happy. There are evolutionary grounds for suspecting that men in particular will tend to overstate their self-reported well-being; but the positive finding is relatively robust. Either way, if value is to be naturalised, then prima facie classical utilitarianism would seem a better candidate for a realist ethics than NU. This is because the (apparently) self-intimating intrinsic value of some positive experiences is no less self-disclosing to their subject than is the self-intimating negative value of nasty experiences to their victim. [In a Darwinian world, these judgements of positive and negative value are presumably defeasible; the experience of resisting the Gestapo interrogators is unpleasant but morally admirable, whereas the "self-intimating" value of breaking a suspect to Gestapo goons should presumably be morally discounted. However, this very defeasibility is an obstacle to naturalizing value as an intrinsic property of experience. Whereas the negative utilitarian accounts the sadistic gratification of Gestapo interrogators to be morally worthless, the torturers' gratification has positive value in the calculus the classical utilitarian insofar as the sadistic pleasure of the perpetrators eclipses the suffering it causes its victims. Indeed if there were a race of supersadists who derived superhuman pleasure from inflicting human suffering, then a classical utilitarian might seem obliged to procure more victims for the supersadists. Can this really be right? I still prefer NU.]
Doubtless the real boundaries of my conceptual scheme are insensible to me. Yet in the case of the pleasure/pain axis, I know that I know I simply can't think conceptually beyond it. The possibly that suffering or happiness don't intrinsically matter more than anything outside the pleasure-pain axis is, by my lights, a contradiction in terms. Yet I'm uncomfortably aware that I don't have a theoretically adequate meta-ethics, though I profess pure NU. Yes, I would notionally switch off the whole fabric of Reality if I could thereby somehow delete Auschwitz. I would not switch off posthuman Heaven to avoid the intrusion of a mere pinprick. Intuitively, there should be a non-arbitrary cut-off point. But as my good friend Pablo Stafforni has stressed, raising the cut-off threshold to even the level of a trivial pinprick's worth of distress undercuts Sidgwick's natural "hedonic zero", and thereby raises the spectre of critical-level utilitarianism. Critical-level utilitarianism opens up the possibility of multiple critical thresholds: a theoretical mess. The threatened (theoretical) incoherence of modified NU, and the unpalatable nihilistic implication of strict NU, is more troubling to me because ethically I can't see how anything matters more than suffering; and I want to see this conviction given adequate legitimation. Admittedly, the worry is more theoretical than practical; my hands aren't on any Doomsday switch. If Earth-sterilizing Doomsday devices like Leó Szilárd's hydrogen-cobalt superweapon could be readily built, then I'd probably be locked up. It's sad to reflect that in other circumstances, one might be regarded as a bigger terrorist threat than Osama bin Laden. I guess there but for the Grace of God go I.
The pleasure-pain axis is mysterious in other ways beyond my understanding too. Unlike the sensory modalities, whose textures can apparently be transposed without functional loss of information content (cf. synaesthesia), the textures of pleasure and pain appear non-arbitrary. Could nociception ever be inherently subjectively pleasant - even in the absence of the endogenous opioid release it may trigger? The textures of volition are intimately bound up with the pleasure-pain axis: thus it's hard to see how any being could invert the pleasure-pain axis and pursue unrelieved despair and flee unalloyed bliss. Even masochism is no exception; masochists don't enjoy catching their hand in the door any more than non-masochists do. Uniquely(?), the textures of the pleasure/pain axis seem tightly wedded to their functional role, though cases of phantom limbs and neuropathic pain (etc) show decoupling can occur. But why is hedonic-dolorous spectrum-inversion impossible? Coincidentally or not, hedonic [or dolorous] states may prove supremely powerful in transforming the cosmos. Their binary coding ["better"/"worse"] infiltrates diverse sensory and cognitive modes of experience to shape the behaviour of quasi-rational agents and indirectly reshape the world. If I believed in God (or the Devil), this would be his algorithm, though what he's computing I don't know. [One can't rule out the possibility that the Multiverse is a felicific calculator: a quantum supercomputer performing a classical utilitarian felicific calculus. But then one can't entirely rule out a lot of things.] Quite possibly, the pleasure(-pain) axis will lead the descendants of one extraordinary species to colonise/reshape the accessible universe. Are the textures of the pleasure-pain axis doing functionally indispensable work? Or could instead a hypothetical insentient superintelligence - as distinct from a supersentient transhuman superintelligence - do the same? I know some futurists worry that an artificial insentient superintelligence could act to maximise the cosmic abundance of, say, paperclips without any empathetic understanding of what it was doing. Whereas today we (incompetently) maximise pleasure, this hypothetical AGI seeks to turn the world into paperclips (or their equivalent). Perhaps It succeeds. But why not program insentient AGI to maximise [the molecular signature of] bliss instead? once its molecular signature is identified, why not terra-form alien worlds into super-sublime pleasure centres and maximize the abundance of positive value in the universe with mathematical precision? There doesn't seem any necessity for an AGI to have subjective appreciation of what it is doing - whether the mass-manufacture of paperclips or the substrates of bliss. Alas as usual my Darwinian mind comes into play here. I start thinking about a recursively self-improving superintelligence programmed to maximise packing densities of the molecular signature of pain, oblivious to the evil of what It is doing. Not the programmer of our world, I hope.
A few kindly souls inquire why I don't regularly maintain my online diary, or at least add only a few desultory entries when called upon to prove I still walk the Earth. For a mixture of reasons I guess. Stylistically, I'm torn. My analysis of Darwinian life is grim. Yet how can the diagnosis be as horrific as I claim if I throw off merry quips and one-liners to offset the serious stuff? There is an impossible tension between one's understated English humour and the frightfulness of one's theme. At times, one's whole persona can feel like a lie. And does personal diarising really serve the abolitionist project? I guess it might do so if some hidden grandeur of character were revealed - my secret heroics in rescuing old ladies from burning buildings; the saintly asceticism belying my five iPods; the anonymous millions donated to charity; and other great deeds too numerous to mention. Sadly the cupboard is bare; and not because of those anonymously donated millions. All I can offer is an ineffectual benevolence. In a Darwinian world, a diary [or "blog" as I believe they are now called by the ultramodern] either omits too much to be faithful to its title or is a tissue of self-serving half-truths. Plus [if honest] it would record vast quantities of trivia of no interest to anyone save the author. Perhaps I might liven up my musings with some steamy sex scenes. They are currently missing for reasons other than personal discretion. Despite my attempts at chemical prettification, I have a squalid Darwinian mind. Displaying its full contours would not promote acceptance of an abolitionist ethic. A candid portrayal would show more than the foibles of an English eccentric. If truly honest, a confessional diary would include a recital of my follies, failures and inadequacies - on which I brood obsessively. Of course a preoccupation with one's failures and inadequacies is characteristic of depressive minds: an indication that my drug regimen still needs improving. An authentically happy mind will celebrate its skills and successes - whether real or imaginary. Intellectually, I don't think it makes any more sense to beat oneself up about one's failings than it makes sense to bewail the properties of the number 42. Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. But that's the problem: one doesn't understand everything, so it's hard to forgive oneself. I don't feel innocent. Whatever the rationale for writing an online journal, somehow - from the nameless morass of connection weights - emerges a quasi-consistent authorial voice, sustaining a persona, stamping one's own conception of Reality on the organised chaos of experience before fading into mind-dust each night. Or at least it does when it's tidied up for public consumption. Presuming to intrude on other virtual worlds and trying to change them, avowedly for the better, is effortful. It's also morally problematic. For the Net abounds with faux prophets. It's a statistical certainty I'm one of them. I witness the proliferation of blogs; who's the strongest, biggest, wisest, cleverest, alpha male. Notice Me! I'm Important! Actually, in principle, I wonder if all competent abolitionists should aim to do the same - it's instrumentally rational for the abolitionist project if one can carry it off. Self-depreciating, self-protective English humour aside, I really want to puff out my chest and shout that the abolitionist project is VERY IMPORTANT INDEED. I'd love abolitionist memes to colonise other virtual worlds and become part of their fabric, before vanishing into antiquity along with suffering itself. Alas I'm temperamentally incapable of effective organization-building; but who knows, maybe some live wire of tomorrow will be sparked into action. My own expressions of foot-stamping impatience, flailing one's arms in all directions, and lamentations that Life Is Terrible don't count.
A small minority of sympathisers are enthusiastic and give me heart. J-me in San Diego is kindly bequeathing half her worldly wealth to the project. [Thanks J-me! You're a star.] I fear the other half may end up with our benefactor's cat, despite the uncertain future of felines in a herbivorous world. For my part, I've long realized that short of a true personality-pill, I can't do anything but build websites and try to infect future movers-and-shakers with abolitionist memes. Hormonally, my fate is to be a low-testosterone, delta-minus male. So any online dominance behaviour that I exhibit is faked and unsustainable. This hormonal deficit is a snag for any would-be proselytizer, since self-confidence, even arrogance, is compelling to the Darwinian mind. It says: I'm a leader. Follow me. Sad to say, I'm a sheep pretending to be a goat. On current evolutionary theory, depression evolved in social animals because low mood causes behavioural suppression and thereby stops delta-minus social mammals challenging the alphas and perhaps getting terminally mauled - while at the same time retaining the benefits of collective defence against external predators conferred by group living. [This hypothesis should be distinguished from group selectionism.] Fortunately, natural selection has had little time to act on any predisposition to make web pages - my distinctive behavioural phenotype. Awhile ago I read The Mating Mind (2001) by Geoffrey Miller. It stirred dark worries about my own motivation. Impressing prospective mates? The warm glow? Feeling important? A covert desire to attract millionairesses? Who knows, I don't like to think. However, there is no sense in tormenting oneself about possible subconscious motives for acting so long as one does the right thing. So I persevere. But there are innumerable distractions. Apart from bouts of drug-driven cacoethes scribendi, I find writing is less fun than downloading music, playing first-person shooter games, watching movies (e.g. the entire back catalogue of Smallville) and surrendering to a morally frivolous escapism. At times, I think I will retire to cultivate my garden, or at least my window-box. I wish I had the inner steeliness of, say, the early Christian martyrs. Despite an occasional tendency to feel sorry for myself, I can't really claim that the Herculean effort of building websites compares favourably with the self-sacrifice of the early saints. In default of anabolic steroids to boost strong-mindedness, it would be useful to be able to switch on the neural circuitry encoding the messianic belief one has been told to act by God - a God delusion-on-demand - whether to preach to the world or simply to do the washing-up. Of course, if instead I had naturally high testosterone levels, then I wouldn't pine for supernatural crutches to keep going. But then I'd be a different person: testosterone is anti-pain, anti-depressant, anti-rejection-sensitivity, anti-introspection. I've tried taking DHEA, which raises testosterone levels; but I don't really fancy wearing a testosterone patch. Perhaps high testosterone levels are one reason why (most) hard-headed alpha male futurists are ambivalent about prioritizing the abolition of suffering. Their comparative indifference - and occasional outright hostility - is especially paradoxical if au fond we are all psychological hedonists. If psychological hedonism or anything like it really captures the nature of our motivation, then why are we so ambivalent about a "Brave New World" of lifelong happiness? True, "Happiness is a very pretty thing to feel, but very dry to talk about." (Bentham); and the term "superhappiness" is for now no more than a vacuous placeholder. In a Darwinian world, we discover pleasure-seeking frequently leads to pain. And true, "Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so" (J.S. Mill). Yet that can't be the whole story. I guess over the aeons, natural selection has acted systematically to disguise our motivation and warp our values, fetishising what is genetically adaptive over "unnatural" states of pure well-being. One recalls how the praying mantis tears off and consumes the head of her mate during sex; the resultant vigour of his movements increases the likelihood of fertilisation. I don't know if this grisly tale is actually true; but presumably we would find a similar sort of husband-devouring behaviour commendably "natural" if it had been genetically adaptive. By the same token, we'd reject the "unnatural", drug-addled nostrums of proponents of loving sexual intercourse, since such behaviour would violate some of our deepest moral "intuitions". At any rate, the idea of (genetically) unearned superbliss is currently less inviting than the anticipation of concrete rewards of power, wealth and status, or witnessing the "success" of one's progeny in the genetic rat-race. The promise of lifelong happiness is less likely to set one's pulse racing than the prospect of winning the national lottery and becoming super-rich; or meeting a dream lover and having super-sex; or for intellectuals, perhaps winning the Nobel prize. So is there any way to make superhappiness sound as exciting as winning the lottery, or dating Miss Universe, or a trip to Stockholm? I wish I knew.
One option for the timid evangelist lies in virtual worlds. I am shy, but I can (just about) manage pseudo-public speaking in Second Life. My chosen avatar is a broad-chested and besuited alpha male rather than my first preference, a rabbit. So much for morphological freedom; but I have a message to sell. Psychologically healthy people tend to identify with dominant carnivores - "magnificent" predator species such as tigers, lions, eagles and the like. The US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson says one of his favourite animals is a snake, though this is unusual. By contrast, I project the image of a herbivore about to be eaten. Alas a herbivorous brand identity does not inspire one's audience with confidence. So one must improvise. What's needed is an image of Strength. Ideally, fancy software would drop my voice a couple of octaves to make Alpha Male Dave in Second Life sound even more authoritative than his commanding body-language suggests. But no worries. I survive the ordeal. I'm now sold on SL.
Until virtual worlds mature, there is still The Real World; I play a walk-on part. A correspondent inquires how someone so painfully shy could dress up as a white rabbit on Brighton beach for the German edition of Vanity Fair. Not by design, I promise. But low self-esteem isn't inconsistent with worldly vanity; I appreciate being asked for interviews even though I find it mega-stressful giving them - not that the world's press makes a habit of beating a path to my door. Moreover in this case, I knew the outcome would appear in unintelligible German. So there would be no danger of feeling misquoted: I might as well be speaking in tongues. At first blush, the earlier prospect of being pictured riding a giant rooster on Brighton pier - as is my wont - was too much to swallow. But on reflection, the image was just about acceptable since it conveys the impression of life-loving extrovert: that sexy self-confidence that says; I'm cool and credible. Who knows, such flamboyance might conceivably sell the abolitionist project to the sympathetic sceptic. But then disaster strikes. When a few days later the Editor asks for one more picture, no alarm bells ring. So how could I demur? A study of a wise philosopher gazing pensively into the middle distance perhaps. I practise looking soulfully profound. Next day the photographer appears on my doorstep and brandishes a preposterous white rabbit outfit. Torn, I don't know what to do. I hate offending people when I've promised to do something. Too shell-shocked to argue, I limply agree to put it on, assuming that the costume is intended as a visually compelling metaphor for the well-being of all sentience. After all, I do favour cradle-to-the-grave security for bunnies. Instead, it transpires the allusion is to the White Rabbit in Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland. Oh dear. Never again.
What's the good news? This April, The In Vitro Meat Consortium (invitromeat.org) held the world's first conference on artificial meat. I loved Oslo. Scandinavians are so sensible; and they speak English. I also had the privilege of meeting Gaverick Matheny. Gaverick is director of New Harvest, founded in 2004 "to support the development of meat substitutes, with the long-term goal of delivering economically competitive alternatives to conventional meat production". All the Oslo conference needed was some lab-grown snacks to wow the press; an extra "angle". Even a few years ago, speaking about a future world of vatfood, cruelty-free diets and global veganism sounded pure utopianism. Now it can be shown that the high-flown talk rests on solid science. Lab-grown gourmet steaks - as distinct from artificial mincemeat - are probably still several decades away, though perhaps sooner if serious funding can be raised. Whatever the timescale, the case for a cruelty-free diet is going mainstream. The New York Times reports the conference favourably. In Oslo, I assumed that I'd be meeting high-minded ethicists and dreamy utopians, worthy but waffly. Instead, there are mainly stolid Nordic cellular biologists and tissue scientists.
Of course, there's a world of difference between showing the technical feasibility of in vitro meat and its widespread consumption by the population at large. Even if cultured meat production is scalable and cost-effective, will most people really switch to eating anything so "unnatural"?
Yes, I reckon. Even the most ardent carnivore will concede that today's meat industry "products" are about as unnatural as one can imagine. So the (un)natural argument doesn't really get off the ground. If the "product" can be made both tastier and cheaper, then cultivated meat will win out. Thankfully, there are no Biblical or Koranic injunctions against artificial meat. For most people, the source of the food on their plates is no more than a production issue. Yes, when gourmet vatfood arrives, diehard traditionalists will most likely launch a Campaign For Real Meat or some similar abomination; I wonder if its proponents should be taken at their word and barbecued. But only a small minority of sick minds actively want to cause suffering to other sentient beings. The biggest problem is moral indifference, not malice. I used to suppose that spreading the abolitionist project to the rest of the living world would probably take thousands rather than hundreds of years. This may well be so. And of course, one could be wrong altogether. Painism may win - though in the long run, I don't quite see how. I leave the Oslo conference quite buoyant about timescales.
Alas the warm glow doesn't last. Inevitably, after my initial elation, a sense of reality sets in back in the UK. The holocaust goes on as I write. And even though one may predict suffering will come to an end in numerous wavefunction branches, its local abolition doesn't change the underlying horrors of primordial life. In more abundant branches of the universal wavefunction - i.e. life-supporting branches where hominids or their functional analogues never evolve - the cycles of cruelty and suffering presumably carry on indefinitely. Their hypothetical remoteness - from me - in Hilbert space is morally irrelevant. And compounding my gloom, each time I read a theoretical physics journal, Reality seems to keep getting bigger: multiverses and magaverses without end. My only consolation is that, as a dogmatic ultrafinitist in maths and physics, my cosmology is still infinitely smaller than partisans of infinity. If I thought that infinite suffering existed, I'd go insane.
Business? In tough times, only the leanest and fittest survive. Hence Knightsbridge Online, "London's leading web service provider", has weathered the storms of the past few years with flying colours. Actually, despite the legendary if not mythical commercial acumen of its senior management, KO has never turned a profit in its decade of existence; early days, I guess. We survive only because I sell off intellectual assets i.e. domain names. KO once owned half of London. Sadly, the Empire is now much diminished. I despise the cash nexus as selfishness quantified; and I eagerly await a post-scarcity nirvana of nanotechnology and multimodal VR. In the meantime, survival in a Darwinian world means shedding assets from our domain portfolio - a paltry 2,500 odd names compared to the 300,000+ domains of the legendary Frank Schilling. I grieve silently over lost virtual estate. Prospective drug domain buyers from pharmaceutical companies who plead poverty (I jest not) are helpfully advised they might like to register the .biz extension instead. For what could be more foolish than snobbery over domain extensions? [Am I altogether consistent here? No. I covet abolition.com for The Project to complement our .net. But the six-figure price tag is a stumbling block.] Meanwhile over in London Telehouse, beyond KO's glittering corporate HQ, Delysid still seems happy as she enters early middle age. I wonder how many of our clients would walk if they knew their sites were hosted on a server named after Sandoz's most controversial product-line. This year's one big server trauma occurred when - for the first and I trust only time - we got hacked after the sysadmin wandered off to Brazil for a holiday. His absence meant a kernel didn't get patched promptly. I do not think sysadmins should be allowed holidays. And the evildoers in question? Scientologists, Russians crime syndicates, script kiddies? I don't know. We never did track them down for reformatting. KO's new security guru, the formidable James Evans from Elata, has added some extra security measures on Delysid to repel the next attack. Bring 'em on.
New discoveries? Nothing dramatic. I dutifully flip through Nature each week; wade through turgid tomes of analytic philosophy; and scan Medline abstracts. A lot of the time my heart isn't in it. Compared to an item from Dr Shulgin's library, the illumination can seem trivial. I very much doubt if people who have tried major psychedelics are any smarter on average than the drug-naïve; in fact psychonauts may be cognitively overwhelmed or (rarely) even brain-damaged by their experiences. To complicate comparisons further, many altered states are dross - just like innumerable textures of everyday life. But by opening up a Pandora's box of new phenomena, psychedelics do confer an immensely richer evidential base for any theory of mind and the world - an evidential base too rich, indeed, for our existing primitive terms, language and conceptual equipment to handle. One compares the laments of physicists starved of new empirical data to test their theories beyond the low-energy Standard Model with the fate of the psychedelic investigator. For in contrast the aspiring psychonaut may be forced to abandon the empirical method, not because he exhausts the range of novel phenomenology it delivers, but because the Darwinian mind can neither cope with LSD / ketamine / salvia / DMT's (etc) weirdness, nor weave the novel modes of sentience disclosed into an integrated world-picture.
Of course, claims of epochal significance cut no ice with the drug-naïve. Those innocent of drug-induced exotica see no more need to enhance their evidential base than did the cardinals (apocryphally) invited to look through Galileo's telescope. An a priori refusal to acknowledge the potential significance of alien modes of sentience is impossible to overcome in subjects whose experience of altered states is confined to getting drunk. Over time, even my own knowledge of these bizarre realms is fading. My ancestral namesake was briefly awoken from his dogmatic slumbers; but DP version-2008 has rejoined the ranks of the living dead in the ghetto of consensus reality.
My assimilation isn't yet complete. Even as a born-again sleepwalker, I sometimes wonder if there may be a first-person method alternative to drug-based investigations that can unlock novel phenomenology latent within excitable nervous tissue. There is a crying need for alternative avenues, I think, since drug-driven self-assays are for the most part not merely unlawful and taboo, but arguably can't be practised responsibly until the substrates of well-being are guaranteed in a (hypothetical) post-Darwinian era of genetically pre-programmed bliss. I've thought about alternatives to using psychoactive drugs, not least because of the shallowness of my own current research compared to the richness of the empirical methodology pioneered by Dr Shulgin. In order to discover both the formal, mathematico-physical and the intrinsic, subjective properties of the world, a dual methodology of third- and first-person research is indispensable. The former can be abdicated to the physical sciences; but not the latter. Natural science offers no explanation of why we're not zombies, an unfortunate anomaly if consciousness is fundamental both to our understanding of the world and the world itself. By forswearing the empirical method, we effectively guarantee that the mysteries of consciousness will never be solved. Whereas insentience is, so to speak, all of a piece - hypothetical "zombies" in the philosophical sense of the term are all exactly alike in being non-conscious - there are innumerable ways to be sentient: qualia are fantastically diverse in ways we've scarcely begun to map out. So I reckon the only way adequately to understand Reality will be both to capture its formal structure - ideally the master equation of the TOE of the Multiverse - and literally to incorporate ever more of the stuff of the world into one's expanding psyche to explore the state-space of its textures - the "what-it's-likeness". Only incorporation and systematic molecular permutation can disclose the subjective features of all permutations of matter and energy: the solutions, I conjecture, to the equations of the TOE. A priori, one could never have guessed that cells of the striate cortex mediate visual experience and cells in the posterior parietal cortex mediate auditory experience, quite irrespective of their typical functional role in the sensory systems of naturally evolved organisms. We know about such phenomena - and full-blown phenomenal sunsets and symphonies - only because we instantiate the neuronal cell-assembles that embody such qualia. Thus to discover novel categories of experience, I think we should construct and personally instantiate genetically enhanced designer brain cells, systematically altering their intracellular amino acid sequences and gene expression profiles to design/discover new categories of experience as different as is sight from sound, making them part of one's own psyche/virtual world. Or if this incorporation sounds too irreversible, perhaps we might splice in designer genes and allelic combinations for new modes of experience into subsets of our existing nerve cells, systematically coding new protein sequences into discrete areas of the brain and then selectively expressing the designer proteins they code for at will. Eventually, however, systematic manipulation of the molecular ingredients of one's neural porridge/mind-dust can be harnessed to mind-expansion in the literal sense. This is because we need bigger mind/brains, not just to mirror external reality more effectively, but also to discover more of its subjective properties. Such discoveries can only be accomplished empirically.
I suppose what drives me here is reflection on just how (superficially) trivial are the neurochemical differences between nerve cells mediating, say, phenomenal colour and phenomenal sound - and indeed reflection on how (superficially) trivial are the molecular differences in the cells mediating the phenomenology of desire, volition and belief-episodes. How can such tiny molecular differences exert such dramatic subjective effects? LSD, for instance, is undetectable in the body three hours after consumption; and yet a few hundred micrograms of the serotonin 5-HT2A partial agonist can transport the subject into outlandish alternative virtual worlds for 10 hours or more. How many analogous, radically incommensurable kingdoms of experience, mediated by equally "trivial" molecular variations, await discovery? How will the uncharted state-spaces be systematically explored? What will be the nature of life/civilisation when these kingdoms of experience are spliced together in composite minds; recruited to play an information-bearing role; harnessed to new art forms and new lifestyles; and ultimately integrated into communities of composite minds in advanced civilisations? For sure, talk of discovering a "new category of experience" doesn't sound a particularly exciting kind of knowledge when couched in the abstract, any more than discovery of a new brand of perfume. OK, it's a new experience; but so what? One might sacrifice a lot for the opportunity to experience a novel phenomenal colour; but what cognitive value should be ascribed to an unknown category of experience for which one hasn't even a name? Initially at any rate, the novel modes of experience that we discover within a modified neural proteome won't be harnessed to senses, either internal or external, let alone harnessed to whole conceptual schemes, cultures and novel languages of thought. So they won't play any functional role in the mind/brain: they won't be information-bearing. But then neither are visual or auditory experiences per se; they have no intrinsic connection to sensory perception. Dreams, for instance, can be vibrantly colourful; they don't reliably track anything in the external world. Honed by natural selection after recruitment by awake living organisms to track mind-independent patterns, visual and auditory experience has taken millions of years to play out; and who knows where it will end. By the same token, the developmental potential of new modes of experience that we discover in tweaked neurons is equally unfathomable from here.
I can understand the impatience of an exasperated sceptic. What interest have novel "tickles" of experience beyond the psychopathology of the subject? Analogously, conventional wisdom in an echolocation (etc)-based civilisation might scornfully ask a similar question if and when post-chiropteran psychonauts first access drug-induced speckles of colour or jarring shrieks or whistles of sound - or perhaps when investigators recklessly explore a new methodology of mind-expansion by incorporating alien nervous tissue into their psyche. The chiropteran consensus wisdom might account the new phenomena weird but trivial - and inexpressible in language to boot. So why should any sane chiropteran mind run the risk of messing itself up just to explore such psychotic states? For our part, human ignorance of what it's like to be a bat isn't too unsettling because we know that bats don't have a rich conceptual scheme, culture or technology. We are "superior" to bats; and therefore their alien modes of experience aren't especially important. We don't even give our ignorance much thought. But latent in matter and energy - and flourishing in other branches of the universal wavefunction - are presumably superintellects and supercivilisations in other Everett branches whose conceptual schemes are rooted in modes of experience no less real than our own. I suspect that accessing the subjective lifeworlds of hitherto alien mind/brains will inaugurate a meta-Copernican Revolution to dwarf anything that's come before. The textures of such alien minds are as much a natural property of matter and energy as the atomic mass of gold; and no less important to understanding the nature of the world. Needless to say, grandiose claims of new paradigms, meta-Copernican revolutions, etc, should usually be taken with a healthy grain of salt. I am loath to write such expressions, not least because I can imagine both the withering scorn of my hyper-rational but drug-naïve teenage namesake, and likewise the dismissive reaction of my drug-naïve contemporaries today. Such are the perils of a priori philosophizing practised by academic philosophers (and soi-disant scientists) unwilling to get their hands (or their minds) dirty with the empirical method. In each case, our ignorance of the intrinsic, subjective nature of configurations of most of the stuff of the world is fundamental. It's an ignorance not remediable by simple application of the hypothetico-deductive method, falsificationism, Bayesianism or the usual methodologies of third-person science. If you want to find out what it's like to be a bat, then you have to experience the phenomenology of echolocation. Knowledge-acquisition entails a hardware upgrade. A notional IQ of 200 won't help without the neural wetware to go with it - any more than a congenitally deaf supergenius can hear music by virtuoso feats of reasoning alone.
I guess one deterrent to investigation of altered and exotic states is the thought that the novel phenomena disclosed "aren't Real" - as though the reality of any phenomenon depended on it being a copy or representation of something else external to itself. I wonder if I lived in a world of Mary-like superscientists - smart monochromats who see the world in black and white - whether I would dare put on "psychedelic" spectacles and hallucinate phenomenal colour? And could I communicate to my Mary-like superscientist colleagues the significance of what they were missing without sounding like a drug-deranged crank? Probably not.
So I reckon that we should, literally, expand our minds. If we do, how far should incorporation go? The size of the human brain is limited by the human birth-canal, a constraint that technologies of extra-uterine pregnancy from conception to term will presumably shortly overcome. Over time, brains can become superbrains; and sentience can become supersentience. Ultimately, should we aspire to become God or merely gods? My (tentative) inclination is that we should all become One; and not merely out of deference to my New Age friends. Separateness from each other is an epistemic, not just an ethical, limitation: a source of profound ignorance. For we fundamentally misconstrue the nature of other sentient beings, misunderstanding each other as objects to which we fitfully attribute feelings rather than as pure subjects. [Actually, the story is more complicated. If inferential realism about perception is true, then the sceptic about Other Minds is right, in a sense: the phenomenal people encountered in one's egocentric world-simulation are zombies. But when one is awake, the zombies serve as avatars that causally covary with sentient beings in one's local environment. So the point stands.] Yes, literally fusing with other minds/virtual worlds sounds an unattractive (as well as infeasible) prospect for the foreseeable future; and not just because of their lousy organic avatars. For we certainly wouldn't want to Become One with a bunch of ugly Darwinian minds; and likewise, they might get a nasty shock if they tasted one's own. Infatuated lovers may want to fuse; rival alpha males certainly don't [unless one eats a defeated opponent, a form of intimacy practised in some traditional cultures; but this is a very one-sided consummation of a relationship]. However, perhaps the prospect of unification will be more exciting if and when we become posthuman smart angels, so to speak: beautiful in every sense. I have no hidden agenda beyond my abolitionist propagandizing; but on current evidence it's likely we belong to a family of Everett branches that will lead to god-like beings. And thence to God? I'm sceptical, but I don't know.
Divinity takes many forms. What kind of (demi)gods might we become? Superhappy beings, I reckon, yes, but superhappiness in what guise? A unitary Über-Mind, or fragmented minds as now? At one extreme of the continuum, posthumans may opt to live solipsistically in designer paradises: an era not just of personalized medicine but personalized VR. [Would I opt to dwell with a harem of several thousand houris and become Emperor Dave the First, Lord of The Universe? And supremely modest too. Yes, probably. I'm a Darwinian male.] Occupying the middle of the continuum is the superconnectivity of web-enabled minds (via neural implants, etc) without unitary experience or loss of personal identity. Such a scenario is a recognizable descendant of the status quo whereby we are all connected via the Net to everyone else. This sort of future is the most "obvious" since it's an extrapolation of current trends. Extreme interconnectivity is still consistent with extensive ignorance of each other, although expansion and/or functional amplification of our mirror neurons could magnify our capacity for mutual empathetic understanding. Finally, at the other extreme of the continuum, there is presumably a more-or-less complete fusion of posthuman mind/brains into a unitary collective: a blissful analogue of the Borg, but contiguous rather than scattered: there is no evidence spatio-temporally disconnected beings have token-identical experiences. It's hard enough to solve the binding problem in one mind/brain, let alone across discrete skulls.
I don't know which if any of these three families of scenario is the most likely culmination of life in the Multiverse. Indeed it's unclear whether the third scenario, i.e. a unitary experiential Supermind, is even technically feasible. For there is an upper limit to the size and duration of the conjectural "warm" quantum coherence needed for unitary sentience; it's difficult enough to avoid ultra-rapid thermally-induced decoherence in even a single human mind/brain, let alone a hypothetical global super-mind/brain. Is there a way round this constraint? In spite of the well-worn dictum "black holes have no hair", I used to play around with the idea that blissful superminds lived on the ultra-cool "surface" of supermassive black holes. All the information content of their interior and information content at the horizon is smeared out across the entire horizon, allowing unitary megaminds of maximum information density - and maximum intelligent bliss: what Seth Baum aptly calls "utilitronium". This conjecture needs more work. But whether conscious mind is unitary or discrete, I suspect that posthuman modes of existence will be based, not on today's ordinary waking consciousness, but on unimaginably different modes of sentience. In addition, I predict that these modes of sentience will be as different in intensity from ours as is a supernova from a glowworm. Thus any speculative story we may now be tempted to tell about what life may be like millions or billions of years hence will of necessity ignore a fundamental difference between future minds and us. Human futurology omits the key evolutionary transitions ahead in the nature of consciousness - not only the ethically all-important hedonic transition to superhappiness that I stress, but other modes of sentience currently unknown. The discontinuity promised by any future technological Singularity - or soft Singularities - derives not merely from an exponential growth of computer processing power, but from inconceivably different textures of sentience. Actually, I entertain many bizarre ideas. The art is taking them seriously enough to explore their implications and testable predictions, but sceptically enough not to be seduced into believing they are likely to be true. And what about the nearest I come to a dogmatic commitment? Could the abolitionist project turn out to be mistaken too? I guess so. Yet at least the abolition of suffering is not a phenomenon we will live to regret.
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Social Media (2021) : 1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11 : 12
DP Drug Regimen
Guest blog (2009)
The End of Suffering
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
Quora Answers (2015-22)
D.P. Vanity Fair Interview
The Reproductive Revolution
MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
DP plus NB Interview (Cronopis)
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World
DP (Wikipedia) + Hedonistic Imperative (Facebook)