The Imperative To Abolish Suffering
Sentience-Research: How would you define “transhumanism”?
David Pearce: Transhumanism is the directed evolution of improved humans. Transhumanists aspire to a “triple S” civilisation of superintelligence, superlongevity and superhappiness. These three “supers” need unpacking.
Superhappiness sounds straightforward enough. Darwinian life is racked by suffering. Misery and discontent have been adaptive. Imminent mastery of our genetic source code means the entire biosphere will soon be programmable. The level of suffering – and bliss – in the living world will be an adjustable parameter. The reward circuitry of human and nonhuman animals can be genetically upgraded. A new motivational architecture is feasible – life based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of well-being. A few genetic outliers today display hints of such a blissful psychology. Such “hyperthymic” folk are exceptional. Low mood is more common. Bodily malaise is more widespread than vibrant physical well-being too. In future, humans and then transhumans will recalibrate the hedonic treadmill, ratchet up pain-thresholds and hedonic set-points, and create a civilisation based entirely on gradients of bliss – eventually, superhuman bliss beyond the bounds of normal human experience.
Superlongevity entails overcoming the biology of aging. Inorganic robots can be repaired and upgraded indefinitely. No fundamental law of Nature forbids sentient biological machines – and tomorrow’s cyborg hybrids – from enjoying indefinite youthful lifespans as well. Here the molecular-biological details are sketchier. Realistically, today’s oldsters won’t make the transition to perpetual youth – although Aubrey de Grey (Ending Aging, 2007) is more optimistic about timescales. But transhumanists have a fall-back strategy: cryonics and maybe cryothanasia. So aging life-lovers needn’t miss out. If you want to wake up a hundred or thousand years from now, you needn’t abandon hope – if you sign up to be cryonically suspended. Understandably, sceptics abound. Even if cryonics technically succeeds, will the reanimated, repaired and maybe enhanced person who awakes centuries hence still be me? If you’re an angst-ridden soul who wakes up troubled by the worry you might be a different person from your namesake who fell asleep last night, then no – strictly speaking, enduring metaphysical egos are a fiction. But otherwise, if you’re afraid of oblivion, consider signing up for cryonics until the superlongevity revolution matures.
Superintelligence is trickiest to define. Transhumanists differ radically on its nature. Here’s a crude trichotomy.
Biological Transhumanists envisage full-spectrum superintelligence as our AI-augmented and genetically-rewritten descendants.
Kurzweilian “Singularitarians” foresee a complete fusion of humans and our machines as the exponential growth of computer power accelerates, perhaps embracing “mind uploading” to a less perishable digital substrate – maybe as soon as the middle of this century (cf. The Singularity is Near, 2005).
Intelligence Explosion theorists combine Moore’s law of the exponential growth of computer power with the idea of recursively self-improving software-based AI that leads to a runaway explosion of machine superintelligence. The fate of humans on this scenario is uncertain.
Some transhumanists would add further “supers”. What about super-empathy? And what about a superhuman capacity to explore alien state-spaces of consciousness – so-called psychedelic transhumanism? But as shorthand, the term “full-spectrum superintelligence” encompasses them all.
Sentience-Research: It is no surprise that both now and then there are objections to transhumanism, [that is, the attempt to create a directed evolution of human beings, intentionally improved]. Have the objections presented before transhumanist proposals evolved since your beginnings with Nick Bostrom?
David Pearce: The religious and secular objections to transhumanism haven’t changed. Eternal life sounds boring: what will we do all day? How can you appreciate the good things in life without a contrast with the bad? Only a privileged elite will benefit from transhumanist technologies. Rewriting the genome is a slippery slope to coercive eugenics. Transhumanism is a rehash of Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s unnatural. It’s playing God. Hubris! And so forth. But the technical objections to the transhumanist project have receded or developed in pace with advancing technologies. For instance, CRISPR-based gene drives defy the “laws” of Mendelian inheritance. Synthetic gene drives can be used to eradicate vector-borne disease and prevent suffering in Nature – and help create a blissful ecosystem for all sentient beings. However, critics highlight how gene drives could also be used by biohackers, super-terrorists or state actors as bioweapons to crash whole ecosystems. Much recent criticism of transhumanism has focused on the hazards of artificial intelligence – whether weaponised AI or the inadvertent risks of “summoning the Demon”. A machine Intelligence Explosion might not turn out well for humanity. Following its conception by mathematician I.J. Good back in 1965, Eliezer Yudkowsky, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) and most recently Nick Bostrom (Superintelligence, 2014) have explored the risks to mankind of runaway software-based AI. So transhumanists aren’t all the gung-ho technology worshippers of popular stereotype. We know countless things could go wrong.
Yet what does it mean for things to “go wrong?” Historically, utopian experiments end up causing more suffering than they prevent. In theory, gene-editing can transform human nature – the rock on which previous utopian schemes has foundered. But are humans intellectually or ethically competent enough to orchestrate their own metamorphosis? And metamorphosis into what exactly? “Transhuman” is a ragbag term. However, if we phase out the molecular substrates of experience below hedonic zero – my own primary focus – then the nature of things “going wrong” will change too. If suffering becomes impossible because its biological substrates are absent, then the unknown unknowns – “things going wrong” – can’t literally be bad in the same aversive sense. This speculative transition in our hedonic architecture isn’t an argument for complacency. There are risks both to individuals and to civilisation in a world without suffering – for instance, getting trapped in a local maximum, i.e. life that is “merely” wonderful rather than sublime. Yet from the perspective of Earth’s contemporary Darwinian hellhole, the risk of getting sub-optimally “stuck” in a mediocre utopia isn’t exactly imminent. Bootstrapping our way out of the Darwinian abyss is the challenge. Critics of transhumanism decry the risks of reckless genetic experimentation: a brave new world of “designer babies”. Yet with the exception of child-free anti-natalists, we’re all implicated in the creation of suffering to gratify our craving to reproduce and pass on our genes. All children born today are untested genetic experiments – endogenous opioid addicts born with a lethal genetic disease (aging), and prone to a lifetime of physical and psychological distress. If we’re determined to create new life, then let’s at least try to experiment more responsibly. Prospective parents should use benign code.
Sentience-Research: What can I ask a man who has written more than 400 answers in Quora?
David Pearce: I don’t know! What can I say? I guess my background is a bit odd. Apparently, I’m quite Neanderthal, or at least I’ve more Neanderthal variants than 93% of 23andMe customers. I’m also a third-generation vegetarian/vegan. At least three of my eight great-grandparents were vegetarian as well. My maternal great-grandfather cycled from one end of the British Isles to the other on a penny-farthing, not a feat of athleticism I could emulate. My maternal grandmother became vegetarian age 10, along with her mother, on learning the family rabbit was destined for the pot; life in early twentieth-century Manchester was tough. My paternal grandmother turned vegetarian in 1930 on converting from Zoroastrianism to Anthroposophy. My mother belonged to The Order of the Cross, a small non-sexist Christian denomination that worships God the Father-Mother. One of my earliest memories is of learning I could be born again – maybe as boy, but maybe as a girl, because gender didn’t matter! My ancestral namesake was appalled. Yes, I now think binary gender should go the way of horns and a tail, but I was more backward in those days. In general, I was a lonely, introspective child, very sad and worried about death and suffering. I used to rescue worms in danger of desiccation on the tarmac, and nursed injured ants that had been trodden on. Aged five or so, I recall clapping my hands to scare off a blackbird pulling a worm from the back-garden – and then feeling foolish, defeated by the inevitability of suffering. If the blackbird didn’t eat the worm, her nestlings would starve; but the poor worm had feelings too, so what could one do? As a disturbed teenager, I rocked back-and-forth to pop music for hours each day in a darkened room thinking about life, consciousness and the universe – a “hypercholinergic frenzy” of teen angst. Reading about Olds and Milner’s discovery of (what were then called) the pleasure centres of the brain was a revelation. Wireheading shows no tolerance. I progressed to thinking about futuristic designer drugs that could sabotage or recalibrate the hedonic treadmill, and dreamed of the tantalising prospect of genetic rewrites and Drexlerian nanotech (The Engines of Creation, 1986). How far “down” the phylogenetic tree was it possible to go in order to eradicate death and suffering? I assumed my weird ideas were unpublishable. But then came the Internet, more specifically the World Wide Web. So in late 1995, I wrote The Hedonistic Imperative (cf. https://www.hedweb.com). For the past two decades, I’ve maintained websites pushing for a biohappiness revolution.
Sentience-Research: In Wikipedia we can read that you are a negative utilitarian, a philosophical position that considers that what is relevant is to reduce suffering, not to increase happiness. But you also constantly talk about super happiness. How are these two ideas reconciled?
David Pearce: On the face of it, yes, there’s a tension between suffering-focused ethics and advocacy of life based on gradients of bliss. If all that matters is getting rid of suffering, shouldn’t negative utilitarians aim just for tepid contentment? Unlike paradise-engineering, an ethic of negative utilitarianism (NU) sounds…well, negative, bleak, at once uninspired and uninspiring. “Negative utilitarianism” is a lousy brand-name. Even a morally serious label like “suffering-focused ethics” is apt to chill the soul. But NU is essentially the secular formulation of a compassionate Buddhist ethic (“I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering.” – Gautama Buddha). Our overriding ethical obligation is to mitigate and prevent suffering throughout the living world. NU is easy to misunderstand. By way of example, think of some NU-sounding policy proposal that you find unappealing – or even the slightest bit disappointing to contemplate. Other things being equal, this policy-option can’t really be NU! For NUs want to abolish disappointment, frustration and anything that causes you the slightest hint of concern or sadness. NUs would like to help all your dreams come true! NU is a supremely compassionate ethic. Obviously, there are times today when other things aren’t equal. For instance, settling for a veggie burger when you wanted a hamburger can be disappointing – or so I’m told. But technology can phase out the biology of disappointment in favour of its functional analogues – information-sensitive dips in well-being that never ceases to be awesome. We’re talking about gradients of rich, insightful, socially responsible well-being – a default hedonic state of being blissful rather than being indiscriminately “blissed out”. Life-lovers, not depressive nihilists, will inherit the Earth. I hope that scientific rationalists and religious believers, NUs, classical utilitarians (CUs) and ethical pluralists of all kinds can all collaborate to create post-Darwinian paradise via biotechnology and artificial intelligence. The difference between CUs and NUs is just that NUs will always “walk away from Omelas”, i.e. shun pleasure obtained at the expense of the pain of others. But NUs can want to have fun too – and ideally, superhuman bliss!
This pragmatic answer won’t satisfy critics. NUs have even been branded an existential risk – although the real underlying risk to civilisation in an era of WMD lies in the biology of involuntary suffering. Just consider how many of the world’s hundreds of thousands of suicidal depressives would take the rest of the world down with them if they could. “Sure”, says the critic, “but as a NU, would you press the OFF button – for example, initiate a vacuum phase transition that cleanly and painlessly brings the experiment of life to a close?”
I could now put on my philosopher’s hat. Counterfactual conditionals don’t have truth-conditions. Or I could challenge status quo bias and ask critics whether they’d press a notional ON button that generates a type-identical copy of the world – and thereby create more suffering than Adolf Hitler. Let’s just say I’d defer to the wisdom of the Buddha.
Sentience-Research: Tell us something about the motivation that has led you to develop your work. What makes you get out of bed (if you ever sleep!) and try to save the world?
David Pearce: Selegiline, amineptine, nine or ten cups of black coffee laced with protein isolate and several cans of sugar-free Red Bull. This regimen would not suit everyone.
Seriously, I’m animated by the problem of suffering – and the need to tackle this unfathomable evil at source. As Thoreau remarked, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” I focus mainly on genetics. But despite sounding like a crude genetic determinist obsessed with rewriting our DNA, I’m well aware that socio-political reform is essential too. Social justice matters. Arms control matters. Universal basic income and healthcare reform matters. Domestic violence, gender equality and LGBT rights matter. The list goes on. And right now, I think our most urgent priority is ending the non-human animal holocaust. Our victims are as sentient as small children. Let’s shut and outlaw factory-farms and slaughterhouses.
However, social reform and animal liberation aren’t enough on their own. Unless we tackle the biological-genetic roots of misery and malaise, suffering will proliferate indefinitely. For sure, Darwinian genomes are written in hideously complex spaghetti code. Yet even a handful of genetic tweaks to the germline of human and nonhuman animals could dramatically reduce suffering in the living world. All babies should be genetically designed for happiness.
Sentience-Research: Do you have a feeling of success? What emotional impact has it had on you to deepen your understanding of consciousness? And in particular, what emotional impact has it had on you to deepen your understanding of suffering?
David Pearce: Success? No. Reality is sinister and malignant. The scale of suffering is inconceivable. I feel impotent to do anything about it – most of it, at any rate.
You ask about a deeper understanding of suffering. I fear gaining a deeper empathetic understanding would induce madness – or at least, worsen a predisposition to learned helplessness and behavioural despair. The kind of deeper understanding to which I do aspire is neuroscientific and molecular-genetic – the formal, structural shadows of first-person subjective experience. Only by decrypting the physical signature of pain, pleasure and the negative-feedback mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill in the CNS can we hope to consign suffering to history. Such formal understanding isn’t deep, but it’s potentially effective – which is what matters.
Sentience-Research: People who approach your ideas may be emotionally overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in the world. Even worse, if we consider suffering in the multiverse. Do you have any personal-wellbeing tips for altruists who took the suffering in the multiverse essay “too seriously”?
David Pearce: Sorry. Darwinian life is evil beyond belief. Words fail. Concepts fail. And I’ve no feel-good “But…”, no words of consolation – the kind of sugar-coated pap that sells books and brings fame and fortune.
Yes, I worry about wavefunction monism – the possibility that we live in a multiverse, the misnamed “many worlds” of unitary-only QM. See e.g. physicist Sean Carroll’s Something Deeply Hidden (2019) for a lucid popular exposition, or Mad-Dog Everettianism (cf. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1801.08132.pdf) for the heavy stuff. My heart sinks. But suppose unitary-only (“no collapse”) QM is indeed true. If so, then tackling the biology of pain and depression, shutting factory-farms and slaughterhouses, and preventing wild animal suffering is actually far more important than one realises, not less. For when choosing to help – or not to help – just one other sentient being, you and your decohering (“splitting”) namesakes are unwittingly helping (or neglecting to help) far more victims than perceptual naïve realism and Copenhagen-style positivism suggest. Or at least, that’s one way to analyse what’s going on. Let’s hope no-collapse QM is false. It’s haunted me ever since I stumbled across Everett’s doctoral thesis back in Oxford. The risk of thinking too hard about immense, inescapable suffering is emotional numbing, fatalism and despair – “burn out”. Self-compassion is vital to effective agency. Your last interviewee – my good friend Magnus Vinding – reminds us of this duty of self-care in his forthcoming book Suffering-Focused Ethics (2020).
Sentience-Research: Ok. Let’s assume now that you succeed and all suffering is eradicated from Earth. Or better, let’s say from our Universe. No, even better, from all universes. What about if future civilizations forget about what suffering is? Wouldn't this be a big risk?
David Pearce: If a transhuman civilisation were to forget about suffering prematurely, then yes, there’s a risk of recurrence. And some risks of premature amnesia may be subtle and distinctly non-obvious. As an example of an ethical catastrophe in the guise of success, I offer an alien civilisation that has embraced the sort of biohappiness revolution I promote(!). Everyone in this advanced civilisation leads magnificently fulfilled lives. No one is excluded from paradise. Superhappiness feels even more wondrous than the prophets foretold. There is no death or aging. Life is beautiful. Their wildlife parks resemble the Garden of Eden. There are no dark secrets, no tormented juvenile alien in a basement (cf. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas). Yes, it’s the Hedonistic Imperative! But this advanced civilisation has fallen victim to a terrible error. Their forebears believed that primordial life in the universe was vanishingly rare. They opted to forget about primeval life too soon. If they had persevered on an arduous spacefaring trajectory, mindful of their cosmological responsibilities, then they could have discovered – and launched cosmic rescue-missions to save – pain-ridden Darwinian life on Earth.
This example is probably fanciful. For what it’s worth, I’m provisionally a Rare Earther, based on the thermodynamic improbability of primordial information-bearing self-replicators arising in the first instance. We’re most likely alone in our Hubble volume. But Rare Earthism is still only guesswork. The conjecture shouldn’t be dignified as scientific fact. So I don’t believe that post-Darwinian civilisation should forget about suffering until we comprehend the nature of reality and the theoretical upper bounds of intelligent moral agency in the cosmos. If there is the slightest possibility of Darwinian life existing elsewhere within our cosmological horizon, then we should place our rescue responsibilities first – the opposite of the Prime Directive, much as I love Star Trek. In practice, long-term responsibility for cosmic stewardship can probably be offloaded to insentient AI; biological wetware isn’t designed for interstellar travel and galactic exploration. Yet we don’t yet know whether ethical responsibility can be safely offloaded to digital zombies, or the specifics of what “cosmic stewardship” entails.
If we forget altogether about suffering, might there still be a risk that suffering could be recreated here? After all, some well-known transhumanists, notably Nick Bostrom – an ardent life-lover – have speculated about an ultra-advanced civilisation creating virtual “ancestor simulations” – and wondered if, statistically, we could be one of them. I don’t believe in digital sentience and the idea that unified subjects of experience can arise at different levels of computational abstraction. But even if I’m mistaken, I still don’t envisage an advanced civilisation re-creating the Holocaust, say, in the guise of running ancestor-simulations. After all, we’re talking about posthuman superintelligence, not the Devil. So let’s discount ancestor-simulations, here at least. Assume we live in basement reality. Imagine our descendants, a posthuman civilisation with a hedonic range of schematically, say, +70 to +100 rather than our -10 to 0 to +10 – with rock-bottom hedonic +70 the equivalent of our dark night of the soul. On this scenario, it’s hard to foresee anyone wanting to explore the hedonic +60s, let alone to penetrate the inconceivable watershed below hedonic zero. Centuries from now, maybe we should pause hedonic uplift and start worrying about the risks of premature amnesia. The risk of forgetting about suffering is currently not one of our more pressing challenges.
Sentience-Research: Which is your best theory of the nature of sentience?
David Pearce: First a disclaimer. No one understands sentience. And no believer in suffering-focused ethics need take seriously any of the weird speculations I play around with. Not least, orthodox scientific materialists can sign up for the abolitionist project. What’s critical to our prospects of phasing out suffering isn’t the truth or falsity of materialism, but rather monistic physicalism. Only the physical is real. Only the physical has causal efficacy. Reality is exhaustively described by the mathematical formalism of physics. That’s why technology works. Alas, I still worry we’re ignorant and deluded. For science does not understand the existence, phenomenal binding, causal efficacy and diverse textures of consciousness, i.e. the empirical evidence. Worse, the mystery of consciousness can’t be quarantined from our understanding of the rest of physical reality, as perceptual direct realists implicitly suppose. One’s conscious mind and the entire phenomenal world-simulation it runs ought not to exist if physicists and chemists really understood the fundamental nature of matter and energy. Likewise, one’s conscious mind and the entire phenomenal world-simulation it runs ought not to exist if neuroscientists correctly understood brains as packs of decohered neurons: phenomenal binding is classically impossible. Likewise, “observations”, “observers” and the subjective experience of definite outcomes in one’s world-simulation ought not to exist if physicists really understood the (relativistic generalisation of the) universal Schrödinger equation, the bedrock of modern physics. The measurement problem in QM is a scandal at the heart of physics: as it stands, the decoherence program alone doesn’t solve it. Consciousness is the empirical evidence – it’s all any of us has to go on. All the stuff one reads about the “empirical” adequacy of science, about “progress” in neuroscience, and the “success” of the Standard Model in physics is a farrago of self-deception and hype. So-called scientific materialism is a degenerating research program: it’s not empirically adequate.
So what’s my best guess of the right explanation-space for answers?
I explore a mix of the theoretically conservative and the seriously weird – a version of what philosophers call the intrinsic nature argument. Physicalism is true. Unitary-only quantum mechanics (i.e. QM without the ad hoc collapse postulate) is formally complete. But the mathematical machinery of QFT describes fields of sentience rather than insentience. What makes biological minds special isn’t consciousness per se, but non-psychotic phenomenal binding. You and your phenomenal world-simulation are what a quantum mind feels like from the inside. I investigate a “Schrödinger’s neurons” conjecture. More formally, I explore the quantum-theoretic version of the intrinsic nature argument for non-materialist physicalism. You and your phenomenal world consist of “cat states” sculpted by the most powerful selection-mechanism ever conceived, Zurek’s quantum Darwinism, i.e. the decoherence program in post-Everett quantum mechanics applied to the central nervous system.
Anyone who knows a bit of physics will appreciate why this version of quantum mind is so far-fetched – not because the conjecture invokes a modification of the unitary Schrödinger dynamics like Orch-OR or a spontaneous collapse theory, but rather because the theoretical lifetime of neuronal superpositions (“cat states”) in the CNS is femtoseconds or less. Brains are too hot to sustain quantum coherence. Decoherence is too strong and uncontrollable. The dynamical timescale of neuronal superpositions is wrong by many orders of magnitude. Our mental lives and phenomenal world-simulations play out over scores of milliseconds, not femtoseconds! Phase coherence between the components of neuronal superpositions is scrambled too rapidly to be remotely relevant to consciousness. So naïvely again, neuronal superpositions are (at most) functionally irrelevant “noise” rather than a credible solution to the binding problem. Consciousness must (somehow) be classical and emergent.
Maybe so. However, critically, the quantum-theoretic version of intrinsic nature argument is not about dynamical timescales; it’s a theory of the intrinsic nature of the physical, the elusive “fire” in the equations of QFT or its stringy successor. In my tentative view, only the fact that the superposition principle of QM doesn’t break down in your head (or anywhere else) allows each of us to run a phenomenally-bound world-simulation that can be described from within by an approximation of classical physics. Only the ubiquity of the superposition principle allows you (an “observer”) to experience phenomenally-bound definite outcomes (“observations”) within your world-simulation. Note this interpretation of the QM formalism is an inversion of the normal physics story in which superpositions exist only when unobserved, after which they unaccountably vanish – the infamous “collapse of the wavefunction”. The blindingly obvious assumption that superpositions aren’t experienced spawns the measurement problem – the alleged non-unitary transformation of the state vector on measurement into a seemingly definite classical state in accordance with the Born rule. If I may quote Schrödinger himself, “The task is, not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.” Quite so. A notional micro-experiential zombie made up of some 86 billion decohered, membrane-bound classical neurons – the staple of conventional neuroscience – couldn’t observe a live cat (or a dead cat), or the apparatus for detecting a spin-up (or a spin-down) electron – or anything else. The measurement problem in QM and the binding problem in neuroscience are two sides of the same coin – and share a solution.
As I said, crazy stuff! And don’t worry, I promise I don’t believe such speculation – it’s a conjecture, amenable to refutation via the normal methods of science, in this case interferometry. If I’m confounded – as I may well be! – just don’t expect the true explanation of the Hard Problem, phenomenal binding and the measurement paradox to be any saner. Unlike testability, credibility is a red herring. All the options are bizarre and absurd. Critically, if phenomenal binding is non-classical, then the interference signature as revealed by tomorrow’s molecular matter-wave interferometry will tell us: a “Schrödinger’s neurons” conjecture predicts a perfect structural match. What perceptual naïve realists call phenomenal binding via synchrony – a mere restatement of the binding problem – is really superpositions of distributed neuronal feature-processors in your CNS. This account of consciousness and binding doesn’t rest on some subtlety related to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem like the Penrose-Hameroff Orch-OR theory. Phenomenal binding is the staple of our mental life. In human and non-human animals with a capacity for rapid self-propelled motion, non-psychotic phenomenal binding is what consciousness is evolutionarily “for”: real-time phenomenal world-making is ridiculously adaptive. In the meantime, until we can perform the interferometric tests, I think the best empirical evidence that you’re a quantum mind – but not a universal quantum supercomputer! – lies under your virtual nose in the guise of the unity of consciousness. Unless dreamlessly asleep, you’re not patterns of Jamesian “mind-dust”, let alone a classical Turing machine, but a unified subject of experience, an egocentric world.
The ethical relevance of the (conjectured) quantum supremacy of biological minds is mostly negative. If phenomenal binding and the unity of consciousness are non-classical, and if dualism is false, then unified subjects of experience aren’t going spontaneously to “emerge” in programmable digital computers, inorganic robots or classically parallel connectionist systems. So the abolitionist project to get rid of suffering is effectively confined to biological life – with complications over e.g. lab-gown mini-brains. By the same token, humans aren’t going to “upload” our minds to digital computers. “Whole-brain emulation” is physically impossible – our minds are patterns in the world’s underlying quantum substrate. Futuristic non-biological quantum computers that do exploit the world’s quantum substrate may also support exotic sentience. But we’ve no reason to believe that abiotic quantum computers will be endowed with a pleasure-pain axis. Therefore the importance of artificial quantum computing will be instrumental rather than intrinsic.
Sentience-Research: What do you think is your most misunderstood idea? Is there anything you can say here to clarify things?
David Pearce: Well, I’ve read I want to “exterminate” predators. One kindly critic even suggested I deserved an extinction event named after me to rival the Permian-Triassic; a flattering prospect, but I reckon a park-bench is more realistic. Reading though the comments below e.g. Plan to Eliminate Earth's Predatory Species makes me groan. I wouldn’t hurt a fly – literally. And it gets worse. When critics hear you’re a negative utilitarian (NU), they say you’re encouraging (if not actively plotting!) Armageddon. The latently apocalyptic implications of classical utilitarianism, i.e. the obligation of intelligent moral agents to launch a utilitronium/hedonium shockwave to maximise the cosmic abundance of bliss in our Hubble volume, haven’t received much academic attention. Hence the lack of a scholarly rebuttal. By contrast, the seemingly apocalyptic implications of NU were noted almost as soon as its formulation – and are normally treated as its reductio ad absurdum. When Nick and I set up the World Transhumanist Association (H+), Nick knew I was a NU, and I knew Nick was preoccupied by existential risk. But NU’s don’t spend their time scheming Armageddon any more than CUs are planning an utilitronium shockwave. Not yet, at any rate.
What else? Well, talk of “paradise engineering” can sound as though I’m trying to sell my version of utopia. I could indeed share with you my private dream of an ideal society – everyone perpetually “loved up” on the genetically-expressed counterpart of MDMA! But this little fantasy isn’t part of the package. Complications aside, radical hedonic recalibration is preference-neutral. Preference-neutrality is critical. Conjure up your version of the good life, your peak experiences, your most cherished personal fantasies and your conception of paradise. Now genetically ratchet up hedonic range and hedonic set-points. Hedonic recalibration can make your vision of heaven richer than you ever dreamed. Better still, hedonic recalibration can prevent sabotage of your perfect heaven via the negative feedback-mechanisms of a Darwinian hedonic treadmill. In tomorrow’s world of paradise-engineering, your pleasures will always be sublime.
A final misunderstanding – though this is my fault. I don’t always explicitly advocate we should abolish all involuntary suffering, rather than just all suffering. I cautiously predict all suffering will be eradicated over the next few centuries – pessimistically, the next few millennia – but not via coercion. No one is credibly going to force you to be happy against your will if you want the “right” to be sad. Debates over whether humanity should aim to eradicate suffering would be shorter if they were focused on whether it’s defensible to conserve the biology of coercive misery.
Sentience-Research: In “Non-Materialist Physicalism: a testable hypothesis” you mention “some sort of Rosetta Stone to ‘read off’ the values of qualia – both bound and unbound – from the solutions to the field-theoretic equations of [quantum field theory]”. Do you have any speculations on what the Stone could be?
David Pearce: As far as I can tell, a notional Rosetta stone would need to come from “outside” the universal wavefunction – which is physically impossible, indeed unintelligible. So even if non-materialist physicalism turns out to be true, I’m pessimistic about understanding consciousness in any deep sense – although youthful acquaintance with psychedelics may colour my pessimism here too. For sure, someone who touts answers to the Hard Problem of consciousness, the binding problem, the problem of causal efficacy and other mysteries of materialist metaphysics could be mistaken for an intellectual optimist. Not so. I just think key background assumptions underpinning our ordinary formulation of these problems are mistaken.
Despite the absence of a cosmic Rosetta stone, the diverse values of qualia hypothetically encoded in the solutions to the equations of QFT probably aren’t arbitrary. The textures of consciousness may well be as interdependent as the truths of mathematics. But unlike mathematics, we’ve no clues to the fundamental principle(s) underlying the palette of experience to guide us, just brute first-person facts. Granted, I’ve speculated that the textures of qualia encoded by the solutions to the equations of QFT may precisely “cancel out” to zero as part of an informationless zero ontology (cf. Why Does Anything Exist?). Maybe think of the all the colours of the rainbow “cancelling” to colourless white light – if you’ll pardon the dubious New Age metaphor. Anyhow, don’t take such flights of fancy too seriously. And of course, the conceptual framework of non-materialist physicalism itself may well be false. The intrinsic nature argument is currently enjoying an academic revival, but it’s still a minority view. Try telling a hard-nosed scientific materialist that your preferred theory of consciousness is the Standard Model in physics and you’ll gain some funny looks. I really am what I say, baffled by existence.
Sentience-Research: Why do you think full-spectrum superintelligence would not choose in certain situations to stay ignorant of someone’s feelings in order to achieve its goals?
David Pearce: Both instrumentally and as a long-term goal, I think intelligent agents should aim at selective ignorance. If, like me, you’ve a naturally low-AQ cognitive style (cf. AQ test), then naively it’s easy to believe that what the world needs most is more compassion. All we need is love! Sentient beings need helping not harming. So stop paying for animal abuse and go vegan. Oxytocin-release leads to increased empathy. Unfortunately, heightened oxytocin function is also associated with nepotism, tribalism and out-group hostility – or at best, self-referential altruism. Compare taking a hug-drug like MDMA (“Ecstasy”). Insofar as ethics is computable, we also need the impartial benevolence of autistic hyper-systematisers – whether human or transhuman. Or artificial intelligence.
Sentience-Research: How is your view different from the perceptual indirect realist’s?
David Pearce: A perceptual indirect realist believes we see the world only via intermediary sense-data. On an inferential realist view, we don’t perceive the world. Rather, we each run phenomenal world-simulations. External reality is a hypothesis. When we’re awake, our world-simulations are partially sculpted by peripheral nervous inputs. So our phenomenal world-simulations track fitness-relevant macro-patterns in the theoretically inferred local environment. What the external environment does, essentially, is select states of our mind/brains that masquerade as our external reality. We don’t literally “observe” our local surroundings – if we did so, magically, then we’d see the insides of our skulls. Disconcertingly, the virtual people in your egocentric world-simulation are zombies, the cartoon avatars of sentient beings in the mind-independent world. Schizophrenics, DMT users talking with machine elves and scientific rationalists alike converse with phantoms of their own minds. Thus a neurosurgeon operating on a patient doesn’t see – directly or indirectly – surgically-exposed nervous tissue. Rather, the neurosurgeon’s body-image operates on another “interface icon” (Donald Hoffman’s metaphor) within his own skull-bound phenomenal world. Compare how during a lucid dream, you may distinguish between your tangible empirical skull and your theoretically-inferred transcendental skull. You can recognise that the inhabitants of your lucid dreamworld must be zombies. Likewise, during waking life, you need to distinguish between your empirical skull and the theoretically-inferred transcendental skull within which the drama of your life unfolds. “Waking up” each morning to commune directly with the external world is a pre-scientific fiction – quite useful when crossing the road.
The evidence for inferential realism is quite compelling. It’s been central to my conceptual framework since my teens. Inferential realism is the recipe for a lonely life (cf. The symbol grounding problem). By contrast, non-materialist physicalism is extremely speculative. The possibility that experience discloses the essence of the physical feels insane. I’m not wholly immune from common sense.
Sentience-Research: What reading could be helpful in understanding your view on consciousness?
David Pearce: I’ve indexed a bunch of Quora answers:
Or perhaps see e.g.
Is the brain a quantum machine?
Sentience-Research: What is your approach to personal productivity? Do you think you could be more productive?
David Pearce: Well, I wish I could forget inferential realism and become a naïve realist. Perceptual direct realists make better effective altruists. Sometimes I wish I had messianic delusions, or at least a testosterone-patch to make me more strong-minded. If you have an inflated view of your own importance in the great scheme of things, then you can do more good in the world – and more bad, too, if you screw up. By contrast, I struggle with depressive realism.
[Why don’t I wear a testosterone-patch? Fear of losing my hair! Yes, sad. I know I should disdain such worldly vanities.]
Sentience-Research: How do you understand the anti-realist position on value?
David Pearce: Let’s assume physicalism – whether mainstream “materialist” physicalism or its recent non-materialist cousin. On either account, putative moral facts are what philosopher J. L. Mackie (cf. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 1977) called “queer”, i.e. a unique and unexplained hybrid of the descriptive and the normative. As a materialist, Mackie was explicit about what followed from this anomalous status. All moral judgements are false. There is no fundamental, objective difference between championing your ethical values and supporting your football team. You and I might be strongly opposed to, say, rape, torture and child abuse. But claiming such behaviour is morally wrong just expresses our personal psychology rather than captures anything inherently wrong with such practices. Our responses can ultimately be explained by evolutionary psychology. If eating your mother had promoted the inclusive fitness of our genes in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness – like matriphagous spiders – then mother-eating could well seem a sacred duty to this day.
I defend value-realism. (Dis-)value is mind-dependent, therefore an objective feature of physical reality. Moral disagreement stems from our epistemological limitations. The pain-pleasure axis discloses the world’s intrinsic metric of (dis-)value.
Sentience-Research: Should suffering-focused altruists try to enter politics?
David Pearce: Can one be most effective by entering politics or lobbying existing political parties to adopt transhumanist/EA ideas? Or both? The USA has both a Transhumanist Party and a transhumanist Republican(!) presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan. I’d love to see the three transhumanist “supers” at the heart of political policy-making. Laying out the transhumanist vision of our glorious future and trusting one’s ideas will be luminously self-evident – my normal approach – is probably not a recipe for success, or at least, not success with any kind of objective metric. Inevitably, politics is a sordid affair when practised by Machiavellian apes; it’s easier to stay pure and impotent on the side-lines. As Adlai Stevenson observed, “The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.”
Can transhumanists and effective altruists do better?
Sentience-Research: Whom should we interview next?
David Pearce: Maybe Andrés Gómez Emilsson of Qualia Research Institute?
Sentience-Research: What non-profit organization is missing in the world?
David Pearce: An ambitious “One Hundred Year Plan” to eradicate suffering via biological-genetic interventions would be technically feasible using recognisable extensions of existing technologies – genome editing, gene drives, cultured meat, and preimplantation genetic screening and counselling for all prospective parents. A serious global organization to implement such a mega-project sounds fanciful. Amazingly, such an organization exists. The World Health Organization is dedicated to the promotion of good health for everyone as laid out in its founding constitution (1946). “What is the WHO definition of health? Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. Note the “complete”. Complete well-being is an astonishingly bold definition of health. Compare the incomplete, information-sensitive dips in well-being urged by some supposedly wild-eyed transhumanists. Perhaps we need a Greta Thunberg to remind our politicians to live up to their responsibilities for public health – the abolition of suffering through medical science.
Sentience-Research: What would be your most charitable account of the eliminativist position?
David Pearce: Scientific materialism is our best story of the world. Unlike every other belief-system, science works: hence technological civilisation. Our best scientific theory of reality has no place in its ontology for subjective experience. The behaviour of matter and energy, including naturally-evolved biological robots such as human beings, can be exhaustively explained without invoking consciousness. Therefore, subjective experience can’t really exist. It’s an illusion.
Yes, devil’s advocacy for eliminativism is a challenge – unless you’re a p-zombie, and sadly I’m not so blessed. I wish eliminativism were true. For if consciousness didn’t exist, then there would be no problem of suffering – just the (non-)problems of nociception, depressive behavioural suppression and the vocalisations caused by noxious stimuli.
Like eliminativists, I suspect humans do radically misunderstand what we call consciousness – just as religious schizophrenics may misunderstand what they hear as the Voice of God. I agree with eliminativists that only the physical is real. Where I’d part company with consciousness-deniers is over the essence of the physical. Anti-realists about consciousness – and indeed mainstream scientific materialists – assume that the “fire” in the equations must be non-experiential. By contrast, non-materialist physicalism proposes that subjective experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the “fire” – Kant’s noumenal essence of the world, supposedly unknown and unknowable. In other words, non-materialist physicalism is anti-realist about the “physical” as conceived by the eliminative materialist. Perhaps fields of insentience as hypothesised by materialist metaphysics are destined to go the way of luminiferous aether.
We shall see.
Sentience-Research: Is there a role for psychedelic drugs in understanding consciousness?
David Pearce: Trying to understand consciousness without exploring alien state-spaces of experience is like trying to understand matter and energy entirely by observation. Non-experimental science will always be shallow. The rationalist community worries mainly about cognitive bias, whereas I worry more about ignorance, in particular drug-naïve ignorance. For sure, there are huge methodological challenges in psychedelic exploration. Turning the study of consciousness into an experimental science rather than a philosophical talking-shop won’t happen any time soon. Disparate state-spaces of consciousness are often mutually incommensurable. Worse, there is no canonical “neutral” medium of experience via which psychonauts can impartially appraise all other modes of experience. Any distinction between vehicle and propositional content is artificial. Exacerbating the challenge, alien state-spaces of consciousness haven’t been recruited by natural selection for any information-signalling purpose. So we lack even a pseudo-public conceptual framework for their systematic exploration. Today, plunging headlong into psychedelia can be a recipe for psychosis, not enlightenment. But unless we expand our impoverished evidential base, our ignorance will stay hardwired.
I could now denounce prohibitionism. The disreputable status of psychedelic agents in academia has bred learned ignorance and scholarly obscurantism. Yet I’m also a hypocrite. If I had kids, I wouldn’t want them exploring psychedelics – or any drug-cocktail stronger than black coffee. Darwinian minds are too dark and dysfunctional safely to explore radically altered consciousness. Tomorrow will be different.
Sentience-Research: Do you think it is possible to abolish suffering forever?
David Pearce: In our forward light-cone? Yes, I think so. After we identify the molecular signature(s) of experience below hedonic zero, suffering can be made impossible. The Evil Zone (or however our successors conceptualise Darwinian consciousness) can be circumscribed with multiple, fail-safe barriers to access. Today, molecular ring-fencing sounds dauntingly ambitious because of the ever-expanding range of intentional objects that humans can be (un)happy “about”. [Intentionality is philosophical jargon for the object-directedness of thought.] But the heart of darkness lies in the nasty core emotions of our limbic system. Evolution has “encephalised” our ancient emotions in fitness-enhancing ways, “painting on” affective colour to intrinsically neutral phenomenal stimuli within our neocortical world-simulations. The late evolutionary novelty of generative syntax massively enlarges the range of our nominal discontents. Yet in the vast state-space of all possible experiences, subjective nastiness is just a comparatively small corner. If mankind gets its act together, then suffering can go the way of the cuckoo clock.
I can’t rule out exotic cosmological possibilities whereby suffering could recur. But so long as we genetically eradicate suffering throughout the living world, and ensure the impossibility of further suffering within our cosmological horizon, then I think our ethical duties will have been discharged.
Sentience-Research: What do you think of the current state of VR technology?
David Pearce: Today’s toy virtual worlds are a thin foretaste of mature multimodal VR. Augmented reality and immersive VR will become ever more compulsively addictive as supernormal stimuli hijack our reward circuitry. Regrettably, VR on its own can’t banish the need for a biohappiness revolution. Unless we hack the hedonic treadmill, states of misery and malaise will persist in virtual designer utopias, just as they do in (what naïve realists call) the real world. Not even utopian VR can recalibrate the hedonic treadmill. Let’s assume real-world reward-pathway enhancements. Even with hedonic recalibration, it’s still hard to see how life in basement reality can compete.
Perceptual direct realists will complain about people losing touch with reality. Critics do so now with social media and video gaming. But maybe our choice is between living life in natural organic VR or synthetic VR: even refurbished basements will be comparatively dull. Note this sense of “basement reality” and artificial virtual worlds differs from the idea that sentient beings can be scanned, digitised and instantiated in silico (“mind uploading”) or that subjects of experience will somehow “emerge” at different levels of abstraction in digital computers.
Some futurists wonder whether transhumans will ultimately all spend their entire lives in Experience Machines. This VR scenario is problematic. Selection pressure in basement reality must be weighed too. Just as wireheads don’t seek to breed babies, Experience Machine addicts don’t seek to breed biological babies either. Ultimate power – and responsibility – lies with whoever controls the basement.
Sentience-Research: Do you have plans to develop The Neuroethics Foundation?
David Pearce: In principle, I’d love to have a team of researchers working full-time on the abolitionist project. I’d love to be able to offer opportunities for career development. If you’re a financial heavy-hitter, please feel free to get in contact. Maybe telling people one’s role model is Diogenes in his tub hasn’t been the best way to attract serious funding.
Sentience-Research: Do you think it is possible to have a civilization which takes reducing suffering as its main mission?
David Pearce: A global civilisation with a Buddhist ethic – or its secular counterpart – is conceivable. Sadly, I don’t consider such a civilisation likely. In consequence, the abolition of suffering will be needlessly protracted. For evolutionary reasons, most people report they love life (“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it's all over much too soon” – Woody Allen). Most people don’t want to focus on the evils of existence. Even among reflective folk who recognise the problem of suffering lies at the heart of ethics, talk of “ending suffering” can sound too big – impossibly vague and grandiose. Even piecemeal, well-targeted interventions such as eradicating malaria or ending factory-farming are forbiddingly difficult. With a global consensus for the abolitionist project, a One Hundred Year Plan targeting the biological-genetic basis of suffering could probably work. This kind of timescale is sociologically fanciful.
Sentience-Research: What should young aspirant abolitionists do to contribute?
David Pearce: First, do an audit of your strengths and weaknesses. Are you temperamentally best equipped for a career in medical science, bioethics or activism – or for pursuing a more conventional career while earning-to-give? Consider creating a YouTube channel and doing podcasts. Set up your own dedicated website. Tweet. Try Wikipedia editing. Join the HI Facebook group – community-building matters. Not least, speak Manu Herrán and his colleagues at the Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering – OPIS.
Why are relatively few effective altruists interested in transhumanism?
David Pearce: I worry that (some) transhumanists have a moral blindspot. Most transhumanists are life-loving optimists focused on radically extending human lifespan and developing superintelligence rather than on traditional EA concerns. Let’s face it, spending one’s life focusing on, say, poverty and disease in sub-Saharan Africa is depressing. I salute heroic EAs who do just that. But my impression is the overlap between EA and transhumanism is increasing.
Sentience-Research: Why the molecular signature of bliss and not of suffering?
David Pearce: A tiny region of the basal ganglia promises to reveal the molecular signature of pure bliss – though phenomenal binding is a huge complication. Thanks to the work of Kent Berridge and his colleagues at the University of Michigan, our ultimate pleasure centre has been more sharply localised than the anatomical location of pure pain: the brain’s ultimate “hedonic hotspot” has been narrowed to a single cubic centimetre in the posterior ventral pallidum. Mu opioid receptor activation of these wonderful cells isn’t itself the essence of bliss. But does this magic centimetre hold the molecular key to the future of life in the universe? It’s a tantalising prospect. Even so, naïvely, an advocate of suffering-focused ethics will find the quest morally frivolous. Why concentrate on deciphering the physical signature of pure pleasure – and eventually hedonium (matter and energy optimised for pure bliss) – rather than “dolorium”, its opposite?
I worry about suffering risks (“s-risks”). Potentially, a physical understanding of the pleasure-pain axis is dangerous knowledge – and I’m not alluding to the hypothetical threat to civilisation of a utilitronium shockwave. Humans have primitive notions of punishment, revenge and the metaphysics of personal identity. I know of no limits to human depravity. Archaic humans could in theory inflict far worse horrors than anything in history to date if knowledge of the molecular signature of pure suffering were ever abused. So as well as a fabulous opportunity to eradicate suffering, such knowledge could also pose an information-hazard. It’s a dilemma. Are humans morally responsible enough physically to understand the axis of empirical (dis)value? In order to eradicate suffering for ever, humanity must find a safe way to rise to the challenge.
Sentience-Research: Do we need new psychedelic drugs?
David Pearce: Yes. Insofar as we hope to understand the properties of fields of matter and energy, we need new psychedelics, new genes, new neurons, new metabolic pathways, and new modes of phenomenal binding. I’m sceptical of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics – as distinct from un-trippy interventions that target mood, anxiety and motivation. For sure, psychedelics can sometimes induce life-changing epiphanies. I know of miraculous success stories. Yet psychedelics are horribly unpredictable. Informed prior consent by the drug-naïve to their use is impossible. The darkest, sickest minds can also have the worst trips. With ingenuity, maybe most bad trips are preventable even in archaic humans. In post-Darwinian paradise, bad trips will be impossible. But today, psychedelic euphoriants or cocktails have “abuse potential” and therefore pitfalls of their own. To function in a Darwinian world, humans need to feel “normal” – a misnomer for many troubled minds. We’re social primates with families and work-related responsibilities. So for now, aiming at an idealised version of ordinary waking consciousness (hyperthymia) is probably wise.
However, if your question is about post-Darwinian life, then emphatically, yes, novel compounds harnessed to novel genes and novel gene-expression profiles will revolutionise our conception of reality. Maybe billions of years of consciousness-exploration lie ahead – starting with the creation of alien state-spaces of experience as different as, say, sight from sound, or waking from dreaming consciousness, or cognition from volition and emotion. Today, we haven’t any conception of what we’re missing, or names for our deficits. I believe it’s impossible to overstate the intellectual significance of these outlandish state-spaces of experience – though there’s a vast junkyard of psychotic nonsense, too, amidst the jewels. By analogy, imagine if you were congenitally blind, but didn’t know you were sightless, nor have any concept of visual experience. Now multiply this ignorance a billionfold. I reckon the human predicament is comparable to a tribe of congenitally blind rationalists.
Sentience-Research: Which do you think has been your most useful idea?
David Pearce: Our overriding ethical obligation is to phase out experience below hedonic zero throughout the world. Genetic recalibration of the hedonic treadmill can replace the biology of suffering with life animated by information-sensitive gradients of superhuman bliss. Genome-editing is no longer science-fiction – a biohappiness revolution deserves to go mainstream.
Sentience-Research: Do you think it is worth it to live?
David Pearce: I’m now I’m torn between giving you a heart-warming answer and an honest answer.
Pleasure corrupts. We all agree that the judgement of heroin users can’t be trusted. Jacking up heroin feels glorious (“I'll die young, but it's like kissing God” – Lenny Bruce), but an opioid habit makes users selfish and amoral. Addiction normally ends up causing untold suffering to everyone. However, the fiendish cunning of natural selection has made all of us junkies – not in some strained metaphorical sense, but literally addicts, physiologically hooked on endogenous opioids – and willing to rationalise all manner of suffering by way of collateral damage to feed our habit. Insidiously, Darwinian life is bribed with pleasure, not just coerced with pain. Worse, evolution has engineered most opioid addicts to propagate their habit to a new generation of addicts via orgasmic sex – not the best tool for an impartial appraisal of reproductive ethics. Of course, addiction isn’t how most of us conceptualise our endogenous opioid dependence. The majority of humans are unaware of the neurochemical basis of reward. Pleasure just feels good. Life lovers will recoil at such a tendentious label; healthy humans are not “addicts”. The grim topics covered in this interview won’t resonate with many people. Humans in general value great art, literature, beautiful sunsets, friends, lovers, humour, spirituality, sex, the latest iPhones – good times. Life is a precious gift that must go on! But objectively, neurologically, we’re all ensnared in a vicious cycle of opioid addiction, and in denial about the harm we cause our victims – human and nonhuman – and ourselves. Addiction warps morality to promote the inclusive fitness of our genes. OK, I enjoy peak experiences whereas you’re a slave to Mill’s “lower pleasures”, but we are all hapless prisoners of the pleasure-pain axis. Darwinian life is self-replicating malware, a monstrous engine for perpetuating pain, suffering and addiction. The scale of the suffering is unimaginable. And it’s utterly pointless.
There’s one complication to this analysis. Even the most angst-ridden Darwinian malware can be valuable if one prevents more suffering than one causes. So whether you’re an effective altruist earning to give, or a vegan activist campaigning against industrialised animal-abuse, or even, yes, a philosophical wordsmith churning out treatises on how to reduce suffering, even a pain-ridden and depressive life can still be worthwhile. Believers in suffering-focused ethics should act accordingly. And don’t help only others; you have a moral obligation to take care of yourself. That way, you can do more good in the rest of the world. Critically, Darwinian malware is now smart enough to rewrite its source code. The future belongs to life-lovers, not extinctionists, anti-natalists or nihilists. Happy folk find the meaning of life self-intimating. Empirically, more happiness = more meaning. Superhappiness = superhuman meaning. Post-human life will be awesomely worthwhile by its very nature.
Sentience-Research: To end this interview, and trying to condense your philosophy: What is important?
David Pearce: Civilisation will be based on gradients of intelligent bliss. So let’s shut the death factories, re-engineer the genome, and use biotech to phase out suffering.
Everything else is fluff.
Sentience-Research: Thank you very much David.
David Pearce: Thank you, Manu. You are very kind. Keep up the fantastic work.
* * *
Social Media (2020)
The End of Suffering
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
Quora Answers (2015-20)
The Reproductive Revolution
MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World
Interview of Nick Bostrom and David Pearce
Interview of DP by Immortalists Magazine (2020)