JANUARY 2017 -
[on cryonics and cryothanasia]
I haven't signed up for cryonics. When I'm ready, perhaps in a decade or so, I intend to use cryothanasia. Your best prospect of a successful reanimation is to be suspended in optimal conditions and cognitively intact. Max More has done an impressive job professionalising Alcor. How many of their current patients will be restored? Given the circumstances of their suspension, I don’t know. I hope Alcor and SENS can collaborate in a twin-track approach to tackling the scourge of death and aging. IMO, cryonics should be opt-in rather than opt-out. And if cryothanasia – with rigorous safeguards – were an option too, then the entire program could be self-financing. For millions of people today, the last six months or even six weeks of their existence absorb more medical time, effort and expense than the rest of their lives put together.
That said, I’m inconsistent. On the one hand, anyone with the slightest shed of intellectual curiosity ought to relish the prospect of waking up in the twenty-second or twenty-third century and catching up with scientific progress. Upon re-animation, I’d like to devour a year-by–year chronicle of key events - together with offbeat stuff like an annual dictionary of new words in the English language. On the other hand, will our enhanced descendants / posthuman superintelligence really believe that it’s ethical to reanimate dysfunctional, malaise-ridden primitives from the genetic dark ages? Won’t the whole Darwinian era be accounted best forgotten like a bad dream? Sure, archaic human ills of brain and body will readily be curable. Yet in what sense would a superhappy, superintelligent “DP” be me in anything but name? Given my disbelief in enduring personal identity over time, and strong suspicion that Everettian quantum mechanics is true, I’m sceptical of any claims to metaphysical identity over time - regardless of what criterion of identity we use. Yet such scepticism doesn’t mean that my namesakes wake up each morning in the throes of an existential crisis. Waking up in the year 2200, say, is no different.
Given these reservations, why urge universal access to cryonics? Well, partly because we need to banish the terrible fear of death and aging world-wide. Transhumanists should set an example and practice what we preach. One reason that so many people today are reluctant to back serious funding for radical antiaging research is their (quite justified) sense that they personally aren’t going to make the transition. So the transhumanist message that death and decrepitude are terrible, but you probably belong to the last human generation ever to experience involuntary aging, threatens to undermine painfully assembled rationalisations of why death and aging are good, necessary and natural.
Stop Eating Meat
Thanks Nikola. I've never tasted meat, an accident of birth rather than a badge of superior virtue. More impressive are transhumanists ranging from the late great FM-2030 - who “wouldn’t eat anything that had a mother" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FM-2030) - to my interviewer Nikola who carefully weighed the arguments and then changed their behaviour accordingly. A commitment to the well-being of all sentience (cf. https://hpluspedia.org/wiki/Transhumanist_Declaration) is inconsistent with the existence of factory-farms, slaughterhouses, and industrialised animal abuse. I'd encourage anyone who still eats meat to quit - and also urge any meat-eating friends and colleagues to do likewise.
Outlaw factory-farms and slaughterhouses. By all means grow your own meat, but buying a vegan recipe book is easier.
("Make your own meat with open-source cells – no animals necessary")
Meat eating adversely affects the health of killers and victims alike. The vCJD story:
("Many more people could still die from mad cow disease in the UK")
If ethics weren't an issue, then a vegetarian + fish-based diet rather than veganism or meat-eating would probably be most conductive to human health and longevity. But like weighing the issue of slavery on the improved cardiovascular health vs incidence of backpain of Aryan slaveowners, we'd be rather missing the point. If we're to see optimal human & nonhuman health and closure of the death factories in our lifetime, then I think in vitro meat is going to be essential.
My own views were inspired by a philosopher who "turns Kant on his head":
Postscript (Dec. 2016)
("Postscript to review of Michael Lockwood")
If a "Lego professor of play", why not a chair of Paradise Engineering?
("A university is offering people the chance to be the first ever Lego professor of play")
Will academic philosophy always be a male-dominated sport for guys who love arguing?
("What is Philosophy's Point? Part II. Maybe It's a Martial Art.
Philosophers sometimes seem more concerned with winning than wisdom")
From the foundations of QM to the Hard Problem of consciousness, science is steeped in (bad) philosophy. Alas, philosophy is often still steeped in (bad) high-school physics.
("What Is Philosophy's Point?, Part 3. Maybe It Should Stick to Ethics")
Consciousness: how would you answer these four questions?
Raising the Table Stakes for Successful Theories of Consciousness A lot of scientists would simply lump all four questions together as aspects of The Hard Problem of consciousness that should be quarantined off from the rest of science. This is rather unsatisfactory. Imagine if since classical antiquity we'd just of the "Hard Problem of matter and energy" without troubling ourselves with developing classical or quantum physics.
Worms and philosophers have a dopamine & opioid system & a pleasure-pain axis and should be treated accordingly.
("We know we are – but what else is conscious too?")
Vito, bafflement at the Hard Problem and/or the binding problem of consciousness isn't confined to professional philosophers. It extends to some of the most brilliant scientific minds of our generation (cf. http://wavefunction.fieldofscience.com/2016/08/physicist-ed-witten-on-consciousness-i.html)
Does Stanislas Dehaene's theory of consciousness make any novel, precise, experimentally falsifiable predictions? If so, it's "risky" in Popper's sense - and potentially good science. But if not...
Waking life is analogous; but natural selection ensures your autobiographical world-simulation is harshly constrained:
("I can control a computer with my mind – from inside a dream")
Can sematics be naturalised if we assume that lucid dreamers (i.e. us) never really "wake up"?
Natural selection doesn't explain consciousness. Your molecular doppelgänger assembled from scratch would be just as sentient. ("'From Bacteria to Bach and Back' by Daniel C Dennett review – consciousness explained? There is no ‘hard problem’ and consciousness is no more mysterious than gravity, Dennett claims in this study of the evolution of minds")
Is insentience useful to a p-zombie? Materialism is false; non-materialist physicalism is (at least) empirically adequate.
Without phenomenal binding, consciousness would be useless. But for classical neurons it's as feasible as telepathy.
* * *
Reflective self-awareness: the circle widens. But sentience, not sapience, is what matters...
("Monkeys taught to pass mirror self-awareness test")
Matt, eliminativism just doesn't work. Feelings and illusions are particular kinds of consciousness. If we believe in physicalism and the unity of science, i.e. no spooky "strong" emergence, then we need to derive the properties of feelings, illusions and all other forms of consciousness from the underlying physics. Compare how vitalism has been confounded by the reduction of life to molecular biology, molecular biology to quantum chemistry, and quantum chemistry to the Standard Model.
However, if we make the extremely plausible but contested assumption that the mysterious "fire" in the equations, i.e. the essence of the physical, is non-experiential, then we face the Hard Problem of consciousness. And if we further make the extremely plausible but contested assumption that neurons in the CNS are discrete, decohered classical objects, then we face the Binding Problem. You are not a "micro-experiential zombie" - not unless you're in a dreamless sleep, at any rate, in which case you won't be reading my deathless prose.
* * *
Magnus Vinding defends consciousness realism:
What is our point of departure?
Low AQ folk start by introspecting their own consciousness - from pleasure, pain, core emotions, perceptual experience, thought-episodes, etc - and try to understand other organisms / information-processing systems by analogy. (cf. The Problem of Other Minds.)
High AQ folk start with observing other organisms / information-processing systems, detect patterns in their verbal and non-verbal behaviour - including talk about "consciousness" - and try to understand themselves analogously. In other words, if the behaviour of other organisms / information-processing systems can be physically understood on the assumption they are zombies, then (ultra-high-AQ folk may reason) by analogy I am too.
* * *
If non-materialist physicalism is true, then experience may be regarded as physicalized mathematics. Posthuman superintelligence should be able to order the menagerie of qualia using the mathematics of symmetry - just as the greats of twentieth century physics created the Standard Model in physics. For sure, non-materialist physicalism may be false and the Hard Problem may be beyond human minds. My objection to "mysterianism" (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_mysterianism) isn't that it's wrong, but rather it's sterile. In any "Shut up and calculate!" versus "Shut up and philosophise!" debate, my sympathies normally lie with scientists. However, one or more totally obvious "philosophical" background assumptions that we're making about consciousness must be mistaken. But which? Above all - and this is a reproach to my younger self - anyone who writes about the Hard Problem should focus on extracting novel, precise, experimentally falsifiable predictions - and not dress up their retrodictions as predictions. Compare Andrés’:
Like most people, my response was "That's insane!" My response should have been, "Fantastic, a falsifiable hypothesis put to the test". Keep them coming.
* * *
Are mini-brains also mini-minds? Or are a pack of autistic or hyper-sociable neurons alike just micro-experiential zombies?
("Mini-brains made from teeth help reveal what makes us sociable")
Matt, there is a difference between the first-person fact of having a migraine and displaying the spectrum of behaviours commonly associated with migraines while uttering the words "I have a migraine". How first-person facts can arise in a world supposedly devoid of experiential properties is the Hard Problem of materialist metaphysics.
What are the biggest flops of physics theories?
The Standard Model. Any decent scientific theory should be empirically adequate. All one ever empirically knows, except by inference, are the contents of one's own conscious mind. Yet contemporary physics has no explanation of why consciousness can exist at all (the “Hard Problem”) (2) how consciousness could be locally or globally bound by a pack of discrete, decohered, membrane-bound, supposedly classical neurons (the phenomenal binding / combination problem) (3) how consciousness exerts the causal power to allow us to discuss its existence (the problem of causal impotence versus causal over-determination) (4) how and why consciousness has its countless textures and the interdependencies of their different values (the "palette problem").
Any theory of the world inconsistent with one's existence must count as an epic fail.
Solutions? Heaven knows. Perhaps Ed Witten is right: (cf. "World's Smartest Physicist Thinks Science Can't Crack Consciousness") My own best guess is that wavefunction monism is true; no "element of reality" is missing from the mathematical formalism of quantum field theory or its extension; but the entire mathematical machinery of modern physics should be transposed to an idealist ontology.
"Extremely implausible” (David Chalmers); and of course, I agree.
* * *
But fields of what exactly? ["What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?" - Stephen Hawking] Intuitively, the intrinsic nature of the physical - i.e. the "fire" in the equations of QFT - is something non-experiential which (somehow) gives rise to consciousness. However, it’s worth stressing that this non-experiential nature is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific discovery.
A physical theory can be mistaken in two ways. It can fail accurately to predict e.g. the precession of the perihelion of Mercury, or the Lamb shift, or whatever. But a theory can also be mistaken if it gets its ontology wrong, e.g. luminiferous aether. The Hard Problem of consciousness arises on the assumption we have our basic ontology right, i.e. that the mathematical formalism of quantum physics is about fields of insentience - whatever that may be.
* * *
A nice review of IIT. More generally, When one's theory is at odds with the empirical evidence, should one grant it's false? Or speak of the Hard Problem?
("The Problem with the ‘Information’ in Integrated Information Theory By: Garrett Mindt")
[on the brain]
Same neurons, new microglial housekeepers. Would you notice the difference?
("'Housekeepers' of the brain renew themselves more quickly than first thought")
LSD: consciousness should be investigated by life-loving psychonauts, not the depressed.
("LSD to Cure Depression? Not So Fast")
[on the binding problem]
[Darren writes] "One of my tutors, who runs a lab studying minimal perception, says that the solution to this problem is that there is no binding, i.e. We are indeed micro-experiential, but manifestly not zombies."
Intriguing. In one sense, I can understand such an incredible view - because as normally posed, the binding problem is insoluble on pain of magic. People sometimes ask, inconclusively, "What is consciousness for?" Perhaps a more apt question is "What is phenomenal binding for?" Here at least we can give compelling answers. (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simultanagnosia) Unfortunately, showing that phenomenal binding is fitness-enhancing is not an explanation of how it's possible. Telepathy would be fitness-enhancing too. If our neurons are classical, phenomenal binding is no less unphysical than telepathy. By contrast, if one starts from the assumption that the superposition principle of QM never breaks down, then one gets a different answer. Superpositions are individual states, not classical ensembles. But decoherence times of neuronal superpositions in the CNS are so insanely rapid, I can understand why few people take this solution seriously.
* * *
The 320 million individual skull-bound minds of the USA aren't a pan-continental subject of experience, nor even an illusory pan-continental subject of experience, nor a pan-continental subject of experience with multiple drafts, nor a pan-continental subject of experience that merely believes it’s conscious (etc etc). Zilch. Or rather, zilch if monistic physicalism is true: as soon we allow "strong" emergence, anything is possible. The challenge is to show why and how a pack of membrane-bound neurons is different: a pan-cerebral subject of experience.
The normal way to pose the binding/combination problem assumes perceptual direct realism – i.e. exposed brains are cheesy wet lumps of neural porridge and light microscopy reveals they are composed of a pack of classical neurons. This conventional approach highlights the discrete, distributed neuronal feature-processors (colour-, motion-, edge-(etc)detectors) synchronously activated by the presentation of different perceptual stimuli as revealed by neuroscanning and microelectrode studies. How does mere synchronous activation somehow get transmuted into phenomenal unity?
As so framed, phenomenal binding is classically impossible.
Instead, start from quantum field theory. Then attempt to derive via the decoherence program in QM an approximation of discrete, decohered classical feature-processing neurons behaving over seconds and milliseconds just as textbook connectionist neuroscience and learning algorithms suggest. In a deep coma or a dreamless sleep, your CNS can indeed be crudely described as though it were a pack of 86 billion classical neurons. However, when you’re awake or dreaming, then - I conjecture - interferometry at fine-grained temporal resolutions will show the non-classical interference signature of well-defined phenomenally bound perceptual objects of the world-simulation in your skull. Interferometry experiments are technically demanding. Yet such experiments are easier to perform if we know precisely what we're looking for - or rather, if we know the specific conjecture that we're trying to refute. I don't blame Vito or David Chalmers (“extremely implausible”) for being dismissive. But if we’re not prepared to experiment as well as philosophise, then we'll be having the same inconclusive debates for ever.
* * *
Cool pictures. But not mind maps. A pack of decohered classical neurons would be a micro-experiential zombie...
("Mind maps: the beauty of brain cells – in pictures")
Bees: running real-time phenomenal world-simulations is the greatest cognitive achievement of post-Cambrian life.
("How insects like bumblebees do so much with tiny brains")
My own intellectual development?
Oversimplifying, transhumanism can be thought of the aim of building a “Triple S” civilisation of superlongevity, superhappiness, and superintelligence.
In my early teens, I read Robert Ettinger's "The Prospect of Immortality"
A cure for aging seemed unlikely in my lifetime. So I resolved to sign up for cryonics.
As a third-generation vegetarian, I was also concerned about the plight of nonhuman animals. When our family guinea-pig Snowdrop died shortly after giving birth, I wanted her preserved in our freezer - an idea unfortunately vetoed by my mother.
The main focus of my work has been the problem of suffering. Again from teenage pop-science reading, I encountered the work of Olds and Milner – and in particular, their discovery in 1954 of what for several decades were called the "pleasure centres". I recall being struck at how intracranial self-stimulation (cf. wireheading) showed no tolerance. I also learned about the negative feedback mechanisms of hedonic treadmill and the idea of hedonic set-points. Antidepressant drugs – if they work as advertised - lift the low hedonic set-point of depressives to normal "euthymic” levels. I’ve always had a low hedonic set-point. What if it were possible to create designer drugs to “cheat” the hedonic treadmill and give all of us a wonderful life based on information-sensitive gradients of intelligent bliss, i.e. not wireheading, but intelligent superhappiness? Back in my teenage years and my twenties, my focus was more on drugs than genetics. I had only the haziest notion that radical hedonic set-point elevation would be possible in the 21st century via genetic engineering. The human genome hadn't been decoded, and the association of particular alleles and allelic combinations (cf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17687265) with high or low hedonic set-points was unknown, though inferable from twin studies.
Anyhow, in late 1995 I wrote an online manifesto, The Hedonistic Imperative (HI), advocating the use of biotechnology to abolish suffering throughout the living world. I set up BLTC Research shortly afterwards. At that time (1997), Nick was a philosophy postgrad in London. Nick read the manifesto. He emailed several astute questions. Later we met up. I harangued a sceptical Nick into getting a website. Nick then sounded me out about setting up a kind of umbrella organization for transhumanists. Critically, Nick overcame my doubts about whether overcoming suffering is really at the heart of a transhumanist agenda: I associated transhumanism with the “dynamic optimism” of the American west coast, extropianism, and free-market fundamentalism. My own sympathies lie with a welfare state for bunny rabbits.
On the third “S” of transhumanism, the creation of posthuman superintelligence, I’m afraid my early thoughts on the prospect of intelligence-amplification were quite jejune – just the product of playing around with nootropics (“smart drugs”). Like many people, I hadn’t thought through the implications of recursive self-improvement combined with the explosive growth of computer processing power.
The Biointelligence Explosion is a more recent effort - alas still written before I could draw on the insights of Nick's magnificent "Superintelligence".)
Let's systematise compassion across the tree of life.
("Injured baby elephant receives hydrotherapy to help her walk again")
[on synthetic gene drives]
"The problem with the gene pool is that there's no lifeguard." (David Gerrold)
Yes, this is one of the view fields of knowledge where I'd urge responsible self-censorship, at least until proper safeguards /countermeasures have been thought through. Unfortunately such "defensive" knowledge could itself - potentially - be highly dangerous. IMO we should support the WHO-sponsored use of gene drives as the only realistic way to eliminate vector-borne disease and (eventually) create a sustainably happy biosphere. Yet we can’t discount the possibility of a man-made global catastrophe.
Conservation biology masquerades as a science. It's an ideology promoting the horrors of Darwinian life.
("Researchers quantify in high speed a viper's strike in nature for the first time")
Should the biosphere be programmed? And if so, what level of suffering is optimal? (cf. gene-drives.com)
("Organisms created with synthetic DNA pave way for entirely new life forms")
Should your genetic make-up be proprietary code or open source? What should be regulated are CRISPR-based gene-drives (cf. gene-drives.com) But how? If you know what you're doing, synthetic gene drives can be anonymously launched with minimal accountability.
("Do We Need an International Body to Regulate Genetic Engineering?")
[on veganism and vegetarianism]
"Though shalt not kill." (Gautama Buddha) The simplest way to reduce the world's suffering is global veganism.
("Buddha branding is everywhere – but what do Buddhists think?")
The devil does not wear horns, unlike a lot of his victims. Time to outlaw death factories.
("Our love affair with meat and exploitation of wildlife is leading us to disaster")
How might factory-farmed pigs judge humans?
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2120909-monkeys-and-dogs-judge-humans-by-how-they-treat-others/ ("Monkeys and dogs judge humans by how they treat others")
A bit like missionaries telling cannibals a baby-free diet would be good for the environment...
("Is a vegetarian diet really more environmentally friendly than eating meat?")
How might factory-farmed pigs judge humans?
("Monkeys and dogs judge humans by how they treat others")
[on the Hedonistic Imperative]
Thanks David. "Good health for all" sounds a little less racy than "the Hedonistic Imperative" for a conservative audience. But the post-CRISPR biosphere can be very healthy indeed...
(cf. "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being"
* * *
aghhhh. Shut factory-farms and slaughterhouses, liberate and care for sentient beings, and give digital zombies the same "human rights" as we'd award a carrot.
("Give robots 'personhood' status, EU committee argues")
[on the hedonic treadmill]
Would you prefer to be happy with locked-in syndrome or malaise-ridden but bodily intact? Serious effective altruism will need to confront the biology of the hedonic treadmill.
("Brain-computer interface allows completely locked-in people to communicate. Completely locked-in participants report being “happy”)
No one knows. We can still program a painless biosphere. Organic and silicon robots can have nociception without pain. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170206-why-do-we-feel-hot-and-cold-as-pain
("Why Do we feel hot and cold as pain"?)
Despite being a crashing prude, I normally give the example of lovemaking. Making love has information-sensitive dips and peaks, but it's still generically pleasant throughout. More generally, just as some people go through life functioning entirely with gradients of bodily ill-being, life based on information-sensitive gradients of bodily well-being ought to be feasible too. If not, a totally pain-free world will have to rely on smart prostheses.
Let's genetically reprogram pain tolerance across the tree of life. Meanwhile RgIA4 promises nonopioid pain-relief.
("An alternative to opioids? Compound from marine snail is potent pain reliever")
Let's genetically banish local anaesthetic resistance and high pain-sensitivity in the post-CRISPR biosphere.
("The people who can't go numb at the dentists")
Preimplantation genetic screening (PGD) could ensure all future life is born with "low pain" alleles. Rewriting our source code, let alone reprogramming the biosphere, isn't easy. But the biology of suffering is nasty - and pointless.
("Sickening, gruelling or frightful: how doctors measure pain")
There are (I believe) upper bounds to pleasure and pain that are (in theory) rigorously calculable from first principles if phenomenal binding is the manifestation of quantum coherence - and dephasing leads to incoherent "mind-dust". But that's a huge "if"...
Captive nonhuman animals given unlimited access to food, water and morphine can live normal lifespans. But human opioid use is fraught with problems:
("‘civil war’ over painkillers rips apart the medical community — and leaves patients in fear")
I guess I have a rather "female' brain...
("Ibuprofen Relieves Women's Hurt Feelings, Not Men's")
Quite so; but if you want to be one of them, sign up for cryonics / cryothanasia.
("Aubrey de Grey: scientist who says humans can live for 1,000 years")
Many transhumanists believe that living has unexpected upsides too...
("The unexpected upsides of dying")
Closing factory-farms and slaughterhouses would improve the brain health of human and nonhuman animals...
("Mediterranean diet prevents brain atrophy, study finds")
"He has stopped eating meat...after being shocked by...how animals are subjected to cruel treatment".
("105-year-old man sets record by cycling more than 14 miles in an hour")
Standing up: a useful adaptation or an evolutionary relic?
("Sitting down for hours a day speeds up ageing - new research")
"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets" (Arthur Miller)
If you want intelligence, get a robot.
("People care less about their date's intelligence as they get older")
Let's use CRISPR genome-engineering to create a Default Mode of fitness-enhancing superhuman bliss.
("Is the Default Mode of the Brain to Suffer?")
Full genome sequencing: do you want access to your complete source code or edited highlights?
[on a zero ontology]
Why does anything exist?
Why does anything exist?
Thanks Andres. Deep questions that seem utterly insoluble often turn out to be subtly ill-posed. Unlike some people, I don't think the question, "Why is there anything at all?" is meaningless; but perhaps the question could be precisely and correctly posed only if we already knew the answer. With this caveat in mind, does some kind of zero ontology make any novel, exact, empirically falsifiable predictions? Any failure of the superposition principle, currently tested only up to the level of fullerenes, would also experimentally falsify a zero ontology in virtue of creating information ex nihilo. However, to call this a "prediction" rather than a retrodiction would be a bit misleading since (at least in my case) it was reading Everett that triggered musings about the net information content of reality in the first instance.
Perhaps a more convincing candidate for a falsifiable test will be quantum gravity, because no theory subsuming QM and GR yet exists. Theorists working on the mathematical formulation of a TOE aren't trying to falsify an informationless zero ontology. However, a failure of the superposition principle (as proposed by e.g. Roger Penrose: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v538/n7623/full/538036a.html) would also falsify this entire explanation-space of theory. The most recent philosopher-physicist working in this explanation-space is Lawrence Krauss:
If reality truly has four (or even 11!) dimensions, such a nice clean number would falsify an informationless zero ontology. Yet as Krauss' reviewer David Albert (ironically) has long argued, such an assumption may be naive:
And qualia? Well, as I suggested in my Quora answer, maybe mysteries really do cancel each other out.
[on artificial intelligence]
AI: will Skynet respect algorithmic accountability?
("This AI translates its internal monologue for humans to understand—and plays Frogger")
Battling mythological abstractions poses many philosophical challenges...
("Apple officially joins the fight against the Singularity")
Will artificial intelligence infantilise humans or empower us?
("The hi-tech war on science fraud")
AI might be better used to track your boss instead.
("AI tracks your every move and tells your boss if you’re slacking") Digital zombies will soon display superhuman emotional intelligence.
("Emotional intelligence is the future of artificial intelligence: Fjord")
"AI should be shared broadly and benefit all Aryans." Will superintelligence be racist or speciesist?
("Experts have come up with 23 guidelines to avoid an AI apocalypse")
Can recursively self-improving organic robots bootstrap our way to superintelligence? Or only digital zombies?
AI and affective computing: will intelligent digital zombies soon behave more sensitively than archaic humans?
("When Machines Know How You're Feeling: the Rise of Affective Computing")
Classical digital computers have no mind, no brain, and no self; but they can increasingly outperform humans.
("If I Only Had a Brain: How AI ‘Thinks’")
Creating ethical superintelligence would solve all our problems.
("Frankenstein fears hang over AI. Artificially intelligent systems must not replicate human bias")
Just don't mention utilitronium shockwaves.
Good news for heavy coffee drinkers (normally 10 cups a day in my case)...
("How Your Morning Coffee Might Slow Down Aging. Researchers zero in on how caffeine appears to fight inflammation")
[on high-tech Jainism]
High-tech Jainism? Absurdly quixotic? Let's hope posthuman superintelligence is as kind to humble creatures like us.
("Vet saves snail's life by mending his broken shell")
"A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing. One that sounds good, and a real one." (J.P. Morgan)
("Why do people hate hypocrites")
[on MDMA / Ecstasy]
("GHB and MDMA")
Thank you Andrés. I guess my conception of a navigational scheme strikes the uninitiated as rather like discovering Easter eggs. Anyhow, if I had to guess one feature of posthuman consciousness beyond exalted hedonic tone, then it would be the raw intensity of everyday posthuman experience. By comparison, today's normal waking consciousness is akin to mere sleepwalking. Given the nature of Darwinian life, such an absence of supersentience is probably a blessing. But intelligent post-Shulgin life may be poised to "wake up". Of course, talk of "intensity" of experience doesn't make much sense within the reigning computationalist paradigm. This is one reason we need qualia computing.
Let's phase out the genetics and biology of low mood.
("Depression Steals Your Soul and Then it Takes Your Friends")
[on gene editing]
Only gene editing allows Darwinian life to create something better.
("How Gene Editing Could Ruin Human Evolution")
The co-evolution of genes and culture may be even more intimate than we suppose...
("Cultural differences may leave their mark on DNA")
[on virtual reality]
A nice Edge interview with David Chalmers.
But selection pressure in basement reality will always have primacy. And your phenomenal world-simulation - whether sculpted by VR or otherwise - can neither be digital nor classical unless you're just a pack of decohered membrane-bound neurons: a "micro-experiential zombie".
("The Mind Bleeds Into the World")
[on interstellar travel]
“As I looked out into the night sky, across all those infinite stars, it made me realize how insignificant they are.” (Peter Cook)
("Interstellar Blues and the Pitfalls of Long-Duration Spaceflight. Passengers explores the difficulties, both personal and scientific, of journeying to another star")
In future will all of life's challenges be virtual?
("How almost-impossible video games can create euphoric moments")
[on quantum mechanics]
How did this catastrophic accident happen?
("What Was Our Universe Like Before the Big Bang?")
Are you a field in an insanely high-dimensional conﬁguration space? And if so, a field of what? A thoughtful critique of wave function monism:
("On the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics: Why the Wave Function is not a Field")
Sometimes it's hard to distinguish counterfactuals from mere Everett branches.
("If not Darwin, Who?")
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” (Mae West)
("The Multiple Multiverses May Be One and the Same")
("What Happened at the Big Bang")
The speculative metaphysical conjecture that one is a mind-brain in a skull may well be true.
("Universes that spawn ‘cosmic brains’ should go on the scrapheap")
Should you be scapegoated for the actions of your faraway avatar? Or will the courts allow the holographic defence?
("Study reveals substantial evidence of holographic universe")
Or only superpositions are experienced; neuronal superpositions are the experience of determinate classical outcomes.
("Why Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics Is More Important Than That of Poached Eggs")
Quantum minds can phenomenally simulate classical worlds; but decohered neurons are just "mind-dust": physicalism.com. Received wisdom is that superpositions ("cat states") are never experienced, only inferred; but in my view, only neuronal superpositions allow us to experience determinate classical outcomes.
("The strange link between the human mind and quantum physics")
The trouble with QM is that preserving realism, determinism, and locality leads to Hilbert space realism / Everett...
("The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics by Steven Weinberg")
Does our seemingly low-dimensional world emerge from an insanely high-dimensional reality, Reichenbach wondered back in 1926. But he balked:
A nice overview of Everett from Lev Vaidman - though in my view, only neuronal superpositions can sustain the illusion of classicality. Vaidman takes the standard view superpositions can't be experienced:
("All is Ψ")
The most...um, spirited defender of Copenhagen alive today is Luboš Motl. Though I think antirealism is mistaken, Luboš really knows his stuff technically :
Despite Luboš' animus towards "anti-quantum zealots", the positivist notion of "observation" is itself a legacy from classical physics. In my view, the experience of an "observation" can be understood only quantum-theoretically. ("It is the theory that describes what we can observe" - Einstein) Only the universal validity of the superposition principle allows what would otherwise be discrete neuronal feature-processors ("mind-dust") to be experienced as, say, a phenomenally bound classical pointer-reading in a classical world-simulation. Otherwise, we would micro-experiential zombies if a "pack of neurons" were classical: the universal validity of QM allows phenomenally bound macroscopic world-simulations subjectively describable by an approximation of classical physics.
* * *
All physicists are philosophers, but sadly not all philosophers are physicists...
("Daniel Kleitman reviews Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality by Max Tegmark")
("Hand-Waving Exact Science by Sheldon Glashow In response to: “It’s You Again” by Daniel Kleitman")
* * *
Sometimes I almost look forward to becoming senile - back to homely naive realism and one-world classical physics.
("Even Physicists Find the Multiverse Faintly Disturbing")
Everettian quantum mechanics prompts thoughts of the inconceivably good and bad. hope it's false.
("Are Terrible Quantum States Phenomenal?")
Either Satan fine-tuned the universal fundamental constants to create suffering or we live in a multiverse.
("Wrestling With the Mysteries of Physics Is Good for Your Soul")
Not even God can create or destroy information. Is the information content of reality distinguishable from zero?
("Nobody Knows Where a Black Hole's Information Goes")
I hope sceptics are right, but contra Peter Woit, the zero information content of the multiverse may actually be a theoretical virtue.
("Searching for God at the Center of the Big Bang")
Or did Nature get there first? A pack of decohered classical neurons couldn't run one's classical world-simulation.
("Quantum computer 'construction plan' drawn up")
Does the superposition principle of QM ever break down? Can primordial information be created ex nihilo? I'm sceptical.
("Roger Penrose and the vision thing")
Alternatively, everyday life is a manifestation of the superposition principle in your CNS.
("What Effects Of Quantum Physics Can We Observe In Our Daily Lives?")
Potentially very good news: can we prevent tolerance to the pain-relieving and mood-enriching effects of mu opioid agonists?
("Researchers identify source of opioids' side effects")
But chronic SSRI use may also lower motivation.
("Increased serotonin could ramp up motivation by lowering the perceived cost of putting in effort")
see too SSRI-induced indifference.
The sick zero-sum games of Darwinian life:
("The mood-enhancing effects of revenge")
Treating the classical world one hallucinates as reality is insane, but the alternative is losing one's mind.
("Hallucinations Are Far More Common Than We've Been Led to Believe, Study Suggests")
Until we upgrade our reward circuitry, mental health depends on an optimal mix of delusions and ignorance.
("The link between your belief in free will, and your happiness")
Alternatively, intense core emotions originate in the limbic system. Emotions may be "encephalised" via the neocortex.
("Joseph LeDoux Reports: Emotions Are “Higher-Order States” LeDoux's new hypothesis is: 'A higher-order theory of emotional consciousness.'")
In a Darwinian world, it's not yet safe to be chilled...
("Meditating mice’ reveal secrets of mindfulness training")
How (fe)male is your mind?
("Key to keeping friendships alive different for men and women, scientists say")
"Being negative is like spraying yourself with anti-charisma." (Karen Salmonsohn)
Oh dear. How many charismatic negative utilitarians do you know?
("The Anatomy of Charisma. What makes a person magnetic and why we should be wary")
In a Darwinian world, it's not yet safe to be chilled...
("'Meditating mice’ reveal secrets of mindfulness training")
Always? Alas some organic robots struggle to formulate Plan A.
("Your brain always has a backup plan")
Psychological #pain can be treated with drugs or gene therapy. The neurotransmitter system responsible is taboo.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-prevent-suicide-with-an-opioid/ ("How to Prevent Suicide with an Opioid. Fascinating study suggests treating 'psychache'")
How can compulsive behaviour be reconciled with the pleasure principle / psychological hedonism?
("Compulsive behaviour? It may make more sense than you think")
surprising number of people can't recognize faces — sometimes even their own")
And probably some fish:
("Smart fish can recognise human faces, scientists find")
How can we make a future worth knowing?
("Want to Know the Future? Most People Don't, Study Suggests")
"Experiential avoidance": mine seems to have been getting worse of late...
[on gene drives]
Hence the need for multiple drives targeted at multiple genes.
("Gene Drives Thwarted by Emergence of Resistant Organisms")
Reprogramming the biosphere (gene-drives.com) is far from trivial.
Scarier than the morally superior are Nietzscheans who think they've transcended good and evil altogether.
("Do You Suffer From Illusions Of Moral Superiority")
Should sentience be precision engineered or kept as a genetic crapshooot?
("Ethics — the next frontier for artificial intelligence")
CRISPR: if Man were made in God's image, changing human nature might be unwise. As it is, genome editing is obligatory.
("Ethicists advise caution in applying CRISPR gene editing to humans")
Creating happy mammoths is more important than creating woolly mammoths.
("Woolly mammoth will be back from extinction within two years, say Harvard scientists")
Brainless blobs can learn & teach, but a nervous system often improves cognitive performance.
("This Brainless Blob Learns — and Teaches, Too")
Would you be more troubled to be perceived as immoral or unintelligent?
("Real-life psychopaths actually have below-average intelligence")
Nazi race policy lowered European intelligence by devastating the ethnic group with an #IQ a standard deviation above the norm.
Does the future belong to enhanced humans, transhumans, posthumans - or nonbiological artificial intelligence?
("Enhanced Humans: the Avatars of the Future")
Hot or not? Would you prefer the company of a kind, sensitive, witty, affectionate zombie or a dysfunctional human?
("Can Your Robot Love You?")
Should "natural" drug addiction be celebrated by poets or treated as a toxic affective psychosis?
("Love Is Like Cocaine. From ecstasy to withdrawal, the lover resembles an addict.")
Mating, Dating and Procreating. Have you a high polygenic score? Or are you a walking genetic timebomb?
("Opinion: Dating and mating — decided by your genetic profile?")
Tinder for orangutans: all sentient beings should be helped to find love.
("'Tinder for orangutans': Dutch zoo to let female choose mate on a tablet. Orangutan Samboja will be shown males on a touchscreen in experiment aimed at learning more about mating choices") "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." (Pascal)
Likewise the gut.
("Microbes, a Love Story")
[on simultanagnosia and full-spectrum superintelligence]
What evolutionary fitness benefit does consciousness confer? What's it "for"? Sometimes one could be forgiven for thinking the only purpose of consciousness is to have interminable philosophical debates about consciousness. Each week brings news of a fresh triumphs by digital zombie software over world-class conscious humans in some new cognitive domain. Is consciousness just an incidental implementation detail of organic robots?
Perhaps ask instead: what is conscious binding “for”? As rare binding deficit syndromes illustrate, both local and global phenomenal binding plays a critical computational functional role in the effective functioning of biological robots. It’s staggeringly computationally powerful, yet no one knows how a pack of membrane-bound classical neurons pulls it off. A bumble bee is a far a more versatile and sophisticated robot than Alpha Dog. One reason we’re mostly oblivious to the computational power of phenomenal binding is that Nature has made us naïve realists about “perception”. Thus we talk simply of “seeing” our surroundings - rather than running a nearly real-time virtual reality simulation of our local environment sculpted and computed on the basis of sparse peripheral inputs.
So phenomenal binding is extremely useful, yes: but is binding literally indispensable to general intelligence? Consider simultanagnosia. Naturally we focus on the highly unusual trait of being able to see only one thing at once. But for someone with simultanagnosia, most forms of phenomenal binding (notably cross-modal phenomenal matching and a unitary phenomenal self) are still intact. The subject develops partial workarounds in order to cope. We don’t live on the unforgiving African savannah. In AI too, software engineers / robot designers can develop workarounds - just as chess programmers can develop software that can now beat the world's best players, despite the ability of a strong human chess player to “see” the whole board at a glance.
However - and this is the real point I want to make - what is the computational-functional workaround for not having a unitary phenomenal self: a workaround for not being a unitary phenomenal agent who acts within an almost real time, cross-modally matched egocentric world-simulation of the kind you’re running right now? When we talk about building "artificial general intelligence”, what will substitute for an absent AGI phenomenal self? Particularly if, anthropomorphically, we give the system in question a cutesy human name (“Watson” etc) it’s easy to underestimate the magnitude of the challenge. Humans with autism spectrum disorder or schizophrenia have a different, dysfunctional self, but at least partial global phenomenal binding is retained. Yet what are the upper cognitive bounds of totally “disintegrated” information processing systems with no local or global phenomenal binding at all - just incredible speed and serial depth of processing? IMO, full-spectrum superintelligence will be our hybrid biological descendants - genetically and AI-enhanced organic minds who incorporate non-conscious / unbound “narrow” digital AI modules/neurochips. Contrast a MIRI-type FOOM scenario (the “intelligence explosion”), or Kurzweilian “mind uploading”. In my view, the kinds of experience that superintelligent posthuman minds will bind are likely to be alien to any human conceptual scheme with one exception: future minds will be inconceivably blissful. For without hedonic tone, what’s the point?
Three kind of idealism:
1) Solipsism: all that exists is my mind.
2) Pluralistic idealism: all that exists is a bunch of minds.
3) Physicalistic idealism (aka non-materialist physicalism): all that exists is a physical field of experience exhaustively described by the universal wavefunction. There is no Hard Problem of consciousness because experience is the essence of the physical.
Only (3) is consistent with science. But is it true? And critically, can we test it?
Yes, IMO. All we need to falsify the conjecture is find some aspect of experience - some "element of reality" - that is not captured by the formalism of physics but present in our minds. If we can do so, then physicalistic idealism is refuted.
Sometimes it’s supposed the palette problem (cf. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tht3.113/abstract) is the missing element of reality that falsifies physicalism – physicalism of any kind. The palette problem is one of two reasons that David Chalmers feels driven to naturalistic dualism. (cf. http://consc.net/papers/combination.pdf) We undergo countless different textures of experience. By contrast, the ontology of fundamental physics is sparse and simple - albeit not yet quite as simple as we would wish (i.e. the Standard Model doesn’t include gravity and contains thirty or so adjustable parameters that need to be “put in by hand”). However, the particle-based ontology of elementary quantum mechanics is just a low-energy non-relativistic approximation of quantum field theory. In QFT, fields are fundamental, not particles. If physicalistic idealism is true, then the zillions (conventionally, an infinite number) of solutions to the equations of QFT yield the different values of experience. Why the "quantum" in QFT? Because without the superposition principle to underpin phenomenal binding, we'd be micro-experiential zombies.
And here (at last) comes the testability.
A lot of one's resistance to physicalistic idealism (and more generally to panpsychism in its various guises) comes from an extremely powerful intuition - an intuition I share - namely that the smallest possible unit of experience (“the psychon”) is much larger than the dimensions of the fundamental ontology of physics, whether fermionic and bosonic fields or – heaven help us – Planck-scale superstrings/branes. I guess the most popular candidate within the scientific community for the minimal "psychon" would be a neuron or a local neural network. But actually the violence to intuitions of non-materialist physicalism is worse. If experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical, then the fundamental “psychon” of experience must be ludicrously short-lived - not just ludicrously small.
And here is the crux. Assume that molecular matter-wave interferometry has advanced far enough so that we can probe the CNS (or in vitro neuronal networks - “micro-brains”) at femtosecond, attosecond and even zeptosecond timescales. What will experimentalists find? The naive answer is just 86 billion discrete, decohered, membrane-bound classical neurons – just the way we conceptualise the CNS in our temporally coarse-grained investigations today. Another answer is that we’ll find quantum weirdness alright, i.e. fleeting molecular and neuronal macro-superpositions are real, but their signature will just be “noise”. By analogy, imagine someone who believes that digital video game characters (or tomorrow’s putative “mind uploads”) are phenomenally bound subjects of experience. Suppose he naively probes the CPU of his futuristic desktop computer at attosecond timescales while a game (or a “mindfile”) is being executed in search of a non-classical interference signature of functionally relevant coherent superpositions of machine code. Good luck!
However, there's a third answer, which is tentatively mine. The answer is not idiosyncratic because I’m proposing new physics - I’m boringly conservative: you need to be very clever indeed to start monkeying around with the symmetries expressed in the bare quantum formalism. No, short-lived macro-superpositions of distributed neuronal feature-processors must exist in the physical world on pain of a failure of the linear unitary Schrödinger dynamics. What is idiosyncratic in a "Schrödinger’s neurons" proposal is that interferometry will reveal a perfect structural match between our phenomenal minds – in particular, phenomenally bound perceptual objects in our world-simulations - and the formalism of QFT.
Note that what we're looking for in the non-classical interference signature isn’t a perfect structural match in classical four-dimensional space-time, but rather a perfect structural match between coherent superpositions of neuronal feature-processors and a real physical ﬁeld in the conﬁguration space of the wave function. Of course, these sorts of timeframe are intuitively absurd. “Everyone knows” that conscious mind arises over scores of milliseconds. But these timeframes are neither more nor less absurd than micro-experience at femto-, atto-, zepto-metre (etc) distance-scales on the assumption that non-materialist physicalism or property-dualist panpsychism is true. If QM is formally complete, then what David Chalmers calls a “problem” for non-materialist physicalism/panpsychism is actually the solution to the phenomenal binding / combination problem. The binding / combination problem is an artefact of classical physics and crude classical neuroscience.
There's an obvious rejoinder here. No mechanism exists by which such fleeting individual neuronal superpositions could be harnessed, either by the individual organism or evolution. By contrast, connectionist neuroscience captures both the relevant dynamical timescale (cf. Max Tegmark) and molecular mechanism (i.e. neuronal action potentials and synapses) for computationally relevant state transitions, unlike quantum mind.
I’d beg to differ. The most sophisticated version of the decoherence program in post-Everett QM, Zurek’s “Quantum Darwinism" (cf. John Campbell’s “Quantum Darwinism as a Darwinian process”: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1001/1001.0745.pdf), offers a powerful and unremitting selection mechanism: inconceivably intense. It’s a selection mechanism that generates quasi-classical Everett branches in the guise of a vast preponderance of well-behaved macroscopic “worlds” over maverick worlds, and also – when applied to the CNS – explains our capacity to run phenomenally bound classical world-simulations. I know of no other way to “save the phenomena” and derive the familiar lifeworld of one’s everyday experience from fundamental physics.
* * *
Alternatively, assume physicalism is true and experience is the "fire" in the equations of QFT.
("On why Idealism is superior to Physicalism and Micropsychism | Bernardo Kastrup")
* * *
As you might guess, I'm less optimistic than Andrés that the (hypothetical!) inflaton field is a manifestation of hedonium. Mercifully, I doubt it’s dolorium either, despite my bleak view of life. If physicalistic idealism is true, then its subjective texture is… goodness-knows-what. [As an aside, I've just read Roger Penrose, "Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe” - surprisingly good: Penrose always flags when he's saying something that departs from string-theoretic orthodoxy.]
If physicalistic idealism is true, and if local and global phenomenal binding is underpinned by neuronal superpositions, then neuroscience needs a Mendel to Zurek's Darwin, so to speak – though sadly quantum biology needs more mathematical sophistication than selectively cross-breeding pea plants. Quantum Darwinism applied to the CNS yields selection pressure for functional binding of stupendous, inconceivable power. By analogy, imagine four billion years of Darwinian natural selection (as classically conceived) compressed into a microsecond - unceasingly, unremittingly.
If this model of our minds is correct, then differential robustness to decoherence across the CNS needs to be described and quantified at the molecular level. Here alas I reach the limits of my technical competence and start philosophical handwaving. Above all, I'd love some experimental guidance on whether we're on the right track. What I call the "(cf. protocol" for experimental (dis-)confirmation is a philosopher’s conception of a protocol , not an experimentalist’s. Otherwise it's just a thought-experiment.
[on Existential Risk]
Blurb for Phil Torres' "Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks, Pitchstone Publishing." (2017)
If life on Earth didn't exist, would a benevolent superintelligence create it? How might the beauty and joy brought into existence be impartially weighed against the creation of such immense cruelty and inexpressible suffering? Whatever our answer to this hypothetical, few respondents would claim that giving an answer of "No" is self-evidently monstrous or absurd. By contrast, any hypothetical proposal to wipe out existing life strikes most people as self-evidently monstrous and absurd. A big part of such an incongruent reaction undoubtedly lies in status quo bias. But beyond mere status quo bias, a better reason exists to be appalled at apocalyptic solutions to the problem of suffering. The world has no clean OFF switch. An attitude of mind that places no positive value on human and nonhuman life, and disregards the expressed wishes of autonomous individuals, typically leads to more suffering, not less. Thus there is nothing inconsistent with being a negative utilitarian or a Benatarian or a Buddhist and also believing that the sanctity of human and nonhuman life should be enshrined in law. This is my view.
Yet what if the world really did have an OFF button? Or rather, what if developments in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering or WMD turn the extinction of sentient life into a credible prospect, not just a thought-experiment? Phil Torres’ “Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks” offers an authoritative guide to the emerging scientific discipline of Existential Risk in all its guises.
As a Misguided Ethicist who would, unhesitatingly, press a clean hypothetical OFF button, I confess I was surprised to be invited to contribute a blurb to this volume. Knowing my dark views on life, a handful of young, idealistic, and extremely smart people have inquired over the years about the feasibility of apocalyptic solutions to the problem of suffering. My answer has always been the same. Apocalyptic solutions are an ethically hazardous distraction. Don’t allow a supremely compassionate Buddhist / negative utilitarian doctrine, i.e. our overriding ethical obligation to mitigate and prevent suffering, get mixed up with plotting Armageddon. The only rational way to get rid of suffering will use the non-violent democratic politics of persuasion - promoting the slow, fitful process of rewriting the genome to create a civilisation based on gradients of intelligent bliss. A few centuries from now, our superhappy and superintelligent descendants may view negative utilitarianism as a pathology of mood and thought – just like most other Darwinian value systems.
However – and this is the real worry - we should also try to understand why a Seriously Misguided Ethicist might reach a radically different conclusion – and far more dangerously, influence impressionable minds more prone to action than armchair philosophising. Unlike the Misguided Ethicist, the Seriously Misguided Ethicist claims that utopian talk of abolishing suffering by creating a blissful post-CRISPR biosphere (etc) is fanciful. Why not just bring the whole Darwinian horror-show to an end? Buddhists speak of nirvana (“snuffing out”). More effective tools will soon exist to extinguish pain-ridden life on Earth than the Noble Eightfold Path, for example igniting a nirvana shockwave. Granted, intelligent life may conceivably be poised to radiate across the Galaxy spreading love and happiness. But maybe C.S. Lewis is right: “Let’s pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere.” Why take the risk?
I don’t have a knock-down reply to the Seriously Misguided Ethicist, other than to say that the problem of suffering and the study of existential / global catastrophic risks are not orthogonal, as is often supposed, but intimately related. Other things being equal, the more we value life, the more motivated we are to preserve it. Anyone seriously interested in global catastrophic and existential risk should explore tackling one of its primary underlying causes: the biology of suffering. For sure, the world has few card-carrying negative utilitarians. Yet negative utilitarianism just systematizes the insight of millions of thoughtful folk who would “walk away from Omelas” (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ones_Who_Walk_Away_from_Omelas) – people who would forgo the promise of fabulous delights if the price of pleasure were the misery of a single child. What “walking away” entails is controversial – and perhaps profoundly disturbing.
Phil Torres’ book covers the risks posed by Misguided Ethicists and other forms of existential risk in a scholarly, rigorous fashion. Highly recommended.
* * *
[Adam Karlovsky quotes me] "Singularitarians worry about sentience-unfriendly artificial intelligence. But human society is based on sentience-unfriendly biological intelligence. We hurt, harm and kill billions of sentient beings each year in the death factories."
Thanks Adam. There's a terrible irony here. I.J. Good's original proposal, i.e. that a combination of Moore’s law and software-based, recursively self-improving AI might lead to a runaway Intelligence Explosion, has been argued most vigorously over the years by Eliezer Yudkowsky and SIAI / MIRI. Nick Bostrom then wrote the book Eliezer should have written ("Superintelligence"). The spectre of sentience-unfriendly superintelligence was picked up by a charismatic billionaire (Elon Musk) and an academic superstar (Stephen Hawking). Media interest then ensured a sensationalised version entered mainstream public awareness. However, Eliezer himself believes that nonhuman animals, and human babies / prelinguistic toddlers prior to acquiring meta-cognitive capacities, aren't conscious. Ordinary meat-eaters (and yesterday’s cannibals?) typically downplay the minds of their victims. Eliezer believes they aren’t sentient at all.
(cf. "The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else." EY)
Eric, in one's own life, peak experiences or orgasmic bliss - and (hopefully) rare uncontrollable panic or agony - are more intensely conscious than the experience of exercising complex meta-cognitive capacities. They matter more. IMO, we should be sceptical of the claim that reflective states are intrinsically (rather than perhaps instrumentally) more valuable. But what I wanted to highlight was how EY believes that human babies and nonhuman animals aren't subjects of experience at all: they can't suffer. False theories of (un)consciousness can be ethically catastrophic. Compare the Cartesian vivisectionists: "distress vocalisations" of the agonised dogs they vivisected were supposedly just noises emitted by feelingless automata.
Of course, the risk of error cuts both ways. Should disbelievers in digital sentience alter our behaviour on the possibility we could be catastrophically mistaken? As you know, my own conception of the nonclassical basis of phenomenal binding is speculative - at best.
Let's hope so.
("Why upgrading your brain could make you less human")
[on How We Should Act]
Andrés Gómez Emilsson on G+ quotes:
"If meta-ethical realism is correct, i.e. there is an objectively correct ethic to be discovered, then presumably its policy implications may be as much at odds with folk morality as is quantum theory at odds with folk physics." (David Pearce)
Thanks Andrés. In one sense, I'm still in thrall to commonsense. My agony and despair is self-intimatingly bad. My sublime bliss is self-intimatingly good. The insight that – for reasons we don’t understand – the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world’s intrinsic axis of (dis)value is philosophically ancient. So we may ask how a benevolent full-spectrum superintelligence should act, i.e. a God-like agent who can impartially access and appraise all first-person and third-person perspectives and act accordingly. Presumably, God-like superintelligence won’t be prey to the egocentric delusion that hardwires Darwinian minds evolved under pressure of natural selection to feel uniquely special: the egocentric illusion.
The upshot of these reasonable-sounding constraints may be utterly alien and perhaps repugnant to most of us. For instance, I’d struggle to defend - except instrumentally - creating a world based on gradients of intelligent bliss rather than laying the foundations for a utilitronium shockwave: cosmic wireheading, as it were.
However, in order to avoid getting trapped in a philosophical quagmire, sometimes it’s easier to set aside meta-ethical realism and focus on rational agency. As you know, I still hope someone will write an amoral Decision-Theoretic FAQ for a full-spectrum superintelligence: the counterpart of the amoral Less Wrong Decision-Theoretic FAQ minus its irrational individualist metaphysics: http://lesswrong.com/lw/gu1/decision_theory_faq/
Presumably, full-spectrum superintelligence won't be bewitched by a false metaphysics of personal identity.
Qualia computing, so to speak.
Currently, a daunting obstacle to writing a purportedly God’s-eye-view ethical and/or decision-theoretic FAQ is that it’s impossible to act rationally or morally – except by accident - without grasping the nature of reality, at least in crude outline. No sign of the fog lifting any time soon. Cosmology is in flux. Post-empiricist science is in vogue. On a personal note, my motivation to write and act has been sapped by “multiverse mania”. Despite finding Everett’s original PhD thesis compelling, I used to console myself with the thought that Everettian QM might be wrong. Perhaps gravitationally-induced wavefunction collapse à la Penrose undercuts the universal applicability of the superposition principle. Or perhaps (somehow) the "bare formalism" of the unitary dynamics has a limitation no one has fathomed. Everett aside, I hope Peter Woit is right. (cf. http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=9027) Succumbing to what Nick Bostrom christened “infinitarian paralysis” is a real risk - whether or not one believes in the literal existence of physically realised infinities. Yet there is a real tension between (in my case) defending some sort of zero ontology (cf. https://www.quora.com/Why-does-the-universe-exist-Why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing) and a desire to “do the right thing” that I’m unable to reconcile. Sometimes my mind gives way under the strain.
[on mental health]
Yet we still go on churning out cruel genetic experiments ("babies"):
("If you live your life without mental health issues, science says you’re the weird one")
Alas suing for another windfall may not solve the problem. Roll on a WHO initiative to recalibrate the hedonic treadmill.
("Britain's youngest EuroMillions winner says life ruined")
Sleep may be as much of a cognitive enhancer as psychostimulants masquerading as smart drugs.
("The Brain’s Connections Shrink During Sleep")
Late-night carbs won't especially cause you to put on weight and may help you get a good night's sleep.
("Scientists Dispel Late-Night Eating/Weight Gain Myth")
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” (Homer) I combine late-night bananas and a melatonin supplement...
"All men while awake are in a common world: but each when asleep is in a world of his own" (Plutarch) A useful myth.
("Study points to a universal immune mechanism as a regulator of sleep")
Chronotypes" may be complicated by your drug regimen:
("It's Okay That You Don't Like Mornings--Your Memory Probably Doesn't Either. How sleep, circadian rhythms and chronotype affect your ability to remember")
Today's sleeping and waking consciousness deserve to pass into evolutionary history. But what comes next?
("Researchers Tap a Sleep Switch in the Brain")
A pan-species welfare state will need autistic hyper-systematisers as much as tender-minded bunny lovers.
("Feral Bunnies Are Taking Over Las Vegas")
Utilitarian ethics may be computable; but without the spark of #empathy, who would build the supercomputer to do so?
("Empathy is crucial to being a good person, right? Think again")
[on diet and nutrition]
Corn consumption positively correlates with human homicide rates - though is low tryptophan/serotonin the villain of the piece?
("A diet of corn is transforming French hamsters into raging cannibals")
The battle against postprandial somnolence ("food coma"): can you eat and stay sharp?
("Are 'food comas' real or a figment of your digestion")
Do you enjoy luminous clarity of mind or an introspective void?
("How to become a ‘clean thinker’ and get rid of middle-aged brain fog") Quitting meat and eating whole-grain wheat, rice, oats and barley products is a recipe for longer human and nonhuman life. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-02-grains-metabolism-calorie-loss.html
Alternatively, liking dark and twisted jokes could be sign of empathy deficits and impaired social cognition.
("Liking dark and twisted jokes could be sign of intelligence")
[on free will]
Bartek, yes, both t'Hooft-style superdeterminism ("the ultimate conspiracy theory") and Everettian QM are inconsistent with free will. The alternative is to accept spooky non-locality (cf. http://www.nature.com/news/cosmic-test-backs-quantum-spookiness-1.21401) The only way I can think of to salvage free will would involve allowing the actions of all conscious agents collectively to determine the "constants" of Nature - with a full-spectrum superintelligence contributing to their value more than a mouse. For lots of reasons, I don't think this will work.
Consciousness? Well, as a (tentative) non-materialist physicalist, I take seriously the possibility that consciousness is conserved, neither created nor destroyed. (cf. http://www.physicalism.com) Yet unless such fields of consciousness are phenomenally bound, then we'd be zombies in all but name. Death? Well, I think we all timelessly live in a higher-dimensional Hilbert space from which you'll never be deleted. But BN or DCP probably won't walk the Earth in Year 3000...
The Happy Song.
(well, it works for me...)
http://www.livescience.com/57784-can-this-song-make-babies-happy.html Means-ends rationality suggests giving our brains what they're after rather than conserving evolution's Rube Goldberg machines. But natural selection means the world is full of people who imagine they've transcended the pleasure principle.
("Sex, drugs and music: Brain switch stops people feeling emotional about songs When played")
[on ethyl alcohol]
Ibudilast: an anti-inflammatory mood-brightener that also reduces problem drinking?
("Drug shows promise for treating alcoholism. Study finds an anti-inflammatory medication appears to reduce cravings, improve mood")
[on mathematical beauty]
"Some of these transformations are more pleasant than the others." (Andrés Gomez Emilsson)
If I were a strong mathematician, I'd probably agree with you Andrés! Spared of this confounding bias, I'd argue the opposite. With microelectrodes, reinforcement learning, or indeed a bit of neurological tweaking, a neuroscientist could invert your preference ranking - or alternatively, make each transformation seem equally (dis)agreeable by its very nature.
A mathematician might protest, "But only I can apprehend true beauty!" But compare the assertion that e.g. the features of 20 year old women of prime reproductive potential are intrinsically sexy, whereas the perceptions of other folk are somehow less "natural" (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paraphilias) Claims for the primacy of one's own fetishised intentional objects need to be treated with scepticism. Yes, we can give an evolutionary story of why some intentional objects are more readily fetishised than others – sometimes fetishised so powerfully that their agreeable nature seems built into the very fabric of reality. Folk who disagree with our perceptions are simply deluded. Yet (IMO) the only thing that is intrinsically pleasurable is pleasure itself. When we (1) identify the molecular signature of pure bliss in our twin hedonic spots, and (2) understand the neurological basis of phenomenal binding, we should be able to "paint” indescribable bliss on literally any of our neocortical representations (or their transformations) as desired: paradise-engineering.
[on effective altruism]
Effective altruism (EA): what are our core values?
("Fundamental Values and the Relevance of Uncertainty")
Infectious altruism? Perhaps microbiologists could engineer epidemics of morality, despite cases of innate immunity
("Microbes may encourage altruistic behavior")
Mom was right: chewing food thoroughly promotes health:
("Research reveals surprising health benefits of chewing your food")
Vitamin D supplementation: alternatively, go for a stroll in the sun.
("Vitamin D 'proved to cut risk of colds and flu'")
[on autism spectrum disorder, masculinity and AQ]
Alternatively, how high is your AQ?
("How to Email. An etiquette update: Brevity is the highest virtue")
Could #autism be a cognitive blessing in a world seemingly designed by a SuperAsperger?
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2120747-women-with-a-thicker-brain-cortex-are-more-likely-to-have-autism/ ("Women with a thicker brain cortex are more likely to have autism")
"It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” (Tolstoy)
Will truth always be ugly?
("Meitu: 'Beauty' selfie app surges in popularity as people perform drastic makeovers on their photos")
Is your body more of a temple or a pharmacy warehouse?
("How Two Florida Gym Rats Conquered the Shadowy World of Dietary Supplements")
Should we choose our optimal level of testosterone function - or accept what Mother Nature has given us?
Higher testosterone linked to reduced closeness in social relationships")
Complicating matters: is "postural expansiveness" the key to attraction?
("A Surprising Secret of Attraction. If you want people to swipe right, be "expansive" in your profile picture.")
Too many white male vegans...?
"Uh oh...Your Vegan Panel is All White or Male"
Perhaps comparative cognitive style is relevant. Utilitarians and effective altruists are more likely to be white, male hyper-systematisers in virtue of our higher AQ scores. (cf. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2003/apr/17/research.highereducation) Compare too the otherwise anomalous disproportionate number of female vegetarians versus the approximately even ratio of male-to-female vegans. Also, Ashkenazi Jews tend to have abnormally AQ scores, as do (to a lesser extent) Caucasian Europeans (cf. http://hsnewsbeat.uw.edu/story/human-neanderthal-gene-variance-involved-autism) Black people (who typically lack Neanderthal DNA) tend to record lower AQ scores.
("The Myth of the Black Aspergian")
("Israel Goes Vegan")
And so forth.
Differences in cognitive style may turn out to be play only a small role in explaining speaker disparity: I can think of other, much more plausible reasons. But I guess it’s the sort of cofounding variable one needs to rule out before drawing conclusions...
[on lust and love]
Kisspetin: Will "mental Viagra" soon rekindle your lust for life?
("'Mental Viagra' on horizon as scientists boost lust signals in brain")
"God is an Englishman." (E.M. Delafield) But learning lesser tongues too may be good for the brain.
("Bilingualism may save brain resources as you age")
Superhuman bliss: sometimes I think Andrés' brain is halfway there already...
I once had a nightmarish dream in which FHI's Anders Sandberg - "I do have a ridiculously high hedonic set-point" - confided that he was secretly extremely unhappy. Was I overcome with compassion? Sadly no, I recall being annoyed that I'd now need to edit out my standard example of lifelong high-functioning well-being and replace Anders with someone else. I'm glad to say I later woke up.]
Machiavellian intelligence? Can AI outwit cunning but primitive humans in poker and life?
("After day one, AI is crushing humanity at poker")
"A pack of cards is the devil's prayer-book" (German proverb)
Will AI beat Satan at his own game?
Presumably our successors will believe 540 million years of suffering were a price worth paying for superhuman bliss. Are they right?
("Unhappy or Depressed? In the Future, Everything Will Be All Right!")
As the Bible relates, even Heaven has it problems (cf. the abortive coup by Satan and his associates). But the problems of a posthuman world founded on gradients of superhuman bliss will differ from the miseries of Darwinian life.
Are opioid users likely to vote Trump?
("Trump's Election Map Also Maps "Despair Deaths")
Presumably the brand risks reputational damage, though the product has a loyal user base.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/02/04/florida-heroin-bust-reveals-something-bizarre-drugs-covered-in-donald-trumps-face/ ("Florida heroin bust reveals something bizarre: Drugs covered in Donald Trump’s face")
When will social life no longer resemble a baboon troop on the African savannah?
("The twisted psychology of office cliques")
The environment: who needs it?
("US Republicans launch effort to abolish Environmental Protection Agency with new bill")
Will transhumans transcend chimpanzee politics or offload political power to smart AI?
("Chimps beat up, murder and then cannibalise their former tyrant")
Hard drugs and refined sugar are best discouraged in the young.
("High-sugar diet programs a short lifespan in flies")
Should we be consuming prickly pear and brown seaweed extracts?
("Chemicals in ubiquitous Mediterranean plants may hold key to delaying neurodegenerative diseases, study suggests")
Or evolution says recursively self-improving organic robots will rewrite their own source code and enjoy eternal youth.
("Billionaires say they’ll end disease: evolution says otherwise")
Transhumanism: solving the problem of death entails not murdering billions of sentient beings in slaughterhouses.
("Only Human. Meet the hackers trying to solve the problem of death")
[on the AntiSpeciesist Revolution]
The Antispeciesist Revolution
("The AntiSpeciesist Revolution")
Thanks David. We do need an Antispeciesist Revolution. My only reservation is the term. Naively, it sounds as though the antispeciesist is arguing that "all animals are equal" - and that in the case of a severe and irreconcilable conflict of interests, we should give as much weight to a mosquito as to a mammal. Not so - though of course we may hope in the long run even the humblest of beings can flourish unmolested.
Eat sparingly with optimal nutrition is a better recipe for a long, healthy life than dietary heroics. (IMO)
("Calorie restriction diet extends life of monkeys by years")
The quest for eternal youth: is it better to bathe in the blood of young virgins or fill your veins with their blood?
("For $8,000 this startup will fill your veins with the blood of young people")
"Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else" (George Bernard Shaw) However...
("An Odd Disorder Convinced This Man That All Strangers Were His Crush in Disguise")
Tinder for orangutans: all sentient beings should be helped to find love.
("'Tinder for orangutans': Dutch zoo to let female choose mate on a tablet")
Optogenetics: should we create happy & gentle mice or "Walking Dead-style zombie killers"?
("Mice can be turned into Walking Dead-style zombie killers, scientists discover. Researchers use a laser to activate brain cells that prompt the mouse to hunt and kill anything in its path – crickets, bottle tops, sticks ...")
Some accidents might easily damage your career prospects.
("Queen 'nearly shot' by Buckingham Palace guard while walking late at night")
Translational medicine 2017:
("A cure for all ills: what medical advances can we expect in 2017")
Will transhumans and posthumans be rude, civil, or endowed with superhuman courtesy?
("How Rudeness Stops People from Working Together")
"For there was never yet philosopher That could endure the toothache patiently." (Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing)
Tideglusib: good news for philosophers - and future humans?
("'Tooth repair drug' may replace fillings")
Decent homes for #orangutans will take time, but learning carpentry is cool:
("The incredible moment an orangutan uses a SAW to cut tree branches after watching builders do the same")
A conservation effort or mothballs: what is the likely fate of Neopalpa donaldtrumpi?
("Researchers identify source of opioids' side effects")
From the Mpemba effect to sentient organic wetware, the properties of water are still unexplained.
("The claim that hot water freezes faster than cold water just got even weirder")
The evolutionary roots of teenage angst run deep.
("Worms have teenage ambivalence, too")
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David Pearce (2017)
The Abolitionist Project
Social Network Postings (2016)
The Hard Problem of Mind Solved(?)
Can Science Abolish Suffering? (2013)
Hedonistic Imperative Facebook Group Posts