JANUARY 2019 -
[on the odds of HI]
Thanks Conor. I foresee a future of pain, suffering and nuclear war.
But we’re going to reprogram the biosphere. There’s maybe a 50-50 chance the world’s last unpleasant experience will occur later this millennium...
Life in the Year 3000 [on predators and universal veganism]
“Flesh eating is unprovoked murder.”
A rant against vegans in Le Monde. Should an ethic of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” be restricted to one race or species?
Paul Ariès accuse les végans de mentir sciemment & J’accuse
(partly hidden behind a paywall; the full text is here).
"J’accuse?" The vision of a non-violent living world where all sentient beings can flourish unmolested is Biblical; only the technical details are modern.
Le Monde has mixed feelings about transhumanism too:
La résistible ascension du transhumanisme
Perhaps also see:
Interventionnisme et faune sauvage
Starvation, violence and terror are no way to run a biosphere:
Are we obligated to help wild creatures?
Kevin Esvelt isn't some madcap transhumanist, but one of the pioneers of CRISPR-based synthetic gene drives:
Talk of gene-editing, and even cross-species fertility-regulation, makes a lot of animal activists uncomfortable. But most of the "obvious”, compassionate, non-biological-genetic interventions we can imagine designed to help free-living creatures are either ineffective or would make the problem of wild-animal suffering worse (by triggering population explosions of predators and/or their victims).
Most humans are more sentient than most nonhumans. So one needn't be speciesist (in the arbitrary sense) to agree. My commonsense chronology has always been humans first, then large vertebrates, last of all small obscure invertebrates. But what's disconcerting about CRISPR-based synthetic gene drives is that (in theory) they can invert our intuitive chronology. Small fast-breeders are actually the easiest and cheapest to help. In theory, humans could be the last species in which suffering is eradicated, owing to issues of consent. If some humans always insist on having kids "naturally", involuntary suffering will persist indefinitely. No, I don't think this inverted chronology is likely, but there are too many unknowns to exclude it altogether.
Should we conserve violence, suffering and terror or civilise the biosphere with CRISPR?
("Can a Dolphin Really Commit Rape?)
Suffering and Enlightenment Agony and a pinprick have something in common: they are both nasty. Nonetheless, it would be fanciful to describe a pinprick as suffering. The actual threshold above which pain becomes suffering is conventional, though not arbitrary. The distinction between pain and suffering has practical advantages too. Getting rid of all experience below "hedonic zero" is a more technically ambitious and a longer-term goal than making pain nothing more than a useful signalling mechanism - as a few human genetic outliers describe their nociceptive systems today.
Wild animal suffering?
I hope you are right to be sceptical, Alexander. Until we can engineer e.g. reversible thalamic bridges or come up with a truly scientific theory of consciousness, the sentience of anyone - human or nonhuman - is speculative. However, both the neocortex and limbic system of some nonhuman animals are bigger than their human counterparts. Genes, neurological structures and behavioural responses to noxious stimuli are strongly conserved across the vertebrate line and beyond. I suspect being eaten alive, for instance, is just as unspeakably awful if you are a juvenile elephant or a human toddler. Alas, we need to reprogram the biosphere, not focus exclusively on a single species.
[on happy, painfree CRISPR babies]
“Ending Suffering” Should Be the #1 Transhumanist Priority
Is the problem of suffering genetically soluble this century? For example, could two tiny genetic tweaks get rid of most of the world’s mental and physical pain? (cf. CRISPR gene editing to prevent pain) Compare how Jo Cameron’s unusually high levels of anandamide (from the Sanskrit for “bliss") induces lifelong mild euphoria without impairing critical insight or social responsibility. With CRISPR and preimplantation genetic screening, all babies could be innately happy.
Pitfalls? Tons, yes, where does one start?! But the level of suffering in the living world is now an adjustable parameter. As a society, I think we need a debate about how much pain and misery we want to conserve or create.
* * *
Getting rid of involuntary suffering is only one strand of the transhumanist project. But one needn't be a neo-Buddhist to recognise the importance of phasing out involuntary suffering. Compare the World Health Organization definition of health: https://www.who.int/about/who-we-are/constitution.
Is good health for all as defined by the WHO feasible without biological-genetic interventions? As transhumanists, we all favour radical life-extension. But it's worth recalling that for many millions of people today, life drags on too long. Almost a million people took their own lives each year. Hundreds of millions of people suffer from the horrors of depression. We need an integrated approach to ensure that all sentient beings can flourish.
KaramQa, religious believers and scientific rationalists alike can support getting rid of involuntary suffering. The difference is that scientific rationalists have the tools for the job. For instance, consider the proposal for a large well-controlled trial of CRISPR babies with benign versions of the FAAH gene and FAAH-OUT gene (cf. "She Thought It Was Normal"). Creating “transhuman” children who wouldn't suffer like neurotypical humans would be highly controversial. I can think of lots of risks to be weighed. But the proposal is not ill-defined or religiously-inspired.
Unquantifiable suffering? Recall how behavioural psychologists "operationalise" levels of pain and pleasure by testing how hard human and nonhuman animals will work to obtain or avoid rewarding or noxious stimuli. The results of behavioural tests tend to coincide with the reports of verbally competent adult human subjects. The genetic, pharmacological, neurobiological and behavioural evidence all converges.
Intuitively, yes, discontent is the engine of progress. But compare the rapid advance of AI without the nasty "raw feels" of distress. Most relevantly for us, what's critical for intellectual and societal progress is information-sensitivity to “good” and “bad” stimuli, not our absolute point on the hedonic scale. As it happens, the people with the highest hedonic set-points also tend to be the most motivated. Conversely, pain-ridden depressives are prone to get "stuck in a rut". (cf. gradients.com)
Yes, it's good to research in depth everything that could go wrong - whether phasing out the biology of suffering, ending aging, or creating full-spectrum superintelligence. But forewarned is forearmed. Consider again the chronically happy and pain-free Jo Cameron with her unique(?) double mutation of the FAAH and FAAH-OUT genes. Jo is a socially responsible vegan, retired schoolteacher, and pillar of the local community - not (as far as I know) a crazed serial killer.
As well exhaustively researching everything that could go wrong, I think as transhumanists we should also explore what could go right. Pain thresholds, default anxiety levels, hedonic range and hedonic set-points are now adjustable parameters in human and nonhuman animals alike. As a society, we need a debate about how much suffering we want to preserve in the living world. We are living in the final century of life on Earth where involuntary suffering is inevitable.
Tim, yes, raising IQ scores is feasible. I doubt the enhancement of the controversial Chinese CRISPR twins was done "inadvertently":
But given our crude conception of intelligence, boosting children’s IQ would almost certainly boost their AQ too:
A more "autistic" cognitive style may (or may not) be desirable for society as a whole; but this cognitive shift almost certainly won't be preplanned, just a by-product.
I guess I'm more comfortable pushing a eugenics program geared to promoting individual subjective well-being - though intelligence-amplification is probably inevitable in the long run too.
“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
Does suffering make one wise?
Alas, the only thing suffering has taught me is that pain ought not to exist...
The next step in human evolution?
[on the Measurement Problem of Quantum Mechanics]
Are the measurement problem of QM and the binding problem of neuroscience two sides of the same coin?
A solution to the measurement problem of QM?
("How serious is the measurement problem concerning the validity of the various interpretations in quantum mechanics?")
[on non-materialist physicalism]
“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”
A German edition of my “Schrödinger’s neurons” conjecture:
Not to be confused with Schrödinger’s cat
The anti-speciesist revolution will be messy...
("Vegan bride slammed for banning meat-eating relatives from big day")
A cruelty-free lifestyle can be criticised with varying levels of sophistication.
NatWest worker told customer 'vegans should be punched'
Will tasty meat substitutes (“Beyond Meat” etc) be enough to get the death factories shut and outlawed? Or will cultured meat and animal products be the only way to end the animal holocaust and “veganise” the world?
Penalties for animal and child abuse
Should meat and animal products carry a label certifying that real suffering beings were harmed?
Dairy industry to take legal action against vegan ‘cheesemonger’
Falloutfan2002, the stem cells for growing cultured meat can in principle be extracted via biopsy by veterinarians in the course of a legitimate medical procedure to help the nonhuman animal in question. In theory, one can argue there are still ethical issues of consent - the same could be said of stem cells extracted from humans - but any further debate now gets rather theological. I suspect the real objection of some vegans and animal activists to cultured meat isn't really about the source of stem cells, but rather a sense that cultured meat is a distraction. Factory-farms and slaughterhouses should be shut and outlawed now, not at some nebulous time in the future when cheap gourmet cultured products finally reach the supermarkets. And of course I agree – in principle. Talking about developing such technical fixes in the midst of an animal holocaust feels morally frivolous. Yet we've got to be hard-headed. Sociologically, politically, what is the quickest and most effective way to end industrialised animal abuse worldwide? Vegans shouldn't over-estimate our powers of persuasion. The only credible way I know to get factory-farms and slaughterhouses shut in our lifetime (rather than over centuries) is to ensure zero personal inconvenience to morally apathetic consumers - with the bonus of being able to signal one's superior virtue by choosing in vitro products over otherwise identical traditional meat.
This may sound cynical – sorry – but I’m just trying to be dispassionate. What will work? “Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.”
(Schopenhauer) Or cultured meat?
Will vegetarians ever comprise more than half of the world’s population?
The closure of factory-farms and slaughterhouses will probably involve paying reparations to the owners and perpetrators. But it’s a price worth paying.
When slaveowners got reparations
Paying to harm sentient beings isn't EA. Instead, EAs should support getting slaughterhouses shut and outlawed. Without slaughterhouses, the whole apparatus of industrialised animal abuse will collapse. We've no hope of creating a world based on systematically helping sentient beings if we are systematically harming them instead - or paying others to do so:
47% of Americans agree with ban on slaughterhouses
* * *
Understandable - but IMO misguided. Cultured meat is the best hope of getting all factory-farms and slaughterhouses shut and outlawed in our lifetime.
The Clean Meat Hoax
Thanks Andrés. As a small child, I believed grass was green. Later I learned about science. Grass isn't really green. Our minds somehow "paint on" phenomenal colour to intrinsically colourless objects. These days, I believe grass is green. Second childhood? Perhaps...
Reality and Perception
[on Brock Bastian's critique of The Hedonistic Imperative]
"The Other Side of Happiness Embracing a More Fearless Approach to Living" (2018)
by Brock Bastian.
"There are four reasons why I think we should be sceptical of Pearce's project":
1) Hedonic adaptation theory
The quick and lazy refutation is intracranial self-stimulation of the mesolimbic dopamine system ("wireheading"). Wireheading doesn't show physiological tolerance. It's as exhilarating after ten hours as ten minutes.
However, HI doesn't urge ending hedonic adaptation, but rather, ratcheting up hedonic range and hedonic set-points:
Gradients.com & What is the root cause of all suffering?.
2) The relativity of pain and pleasure
("How would we ever know what pleasure is if we experienced nothing else?")
Some people, tragically, endure chronic pain and depression.
Would we seriously claim that pain-ridden depressives can't really understand pain and depression because they can't contrast ghastly states of mind with experiences above hedonic zero?
3) Pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin
("Narrowed emotional bandwidth")
Yes, we could create a narrow-contrast, equable +95 to +100 civilisation.
But we could also create a high-contrast, mercurial +70 to +100 civilisation.
Tomorrow's hedonic floor can be higher than today's hedonic ceiling. Hedonic contrast can be softened or amplified as desired. Our emotional palette can be diversified too.
4) The paradox of hedonism
("According to Pearce we should aim to seek pleasure")
In the sense we should upgrade our reward circuitry, i.e. hedonic recalibration and enrichment, yes.
But all of the things we care about (unrelated to pleasure conceived as such) can in future be pursued with greater vigour, motivation and drive for success if we biologically-genetically upgrade. Hedonic recalibration can conserve your values and preferences - and conserve critical insight and social responsibility.
Hedonic recalibration doesn't entail buying into someone else's vision of utopia.
According to Brock Bastian (and Jordan Petersen et al.), pain and suffering give life more meaning.
But empirically, prolonged suffering and low mood tend to drain life of meaning.
Other things being equal, more happiness promotes more meaning too.
Some people are born incurably happy. Should we develop gene therapy for people with a dysfunctional UBE3A gene (cf. “happy puppet syndrome” (cf. Angelman Syndrome) so they can suffer?
What mood is best for understanding reality?
Should reality make us glad or sad? (John Horgan)
Can biotech replace depressive realism with euphoric realism?
Are you a seeker of reality?
Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
Should we accept natural selection:
The Happiness Dilemma
(“Why Natural Selection Means We'll Never Be Happy”)
Or embrace unnatural selection?
Gradients of Bliss
How do you break the hedonic treadmill?
Thanks Ekaterinya! I think we should support universal basic income.
A couple of reservations.
First, compare how The Global Happiness Report ranks Indonesia at 92 in the world with, say,
In other words, all sorts of anomalies arise when we blend our judgements of who "ought" to be (un)happy with who self-reportedly is (un)happy.
The danger of making such sceptical comments is they encourage tolerance of social injustice and inequality. But most people still think that improving society is the panacea for a happy world, whereas it's only half the story. Biological-genetic interventions will be essential too. There are an awful lot of unhappy Finns (cf. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/more_than_400000_people_in_finland_take_anti-depressants/10639847).
Second, if the Global Happiness Report recorded the (un)happiness of only white people, it would leap off the page. Recording the (un)happiness of humans seems natural and unremarkable. The plight of non-human animals is invisible.
I fear a true Global Happiness Report might read quite differently.
That said, roll on unlimited material abundance for all...
"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."
(George W. Bush)
Is there any evidence of other animals being self aware?
"Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.”
Man Plans to Sue His Parents For Bringing Him into This World Without His Consent
Alas selection pressure means that anti-natalism is not a panacea.
Making babies is a genetic crapshoot, but are we entitled to load the dice?
Triple S Genetic Counseling
“We've created life in our own image.”
Is humankind some kind of virus?
Alas, offering family planning also intensifies selection pressure in favour of (a predisposition to) natalist fanaticism.
But with designer babies, we can create selection pressure in favour of (super-)happiness... Making Babies in the Year 2045
[on immersive VR]
The Great Virtual Escape
Awesome essay Daniel. Yes, Tte Great Virtual Escape will accelerate, though selection pressure in basement reality forbids true autonomy. We won't get (un-)happier unless we upgrade our reward circuitry. Neuroprostheses may become ubiquitous, but not (IMO!) mind-uploading (cf. Quantum Minds?)
("Can you eat yourself happier?")
[on the future]
Human genetic experimentation: where will it end?
Will human genetic experiments be needed for transhumanism?
Transhuman neo-Buddhist Andrés Gómez Emillson of Qualia Computing:
"Letter from Utopia" and Other Triple-S Transhumanist Media
Personalised CRISPR gene-editing to enrich mood and motivation in existing humans should be feasible in a few years. Full-spectrum cognitive enhancement is harder IMO. Optimal nutrition, aerobic exercise and sleep discipline can be combined with neurochipping. But when?
I foresee a future of pain, suffering and nuclear war.
But we’re going to reprogram the biosphere. There’s maybe a 50-50 chance the world’s last unpleasant experience will occur later this millennium...
Life in the Year 3000
[on "mixed" states]
Physical Pain as Pleasure
What is the future of "mixed" states? Pure pleasure (or pure ill-being) can be mild, moderate or superhumanly intense. But a lot of human states of mind are a mixture of the pleasant and pleasant - with either the positive or negative aspect dominating. For keen BDSM aficionados, the positive dominates. More widely, however, I think a lot of people fear that a superhappy world - even a world underpinned by preference-conserving gradients of bliss - would deprive their lives of something valuable. For instance, consider our nearest and dearest. Alas, friends, family and lovers aren't always a source of unalloyed delight. Yet most people would reject the option of replacing their loved ones with pure pleasure - unless of course they actually tried the euphoriant in question, but that’s a different story. Clearly, any story of the long-term future of mixed states is speculative. In a civilisation with a hedonic range of +70 to a +100, there could be pure seventies, eighties and nineties with complicated mixed states too (Anything hedonically sub-zero from the Darwinian era would be literally inconceivable). But maybe the future lies in hedonic purity. Sticking to this century, my main reservation about even broadly positive mixed states is that they simply aren't rewarding enough. Take meditation. People who meditate typically report positive effects. Yet even its advocates acknowledge "difficult" experiences (cf. Meditation: problems)
On a more practical note, I wonder what will happen when we finally discover the molecular signature of pure bliss. Despite the cardinal role of the mu opioid receptor in current research (cf. The mu opioid receptor) I think the heart of the mystery lies inside the neuron – with the huge complication that any adequate theory of mind needs an account of phenomenal binding.
How empirically adequate is modern science?
The State of Physics
Orrab, first, I suspect many (most?) physicists would agree with your minimalist approach. Quantum mechanics works: what more can we want? Wordy philosophical tracts can be written on whether the purpose of science is to understand the universe or "just” to devise empirically adequate theories. However, in my view, the problem of quantum mechanics is that it's not even empirically adequate. The unitary Schrödinger dynamics suggests that superpositions, including macro-superpositions, should be ubiquitous. Instead, we experience - or at least appear to experience - only definite outcomes. Why? See too e.g. Paul Mainwood's answer to "Does decoherence solve the measurement problem in quantum theory?" I suspect you'll find my answer (and especially the links) too "philosophical" and speculative for your taste. But all physics is steeped in philosophical assumptions. Ignoring them doesn’t transcend philosophy, but instead risks giving treacherous philosophical assumptions a free pass. IMO!
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
Is reality awash with spooky non-local correlations?
I don’t know, but disenchantment won’t rescue common sense...
Ethics professors are no more ethical than the rest of us
Semantic solipsism used to trouble me, but not solipsism. Yet why doesn't the former entail the latter?
Can solipsism be scientifically disproved?
Paleo diet = paleo lifespan?
("A high-carb diet may explain why Okinawans live so long")
Forgotten, not gone
("Carol Tavris surveys a range of new approaches to the old problem of old age")
("The Adult Brain Does Grow New Neurons After All, Study Says. Study points toward lifelong neuron formation in the human brain’s hippocampus, with implications for memory and disease")
[on the meaning of life]
The Meaning Machine
Post-Darwinian life will probably be orders of magnitude richer in subjective meaning, significance and purpose than our own. Such superhuman meaning will be a side-effect of upgrading our reward circuitry, not the consequence of discovering some deep metaphysical truth about the universe. There is an irony to pleas from well-known pundits like Jordan Peterson who call for prioritising "meaning" over happiness. Getting rid of the biology of suffering in favour of gradients of bliss will create a Meaning Explosion.
I guess critics will be exasperated at this response. What counts is true meaning (mine!) over false meaning (yours). Yet the beauty of hedonic recalibration is that - with complications and subtleties for sure - recalibration enriches everyone's default quality of life without taking sides.
* * *
This is what’s disconcerting about eternalism: even if a “Big Rip” scenario is true, it’s still the case spacetime (tenselessly) exists. Like modelling the Big Bang, we’re describing merely its boundaries.
Meaning? I fear you will find this answer frustrating:
Meaning or the end of suffering?
But in essence, a sense of meaninglessness and futility is a function of low mood. Lift your mood and everything will seem charged with significance and purpose again. Sometimes one wants meaning in a transcendent sense; it’s not clear what this sense could be. However, biotech can take care of empirical meaning.
[on the future of work]
“A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is visible labor and there is invisible labor.”
(Victor Hugo, Les Misérables)
Is having a job a right or a privilege?
Can one imagine a society where most people aren't perceptual naïve realists? Running a world-simulation might not matter if our world-simulations were faithful. But they are egocentric cartoons...
What is the “biggest mistake” of philosophy?
Thanks Dzarren. I should have said a bit more. First, some scene-setting. Some very smart people do and don't regard the phenomenal binding problem as a fundamental challenge to physicalism. The seeming (partial) structural mismatch between our minds and the microstructure of the CNS pushes David Chalmers to dualism. Why aren't we (at most) just 86 billion odd pixels of classical, membrane-bound “mind-dust”, or at least just a bunch of distributed neuronal feature-processors? Even if consciousness is fundamental to the world, what explains the classically impossible unity of our minds and the world-simulations we run?
I explore an out-of-the-box solution, namely that our minds consist of neuronal superpositions ("cat states”) of distributed feature-processors. The reason the conjecture is unorthodox is not because of any new theory of physics, but because the theoretical lifetime of neuronal superpositions in the CNS is femtoseconds - or less! This kind of timescale is, intuitively, hopelessly wrong for the two kinds of holism to be related. Anyhow, the binding problem as standardly posed simply assumes (rather than derives from QFT) the existence of classical (i.e. decohered) neurons of the kind we can seemingly inspect under a light microscope.
What would we discover if we could inspect an awake brain on a timescale of femtoseconds?
I don’t know: I’m just curious!
And if you think “That’s crazy!” don’t worry, I do too:
What is a quantum mind?
Oxytocin plus tianeptine?
Non-narcotic stopgaps are needed until gene therapy matures...
A Pill for Loneliness?
[on a zero ontology]
"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.”
Why is there something rather than nothing?
[on nootropics / smart drugs]
Newsweek on nootropics:
Nootropics: Do ‘Smart Drugs’ Really Work?
1) When did you start using nootropics?
2) What stack do you currently take? How has that changed over time?
3) How has your life changed since taking nootropics?
4) Do you think general interest in nootropics is growing? If so, why?
5) My personal response (from a privileged viewpoint of neurotypicality/good health): I find that suffering—in moderation—plays an important role in my human experience. Despite suffering registering as a negative sensation, it is as enriching to me as positive emotions. Is it possible that managing suffering should centre not around abolition, but through balance, ie. not suffering excessively? I can’t help but imagine a suffering-free existence as somehow flat; two-dimensional.
6) Do you think it’s possible that our obsession with maximum happiness and productivity is a byproduct of protestant capitalist value system? Don’t our feelings of tiredness and craving for unproductivity give us a form of ‘downtime’? In a lot of online forums, I notice that people often seem to be into nootropics in order to fuel an already stretched life.
7) Do you see a move towards a future where it’s considered usual to take nootropics? How do you think this future will come about?
8) What is the next big development in technology in the field?
9) What do you think stands in the way of this future?
10) Finally, how would you suggest people get into nootropics if they were curious? Is there anything they should be careful around?
First, some background. I have a melancholic temperament. My main personal interest has been in finding sustainable mood-brighteners that don't impair intellectual function - and ideally, sharpen it. This is a challenge. Some forms of low mood are associated with a poverty of thought; other kinds with "hypercholinergic frenzy", i.e. an overactive cholinergic system. Anticholinergics can improve mood and impair cognitive function. Conversely, cholinergic drugs can subdue mood and enhance thinking – one pitfall to bear in mind when exploring nootropics. Of course, many people who take nootropics aren't melancholic. Most users of nootropics report taking them purely for their cognitive effects. Maybe so; but some drugs touted as nootropics (e.g. methylphenidate / Ritalin) are really psychostimulants. Other things being equal, if you feel happier, you feel sharper. Often you are shaper - although compare depressive realism. Mood and cognition are intimately linked. Crudely speaking, psychostimulants enhance signal-to-noise ratio, but calling psychostimulants "nootropics" / "smart drugs" / "cognitive enhancers" (or whatever) can be misleading: typically, they enhance merely one kind of cognitive style.
1. I first used selegiline in 1995. I wrote "The Hedonistic Imperative" six weeks later, in late 1995. I've taken selegiline (at a selective MAO-b selective dosage of 2 x 5mg daily) ever since.
2. Since 2000, I've also taken amineptine (c. 200 mg daily). I almost didn't try amineptine because most tricyclics have a "dumb drug" anticholinergic action. Amineptine (and tianeptine, another very interesting agent) are anomalous: they modestly improve cognitive performance on some measures. But it’s hard to separate out any truly nootropic action from the effects of a drug on mood and arousal.
Otherwise, I’m afraid my stack is quite "boring" compared to serious psychonauts:
What is DP's current supplement regimen?
3. I function better in a harsh Darwinian world.
4. The growth of the scientific counterculture, free web-based access to information (both medical/scientific and social / anecdotal) and a global online drug market with easy methods of payment (bitcoin etc) have all increased interest in nootropics.
5. Not all experience is straightforwardly either good or bad. Emotionally "mixed" states, for example bitter-sweet nostalgia, can be perceived as valuable, on balance. But in my view, unpleasant human experiences such as depression, anxiety disorders, despair, agony, jealousy and even "normal" malaise are cruel and ultimately pointless. Even if we judge that many nasty emotions can be functionally useful, I think the key question to ask is whether they are functionally indispensable, or whether we can replace them by more civilised alternatives - for example, information-sensitive gradients of well-being. Critically, I think we should be free to choose lifelong gradients of intelligent bliss. In 1998, I co-founded the World Transhumanist Association (now rebranded as Humanity Plus) with philosopher Nick Bostrom. The Transhumanist Declaration sets out our commitment to the well-being of all sentience. When transhumanists talk of overcoming suffering, aging and our human intellectual limitations, we would do well always to stress the word "voluntary"- even when the voluntary nature of what we’re talking about strikes us as self-evident. No one is going to force you to be happier or longer-lived or smarter. Most suffering in the world today is involuntary. Mastery of our genetic source code promises a world where we’ll be free to choose whether to suffer or not. Later this century and beyond, the level of suffering in the biosphere will be an adjustable parameter.
Intuitively, yes, a world without suffering would be emotionally flatter. One thinks of "psychic anesthetisers" like SSRIs. And what about tormented geniuses who create great works of art and literature? But designer drugs and (soon) gene therapy can potentially enrich our palette of emotions and ratchet up both our hedonic range and hedonic set-points. In other words, we can potentially enhance mood, cognition and human diversity.
6. The pleasure-pain axis is a universal feature of animal life. But human cultures vary hugely in how much value they place on personal fulfilment versus welfare of the tribe or society as a whole. I could give you a long spiel on evils of capitalism. Yet free-market capitalism didn’t invent the hedonic treadmill. Discontent is genetically adaptive. Nature didn’t design most of us to be constitutionally happy.
7. Common, yes. Usual? I don’t know. Compared to the designer-drug cocktails of tomorrow, taking today’s agents may seem little better than glue-sniffing. A vast unregulated drug experiment is currently unfolding across the world with the growth of online pharmacies selling all kinds of pills and supplements – and also a massive expansion of the so-called Dark Web. I don’t know how the experiment will play out.
8. In the 2011 movie “Limitless”, a struggling writer discovers a nootropic (“NZT-48”), which turns him into an intellectual superman. It’s a fun story, but I’m sceptical that any such drug could exist. Incremental progress involving not just nootropics but also smart neuroprostheses and soon biohacking the genome are more likely than development a single miracle drug. For instance, many people are getting their genome sequenced, now prices have crashed. Pharmacogenomics offers the prospect of personalised medicine and cocktails of smart drugs tailored to the individual rather than today hit-and-miss approach. For now, suck-it-and-see is still the norm.
9. Status quo bias. Taking a “dumb drug” like ethyl alcohol is socially acceptable, at least in Western culture, whereas use of smart drug is still relatively atypical. I think the appeal-to-nature argument still resonates with a lot of people. Hence the number of products that claim to be “naturally inspired”.
10. Before even considering taking nootropics (or any other kind of psychoactive drug), I’d urge anyone first to optimise their diet, aerobic exercise and sleep discipline. Getting all three right is more likely to deliver long-term cognitive enhancement than taking pills - though some people strike lucky and find a drug or cocktail that really suits them. Then perhaps consider nutraceuticals (“smart foods”) and omega-3 essential fatty acid supplementation. Also, ask yourself what aspect of your normal state of mind you would most like to change. Lots of people say they’d like a better memory. But the capacity selectively to forget stuff, and discard trivia, can be at least as vital for intellectual performance as having a good memory. More generally, I think schools should offer students optimal nutrition i.e. smart snacks and smart drinks, rather than smart drugs. It’s crazy that the USA consumes around 90% of the world’s Ritalin. Breastfeeding should be universally encouraged. (As it happens, the most intelligent person I know was breast-fed almost to the age of five – though this sort of anecdote shouldn’t be confused with a well-controlled study!)
Pitfalls? Where does one start? Many of the scientific studies often cited are small, unreplicated, poorly controlled, and don’t disclose source of funding. Publication bias is endemic. Acute action and long-term effects of nootropics aren't always carefully distinguished: the brain has an incredibly complex web of negative feedback mechanisms. Online merchants are obviously trying to make a profit, so they aren’t impartial sources of information. Any form of psychoactive drug use has implications not just for the user, but also for friends, family and partner(s). Robinson Crusoe should be free to take any drug he wants, but the rest of us are social primates. Modafinil, for example, is a generally benign nootropic with low abuse potential. But like most psychostimulants, modafinil may subtly impair empathy. And sleep deprivation tends to harm cognitive health. For what it’s worth, I prefer strong black coffee. In my view, we need a much richer conception of intelligence. Yes, we need tools to enhance (what might crudely be called) the “autistic” component of general intelligence measured by mind-blind “IQ” tests and SAT scores. But we also need tools to enhance social cognition - and enrich the capacity for co-operative problem-solving that helped drive the evolution of distinctively human intelligence.
In short, I think we need full-spectrum superintelligence!
* * * Brain Doping
("The Majority Of People Are Fine With Brain Doping, As Long As You Don't Call It That")
Life on Earth
Benjamin, yes, sorry, it's a grim diagnosis, although not many pessimists anticipate a future of superhuman bliss. I confess I haven't read all 1,928 pages of Parfit's "On What Matters" - just the reviews. If (dis)value can be naturalised, then perhaps the negative utilitarian faces a bigger challenge than the classical utilitarian, who may argue that the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world’s inbuilt metric of (dis)value. Our successors may regard NU as a depressive psychosis. If so, I hope they are right.
[on the binding problem and QM]
Does consciousness have quantum properties?
Most people who've considered the phenomenal binding problem assume that binding must be classical, even though we don't understand how it's possible. So if a pack of neurons can be a unified subject of experience, then why not a termite colony too: perhaps we should be looking for a functionalist, information-theoretic explanation? However, as you'll have gathered, I think phenomenal binding is classically inexplicable. If instead our experience of phenomenally-bound perceptual objects within our world-simulations consists of coherent superpositions of distributed neuronal feature-processors, could other systems like a termite colony support unified subjects of experience too? Probably not, IMO. Recall I'm assuming no new physics, just the unitary Schrödinger dynamics. Whereas the effective theoretical lifetime of neuronal superpositions in the CNS is less than femtoseconds, then the effective lifetime of superpositions of cephalic ganglia in a termite colony must be...I don’t know, zeptoseconds or less. Environmentally-induced decoherence must be insanely powerful and uncontrollable. Of course, most scientists would say the same about decoherence in the human CNS…
Quantum Darwinism in the CNS
I did a quick Google search on "Quantum Darwinism in the CNS". Alas, the only other reference I could find was in The Paracast - "The Gold Standard of Paranormal Radio". However, Quantum Darwinism and the decoherence program are now mainstream physics. Zurek is widely respected. What's not mainstream is the idea this inconceivably powerful selection mechanism has any relevance to our minds and the world-simulations we run. As standardly posed, the phenomenal binding/combination problem just assumes decohered neurons and classical physics.
Posthuman superintelligence will be us.
CRISPR used to build dual-core computers inside human cells
Does the mathematical machinery of quantum field theory describe fields of insentience...?
"Electrons don’t think"
Are particles conscious? & If consciousness is fundamental, what predictions does it make?
Thanks Rares! I'm not a Fichte (or Kant!) scholar so I hope Miguel will forgive me if I comment just on the section of your remarks discussing non-materialst physicalism. The actual term is due to the late Grover Maxwell. I sometimes say "physicalist idealism" instead. But some readers then assume that one must be some sort of anti-realist, or believe in a consciousness-induced wavefunction collapse, so “non-materialist physicalism” is probably wise. Only disbelievers in the collapse of the wavefunction are also wavefunction monists: most wavefunction monists are "materialst" physicalists who (unlike non-materialist physicalists) face the Hard Problem of consciousness and its offshoots, which are difficult to reconcile with their professed monism.
I think the real challenge may be to find experimentalists who specialise in molecular matter-wave interferometry who reckon the conjecture is even worth falsifying. Most researchers will just think “That’s flaky!” and move on - a fair if frustrating response to a seriously weird proposal. See too:
[on preference utilitarianism versus hedonistic utilitarianism]
What are your philosophical positions in a paragraph?
Many thanks Bryer. You are very kind.
Others things being equal, yes, the satisfaction of preferences is good. Allow me to make the case for the ultimate primacy of the pain-pleasure axis.
You prefer peppery food, just as (to use a racier example) some people have a taste for masochism. But that's because peppery food (and BDSM in some folk) triggers the release of intensely rewarding endogenous opioids. Keep the endogenous opioid-release while stripping away the pain and the experience would be even more enjoyable!
I'm curious about your wisdom-teeth extraction. Can you pinpoint why you wanted to the pain to go away - if it weren’t unpleasantly distracting?
Grief is complicated. I'd love to see an end to death and aging. Yet until advanced medicine can solve the problem of mortality, I say (if asked) that I'd like my death or misfortune to diminish the well-being of family and friends, but not for them to suffer on my account - and this principle should be universalised if possible.
Can a distinction be drawn between enjoyment and pleasure, as you suggest - with some aspect of enjoyment being bound up with the status quo? Perhaps consider Felipe De Brigard's Inverse Experience Machine argument:
Does Nozick's experience machine prove anything?
https://www.quora.com/Does-the-experience-machine-pleasure-machine-argument-adequately-refute-hedonism">Does the experience machine (pleasure machine) argument adequately refute hedonism?
Also, satisfaction of vast numbers of preferences is literally impossible - either because they depend on a false metaphysics (e.g. I want to do the Will of Allah) or because the preferences conflict with the preferences of others (ranging from the conflicting preferences of predators and prey to the preferences of rival football fans for their team to win the cup).
Anyhow, much more could be said on preference utilitarianism: I know I've just skimmed the surface of the issues. But you'll see where I'm coming from, so to speak.
Hmmm. I wonder whether our experience differs or our interpretation - not that the two can be cleanly distinguished. According to my perspective, pure pains may stretch from, say, - 1 to -10 in intensity, with -1 being a pinprick and -10 agony. One wouldn't describe a pinprick as “suffering", and indeed the precise point on the scale where mere pain becomes suffering is conventional though not arbitrary. Yet a pinprick is still a self-intimating micro-nastiness. If asked, I'd rather not have a pinprick - quite aside from anything else it signified.
The situation is more complicated with "mixed" states - especially when over time an otherwise painful stimulus becomes ever more tightly associated with rewarding endogenous opioid release. A masochist might deny he wants to experience the rewarding opioid-release on its own: otherwise painful or humiliating stimuli have become inseparably associated with enjoyable experience in his mind.
So to use your example, I would predict that vanilla ice cream with pecans and chocolate syrup do not induce the same quality of endogenous opioid release as spicy food - and neuroscanning of your brain would confirm this. Or co-administer an opioid antagonist like naltrexone to see how robustly your preference for spicy food was retained.
To stress, other things being equal, I'm all in favour of preference-maximisation - mine and everyone else's. But I haven't a clue how to reconcile everyone’s conflicting preferences worldwide, whereas I do know (in principle!) how to make everyone happy - and moreover how to do so without overriding their existing values and preferences, except insofar as their existing values and preferences are inconsistent with hedonic recalibration.
Neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep” (2017) is excellent:
You're Not Getting Enough Sleep
I didn’t reduce my coffee intake after reading it, but I did increase my nightly melatonin:
Biochemical individuality. My normal drug-regimen would leave most folk bouncing off the walls. And I tend to prefer dreamlife – especially melatonin-induced dreams - to the waking psychosis of everyday life. Scientific rationalism screws you up...
Are there physicists who have gone mad from QM?
Exercise and Mood
The role of exercise in modulating inflammatory response may be key:
But the power of the negative mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill - both good and ill - is illustrated by self-reports of "locked in" patients:
[on mental health]
Nature's review of "Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights From the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry" by Randolph M. Nesse (2019).
The biological basis of mental illness
("Adrian Woolfson weighs up a study on the role of evolution in conditions such as depression and anxiety.")
[on free will]
"You say: I am not free. But I have raised and lowered my arm. Everyone understands that this illogical answer is an irrefutable proof of freedom.”
(Tolstoy, War and Peace)
On Freedom and Determinism
Would p-zombies discuss consciousness?
Yes, let's agree that p-zombies are physically impossible. The interesting question is to understand why. Given the basic laws of physics and chemistry, together with the assumption that the "fire" in the equations in non-experiential, your insentient molecular duplicate would type exactly the same keys for your comment above as you do. Strictly, it wouldn't intend to make the same point because it has no subjective intentions. But I might anthropomorphically describe it as making the same point as you. Apparently, every supposed adaptive advantage conferred by consciousness would be conferred by the same physical behaviour under another description that didn’t invoke subjective experience. Instead, I explore non-materialist physicalism and a non-classical account of binding. (cf. How should we categorize the binding problem in the context of easy and hard problem of consciousness?) I don't know whether the conjecture is true. But if so, then p-zombies and micro-experiential zombies are impossible because they are unphysical.
Chris, My best guess is that whole-brain emulation is impossible (cf. Is the brain a quantum computer?) with literally limitless resources, the behaviour of the mind-brain could presumably be modelled via a gigantic lookup table. But IMO the system in question would still be a micro-experiential zombie. That said, my ideas are idiosyncratic:
* * *
The Hard Problem of consciousness arises only if we make a (very) plausible metaphysical assumption. The "fire" in the equations, the essence of the physical, is non-experiential. Non-materialist physicalism drops this plausible assumption. However, what drives philosophers like David Chalmers to reject monistic physicalism in favour of dualism isn't (just) the intuitive absurdity of quantum field theory describing fields of sentience. Rather, Chalmers highlights the (apparent) partial "structural mismatch” between our phenomenally-bound minds and the microstructure of the CNS. Why aren’t we, at most, “micro-experiential zombies”? If physicalism is true, then there must be a perfect structural match. The “Schrödinger’s neurons” conjecture I explore claims there is a perfect structural match – and the non-classical inference signature will (dis)confirm it.
However, you say "You can’t a priori predict the taste of an orange with mathematics". Alas, I agree with you. That's because we lack any kind of cosmic Rosetta stone, so to speak, to "read off” the values of experience from the solutions to the equations. In other words, our ignorance doesn’t stem from some "element of reality" that’s missing from the formalism of physics.
I'm modestly optimistic about science dissolving the Hard Problem. I’m pessimistic about understanding consciousness any deep sense.
[on transhumanism and the reproductive revolution]
"The most common excruciating pain half the population are ever likely to face—that of childbirth—was not mentioned.”
Reproductive Rights in the Transhuman Future
True alas. But below I urge CRISPR trials of the double mutation that made childbirth feel like “a tickle”:
A Plea for CRISPR babies
* * *
We've two challenges, one technical, and the other socio-political. The technical challenge is to spell out how a happy biosphere is feasible. Even otherwise sympathetic people assume that the idea of the lion and wolf lying down with the lamb is ecologically illiterate. No blueprint or policy document drawn up now is ever going to be adopted. Such work is still a useful corrective to the kneejerk response, “There is no alternative!"
The sociopolitical challenge is more daunting. For instance, most people aren't ready to accept that new humans should be endowed with "low-pain", high hedonic set-point genes - let alone spreading benign code throughout the biosphere via synthetic gene drives. A utiltronium shockwave? Daniel, I urge a conservative approach. Such bioconservatism isn't because I’ve any qualms about a universe of pure indescribable bliss, but rather because a living world based on information-sensitive gradients of well-being will be more politically saleable. Eventually.
"A gentleman is simply a patient wolf.”
Male Faces and Fidelity
("Cheating men's face shapes can give it away, study suggests.
Experts find men with more ‘masculine’ faces more likely to seem, and be, unfaithful")
Can we abolish anger without becoming morally apathetic?
The science of anger
Entities encountered on DMT
Imagine if Sasha Shulgin had access to...
("Scientists have developed the world's largest virtual pharmacology platform and shown it is capable of identifying extremely powerful new drugs. The platform, soon to contain over a billion virtual molecules never before synthesized and not found in nature, is poised to dramatically change early drug discovery and send waves through the pharmaceutical industry, the authors say.")
"The thing about opium is that it makes pain or difficulty unimaginable.”
(Sebastian Faulks, Engleby)
Parrots ‘hooked on opium’ wreak havoc on Indian farmers’ crops
I love coffee, hate cannabis.
("There's Evidence Coffee Acts on Your Brain Like Cannabis, But in Reverse")
Soma in the water supply would be a vast improvement on Darwinian life, but we need a permanent genetic cure.
Quotes about Soma
"Letter from Utopia" and Other Triple-S Transhumanist Media...
Letter from Utopia
Utilitronium shockwaves vs gradients of bliss
MD: Nowadays, when we hear about artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, artificial embryos, and other technological advances, it is easy to think that technology is advancing too fast for us. Do you support the statement?
DP: Technology is advancing too slowly. Our grandchildren may not grow old and die. But what about us? Or to use a less self-serving example, the development and imminent commercialisation of cultured meat means that factory-farms and slaughterhouses are likely to disappear later this century. But what about the billions of sentient beings who will suffer and die in the meantime? For sure, some forms of technological change are disruptive and unsettling, especially for older people. Yet advanced AI involves making innovations more user-friendly, not less.
MD: Some say that artificial superintelligence will be the most important invention in history, but also the last one. Do you concur with that prediction?
DP: Yes, some transhumanists foresee a machine “intelligence explosion”- recursively self-improving software-based AI that leads to artificial general intelligence (AGI). In comparison, archaic humans will be like bugs. I’m sceptical. For a start, digital computers are zombies. Hence they’ll never be able to explore different state-spaces of consciousness, or acquire a phenomenal self, or understand what inherently matters and what is trivial. Moreover, neurochips and smart prostheses will increasingly allow humans to incorporate “narrow AI” within ourselves. Humans and transhumans will become recursively self-improving biological robots. In short, I think full-spectrum superintelligence will be us – or more accurately, our genetically rewritten and AI-augmented descendants.
MD: Do you consider putting an end to the imperfection of the human condition desirable? Why?
DP: If human and nonhuman animals all led rich, blissful, perpetually youthful lives, then getting rid of any residual imperfections would be nice, but scarcely morally urgent. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Each year almost a million people take their own lives. Tens of millions self-harm. Hundreds of millions suffer from clinical depression and chronic pain disorders. We need to edit our genetic source-code and change human nature.
MD: What anthropological concept is behind transhumanist thinking?
DP: Millenarian elements may be identified in some stands of transhumanist thought. Salvation or doom will occur in our lifetime in the guise of a Technological Singularity that will either inaugurate heaven on Earth or turn us into (the functional equivalent of) paperclips.
MD: Will intelligent machines help preserve humanity and its values, or will they have their own preferences? What would happen if the objectives of this A.I. differ from ours?
DP: AI will have the values (or “utility function”) with which we code it. Set aside for now my scepticism about full-spectrum machine superintelligence. If such scepticism is misplaced, then a machine AGI programmed, say, to minimise suffering might decide the most efficient way to end pain and misery was to sterilise the biosphere. OK, that’s a rather crude example - presumably its architects would have considered this dramatic scenario before encoding such a utility function – but what about a machine superintelligence with the utility function of classical utilitarianism? Recall that classical utilitarians believe we should act, not just to minimise suffering, but also to maximise happiness. However, rather than unleashing a world of flourishing and quasi-immortal sentient beings animated by gradients of intelligent bliss, the AGI launches an apocalyptic “utilitronium shockwave”. [Utilitronium is matter and energy optimised for pure bliss. The shockwave alludes to its presumed velocity of propagation.] No, presumably this outcome isn’t what the architects of the AGI had in mind. But AGI isn’t irrational. Mere gradients of bliss in complex life-forms are a sub-optimal configuration of matter and energy from the perspective of a strict happiness-maximiser.
MD: From your point of view, will transhumanism cause social exclusion? Do you think the three supers, especially super longevity, will deepen the distance between the poor and the rich?
DP: It’s possible. But the price of any information-based technology trends inexorably to zero. All transhumanist technologies are information-based.
MD: With regard to super-well-being, do you consider the modification of a child's genes ethically correct?
DP: There is nothing sacred or holy about the human genome. Natural selection optimises not for subjective well-being, but for reproductive fitness. Every child born today via sexual reproduction is a unique and untested genetic experiment. In my view, any prospective parents contemplating such a genetic experiment should consider loading the genetic dice in favour of their offspring by creating happy, healthy kids with high pain-thresholds and high hedonic set-points. Preimplantation genetic screening and now CRISPR gene–editing are game-changers.
MD: Given the diversity of cultures and ethical and moral codes that exist today in the world, how do you think we can reach a global consensus on the ethical and democratic limits of the improvements proposed by transhumanism?
DP: Even some radical parts of the transhumanist agenda may turn out to be surprisingly easy to sell. Imagine a truly revolutionary antiaging drug is discovered. Sure, there would soon be a cacophony of voices warning of the perils of eternal youth. But the anti-aging pill would still sweep the globe. International patent law would crumble as governments ensured the life-saving medication was readily available for their citizens. Undoubtedly, other parts of the transhumanist agenda are thornier. For example, a commitment to the wellbeing of all sentience sounds fine (if utopian) when expressed in the abstract. Yet persuading people worldwide to embrace the biological-genetic changes needed to turn this noble slogan into everyday reality is a daunting challenge. One good reason (in my view) for transhumanists to stress, not superhappiness, but rather the prospect of life based on gradients of well-being is that raising your hedonic set-point doesn’t ask you to give up your existing values and preferences – unless one of your existing values is that people should be forbidden from acquiring higher hedonic set-points. Thankfully, no value- or belief-system anywhere on Earth (to my knowledge) is committed to keeping the hedonic status quo. Hedonic recalibration may not sound very sexy. But improving hedonic tone will transform our default quality of life.
MD: Do you consider that an evolutionary leap from the human race to the posthuman is already taking place today? If yes, do you think that this jump could be irreversible?
We still have essentially the same genes, same core emotions, same neurological structures and same bodily forms as our ancestors on the African savannah one hundred thousand years ago. So although the differences between modern humans and stone-age hunter-gatherers may seem striking, we are still primitive Darwinian lifeforms. Are we in the throes of an irreversible jump? Yes, IMO - although really the transition has only just begun. This century may see unimaginable catastrophes, including (heaven forbid) nuclear war. However, the information that humankind has gained about e.g. the human genome and its manipulation is effectively indestructible. The transition to glorious post-Darwinian life is going to be messy. But we’ll get there in the end.
First grandmother cells, then Jennifer Anniston cells, now perhaps even Pikachu cells...
("Stanford researchers identify brain region activated by Pokémon characters") How many people award you a dedicated neuron?
[on negative utilitarianism]
"Scepticism has never founded empires, established principles, or changed the world's heart. The great doers in history have always been men of faith.”
(Edwin Hubbell Chapin)
Alas, I’ve not much faith and very little hope. However...
Does suffering have a purpose?
Alex, yes, I'd press a notional OFF button to erase the world and its horrors without hesitation.
But a mere pinprick in an otherwise ideal world? The scenario may be fanciful, but such "extreme" cases truly test a theory. If a feast of delights is in store, then such button-pressing feels callous or absurd.
However, strict lexical negative utilitarians are opposed to the slightest disappointment. If the thought that you may not be able to enjoy life's pleasures causes you even the slightest distress, then other things being equal, any policy that might curtail your capacity to enjoy such happiness isn't NU.
It's the same reason that a NU can uphold enshrining in law the sanctity of life and favour finding a cure for aging and death.
[on human longevity]
“Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was not dim nor his vigor gone.”
What is the maximum human lifespan?
And how can aging be cured?
I don’t know...
Jeanne Calment: "La doyenne de l'humanité”?
Who was the oldest human ever to live?
Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned Moses! One day humans will enjoy indefinite lifespans. Nikolay Zak's paper is to be published in the journal "Rejuvenation Research", funded by the transhumanist and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, author of Ending Aging (2007). So scepticism about the Calment case isn't prompted by Biblical literalism. Rather, a convergence of circumstantial evidence means that earlier claims of validation much be re-evaluated. The original validators don't seemed to have been troubled by the deliberate selective destruction of photographic and documentary evidence, allegedly on Madame Calment’s instructions aged 120.
Members of the Calment family apparently had a high pulmonary reserve. Compare its most famous member, who smoked for around 80 (or perhaps 100!) years. If Yvonne had a serious lung complaint, then presumably the prosperous Calment family would have called upon doctors for treatment. Yet recall that the death certificate was issued not in accordance with the testimony of medical professionals, but on the sole basis of an unemployed woman who "saw her dead". The Calment family owned multiple properties - if an understandable period of social withdrawal to mourn the death of a family member were needed. Jeanne and Yvonne Calment closely resembled each other, as recent controversies over (mis-)attributed photos that survived their selective destruction attests…
None of this is conclusive. I agree with the National Institute for Demographic Studies that DNA testing is desirable to settle the issue.
Universally toxic? So one hear, Angad. But just as mild inbreeding may help explain the higher IQ scores of Ashkenazi Jews, kissing cousins have most kids (cf. Third Cousins Have Greatest Number Of Offspring, Data From Iceland Shows) and (in the absence of countervailing evidence) a freak confluence of “longevity alleles” might explain the anomalous lifespan of Madame Calment.
I now cynically incline to a more mundane explanation, but the recent Russian research is suggestive not conclusive.
[on rights for robots]
“No thinking thing should be another thing's property, to be turned on and off when it is convenient.”
(C. Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust)
Thinking or feeling?
Do sentient machines have the same rights as humans?
The Pleasures of Suffering (Paul Bloom)
There is no pleasure in despair. And no one who is bored wants to feel more bored. But humans also experience “mixed states” from masochism to endurance training to spicy foods to nostalgia that naively subvert the pleasure principle. Take masochists. They undergo the release of intensely rewarding endogenous opioids from stimuli that are otherwise humiliating of painful. Masochism isn’t a refutation of psychological hedonism, but rather its manifestation. As biotechnology matures, should we aim for a world of “mixed states”? Or life based on gradients of pure, superhuman bliss?
Paul Bloom is perhaps best known for his critique of empathy. If we could all “mind meld” via reversible thalamic bridges like the Hogan sisters would the world be a better or worse place?
(cf. Could conjoined twins share a mind?)
Such a hyper-empathetic world would lead to a revolution in morality and decision-theoretic rationality. (“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
For now, in some contexts, the world needs more autistic hyper-systematisers rather than more empathetic cat lovers. But what’s best is the ability to switch cognitive style as appropriate.
* * *
Long-finned pilot whales are probably more sentient than humans. Not merely do the pilot whales (who are actually dolphins) possess a larger limbic system, but they also have a neocortex with over 37 billion neurons, i.e. almost twice as many neocortical neurons as humans (cf. "Quantitative relationships in delphinid neocortex": https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4244864/) The Faroes islanders won't stop hunting them - with appalling cruelty. Denmark should intervene and outlaw the hunt. But what we really need is an Anti-Speciesist Revolution.
Against Fetishising Cortical Neurons
[on my DNA]
"Variants Neanderthal Ancestry
You: 310 Variants
You have more Neanderthal variants than 93% of 23andMe customers."
My nametag in Modern Combat Versus is “Vegan Pacifist”, but sticking to one’s principles isn’t always easy.
("Korea to investigate whether conscientious objectors played violent video games")
"Plato, quite decadently, wore an earring while young."
Why is China blurring men's ears?
The science of tea’s mood-altering magic
("Researchers are discovering how the ingredients in a cup of tea can lift mood, improve focus and perhaps even ward off depression and dementia.")
We need stronger magic.
1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10
David Pearce (2019)
The Abolitionist Project
Quora Answers 2015-19
Social Network Postings (2019)