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
Starvation, violence and terror are no way to run a biosphere:
[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?")
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'
Should meat and animal products carry a label certifying that real suffering beings were harmed?
Dairy industry to take legal action against vegan ‘cheesemonger’
“Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.”
(Schopenhauer) Or cultured meat?
Will evegetarians ever comprise more than half of the world’s population?
[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
"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."
(George W. Bush)
Is there any evidence of other animals being self aware?
"Letter from Utopia" and Other Triple-S Transhumanist Media...
https://qualiacomputing.com/2019/03/02/letter-from-utopia-and-other-triple-s-transhumanist-media/">Letter from Utopia
"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
[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
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!
Semantic solipsism used to trouble me, but not solipsism. Yet why doesn't the former entail the latter?
Can solipsism be scientically disproved?
Paleo diet = paleo lifespan?
("A high-carb diet may explain why Okinawans live so long")
[on the meaning of life]
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!
[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…
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 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
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
[on negative utilitarianism]
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 Made Calment’s instructions aged 120.
[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. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/magazine/could-conjoined-twins-share-a-mind.html">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.
[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.
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David Pearce (2019)
The Abolitionist Project
Quora Answers 2015-19
Social Network Postings (2019)