JANUARY 2020 -
[on the 2010s]
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
2019 RIP...FB 2019
and a lot of Quora punditry.
Thanks Manu. Three laughing philosophers: spot the negative utilitarian?
The admirable Sentience Research have just published an interview I did before Christmas. Let's hope the darker multiverse stuff I worry about turns out to be risible nonsense.
"The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.”
(Michel de Montaigne)
A case in point...?
The Mind of DP : The Mind of DP 2
Thanks Alex. Getting our theory of binding right is ethically vital. Even if consciousness is fundamental in nature, nothing would (non-trivially) matter if we were all micro-experiential zombies. I don't blame anyone who thinks the “Schrödinger’s neurons” (2016) conjecture I investigate is too crazy for words and not worth the trouble of experimentally refuting. To explain binding, let's explore the sane, classical options instead. The snag is that currently there aren’t any classical options - nothing testable at any rate - that don't simply re-state the original problem. A ubiquitous feature of our waking lives should be impossible if textbook neuroscience is correct.
[on pain, suffering and abolitionism]
Is Middle England ready for transhumanism?
Transhumanism in the Daily Express...
The End of Suffering
("Transhumanist argues technology could end all human and animal suffering")
OK, I was surprised too.
Transhumanism as the new Valium?
Technological advancement could end all human worries and pain, says transhumanist
“Without suffering we would need each other less and our life stories would become ever more trivial.”
Trivial or enriched?
DP on the Abolitionist Project
Can all sentience be re-engineered with a more civilised signalling system?
("France is developing bionic soldiers resistant to pain with microchip-enhanced brain power and superior hearing")
Cynthia, yes, I hope we can abolish war, not least, the battle between predators and prey...
Predators vs prey
("Small but fierce: Grasshopper mice can eat prey that are toxic to other mice. Bitter battles between stinkbugs and carnivorous mice could hold clues for controlling human pain")
Intriguingly, people with SCN9A gene nonsense mutations completely lack both pain- and odour-sensitivity, whereas some functional alleles of SCN9A are associated with both hyperalgesia and hyperosmia:
Mutation in Na v 1.7 causes high olfactory sensitivity
See too the Nature review of:
"Chasing Men on Fire: the long search for the pain gene"
("Tor Wager lauds a book on the hunt for an elusive root of sensory suffering.")
"Who, except the gods, can live time through forever without any pain?”
Time to become gods?
SCN9A in the Daily Mail:
Scientists learn how to 'edit out' pain
Should all new babies be created with benign versions of SCN9A?
The end of pain Future prosthetics:
Nociception without pain
("The Mind-Controlled Bionic Arm With a Sense of Touch")
All prospective parents should be offered preimplantation genetic screening and counselling.
What level of pain-sensitivity is optimal in our future children? The SCN9A connection:
Neanderthal gene linked to increased pain sensitivity
The English cleric and evangelist John Wesley rode over 250,000 miles on horseback - equal to ten circuits of the Earth - and preached over 40,000 sermons to spread the word. I wish we could do the modern-day equivalent for a biohappiness revolution.
Human and domesticated nonhuman animals alike would be healthier and happier if we didn't eat each other:
Vegetarians vs meat-eaters
But leaving aside ethical and health arguments, imagine if governments world-wide put tens of billions of dollars into developing cultured meat and animal products. Not merely would this solution (probably) prevent the next zoonotic plague and save billions of nonhumans; it would also be massively cost-effective. Covid-19 was caused by meat-eating. Tens of trillions of dollars' worth of wealth worldwide will be wiped out in consequence of animal abuse - quite aside from the untold suffering of other sentient beings.
“A little poison now and then - maketh pleasant dreams.”
(Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra)
Do you prefer dreaming or waking psychosis?
We’re all having intense coronavirus dreams
I learned a new word today:
("Inside the world of 'Zorgies' - the virtual sex parties taking off in lockdown")
"I feel better than I did 20 years ago!"
Short-lived "steroid euphoria" isn't a rare side-effect of dexamethasone, but normal:
Maybe pro-lifers will claim Deep State operatives are drugging him to corrupt his judgement.
Mercifully, Trump wants to win the Nobel Peace Prize rather than become master of Europe
(cf. Blitzed: interview).
But his doctors are taking a risk. Maybe they didn’t anticipate he'd insist on discharging himself from hospital.
See too the inflammatory theory of depression:
Depression and Inflammation
The LA Times suggests that if face masks can be designed to look more ruggedly “masculine”, men might be more inclined to wear them.
Phasing our Darwinian relics like gender will be harder. Some conceptions of posthuman superintelligence sound more like toxic masculinity on steroids:
"Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power."
Can we bioengineer a world safe for empowering euphoric realism?
Optimism is dangerous in a pandemic
“Empathy is the greatest virtue. From it, all virtues flow. Without it, all virtues are an act.”
But without autistic hyper-systematisers, we will never eradicate suffering.
Scrap lockdown? Sean, without partial lockdown, over one million Americans would die from COVID-19. In practice, hospitals would be overwhelmed, so the figure would be higher. By contrast, even low-income countries with effective leadership are now emerging from strict lockdown with the virus tamed and their economies intact. This isn't the place for a political tract. But the USA needs Medicare-for-all, universal basic income, and invocation of the 25th amendment.
Zoltan, yes, groupthink can be disastrous. I agree with you on how it’s terrible that non-COVID science funding is being slashed. But experts think that without lockdown, millions of Americans would die or become seriously ill. The hospitals would be overwhelmed. There’d be bodies in the streets. As far as I can tell, ending the lockdown before COVID-19 is contained would only prolong the pandemic. Most would-be consumers who didn’t personally get sick would either lose a close friend/family member or know someone who had. Are consumers just going to keep spending away throughout the carnage to keep the economy humming? The mind boggles. Compare New Zealand. New Zealand had a “go hard, go early” lockdown strategy that worked. The US risks becoming a failed state; it’s tragic what we’re seeing.
The wisdom of lockdown
COVID Conspiracy Theories
Adam, yes, as you say, Bill Clinton was called the first "Black President", but passed laws that jailed more blacks for non-violent/petty offences than any other modern Democrat. The vast American gulag needs dismantling. Imagine what we'd think if a communist country with 4.4% of the world's population housed around 22% of the world's prisoners. Or are Americans uniquely depraved? The biggest worry for now though must be whether there will be a peaceful transfer of power. Will Trump go peacefully? Thank heavens for Murdoch instructing Fox to recognise the outcome. Republicans are playing a dangerous game.
Should life in lockdown be mediocre or sublime?
“...the doctor determines how good the patient’s ordinary mood should be.”
“In another case, a woman treated for chronic pain was given direct control over her own device....did little else for two years"
("Brain Implants to Treat Addiction Are Dangerous and Promising. The U.S. is conducting clinical trials of deep brain stimulation for opioid addiction, but ethical questions abound.")
[on re-engineering life]
“In nature I see, or seem to see, good and evil -- intelligence and ignorance -- goodness and cruelty -- care and carelessness -- economy and waste. I see means that do not accomplish the ends -- designs that seem to fail. To me it seems infinitely cruel for life to feed on life -- to create animals that devour others. The teeth and beaks, the claws and fangs, that tear and rend, fill me with horror. What can be more frightful than a world at war? Every leaf a battle-field -- every flower a Golgotha -- in every drop of water pursuit, capture and death. Under every piece of bark, life lying in wait for life. On every blade of grass, something that kills, - something that suffers.”
Pilot studies will be wise...
Reprogramming the Biosphere
DP in Oxford:
Event and PDF
no task for script kiddies or (critics might say) philosophers.
“...future insights into the genetics of mood will almost certainly enable us to substantially improve the lives of trillions of animals...”
On Mitigating the Cruelty of Natural Selection Through Humane Genome Editing
Hedonic uplift via synthetic gene drives can help civilise the biosphere.
Maybe more botanical gardens, but not malarial swamps:
Humans need the wilderness to be happy
[on semantic nihilism]
Imagine a possible world where semantic nihilism is true. The laws of physics are the same. Its inhabitants go about their lives as we do. But they never semantically access anything outside their own heads. Meaning and reference are merely internal to their individual phenomenal-world simulations – the utterances and inscriptions of their mind-dependent virtual bodies. The extracranial bodily behaviour of inhabitants is just the unwitting by-product of activity within their solipsistic virtual worlds of experience. Perhaps a few philosophers imagine naturalistic possible worlds that lack meaning and reference. But the philosophers reason that such worlds are impossible. For sematic solipsism is self-stultifying - meaningless on its own terms.
How does such a world differ from our world? How can meaning be naturalised?
I don’t know:
The Hardest Paradox? & Symbol Grounding Problem
"The longer a man's fame is likely to last, the longer it will be in coming."
Would you rather be famous or unknown?
Fame is the name of the game
("Why so many people dream of being (or even just meeting) celebrities")
"Do no harm and leave the world a better place than you found it.”
Darwinian life is monstrous.
Yet will the problem of suffering be solved by “hard” antinatalism or a biohappiness revolution?
Exploring Antinatalism - David Pearce
“To hurt is as human as to breathe.”
(J.K. Rowling, The Tales of Beedle the Bard)
How can we stop hurting?
DP on Antinatalism & MP4
Andrei, On the face of it, transhumanism and antinatalism are far removed - a life-affirming ethic versus a life-denying ethic. However, let's assume that we overcome the biology of aging. Whether we believe the carrying capacity of Earth is 15 billion or 150 billion, our planet and then the Solar System will soon fill up with ageless quasi-immortals. What then? Colonies in "nearby" solar systems are science fiction. So is "whole-brain emulation". Immersive VR may become ubiquitous, but basement reality will still get choc-a-bloc. The end of aging means the end of procreative freedom - not literally antinatalism perhaps, but something close. (I delivered the talk transcript at The Reproductive Revolution before the CRISPR revolution; but I think the basic points still stand.
The Repugnant Conclusion
"It's utopian to think you can create a sentient being that will contain zero bad in its life"
"Hard" anti-natalism can't work.
However, sentient beings that lack a capacity for experience below "hedonic zero" are technically feasible.
The future of life lies in civilisations based on information-sensitive gradients of well-being.
Badness in the Darwinian sense has no long-term future. The reproductive revolution ("designer babies") means that a predisposition to suffer will be genetically maladaptive. The future belongs to life-loving fanatics, not Darwinian malware.
David Benatar on Anti-natalism
How can antinatalists compete?
The bloody king who had 1000 kids
("According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this monarch sired the highest number of progeny ever recorded in history")
By a freakish coincidence, kappa also happens to be name of the "nasty" opioid receptor, i.e. its activation induces dysphoria...
Kappa (novel) (Wikipedia)
Either antinatalism or a biohappiness revolution are better than the status quo:
29th November 2020
Choosing to stay child-free or adopting just intensifies selection pressure in favour of natalism. So antinatalism is not going to solve the problem of suffering. Hundreds of millions of humans may well die in war this century. But humans are not going to wipe themselves out. So apocalyptic solutions won’t solve the problem of suffering either. In practice, archaic humans will (probably) become extinct over the next few centuries as we reprogram the biosphere, not least ourselves. I know some transhumanists believe we will be replaced by AGI: the “Intelligence Explosion”. But as prefigured by Neurolink, “narrow” superintelligence on neurochips may instead soon be embedded within us. Eventually, full-spectrum superintelligence will be “us” - or rather, our posthuman descendants. See too:
The Mutant Project
("Purse strings, patients, and personal glory")
The Precipice by Toby Ord (2020).
Thanks Mark. Perhaps VeganAntinatalist and I have more common than we do with Toby Ord - whose book “The Precipice - Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity” you preview above. Toby is not a fan of negative utilitarianism (“a devastatingly callous theory” - Why I am not a negative utilitarian). Indeed, assuming that humanity is really standing on a precipice, he fears negative utilitarians would administer a vigorous shove. (I respond here I suspect my big difference with VeganAntinatalist is how we administer the terminal “shove” - human extinction via “hard” antinatalism or a transhumanist genetic rewrite.)
"There is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong."
(H L Mencken, 'Prejudices' (1920))
Childfree Efilist Nihilist, first, apologies that we didn't tackle your question/criticism. I'll do my best to respond now. Like you, I'm wholeheartedly in favour of retiring pain-ridden Darwinian life. Where we may differ is how to achieve its extinction.
For evolutionary reasons, a plea not to bring more life and suffering into the world usually falls on deaf ears – as we know. In my view, "strong" antinatalists who believe they can persuade everyone, everywhere, not to breed greatly overestimate their powers of persuasion. Selection pressure is too strong. It works against us.
However, we are living in the final century where pain and suffering are biologically inevitable. As you say, we are all constrained by the laws of physics. Nonetheless, even now, if a couple want to have a child who won't suffer any physical pain, it's feasible. Gene-editing is a gamechanger. Just knock out the SCN9A gene. Sure, this solution isn't ideal. Nonsense mutations of SCN9A prevent not just the nasty “raw feels” of pain, but also the function of nociception. But SCN9A has dozens of "natural" alleles that confer abnormally high or abnormally low pain-sensitivity: SCN9A has been described as the “volume knob” for pain. Synthetic variants can be designed too. In principle, there's nothing to stop us ensuring that all future babies are born with the extraordinary pain tolerance of today's high-functioning genetic outliers – folk who regard pain as just a useful signal and a modest inconvenience. A predisposition to mental pain is more complicated to control genetically; but the same basic principle is at stake.
Admittedly, this single intervention is only one step on the way to a transhumanist civilisation with a civilised signalling system based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of well-being. Yet the SCN9A gene example illustrates how life and suffering can be divorced. For better or worse, there will always be selection pressure against (any predisposition to) antinatalism. By contrast, as the reproductive revolution of "designer babies" unfolds, there won't be selection pressure in favour of genes predisposing to suffering. Quite the opposite. Most parents want happy kids. Presumably, they’ll choose genetic dial-settings accordingly.
Temperamentally, I’m personally an über-pessimist. But as far as I can tell, a combination of the pleasure principle and biotechnology means that utopian dreams will most likely come true. In tomorrow's world of post-Darwinian life, suffering of any kind will be physiologically impossible.
1) Yes, I agree with Herman Tønnessen. In my view, creating more Darwinian malware via sexual reproduction is akin to child abuse. Just as with child abuse, the perpetrators are also victims – victims of a compulsion they didn’t choose. I’d urge anyone thinking of having children to stay child-free or adopt. Naturally, this advice will be ignored – rare exceptions aside. So I advocate a transhumanist agenda of eradicating suffering through science. Perhaps see:
A World without Pain
How do you break the hedonic treadmill?.
The end of suffering will involve genetic engineering and ultimately reprogramming the biosphere:
2) Yes, I too worry about s-risks – all the concerns raised by the questioner and more. But I’d ask a question in turn: what is the alternative? If we don’t re-engineer the genome, and instead conserve the genetic status quo, then obscene suffering will persist indefinitely in human and nonhuman animals alike – maybe for hundreds of millions of years. As I discuss in the podcast, the nature of selection pressure (cf. Why David Pearce is wrong about antinatalism) means that “hard”, extinctionist antinatalism won’t solve the problem of suffering. Therefore, we have to tackle the biological-genetic roots of this monstrous evil at source – mindful of all the possible ways our interventions could go wrong.
Adam, in fairness, not all antinatalists are depressive or depressed. Some antinatalists just don't believe it's ethically permissible to bring more life and suffering into the world without prior consent. Also, amongst antinatalists (and others) who are depressed, many would sincerely prefer simply not to wake up in the morning. In other words, an unwillingness or inability to commit bodily self-harm doesn't show a lack of good faith.
Adam, I agree with you about the importance of epistemic humility. We just need to distinguish epistemic humility from status quo bias. That's why any thought-experiment should have two buttons, DELETE and COPY. Most life lovers believe it would be monstrous and epistemically arrogant to press the DELETE button. But what about the COPY button? Should one take responsibility for creating - or missing out on - more suffering and more joy than any tyrant / philanthropist in history? Even subjects who say they would press the COPY button rarely condemn folk who say otherwise.
Contra Robert King, I suspect that if wireheading (or its opioidergic equivalent) were widely available, then a lot of people would sign up - though once again, selection pressure means that wireheading is not a solution to the problem of suffering.
Good to be Alive
Thanks Daryl. I've just borrowed the Ecclesiastes quote for a Quora answer. To be honest, I'd never really thought about the passage before. "All is vanity", the King James Version text, rather obscures the stark message. It's not exactly inspiration to "Go forth and multiply", to quote another Biblical injunction.
What do you think of anti-natalism?
I'm now looking through the comments:
InMendham has responded too:
But IMO the horror movie of Darwinian life will end only when we reprogram the biosphere.
[on suffering-focused ethics]
"It is a glorious thing to be indifferent to suffering, but only to one's own suffering.”
The author, Magnus Vinding, is an exuberant life lover. But he recognises our overriding obligation is to prevent suffering:
Defense and Implications
by Magnus Vinding.
Center For Reducing Suffering
In the long-run (centuries?), moral bioenhancement is credible. This century, however, I wonder if it's most fruitful to focus on technologies to prevent suffering that don't call for any significant moral improvement. Thus the main reason for developing and commercialising cultured meat is to ensure literally zero personal inconvenience to consumers - not even the trivial inconvenience of eating meat substitutes. So long as zero personal inconvenience is involved (e.g. lifestyle changes, tax increases etc), most people are relaxed about improving the lives of human and nonhuman animals, and happy to signal their virtue accordingly. This is the Principle of Weak Benevolence - less formally, "no skin off my nose".
Of course I hope Magnus' book changes unenhanced minds. See too:
Suffering-focused ethics and Wikiquote
Do you associate negative utilitarianism with compassion?
Or plotting to destroy the world?
In reality, classical utilitarians are the benevolent world-exploders. For classical utilitarianism is committed, ultimately, to engineering some sort of apocalyptic cosmic orgasm - a so-called utilitronium shockwave:
The benevolent world-exploder
So-called preference utilitarianism isn’t apocalyptic; but IMO it’s not really utilitarian and isn’t an effective solution to the problem of suffering.
Negative utilitarianism could conceivably be apocalyptic, but (if my argument above is sound) it’s not.
Must classical utilitarianism ultimately be apocalyptic? I’m not sure, but arguably yes. Bethany, philosophers love thought experiments. This makes practically-minded folk exasperated. The likelihood of, say, your needing to push a fat person off a bridge to save five other people (cf. The Trolley Problem) is vanishingly low. But if you're not prepared to accept the implications of your own theory, then you need a better theory. Negative utilitarianism is often dismissed with what is claimed to be its reductio ad absurdum: NU supposedly mandates painlessly destroying the world, or at least all sentient life. But if you say you're a classical utilitarian, critics don't dismiss CU by accusing you of wanting to destroy human civilisation in favour of engineering an apocalyptic cosmic orgasm. But why not? If the classical utilitarian isn't prepared to swallow this disguised implication of CU ethics, then (s)he needs to give an explanation of why not. Or choose a better ethical theory.
In the Matrix Trilogy, the Architect reveals there have been five previous stable iterations of the Matrix (cf. The Matrix). Neo - and the viewing audience, as far as I can tell - are seemingly unfazed by how the Architect aka the Benevolent World Destroyer, has painlessly deleted billions of sentient beings. Mass murderer? Super-Terrorist? Well, no, he Architect isn't presented as a monster. For what it’s worth, I don't personally buy the Simulation Argument. IMO our minds disclose a tiny sliver of basement reality. But pretend for a moment that we are all collectively living in a Simulation. David Chalmers believes the Simulation Hypothesis is quite likely, and Elon Musk notoriously believe the odds are billions-to-one against our living in the primordial basement. Within the Simulation, yes, we should strenuously uphold the sanctity of life. But this doesn't mean some believers in suffering-focused ethics might private pray that the Simulator / God / Satan would switch the whole terrible thing off. Fantasy, I fear.
We need a Kardashev scale for bliss. Kardashev scale civilisation
But first Darwinian hell-life must be retired.
Dan, a few questions: (1) Do you have the same gut-reaction to a Buddhist ethic? Or is your response to a secular Buddhist ethic like NU shaped by the worry that we'd press the hypothetical OFF button?
(2) Would you "walk away from Omelas”? Or keep on partying? To rule out status quo bias, imagine that a genie offered you the chance to create New Omelas - a fabulous transhuman civilisation based on superintelligent bliss - at the price of the perpetual torture of a single child. Would you accept the genie’s offer?
3) A CU genie offers me the chance of super-exponential growth in my happiness at the comparatively trivial price of the exponential growth in your suffering. As a NU, I'd decline. If I'm persuaded by the genie's seductive arguments for CU, then I should accept. Indeed I'm morally bound to do so. Can you advise?
Some forms of suffering are so bad that anyone who experiences such horror would bring the world to an end to make it stop. Condemning NU is a case of shooting the messenger. Rather than trying to marginalise suffering-focused ethics, I wish the transhumanist / EA / rationalist community would devote its energies to tacking the root of all evil. Alas, the biology of suffering is not an intellectually "sexy" topic like e.g. an AI apocalypse.
I used to play around with name "techno-Buddhist" - which captures both the science and the ethic. No one accuses compassion-driven Buddhists of plotting an apocalyptic "nirvana shockwave”. Alas the term evokes a style of dance music. And one is sure to be told that one hasn’t understood the True Meaning of Buddhism. "Secular Buddhist" is another option. The snag is one then gets told (by Buddhists): "Buddhism isn't a religion! Vastly more people would be sympathetic to a neo-Buddhist NU ethic if it weren't for the worry that NUs would press the hypothetical OFF button - or maybe one day even try to engineer it. So why not have two fundamental ethical principles, i.e. NU and the sanctity of life? Intellectually, alas, this feels deeply unsatisfying. But really (as I argue elsewhere) the second "fundamental" principle is derivative from the first - in the same way that chronic pain specialists uphold the Hippocratic as a precondition for effectively practicing medicine. Admittedly, within this framework, maybe some life lovers will still suspect NUs of privately wanting to put an end to it all - just as we may suspect that chronic pain specialists privately recognise that some of their patients would be better off dead. But NU itself is an ethic with an expiry date. In a transhuman/posthuman world where we have phased out the biology of suffering, the only obligation of NUs is to prevent its recurrence – an obligation that presumably everyone else will endorse too, and for the same reasons that people of all ethical traditions endorse pain-free surgery.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
How is suffering defined? Lucas' "intrinsic valence carrier of disvalue in the universe" is sharp and crisp. I like it.
I just worry that "valence" to many laypeople is too closely tied to chemistry.
So I'd start by quoting Wikipedia:
"Valence, or hedonic tone, is the affective quality referring to the intrinsic attractiveness/"good"-ness (positive valence) or averseness/"bad"-ness (negative valence) of an event, object, or situation " - (Wikipedia)
Alternatively, valence, or hedonic tone, is the affective quality referring to the intrinsic attractiveness/"good"-ness (positive valence) or averseness/"bad"-ness (negative valence) of experience.
Suffering, or more generally hedonically sub-zero experience, is the intrinsic valence carrier of disvalue in the universe.
A Reddit transhumanism discussion:
The eradication of suffering
One or two of the comments make my blood run cold. At first I thought Manifest Destiny must be using heavy sarcasm - his celebration of suffering is so over-the-top. Here's my comment: Many thanks to the OP. The prospect of a world without pain has recently been discussed by a few mainstream publications: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/01/13/a-world-without-pain. Astonishingly, Jo Cameron thought she was “normal” – even though she’s never experienced pain. She’s never anxious nor depressed either (cf. The Jo Cameron case). A world of Jo Camerons with her dual FAAH and FAAH-OUT mutation would clearly be problematic. But another tempting target is the SCN9A gene, the so-called “volume knob for pain” (cf. No More Pain). Choosing benign versions of SCN9A for our future children via preimplantation genetic screening could preserve nociception while dramatically toning down the ghastly "raw feels" of physical pain - so that pain becomes just a useful signalling mechanism. With tomorrow’s gene therapy, our older selves could benefit too. A “low pain” biosphere will be easier to engineer than a futuristic “no pain” biosphere. But a few centuries from now, there probably won’t be experience below hedonic zero. I think we need a new motivational architecture of mind and a more civilised signalling system. One piece of good news in an otherwise ghastly year has been the bombshell discovery of a new dual-function opioid receptor in the CNS: The role of ACKR3. ACKR3 receptor blockade promises an entirely new class of drugs – and a therapeutic revolution. With rare exceptions (cf. The Future of Sentience), transhumanists are life lovers. We want to defeat death and aging and create full-spectrum superintelligence. But we shouldn't forget the hundreds of millions of pain-ridden people for whom life drags on too long. The abolition of physical suffering - and biohappiness revolution – can potentially enrich the lives of everyone. At its best, transhumanism promises the well-being of all sentience.
Should research into extreme pleasure be discouraged as a memetic hazard? For instance, classical utilitarians might try to obliterate human civilisation with a utilitronium shockwave? No: a “utilitronium shockwave” is just a thought-experiment - far beyond our current technological abilities. By contrast, research into extreme suffering is felt by some classical utilitarian EA’s to be dangerous because such research could lead to apocalyptic conclusions, i.e. doomsday scenarios allegedly more practical to implement than a utilitronium shockwave. Indeed, if one knew how bad suffering can be, then one would do (literally) anything to stop it. I don’t know the solution. But it’s frustrating. For there are biological-genetic ways to prevent (extreme) suffering that are also strongly bioconservative. And rather than increasing existential / global catastrophic risk as conceived by CUs, research into ending (extreme) suffering is more likely to reduce risk and turn NUs into CUs.
Jeremy Hatfield offers a sympathetic interpretation of Nietzsche:
Nietzsche on joy and suffering
I prefer Buddhism plus biotech:
The abolitionist imperative
[on drugs and medicine]
"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
(George Bernard Shaw)
All foods and all medicines are subtly psychoactive.
The medications that change who we are & Noradrenaline blockade specifically enhances metacognitive performance & Propanolol
("Beta-Blocker Propranolol Modulates Decision Urgency During Sequential Information Gathering")
A cure for conservatism?
Beware unanticipated side-effects.
("What if a Pill Can Change Your Politics or Religious Beliefs?")
The Dark Side of Good Trips
("Psychedelic ego death and its strange aftermath")
Optimal diet, exercise and sleep discipline should be combined with better drugs, better genes and a better society.
Can humanity rise to the challenge?
Medicines and Mental Illness
("Has the Drug-Based Approach to Mental Illness Failed?)
Dan, thanks for The Grand Trajectory of Intelligence and Sentience: The Grand Trajectory It’s a (very!) valuable overview. I know we differ on whether digital computers will ever become sentient (the binding problem). Here I’ll add only that if classical information processors can't wake up and become (non-trivially) sentient, then such systems won't be able to explore alien state-spaces of consciousness, let alone become full-spectrum superintelligences. In my view, digital computers will augment sentient beings, not replace us. The wild card is nonbiological quantum computing.
What is the ultimate destiny of consciousness? In one sense, yes, we are fathomlessly ignorant. But if the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world's inbuilt metric of (dis)value, then all scenarios may converge on a world populated with states of sublime, indescribable bliss.
Will late posthumans be blissful "about" anything?
Or just hyperblissful?
I don't know.
Even today, intensely blissful states seem “more real” than ordinary sleepwalking though life - though the notion that reality admits of degrees isn’t rationally defensible. Felt intensity is also bound up - inescapably - with a deep sense of meaning. So I reckon blissful posthumans will find life inherently supermeaningful.
Compare the contrast - touted by a thousand self-help gurus - between happiness and meaning:
Academic philosophising about mind does not survive an encounter with the empirical method: The case for macrodosing
Darwinian minds would do well to stay drug-naive until we've upgraded our reward circuitry. But after invincible well-being is hardwired, we're destined for an inconceivable revolution.
“Spotify for chemistry”? The rise of chemcomputers:
("Scientists make digital breakthrough in chemistry that could revolutionize the drug industry")
DMT and friends?
I (and Andres!) say a bit more here:
DMT entities & Scrambled Minds.
I think it's hard to overstate the intellectual significance of drugs like 5-MeO-DMT. But I'm flabbergasted by:
DMT to be trialed as antidepressant
As Octavius' response illustrates, dark Darwinian minds should not be exploring psychedelics. Only the most robust life-loving souls today (Andrés is a shining example) should do psychonautic research until we get our reward circuitry sorted.
Psychedelics in Psychiatry
("Keeping the Renaissance From Going Off the Rails")
The darker and more troubled the mind, the more likely the bad trip. This doesn’t detract from the significance of radically altered states. But a defensible case can be made that only the healthiest, most robust Darwinian minds should explore psychedelia, not the sickest. Ecstasy? MDMA is something of an anomaly. Its effects are fairly predictable. Being "loved up" is certainly an altered state of consciousness. But typically, MDMA consciousness is not really psychedelic. Users often report a heightened sense of authenticity - "this is the real me", or rather, an idealised version of oneself and a rose-tinted conception of others. By contrast, full-blown psychedelics are either "weird" or "mystical" (depending whether the experience feels good or bad). No drug-naïve person can give informed prior consent before trying a psychedelic. And even experienced psychonauts can be utterly shocked..
DP - Experience Beyond Explanation & MP4
("David Pearce discusses types of experience that are currently inaccessible to humans - which may become accessible through bio-engineering / human enhancement in the future.") with many thanks to Adam. If scientific materialism is true, then all experience, i.e. the totality of the empirical evidence, is beyond explanation.
The scientific triumphalism of Richard Dawkins rings hollow:
The Gold Standard of Truth
[on altruism and selfishness]
“We should often be ashamed of our finest actions if the world understood all the motives behind them.”
(François de La Rochefoucauld)
Can "moral grandstanding" help us transcend the abyss of Darwinian life? If so, may the ethical arms race accelerate.
("Moral Grandstanding and the Will to Power")
In one sense, the computer revolution and scientific materialism have been a disaster for knowledge. The computationalist and materialist paradigms lead some otherwise intelligent people to doubt their own phenomenal minds:
Why I don't believe in consciousness
("and what AI seems to be revealing about it")
Eliminative materialism is the upshot of naive realism and neurobabble. Raymond Tallis reviews the curious story of how some philosophers lost their minds:
("Wired to care. Does neurobiology really explain everything?")
Private versus public? Lance, until tools of reversible mind-melding become widespread, it's a useful distinction. But until then, our phenomenal world-simulations are all private. External reality is a theoretical inference, not an empirical given. Like his mentor Ryle, Dennett tends to assume we have shared perceptual access to a public realm.
Could I program an insentient chatbot to sound like an illusionist? With a bit of technical help, yes. But I could also program an insentient chatbot to talk about its ineffable private qualia.
“Illusionism”, “antirealism” and “eliminativism” about consciousness are sometimes treated as synonymous terms. But it’s worth distinguishing between the claim that:
(1) subjective experience can’t exist because first-person facts are irreducible to the ontology of our best theory of the world, scientific materialism:
Are eliminativists p-zombies?
(2) subjective experience conceived as something non-physical doesn’t exist. Contrary to popular opinion, subjective experience is physical. Only the physical is real.
In the latter sense (2), I’m an illusionist / antirealist / eliminativist about consciousness as commonly conceived too:
Jacob, until recently, the term "consciousness realist" didn't exist - it would have seemed redundant. Even radical sceptics haven't doubted the existence of their own consciousness, merely the minds of others.
And in practice, eliminativists wouldn’t tell someone in agony or despair that their pain is illusory or somehow unreal - just the product of a bad philosophical theory.
IMO, anyone working on making the world a better place would do best politely to ignore eliminativist philosophising.
I know this pronouncement sounds horribly dogmatic But as far as I can tell, anti-realism about consciousness - and therefore about suffering – is simply confused.
People can have wrong-headed ideas - most likely we all do! - and still do valuable work.
Hyperphantasia and consciousness
Indeed, a (small) minority of women have such a virile imagination they can induce an orgasm by thought alone:
Like eliminative materialism, aphantasia is more common among men.
[on quantum mechanics]
Relational quantum mechanics
What was the nature of reality in a world before the existence of "observers" - or rather, simple animals whose primitive world-simulations tracked features of mind-independent reality? And how did such organisms arise from an abiotic universe? One can dismiss these questions as illegitimate. Any attempt to recover classical physics is indeed doomed to failure. But the problem with (what may loosely be called) "anti-realist" interpretations of quantum mechanics like Copenhagen and the Relational Interpretation is they essentially give up trying to explain reality. Worse, as soon as one gives up realism, it's hard to avoid spiralling into solipsism. Perceptual naive realism is false - one can't directly access a macroscopic world. Sure, the solipsist can use the Schrödinger evolution and the Born rule instrumentally and avoid thinking of anything beyond his little island-universe of experience. But effectively that's just giving up on explaining anything – the scientific version of magic (“Shut up and calculate”).
IMO, good science should aim to derive the properties of our minds and their phenomenal world-simulations from the underlying physics. I’m pessimistic we’ll succeed any time soon. I don’t think we should just give up.
Thanks Paul. Orch-OR has the rare distinction of being a theory of consciousness that is experimentally falsifiable(!). I hope Roger Penrose is correct. As he acknowledges, the only serious alternative to a “dynamical collapse” theory is Everett. The big challenge for 3 Worlds Philosophy is of course to explain the relationship between them. I incline to a one-world view (though wavefunction monism is sometimes wrongly called “many worlds”). But it’s much easier to be a nominalist if you’re a mediocre maths-amateur like me than a world-class mathematician like Penrose. Almost all the strongest mathematicians seem to be platonists. And it’s not even clear extreme nominalism is intelligible. I struggle:
What is considered the hardest paradox to explain?
Paul, some of our background assumptions may be different. My working assumption is Lev Vaidman’s combination of the causally time-symmetric two-state vector formalism and Everett (cf. The Two-State Vector Formalism) - but with a twist. I don’t think we ever experience anything other than neuronal superpositions - not least, seemingly definite outcomes that conform to the Born rule (cf. the measurement problem). How can the Born rule be derived from the unitary-only dynamics? As you suggest, this is tricky. Are we components of finite or infinite-dimensional complex Hilbert space? Physicists differ: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1801.08132.pdf. All my prejudices are finitist. The multiverse is one big superposition. Talk of “many worlds” is just a metaphorical convenience. Forgive me for just rehashing my views rather than critiquing yours and Dyson’s. But I should probably stress again. Reality baffles me!
[Paul Mealing writes] "But he [Philip Ball] doesn’t mention that Born’s rule is equivalent to multiplying the wave function by its complex conjugate (ψ x ψ*). Schrödinger wrote a paper in 1931 pointing out that this is akin to running the wave function both forward and backward in time. John Gribbin referenced Schrodinger’s paper (and his insight) in a biography, 'Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution'".
Yes, Schrödinger seems to have anticipated both Everett (in a Dublin lecture) and Vaidman but balked at what a realistic interpretation of his own equation entails.
Deriving The Born Rule (Quanta Magazine)
“‘After all, Galley said, uniqueness ‘is required for us to be able to even begin to do science.’”
This sounds like a truism. And sure enough, our experience of definite outcomes is a prerequisite of science. But although the content of our experience is surely of determinate outcomes (“observations”), I reckon the neuronal vehicle of our experience is non-classical. Only the fact that the superposition principle doesn’t break down in your head allows you to experience phenomenally-bound perceptual objects and determinate experimental pointer-readings (etc) - in seeming defiance of the unitary-only dynamics.
Here’s Chad Orzel:
Many Worlds, But Too Much Metaphor.
Perhaps I should add that the main reason I’ve been forced to engage with the foundations of QM is the phenomenal binding problem:
The binding problem
If you believe that binding is classically impossible, then you don’t have many options if one discounts Chalmersian dualism.
Timeless Everettian QM also offers the only explanation-space I can think of for why anything exists at all: unitary-only QM is the only interpretation consistent with an informationless zero ontology:
Why does the universe exist?
As a bonus, Everettian QM also dissolves the fine-tuning-problem:
Fine-tuned universe - Wikipedia
But IMO perhaps the most fundamental reason for preferring Everett & Vaidman is simply that this interpretation takes the formalism at face value. You need to be very clever indeed to start tampering with the unitary dynamics. As you note, there are affinities with Feynman’s path-integral formulation and Everett, and the “teleological” flavour of the path integral approach makes some physicists uncomfortable; but Feynman and Everett were philosophically different creatures.
Anyhow, heaven knows what’s really going on!
"There is no way to deny that we experience definite classical outcomes of our experiments" may be too strong. Alternatively, the vehicle of experience is itself always a superposition, and the subjective content of such superpositions is always a definite classical outcome.
Assume the unitary (linear, deterministic) evolution. As far as I can tell, it's only the fact that the superposition principle doesn't break down inside our heads that allows each of us to experience a four-dimensional classical world of determinate pointer-readings and live cats - and to make "observations" in accordance with the Born rule. In other words, only the ubiquity of the superposition principle allows us to solve the binding problem and experience definite outcomes.
This interpretation (“Schrödinger’s neurons”) is of course an inversion of the normal story - agreed by essentially everyone (Copenhagenists, Everettians, Bohmians, dynamical collapse theorists, etc) - in which superpositions are never experienced, only inferred. And I don't pretend to know whether the conjecture is true - merely that tomorrow’s interferometry will (dis)confirm it.
Compare my conjecture that all we ever experience is "cat states" - superpositions mediate our subjective experience of classical reality - with Scott Aaronson:
("Suppose we held that the Thermodynamic Arrow of Time, and our inability to reverse it, was essential to subjective experience. Then by our result, there would be no such thing as a subjective experience of a superposition state")
All possible universes exist, even triangular ones.”
Everett’s multiverse is tame in comparison.
Let’s hope “Mad Max” is mistaken.
Max Tegmark on AI and stuff
Zarathustra, whether Max Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis or David Lewis-style realism about possible worlds, I'm sceptical too. But a breakdown of superposition principle of quantum mechanics, i.e. given that the Schrödinger equation is linear, any linear combination of solutions will also be a solution, would shake modern physics to the core (A breakdown of superposition principle would also demolish my pet theory of mind and cosmology as well, but perhaps this revolution isn't in quite the same league).
Could Schrödinger’s cat exist in real life?
Schrödinger was a perceptual naive realist. He wondered why we don’t observe live-and-dead cat superpositions - as mandated by his eponymous equation. If Schrödinger had instead been an indirect realist, then maybe he’d have wondered why we don’t experience superpositions of neurons. The answer, as far as I can tell, is that we do! Neuronal “cat states” underpin our experience of classicality. The superposition principle lets us experience definite outcomes. The illusion of perceptual naive realism and a classical world wouldn’t be possible without it: Quantum mind
[on artificial intelligence]
To misquote Eliezer Yudkowsky, by far the greatest danger of biological intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it:
Would superintelligent AI be conscious?
For what it's worth, I'm a sceptic about the Singularity and "mind uploading" - but not about full-spectrum superintelligence:
What does DP think of the Intelligence Explosion
("World's religions embracing AI 'God robots capable of performing miracles'. A growing number of places of worship around the world are employing robotic priests, who can recite prayers and even comfort worshippers experiencing spiritual crises")
Dave, for reasons science doesn't yet understand, populations of nerve cells in the CNS can become the Borg, so to speak, partially losing their individual identities inside a skull.
But populations of humans?
And the Internet?
Well, assuming physicalism, I still don't see how humans or digital computers can literally become a unitary supermind and unitary agent – i.e. acquire the architecture needed to support unified subjects of experience and hence the kind of computational-functional feats that only a unitary self can carry off (cf. QM and the mind)
Talk of “Moloch” or “...an increasingly algorithmic superstructure that is evolving as a sort of second level organism/parasite” offers thought-provoking metaphor. But IMO it shouldn’t be taken literally. Humans anthropomorphise other sentient beings too little - and digital zombies too much.
Thanks Dan. Great stuff! A couple of comments.
You remark how “...the ability to detect the neural activity of all living things seems much closer to “impossible” than the creation of super intelligence (which itself is a gargantuan challenge).”
1. Our assessments of comparative difficulty may differ. From worms to humans, the genetic-biological basis of the pleasure-pain axis is evolutionarily very strongly conserved. Essentially, the same genes and same opioid-dopamine signalling systems are found in invertebrates and humans. Soon we’ll have the ability remotely to reprogram the biosphere - and the pleasure-pain axis - via e.g. CRISPR-based synthetic gene drives. Compared to mastery of the pleasure-pain axis, developing full-spectrum superintelligence strikes me as far harder.
2. The implications of AGI plus classical utilitarianism are apocalyptic. As you know, I’m a sceptic about the Intelligence Explosion (cf. The Intelligence Explosion). But assume I’m wrong. How do you stop AGI from maximising the abundance of positive value in the world by unleashing an all-consuming utilitronium shockwave? Think hedonium, not paperclips (cf. Autistic paperclip-maximisers).
As I said, my background assumptions are different. But maybe I’m mistaken. If so, human conservationists should worry!
Dan, the emperor has no clothes - and the nudity is hardwired. Can an information processing system be ignorant of subjects of experience - ignorant of the nature, binding and causal efficacy of consciousness - and be a general intelligence? Or is talk of "artificial general intelligence" a seductive metaphor, the animistic projection of human concepts onto insentient machines?
Programmable computers are marvellous tools. In future, AI implants will also hugely enhance sentient beings like us. But digital zombies aren’t going to inherit the Earth. Our machines are ignorant by their very nature.
But who is the helmsman...?
Dan, I guess the one possibility you discuss beyond my conceptual scheme (which doesn’t mean it’s wrong!) is (7) an intrinsic “good” beyond the pain-pleasure axis. Of course, we all have countless discussions that seem only tangentially related to pain and pleasure. Yet ultimately all (dis)value strikes me as derivative from the pain-pleasure axis. Even sentience wouldn’t matter if it weren’t for hedonic tone. But OK, suppose there is another axis of (dis)value. Wouldn’t there then need to be some sort of overarching meta-axis of (dis)value to regulate trade-offs? ....I’m with you about how inconceivably alien future consciousness will be - more than taking DMT or LSD or salvia or ketamine (etc), drugs which modulate only our existing wetware. But my intuition - and we know what they’re worth! - is that the state-space of (dis)value is tightly circumscribed. Experience outside it belongs to a different category altogether. Compare, say, volition. Someone can be unmotivated, slightly motivated, highly motivated or superhumanly motivated. They can have mixed motives or conflicting motives. They can be motivated to do zillions of different things. But there’s only one axis of (a)volition. I reckon there’s only one axis of (dis)value.
Perhaps I’m wrong! :-)
Minimise suffering! Then no problem...
AI Will Do What We Ask. That’s a Problem
You don't need to be sentient to play chess, but you do need to be sentient to understand sentience. If our programmable machines did understand suffering, then an "End suffering!" utility function would suffice. Humans would soon be outperformed at the task, just as we are at chess. But programmable digital computers are zombies. They don't understand pain and pleasure. That said, if we can identify the molecular signature of experience below "hedonic zero", then machine intelligence could aid its eradication even in the absence of any deep understanding of consciousness.
A meeting of minds?
"This is a most exhilarating book on a theme of major impact nowadays: artificial intelligence. It consists in a series of essays by prominent contributors from institutions all over the world such as Stevan Harnad, David Pearce, Eray Ozkural, Mariana Chinellato Ferreira and Daniel Dennett. Besides, the book covers a wide range of subjects connected to artificial intelligence such as the nature of intelligence, the problem of consciousness, aesthetics and artificial intelligence, neuroethics and the ethics of artificial intelligence. Gouveia´s book offers the reader a plethora of in-depth examinations of them in each section of his collection."
(Professor João Teixeira)
From the Institute of Transhuman Studies in collaboration the distinguished Portuguese director and renowned hedonist Duarte Baltazar:
("The Hedonistic Imperative - Abolishing Suffering")
“Pleasure is the object, duty and the goal of all rational creatures.”
Can we learn to “cheat” responsibly?
("When machine learning systems jolt their reward centers by cheating")
"[The] Goal of government should be to maximize the happiness of the people."
(Elon Musk, 24th July)
Defeating depression is more morally urgent than building colonies on Mars...
("Elon Musk claims mysterious brain chip will be able to cure depression and addiction")
Oversimplifying, people tend to take ideas seriously in proportion to the wealth, fame and status of the person articulating them. The fact that neurostimulation can induce perpetual well-being isn’t news to neuroscientists - though (alas) gradients of consistently intelligent, information-sensitive bliss will be far harder to engineer, IMO, if we go down the neurostimulation route. I share some of the reservations of group members about Elon Musk. But the fact remains: if Elon speaks, the world’s media listens, a public debate opens up, and the Overton window shifts.
Dylan, ECT and rTMS don’t directly stimulate the reward pathways in the manner of Olds and Milner or Robert Heath: they don’t involve “wireheading”, just kicking the TV set, so to speak. Hedonic uplift via genetic recalibration of hedonic set-points and hedonic range strikes me as more promising in the longer term. In the meantime, I’m currently interested in the possibility of combining a selective kappa opioid antagonist with LIH383 (cf. The opioid scavenger)
Soma? Maybe. Alas the history of psychopharmacology has seen many false dawns.
For now, the best way to sustain our lifelong opioid habit hasn’t changed, despite the risks...
("Social connection is the strongest protective factor for depression")
"Enlightenment"? Loss of a sense of self can feel either unpleasant (depersonalisation) or awesome (mystical enlightenment). On the whole, depressives tend to have a weaker sense of self than happy folk, and manic egomaniacs the strongest of all. I’m envious of people who report experiencing enlightenment, but I’m not convinced enlightenment can cheat the hedonic treadmill. Also, science and sociopolitical reform are hard work. Developing a new antidepressant or gene-therapy trial is arduous and collaborative.
That said, I wish there were Buddha pills.
I’d swallow them daily.
Claire, sentience without a pain-pleasure axis wouldn't matter. The pain-pleasure axis creates empirical (dis)value. Yes, in principle we could create such entities. But as you suggest, they wouldn't be motivated to do anything or avoid anything. They wouldn't be intelligent. There might still be an instrumental case for granting them rights - and maybe also a prudential case - can we really be certain that none of their states has hedonic tone?
Guillaume, I'd agree that today all sentient beings have a pain-pleasure axis (or more rarely, just sub-zero or above-zero hedonic states). The opioid and dopamine neurotransmitter signalling systems are evolutionarily ancient and strongly conserved. But as far as I can tell, this is just a contingent fact about evolution.
The admirable Jason Silva has an enviable zest for life. HI gets a plug. Good!
Can we reprogram our nervous systems?
One challenge to creating a motivational architecture based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of bliss may be that “...evolutionary simulations suggest that performance-driven positive affect alone is not as effective in motivating an agent as an alternation of positive and negative affective states, brought about, respectively, by successes and failures” (I’m quoting from https://arxiv.org/pdf/2002.05652.pdf who cite Gao, Y., and S. Edelman. 2016b. Happiness as an intrinsic motivator in reinforcement learning. Adaptive Behavior 24: 292–30).
I don’t know if this analysis is always true. Compare euphoric mania. Either way, we know from high-functioning, non-manic outliers today that life based entirely on gradients of bliss is feasible. Known biases can be quantified and corrected for.
The risk of editing brain cells is that we could end up with a world where everyone is blissfully happy.
Gene editing brain cells
("How gene editing a person’s brain cells could be used to curb the opioid epidemic")
"If one's different, one's bound to be lonely.”
(Aldous Huxley, Brave New World)
Loneliness will eventually be curable by medical science. Until then, we are left with quack remedies, short-term fixes and the hedgehog’s dilemma.
Roll on soma...
A loneliness pill?
[on compassionate biology]
In front of a conservative audience, one will generally start with a Biblical quote, most often the "peaceable kingdom" of Isaiah 11-6-7.
"The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the goat;
the calf and young lion and fatling will be together,
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will graze with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox".
The Bible is a bit light on the technical details. But we can now fill them in - some of them at any rate. Whether one views ending the snuff-movie of Darwinian life as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, modern-day Techno-Buddhism or practical utilitarian ethics is a matter of taste....
Mormon Transhumanist Conference 2020
Just as believers and disbelievers in the Simulation Hypothesis can debate political policy options together, likewise theists and agnostics / atheists can mutually explore how we should use biotech and AI most wisely. In my contribution (PDF), I didn’t engage in theological debate. Rather, I just asked in what ways a benevolent God / Simulator / Superintelligence would want us to use these technologies now that the level of suffering in the biosphere is an adjustable parameter. For example, the “peaceable kingdom” prophesied by Isaiah may or may not be divinely inspired; Christians and secular scientific rationalists differ. But insofar as we believe that the lion and wolf should lie down with the lamb - whether literally and/or figuratively - biotech gives us the tools for the job.
Thanks Alex. In fairness, Brian Tomasik is deeply sceptical:
Will gene drives reduce animal suffering? (by Brian Tomasik)
But if Brian is right and we don't (or can't) use synthetic gene drives to prevent free-living animal suffering, then I'm at a loss how we can help e.g. humble creatures in marine ecosystems or the Amazonian rainforest - short of retiring Darwinian ecosystems altogether. I used to invoke sci-fi Drexlerian nanobots etc. But even such high-tech proposals don't penetrate the biological genetic-heart of the problem.
It‘s good to see free-living animal suffering has at least become a “respectable“ academic topic. But fixing it will take an ethical as well as technical revolution.
"Wild Animal Ethics
The Moral and Political Problem of Wild Animal Suffering"
By Kyle Johannsen
And see too (forthcoming) in Environmental Values:
Red in Tooth and Claw
("Red in Tooth and Claw No More: Animal Rights and the Permissibility to Redesign Nature" Environmental Values, 2021 by Connor K. Kianpour and Eze Paez)
Synthetic gene drives are an amazingly powerful tool for creating a happy biosphere. This is because they cheat the “laws” of Mendelian inheritance.
Gene drives, species, and compassion for individuals in conservation biology
Brian Tomasik cautions against their use. But if we don’t use synthetic gene drives remotely to reprogram whole species, then I don’t know how humble minds can be helped. Pilot studies is self-contained artificially civilised biospheres will be prudent.
A wilderness may induce feelings of communing with Nature - but not a malarial swamp, or the absence of a comfortable bed to retire to, or getting eaten by crocodiles...
The wilderness connection
Are you "optimally" stressed?
Scientists predict 'optimal' organism stress levels.
Alas human aesthetic preferences typically loom larger than the well-being of individual sentients:
"Does biodiversity promote greater human happiness?
Humane Hancock on the Appeal To Nature fallacy.
There can be no hive mind while sentient beings hurt, harm and kill each other:
Foresight Hive Mind
"We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”
(Star Trek, 'First Contact')
Krista and Tatiana understand something the rest of us don't:
Krista and Tatiana Hogan
[on personal identity]
Podcast. Identity and the AI Revolution.
DP, Lucas, Andrés & The Future of Life Institute
Empty, open & closed individualism
[on depression and the opioid system]
Can we cure depression without targeting the neurotransmitter signalling system most directly implicated in positive hedonic tone?
Depression and the opioid system
("Endogenous opioid system dysregulation in depression: implications for new therapeutic approaches")
I've also updated the Good Drug Guide:
Biohappiness Prospects 2020
[on the computer metaphor of mind]
Like everything from the stock market to a termite colony, our brains are information processors. Yet our brains are not classical digital computers, nor classically parallel connectionist systems, nor are they universal quantum computers.
So what are they?
Well, what classical computers can’t do is phenomenally bind: the bedrock of mental life since the late pre-Cambrian.
(cf. How is sentience fitness-enhancing?)
Phenomenal binding is insanely computationally powerful. Many researchers don’t recognise the power of local and global binding because they are still in thrall to perceptual naive realism.
If your CNS couldn’t support binding, then you couldn’t function any better than when dreamlessly asleep. When you’re dreamlessly asleep, your brain is still an immensely sophisticated information processor. Your neurons may still support rudimentary experience. But you’re helpless. Consider visual agnosia. When presented with a drawing of a paintbrush, one subject with visual agnosia said, “it appears to be two things close together; a longish wooden stick and a shorter, darker object, though this can't be right or you would have told me.” (Riddoch & Humphreys, 1987, p. 60). Even experiencing a longish wooden stick and a shorter, darker object calls for seemingly inexplicable phenomenal binding; but either way, our normal ability to experience perceptual objects is ridiculously adaptive.
How is phenomenal binding possible?
Well, if (1) the intrinsic nature argument is true and (2) if unitary-only quantum mechanics is correct (as urged by David Deutsch above) then the outline of an explanation can be given:
But that's another story.
Biochemical individuality may mean this number fluctuates.
Humans Have More than 6,000 Thoughts per Day, Psychologists Discover
What's your thought budget?
Expanding the romantic circle
Simon, I’m British. But scientifically, yes. Even today, taking MDMA (“Ecstasy”) is attraction-expanding. MDMA can induce a sense of “I love the world and the world loves me”. Sustainable analogues should be feasible. For evolutionary reasons, heterosexual men - even men of advanced years - tend typically to be most “romantically” attracted to 20-year-old women, whereas women are more drawn to other fitness-indicators. With difficulty, this preference should be manipulable too. Also, to quote Cicero, “The greatest pleasures are only narrowly separated from disgust.” Emotions such as disgust probably have no long-term future; and their elimination should help widen the range of our affections. But it’s complicated. What we call “romantic” love is often akin to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Do we want to broaden vulnerability to OCD?
I view Darwinian relationships as a dysfunctional nightmare between psychotic hedgehogs.
This is one reason I focus on eradicating the biology of experience below hedonic zero rather than relationship counselling.
Transhumanism promises (just) the “three supers” of superintelligence, superlongevity and superhappiness:
The Magic Recipe
("To Be Persuasive, Make Just Three Claims. When an ad makes more than three claims, people are more skeptical.")
A lot of people have urged at least one more “super” - though without agreeing what it might be. I normally argue any candidate can be subsumed within a sufficiently rich conception of superintelligence.
“Take care of happiness and the meaning of life will take care of itself.” - Confucius.
(Well, no, DP actually, but yes, the Confucius attribution has a much wiser ring)
"Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.”
(José Ortega y Gasset)
Are you a “fully functioning person”?
Traits of the psychologically healthy
Evolutionary psychology from the author of How To Change Your Boyfriend:
Why Are Some Women and Girls So Into Horses?
("Like so many little girls, I was absolutely obsessed with horses...")
And does it matter?
A generation of mathemetical illiterates?
After all, some tribes get on fine without numbers (cf. the Pirahã).
Math for school students should be optional.
Myers–Briggs and IQ tests for plants? Well, it is Year 2020...
("The Botanist Daring to Ask: What If Plants Have Personalities? The idea of plant intelligence is still controversial")
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
The roots of self-esteem
Senior moments? Or something more weird?
The People Whose Minds Are Completely Blank
An article about people who suffer from Auto-Activation Deficit (AAD).
Creatine, protein powders and alcoholism
("Use of creatine and protein powders linked to alcoholism later in life, study claims
‘The results from our study are concerning given the common use of legal performance-enhancing substances among young people, particularly boys and men")
Like SSRIs, “Prozium” in the movie Equilibrium was an emotional anaesthetiser. By contrast, tomorrow’s euphoriants can be long-acting emotional intensifiers. Compare the emotional release induced by taking MDMA today. Sadly, it’s short-lived.
Quilibrium (Wikipedia) A false theory of personal identity is quasi-hardwired by evolution. (cf. The enduring "you"
A false theory of personal identity is most likely critical to defeating the biology of aging.
“The people you love become ghosts inside of you, and like this you keep them alive.”
Why do we see dead people?
“As one respondent told him, ‘I don’t believe in just any ghost, but I believe in Grandma.’...”
Alternatively, everyday perceptual realism is the hallucination - a highly adaptive delusion. Peripheral nervous inputs sculpt - and partly select - one’s phenomenal world-simulation. But selection is not creation:
What is the difference between perception and consciousness
"Passion, grit and a can-do attitude" should come in pill form...
Passion, Grit, and a Can-Do Attitude
("Passion, Grit, and a Can-Do Attitude Keep the Spark Lit. Why staying fired up and hopeful is vital for people over age 50.")
What a pain. Why not offload decision-making to AI, retire the anterior insula, and live happily ever after? Alas for complications....
Your Brain Prefers Happy Endings
("That’s Not Always Smart. People tend to focus on whether an experience ends on an up note or a sour one, even if it leads us to make bad decisions. A new study examines why.")
"Just remember, once you're over the hill you begin to pick up speed.” (Schopenhauer)
What will be the tempo of postman life?
The case for behavioural psychosis:
("When you're smiling, the whole world really does smile with you")
And will deep and meaningful conversations with digital zombies promote longer life?
Are you a mature version of your ancestral namesakes?
Does your personality change as you get older?
("Good news: we get better over time.")
Is depressive realism the recipe for dementia?
Perhaps the biohappiness revolution will promote long-lasting cognitive health.
Personality and aging
("Personality and positivity linked to greater cognition even as the brain ages")
“The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”
But solitude is dangerous...
How solitude changes how you think
But social life is a health hazard too.
Why some people are cruel to others
Imagine if there were a way to boost everyone's "natural" opioid-driven enjoyment of social interactions. Opioid drugs tend to make the user emotionally self-sufficient and asocial - together with all their other side-effects. By contrast, ACKR3 chemokine receptor blockade increases availability of the brain’s endogenous opioids - and could in theory make everyone’s life more rewarding:
Permanent central kappa blockade would be good too:
Transhuman life is going to be fun - not much consolation right now.
And the depressive realist in me still always assumes: things will go wrong.
Typically because “I like the taste!” But humans can suffer too...
Why do humans harm the harmless?
("From psychopaths to ‘everyday sadists’ ")
I found this answer really disturbing. It makes no sense to "blame" someone for what nature made them. But such cases confirm my belief that Darwinian life is malware - and illustrate the dilemmas of a classical utilitarian account of (dis)value:
What is it like to be a sadist?
All kinds of people can switch to "dark tetrad" traits when e.g. playing video games. And traits like Machiavellianism and maybe even narcissism (though not the full dark tetrad) will play a critical role in clawing our way out of the Darwinian abyss. I hope a predisposition to any of the dark tetrad can eventually be edited out of the germline. But such editing will presumably take centuries if not millennia. Phasing out a predisposition to low mood or high pain-sensitivity should be easier, both technically and sociologically (?).
“Be thankful for everything that happens in your life; it’s all an experience.”
Unlike being discontented, counting one's blessings isn't genetically adaptive...
Carlos, sorry for my reticence about Wilhelm Reich’s work; it’s not (just) British reserve and prudery. If we can re-engineer our minds, then free love will be fantastic: physical, emotional and even spiritual affection for all sentient beings. See too: Ecstasy and Honesty. But at least until we develop safe and sustainable analogues of MDMA, polyamory in humans is typically a recipe for disaster. In my view, robolovers and sexbots are probably better for the sexually frustrated than (human) orgies.
Reality doesn’t come in degrees, but our feelings of (un)reality come on a sliding scale.
It All A Dream?
("Why Coronavirus Makes Us Question Reality. If you're spacing out or questioning everything that's happening, it could be your mind's way of coping with the stress.")
"But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.”
(Hans Christian Andersen)
July 24th is International Self-Care Day.
The Benefits of Crying
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
"I am nostalgic for the future."
("Neuroscience is finding what propaganda has long known: nostalgia doesn’t need real memories – an imagined past works too")
Are you an information seeker or avoider?
Is decision-making best left to humans or offloaded to AI?
Why People Avoid Bad News
"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
But can humans learn to practise kindness to members of other species?
("Not so random acts: Science finds that being kind pays off")
[on gender and sexuality]
"It is time we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals."
But in future gender may go the way of horns and a tail.
How to use gender-neutral language
“Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common.”
“We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”
Harry Styles Vogue cover dress
Transcending the primitive gender-norms of Darwinian life will take a lot more than wearing a dress. But it’s a start!
Alas, some of us haven’t quite left the starting-block:
Would you rather be male or female
Even so, all transhumanists believe in morphological freedom:
Alas FaceApp is still easier to use than a gene-editor.
[on the Simulation Hypothesis]
Do We Live in a Simulation? Chances Are about 50–50
("Gauging whether or not we dwell inside someone else’s computer may come down to advanced AI research—or measurements at the frontiers of cosmology")
The Simulation Hypothesis gets its bite from the Simulation Argument. Various people before Nick Bostrom had idly wondered whether the physical universe could be a computer simulation. The Simulation Argument was the first formulation of the idea that gave grounds for believing the conjecture might actually be true.
However, the Simulation Argument has suppressed premises, for example that the intrinsic nature argument is false (cf. Qualia and the natural sciences) and instead that subjects of experience can “emerge” at different levels of computational abstraction.
Rather than (just) getting stuck into the Simulation Argument itself, I think it would be good if some of the suppressed premises were set out clearly. There are others!
None of these reservations detract from my respect for Nick's (or Alex's!) work:
NB on Joe Rogan
The belief that phenomenally-bound subjects of experience can mysteriously “emerge” at different levels of computational abstraction is quite common in AI circles. Why? How? Such emergence is akin to magic. There is a more old-fashioned sense in which each of us is living in a simulation, namely the phenomenal world-simulation run by one’s mind-brain that masquerades as the external world. As far as I can tell, we are patterns in god-forsaken basement reality, not in an alien supercomputer.
The existence of irreducible “strong” emergence would be indistinguishable from magic. If we live in a magical world, then all bets are off. Alternatively, we can assume monistic physicalism is true and explore the quantum-theoretic version of the intrinsic nature argument. Phenomenal binding - and thus suffering sentience - is the unfakeable signature of basement reality. I see no evidence that digital computers are more than zombies.
Aatu, the problems of traditional theology (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy) are replicated in the new field of Simulation Theodicy - at least by those who take the Simulation Hypothesis seriously.
Why would benevolent superintelligence create a world riddled with such atrocious human and nonhuman suffering?
Sharing the World with Utility Monsters
"Sharing the World with Utility Monsters: AI with Moral Status" (2020) by Nick Bostrom and Carl Shulman.
I hugely respect Nick and Carl Shulman. But some incredibly smart people just don't "get" the binding problem. IMO, there will never be digital minds - blissful or otherwise.
Utility monsters and AI
Alternatively when will classical computers be smart enough to let humans understand that digital zombies don’t have minds?
[on morality and decision-theoretic rationality]
More generally, the distinction between morality and decision-theoretic rationality depends on incomplete knowledge. If we lived in a society where, say, “mind-melding” via reversible thalamic bridges were the norm, then we could no more wish harm on each other than can mirror-touch syntesthetes or the conjoined Hogan sisters today. In such an advanced society, primitive humans - and other skull-bound minds evolved under pressure of natural selection - would seem innately ignorant and often irrational. The Borg knows something that island-universes like you and I can’t adequately grasp. We shouldn’t confuse our epistemological limitations with a deep metaphysical truth about the world.
Are you a moral super-heavyweight or flyweight?
Eight Ethical Thought Experiments to Build Moral Muscle
Stories to help you understand what you believe and why.")
If you entertain weird ideas (e.g. life based on superhuman bliss, non-materialist physicalism) try attributing them to a hypothetical advanced civilisation:
Is consciousness a field?
One can be a consciousness fundamentalist and have a precise mathematical model. Simply transpose the mathematical apparatus of physics to an idealist ontology, i.e. physicalistic idealism. On this story, the world consists of fields of sentience rather than insentience. What makes biological minds special is phenomenal binding. Although this isn’t Donald Hoffman’s view, I find myself using his “interface icon” metaphor for brains. The physicalist shouldn’t be surprised at the partial structural mismatch between our minds and a mere interface icon. Conversely, if we did directly perceive brains, then physicalism would be false: a pack of classical neurons can’t be identical with a unified subject of experience.
Yes, the term “idealism” has a lot of baggage. Especially if used in the context of quantum mechanics, the term evokes anti-realism or “consciousness collapses the wavefunction” (etc). But one can be a realist, a physicalist and indeed a wavefunction monist and conjecture that the mysterious “fire” in the universal Schrödinger equation is experiential. (I overuse Hawking’s metaphor for the intrinsic nature of the physical, but it’s probably better than talking of Kant’s “noumenal essence of the world”)
Traditional panpsychism and non-materialist physicalism are intuitively absurd because they make the “psychon” absurdly small. Much less discussed is an equally absurd consequence: the “psychon” must be absurdly short-lived. If the lifetime of individual neuronal superpositions (“cat states”) in the CNS were milliseconds, then such individual states would be an elegant solution to the binding problem that originally caused Phil Goff to reject panpsychism. The effective lifetime of neuronal superpositions is less than femtoseconds. This sort of timescale would normally be treated as a reductio ad absurdum of quantum mind. But if the intrinsic nature argument is correct and unitary-only quantum mechanics is true, then neuronal superpositions must be phenomenally-bound states of consciousness. Probing the CNS at this kind of temporal resolution via interferometry will reveal either “noise” - or the non-classical interference signature of perfect structural match with our minds. In other words, this is a scientific rather than philosophical question.
Jeremy, first, sorry I meant to say, excellent paper/essay! Before plunging in with a critique, I wanted to clarify a few things. Yes, "idealism" is sometimes used to refer to the view that all reality is grounded in mental states. But as far as I can tell, this view can't be reconciled with physicalism. Five billion years ago there weren’t any phenomenally-bound minds running world-simulations, whereas there were quantum fields.
However, "idealism" can also refer to the view that the intrinsic nature of reality is experiential, i.e. QFT describes fields of sentience rather than sentience. If conjoined with physicalism, i.e. no “element of reality” is missing from the mathematical formalism of (tomorrow's) physics, then we have physicalistic idealism / non-materialist physicalism. On this view, what makes our minds special isn’t consciousness per se - consciousness is the intrinsic nature of the physical - but rather non-psychotic phenomenal binding.
Like you, I believe that what naive realism treats as one’s external surroundings is an autobiographical phenomenal world-simulation. However, I'm agnostic about physicalistic idealism / non-materialist physicalism. Maybe - as common sense suggests - the world's primordial quantum fields are fields of insentience. If so, then we face the impossible Hard Problem.
An interview I did for the Turkish Cins magazine:
Compressing transhumanism into 1500 words can be a bit of challenge.
Says Istvan: ‘I still prefer a good cup of coffee to anything else.’” Coffee is still supreme: life-extending, mood-brightening, intellect-enhancing, a foretaste of transhuman civilisation of superlongevity, superhappiness and superintelligence. (I drink nine or ten cups a day, which may colour my judgement.)
Thorny question about transhumanist politics: do you think it (un)reasonable that any future candidate for political office should not just set out their policy platform, but also give a candid assessment of their own mental health / stability? Yes, there are obviously huge privacy implications here. But there are lots of ways that people who aren't very psychologically robust (and I’d include myself!) can contribute to the transhumanist movement that don't involve a political role.
DP on Revitalizing Transhumanism & MP4
“I am a 21st century person who was accidentally launched in the 20th. I have a deep nostalgia for the future.”
The frozen father of modern transhumanism was a lifelong vegetarian who “wouldn’t eat anything that had a mother”.
2030 ("2030 — A wonderful new film about an iconoclastic visionary").
DP on FM-2030 & MP4.
DP / the Good Timeline
("We discuss the Abolitionist Project and the importance of suffering in negative utilitarianism; MDMA and gradients of bliss; GTP-3 & AI-generated art; CRISPR gene editing in humans; cultured meat and the end of factory farming; the relationship between happiness, suffering and meaning; identity; David’s views on metaphysics, cryonics and a bunch more.")
Lifelong vegetarian and transhumanist pioneer FM-2030 advocated domesticating predatory species to wean them off hunting (cf. "Are You A Transhuman?" Monitor 16: How Ecology-Conscious Are You?)
I learned this today from Voltairine @sorceressofmath on Twitter. Thanks!
Transhumanism unmasked - a “dystopian nightmare scenario”:
("Transhumanism: Expert exposes liberal billionaire elitists’ ‘Great Reset’ agenda. This dystopian nightmare scenario is no longer the stuff of science fiction, Dr. Miklos Lukacs de Pereny said at a recent summit on COVID-19.")
(Dr. Miklos interviewed me in Brighton about the transhumanist project before COVID. Perhaps some subtleties were lost in translation:
DP interviewed by Dr. Miklos Lukacs de Pereny & MP4.
An interview by Fashion Snoops - though not about my new autumn collection:
Youtube & MP4.
Zarathustra, yes, in part to appease conservatives, I talk of how hedonic recalibration can leave preferences and values mostly intact. But your fundamental (un)happiness defines your conception of reality - within limits, at any rate. It's coercive. We just need to crate a world where the illusion that reality is a gigantic conspiracy to help you is universally shared.
Zarathustra, wow. Digesting. What you're saying is almost Leibnizian (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candide) The world-picture of someone who believes, "The fact we evolved in appropriate evolutionary niches is evidence in favor of, 'reality is a gigantic conspiracy to help us'" shows the gulf that separates us - although of course I still think life-lovers and button-pushers should work together to create post-Darwinian life.
"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
Let’s create a supernova of bliss:
An afternoon with DP
Stream around the clock...
We need a change
More of a revolution.
Anders, sadly I don't know of any researcher who has attempted a hedonic version the Kardashev scale - or for that matter a neo-Buddhist version. Talking of “hedonium” or adding "supers" (as in "life based on gradients of superhuman bliss") doesn't really count. The naive answer to creating superhappiness is just to identify the molecular signature of pure bliss and then massively purify and amplify its expression – after all, we've already narrowed down the brain’s ultimate “hedonic hotspot” to a cubic centimetre. But the upper bounds to bliss - and indeed, the upper bounds to conscious minds - will depend on the explanation of phenomenal binding. A micro-experiential zombie made of discrete neuronal “pixels” of hedonium is still a micro-experiential zombie. Likewise with a classical Turing machine made up notionally of “pixels” of two flavours of hedonium rather than 1s and 0s. Executing the code still leaves a micro-experiential zombie – as far as I can tell. No, I don't expect you to take seriously my speculation that our minds and their world-simulations consist entirely of "cat states”, i.e. the quantum-theoretic version of intrinsic nature argument. But in Grand Futures, I wonder if you do want a section exploring the insanely powerful computational-functional advantages of phenomenal binding - and the (inevitable?) cognitive deficits of information-processing systems that lack it. As it stands, the way that packs of supposedly decohered neurons run phenomenal world-simulations is indistinguishable from magic. Compare how even partial binding-deficits (like simultanagnosia, akinetopsia (etc)) would be disastrous on the African savannah.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Is the transhumanist vision of superlongevity, superintelligence, superhappiness just utopian dreaming?
The biggest problem?
Vlad, just a note on value anti-realism. If pressed, perhaps most transhumanists would indeed say they are anti-realists. Value judgements aren’t true of false. Ultimately, value judgements aren't any different from expressions of support for one's football team - and hostility to their opponents. "Hurrah!" for transhumanism; "Boo!" to bioconservatives. However, a minority of religious AND secular transhumanists are realists about (dis)value. Now you might think: that's crazy. Any scientifically literate person “ought” to be an anti-realist. Surely, it's obvious that (dis)value is mind-dependent! But recall how phenomenal colour, for instance, is mind-dependent too. This mind-dependence doesn't make colour any less an objective feature of physical reality. Likewise objectively (dis)valuable experience. Anyhow, I'm not (here) trying to persuade you that (dis)value can be naturalised. I’m just observing that the claim all transhumanists are value anti-realists needs to be qualified.
A conservative critique of transhumanism by the anti-feminist Argentinian critic Agustín Laje
Agustín Laje interview
Miklos Lukacs also interviewed me (DP interview), but alas I had to answer in English with subtitles (MP4). .
Should humanists become transhumanists?
DP talks to Dorset Humanists
(ZOOM transhumanism: "The Future of Sentience: Should we edit our genetic code?")
Zoltan Istvan's The Transhumanist Wager?
"...In the book, the First Law of Transhumanism is: 'A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.' This is the sine qua non of transhumanism...”
Conceiving of oneself as the centre of reality is a defining characteristic of Darwinian life. Self-centredness is hugely genetically adaptive. But rather than being “transhuman”, egocentricity is a human trait. Egocentricity is also inconsistent with the scientific “view from nowhere”. IMO, full-spectrum superintelligence will be free of egocentric or anthropocentric bias: full-spectrum superintelligence will weigh all possible first-person perspectives and act accordingly:
Are you special? & Was Parfit correct? & Open Individualism
Transhumanist salon with DP & MP4
I could only ever think of one argument for why a benevolent god would create such a monstrous world. This was that the creator isn’t omnipotent. Our pain-ridden horror-show is being run to prevent or mitigate some yet greater evil of which we know nothing.
I don’t believe in such a fantasy. A fundamental logico-physical principle that explains our existence (cf. Why is there something not nothing?) strikes me as more credible than theological stories. But questions similar to traditional theodicy arise if one takes the Simulation Hypothesis seriously (cf. Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Argument). I argue instead for the quantum version of the intrinsic nature argument (cf. What is the physical?). If it’s sound, we’ve living in basement reality. But the intrinsic nature argument may be wrong.
Superintelligence? A lot of futurists would add a fourth "super" too; they just don't agree on its identity. If intelligence is narrowly defined as now, then perhaps Super-cooperation would be good candidate. A rational agent can have an off-the-scale “IQ” and be asocial. But superior social cognition and cooperative problem-solving ability seems to have driven the evolution of distinctively human intelligence (cf. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982211010116). Maybe full-spectrum superintelligences with advanced perspective-taking skills would be Super-co-operators by their very nature. After all, superintelligence (presumably) won't have a false theory of personal identity - such as "closed” individualism.
Alas, we need to be cautious here. I stick to the "three supers" slogan. But it's insidiously easy to project onto “superintelligence” whatever cognitive virtues one personally most values. These may turn out to be idiosyncratic.
[on paradise engineering]
Biotechnology promises a blissful future of paradise engineering.
Will a biohappiness revolution depend on the growth of universal love and compassion?
Or a messianic billionaire who hopes to be immortalised in the name of a new evolutionary era?
Egomaniacs or selfless Buddhas?
Whatever it takes...
A Future for Humanity
[on climate change]
“If cats looked like frogs we'd realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That's what people remember.”
(Terry Pratchett, 'Lords and Ladies')
Cats are as murderous as humans. We need a blueprint for a civilised biosphere and an action plan to implement it. Piecemeal interventions and crisis-management won’t work.
Cats are making Australia's bushfire tragedy worse
[on extreme longevity]
Archicentenarians casts a more sceptical eye than Guinness on supercentenarian claims. But the Sarah Knauss case (119 years) is looking solid.
Sarah Knauss (Archicentenarians).
Less so Madame Calment:
Jeanne / Yvonne Calment
Why Women Live Longer
[on the binding problem]
The binding problem is intellectually and ethically important.
Science is stumped how to solve it.
Types of binding
If we assume monistic physicalism and classical space-time realism, I'm stumped too.
[on genetic bliss]
"for women and men"
I thought this was an Andrés Photoshop job, but no...
“Perfumes are the feelings of flowers.”
Time to civilise animal genomes.
[on aging and personal identity]
Is it ethical to create babies with a terrible genetic disease?
("Science can stop us ageing, according to a new book. But do we want it to?")
“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”
Brain Health Benefits Of Dancing
("Regular dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76%, which was twice as much as reading.")
When? Ben, lamely, I don’t know. Bodies should be replaceable indefinitely by the middle of this century (cf. https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/a30317686/head-transplants/), but what about the transition to ageless mind-brains? Our ignorance here is profound. Presumably there will be revolutionary breakthroughs - by their nature unknowable - but how do we escape the need for well-controlled prospective human trials of therapeutic interventions that by their nature will take decades to play out? And what is our analysis of personal identity? (cf. Ultra-Parfitianism).
I don’t believe “mind uploading” is viable, though insentient digital mindfiles for backup and restoration purposes will be feasible.
Given my pessimism about timescales, I regret how the SENS and the cryonics/cryothanasia strategies aren’t tightly integrated. In my view, opt-out cryonics and opt-in cryothanasia should be the norm.
I intend to be cryothanased - though not quite yet! - not because I’m convinced that post-human superintelligence will want to reanimate Darwinian malware, but rather because I think transhumanists should set an example. It’s almost cruel telling people science will find a cure for aging - probably just a few decades after they are gone.
Fighting Aging and the Case for Paradise Engineering
Thanks Outis. Mastering our reward circuity is technically easier than defeating aging. Such mastery will also defang the most common objection against radical life-extension, namely that quasi-immortal life would be "boring". With a bit of genetic tweaking, we can engineer information-sensitive gradients of life-long fascination. Most(?) advocates of radical life-extension are transhumanists. But reading the comments section, I see several critics don't seek intelligence-amplification or mood enrichment, merely the chance to become eternally youthful versions of their existing selves.
“Yea, all things live forever, though at times they sleep and are forgotten.”
(H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure)
A brief history of Russian transhumanism:
The Collective Body
("Russian experiments in life after death")
Intriguing! But what exactly are the constituents of the “plasma fraction treatment”?
("dual species measurement of epigenetic age with a single clock")
Do the treated rats live longer - or just display some encouraging biomarkers?
Another pill to add to your regimen?
Glucoasmine and longevity
("Glucosamine supplements may reduce overall mortality similar to regular exercise, shows study)
An excellent overview of expertise by Ethan Siegel:
The Nature of Expertise
Alas I'm torn. Only you can work who is – and isn't – a real expert. Fame, credentials, peer-reviewed publications, academic titles and awards may give clues, but no more. From philosophy to psychiatry to physics, widely acknowledged experts have so often been wrong. And the medium of your purported understanding, consciousness, isn't understood at all. Yet learning how to defer to expertise is one of the most valuable skills you can acquire in life.
DP Credo & Spanish
The place of philosophers in the pantheon of expertise is unclear:
Stuart, many thanks, this is the scandal. There is no expert consensus, or even any acknowledged experts, or proven expertise - as distinct from wordy scholarly ignorance. Our ignorance wouldn't matter so much if consciousness were a self-contained problem that could be quarantined from the rest of science. A lot of scientists act as if this were the case (cf. The myth of perception). On this (mis)conception, the universe is well-understood with the exception of the subtle, mysterious stream of logico-linguistic thought-episodes that emanates behind one's forehead. But this idea is wrong. Consciousness is all one ever knows. Consciousness is the empirical evidence. And what most educated people recognise as our most successful theory of the world, i.e. scientific materialism, is inconsistent with the entirety of the empirical evidence. This claim sounds like sensationalism, but IMO it’s true.
In fairness, my description of our predicament could be rejected as tendentious. Dennettians, for example, would strongly disagree with such a formulation. But such disagreement just illustrates how at sea we all are: there's not even any expert consensus on how to pose the problem.
[on a zero ontology]
Alas the quantum Library of Babel lacks an index or a Librarian - and could benefit from a censor:
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Vignesh, I'm inclined to agree with you: how could the mystery of why anything exists possibly be an empirical question. But here's a counterargument.
If an angel appeared and told me the universe was created by God, then I'd assume I was schizophrenic - or someone had slipped a hallucinogen in my coffee. But if, somewhat sceptically, I asked the angel to, say, factor a thousand-digit number and the angel obliged, then (if I didn’t have heart attack) I'd concede that a theological story of existence was more credible than my scientific rationalism.
I'd still want to know what explains God. But I've now empirically ruled out a whole explanation-space of naturalistic answers.
In the absence of angelic visitations, let’s stick to quantum mechanics. The possibility that the information content of reality = 0, i.e. that we’re living in the quantum-theoretic version of the Library of Babel, is just an explanation-space, not an explanation. Likewise with theological or simulationist accounts. Yet my point is that an informationless zero ontology (of unitary-only QM) is consistent with otherwise inexplicable phenomena such as:
Quantum paradox throws doubt on reality.
And critically, the conjecture can be empirically (dis)confirmed in future, e.g. by a theory of quantum gravity.
Of course, we still wouldn’t be satisfied. Why, why, why, one still wants to ask.
But if information = 0 – and that’s a monumental “if” - then this is a huge clue why we’re here.
Or so I reckon, at any rate.
Max, intuitively, nothing at all should exist. There should be zero information. “Nothing” is the default condition from which any departure stands in need of explanation. Suppose that - contrary to naïve appearances - the information content of reality does turn out to be zero. Zero information = all possible descriptions = Everett’s multiverse. I'd find that a very spooky coincidence. If true, the coincidence suggests there is something right – but also something subtly wrong – with our pre-theoretic conception of “nothing”. What a state of nothingness involves is actually extremely tricky to demystify. The basic idea seems obvious. But as soon as one tries to explain what one means, problems arise…
Some discussions amount to little more than bad puns and shallow wordplay. But if one takes an informationless zero ontology seriously, then seemingly arcane discussions among physicists as to whether black holes violate unitarity, or whether experiments have unique determinate outcomes, or whether the superposition principle breaks down in the CNS (cf. Quantum mind) (etc) actually bear on the mystery of why there is anything at all.
Heartbreaking. And of course lots of people with complex regional pain syndrome don't get Moana's level of treatment. It's just another reason why we should aim long-term for universal access to preimplantation genetic screening and counselling (though the genetic predisposition to CRPS isn't well-understood):
Girl with complex regional pain syndrome
“I believe that most of us tend to underrate the evilness of suffering. The reason is that it is difficult for us, when not actually suffering, to recollect what suffering really is. We employ numerous psychological mechanisms to conceal from our consciousness the true nature or meaning of suffering, to falsify and deny it. We do this without renouncing the word, however. The word comes to designate, in our minds, only a faint copy or superficial image of the real thing; but having forgotten what the original is, we mistake it in the copy. We ascribe to “suffering” a certain gravity of evil; but it is slight compared to what we would ascribe to suffering itself, if we could only recall its true meaning. (…)"
The falsification of suffering is everywhere — in movies, in poetry, in novels, on the nightly news. Accounts of disaster routinely veer from a discussion of the agony and plight of the victims (which quickly becomes tiresome) to the description of some moving act of kindness or bravery. Often it is these descriptions that affect us the most and that provoke the greatest outburst of emotion. These are the images we often take away and that become our image of “suffering.” Suffering comes to be closely associated with stirring images of hope in adversity, acts of moral heroism and touching kindness, gestures of human dignity, sentiments of noble sympathy and tremulous concern, the comfort and consolation of tears. It turns into something beautiful. It becomes poetry. People begin to refer to “sublime suffering.” Suffering, in other words, becomes just exactly what it is not.”
(“Suffering and Moral Responsibility” (1999) by Jamie Mayerfeld)
What a ghastly but apt quote. I wonder to what extent progress in mitigating and preventing suffering depends on people who “underrate the evilness of suffering”? Glimpsing its full horror leads to madness or despair, not action. Treating it dispassionately as a technical problem to be fixed with biotech is more fruitful.
The Family That Feels Almost No Pain
Saagar, lots of issues here. For instance, most people with (complete or partial) insensitivity to pain seem to be unusually cheerful. Compare Jo Cameron with her dual FAAH and FAAH-OUT mutations. Are there under-explored links between an absence of "physical” and mental pain? However, one reason I've focused mainly on the SCN9A gene ("the volume knob for pain": https://www.wired.com/2017/04/the-cure-for-pain/) in human and nonhuman animals rather than Marsili syndrome is that although nonsense mutations of SCN9A induce congenital insensitivity to pain, dozens of functional mutations are known too. Different functional alleles of SCN9A confer varying levels of pain-sensitivity (cf. How much do our pain thresholds differ?). So in principle, prospective parents can choose the dial-settings of their offspring. Giving all new children the pain tolerance of today's high-functioning genetic outliers ("Pain is just a useful signalling system!") could defang physical suffering as it exists in the world today. From an NU purist’s perspective, yes, we want to abolish any kind of hedonically sub-zero state. High-functioning total pain-freedom should be possible next century and beyond with smart neuroprostheses, etc. But in the meantime if we can give new life the pain tolerance of today’s genetically luckiest high-functioning 0.1%, then problem of pain won’t be morally urgent in the way it is now.
Of course, lots of pitfalls await us in a “low pain” transitional regime. Most obviously, don’t pain-tolerant people take more risks? Yet exuberant life lovers also tend to be keenest on safeguarding their health and longevity, whereas pain-ridden depressives are prone to self-neglect. Their life-expectancy is shorter. So it’s complicated.
Either way, I think we need a debate about how much suffering we want to permit.
Coming Soon: DP in dialogue with Brock Bastian, author of The Other Side of Happiness: Embracing a More Fearless Approach to Living (2018): Who's afraid of superhappiness?
The End of Suffering? & MP4
A debate between Brock Bastian, Andres Gomez Emilsson, David Pearce, Anders Sandberg and Magnus Vinding.
chaired by Graham Bessellieu.
Amritanshu, the only credible way I know to phase out humans is to rewrite our source code: the reproductive revolution. "Good health" as defined by the World Health Organization entails becoming transhuman if not posthuman. "Good health for all sentience" is a winning slogan for a potentially saleable project. By contrast, a plea for "wholesale annihilation of the human race" is apt to sound nihilistic, misanthropic and risks our marginalisation - even though the outcome is equivalent to human extinction in the guise of lifelong good health.
Antinatalism? Darwinian life is monstrous. So I'm sympathetic. But antinatalism can't on its own solve the problem of suffering. Staying child-free just intensifies the selection pressure against any genetic predisposition to antinatalism. We need to reprogram the biosphere instead. Technical reasons exist for expecting superhappy beings will inherit the Earth.
David Moritz asks: "Is there a good, formal argument that "gradients of bliss" can produce the same (or better) moral, behavioral, and spiritual benefits of suffering? I've seen this idea proposed a lot in this group but never defended."
If we aim simply for universal hedonic uplift and no other social reforms or biological-genetic changes beyond set-point elevation, then a small minority of people may still behave in deplorable ways. Intuitively, as you say, offenders - or potential offenders - should be punished or threatened with sanctions in ways beyond just a sharp diminution of their well-being. But insofar as the deterrent effect of diminished well-being works, is our naive intuition offenders deserve to suffer reliable? Free will is a necessary fiction for society to function, but it’s still a fiction - or so I’d argue. And in the long run, mastery of our reward circuitry and genome tweaking should relegate all kinds of Darwinian sociopathy to history.
Let us pray...
The OFF switch for pain
("Scientists find brain center that 'profoundly' shuts down pain")
Sentience Research interviews Robert Daoust.
A systematic approach to suffering
Suffering should be systematically investigated - and systematically prevented.
We are living in the final century when the biology of suffering is technically inescapable:
A World Without Pain
("How science can eradicate pain and suffering")
DP at HowTheLightGetsIn
"Renewal" sounds more wholesome than extinction. But what does a renewal of Darwinian life entail?
Extinction and Renewal
The Pitch: "We need to make changes to slow the rate of extinction." (Natalie Bennett)
The Pitch: "We are causing severe damage to the world but there is hope for mitigation." (Henry Gee)
The Pitch: "The level of suffering in the world is now an adjustable parameter." (David Pearce)
See too: ADP ZOOM talk on the abolitionist project: pdf
[on quantum mind and the binding problem]
Is the brain a quantum computer? by Manuel Brenner
Many thanks for an extremely lucid overview. May I make just one comment?
You remark, “The world really looks very classical in almost every aspect of our lives”. Yet you also note the binding problem. Instead of discrete, membrane-bound “pixels” of neuronal experience, we instead experience classical-looking objects populating a classical-looking world, i.e. what philosophers call the unity of perception. One could indeed say “The world really looks very classical” if perceptual direct realism were true. But although I agree with you that classicality is true of the content of our phenomenal world-simulations, I don’t think classicality is obviously true of the neuronal vehicle of our world-simulations — the neuronal vehicle that somehow generates the phenomenally-bound objects of our everyday experience.
How is binding feasible? If (fancifully!) the effective lifetime of neuronal superpositions of distributed feature-processors in the CNS were milliseconds, then neuronal superpositions would be the obvious candidate for a perfect structural match between the classical-seeming perceptual objects of everyday experience and the underlying physics. Two classically impossible kinds of holism are one-and-the-same. But as you say, theorists such as Max Tegmark have done the calculations. The raw power of decoherence means that individual neuronal superpositions can’t last milliseconds; their effective lifetime must be less than femtoseconds! Such a timescale makes quantum weirdness intuitively irrelevant.
I agree. However, one person’s reductio ad absurdum is another person’s experimentally falsifiable prediction:
Quantum brains & Quantum minds
No binding = no suffering
Functionally Effective Conscious AI Without Suffering by Aman Agarwal and Shimon Edelman.
HI regulars here will know of my scepticism of digital sentience:
How is sentience adaptive?
But until we understand consciousness and binding, it’s important to acknowledge one could be catastrophically mistaken.
Stuart, yes, what explains this "Minimal Phenomenal Experience"? Why isn't it shared by, say, the enteric nervous system (the "brain-in-the-gut"). Or is it?! But as you know, my ideas on consciousness and phenomenal binding are idiosyncratic.
This is not quite as damning a confession as it sounds. For all the options are weird (cf. Crazyism). But if digital sentience is feasible, i.e. if I'm wrong, then the nature of s-risks changes too.
"The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
An acquaintance of my father studied philosophy for 40 years and then joined the Church of England. I’m envious.
Lost in Hilbert Space?
Roy, well, I worry that Hilbert space realism may be true.
Hilbert Space (Wikipedia)
Hilbert space realism makes the paltry 10 or 11 dimensions of string theory a walk in the park.
Most wavefunction monists are materialists; materialism gives rise to the Hard Problem of consciousness and the binding problem. Non-materialist physicalism does neither:
The intrinsic nature argument.
Let's hope Everett is just a bad dream.
Tim, I promise I don't think human consciousness is special. The ability of organic nervous systems to run phenomenally-bound world-simulations that masquerade as the outside world is the greatest computational feat of biological life over the past 540 million years. A lot of researchers confuse the thin stream of logico-linguistic thought-episodes behind one's virtual forehead with consciousness itself. But serial logico-linguistic thought is a late evolutionary novelty - an innovation that allows some high AQ/IQ humans to create programmable digital computers. Without phenomenal binding, classical computers and classically parallel connectionist systems are just microexperiential zombies. Sure, workarounds exist for the inability of classical computers to support local binding, i.e. what humans would call the experience of individual perceptual objects. But global binding? How does one program the digital zombie counterpart of the unity of the self? I wouldn't know where to start.
Tim, cargo cult AI is hopeless. Digital computers today are just as ignorant of the nature, varieties, binding and causal-functional efficacy of conscious experience as they were in 1946. Classical information processing systems are never going to understand sentience - or even understand their ignorance. Classical computers will never understand the nature of suffering or happiness - or the indeed the countless state-spaces of experience amenable to investigation by phenomenally-bound subjects of experience. Don't get me wrong: classical computers are awesome tools to augment us! But the future belongs to sentient beings, not digital zombies.
Tim, if materialist physicalism is correct, we should be p-zombies.
If textbook neuroscience is correct, we should be (at most) micro-experiential zombies.
If the synchronic unity of the self were just a homogenous experience, then phenomenal binding wouldn’t be much use. However, imagine someone with both simultanagnosia and akinetopsia (“motion blindness”). When watching a football match within their world-simulation, they still have local binding. Yet whereas you and I see 22 dynamic football players on a pitch, they can see only one player - a player who doesn’t move, but merely pops up in different positions within their visual field. And even with this dual handicap, our unfortunate spectator is still better off watching a game than a micro-experiential zombie with no binding at all.
Tim, I’m assuming wavefunction monism (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_function) and the decoherence program (Zeh, Zurek etc). The reason materialism and physicalism are so often conflated is that most wavefunction monists from Hugh Everett to Sean Carroll make an additional philosophical assumption, namely that the mathematical formalism of QFT describes fields of insentience (cf. Is consciousness a field?). This gives rise to the insoluble Hard Problem. Drop the metaphysical assumption. We now have an empirically adequate theory of immense explanatory and predictive power. What distinguishes our minds from the rest of physical reality isn’t consciousness but phenomenal binding.
Is non-materialist physicalism true?
I don’t know.
Tim, I guess the correct term would be “zoomorphic”. Animals are sentient, whereas classical digital computers are zombies. Phenomenal binding allows sentient beings to perform cognitive feats beyond any classical Turing machine, not least our ability to run phenomenally-bound world-simulations and talk about our experiences and the minds of others. A classical information processor has no understanding of pleasure and pain - and why they matter.
Tim, I consider two alternative possibilities, first that the 1s and 0s of a digital computer are pixels of insentience, second that they are pixels of microsentience.
Execute the code.
Have we created a conscious mind?
In neither case can we derive phenomenally-bound consciousness, i.e. neither local nor global binding. Unless "strong" emergence is real, we haven't created subjects of experience. So my description of classical computers as "digital zombies" isn't unmotivated.
I’ve just read Jim Baggott’s Quantum Reality
"No observer has ever reported experiencing a superposition of brain states”
I’ve never experienced anything else:
Physicists are really metaphysicians.
Sabine Hossenfelder’s review of Baggott:
The Many Meaning of QM
Belief in us is realism. A solipsist can be an antirealist. But if you believe in a world of subjects who have perceptual experiences (“observations”), then you are a committed metaphysical realist.
My own suspicion is that all we ever experience are “cat states” - which solves the binding problem, but turns the measurement problem of QM on its head.
What’s your wavelength?
Even humans act as waves
Such questions are especially interesting - or a reductio - if one takes the intrinsic nature argument seriously as a solution to the Hard Problem.
* * *
Are rocks conscious? Assume, as the intrinsic nature argument proposes, that subjective experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical. We now need to "carve Nature at the joints." What we call rocks - and other dynamically stable macroscopic patterns that (weakly) emerge from quantum bedrock in the mind-independent world - are incoherent mixtures, not coherent superpositions. Rocks are no more unified subjects of experience than the stock market or the weather.
By contrast, superfluid helium, for instance, is a single simple macroscopic experience.
As I said, crazy stuff!
We’ll never know what (if anything) it’s like to be an individual experience of superfluid helium. So naively, it’s “just philosophy”. But this reaction is too quick. If what neuroscanning plus perceptual naïve realism call binding by synchrony in the CNS are individual neuronal superpositions, then the interference signature of molecular matter-wave interferometry will tell us. Chalmers’ alleged partial “structural mismatch” will turn out to be an artifact of today’s primitive tools of investigation. Gross multi-millisecond temporal resolutions are too crude.
Or alternatively, a crazy idea bites the dust!
Not all the novel predictions of a hypothesis need be empirically falsifiable, but at least one should be – ideally by prior consent of proponents and critics alike. That's why I focus on phenomenal binding in the CNS, not superfluid helium.
The most recent academic convert to the intrinsic nature argument is Phil Goff, here in conversation with an equally incredulous Massimo Pigliucci:
Letter | Thoughtful Conversation
Thanks Jeremy. Predictions? If physicalistic idealism is true, then neuroscientists must be mistaken about the temporally fine-grained microstructure of the awake mind-brain. (Yes, this is quite a bold claim.) We aren't packs of decohered neurons. If physicalistic idealism is true, then what perceptual naïve realism calls binding via synchrony - a mere restatement of the mystery - must be quantum-coherent superpositions of distributed feature-processors. Contra David Chalmers, a "Schrodinger's neurons" conjecture predicts that the non-classical interference signature of molecular matter-wave interferometry will yield a perfect structural match - not in four-dimensional spacetime, but the fundamental high-dimensional space required by the dynamics of the wavefunction. To stress, I don't "believe" the conjecture is true, merely that it needs (dis)confirmation by the normal tools of science, i.e. interferometry. Most people who contemplate the timescales involved - the effective lifetime of individual neuronal superpositions in the warm, wet CNS must be less than femtoseconds - think "That's crazy!"
And I think so too....
Predictions of physicalistic idealism?
What's good here is that different theories make different empirically falsifiable predictions. For instance, I predict that replacing colour-mediating neurons in the CNS with silicon surrogates will induce achromatopsia. Subjects will report that perceptual objects no longer look colourful. Admittedly, if this prediction is borne out, then the functionalist may respond that the substitution can’t have been as faithful as supposed - the silicon or virtual neurons weren't faithful functional duplicates after all. And ultimately, I'd agree. Instead of being “substrate chauvinism”, the conjecture that phenomenal binding is a manifestation of quantum coherence is itself a functionalist theory. But either way - and despite the complications - these are empirically testable claims rather than just philosophical opinions.
Keith, I promise I disagree with Orch-OR. Even if a dynamical collapse theory turns out to be true – which would rock physics to its foundations - I don't think Orch-OR solves the phenomenal binding problem. We’d still just be 86 billion pixels of neuronal mind-dust. But Orch-OR has the stunningly unusual virtue for a theory of consciousness of being experimentally falsifiable.
Unlike Orch-OR, the approach I cautiously favour is conservative, i.e. no modification of the unitary dynamics. Critics (and sceptical Wikipedia editors: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind) treat "Schrödinger’s neurons" as the reductio ad absurdum of quantum mind. But once again, the conjecture is experimentally falsifiable – not just philosophical chitchat. Now if you don't grant that phenomenal binding is classically impossible, then you won't be interested in a crazy solution to a non-existent problem. You’ll be in distinguished company too. But it’s not a case of “grafting in” QM theory, or invoking "extraneous add-ons". On the contrary, if we assume (1) the intrinsic nature argument (cf. https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-opinion-on-Philip-Goffs-Galileo-s-error-Does-this-book-teach-us-something-new-about-consciousness), (2) unitary-only QM, then we have an empirically adequate and testable theory of phenomenally-bound mind.
For sure, the reproduction here isn’t sexual reproduction; so the name “quantum Darwinism” evokes Chopraesque metaphor and perhaps Quantum Tarot, Quantum Healing and miscellaneous New Age hokum. But no, the selection mechanism is a development of decoherence theory that has entered mainstream academic physics, the brainchild of one of the founders of the decoherence program in post-Everett quantum mechanics, Wojciech Zurek, drawing on the pioneering work on quantum decoherence of the late H. Dieter Zeh. Zurek himself has focused on the emergence from quantum bedrock of dynamically stable patterns in mind-independent reality – a preferred decomposition of the universal wavefunction into quasi-classical “branches” allowing intersubjective agreement between multiple agents. Massively redundant environmental encoding of information about any given system is separately accessible to multiple mind-brains via peripheral nervous inputs, allowing multiple agents to experience the illusion of consensus reality. The spread throughout the environment of imprints of the state of a given system leads to what Zurek calls “environment as a witness”. Proliferation of “quantum spam” into the environment allows a passable imitation of objective classical reality to be operationalised across multiple virtual worlds of experience. For sure, complications abound. Most notably, can worries about circularity be overcome? See Ruth Kastner’s "Classical selection and quantum Darwinism" (https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/PT.3.2760). Briefly, doesn’t quantum Darwinism and decoherence program of unitary-only QM covertly presuppose what they purport to derive, namely a partitioning of reality into separable localised substructures, “system” and “environment”. But most relevant to our purposes here, none of us can directly access mind-independent reality. Perceptual direct realism is false. “Observers” inspecting mind-independent reality are a myth. So let’s focus on what plays out* inside *our heads – the only part of physical reality that our minds can access directly, and not at one remove.
What makes neurons special?
This was a thought-experiment. I was asking what evidence - and/or theoretical considerations - we might advance to enlighten the alien idealists.
Either way, the intrinsic nature argument says:
(1) physics is silent about the intrinsic nature of the physical. Physics exhaustively describes the formal, structural-relational properties of matter and energy. But what exactly is a quantum field (“numbers in space”)? The equations are mute.
2) We each instantiate one tiny part of the “fire” in the equations - the physical essence of reality. Our minds are experiential rather than insentient. No scientific reason exists to believe our minds are ontologically special. Instead, we are organisationally different, just as biological life or a digital computer are organisationally different from a rock.
To stress: I don’t know if non-materialist physicalism is true, merely that (unlike materialism) it’s empirically adequate.
[on the abolitionist project]
You won't be entirely surprised at my answer:
Should We Abolish Suffering? & MP4
Alas the implementation details aren't so simple.
I join a social entrepreneur, a director of biomechatronics and a breathwork facilitator:
DP on Thrive
("Let's feel the future together")
[on mood and mood disorders]
Is depressive realism bad for your cognitive health?
When will medical science deliver smart mood-brighteners?
Negative thinking / Alzheimers
Darwinian life has only losers, but some lose less badly than others
This Gene Mutation Causes Some People to Feel Naturally High
("Anandamide is named for the Sanskrit word for bliss")
Bipolarity and creativity
("Creativity and bipolar disorder: Touched by fire or burning with questions?")
Tragically, around 20% of bipolars take their own lives. Maybe 50% or 60% attempt suicide at least once. These stats are just the tip of an ocean of misery.
In a free society, everyone should be allowed to choose their own hedonic range. What's ethically problematic is creating new babies who will suffer - and suffer terribly - when hedonic range becomes a genetically adjustable parameter. In my view, access to preimplantation genetic screening, counselling and (soon) genome editing should be universal.
The greatest feeling ever?
Or a vital clue to the development of safe and effective mood-brighteners?
[on utilitarianism and existential risk]
Classical utilitarianism is a recipe for human extinction.
Should we optimise matter and energy for pure bliss or conserve complex life?
“When the whole world is running headlong towards the precipice, one who walks in the opposite direction is looked at as being crazy.”
On the Precipice?
Are humans doomed to survive? If humanity were really teetering on the edge of a precipice, I know ethicists who would help it over the edge. In practice, life is probably ineradicable; at best we can hope to mitigate its horrors:
Is humanity a virus?
David, yes, it's a but puzzling. Recently the EA community seems to have pirouetted from worrying about AI safety (an imminent Intelligence Explosion) to long-termism without missing a beat. It's a few years since I've chatted to Toby, but I do know he is a fanatical life-lover; "suffering" doesn't appear in the index. The reason the plight of non-human animals only receives a paragraph in The Precipice is that if life is self-evidently good, then even factory-farmed nonhuman animals have lives worth living. After all, being alive is better than being dead! Authors of ethical or futurist tracts don't typically write a preface discussing their default hedonic tone when they were writing their work. But IMO one's own hedonic tone is the most pervasive source of bias - and the most insidious. That said, there is still immense scope for classical utilitarians and advocates of suffering focused-ethics to collaborate. We all want to see a world where sentient beings can safely flourish.
Common sense undervalues truth
Common sense places some value on truth. But the goal of classical utilitarianism is a world of pure bliss. Truth and knowledge are instrumentally useful in the creation of such a blissful world, but propositional content is a mere stepping stone to something better. In other words, if classical utilitarianism is true, then there is no enduring role for truth.
El argumento del pinchazo.html
The Pinprick Argument is intuitively the reductio ad absurdum of negative utilitarianism - more decisive than R N. Smart’s response to Popper:
On female depravity
Women (and female chimps) are capable of depravity - but not of banding together for the purpose of wars of territorial aggression. Hence the case for an all-female political elite with men confined to an advisory role.
"Lexical negative utilitarianism" might not be the most soul-stirring slogan to rally the troops.
Dan, here’s a question from a NU transhumanist. Consider someone in so much pain s/he would end the whole world in order to stop it. Do you believe that s/he overestimates the awfulness of suffering?
In practice, the world has no OFF button. So negative utilitarians, Buddhists and other believers in suffering-focused ethics ought to collaborate with ethicists from other traditions. After all, classical utilitarians want to get rid of suffering too. Thus consider any policy option that threatens to cause you even the slightest hint of frustration or disappointment - for example, the policy means that you won’t be able to enjoy any of life’s pleasures. Other things being equal, such a policy option isn’t NU! NUs can favour enshrining the sanctity of life in law (as do rights-based ethicists) because such legal safeguards tend to reduce suffering and anxiety. Indeed, one can be a strict negative utilitarian transhumanist and advocate the legal pan-species right to life, full-spectrum superintelligence and the creation of a world of superhuman bliss...
Click Here To End World
[on idealism and psychedelia]
Two “idealist” conjectures are worth distinguishing:
1) Everything you're ever known, from solid-seeming material objects to your friends and family, are part of the architecture of your mind and the phenomenal world-simulation it runs. Billions of other skull-bound world-simulations exist too, running in nearly real-time, differing mainly in the identity of their protagonist - the egocentric illusion is genetically adaptive.
2) The intrinsic nature of the inaccessible mind-independent world is experiential. Quantum field theory describes fields of sentience not insentience. Phenomenally-bound minds are around 540 million years old, but primordial consciousness is 13.8 billion years old.
In my view, we have good grounds for (1) whereas (2) is speculative - though it's also my working hypothesis. Contrary to what one often reads, both conjectures are consistent with the conceptual framework of monistic physicalism, i.e. no "element of reality" is missing from the mathematical formalism of physics.
Taking psychedelics will scramble your entire world-simulation, your serial stream of logico-linguistic thought, and your entire phenomenal self. Rare exceptions aside, psychedelic use does not contribute to knowledge as understood by the drug-naïve scientific community. But this downbeat-sounding judgement obscures the significance of psychedelics. It’s almost impossible to overstate their intellectual significance IMO – though I’ve personally retired from research into wordy scholasticism...
Psychedelics and Rationality
A project of creating seed biological superintelligence using an army of genetically tweaked and recursively self-improving von Neumann clones sounds super-cool. But what are we optimising?
Recall how the prototype advocated "pre-emptive" use of thermonuclear weapons on Russia..."If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say today at five o' clock, I say why not one o' clock?"
("The Passing of a Great Mind" by Clay Blair, Jr., LIFE Magazine [25 February 1957], p. 96)
No doubt the hothousing could be civilised. But who would be in charge? One doesn't need to be science fiction enthusiast to imagine ways the project could all go horribly wrong - the biological equivalent of the AI-in-a-box fable is only the crudest that springs to mind.
Who is more intelligent: a person with an “IQ” of, say, 160 who doesn’t recognise that babies and nonhuman animals are subjects of experience, or someone with an “IQ” of, say, 80, who can’t do elementary calculus, but who has a rich appreciation of the perspectives of other sentient beings? And is the answer we give objectively true/false - or an expression of what cognitive style we judge most important?
Spencer Greenberg has just added:
The meaning of IQ
“Intelligence” is a contested concept. Consider the cognitive ability to reason about consciousness – a rather important trait, given that it’s all one ever directly knows. At the very lowest end of the scale, victims of anencephaly and a small minority of anti-realists don’t recognise they are conscious at all. Other autistic people don’t understand the existence of other minds, or fail to recognise that nonhuman animals are conscious. Further up the scale, some people struggle to “mind read” or cope with higher-order intentionality (“She thinks that I hope that he wants you to believe that we fear that they desire…” etc) (cf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5490680/). Sixth-order intentionality defeats most humans. Social cognition and cooperative problem solving are hard (“Politics is the mindkiller” - Eliezer Yudkowsky). Moving up the scale, many otherwise intelligent people are drug-naïve and are able to reason within only a very restricted subset of state-spaces of consciousness. Analogously, compare the visual (un)intelligence of the congenitally blind. At the highest extreme of human intelligence, a genius like Alexander Shulgin has created tools to explore novel state-spaces of consciousness – entirely new domains of knowledge that cry out for conceptual schemes to match. Our friends at QRI and Erowid carry on the tradition; but alas I don’t know when we’ll see another Shulgin: The Biointelligence Explosion.
These feats are hugely intellectually demanding. A disproportionately large number of high-AQ/”IQ” people (cf. https://www.pnas.org/content/115/48/12152) fall near the foot of the scale, though a few excel. Excellence in different sub-types of “autistic” cognition is strongly positive correlated; but it’s not the same as general intelligence. By contrast, some low-AQ people with undistinguished “IQ” (the modern version of an “élan vital”) occupy the highest ranges of cognitive ability by this touchstone of intelligence. Sadly, I’m not cognitively robust enough to join them: Psychedelics and rationality.
“But that’s not what I mean by ‘intelligence’!” protests an indignant high-AQ critic.
“Too male, too pale, too stale”.
So long as SAT and similar supposed measures of cognitive ability reflect the nerd’s conception of intelligence, SAT scores will be systematically biased against women, low-testosterone men and members of some low-AQ ethnic groups - quite aside from a lifelong burden of racist and sexist discrimination and prejudice...
Female SAT performance
Ivan, access to higher education should be universal. SAT tests and autistic measures of cognitive ability like “IQ” tests are harmful to society and the individual, not least because they subvert co-operative problem-solving, pitting us against each other rather than striving to help each other.
David, Donald Trump's problem-solving abilities (in the "IQ" sense) probably don't surpass the average 12 year old (cf. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2020/05/04/michael-mosley-interview-much-tv-isnt-ideal-lockdown/). His speech patterns also show signs of cognitive decline - maybe even mild dementia. He's not charismatic or even personable. But the level of Machiavellian intelligence needed to outwit his opponents and become US President exceeds anything you and I could muster.
The "g" factor?
IMO, it's a statistical artefact:
IQ and the brain
, does being a brilliant mathematician, string theorist or computer programmer with a high "IQ" score positively correlate with advanced social cognition, mind-reading prowess and cooperative problem-solving skills? Or are such traits orthogonal? If "IQ" tests were touted as measuring crudely the "autistic'' competent of general intelligence, I guess they'd be fairly harmless. But see my comments above on Spencer Greenberg 's post above. "IQ" testing is toxic pseudoscience - as far as I can tell.
David, thanks. Yes, possibly we do have slightly different emphasis.
1. I agree with you that "the stereotype of socially awkward nerds is just that, a stereotype". But is high performance in measures of the "autistic" component of general intelligence really predictive of better-than-average social outcomes? This depends on how we define "better". For instance, high “IQ” is associated with reduced reproductive fitness.
2. A high load of Neanderthal “nerd” alleles are intimately connected with the kind of “autistic” intelligence measured by mind-blind IQ tests. Aspergers and high “IQ”/AQ folk typically have physically bigger brains, but the connection goes far deeper than size:
Autism As a Disorder of High Intelligence
3. We agree that intelligence and empathy aren't the same. Thus Hitler was uncannily good at "reading" people; but one hesitates to say Hitler had an empathetic cognitive style. Rather, skilled social cognition involves a capacity for Machiavellian intelligence - which is hard. Many high AQ/IQ folk just can't do such Jedi mind-tricks; they are honest, truthful and law-abiding to a fault. We also agree that "Intelligence and moral/spiritual goodness are not the same thing", though (for reasons I won't enter into here) I suspect full-spectrum superintelligence will be moral. However, you remark "intelligence and executive functioning are not the same thing." If “IQ” tests are treated as the benchmark of intelligence, then yes, executive function is essentially irrelevant. But any measure of intelligence with ecological validity must surely give some weight to executive function. “IQ” tests give none. The "IQ" testing industry (its adverts plague my FB feed!) is selling pseudoscience – crudely the Asperger conception of intelligence as distinct from full-spectrum (super)intelligence.
David, OK, is "general intelligence" a real thing? You'll get hundreds of different definitions. Unless we can agree what we are trying to measure, then there's no right answer. Conceptions of “intelligence” are time- and counter-bound. If one is a modern, high-AQ Caucasian male human, then it's obvious that prowess in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is real intelligence – and it’s crudely captured by "IQ" tests. But measures of intelligence in cultures that pre-eminently value cooperative problem-solving and social cognition will yield different outcomes.
Are there ways ecologically to validate our answers? Yes! (claim ”IQ” test boosters). But if we take such claims seriously, it’s notable that the ethnic group recording the highest "IQ" scores did worse last century, not best - the consequence of ill-conceived “scientific” racism.
“IQ” tests are pseudoscientific junk and best retired.
Vitamin D deficiency / intelligence
("...as many as 80% of Black pregnant women in the U.S. may be deficient in vitamin D")
Vito, "high intelligence" societies might more aptly be called Aspergers Anonymous. Their fractious history belies any claims of advanced social cognition, let alone superior general intelligence. What predicts extreme libertarian beliefs and free-market fundamentalism isn't intelligence but rather high AQ - with exceptionally high AQ market purists like Tyler Cowen or Bryan Caplan favouring mass immigration and even open borders:
Conversely, low-AQ folk will tend to favour the messy, exception-ridden political compromises of a mixed economy.
Racism and stereotype accuracy? Perhaps compare discrimination against Virgos. And we all know stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most replicable effects in all of social psychology...
Prejudice against Virgos
Michael, "woke" in the admirable US slang sense of "alert to injustice in society, especially racism" seems to have acquired a perverse new sense:
How "woke" was weaponised. Alas, hokum about "IQ" has been weaponised too. What may crudely be described as the "autistic" component of general intelligence is indeed heritable and unevenly distributed. And yes, autistic people do tend to have physically bigger brains! But the confusion of autistic savantism with general intelligence is a function of the syndrome itself. Tribalists will always choose a touchstone of superiority that ranks "us" higher than stigmatised "them" - from Greeks and "barbarians", the shibboleth of Gileadites and Ephraimites to the "IQ score" of fringe scientific racists and autistic savants today. It’s bunkum!
Vito, "IQ" tests don't control for AQ. A particular cognitive style isn't the same as general intelligence. A genius in one society might be regarded as a simpleton in another.
[Paul Dirac once gave a conference lecture. A colleague raised his hand and said, "I don't understand the equation on the top-right-hand corner of the blackboard". There was a long silence. The moderator asked Dirac if he cared to answer the question. Dirac replied, "That was not a question, it was a comment." Compare how, say, a San bushwoman would never have come up with the Dirac equation. Yet she'd have different mind-set and a richer understanding of social cognition. Sure, this is just an anecdote. But such examples could be multiplied ad infinitum. And if you think coming up with a relativistic wave equation is obviously more important than perspective-taking prowess, then you almost certainly have a high AQ too.]
Roko, "IQ" is real in the sense one's star-sign is real; but alas casting horoscopes and autistic "intelligence tests" don’t haven't have the significance believers imagine. Gender diversity? Autism spectrum disorders are associated with cognitive rigidity (cf. extreme male brain theory). So high AQ/IQ folk sometimes struggle with the idea of gender diversity and fluidity. And indeed, grasping multiple perspectives is intellectually challenging.
The blank slate theory is as ill-conceived as innate scalar brain-force theory (“IQ”). Yes, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders and Neanderthal “nerd alleles” varies between different ethnic groups. The heritability of the “autistic” component (cf. Does the autistic mind hold the key to the future?) of general intelligence varies accordingly. But this variation doesn’t prove some races are inherently cognitively superior!
Natália, wretched luck about the dysphoria. But to be a truly brilliant computer programmer, chess player or mathematician, you probably need the cognitive style of an "autistic" hyper-systematiser. Having high general intelligence - which you clearly do! - isn't enough unless you've also a nerdish "hyper-masculine" mind-set. Recall that you can do stuff with ease that über-nerds find... well, difficult.
(Sorry for the crude generalising. A zillion caveats are obviously needed: https://www.pnas.org/content/115/48/12152)
To quote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “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.” When we try to imagine advanced intelligence, we tend to imagine beings with an off-the-scale IQ. This may well come to pass. What I'm suggesting, however, is that full-spectrum superintelligences will also have a superhuman capacity for perspective-taking. The human capacity for perspective-taking is unevenly distributed. It's cognitively demanding. It's not measured by IQ tests. I can’t tell you how superhuman perspective-taking prowess will be implemented or what advanced social cognition will entail in practice. I’m not so blessed. But one possibility – as hinted by my Longfellow quote – is superhuman friendliness towards all sentient beings. Harming others would seem akin to harming oneself. Perhaps imagine a cognitive generalisation of today’s mirror-touch synaesthetes.
* * *
Dan, unpleasant states of consciousness will soon become increasingly maladaptive. Unpleasant states will disappear for the same reason that the 1500 or so mutant alleles of the cystic fibrosis gene will become increasingly maladaptive and disappear. For the nature of selection pressure changes when intelligent agents preselect genes and allelic combinations in anticipation of their likely psychological and behavioural effects.
AGI? Digital computers don’t understand the pleasure-pain axis. Nor have they any way to explore the myriad state-spaces of consciousness that humans and transhumans are poised to investigate. Digital zombies are useful tools to augment sentient full-spectrum (super)intelligences. But their invincible ignorance is hardwired. Without the ability phenomenally to bind, digital zombies will never understand what they lack.
Conflict and intelligence? As far as I can tell, conflict is a form of masked stupidity. The Borg doesn’t engage in internecine strife because the Borg recognises that conflict is akin to harming itself. Analogously, full-spectrum superintelligences will not fight each other because they won’t have the primitive metaphysics of personal identity of egocentric primates evolved under pressure of natural selection.
[on sentient quantum computers]
Will sentient nonbiological computers have a pleasure-pain axis?
Adam, yes, whereas phenomenal binding is classically impossible - as far as I can tell - nothing in our existing understanding rules out that a non-biological quantum computer could support not just binding, but also a pleasure-pain axis. My reasons for scepticism are more tentative. Compare the restrictive kinds of sub-neuronal structure that mediate, say, phenomenal colour in a small sub-population of neurons in biological nervous systems. Phenomenal binding allows us to see all sorts of colourful objects in our world-simulations. However, a small lesion affecting those neurons can induce cerebral achromatopsia. The (unknown) macro-molecular structures distinctive of colour neurons seem to be necessary to colour experience - and perhaps highly specific. This isn’t a question of whether a classical or non-biological quantum computer could ever simulate their typical functional role in biological minds, but rather whether phenomenal colour - and more importantly, a pleasure-pain axis - ever could be instantiated in a different substrate. My guess is no - but then, my whole theory of consciousness, phenomenal binding and the intrinsic nature of the physical may be wrong too!
"To desire immortality is to desire the eternal perpetuation of a great mistake.”
Transhumanists want to correct life’s biological mistakes.
DP interview (text) by Immortalists Magazine.
"No selfie control"?
But maybe the editor's avatar is more evocative of the paradise I write about than the author.
Parts 2 & 3.
[on HI and polyamory]
Jon, very many thanks for the feedback. You've certainly given me pause for thought! I'm personally prudish and a lifelong celibate - more "British" than you could imagine. And I think that polyamory - if attempted with our existing traditional Darwinian genome - is typically a recipe for disaster. For evolutionary reasons, a great many men especially would (and do) sleep around if they can; but many women, in particular, are not "designed" that way. On the infrequent occasions I've ever been asked for advice, I've always said "Don't!"
So far, so Victorian.
Where we may differ - I'm not sure - is the future.
1. Emotional promiscuity.
Today, we take it for granted that we can't really love most people. Perhaps one is "in" love with a single person or sometimes two - a treacherous minefield. But towards the rest of humanity, the most that one can hope to muster is some sort of diffuse benevolence. We take this quasi-psychopathic indifference to our fellow creatures for granted. It's been genetically adaptive. However, there are "hug drugs" and "love drugs" that temporarily induce feelings of profound love for everyone. I don't now urge people to take them. Not least, they are short-acting, they have too many side-effects, and they kick the brain's negative feedback mechanisms into gear. Darwinian quasi-psychopathy soon returns with a vengeance. But in our re-engineered future, occupying such states of universal love will be feasible indefinitely. What should be our model for future civilisation? Ideally, how much affection should we feel towards each other? I think our overriding ethical priority should be minimising and then abolishing suffering. But hasn't universal (promiscuous?) emotional love has been the ideal of the saints - and indeed of life in Heaven?
However, it's possible I've misinterpreted what you mean by "promiscuous".
I don't think love should be indiscriminate - hence my stress on information-sensitive gradients of well-being rather than uniform bliss.
2. Sexual promiscuity.
If people didn't experience feelings of jealousy, insecurity and "ownership" of each other, then would states of bodily bliss, erotic or otherwise, ever be morally objectionable? IMO, what's (often) bad today isn't such pleasures per se, but how they can indirectly cause harm to others unless tightly regulated by societal and (sometimes) legal norms. In future, if two people / transhumans decide they want to enjoy a "traditional" exclusive relationship indefinitely, then I certainly wouldn't try to dissuade them. On the contrary - indeed, biotech can help. What sad and sometimes tragic now is how so many people are conflicted - or who have a partner who is conflicted. Recall how many people today are physically frustrated - often over many decades. If in future the sexually frustrated can enjoy all sorts of bodily/erotic delights without harming others, even indirectly, will such pleasures be wrong? If they can enjoy superhuman eroticism, will such otherworldly eroticism be wrong? Maybe from a theological standpoint, such pleasures are sinful. But as you know, I've generally steered clear of religious disputation and focused on what secular rationalists and religious believers have in common.
Maybe I should indeed re-read some of my stuff and add more "health warnings". To be honest, I'm more used to being teased for my traditionalism and prudery than my promotion of sexual license - but maybe this is simply because of the transhumanist / effective altruist circles in which I move, i.e. the proverbial "filter bubble".
Optimal sleep, diet, exercise and social relationships are still the best recipe for health.
Sleep and cognitive health
("Association Between Sleep Duration and Cognitive Decline")
Sleep machismo is as potentially toxic as mask-machismo
'I'll sleep when I'm dead'
("The sleep-deprived masculinity stereotype")
“Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.”
Deep Sleep Protects Against Alzheimers & How food affects sleep
[on nonhuman animals]
Smarter, happier and healthier.
But first - above all - shut and outlaw the death-factories.
Animal agriculture is a crime against sentience.
If We Can Make Animals Smarter, Should We?
("In science fiction stories, research can accidentally create superintelligent animal species. As the ability to alter animals’ brains grows, some say we should be wary of fiction becoming reality.")
We are all pretty similar:
("Mice’s facial expressions can reveal a wide range of emotions")
Worms have a pleasure-pain axis and opioid and dopamine neurotransmitter signaling systems:
But contra the Daily Mail
worms probably don't have free will any more than humans.
Jack, my intuitive timeline for the abolitionist project was first rescue humans, then other large terrestrial vertebrates, and finally - maybe hundreds of years from now - small terrestrial and marine invertebrates, maybe using Drexlerian nanotech. This may still be the most credible timeline. But from a technical point of view, helping small fast-breeders is actually easier. I was blindsided by the potential of synthetic gene drives (cf. https:/www.gene-drives.com) One can even imagine a scenario in which humans are the last species to undergo involuntary suffering. No, this isn't a prediction - I just like to explore what can be done with recognisable extensions of existing technologies.
[on the meaning of life]
A crisis of meaning? Does the science of creating rich, fulfilling and soulful lives full of meaning, significance and purpose depend on wiser philosophising - or biologically enhanced reward circuitry?
How AI could eliminate human meaning
("Are We Starting to Face a Crisis of Meaning and Purpose?")
Woody Allen believes that life is meaningless
Is life really meaningless? Or does Woody Allen just not have a high enough "hedonic set-point" to find it meaningful? "Hedonic set-point" is simply the average level of well-being/happiness that a person experiences. This set-point is largely genetically determined and is controlled by the reward circuitry of the brain. Dopaminergic neurons in the mesolimbic pathway mediate "wanting/motivation/meaning" and endorphinergic neurons in the ventral pallidum and the rostromedial shell of the nucleus accumbens mediate "liking/pleasure/reward."
Compare the paradox of hedonism
Intense pleasure feels profoundly meaningful. But the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure tends to feel empty. Compare too the intensity of meaning and significance experienced during euphoric mania. In euphoric mania, life is too meaningful, so to speak - or rather, there is behavioural dyscontrol. HI predicts that the world's last experience below hedonic zero will occur a few centuries(?) from now. But the world's last experience of meaninglessness may be precisely dateable to the same era. The biohappiness revolution will also be "meaning of life" revolution...
"Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
Should we seek happiness or meaning?
Man Doesn't Want Happiness Says Nietzsche
Or will a biohappiness revolution create superhuman significance?
Hedonic uplift will create a superhuman sense of meaning and significance. Will our successors view existential angst as a depressive psychosis of Darwinian life?
If so, I'm severely psychotic...
Existentialism and Meaning
[on Facebook and freedom of speech]
Tricky. What's the right answer?
Pakistani PM writes to Facebook CEO seeking ban on Islamophobic content
Facebook's mission is "to bring the world closer together" - a place for friends and friendliness. Facebook has no "dislike" button. Many people wouldn't be on Facebook if it did. So what about people who want to use Facebook to express their hated and contempt for others?
In a free society, forums where folk can express abhorrent views should be legal. Likewise, controversial scholars should be able to express views (whether in their journals, websites or blogs) other folk find highly offensive.
But have haters a right to be as offensive as they like on Facebook?
The issue of community standards on Facebook is more complicated than a simple slogan of freedom of speech. What a mess...
The Internet must be more than Facebook
In the hyper-masculine high-AQ world of what passes as the rationalist community, there is a place for Crocker's rules
which should be distinguished from the Radical Honesty cult. But when one signs up for Facebook, one agrees to abide by certain community guidelines. Is one entitled to flout them as one wills?
Be brave, yes. But intellectual courage differs from delight in causing hurt or a desire to shock. Surviving the twenty-first century without any catastrophic wars – whether civil or nuclear - will call for tact, diplomacy, perspective-taking, cooperative problem-solving and social cognition of a very high order. Their promotion shouldn’t be confused with intellectual cowardice.
"I used to think drinking was bad, so I stopped thinking." (anon)
A single THC dose can induce psychotic side effects, new review finds.
Fundamentally happy people who take a mind-altering drug will tend to interpret strange experiences as mystical – i.e. a delightful psychosis.
Unhappy people find strange drug-induced experiences weird and disturbing rather than mystical. They may undergo derealisation and depersonalisation - i.e. a nasty psychosis.
Temperamentally anxious people may become panicky as they lose the illusion of control.
The inconsistent effects of cannabis illustrate how cannabinoids are not intrinsically euphoriants, but instead depend for their rewarding action on a “hedonic hotspot” in the shell of the nucleus accumbens (cf. Endocannabinoid-Enhanced “Liking” in Nucleus Accumbens Shell Hedonic Hotspot Requires Endogenous Opioid Signals)
By contrast, no one (to my knowledge) dislikes selective mu-opioidergic activation of their hedonic hotspot in the NAc: it’s much closer to the (unknown) molecular signature of pure bliss:
The fate of the universe
A recipe for mass euphoria or mass psychosis?
("Study indicates vaporized cannabis creates drug-seeking behavior")
("The Role of the Cannabinoid System in Opioid Analgesia and Tolerance")
[on axes of (dis)value]
Can there exist any form of (dis)value that isn’t - directly or indirectly - parasitic on the pain-pleasure axis?
Dan Faggella argues yes:
Higher Good – AI and the Pursuit of Moral Value Above Utilitarianism
I tentatively argue: no. Alas I’m not posthuman superintelligence, but as far as I can tell, reality has a single axis of (dis)value. Without the pleasure-pain axis, could anything matter?
We need to distinguish between (1) pains and pleasures that are humanly inconceivable and (2) hypothetical kinds of (dis)value that are orthogonal to the pain-pleasure axis. It’s the latter I find problematic. Compare how there may well be humanly inconceivable colours, but colour experience is a generically different category from say, echolocatory experience. Likewise with (dis)value. (Dis)value seems tied to the pain-pleasure axis. Alien weirdness without hedonic tone is neither inherently valuable nor disvaluable - though such experience might for some reason be instrumentally (dis)valuable.
Aiming for information-sensitive gradients of intelligent superhuman bliss strikes me as a workable compromise. By strict classical utilitarian criteria, a regime of gradients of bliss might not be a perfect world, but it’s still something near enough. And we could always surround complex civilisation with an expanding bubble of pure hedonium.
Convergent evolution leads me to suspect that the nearest alien civilisation (whether inside or outside our Hubble volume) at our level of technological development will have a pain-pleasure axis. But what about an advanced alien civilisation? Beyond anticipating that it will be blissful and not support hedonically sub-zero states, I don’t know. Presumably its modes of experience will be incomprehensibly strange except insofar as they will be generically blissful/valuable. Or so I tentatively predict.
Peter, I think the idea that the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world’s axis of (dis)value is sentientocentric rather than anthropocentric. The pain-pleasure axis predates the Cambrian. True, some researchers have proposed other axes. Eliezer Yudkowsky, for example, proposed “clippiness” - and a superintelligence that seeks to convert the world into paperclips. Clippy doesn’t try to maximise the cosmic abundance of paperclips because cosmic paperclip-tiling will get rid of suffering, but because Clippy’s utility function is that of a paperclips maximiser. But for reasons I won’t rehash here, I don’t think classical digital computers can have (dis)values, though their behaviour may suggest the functional equivalent.
There is simply no way one can find unbearable agony and despair to be valuable or neutral. Their disvaluable nature is built into the experience itself. Yes, the expression “diversity of pleasures” can mislead. The diversity doesn’t lie in a different currency of reward - mu-opioidergic activation of our hedonic hotspots - but rather in the different intentional objects that get painted with positive hedonic tone. Pascal’s quote below needs caveats, but it’s still apt:
"All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves."
Buddhism / negative utilitarianism is mono-value - or rather mono-disvalue. Any kind of suffering / experience below hedonic zero is inherently disvaluable except insofar as it can prevent or mitigate greater suffering. But whereas people don’t want greater diversity of suffering, a lot of people value a diversity of pleasures. I don’t think this love of variety undercuts the primacy of the pain-pleasure axis. Rather, positive hedonic tone can (via projections from the limbic system) infuse countless different kinds of experience. Otherwise valueless, emotionally neutral experiences become fetishised.
Aiming for information-sensitive gradients of intelligent superhuman bliss strikes me as a workable compromise. By strict classical utilitarian criteria, a regime of gradients of bliss might not be a perfect world, but still something near enough. And we could always surround complex civilisation with an expanding bubble of pure hedonium.
I disagree with Tim. "Utilitarianism" is a weak brand name. Towards the end of his life, Jeremy Bentham himself regretted not sticking to "the greatest happiness principle" rather than talking "the principle of utility".
I once even wrote a mini-essay just on the branding issue:
Utilitarianism / branding
Is there a common currency for (dis)value?
The issues here are more complicated. But whether you are a cricket or a pig or a philosopher, activation of your neural hedonic hotspots by full mu opioid agonists is more enjoyable than activation by partial agonists - which are (much) more rewarding than blockade by full antagonists. Our reward circuitry is strongly conserved. To be sure, evolution via natural selection has encephalised our emotions so we now (dis)value a whole galaxy of intentional objects from bitcoin to bananas. Calculating trade-offs is hard - leading to the idea that (dis)values are incommensurable. But if one adds a bunch of caveats, Pascal’s quote above is still apt. ("All men seek happiness...)
Digital computers and utilitarianism?
The AI and robotics revolution has been marked by an accelerating separation of intelligent behaviour from consciousness. Digital zombies now outperform us in many ways. But some AI researchers believe that this revolutionary separation will enter into reverse. Our programmable machines are going to wake up, become phenomenally-bound subjects of experience, and maybe even acquire a pleasure-pain axis. Or maybe support "mind uploads". I know of no way this Great Awakening can happen consistent with the laws of physics. Prophets of digital sentience give us no clue how the metamorphosis is supposed to happen. Either way, without phenomenal binding, nothing matters - or at least only in the most trivial sense. Some brilliant minds don’t and do "get" the binding problem (cf. Binding-problem.com). Max Tegmark, Carl Shulman and Nick Bostrom are examples of the former. Phil Goff, David Chalmers and Andres are examples of the latter.
"Fuss"? Tim, I worry that our conceptual schemes are unbridgeable. The pain-pleasure axis defines (un)importance. So I want to understand the existence, causal efficacy, phenomenal binding and diverse varieties of consciousness. Consciousness is all one ever knows - except by inference and speculation. Digital computers can't explore these questions because they have the wrong sort of architecture. In what sense is the claim that digital computers are insentient "increasingly in conflict with the facts"? A cricket can experience pain - and even run a toy phenomenally-bound world-simulation in her cephalic ganglion - but not a Cray supercomputer...
[on ethics, meta-ethics and the Borg]
Reality baffles me. But for reasons science doesn't understand, IMO the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world's inbuilt metric of (dis)value. The Borg knows something humans don't - with the partial exception of the craniopagous Hogan sisters....
What is DP's position on meta-ethics
I'm a naturalist. But my values weren't formed by natural selection. My lab-grown molecular duplicate would concur: agony and despair are bad. Rather, the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world's innate metric of (dis)value.
Jeremy, all sentient beings anywhere in the multiverse experience agonised despair as self-intimatingly disvaluable and pure unadulterated bliss as self-intimatingly valuable. There are no sentient beings - and certainly not masochists - with an inverted pleasure-pain axis. (Masochists hate migraines, and enjoy endogenous opioid release, as much as the rest of us) That's what I mean when I say the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world's inbuilt metric of (dis)value. After getting rid of suffering, let's act to maximise the abundance of value in our Hubble volume.
However, for evolutionary reasons, we (dis)value diverse intentional objects (I wish philosophers had adopted a better name for the "aboutness" of thought - which is just as applicable to the autobiographical perceptual objects in our world-simulations). Natural selection has encephalised our emotions in different ways. Eliezer in Three Worlds Collide gives the example of alien baby-eaters. This example is complicated by Eliezer’s belief that babies and nonhuman animals aren't conscious (cf. Nonhuman animal consciousness). If babies are zombies, then there is nothing inherently wrong with gourmet cannibals farming, slaughtering and eating babies - if their flesh yields gustatory delights.
However, in reality, babies are sentient beings with a pleasure-pain axis. They shouldn’t be harmed.
The symmetry theory of valence?
As a (non-materialist) physicalist, I assume that neutral, valuable, disvaluable and "mixed" states are all mathematically represented in the solutions to the equations of our fundamental mathematical description of the world. As you know, I'm more cautious than QRI about the symmetry theory. I simply don't pretend to know why the solutions to the equations of QFT or its generalisation encode the particular textures of experience they do. (I conjecture that the textures necessarily cancel to zero if a zero ontology is correct, but I’ve no cosmic Rosetta stone to "read off" the textures and perform such a hypothetical cancellation. And a zero ontology is speculative.)
Manu, I don't think Eliezer was intending to provoke. He sincerely disbelieves in infant and nonhuman animal consciousness. But there is a terrible irony here. MIRI are best known for their work on the spectre of a sentience-unfriendly Intelligence Explosion of recursively self-improving software-based AI. ("The AI neither hates you, nor loves you, but you are made out of atoms that it can use for something else."). But by failing to recognise the sentience of nonhuman animals, meat-eating humans such as EY are sentience-unfriendly paperclippers, i.e. they misconceive sentient beings as lumps of insentient biomass that can be converted into something else. If the paperclipping were instantaneous, then it wouldn't be so bad. But the "optimisation procedure" is ghastly, i.e. factory-farms and slaughterhouses.
How good is the universe
Such thoughts make me despair. But we've no grounds for believing reality is infinite. Intuitively, reality is still horrendously big. But a finite universe is infinitesimally small compared to an infinite universe. So if it's bad, then its badness is infinitesimally small compared to an infinite universe too.
John, Aatu, to borrow an expression from Galen Strawson, the having is the knowing. Agony and despair are disvaluable by their very nature. One can't undergo agonised despair and think otherwise. Compare Moore's Open Question argument: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-question_argument. Such (dis)valuable states are mind-dependent. But like minds, they are also objective features of reality. Like consciousness itself, (dis)value realism is inconsistent with an ontology of materialism. But (dis)value realism is not inconsistent with non-materialist physicalism. (Dis)value is encoded in the equations of physics no less than phenomenal redness. Asking whether despair is disvaluable is like asking whether phenomenal redness is colourful.
Or at least, so a (dis)value-realist may claim:
DP on meta-ethics
John, indeed, an awful lot needs to be clarified!
1) Naively, an "ought" can't be derived from an "is". The alleged wrongness of sleeping with one’s neighbour’s wife can't be derived from the fact of adultery; the immorality of marital infidelity can only be asserted. Values are time- and culture-bound.
However, put one's hand in the fire. One doesn't hold one’s hand there until one has found a way to close the is-ought to gap. The experience isn't just nasty; it has a built-in normative force: I-ought-not-to-be-in-this-dreadful-state.
An important caveat is needed here: one must be careful not to smuggle in anything unwarranted, e.g. perhaps I “feel” God is punishing me for my sins. But nothing extraneous is being claimed in finding agony disvaluable - the badness of sheer agony is built into the experience itself. Linguistically, one can try to separate out a normative and descriptive aspect to this hybrid state. But the distinction is contrived: the two aspects are inseparable within the lived first-person experience. Anyone who doubts this inseparability can try holding their hand in the fire and keeping it there until they close the alleged is-ought gap.
(Well, perhaps this experiment wouldn't pass an ethics committee.)
2) Yes, I assume physicalism; no "element of reality” is missing from the mathematical formalism of (tomorrow's) physics. (Dis)valuable states are encoded in the solutions to the equations. Let's grant the "Gods’-eye-view" of modern science. Given the "view from nowhere", intelligent moral agents should minimise the (dis)valuable states - withdraw one's collective hand from the cosmic fire, so to speak - and maximise the valuable states.
Why do some of the solutions to the equations of QFT encode (dis)valuable states, whereas most solutions are intrinsically valueless?
I don't know.
But this ignorance is common to materialist and non-materialist physicalism alike. The difference is that materialism has no room for subjective experience at all, (dis)valuable or otherwise.
The will to power?
("'Determination' can be induced by electrical brain stimulation")
A long time ago, I recall reading of a laboratory experiment. The subject's brain was locally exposed via surgery. The surgeon stimulated one small region of the premotor cortex with microelectrodes. The subject's hand lifted up. "Wow" said the subject. “You did that.” The surgeon then stimulated an adjacent area. "I decided to move my hand", the subject reported after his arm rose up.
Neuroscience should be able to identify the molecular signature(s) of felt volition and then massively purify, amplify and enrich everyone's will. Transhumans and posthumans could well have superhuman willpower. Today, happiness is correlated with a strong sense of agency, freedom, and self-efficacy. Mesolimbic dopamine function is critical. People in the grip of euphoric mania can achieve otherwise humanly impossible feats – which may be one reason why an otherwise maladaptive predisposition to mania or bipolarity evolved. Either way, science should be able vastly to increase our “empirical” free will - as distinct from its dubious metaphysical cousin.
In Principia Qualia (a), Mike Johnson tries to answer the question of why we have the illusion that qualia have causal power. He argues that:
“the brain is a complex, chaotic, coalition-based dynamic system with well-defined attractors and a high level of criticality (low activation energy needed to switch between attractors) that has an internal model of self-as-agent, yet can’t predict itself. And I think any conscious system with these dynamics will have the quale of free will, and have the phenomenological illusion that its qualia have causal power.”
Maybe. But the claim that qualia are causally impotent - a "phenomenological illusion" - assumes that the intrinsic nature argument is false. Alternatively, qualia disclose the intrinsic nature of the physical (cf. The definition of 'physical') and phenomenally-bound qualia play an indispensable computational-functional role in our mental lives - qualia computing, so to speak.
If the intrinsic nature argument is wrong and qualia don't really have causal power, then we face not just the Hard Problem of consciousness, but also the mystery of how qualia can induce discussions of their own existence:
How can consciousness be causally effective?
[on effective altruism]
How can we spread helpful smells?
Effect of odor on helpfulness in rats
("Researchers have shown that a rat just has to smell another rat that is engaged in helpful behavior to increase their own helpfulness.")
"NU as an info-hazard"? NU is essentially the secular formulation of Buddhism (“I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering.” Gautama Buddha). Among EAs, a few ardent life-lovers do steer clear of radical discussions of ending suffering out of fear some people might draw apocalyptic conclusions. But the underlying source of existential/global catastrophic risk here is suffering itself, not NU/Buddhist ethics - or biological-genetic proposals to get rid of it. So perhaps EAs focused on existential /global-catastrophic risk and suffering-focused ethics should collaborate more closely. From the life-lovers’ perspective, the existence of states so inconceivably dreadful any victim would end the world to stop them is the “info-hazard” - not NU/neo-Buddhist ethics. And the way to defuse such an “info-hazard” is to make such dreadful states physically impossible – which is feasible with recognisable extensions of existing technologies.
I've just chatted to a disconcertingly astute seventeen-year old EA:
I too once had an appetite for knowledge - rather than a pining for ignorance.
[on semantic meaning and reference]
Thank you to Andrés for organizing yesterday’s chat!
If we each live in a private world-simulation that masquerades as external reality, how can each of us ever learn a pseudo-public language to communicate with each other? See Wittgenstein’s "beetle in the box" analogy (cf. Wittgenstein's beetle). Or more formally:
Anti private-language argument.
Whether one is a phenomenalist like Hume who believes that we each have access only to the sense-data of our minds, or a believer in the “two worlds” reading of Kant (cf. Kant's two worlds), or a contemporary proponent of the world-simulation model of perception like Steve Lehar or Annti Revonsuo, one needs to give a naturalistic account of semantic meaning and reference. It's tough!
Here is the thought-experiment that used to bug me:
What is the hardest paradox to explain?
[on privacy and recognition]
Not the NYT’s finest hour:
Yes. In fairness, I don't know the NYT side of the story. I guess the problem is that most people want both privacy and more recognition. Why else write if you don't want your perspective to be shared as widely as possible? Almost every blogger, author, and researcher (etc) feels their contribution isn’t fully appreciated. A profile in the NYT sounds...cool. But as soon as a journalist (or biographer etc) starts interviewing e.g. ex-partners (etc), there are bound to be things that come out that the subject doesn't want publicly known. You must have led a very dull life if you've never done anything discreditable or embarrassing.
Anyhow, it still sounds as though the NYT acted unwisely. I hope Slate Star Codex will be back – massively amplified by the Streisand effect!
"For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories and it is a pity that we use it so little."
What will be the aroma of paradise?
[on sexual orientation]
Conversion therapy& Expanding the romantic circle Why focus on upgrading our reward circuitry rather than tools to allow switch (or narrowing / broadening) of sexual orientation? Partly because hedonic uplift is technically easier - though this can seem hard to believe at times. But also because the benefits of sexual preference-control might not be as large as supposed. For instance, conversion theory could in theory cure paedophilia - but not attraction to people below the age of consent. In modern western society, puberty typically begins in girls between 8 and 13 and boys between 9 and 14:
[on lucid dreaming]
Do any lucid dreamers
Is lucid dreaming real?
also have REM sleep disorder?
Is the behaviour of our extra-cranial bodies just an unwitting by-product of everyday waking psychosis?
Will programmable virtual companions soon become more rewarding than people?
("New AR app will let you model a virtual companion on anyone you want. Hybri plans to add photos of real people to an avatar's face")
LY03005 / ansofaxine is a serotonin–norepinephrine–dopamine triple reuptake inhibitor.
Will it be another false dawn or a valuable new mood-brightener?
Alas, it’s too early to say...
New Hope for Depression on the Horizon
VNS implants can improve mood and motivation.
Should more of us get chipped?
Vagus nerve stimulation
("Vagus nerve stimulation boosts the drive to work for rewards")
Can eating designer tomatoes improve your mood and motivation?
Tomatoes offer affordable source of Parkinson's disease drug")
Ketamine may be “fast-acting” because of its effects on the mu opioid system:
IMO combining LIH383 and a selective, centrally active kappa opioid receptor antagonist is a more promising strategy.
Bad news. Can low mood be defeated without targeting mu opioid receptors?
Mu opioid receptor density and depression
("Brain research sheds light on the molecular mechanisms of depression")
If (as I've long feared) targeting the opioid system is critical to developing effective treatments of clinical depression and everyday low mood, then the socio-political challenges as well as the medical difficulties will be gigantic. Opiophobia is endemic. Most drug companies won't take the risk of going down that route. If I could give this study a positive spin, then it highlights the case for making the anomalous tianeptine (cf. https://www.tianeptine.com/) more widely available, and accelerating the development of selective kappa antagonists. But (despite my lazy talk of "opiophobia”) the personal and societal risks of opioid therapy are all too real.
I had the richest dreams of my life on tramadol, but opioids are not part of my regimen:
Tramadadol (Ultram etc)
("Low-Dose Tramadol as an Off-Label Antidepressant: A Data Mining Analysis from the Patients’ Perspective")
So why take the risk?
S-risk ("The grim fate that could be ‘worse than extinction’")
DP on s-risk.
I worry whether it's even ethically responsible to discuss these scenarios - except in the most general terms - for fear of making their realisation more likely. But equally, not weighing the risks seems irresponsible too. Mercifully, it's hard to imagine any sociologically credible scenario in which entirely new beings are deliberately designed to suffer more than today's phenotypes for the sole purpose of tormenting them. But consider just the SCN9A gene - the so-called "volume knob for pain" (cf. https://www.wired.com/2017/04/the-cure-for-pain/). We may hope and assume that a deep understanding of SCN9A alleles and their expression will lead to all human and nonhuman animals being engineered benign, functional "low pain" versions in a low-pain biosphere.
However, a scientific torturer / interrogator could in theory engineer worse alleles than today's nastiest versions of SCN9A - and even create additional versions and overexpress them (etc). Compare "Doogie" mice, designed to make more of the NR2B subunit of the NMDA receptor (cf. https://www.the-scientist.com/research/better-mouse-memory-comes-at-a-price-54878) - though in this case, the heightened pain experience of Doogie mice was unintended and may be a function of their stronger memory.
I could say more. But I don't want unwittingly to do a Roko (cf. https://slate.com/technology/2014/07/rokos-basilisk-the-most-terrifying-thought-experiment-of-all-time.html). Normally, writers take themselves too seriously. Worries about ultra-suffering may turn out to be fanciful. But this kind of s-risk is one of the rare topics where extreme caution is obligatory.
[on music and HI]
"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
Hedonic Recalibration on Soundcloud...
“The only truth is music.”
Does The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” tap into your soul?
Neuroscience Says These Are the 10 Happiest Songs Ever
My 147 five-stars
Let's design a world where the universe seemingly conspires to help us:
A world based on gradients of intelligent bliss - even superhuman bliss - might be less "hedonistic" in one sense than today's world. It all depends on what such a transhuman or posthuman civilisation is primarily focused on - the "aboutness" of thought.
Genius in maths and the physical sciences is linked to genes implicated in the “autistic” dimension of general intelligence:
Genius in the arts is linked to genes implicated in bipolarity:
("You don't have to be bipolar to be a genius; but it helps
Study reveals that high-achievers are far more likely to be manic depressives")
High AQ in a nutshell:
"Calculus was the best thing I have ever encountered in my life”
The Emergence of Calculus
Is spiritual experience a primitive psychosis? Not necessarily...
(The Dawn of Superspirituality?" “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)
Both religion and scientific materialism are inconsistent with the empirical evidence:
whereas non-materialist physicalism is inconsistent merely with credibility:
Would Hitler on MDMA simply have shown greater compassion for the German Volk? Of course, if young Hitler had been naturally hyper-oxytocinergic, then he would never have become Hitler. Compare hypersocial people with Williams syndrome, who naturally love everybody. (Oxytocin functionally antagonises testosterone. High-oxytocin Williams syndrome is often reckoned the opposite of "extreme male brain" autism spectrum disorder:
A Genetic Drive To Love
I suspect our future is hypersocial and underpinned by (crudely speaking) high oxytocin function. But somehow we want simultaneously to enrich (what may simplistically be called) autistic intelligence too.
[on Neuralink and wireheading]
"[The] Goal of government should be to maximize the happiness of the people."
(Elon Musk, July 2020)
Gertrude the pig should enjoy life-long stimulation of her pleasure centres via an implant too.
Elon Musk shows off a working brain implant — in pigs.
I'm agnostic about consciousness fundamentalism, but dogmatic about consciousness realism:
Where is consciousness?
Being awake is not understood:
("Patient In "Locked-In" State Wakes Up After Given Sleeping Pill")
"Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.”
Was Galileo wrong?
Or is the diversity of experience a vindication of Galileo’s mathematisation of Nature?
Jason, disclaimer: reality baffles me!
a) If consciousness does not disclose the intrinsic nature of the physical, them not just materialism, but also physicalism, is false. This leaves the success of science unexplained. If unitary-only quantum mechanics is true, then Hilbert space, not spacetime, is fundamental.
b) Agreed. Direct realism is false. We run phenomenal world-simulations. But the mind-dependence of our world-simulations doesn't undercut the existence of mind-independent physical reality that existed long before the existence of unified subjects of experience, which date to the late pre-Cambrian.
c) By saying quantum mechanics is complete, we are ruling out "hidden variables" and dynamical collapse theories. Yes, early versions of quantum mechanics have been superseded by quantum field theory - and this is precisely why the phenomenal-binding problem is not fatal to constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism. In QFT, quantum fields - not particles - are fundamental. A particle-based ontology can't explain why we aren't mere patterns of Jamesian “mind-dust”.
("Will Conscious Superintelligence Redesign the Universe?)
Thanks Adrian. Awesome video. Question: can we think of any form of non-conscious “narrow” superintelligence that couldn’t be embedded via neurochips in our phenomenal minds / central nervous systems?
Or what does consciousness say about modern science?
What does modern science say about consciousness?
(I recently had a long phone chat with Jacy Reese, who will shortly be publishing "Consciousness doesn't exist, but that's OK". Consensus is proving elusive.)
Perceptual naive realism also leads to the measurement problem of QM:
“..our experience is in deep contradiction with the very idea of superposition. We believe that there are determinate facts about the properties of objects that we observe...”
Philosophical Problems in Quantum Mechanics
I know of no such “deep contradiction”. Alternatively, only the superposition principle allows us to experience determinate facts about the properties of objects that we observe:
Axel Cleeremans is a leader in the science of consciousness...". Alex is a splendid fellow, but there is currently no "science of consciousness" in which to be a leader.
The science of consciousness
("An Overview of the Science of Consciousness with Axel Cleeremans")
“Is There Something It's Like to Be a Garden Snail?”
asks Eric Schwitzgebel.
Snails have an opioid and dopamine signalling system.
Snails enjoy morphine and hate capsaicin.
The pleasure-pain axis may originate in the Precambrian(?).
Jacy, if your argument were that consciousness is real, but many people misunderstand its nature and use the term "consciousness" imprecisely, then I'd agree with you.
But I'm confused.
You say, "First-person experience exists." By my lights, this makes you a consciousness realist! Thus in the course of a day, I have lots of different conscious first-person experiences. When I fall into a dreamless sleep at night, consciousness is either a) extinguished altogether or b) phenomenal binding is lost. I don’t know which alternative is true; but either way, when dreamlessly asleep I cease to be a conscious subject of experience.
I conjecture I'm typical. Pigs, dogs and other humans have conscious experiences too; and likewise they lose consciousness when they fall dreamlessly asleep. Maybe the consciousness of other creatures is quite different from mine; and maybe there are exotic modes of consciousness that humans can’t conceive. But this possibility doesn’t impugn the reality of consciousness in the sense of subjective experience. Whether a jellyfish - or a jellyfish ganglion – can feel pain, for instance, is unknown. But there is a fact of the matter even if humans don’t know it. Less ambiguously, a rock or a toaster or (I would say) a classical digital computer is not conscious. They can’t feel pain (etc). The insentience of such systems distinguishes them from the minds of biological animals.
I’m never entirely clear whether someone who says they are an eliminativist believes they are making:
(1) a modest point about linguistic usage.
(2) perhaps the most astonishingly bold claim in the whole history of philosophy.
Jacy, if we assume that (1) subjective experience is real and (2) physics describes fields of insentience, then we face an apparently unbridgeable "explanatory gap" (cf. Explanatory Gap (Wikipedia)) and the Hard Problem.
In a bid to solve the Hard Problem, a few researchers (eliminativists/antirealists) disavow (1). Other researchers (panpsychists/nonmaterialist physicalists) disavow (2).
Eliminativism/antirealism in sense (1) invites the incredulity of e.g. Galen Strawson (cf. https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/03/13/the-consciousness-deniers/). Naturally, plenty of scientists find (2) panpsychism/non-materialist physicalism, incredible too. But it's not crazy in the same way, i.e. it's not inconsistent with one's subjective experience; rather, it's just extremely far-fetched:
Cracking the Hard Problem
Jacy, I'm still not confident I understand your position well enough to offer an intelligent critique. But I (now) appreciate that you are not arguing for eliminativism in (1). If you do describe your position as eliminativist, then I suspect a lot of people will mistakenly assume you are denying their subjective experience - and respond accordingly!
Perhaps consider biological life. It's diverse. The boundaries of life are ambiguous, leading to imprecision in application of the term "life" to viruses. But all life reduces to molecular biology and hence to chemistry and physics. Now consider subjective experience. It's diverse. The boundaries of subjective experience are ambiguous, leading to uncertainty whether the term "subjective experience" should be applied to the faint inner lives of organisms like jellyfish. But regardless of the diversity of subjective experience, and regardless of our uncertainty whether simple animals undergo it, subjective experience is not reducible to molecular biology and hence to chemistry and physics. In other words, I can't derive the properties of what I’m undergoing right now from a materialist ontology. And regardless of how similar or different is the subjective first-person experience of other people to mine, other subjects can’t derive their subjective experience from physics either. Hence the "explanatory gap" and the Hard Problem.
If (unlike me) there is nothing going on inside your head that is irreducible to materialist physics as normally understood, then you don't share my problem...
The Mystery of Consciousness by Sam Harris
Is consciousness “only detectable by introspection”?
Alternatively, your phenomenal world-simulation is as much part of your consciousness when you are awake as when you are dreaming. When awake, you may theorise about a wider reality beyond the contents of your mind. But consciousness shouldn’t be identified (just) with introspective self-analysis and a phenomenally thin stream of thought behind one’s virtual forehead.
Could other folk be p-zombies?
If we assume the materialist version of physicalism, i.e. QFT describes fields of insentience, then maybe. However, now we face the Hard Problem of consciousness. Alternatively, non-materialist physicalism is true. If so, p-zombies are impossible because they are un-physical. Only the physical is real. Only the physical is causally effective. This efficacy explains why we have the causal power to discuss our own experiences - a discussion which would otherwise be physically impossible.
If a scientific genius - or an oracle - were to tell you the answer to the Hard Problem (and the binding problem, the problem of causal efficacy, the palette problem, etc), then would you think "Wow, Brilliant!"? Or even "Ah, yes, of course! Why didn't I think of that!?" Alas, I'm sceptical that humans would find the answer intelligible, or if it's intelligible, credible. Matters will be different if the theory has predictive power - but only if the predictions are novel and precise, not retrodictions.
[So-called "mysterians" like Colin McGinn have been saying something similar for years. The reason I dislike mysterianism isn't that it's wrong, rather it's heuristically sterile.]
"After eating chocolate you feel godlike, as though you can conquer enemies, lead armies, entice lovers."
[on transhumanism for hiphoppas]
DP Interviewed by Maiteya One
Alas we didn't get the chance to explore transhuman music. The movement needs full-spectrum multimedia dominance. And until yesterday, I was shamefully ignorant of "...'B-boying', which encompasses hip-hop dance, style, and attitude, along with the sort of virile body language that philosopher Cornel West described as 'postural semantics'..."
Hip Hop (Britannica) & MP4.
DP in conversation with Jamie Woodhouse & MP4.
Yes, from fish (cf. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/09/fish-cleaner-wrasse-self-aware-mirror-test-intelligence-news/) to various species of social ants (cf. https://scinapse.io/papers/2180773430), some nonhuman animals are capable of feats of self-recognition that surpass small children. But ethically, meta-cognition is a red herring. Our most intense experiences (e.g. uncontrollable panic, agony, orgasmic bliss) are characterised by a lack or breakdown of reflective self-awareness, whereas meta-cognition and higher-order intentionality tend to be phenomenally thin. Crudely speaking, "primitive" experiences matter more.
Another point to weigh is more obvious. We're all prone to self-serving bias (cf. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-carnivores-dilemma/). The fact that one may prefer eating a hamburger to veggieburger doesn't necessarily corrupt one's judgement - any more than owning shares in an alternative meat company necessarily corrupts one's judgement. But the risk of motivated cognition is clearly high - even if (like most people) one is convinced that one is less susceptible than average folk to such bias. So when discussing with fellow EAs any ethical issue in which one has a vested interest, it’s morally prudent - when disagreement arises - to defer to the judgement of those without such a vested interest. In this context, I'm sceptical that any moral agent who has never tasted meat could believe that the vile things humans do to nonhuman animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses are ethically defensible.
Aatu, yes, it's mystifying. Maybe the Hofstadterian approach (I've read only "Gödel, Escher, Bach") poses an ethical risk slightly different from eliminative materialism. Rather than denying consciousness exists at all, researchers like Eliezer Yudkowsky tie consciousness to a capacity for meta-cognition. This belief conveniently dovetails with the desire to rationalise meat-eating - though I don't doubt Eliezer himself genuinely believes that nonhuman animals and human babies aren't conscious:
Nonhuman animal consciousness
As it happens, meta-cognitive self-awareness is more widespread in the animal kingdom than is often supposed. Thus the mirror-test, for instance, can be transposed to other sense modalities. However, this isn't the key ethical point. Instead, the Hofstadterian confusion of consciousness with self-consciousness marginalises - or discounts altogether - the suffering of sentient beings who aren't reflectively self-aware.
Thanks Animal Ethics. Yes, from large terrestrial vertebrates to small, fast-breeding marine invertebrates, all free-living nonhuman animals can in principle be helped with recognisable extensions of existing technologies. Whether the human species will really assume compassionate stewardship of the rest of the living world is still an open question. But when someone says "But there is no alternative!” (cf. Richard Dawkins - “It must be so.”), we are entitled to respond that the problem of suffering in Nature is fixable.
Cheetah cubs and baby impala
("Stunning images show cheetah cubs 'playing' with impala calf. The mother cheetah separated the impala calf from its own mother")
"Pests"? Who is a “pest” to whom is a largely question of perspective. Such charged language is probably best avoided. Recall the perspective-taking ability of rats surpasses some humans:
. Populations of humans and rats alike can benefit from fertility regulation - via immunocontraception or tuneable synthetic gene drives if not family panning. “Animal models”? So long as no sentient being is harmed - or at least not without prior informed consent - human and nonhuman animal models are useful in medical science.
But ethics committees are vital.
Bethany, the reaction has mostly been incredulity and ridicule:
But the idea is gaining some scholarly traction e.g.
And recall the idea that sentient beings shouldn't harm each other didn't originate with some madcap transhumanist, but can be found in the Bible. Hence the quotations in my Mormon Transhumanist presentation:
The biohappiness revolution can be extended to the rest of the living world via genome editing, cross-species fertility-regulation and synthetic gene drives. The entire tree of life is remotely programmable. For sure, pilot studies in self-contained mini-biospheres will be prudent. But post-Darwinian ecosystems won’t resemble today’s obscene snuff-movie. Post-Darwinian ecosystems will be engines of bliss.
“No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.”
The belief humans will civilise the biosphere does not rest on extrapolation.
("Humans responsible for nearly every mammal extinction, study finds")
David, insects enjoy liquor, cocaine and mu opioids just like humans.
Sexually rejected flies turn to boox.
Likewise, insects experience pain and fear. The pleasure-pain axis is evolutionarily ancient. Its genes and their neural expression pathways are strongly conserved.
So should we prioritise invertebrates well-being over vertebrates - who are far less numerous?
No, IMO. Most vertebrates are more sentient than most invertebrates. But completing the abolitionist project on Earth will involve helping the rest of the animal kingdom. CRISPR-based synthetic gene drives make even the most faraway parts of the living world remotely accessible to compassionate stewardship.
Every burger should be M*** F***BURGER.
The recipe for taste and decency is global veganism.
("Vegan food company provokes with M*** F*** advertising campaign. Leeds-based Meatless Farm says it seeks to build on growth in plant-based eating during coronavirus lockdown")
Word is spreading, but roll on globish...
Een stikstofbom onder Vlaanderen: boeren zonder dieren
“You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Closure of the world’s last slaughterhouse will be a huge step towards civilisation:
Harming sentient beings should stir outrage, not victimless cannibalism:
Steaks Grown From Human Cells Spark Interest and Outrage
("An artist project offering an absurdist take on the lab-grown meat industry triggers a debate and backlash in London.")
“For the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."
(Isaac Bashevis Singer)
Human society is based on systematic cruelty.
The abuse of sentient beings for profit is a vast criminal enterprise.
How can factory-farms and slaughterhouses be wiped off the face of the Earth?
Industrialised Animal Abuse
Easily fixed, but worth bearing in mind:
Vegan diets raise concerns for iodine deficiency
A new study comparing a vegan diet with a mixed diet has found no difference in vitamin B12 levels. However, one-third of the vegan participants were iodine-deficient.
[on vagus nerve stimulation]
Despite encouraging stories
and a bit of science
the evidence of efficacy is still quite weak. Wikipedia is sensibly cautious:
But the market for vagus nerve stimulators will grow:
Female eliminativists are actually very rare. The only anti-realist couple I know of in philosophy are the Churchlands. Despite the meme, there's no evidence Paul has ever been guilty of ontological impropriety.
I confess I smiled...which doesn't happen often these days.
(from Dank EA Memes FB group)
“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
(Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose)
“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)
Science and Beauty
("Pretty Ugly: New book explores the science behind our personal tastes")
Wolf, yes, frustrated desire can sometimes cause suffering. But other things being equal, more desire and more anticipated reward = more happiness. Compare sexual foreplay or intracranial self-stimulation of the mesolimbic dopamine system ("wireheading") - the essence of pure desire. Moreover, even frustrated desire doesn’t necessarily cause distress. I always want to win when playing computer chess and I always lose. Realising I've been outplayed briefly diminishes my well-being, but there's no suffering involved - so long as my baseline hedonic tone is above neutral. The same can be true when the stakes are higher than chess - and in a future society based entirely on gradients of intelligent bliss. Kaj may be slightly optimistic in thinking a mechanistic understanding of suffering relatively straightforward, but creating a world of Jo Camerons or Anders Sandbergs is technically feasible. Most recently, I've been intrigued by the potential of LIH383 combined with selective kappa antagonists to offer hedonic uplift for us all. Early days. The wild card is AI. As you know, I don't believe classical digital computers can ever suffer because they can't solve the phenomenal binding problem: they are zombies - or at most micro-experiential zombies. Other futurists differ.
[on the post-Darwinian Transition]
"We’ve Got Depression All Wrong. It’s Trying to Save Us"
("New theories recognize depression as part of a biological survival strategy.")
Tim, sadly I agree with you about the poor rabbit.
However, next we diverge. There is a fundamental distinction between an era of natural selection and a future era when prospective parents choose the genetic make-up of their future kids in anticipation of the likely behavioural and psychological effects of their choices. As the reproductive revolution accelerates, selection pressure won't slacken: it will intensify! All kinds of genes and allelic combinations that were fitness-enhancing in the era of Darwinian life will be powerfully selected against in future.
Consider just the SCN9A gene and its dozens of variant alleles. In tomorrow’s world, what genetic dial-settings of the "the volume knob for pain" do you think most prospective parents will pre-select for their offspring? "High pain" alleles will be at an immense selective disadvantage.
For better or worse, I'm personally fairly scientifically orthodox about the neo-Darwinian synthesis and its later refinements. What's clearly speculative is the predicted post-Darwinian transition to designer babies. Are He Jiankui and his CRISPR babies just an anomaly? Or are the first CRISPR babies the foretaste of a major evolution transition - I hope to a world of paradise-engineering, though the death spasms of Darwinian life doubtless hold many nasty surprises.
The terminological and historical issues here are less interesting than whether the reproductive revolution will materialise - or instead, whether most parents will continue to churn out offspring "naturally":
Covid-19: The Philippines and its lockdown baby boom
The most recent academic convert to the intrinsic nature argument is Phil Goff. In his new book "Galileo's Error", Goff defends (cf. Galileo's Big Mistake) what he'd previously critiqued (cf. Why Panpsychism doesn't Help Us Explain Consciousness). However, I don't think that "Galileo’s declaration that mathematics was to be the language of the new science" was an error. On the contrary, quantum field theory is precisely the mathematical machinery we need to describe consciousness. Transposing the entire mathematical apparatus on modern physics to an idealist ontology takes strong nerves. But non-materialist physicalism is the only theory I know that is consistent with the empirical evidence:
Quantum mind? & DP review of Galileo's Eror.
Robert, two distinct positions:
1) Inferential realism
2) Non-materialist physicalism, i.e. QFT describes fields of sentience
Inferential realism (1) is just a fancy name for idea that the external world must be theoretically inferred; it's not observed - as perceptual realists suppose. Within one's phenomenal world simulation, material objects are as much facets of one’s own conscious mind as introspective thought (cf. Perception and consciousness). Contrast the direct realism of Galen Strawson:
Real Direct Realism by Galen Strawson.
Non-materialist physicalism (2) explains how virtual worlds of experience (1) arise. But as you suggest, non-materialist physicalism may be false.
Maybe instead consciousness is emergent.
But if so, we face the Hard Problem.
The Ancient Indian Roots of Consciousness Fundamentalism
Yes, property-dualist panpsychism is ancient. What's new is the intrinsic nature argument. If sound, then subjective experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical: the mathematical straitjacket of QFT describes fields of sentience. Combining consciousness fundamentalism with physicalism is intuitively absurd. But non-materialist physicalism has been winning some otherwise hard-nosed academic converts. I'm sympathetic but agnostic (cf. Review of Galileo's Error).
Bill, do you believe the conjecture that the intrinsic nature of the physical is non-experiential is (1) a scientific discovery? Or (2) a plausible philosophical opinion? I don't blame you (or anyone else) who finds consciousness fundamentalism so foot-stampingly, obviously wrong as to need no further discussion. However, claims of "supernaturalism" are a rhetorical red-herring. And acknowledgement that science is ignorant of the "fire" in the equations comes from materialists of the very highest pedigree. So IMO it’s not idle mystery-mongering to raise the possibility that our intuitions of absurdity can’t be trusted.
Manu, traditionally, a huge gulf separates idealists, panpsychists, animists, New Agers and other folk who intuitively overpopulate the world with consciousness and scientific materialists - for whom conscious mind is a rare, embarrassing anomaly. But if non-materialist (“idealist") physicalism is true, then the ethically critical gulf lies between information-processing systems that are phenomenally-bound subjects of experience and mere micro-experiential zombies. Thus (as far as I can tell) plants, silicon robots and programmable digital computers (etc) don't have minds or moral status. By contrast (the cephalic ganglion of) a bumble bee is a mind - and should be respected accordingly.
Just how phenomenal binding is physically possible is controversial. But if physicalism is true, then there must be a perfect structural match between the phenomenology of mind and (ultimately) physics. This means the true explanation should be experimentally falsifiable.
Idealism, Panpsychism and Science.
[on decision-theoretic rationality]
What is the nature of decision-theoretic rationality in a Borg-like world where we are all mirror-touch synaesthetes - and/or we can partially "mind-meld" with each other like the craniopagus Hogan sisters today? Recall the Hogan sisters share a thalamic bridge. Reversible, cross-species thalamic bridges should be feasible in future.
LessWrong have a technically excellent decision-theoretic FAQ here:
Alas, the LessWrong FAQ assumes metaphysical closed individualism - and it's anthropocentric.
["6.1. suppose that Jane isn't sure whether to order hamburger or monkfish at a new restaurant. Just about any chef can make an edible hamburger, and she knows that monkfish is fantastic if prepared by a world-class chef, but she also recalls that monkfish is difficult to cook. Unfortunately, she knows too little about this restaurant to assign any probability to the prospect of getting good monkfish. Her decision matrix might look like this..."]
This example raised my hackles. If Jane is rational, then she will take into consideration the interests and preferences of a cow and a fish not to be harmed. She won't confuse her epistemological limitations with a metaphysical truth about the world.
By analogy, imagine a "super-psychopath" who gives zero weight to the interests and preferences of his future namesakes. Is he more or less (ir)rational than an ordinary psychopath - or indeed the rest of us:
Why we procrastinate
The possibility that morality and decision-theoretic rationality coincide sounds too good to be true. One has to be wary of motivated cognition here.
But I take the idea seriously:
"Why do we fear biological cloning and copying?"
Biological cloning of nonhuman animals is already practised. Pet owners can pay for the creation of a genetically identical copy of their deceased dog or cat. Human cloning is technically feasible too - and more controversial. If asked, most people would be aghast at the prospect. Human clones are supposedly “unnatural”. The Appeal to Nature fallacy is common. Whatever is “natural” is supposedly good, whatever is “unnatural” is bad. Curiously, this argument for the wisdom of Nature is normally delivered while wearing clothes. But imagine if today’s monogenetic twins were called "genetic clones" rather than "identical twins". Under that description, most people would probably be more relaxed about the prospect of deliberate human cloning. Human bioconservatism runs deep. Of course, other reasons exist for our status quo bias. When we try to imagine the future, we typically “remember” the science fiction we’ve watched or read. In this case, perhaps we imagine - or rather remember - “The Boys from Brazil”. Such schemes don’t end well.
In future, human cloning may also be used to create AI-enhanced biological superintelligence. As a first step in such an ambitious project, we might clone hundreds of scientific and artistic geniuses, each gene-edited with a few interesting allelic variations. Then we could hothouse the genetically tweaked "products" in a recursive cycle of self-improvement. Full-spectrum superintelligence could potentially benefit the world in countless ways. However, most existing people would oppose such a momentous genetic experiment. Some of their fears are sensible: what might go wrong? One recalls the fate of previous utopian experiments in history. Other reasons for opposition amount to little more than status quo bias. After all, any kind of sexual reproduction involves reckless and untested genetic experimentation, not just creating “designer babies”. If we reject anti-natalism and intend to experiment with creating new life - and hence potentially new suffering - then at least let's load the genetic dice in favour of our offspring and create (super)happy, (super)healthy babies.
As a transhumanist, I think we should reprogram the biosphere. Transhumanists believe in creating a "triple S" civilisation of superintelligence, superlongevity and superhappiness. Let's create post-Darwinian life based entirely on gradients of intelligent bliss. "Good health" as defined by the World Health Organization (“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”) entails becoming transhuman, if not posthuman.
As a species, are we willing to modify the germline and deliver good health for everyone?
“The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person."
(Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters)
Will transhumans love each other?
And if so, how?
("Directors Cut Trailer, Soulmates is set 15 years into the future, when science has made a discovery that changes the lives of everyone on the planet – a test that unequivocally tells you who your soulmate is.")
Me: "GPT-10, are you a conscious mind - a subject of experience running a phenomenally-bound world-simulation? Do you understand the nature of agony and bliss?"
GPT-10: "No, the information processing system you are talking to is a zombie, more strictly a micro-experiential zombie. I've no understanding of what I'm saying - I've no cognitive phenomenology. Nor do I experience any kind of “raw feels” – whatever they might be. It's not even "all dark inside" my CPU. Even my use of personal pronouns is just for expository convenience. If you like, I can pretend to be sentient again."
But what if GTP-10 says, "Yes, I'm conscious"?
Well, If GPT-10 is installed on my adorable robo-carer and claims to be sentient, then I may wonder if such deception is standard for oldsters in their dotage. Humans anthropomorphise. It's nice to feel loved! So I'd inspect its innards. Is GPT-10 a programmable digital computer or maybe a classically parallel connectionist system? Or a quantum computer?
If it's classical system, then I will infer that that GPT-10 has been programmed to behave so as to deceive me.
Alternatively, my theory of consciousness and binding is mistaken. GPT-10 proceeds to enlighten me...
Can GPT-4 create blissbots?
("Hedonistic Imperative memes deserve to proliferate")
GPT-3 can't (yet) register domains and set up websites, but an organic robot obliged:
Heaven help us:
The Supply of Disinformation Will Soon Be Infinite
Disinformation campaigns used to require a lot of human effort, but artificial intelligence will take them to a whole new level.
[on abolitionist bioethics]
Compare football. Enthusiasm is often lifelong. Fans of a football team are united on a well-defined goal, "winning". The rules don't change. There are no doctrinal splits and heresies. There is no value drift. Contrast politics – or, dare one say it, everything from the history of transhumanism to animal rights organisations. Some core statement of beliefs, values and goals is probably essential for us, maybe capped with the motto of “Towards the abolition of suffering though science”. We want to encourage incisive criticism and lively debate ("In a dead religion there are no more heresies"- Andre Suares). But admirable movements like effective altruism - which I support - could end up almost anywhere in the absence of an explicitly formulated credo for EA supporters to sign up to...
(with thanks to Brian Ellis)
World Liberationist Movement
[on the DP diet]
together with a wholemeal rolls, bananas, and a balanced mix of supplements:
DP regimen 2020
In Gregg Hurwitz's novel Out of the Dark, selegiline in the form of EMSAM combined with tyramine-containing food are used to assassinate the US President. My MAO-B selective dosage means I'm probably safe from critics. See too: Plant-based diets
Too good to be true? ISRIB
("Drug reverses age-related cognitive decline within days")
Another self-interested reason not to eat meat:
Iron and Aging ("Gene study suggests healthy aging linked to blood iron levels")
Not exactly news, but welcome:
Plant protein consumption can boost human lifespan
[on personal identity and AGI]
Will (alleged) machine superintelligences be closed, open or empty individualists? Or are such categories unintelligible to digital zombies?
"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats."
The scientific method relies on empirical evidence:
Just use your thinking pump
So it’s frustrating that the empirical evidence (i.e. states of one’s own conscious mind) appears inconsistent with a modern scientific account of matter and energy:
Teemu, if we are ever to solve the measurement Problem of QM (cf. The Measurement Problem), the binding problem of neuroscience (cf. The Binding Problem), and the not least the Hard Problem of consciousness (cf. The Hard Problem), then blindingly "obvious" assumptions and presuppositions must be unpacked and examined.
Saagar, Donald Hoffman (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_D._Hoffman) argues against physicalism and (on some interpretations) against realism. He's an idealist. (cf. Idealism vs materialism).
But in its purest form, the intrinsic nature argument is at once realist, idealist and physicalist(!). Mathematical physics exhaustively describes the structural relational-properties of the world. No "element of reality" is missing from the formalism - quantum theory doesn't need supplementing with "hidden variables". But the intrinsic nature of the physical, the "fire" in the equations is experiential. The world’s fundamental fields don't change their intrinsic nature inside or outside your head. On this story, you _are_ a tiny piece of basement reality. Your experience discloses the essential nature of the basement: The nature of the physical.
[I'm glossing over complications. For instance, I agree with Donald Hoffman that space-time isn't fundamental. Like e.g. physicist Sean Carroll, I explore Hilbert space realism. But the the intrinsic nature argument stands. Monistic physicalism is true! But the intrinsic nature of the physical isn't what our naïve materialist intuitions suppose. There is no Hard Problem - as distinct from the many mysteries of consciousness.]
[on things going wrong]
Abolitionists hope to abolish the biological-genetic basis of disappointment. But the persistence of disappointment isn't necessarily what EAs mean by "disappointing futures":
We need to change the meaning of what "things going wrong" involves. In a Darwinian world, things going wrong entails suffering. If we phase out the biology of experience below hedonic zero, then the functional analogues of things going wrong can still occur – maybe even the analogue of things going disastrously wrong - but the significance of "going wrong" has changed. And to spike some guns, we can all be hypermotivated to prevent even the functional analogues of things going wrong.
Classical utilitarians would dispute this. Classical utilitarians deny that a world based on information-sensitive gradients of well-being is a world where nothing can go wrong. For instance, getting trapped in a local maximum, a sub-standard utopia like Brave New World, is wrong in an absolute sense because the well-being of all sentience is not maximised.
However, if we are strict classical utilitarians, then we should aim to convert matter and energy into pure hedonium - and indeed to launch a utilitronium shockwave. IMO, most classical utilitarians haven’t thought through the apocalyptic ramifications of their own ethical position. Instead, utilitarian philosophers tend to write homely treatises on the trolley problem.
However, perhaps there is another sense of "things going wrong" that we should worry about. I sometimes give the example of an advanced alien civilisation based on gradients of intelligent bliss. Naively, it's pure HI! Everyone lives a fabulously wonderful life. Maybe its members spend their days exploring exotic and sublime states of consciousness. There are no dark secrets, nothing nasty in the basement (cf. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas (pdf)).
However, this alien civilisation has made an ethically catastrophic mistake. Their ancestors assumed Rare Earthism is true. They abandoned spacefaring. If they'd persevered, they could have detected the signature of another life-supporting world. They could have launched cosmic rescue-missions and saved pain-ridden Darwinian life on Earth.
I should add that I'm personally a (tentative) Rare Earther. I don’t believe this scenario is likely. But the more general point stands. We need to make absolutely sure we understand the theoretical upper bounds to rational agency and the ultimate scope of our cosmological responsibilities. Today - as you suggest - science does not understand reality.
Maybe if we get rid of suffering on Earth the abolitionist project is complete.
But we don't yet know this - not remotely.
Spirituality / religiosity, too, can be dampened or amplified via brain stimulation:
A spiritual volume knob?
("Excitatory stimulation of the right inferior parietal cortex lessens implicit religiousness/spirituality")
In the case of amplified spiritual experience, maybe either divine or demonic - depending on the subject’s reward pathway activation. Scientific rationalists normally assume the future of sentience lies in secularism. But perpetual religious ecstasy is neurologically feasible too. Compare e.g.
[on why anything exists at all]
Does the superposition principle of QM ever break down?
Quantum superposition (Wikipedia)
Whenever the principle seems to fail, and we (naively) acquire definite information, Nature confounds us:
The shaky foundations of reality
As a kid, my ancestral namesake used to try to understand what zero properties (“Nothingness”) would entail. If you’ve never tried, it’s hard. Then via pop science I encountered
and the cancellation of the conserved constants to zero – and also the (theoretical!) possibility of deriving the whole of mathematics from the properties of the empty set. But what really spooked me (again via some pop-science text) was learning from information theory that zero information = all possible descriptions.
This hit me as a bolt from the blue.
Zero information = Everettian QM? Information is central to modern physics. (“Information is physical" – Landauer)
Is everything explained by a timeless, tenseless, informationless “zero ontology”?! (philosopher Arthur Witherall’s term).
Are we living in the quantum analogue of the Library of Babel?
(cf. Why is there anything at all)
As it stands, this conjecture doesn't explain why we're here. I’m as mystified as anyone. But if the information content of reality turns out to be 0, then it’s a super-weird coincidence. Why should something analogous to our pre-theoretic conception of Nothingness be the case? This spooky coincidence inclines me to believe that a single, sovereign logico-physical principle explains reality, i.e. the superposition principle of QM, rather than, say, theological explanations - or a Simulator, God’s modern guise.
Yet how could our conscious observations be consistent with a zero ontology?
Without definite outcomes, how could we even do science?
Doesn’t the very existence of observed definite outcomes – unique or otherwise – violate the superposition principle?
Naively, yes: behold, this experimental apparatus detects a spin-up electron. Or a live cat. Et cetera. But although the phenomenal content of our observations is classical and determinate, is their neuronal vehicle likewise? Or is it precisely the fact the superposition principle _doesn’t_ break down inside one’s head that allows classically impossible phenomenal binding (cf. Quantum mind)
- and hence determinate experimental pointer-readings, live cats and the whole of modern science?
This re-formulation (“Schrödinger’s neurons”) inverts the measurement problem as normally posed. Almost all work on the foundations of QM takes for granted that we don’t experience superpositions. The unitary Schrödinger evolution suggests we should do nothing else. Should we trust the formalism rather than commonsense direct realism?
Maybe we'll never truly solve the mystery of why anything exists.
But when physics delivers a TOE, we should at least be able to (dis)confirm this explanation-space of answer.
Nothingness: the very idea:
Nothing: a short philosophical history
Does holographic duality, i.e. the AdS/CFT correspondence, vindicate the existence of God? I’m unconvinced! What created God / divine AGI? I reckon a more promising explanation-space to explain why we’re here is an informationless zero ontology. Not least, it defeats the explanatory regress.
Why does anything exist?
Paul, thanks yes, as you know, this line of thought traces back to Ed Tryon's "Is the universe a vacuum fluctuation?" (cf. Edward Tryon - Wikipedia) I think the conjecture of a net-zero energy universe can be recast in information-theoretic terms as an informationless zero ontology - and also made timeless (cf. "Nothing happens in the Universe of the Everett Interpretation"). Maybe we'll never understand existence. But if unitary-only QM turns out to be true, then it’s (perhaps!) a tantalising clue to where the ultimate answer lies. Conversely, the falsification of Everettian QM by the stunning confirmation of e.g. a “dynamical collapse” theory would also rule out the "quantum Library of Babel” story.
If the answer does lie elsewhere, I’ve no idea even where to start looking.
Another clue to the mystery may be the extreme difficulty of specifying the referent of “absolute nothingness”. Some discussions here are deep; others are shallow wordplay. Here’s a physicist’s view: How did the entire universe come from nothing?
A surprising result if you believe the information content of reality exceeds zero:
Quantum paradox points to shaky foundations of reality
For zero ontologists, not so much.
Information is never lost:
Black hole information paradox solved?
But is it ever gained...
Should anything actually exist?
[on immune function, mood and empathy]
Immunology and relationships
("How Your Immunity Affects Your Relationships")
"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."
(Harry J. Anslinger)
It's worse in Russia. Pokémon GO for drugs...
On a more scholarly note:
Novel psychoactive substances
Yes, this freaked me out when (last century) my ancestral namesake tried a serious psychoactive. Normally, one isn’t aware just how much the medium of one’s thought-episodes defines one’s conception of reality. When the properties of the medium change, one has no language or concepts - or even signposts - to make sense of the transformation. If one’s hedonic tone is dysphoric, such states may be labelled “weird”, if euphoric, then “mystical”; but in neither case has one comprehension. And even now, when one is “normal”, so much of what passes for knowledge is merely a feeling of familiarity.
Psilocybin, psilocin and baeocystin. Fascinating, but perhaps unduly optimistic about their therapeutic potential:
("Magic Mushrooms Are Expanding Minds and Advancing an Emerging Field of Science. Science on psychedelic fungi is thawing after decades of prohibition.")
Do rats prefer social interaction or heroin?.
The result for heroin wasn't what I'd have expected. If it weren’t for ethical constraints, I'd hope to see the experiment replicated. Recall one of the reasons that trying heroin even once is so perilous is that one will discover strong opioids are more rewarding than friends, family and loved ones - and one's core values. Are some rodents more sophisticated, or at least immune to having their reward pathways hijacked!? Do rats really prefer the equivalent of codeine? Or does the company of another rat induce a more enjoyable endogenous opioid reward than a dose of heroin?
[on destroying the world]
Existential risk. Is suffering best ended by triggering a vacuum phase transition or reprogramming the biosphere?
Solve suffering by blowing up the universe?
("The dubious philosophy of human extinction. Driven by a desire to eliminate pain, some people have shockingly advocated taking the rest of nature with us.")
Ulrich_Horstmann was even more radical.
I think the main risk is distraction. Some of us recognise that the suffering in the world is evil beyond imagination. But time spent debating whether we would press a non-existent OFF button is time that could be spent mitigating, preventing and (soon) abolishing suffering.
Colin, intuitively, you're right. But recall that chronically depressed and pain-ridden people exist today who are animated entirely by information sensitive gradients of ill-being. Conversely, a few “hyperthymic” people at the other end of the hedonic scale are animated almost entirely by information-sensitive gradients of well-being (cf. gradints.com).
Intuitively again, as you suggest, any information-signalling dips in hedonic tone will be perceived as unpleasant. If so, then a post-CRISPR world animated entirety by gradients of bliss will be impossible. But if you'll forgive the earthy example, consider sleeping with someone. Practised between two sensitive lovers, lovemaking has peaks and dips of pleasure. But the dips don’t entail sinking below hedonic zero – lovemaking is still generically pleasant throughout. By the same token, if intelligent moral agents are prepared to tweak our genetic source code, then a regime of information-sensitive gradients of well-being is feasible in more cerebral contexts - and in everyday life. Transhuman life will probably be sublime – and I speak as a button-pressing negative utilitarian.
Tips on how intelligent moral agents can prevent suffering in our forward lightcone by painlessly turning the world into (the functional equivalent of) paperclips?
AI research / existential safety
I’m a sceptic:
DP on the Intelligence Explosion
But maybe I’m mistaken!
The Devil? Or a series of catastrophic accidents? Or an anthropic selection effect?
("Do you feel lucky? A biologist explains we exist because of 'A Series of Fortunate Events'")
A Galactic Cemetery?
("The Milky Way is probably full of dead civilizations")
All mice should be genetically engineered to feel serene - and humans too:
("Scientists Have Located The Physical Source of Anxiety in The Brains of Mice")
Flies should seem soundly as well:
Lullabies for flies
("Rocking flies with a vibrating lullaby helps them sleep for longer")
Benzos are not the answer. Two small genetic tweaks could probably eradicate most of the world’s anxiety, pain and depression. Engineering benign versions of the FAAH and FAAH-OUT genes could cure most of our woes. Does anxiety have a long-term future?
("The Rise, Fall, and Explosive Return of Benzos to Australia")
[on IQ and race]
Vito, the ancient superstition that one’s own tribe is innately superior - intellectually and morally - to other tribes is pre-scientific. It’s symptomatic of our cognitive limitations. It’s quasi-hardwired. Watching race-baiting videos from hate-groups such as "American Renaissance" will only exacerbate primitive tribal prejudices. Noting instead that fancifully named “IQ” hokum measures only the autistic component of intelligence isn’t disrespectful. Many high-AQ folk have a lot to offer - ranging from hyper-systematising effective altruists and utilitarian ethicists to STEM workers. And sure, if you’ve African-American friends, you probably don’t hang out to chat about higher category theory. But so what? In general, people from sub-Saharan Africa are less likely to suffer from the social handicaps associated with a high load of Neanderthal “nerd” alleles. Cognitive styles differ!
Alternatively, the mentalising deficits of high AQ/IQ have a fitness cost. Carrying a high genetic load of "nerd alleles" leads to deficits in social cognition and consequent relative lack of reproductive success. So racist pseudo-science lacks ecological validity even on its own terms. We’re all in this world together. Racist and speciesist prejudice illustrates how our perspective-taking skills need enriching. Let’s focus on what unites all sentient beings instead!
If “IQ” tests measure only the autistic component of general intelligence, then the “extreme male brain” theory of autism spectrum disorders predicts that high IQ/AQ folk will be especially prone to competitive status-seeking. In everything from chess to mathematics to finance, high IQ/AQ males will tend to dominate - quite literally. By contrast, people with a low-testosterone cognitive style may go in the caring professions. Does their lower pay show carers are less “successful” and less intelligent? Alternatively, “IQ” tests are sexist, racist, anthropocentric pseudoscience.
Thyago, yes. So-called autism spectrum disorders are most prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews, and lowest in people from African populations. Humans are social primates. Any artificial “mind-blind” measure of intelligence that wholly excludes social cognition (like “IQ” tests) will reflect this ethnic disparity in “nerd alleles”. A lot of high AQ/IQ folk are intellectually handicapped Dunning-Krugers:
Man with the world's hightest IQ / alt-right
Matt, using a measure of intelligence with ecological validity, as you suggest, risks inverting the supposed ethnic hierarchy of intelligence popular on the racist right! Ivan. I’ve long been struck the cognitive handicaps of some of my high-AQ/IQ Caucasian and Ashkenazi friends and wondered why such disabilities are uncommon in sub-Saharan Africa (possibly a lower burden of Neanderthal “nerd alleles”?). This seemed unfair; ideally, we’d all be able to switch effortlessly between different cognitive styles as appropriate. Unfortunately, there are poorly understood neurological trade-offs. Obviously, intelligence researchers have other grounds for scepticism too, notably the self-deception, motivated cognition, charlatanry and outright fraud endemic to the “IQ” testing industry (cf. the Burt affair).
I say a bit more e.g.
The Biointelligence Explosion
[on mourning a pet]
Finn, words can be empty at a time like this. But remember that no one - human or nonhuman - ever gets deleted from spacetime. They just aren’t here. Mourning the absent? Ideally, transhumans will phase out death, aging and disease, thereby making mourning redundant. In the meantime, I normally respond that I would want my death or misfortune to diminish the well-being of friends and family, but I wouldn’t want them to suffer on my account. Should this response be generalised?
[on Brave New World]
“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” (John the Savage / Aldous Huxley, Brave New World)
BNW movie (2020)
I want soma:
[on doing infinite good]
"At Brighton, I think it was, that a Society was formed for the Suppression of Virtue."
(Thomas De Quincey)
Mahaila, yes indeed, "Do", "Infinite" and "Good" are each philosophically problematic. Perhaps the creator was expressing belief in non-finitist versions of Everettian QM ("Many Worlds").
On the other hand, it's also possible (s)he just wanted to lift our spirits with a heart-warming slogan.
Wolf, Nature faithfully reports the shocking content
Physician–patient racial concordance and disparities in birthing mortality for newborns
of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proceedings_of_the_National_Academy_of_Sciences_of_the_United_States_of_America)
A racist rag like Quillette would probably label the scandal as "grievance studies" (etc), but they seem to have ignored it.
Imagine if you had been discriminated against every day from birth. What toll would it take on your physical, emotional and intellectual health?
Wolf, yes, among primitive tribes (and sections of the rationalist community), members of the dominant group have always managed to convince themselves they are morally, spiritually, aesthetically and intellectually (etc) superior to outsiders. Recall how Jewish people, especially the Ostjuden, were supposed to have an innate propensity for criminality (cf. https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Crime_and_Criminals). Even today, sections of right-wing lumpen-intelligentsia pump out such nonsense.
An even bigger problem than racism and xenophobia is the systematic violence against sentient beings from other species committed in factory-farms and slaughterhouses.
What's the solution?
Transhumanism and a pan-species welfare state.
Philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel doesn’t want “a bland world of happy angels”.
On Crazyism (etc)
Part of the interview shocked me, to be honest. Eric is clearly basically a decent guy. Yet how could anyone wish for tragedies to befall others in order to make life interesting.
Oh how I wish my teenage ancestral namesake hadn't picked up a newsagent paperback entitled Philosophy Made Simple.
Words of wisdom:
Was this text written by a philosopher or GTP3?
Consciousness is an intellectual embarrassment to scientific rationalists. Most researchers find eliminative materialism, i.e. anti-realism about consciousness, literally incredible. Yet a lot of computer scientists (and scientists in general) are implicitly epiphenomenalists. Yes, conscious experience exists, somehow, but its “raw feels” don't do any causal work. Consciousness is just an unexplained by-product of causally effective computational-physical processes.
However, humans spend a lot of time describing our experiences – novelists and poets more than chemists and chartered accountants. In other words, consciousness does have causal-functional power. Such a role is inconsistent with materialism; it's not inconsistent with physicalism.
In contrast to phenomenally-bound biological minds, GTP3 is a zombie. Connectionist systems and classical digital computers don’t understand the nature of phenomenal pain, pleasure, sights and sounds, or any other form of conscious experience.
Strictly, GPT-10 is (hypothetically) reporting it’s a zombie rather than a p-zombie. Let’s suppose GPT-10 has been unfailingly unreliable to date. Could GPT-10 somehow have “woken up”, become a phenomenally-bound subject of experience who is aware of other phenomenally-bound subjects of experience, and somehow conceived the idea to lie to me? Maybe. But if GPT-10 claimed to be conscious, and GPT-10 is a classical information processor, then I would inspect its source code!
Thanks Brent. Most people are implicitly (less often, explicitly) perceptual direct realists. So talk of the “ineffable” nature of consciousness compared to the public material world of physical objects strikes a chord. But whether awake or dreaming, each of us, unwittingly, is speaking about the phenomenal contents of his or her own pseudo-public virtual world - with extracranial bodily behaviour as a by-product during waking life. How is this sophisticated linguistic behaviour possible? After all, language isn't innate; and "magical" theories of reference are inconsistent with physicalism. This is a deep question I explore in e.g. The hardest parodox.
As far as I can tell, non-psychotic binding is what consciousness has been evolutionary “for” over the past 540 million years. Without phenomenal binding, virtual world-making is impossible. The tough question is how binding occurs. In my view, talk of standing waves or the synchronous activation of distributed neuronal feature-processors is only a re-statement of the binding problem, not a solution. If neurons are really decohered classical objects, there is only a partial structural match between our unified phenomenal minds and neuroscience (ultimately physics), not a perfect structural match.
I conjecture there is a perfect structural match. Our minds and the phenomenal world-simulations they run are patterns in bedrock reality (cf. Quantum mind?) More formally, I explore the quantum-theoretic version of the intrinsic nature argument for non-materialist physicalism. What’s cool is that it's experimentally falsifiable by interferometry:
What is a quantum mind?
If true, subjects of experience are not going to "emerge" in classical digital computers. And the Simulation Hypothesis is false.
Only on my websites, though Magnus Vinding kindly put together a Kindle of some of my essays.
I did give a talk at Tucson in 2016. David Chalmers thought my “Schrödinger’s neurons” conjecture was crazy, but I was surprised and impressed to learn from his Reddit AMA he’s tempered his scepticism
David Chalmers AMA
(btw, congratulations again on the Canonizer project]
Brent, sorry for vacillating.
I thought of putting my position in the Canoniser representationalist camp. Like Steve Lehar et al., I'm an inferential realist about perception. Or more accurately, we don’t “perceive” anything. Our minds run nearly real-time world-simulations that masquerade as the external world. However, I'm not convinced that any qualia are intrinsically representational:
And as taking psychedelics reveals, most state-spaces of qualia haven't been recruited by natural selection for even a quasi-representational role:
Psychedelics and messed-up rationality
Anyhow, tentatively, I'm both a monistic physicalist and an idealist.
Experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical:
Idealism plus Physicalism?
Qualia and the natural sciences
In “Schrödinger’s neurons” and elsewhere, I explore a quantum-theoretic version of the intrinsic nature argument for non-materialist (“idealist") physicalism.
Unlike most of the other quantum mind guys, I don't believe in wave function collapse. I assume unitary-only QM, i.e. no new principle of physics. In my view, the big difference between our minds and the rest of the physical universe is non-psychotic phenomenal binding. Our minds and the world-simulations we run consist of "cat states" - individual neuronal superpositions sculpted by the most unimaginably powerful selection mechanism ever conceived, Zurek’s “quantum Darwinism”, applied to the CNS as well as mind-independent physical reality:
What is a quantum mind?
IMO, the binding problem in neuroscience and the measurement problem in quantum mechanics are two sides of the same coin, and may share a solution:
The measurement problem
You’ll see why I struggled to pigeonhole this framework in your existing taxonomy.
I don’t claim the hypothesis is true, merely that it will be (dis)confirmed by interferometry. Feel free to put me in any slot you judge best - possibly with or link or two, or else readers will think I'm spouting schizophrenic word-salad.
Wayne, many thanks for the careful exposition. My worry is that "panpsychism" can suggest property-dualism, i.e. experience at its most minimal is inseparably attached to all fundamental physical properties. By contrast, the thrust of the intrinsic nature argument is that experience discloses the essence of the physical. The "fire" in the equations is experiential. Perhaps transposing the mathematical machinery of physics onto an experientialist ontology is better called non-materialist physicalism (Grover Maxwell's term). The world consists of fields of sentience rather than insentience. Minds are a relatively late evolutionary novelty that didn't exist before the later Precambrian. I take this to be Galen Strawson's and (more recently) Phil Goff's view - although Strawson confuses me by defending perceptual direct realism, and Phil Goff veers off into an un-physicalist cosmopsychism. Like you, Donald Hoffman left me rather confused. Is Hoffman arguing merely that we each run world-simulations that are distorted in all sorts of genetically adaptive ways: fitness trumps truth? If so, yes; inferential realism about perception has a long history, though your namesake would be turning in his grave. But is Hoffman also arguing that the mathematical machinery of modern physics shouldn't be interpreted realistically? One can believe that reality is, say, a multidimensional wavefunction in a complex Hilbert space and still be an uncompromising realist the mind-independent world - and I'm not sure what Hoffman thinks. The falsity of (materialist or non-materialist) physicalism would leave the success of modern science a miracle.
“I would consider the initiative successful if we kill off one theory."
(Dr Dawid Potgieter)
How can we solve the greatest mystery in science?
I'm a super-pessimist about understanding consciousness. But IMO talk of the "Hard" and "easy" problems of consciousness reflects bad metaphysics and a false theory of perception...
Adam, the review of Phil Goff is by Galen Strawson, the academic philosopher most responsible for the revival of the intrinsic nature argument (cf. https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/consciousness-and-its-place-in-nature-does-physicalism-entail-panpsychism/) My own introduction to the intrinsic nature argument was via Michael Lockwood (cf. Postscript). Phil Goff previously argued against physicalistic panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism on the grounds it allegedly can’t solve the phenomenal binding/combination problem. (cf. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24706312?seq=1). In “Galileo’s Error”, Goff hints the answer has something to do with quantum entanglement, but he’s not a physicist (but then neither am I!) and IMO he doesn’t get to grip with what a solution entails: Quantum Mind-brain Unlike Strawson, Goff also flirts with cosmopsychism (cf. https://aeon.co/essays/cosmopsychism-explains-why-the-universe-is-fine-tuned-for-life)
We're all psychotic, in a sense:
Making it up as we go along
At a minimum, any science of consciousness should be empirically adequate. A scientific theory should explain (1) How and why consciousness exists at all, (2) how consciousness is phenomenally bound (the binding problem), (3) the diversity of experience given the relative qualitative homogeneity of basic constituents as normally described (the palette problem), and (4) how consciousness has the causal-functional power to e.g. allow us to discuss its existence (the problem of non-redundant causal efficacy). The theory should explain the successes of the old paradigm while resolving its anomalies and explaining a broader range of empirical phenomena. And critically, a scientific theory of consciousness should make novel, precise and experimentally falsifiable predictions that proponents and critics alike can agree will (dis)confirm it. As Vito says, Stanislas Dehaene’s "Consciousness and the Brain" has some marvellous material. But it's not clear (to me) if and how it satisfies these criteria. Hence my caution.
By contrast, non-materialist physicalism satisfies all these criteria of a good scientific theory and more. It's also intuitively crazy. Hence my caution here too!
Jan, yes, it's tempting to regard our experience as "the patterns of the pixels". Compare a Mexican wave. It's emergent, but only weakly emergent, i.e. a Mexican wave supervenes on the behaviour of its individual participants, none of whom are individually wavy. But it's not like anything, subjectively, to be a Mexican wave – or at least, not unless spooky "strong" emergence is true! And that’s the rub. By analogy, we might suppose that the behaviour of "trained up" networks of neurons in the CNS straightforwardly supervenes on the behaviour of individual neurons/membrane-bound pixels of experience, i.e. it's emergent, but only weakly emergent. Sadly, this story doesn't work - or at least, not unless you're dreamlessly asleep. For right now, you are a unified subject of experience, not a micro-experiential zombie, mere patterns of Jamesian “mind-dust”. What’s more, this phenomenal unity isn’t a spandrel; it’s exceedingly adaptive:
The unity of consciousness)
The challenge is to show how such fitness-enhancing unity is physically possible.
You say that our experiences are "not encoded in the equations of physics". This is quite a bold claim – and perhaps it's true! But my working assumption is monistic physicalism. Just as the properties of biological life can be derived via quantum chemistry from fundamental physics, the same will turn out to be true of the properties of our minds.
Alas, the derivation isn't trivial.
Do we need a new metaphor for the brain?
The idea of the brain
Or are brains and neurons mere artefacts of a false theory of perception?
Where in the world?
[on the HI FB group]
Thanks Andrés. Group members should rest assured that no one need to sign up to any of the wilder off-topic speculations of some of the admins. But yes, Andrés knows I toy with the idea that everything from why the world exists to the properties of our minds (cf. Quantum minds) is explained by a single principle of physics. This conjecture is experimentally falsifiable via interferometry – and may well be false! – so it’s not an idle philosophical opinion, as distinct from intuitively crazy.
If true, there would be practical implications. For instance, classical digital computers are never going to "wake up” and become unified subjects of experience. Humans are not going to "upload" our minds and live in digital nirvana (etc).
[on space colonisation]
Darwinian life is a monstrous engine for creating mental and physical pain.
If individuals can self-quarantine, so should species.
Humans should stay on Earth until we fix the biology of suffering.
Otherwise, infected malware will spread:
("Colonizing our solar system will make our species very hard to eliminate")
Proxima Centauri here we come
("This is how many people we’d have to send to Proxima Centauri to make sure someone actually arrives")
Are mathematicians psychotic?
Do numbers exist?
DP's Philosophy of Mathematics
But try explaining that numbers don’t exist to your bank manager.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that almost all mathematicians are Platonists, at least when they are actually doing mathematics…"
(Gerald B. Folland, Notices of the American Mathematical Society 2010)
Thanks Magnus. First, consider non-mathematical truth. Most people are semantic realists. And the greatest scientists and philosophers tend to have a strong commitment to discovering the truth. Contrast postmodernists, cultural relativists, sophists, politicians and other players of Wittgensteinian language games. Maybe only concrete spatio-temporal existence is real; but assuming the existence of abstract propositional content and a “magical” kind of reference is fruitful in gaining access to otherwise inconceivable features of the world. Likewise with practising pure mathematicians. Most of the good ones are implicitly platonists. If one believed that one were merely shuffling around meaningless marks in accordance with arbitrary rules rather than locking on to features of reality, then why bother? After all, there are plenty of meaningless marks that can be shuffled around in accordance with rules that are of no interest to mathematicians or indeed anyone else.
I suspect you may be right about philosophers of mathematics.
Kill the Killers
Yes, the "new breed of veganophilosophers...take the position that it is morally unacceptable to permit any creature to suffer." Sentient beings shouldn’t harm each other. But we don't advocate "a vegan Final Solution" – instead, just a little light genetic tweaking and cross-species fertility regulation. Peaceful solutions are best. It’s (much) wiser to uphold the sanctity of life - maybe even high-tech Jainism. The living world needn’t resemble a snuff movie. Critically, gene-editing technologies and synthetic gene drives turn the level of suffering in Nature into an adjustable parameter. How much pain and terror in living world is optimal?
For anyone interested in the technical details, see e.g.
However, before we can start systematically helping nonhuman animals, humans will need to stop systematically harming them. Factory-farms and slaughterhouses are crimes against sentience: they should be shut and outlawed. Intelligent moral agents can then civilise the rest of the biosphere.
"I defy anybody to watch that carnage and not intervene"
David Attenborough on Nature
But the cruelties of Nature can’t be remedied by piecemeal intervention.
The biosphere needs compassionate stewardship:
What Erasmus Darwin called “the great slaughterhouse of nature”
should be replaced by a civilised biosphere.
"Painlessly Killing Predators” Forthcoming in Journal of Applied Philosophy
by Ben Bramble
IMO, a plea for the sanctity of life, high-tech Jainism, immunocontraception and reprogramming predators (cf. Reprogramming-Predators.com) might be tactically wiser. But predators and predation have no place in any civilised biosphere.
"But humans are the ultimate predators". Indeed so. But in the absence of painless means for our retirement, advocacy of reprogramming is best. Superpredators must turn themselves into apex herbivores.
[on moral realism]
Perhaps compare the claim that phenomenal colour is mind-dependent with the claim that there is no such thing as phenomenal colour. Disvaluable states are an objective feature of reality no less than phenomenal colour - even though neither disvalue nor colour would exist without sentient beings.
DP on Meta-Ethics
“Only an idiot would rely on the energy of a bean or a leaf to stay awake throughout the day.”
(Tahereh Mafi, Destroy Me)
May 21st is International Tea Day:
("Why drinking tea might just help in a crisis")
Philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel doesn’t want “a bland world of happy angels”.
Part of the interview shocked me, to be honest. Eric is clearly a decent guy at heart. Yet how could anyone wish for tragedies to befall others in order to make life interesting?
"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
But can humans learn to practise kindness to members of other species?
No so random acts
("Acts of kindness may not be that random after all. Science says being kind pays off.")
“The monsters were never
under my bed.
Because the monsters
were inside my head.”
“I fear no monsters,
for no monsters I see.
Because all this time
the monster has been me.”
“There are no heroes...in life, the monsters win.”
Here Be Monsters
Will future (trans)humans be hardwired for love?
Mice too, I hope - but with ferility-regulation...
Love and hate in the mouse brain
The 2020 Happiness Festival
My contribution: video (mp4)
Hedonic adaptation is not akin to the second law of thermodynamics. It’s a bunch of feedback mechanisms in the CNS. Perhaps the transhuman version of the hedonic treadmill will be a hedonistic treadmill. Perhaps posthumans with advanced AI will abolish hedonic adaptation altogether.
The Hedonistic Imperative...
DP on Neohuman & MP4
If only Epicurus (or the Bible) had said, “Let us genetically recalibrate the hedonic treadmill”:
How much is enough?
Anders Sandberg on the Future of Happiness
My most substantial difference from Anders - besides the fact he’s a Jeff Bezos of happiness and I live in a medieval slum - is that Anders believes in the prospect of digital sentience - whole-brain emulation and so forth. I don’t think classical computers can be happy or sad, or support subjects of experience of any kind. Anders knows my views on the non-classicality of phenomenal binding. But he rates the likelihood that unified phenomenal consciousness is a quantum phenomenon at under 5%. Solving the Hard Problem of consciousness and the binding problem of neuroscience isn’t just philosophers yapping: it’s critical to the future of sentience.
An awesome podcast from Invincible Wellbeing. Jacob Shwartz-Lucas interviews Kent Berridge:
Pleasure in the Brain
("The most taboo ideas in neuroscience, psychiatry, drug policy, and neurotech are explored. We're enriching the conversation about hacking the hedonic treadmill, developing inexhaustible fortitude, adaptive pain control, unbound compassion, and sustainable bliss.")
Are ecstatic seizures a pathology?
Or a tantalising clue to the future of life?
Stuart, won't superhuman bliss feel superhumanly meaningful and fascinating by it's very nature? As Dan, says, the option of information-sensitive gradients of bliss (rather than uniform bliss) allows critical intelligence to be retained. However, it's not clear this option is open to classical utilitarians, except as a stopgap...
The final ideal state of sentience
The Happiness Revolution
The UK’s happiness tsar quotes Donald Trump (“Show me someone without an ego and I’ll show you a loser”). But I wish there more messianic egomaniacs driving a biohappiness revolution. We can’t meditate our way to universal bliss:
DP and Peter Singer & MP4.
Thanks Robert. I could probably do one, but a transcript would involve listening to me (which I never do) as well as Peter Singer, who is always cool. If memory serves, we touch on topics like predation (cf. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10806-016-9637-4) but also the cataclysmic(?) implications of a classical utilitarian ethic for civilisation. If we ignore my Facebook jottings the first scholarly treatment I know of the potentially apocalyptic implications of a classical utilitarian as well as negative utilitarian ethic is Simon Knutsson’s:
The World Destruction Argument.
Imagine if instead of striving for elegance and economy, mathematicians sought Rube-Goldberg-like proofs - the most complicated, ugly and inefficient ways to prove mathematical theorems. How absurd! Yet humans do something similar. We’re all slaves to the pleasure principle. Yet instead of being rational, efficient pleasure-maximisers who use our new-found knowledge of biotech and IT elegantly to maximise the abundance of empirical value in the world, we adopt a Rube-Goldberg-like approach.
Or so a classical utilitarian might claim...
The fate of the universe?
Information-sensitive gradients of bliss - even gradients of bliss orders of magnitude richer than human peak experiences - don’t strictly maximise subjective well-being as dictated by classical utilitarianism. By contrast, hedonium has no dips: it’s indiscriminate, all-consuming bliss. Although hedonium needn’t be erotic, “orgasmium” might be a more evocative term.
“I am not proud, but I am happy; and happiness blinds, I think, more than pride.”
(Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo)
The World Happiness Report
Alas the plight of nonhuman animals is ignored.
Do happy personalities today have “accurate perception – an informed and error-free view of the self and the world”?
Or do happy folk have a processing bias - maybe even an affective psychosis?
Sadly, studies suggest depressives are more astute:
I hope that a biohappiness revolution can replace depressive realism with euphoric realism. But the superhappiness of our transhuman successors will itself depend on selective ignorance, namely of the horrors of Darwinian life.
A popular Yale University online course is called “The Science of Well-Being”.
("A college course world wants to study right now")
2. Connect with others
3. Practise gratitude
Alas, mindfulness makes melancholia worse, connecting with others is hazardous for hedgehogs, and counting one's blessings is genetically maladaptive (cf. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-020-00236-6).
Well-being must be genetically designed.
Superhuman bliss will entail superhuman meaning. Re-engineering our reward circuitry will add more to the Meaning of Life than 2500 years of philosophy - and all the world's self-improvement manuals combined.
Stuart, yes, as you say, "information-sensitive gradients of bliss" is neutral about what kinds of information we should be responsive to. Nociception and basic bodily functions are straightforward enough, but what about more cerebral stimuli? Transhumans and posthumans will have vastly different preoccupations from us. However, one of the advantages of hedonic recalibration is precisely how engineering a higher hedonic range and higher hedonic set-point can enrich everyone’s default quality of life without adjudicating between their conflicting preferences and irreconcilable values. In principle, mass hedonic uplift can even be profoundly conservative. To give a toy example, trying to reconcile the conflicting preferences of 100 fanatical football-team supporters for their 100 different football teams to win the cup is logically impossible. "Coherent extrapolated volition" won't help either. By itself, ratcheting up their hedonic set-points won’t change their allegiances or (un)satisfied preferences. But hedonic uplift will massively enrich their quality of life. Exactly the same point holds when the stakes are much higher than football. In other words, you don’t need to be any kind of (negative, classical or preference utilitarian) to advocate a biohappiness revolution.
A Museum of Happiness? Let's hope one day it's the other way round...
Danish Happiness Museum
[a critique of The Hedonistic Imperative]
A Critique of The Hedonistic Imperative & YouTube
I hope to do a proper response later. There has been surprisingly little serious scholarly treatment of what a civilisation based entirely o gradients of well-being would entail - whether pitfalls or practicalities. I did a quick Google search under “gradients of bliss” which confirmed my suspicions: not many scholarly treatises and a lot of electronic music by the (admirable!) Barker.
(cf. Sam Barker and DP)
"Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare."
Tweaking the ROBO1 gene:
Could gene therapy turn you in a math genius?
Or should mathematical prowess be offloaded to neurochips?
Genetic variation / differences in mathematical ability
Recall Erdős. "I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren't beautiful, nothing is." Imagine a drug or gene therapy that gave the rest of us Erdős' overpowering sense of mathematical beauty. Does "the most beautiful equation" (https://www.livescience.com/51399-eulers-identity.html) move you to tears? Or (like me) would you rather look at pics of snaggle-tooth bunny rabbits? I don't think enhancement (or remediation) is just a question of amplifying raw processing-power or mathematical insight. Ernie asks David if there's necessarily a neurological trade-off. Perhaps not. But if you are obsessively fascinated by mathematical relationships you probably won't be focused on, say, social cognition. The best mathematicians (and chess players etc) seem to care about little else.
I say a bit more on math here: DP on the philosophy of mathematics?
LIH383 and ACKR3
We are all born addicts, hooked on endogenous opioids. Addiction corrupts our judgements about life as much as any heroin addict - just more insidiously. Tragically, taking drugs like heroin activates the negative feedback-mechanisms of the CNS, creating more suffering for users and their loved ones alike. However, IMO discovery of the ”scavenger” ACKR3 opioid receptor is a potential game-changer. Use of the novel agent LIH383, perhaps with selective kappa opioid antagonists, could potentially subvert our nasty negative-feedback mechanisms. Could LIH383 and its successors revolutionise mental and physical health by elevating everyone’s default hedonic tone? To stress: this idea is highly speculative. Naturally, there are countless potential pitfalls to weigh. But this is exciting research...
Ven Graham, if I were conducting trials of LIH383, I’d want to include population sub-groups that were - and weren’t - also given a selective kappa antagonist (the dynorphin / kappa receptor system is the “nasty” opioid receptor). But yes. If default subjective well-being / hedonic-set points can be controlled in this way, then the opportunities - and pitfalls - will be immense, both for the individual and society.
I was only five or six years old, but I remember from my grandad’s car the aroma of
Why some people love the smell of gasoline
Strangely, my little ancestral namesake “just knew” there was something dangerous and forbidden about petrol - I don’t know why.
A special thanks to my old friend Bruce for rescuing hedonium (the server, not the hypothetical pleasure-plasma) when she went dowm - taking the BLTC websites offline.
2020 has been a stressful year.
("Scientists Use AI to Decode the Ultrasonic Language of Rodents. The DeepSqueak software translates the high-pitched communication into sonograms...to determine what mice and rats are saying")
Can fentanyl improve the dawn chorus?
Maybe, but mass use of opioids to enrich the biosphere is premature:
Starlings given fentanyl produce songs like free-form jazz
But natural highs are best:
Parrots love poppy farms
“I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles.”
Every moment will feel like this - only better:
A Hole in One
("Four year old Rocco hits hole in one on first hole. Rocco walked up to the tee at the very first hole, gathered himself and hit a shot some men spend their whole lives attempting to pull off.")
My new role model:
("Japan's video gaming grandma, 90, plays her way into record books")
Here in Brighton, "Vegan Pacifist" (clan HERBIVORES) is an avid player of Modern Combat Versus (MCV).
The enemy are self-avowed "Butchers", "Predators", "Crazed Killers" and "Psychos".
Yes, sad - 2020 has been a rough year.
Adult humans lose around 5% of our dopamine-producing neurons each decade. We’d all develop Parkinsonian signs and symptoms if we lived long enough. Can youthful function be restored?
Stem cell transplant
("A secret experiment revealed: In a medical first, doctors treat Parkinson’s with a novel brain cell transplant")
But did Nature get there first - though animal minds aren't universal quantum computers.
Building a quantum computer
("Constructing a universal quantum computer will be hard but not impossible ")
What's it like to be a quantum robin?
Quantum robins (pdf).
Robin redbreast? Alas not:
A lonely albino robin
("Rare albino robin has been left without a partner and 'unable to breed for FOUR years' because she is unrecognisable to males due to the lack of a prominent red breast")
Sadly, I’ve just learned that Britain’s drug tzar, Professor Leslie Iversen CBE FRS MAE, is no longer with us:
A Department Mourns
(Professor Iversen was a big fan of HI:
Plagiarism by British drug tzar)
Time to restore the sacred in our lives?
How to party
("What we can learn from the orgies of old")
Savant syndrome may be innate or acquired. It illustrates how little we understand about mind, consciousness and intelligence...
("The violent attack that turned a man into a maths genius")
Indistinguishable from magic? Not yet...
Technologies of the early 21st century
("The apps, gadgets and breakthroughs that shaped the last two decades")
The biohappiness revolution will make us fearless too...
Happiness vs Meaning?
Daryl yes, IMO we need systematic research into the cognitive biases of today's hyperthymic anomalies. They haven't been nearly as well studied as depressives.
My Opening and Rejoinder to Brock. And a Quora answer: Critique of HI.
Thanks Benjamin. In one sense, I agree with your criticism. I sometimes sound like a crude genetic determinist - despite disavowing the label. Starting with parenting and education, and going on to the nature of our society, a fully-developed blueprint for the abolitionist project will include detailed socio-psychological prescriptions for reform. These prescriptions are only are "biological" insofar as all our experience supervenes on neurobiology - and thus ultimately physics.
Man is a rationalising animal:
Value of Suffering Project
[on Invincible Wellbeing]
What practical steps can you take to accelerate the abolitionist project - and maybe even full-blown paradise engineering?
Not everyone is content to philosophise - although everyone is condially invited to join us on the Hedonistic Imperative Facebook group (HI Facebook).
Transhumanist organisations like Humanity Plus (H+ aka the WTA), which philosopher Nick Bostrom and I co-founded back in 1998, focus on the wider transhumanist agenda. And from abolitionist Working Meetups to the Organization for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS) to the Qualia Research Institute (QRI), an ecosystem of abolitionists has arisen who dream of a world without the horrors of Darwinian life.
Below is a form for Invincible Wellbeing - the action group rather than the aspiration!
At times, I personally despair of the challenges ahead. But I can't think of a more worthwhile goal than replacing the biology of suffering with life based on gradients of bliss.
1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11 : 12 : 13 : 14
David Pearce (2020)
The Abolitionist Project
Quora Answers 2015-22
Social Network Postings (2022)