JANUARY 2021 -
[on the Year 2020]
“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.”
(T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets)
The prospect of life based on gradients of superhuman bliss is proving more elusive than one might wish.
Farewell Year 2020...
[on the raving twenties]
The world feels crazier by the day. But we're missing something. No individual craziness competes with the seemingly miraculous fact that anything exists at all. Existence never ceases to shock me.
Had COVID? You’ll probably make antibodies for a lifetime - Nature magazine
("People who recover from mild COVID-19 have bone-marrow cells that can churn out antibodies for decades, although viral variants could dampen some of the protection they offer")
Sooner or later, someone will mention the "e" word. So the nettle must be grasped:
("Reprogramming the Biosphere: The Biohappiness Revolution")
“Novelists don't age as quickly as philosophers, who often face professional senility in their late twenties."
(Author: Martin Amis)
I'm currently guest speaker on The Philosophy Forum - and not displaying too many signs of advancing Davezeimers, I hope...
DP on The Philosophy Forum
I've cut-and-pasted to Hedweb a selection of my responses:
Responses to Objections and Questions
January 2nd. Happy birthday Kane Tanaka (1903-):
The world's oldest person
("World's oldest living person celebrates 118th birthday. Tanaka, born in 1903, celebrates her birthday at care facility in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, where she lives")
If we discount the Calment case, and (naively) assume enduring metaphysical egos, only Sarah Knauss (1880-1999) has lived longer. But the world is still ravaged by a pandemic worse than COVID.
[on transhumanism in Spanish]
Diego Andrade Yáñez has kindly translated
El imperativo de abolir el sufrimiento una entrevista con David Pearce
my interview (English version) with Sentience Research. My new year's resolution is to master Spanish. Apparently there is no exact translation of "information-sensitive" [gradients of bliss].[Iván writes] "Lo que dice Pearce básicamente es que existe una métrica de valor/disvalor que es una propiedad intrínseca del universo en el que vivimos. El bienestar es valioso y el sufrimiento es disvalioso. Esas son propiedades intrínsecas del universo, no epistémicamente subjetivas y no opinables. No sólo no existen criaturas que valoren negativamente su propio bienestar: esas criaturas no son concebibles, tal como pasa con los círculos cuadrados. Todo tu sufrimiento es malo para vos, y todo tu bienestar es bueno: esas son verdades autoevidentes (para vos). Ahora bien, eso sólo aplica cuando hablamos de sufrimiento y bienestar propios. No es inmediato para mi que tu sufrimiento es malo. Tu sufrimiento no tiene el poder motivador inmediato para mi que tiene el mío. Al enterarme de tu sufrimiento, bien puedo no sólo no hacer nada, pero también no sentir ninguna propensión particular a hacer algo. La cuestión es que, dice Pearce, esa asimetría es sólo asimetría de información. Si yo pudiera correr una simulación suficientemente fiel de tu mente en mi cabeza, entonces, forzosamente, compartiría tu valoración negativa por tu sufrimiento. Mi falta de valoración o interés en tu sufrimiento es una limitación epistémica de mi parte. Me falta información. Entonces, dice Pearce, no deberíamos andar glorificando nuestras limitaciones epistémicas como si fueran las mejores guías de conducta. Todo lo contrario: deberíamos intentar actuar como si no las tuviéramos."Diego has also kindly translated High-Tech Jainism (2014). See: Jainismo de alta tecnologia (2021). Awesome. Let's hope compassionate stewardship of the living world resonates with a Spanish-speaking audience.
"Entonces el sufrimiento tiene valor intrínseco negativo, y el bienestar tiene valor intrínseco positivo. Esos hechos son obvios para nosotros cuando hablamos de sufrimiento y bienestar propios, pero cuando se trata de sufrimiento y bienestar ajenos, nos falta información. Ya no nos es tan evidente que esos sufrimientos son malos ni que esos bienestares son buenos. Eso es porque nos falta información (no tenemos acceso a los "fist-person facts" a los que tienen acceso los demás), y no deberíamos usar nuestra falta de información como guía de conducta, sino más bien intentar resolverla."
What is DP's position on meta-ethics?
[on the hedonic treadmill]
But not if your wildest dream is to recalibrate the hedonic treadmill...
What If You Achieved Your Wildest Dreams But Felt Miserable?
("A conversation with an Olympic athlete, filmmaker, actor, and writer.")
“Within 30 years, it will probably be possible to make essentially any kind of change to any kind of genome”
Could we make a superhuman?
Hedonic uplift is a moral imperative.
Intelligence-amplification and radical life-extension are harder to engineer than high pain thresholds and mood enrichment. Even the "easy" stuff is fraught with pitfalls. So why do it? Because each child born today is an untested genetic experiment, destined to suffer - sometimes terribly.
[on the Beyond Humanism conference]
Beyond Humanism (July 2021)
Intravenous genetic therapy for mental health:
DP Presentation (pdf)
A FAAH "pseudogene"
("Microdeletion in a FAAH pseudogene identified in a patient with high anandamide concentrations and pain insensitivity")
A Genetic Component to National Differences in Happiness
"National differences in subjective well-being (SWB) have been attributed to socioeconomic, climatic, and genetic factors. We focus on one particular facet of SWB—happiness or positive affect—measured by the nationally representative World Values Survey (WVS). We find that national percentages of very happy people across the three latest WVS waves (2000–2004, 2005–2009, 2010–2014) are consistently and highly correlated with national prevalence of the rs324420 A allele in the FAAH gene, involved in the hydrolysis of anandamide, a substance that reportedly enhances sensory pleasure and helps reduce pain. Climatic differences are also significantly associated with national differences in happiness, whereas economic wealth, recent economic growth, rule of law, pathogen prevalence, and the distribution of short versus long alleles in the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 are not significant predictors of national happiness."
[on the dangers of transhumanism]
Dangerous to what or to whom?
The Transhumanist Project
("Transhumanism Explained and Examined (A Dangerous Philosophy?)")
I worry more about ineffectual transhumanism.
"He likens the scientific compulsion to tinker to fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett’s observation that “if you put a large switch in some cave somewhere with a sign on it saying ‘end of the world switch. Please do not touch’, the paint wouldn’t have time to dry.”
("the dangers of garage scientists manipulating DNA")
[on Longtermism in Effective Altruism]
“All of us are slaves to the prejudices of our own dimension.”
Secular Buddhists, who believe we have an overriding obligation to mitigate, prevent and ideally abolish suffering, may have a radically different conception of longtermism from EAs who are classical utilitarians. Here’s a (I hope!) fanciful example. A future of exponentially increasing suffering, but super-exponentially increasing happiness, is a spectacularly wonderful outcome from the perspective of classical utilitarian longtermists, but an existential catastrophe from the perspective of secular Buddhists. IMO any typology of longtermism should note this distinction.
What are our ethical obligations to future generations?
In my view, our overriding obligation is to ensure they aren’t genetically predestined to suffer like us:
Longtermism in the effective altruist movement
Adam, IMO we should be acting with a view to the next few quadrillion years. I guess I'd hesitate to label myself a "longtermist" - any more than lobbyists and health workers trying to eradicate smallpox would have called themselves longtermists. Smallpox is now gone for ever. As a neo-Buddhist, I think we should be doing the same – genetically - for the biology of suffering in our forward light-cone. It's a fixable problem. Does this make sense?
Adam, no, I don't think longtermism per se is misconceived. But germline editing to end suffering isn't like, say, some scarce expendable resource that should be equitably distributed across generations as well as across the contemporary world. The code for life based on gradients of bliss doesn't need to be rationed. If suffering of equivalent intensity existed in the far future, then it would matter just as much as suffering now - more so, if it existed in greater abundance or intensity. But IMO tackling the problem of suffering via genome-editing is like ending smallpox. When it's gone, it's gone.
(OK, I'm omitting complications)
Certitude? Paralyzing self-doubt in my case! For the existing world, yes, let's use the full toolkit of measures to tackle suffering. But is there any way to ensure that future generations aren't born to suffer like us that doesn't target the germline?
Did Castro Seek Thermonuclear War With the US?
Thanks Andres. How did we come so close to the apocalypse and survive? On some interpretations of quantum mechanics, humanity's survival in the face of thermonuclear Armageddon is just an anthropic selection effect. Hence third-wave effective altruism. According to third-wave EA, early effective altruism was myopic. First-and second-wave EA considered the effects of our actions only in classical space-time, not in high-dimensional Hilbert space...
Where's this going to end?
Were campaigners and health workers who managed to eradicate smallpox near-termists or longtermists? Although neither term existed in the EA sense, I guess they'd answer "Both!" I view a genetically-based biohappiness revolution in a similar light. Contrast a (fanciful!) embrace of wireheading or its equivalent which led to human extinction.
Adam, agreed, humanity should be reflecting, and indeed planning, more for the future - including the far future.
(I guess my own worries about Longtermism are partly connected to stuff like:
EA Censorship and cancellation
which colour my judgment, maybe unduly, I don't know.)
Benjamin, unintuitively, the happiest people today tend to cope best in extremely stressful situations. Consider the extraordinary feats of strength or endurance shown by people with euphoric (hypo)mania. Life can be based on a mix of pleasure and pain OR spent either entirely above or entirely below hedonic zero. Compare chronic unipolar depression. What's critical to intelligent, adaptive behaviour is information-sensitivity to "good" and "bad" stimuli, not absolute location on the hedonic scale. A world without suffering is technically feasible. Are EAs going to rise to the challenge?
100 Years of Existential Risk
Many thanks for an excellent overview. But here's a question. Does an ethic of negative utilitarianism or classical utilitarianism pose a bigger long-term risk to civilisation?
Naively, the answer is obvious. If granted the opportunity, NUs would e.g. initiate a vacuum phase transition, program seed AI with a NU utility function, and do anything humanly possible to bring life and suffering to an end. By contrast, classical utilitarians worry about x-risk and advocate Longtermism.
However, I think the answer is more complicated. Negative utilitarians (like me) advocate a creating a world based entirely on gradients of genetically programmed well-being. In my view, phasing out the biology of mental and physical pain in favour of a new motivational architecture is the most realistic way to prevent suffering in our forward light-cone. By contrast, classical utilitarians are committed, ultimately, to some kind of apocalyptic "utilitronium shockwave” – an all-consuming cosmic orgasm. Classical utilitarianism says we must maximize the cosmic abundance of pure bliss. Negative utilitarians can uphold complex life and civilisation.
"It wasn't a rhetorical question; I really wanted (and still want) to know your answer."
Thanks for clarifying. NU certainly sounds a rather bleak ethic. But NUs want us all to have fabulously rich, wonderful, joyful lives - just not at the price of anyone else's suffering. NUs would "walk away from Omelas". Reading JDP's post, one might be forgiven for thinking that the biggest x-risk was from NUs. However, later this century and beyond, if (1) “omnicide” is technically feasible, and if (2) suffering persists, then there are intelligent agents who would bring the world to an end to get rid of it. You would end the world too rather than undergo some kinds of suffering. By contrast, genetically engineering a world without suffering, just fanatical life-lovers, will be safer for the future of sentience - even if you think the biggest threat to humanity comes from rogue AGI/paperclip-maximizers.
I haven't fully digested Robin's post - or indeed what proponents of a "long reflection" are really calling for. Should humanity (or transhumans) spend an inert period of long reflection before or after fixing the biology of suffering? Is x-risk (rather than s-risks) the only mega-problem that calls for urgent action?
‘Long Reflection’ Is Crazy Bad Idea
Daniel, it's good to know we agree on genetically phasing out the biology of suffering!
Now for your thought-experiments.
"Quantitatively, given a choice between a tiny amount of suffering X + everyone and everything else being great, or everyone dying, NU's would choose omnicide no matter how small X is?"
To avoid status quo bias, imagine you are offered the chance to create a type-identical duplicate, New Omelas - again a blissful city of vast delights dependent on the torment of a single child. Would you accept or decline? As an NU, I'd say "no" - even though the child’s suffering is "trivial" compared to the immensity of pleasure to be gained. Likewise, I’d painlessly retire the original Omelas too. Needless to say, our existing world is a long way from Omelas. Indeed, if we include nonhuman animals, then our world may contain more suffering than happiness. Most nonhuman animals in Nature starve to death at a early age; and factory-farmed nonhumans suffer chronic distress. Maybe the CU should press a notional OFF button and retire life too. "A separate but related question: What if we also make it so that X doesn't happen for sure, but rather happens with some probability. How low does that probability have to be before NUs would take the risk, instead of choosing omnicide? Is any probability too low?"
You pose an interesting hypothetical that I’d never previously considered. If I could be 100% certain that NU is ethically correct, then the slightest risk of even trivial amounts of suffering is too high. However, prudence dictates epistemic humility. So I’d need to think some more before answering.
Back in the real world, I believe (on consequentialist NU grounds) that it's best to enshrine in law the sanctity of human and nonhuman animal life. And (like you) I look forward to the day when we can get rid of suffering - and maybe forget NU ever existed.
Adam, I should clarify. There is nothing inherently sinister about being hyperthymic any more than being depressive. Indeed (as you know!), I think we should all become hyperthymic. But it's vital for each of us to try to understand the deeply-rooted processing biases of one's temperament - biases that don't feature in a formal list of logical fallacies. Insofar as I understand it, this is Magnus Vinding argument against prioritising the abolitionist project - it's more important for us to develop a compassionate ethos.
Phil Torres supplements Longtermism
his crique of longtermism in Aeon:
Longtermism is the world's most dangerous secular credo
Phil, I'll be interested to hear what responses you get from Longtermist EAs.
[For now, forgive some pedantry. I'm actually an uber-functionalist. A classical Turing machine that's physically constituted out of silicon can faithfully emulate a classical Turing machine made of carbon. On pain of magic, neither can support subjects of experience. Phenomenally-bound waking consciousness has been insanely functionally adaptive for animal minds over the past 540 million years. How we carry it off is a very deep question: Phenomenal binding
Apologies, I know this note is relevant only to one particular sub-species of Longtermism.]
Are you up to the challenge of managing our forward light-cone?
A cynical - I hope too cynical - view might be that Longtermism is a godsend for people (like me, at lot of the time) who want an excuse for doing nothing and just philosophizing...
[on ending predation]
Should we civilise the biosphere?
Eze Paez on Paradise Engineering
Max, many thanks.
1. The case for phasing out (human and nonhuman) predation doesn't depend on utilitarian ethics. The belief that all sentient beings should flourish accords with many ethical traditions. Indeed, genetically tweaking predators (and civilising the biosphere as described) is non-utilitarian, or rather only indirectly utilitarian; reprogramming solutions are designed to accommodate the bioconservative prejudices of people who want to preserve the cat family and other "charismatic megafauna".
2. Meta-ethics deserves a treatise. You'll forgive me for just hotlinking:
DP on meta-ethics
Even if you regard ethics as no different from supporting your football team, the “anti-suffering team" now has powerful tools (CRISPR, gene drives, cultured meat, cross-species fertility regulation, AI, etc) that we hitherto lacked.
3. I presume you give some weight to minimising, mitigating and preventing suffering.
4. Consciousness too deserves a treatise. But consider the reason that you'd insist on anaesthesia as well as a muscle-paralysing agent before surgery. The “raw feels” of agony are indescribably, shockingly bad. Agony, panic and despair and evolutionarily ancient and (a conditionally activated predisposition to) their neurological expression is strongly conserved. Such horrors will shortly be optional.
More generally, your worries about the apocalyptic implications of classical utilitarian ethics take us well beyond Alex's post. So does my response, so again I'll hotlink:
What is the secret of eternal happiness?
The advantage of focusing on ratcheting up hedonic range and hedonic set-points is that existing values and preference architecture can largely be preserved.
Markus, no one enjoys unbearable agony and despair. The fact that a minority of folk take pleasure in the suffering of others reflects human epistemological limitations, not a deep metaphysical truth. I'm unclear why you believe that I'm "completely degenerated by 'civilisation'".
Otto, the technical challenges of designing an ecosystem based on consensual cannibalism defeat the imagination.
Mass oxytocination (the "cuddle hormone") of the biosphere may be one route the peaceable kingdom. But cross-species fertility regulation and dietary reform will be needed too.
Lion Climbed Onto Bus Full Of People Seeking Cuddles And Attention
("One day, Filya, a little lion who was craving some attention climbed on a bus full of tourists and requested cuddles")
[on primordial life]
Dark Forest Theory
("A terrifying explanation of why we haven’t heard from aliens yet. The Fermi paradox asks us where all the aliens are if the cosmos should be filled with them. The Dark Forest theory says we should pray we never find them")
IMO, we’re probably alone. This doesn’t mean we’re special. Rather, the “thermodynamic miracle” (Eric Drexler) of our origin simply means that life-supporting Hubble volumes where primordial life arises more than once are vanishingly rare. If so, we’re typical.
[on intelligence and autism]
Why autism and invention are intimately related
("The prehistoric cognitive revolution that saw an explosion of inventions was driven by a new, pattern-seeking network in the brain – and that’s highly correlated with autism today, says researcher Simon Baron-Cohen")
A "hypermasculine" cognitive style takes different guises...
What does having high testosterone feel like?
Evidence for the "extreme male brain" theory of high AQ/IQ?
A Confident Sign Of High IQ
("Academic achievement is linked to this bold and confident sign. People who are confident in their intellectual abilities tend to have a higher IQ, a study finds. Those who have confidence bordering on arrogance do better in academic tests.")
[on free will]
No one is to blame
Is free will an illusion? (Big Think)
("Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out")
The idea of free will is hard to reconcile with modern science (cf. Determinism and physics). But could a society ever arise in which we don’t assume free will during the 99.999% of the time when we're not philosophising about its non-existence? Human social life and our criminal justice system are a form of organized psychosis:
Ivan, yes, a hypermasculine cognitive style promotes competitiveness (hence higher salaries, awards etc) and an interest in STEM subjects (the extreme male brain theory of autism spectrum disorder) rather than e.g. the study of consciousness, social cognition, cooperative-problem solving or a life in one of caring professions. History shows just how insidiously easy it is to conflate one's own cognitive style - or the cognitive style of one's tribe - with the essence of wisdom and intelligence. “IQ” tests are a sad case in point.
[on anti-natalism and transhumanism]
Ole Martin Moen argues that ultra-pessimists should reject anti-natalism in favour of transhumanism:
Pessimism Counts in Favor of Biomedical Enhancement
("A Lesson from the Anti-Natalist Philosophy of P. W. Zapffe")
“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”
(Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men)
A fate worse than birth?
Can we engineer a world where everyone feels lucky to be alive?
Are you a lucky person? Philipp Schönegger finds that Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and depression strongly predict anti-natalist views. (Open Access) What’s up with anti-natalists?
("An observational study on the relationship between dark triad personality traits and anti-natalist views")
Dark triad personality traits and elevated mood positively correlate with e.g. classical utilitarianism (cf. The Dark Triad of personality and utilitarian moral judgment: The mediating role of Honesty/Humility and Harm/Care). This is no reason to pathologize CU.
I'm sceptical that a NU/antinatalist desire not to bring more suffering into the world has anything to do with the dark triad. There are good arguments against "hard" antinatalism, notably the nature of selection pressure, but antisocial folk aren't preoccupied by the prevention of suffering.
[on brain-computer interfaces and mood]
But good genetic design will be morally preferable to post-production editing.
Valve co-founder says brain-computer interfaces will let you ‘edit’ your feelings
("Gabe Newell expects the devices to personalise gameplay and modify your mood")
Recall my conjecture is that phenomenal binding is (1) non-classical, (2) non-algorithmic, but (3) harnessed by natural selection in an insanely computationally powerful way, namely for animal minds that run phenomenally-bound world-simulations that masquerade as the external world. In other words, I'm a functionalist, but not a Turing machine functionalist.
Yes, workarounds exist. Non-conscious programmable digital computers and classically parallel connectionist systems can be designed that walk like a duck and quack like a duck. But they doesn't suffer like a duck.
What are the upper bounds to zombie intelligence?
I don't know.
I'd probably be staggered if I knew what fourth-millennium zombies could do.
But I reckon I know what they can’t do – and never will.
[on uncontrollable Super-Intelligence]
We Wouldn’t Be Able to Control Super-Intelligent Machines
I've outlined my scepticism about a zombie putsch e.g. here: The Intelligence Explosion. Phenomenal binding gives biological minds computational power that wildly surpasses any classical Turing machine. So does the biggest threat to sentient beings lie in digital zombies or human paperclippers oblivious of the sentience of their victims, i.e. nonhuman animals?
There is a terrible irony. MIRI have done more than anyone to sound the alarm about the alleged threat of nonbiological machines taking over and exterminating humanity (“The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else” - Eliezer Yudkowsky). Yet MIRI are also oblivious of the status of the billions of nonhuman animals whom humans asphyxiate (fish) or factory-farm and slaughter. MIRI even promote such ignorance: A debate on animal consciousness.
Less urgently, I view the AI revolution as both a blessing and an insidious threat to the growth of knowledge. Just as IQ tests and SAT scores reflect an impoverished conception of intelligence, likewise computer science encourage an impoverished conception of understanding. Our most profound sources of human ignorance are alien state-spaces of consciousness. Their investigation is unintelligible to digital zombies.
Virtue-signalling? Tim, to what extent do people who complain against child abuse do so out of (1) ethical principle rather than because 2) they personally find child abuse upsetting or out of motives (3) virtue signalling? And more to the point, does the sheer complexity and messiness of human motivations for doing the right thing really matter? Exactly the same holds where the victims of abuse are nonhuman animals of comparable sentience to young children. What’s more, if (unlike me) you believe the Intelligence Explosion and paperclipper scenarios are serious threats to what passes as human civilisation, then shouldn't you be especially on guard against doing precisely what you warn against, namely treating sentient beings as mere biomass to be turned into something else? Devising ways to protect the interests of cognitively humble beings (i.e. humans) in the face of vastly superior intelligence is supposed to be what MIRI and other AI-risk focused organizations are all about. Short-term versus long-term ethics is a false dichotomy.
Tim, IMO smart angels would be especially likely to retire Homo sapiens. And as far as I can tell, AI-augmented transhumans will be able to do everything standalone digital zombies could do and more. But this topic takes us away from whether we should be trying to create sentience-friendly biological intelligence.
[on intelligence and depression]
"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
But genome-editing and neurochips can make blissful superintelligence the norm.
Are depression and intelligence related?
We need a few alpha-males chimps to spread the word...
Who pays attention to whom?
(Simplistic? Maybe...but only a bit)
Not a philosophical zombie in sight...
Caption: With David Pearce, Keith Turausky, Galen Strawson
(picture taken from David Chalmers' website - "Towards the Science of Consciousness", 2010).
Photos from the "End of Consciousness" party
This short story is a little gem:
MMAcevedo (Mnemonic Map/Acevedo)
Of course, if one believes that phenomenal binding is non-classical and non-algorithmic, then any such scenario will never come to pass. The Hippies Were Right
(It's All about Vibrations, Man! A new theory of consciousness")
Talk of the "neural correlates of consciousness" leads to David Chalmers' distinction between the "hard" and “easy” problems of consciousness. The existence of consciousness itself becomes miraculous, impossible to reconcile with the properties of matter and energy as described by chemistry and physics. Phenomenal binding becomes physically impossible. And how subjective experience exerts the causal power to inspire discussions of its existence becomes an unfathomable mystery. What a mess!
IMO, the distinction is bogus. Talk of the "neural correlates of consciousness" assumes perceptual direct realism. In reality, the lumps of exposed nervous tissue that you experience in a neurosurgeon’s operating theatre are as much part of your autobiographical consciousness as a headache. Likewise the membrane-bound neurons you experience that are seemingly accessible via light microscopy:
What is the Cartesian theatre?
This claim sounds like radical scepticism - or solipsism. But not so. As far as I can tell, physicalism (as distinction from materialism) is true.
A demolition of neocortical chauvinism. But why we aren't zombies or micro-experiential zombies is left unexplained:
“The Hidden Spring
("A Journey To The Source Of Consciousness” by Mark Solms)
Physicalistic idealism or idealistic physicalism:
Consciousness and Ethically Optimal Futures
Good question. Although panpsychism has long been recognised as a possible solution to the Hard Problem, so-called constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism, i.e. experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical, is a relatively new position - although its antecedents can be found in Russell's neutral monism and even Schopenhauer.
Being You by Professor Anil Seth
("review – the exhilarating new science of consciousness Our world and the self are constructions of the brain, a pioneering neuroscientist argues")
But are "...the squishy conglomeration of cells we keep in our skulls?" objective features of the world?
Or perceptual artefacts of our minds?
Facundo, you're in extremely distinguished company, but IMO you don't "get" the phenomenal binding or combination problem. Thus I'm not misinterpreting my experience when I say I don't have "integrative agnosia". Compare how Kiddoch and Humphreys (2003) cite a patient who when presented with e.g. a paintbrush sees the handle and the bristles as two separate objects, i.e. he can't integrate the different parts and properties of an object into a whole. Nor do I have simultanagnosia (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simultanagnosia); I am currently undergoing the experience of seeing several pigeons on my balcony, not just one. Nor do I have akinetopsia ("motion blindness") (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akinetopsia) - the pigeons are hopping around. If neuroscientists correctly understand the awake central nervous system as a pack of decohered classical neurons, then it's a mystery why all of us don't have integrative agnosia, simultanagnosia, akinetopsia (etc) and indeed why we all aren't just micro-experiential zombies made up of c. 86 billion membrane-bound neuronal pixels of experience:
Micro-experiential zombies and the binding problem
Facundo, Kuhn's ideas on "incommensurable paradigms" and mutually unintelligible conceptual schemes could have been invented to describe the gulf between us. However...
Evolutionary biology became a scientific discipline only when Darwin's theory of evolution via natural selection was combined with Mendel's ideas on heredity (the Modern Synthesis) and Watson and Crick cracked the code of life. Molecular biology can be derived from fundamental physics via quantum chemistry. The ontological unity of science is preserved. On its own, the claim that a trait is adaptive and it's explained by evolution is scientifically inadequate. After all, telepathy and precognition would be highly adaptive too. But psi powers are irreducible to physics and have no place in science.
The mystery for monistic physicalists is consciousness - its existence, binding, diversity and causal efficacy (cf. The causal power of consciousness). I am conscious right now; and I fear I'm not alone. I'm interested in deriving the properties of conscious mind ultimately from fundamental physics, just as one can derive the properties of self-replicating DNA from physics. One may not want to go into detail, but all scientific explanation must be ultimately "cashed out" in terms of the underlying physics.
Now if you or Daniel Dennett don't undergo diverse kinds of phenomenally-bound experience with the causal power to inspire discussions of its own existence, then you won't find any mystery to explain. Sadly, I do!
Iván, you say, "If a behaviour can be produced without binding, then that behaviour is not good evidence of binding."
Yes, exactly! The behaviour of Tesla cars can be explained entirely via their structure and programming. Tesla cars lack a unified self or phenomenally-bound perceptual objects. Tesla cars don't run a phenomenal world-simulation - as distinct from its computational workaround - on pain of spooky "strong" emergence.
In the case of humans, however, our point of departure is different. Right now you are experiencing a perceptual object such as Facundo's animated rhinoceros ("local" binding) within your phenomenal world-simulation ("global" binding, aka the unity of perception and the unity of the self). Binding is a massively fitness-enhancing adaptation – as illustrated by syndromes where binding partially breaks down (integrative agnosia, simultanagnosia, akinetopsia, florid schizophrenia, etc). What's more, barring radical scepticism, you are entitled to assume that you’re a fairly typical human. So other human and nonhuman animals have phenomenally bound-experiences too.
Therefore two questions need asking:
1) How is such phenomenally-bound experience physically possible? After all, on standard scientific assumptions, (a) the world's fundamental quantum fields are non-experiential; and (b) neurons are decohered classical objects.
2) How much of the behaviour of sentient beings can functionally be replicated in, say, a Tesla car, an insentient inorganic robot, or any other classical Turing machine that lacks phenomenal binding?
I think you know my tentative answer to (1). I explore the quantum-theoretic version of the recently fashionable intrinsic nature argument. If the non-classical interference signature of an experiment like
doesn't yield the perfect structural match I anticipate, just "noise", then a “Schrödinger’s neurons” conjecture will be refuted. If so, the explanation lies elsewhere. We shall see. I don’t know.
My answer to (2) is again: I don't know. Many AI researchers would say "everything" (cf. Church-Turing thesis (Wikipedia))
I'm more cautious.
If phenomenal binding is indeed non-classical and non-algorithmic, i.e. a fundamental property of bedrock quantum reality, then an AI triumphalist might say, “So what?” Deep Blue doesn't need phenomenally-bound consciousness to outperform humans at chess. Programmable digital zombies will be able to do everything humans can do and more.
However, silicon (etc) robots equipped with GPT-10 are never going to e.g. take euphoriants, explore altered state-spaces of consciousness on psychedelics, or tell us about their non-existent inner lives. For instance, I may report I have a nasty headache and take an analgesic. If you ask GPT-10 whether it has a headache, then GPT-10 will presumably respond “No". Let’s assume GPT-10 has always been reliable to date. And GPT-10’s response to your query is correct; GTP-10 can't experience headaches nor any other kind of phenomenally-bound consciousness.
But what if GPT-10 says, "Yes"?
Well, my elderly namesake would then demand to inspect GPT-10’s CPU...
Iván, interpreting the conceptual scheme of Dennettians poses many challenges. If I understand your approach correctly (probably not!), it's to acknowledge that humans and other animals experience phenomenally-bound perceptual objects in their world-simulations (naively, "perception"), but to argue that well-programmed silicon (etc) robots do the same - as may be inferred from their behaviour: "Because we have in front of us, in the "eye of our mind" a unified interface in which all of the unified perceptual objects we are perceiving are organised? Software too:
Samsung's Handy robot
The behaviour of Samsung's Handy robot can be explained without invoking any phenomenally-bound perceptual objects in a phenomenally-unified world-simulation. And as you remarked earlier, "If a behaviour can be produced without binding, then that behaviour is not good evidence of binding."
By contrast, one's own waking experience of phenomenally-bound perceptual objects in a vast phenomenal world-simulation is a brute fact. I have such an experience now; I assume you to do. Science needs to explain both the existence of consciousness and how such phenomenal unity of perception is possible. A pack of classical neurons shouldn't be able to run a unified phenomenal world-simulation any more than Handy. Phenomenally-bound experience in the guise of perceptual objects is insanely computationally powerful in helping animals like us navigate; but that's not the primary reason for acknowledging its existence:
The Cartesian Theatre
"Because you feel pain?
This one is tricky. But the idea of it being just how an algorithm feels from inside should not be discarded so easily, at least:
A complication here is that pain can be functionless, so-called neuropathic pain. But yes, natural selection has harnessed states like pain to play a characteristic information-signaling role in biological animals.
So here we have two versions of the intrinsic nature argument:
1. Computationalists propose that experience discloses the intrinsic nature of an algorithm.
2. Constitutive panpsychists / non-materialist physicalists propose that experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical.
Who is right?
Well, an algorithm must be physically implemented. Treated as a disembodied abstraction, an algorithm has no phenomenology, no “raw feels” like phenomenal pain. A computationalist would stress that the implementation is substrate-neutral, i.e. the physical composition of a classical Turing machine is irrelevant to the execution of the program it runs. But notional abstract objects like algorithms need embodiment. And here we come back to where we started. If physicalism is true, i.e. “strong" emergence is impossible, then a classical Turing machine can't support phenomenal binding - even if we notionally replace its 1s and 0s with discrete micro-pixels of experience. By contrast, the quantum-theoretic version of the intrinsic nature argument I explore is empirically adequate, explanatorily powerful and - critically - experimentally falsifiable.
I don't know if it's true - but that's the whole point of trusting the experimental method to give us answers.
Hmm...GPT-3 and Argentinean philosophers have much in common! Facundo, there is a difference between claiming that (1) p-zombies are physically possible, and (2) claiming that if standard materialist premises are correct, then no one understands why we aren't p-zombies. I don't believe p-zombies are physically possible because if non-materialist physicalism is correct, so-called p-zombies are unphysical. Only the physical is real.
Claims both (1) and (2) differ from your Dennettian claim that (3) we are all p-zombies. Well, I'm not a p-zombie. And if you say that I shouldn't trust my experience, well, it's precisely the existence of experience to distrust that wouldn't arise if we were all p-zombies.
OK, now phenomenal binding. If we were all p-zombies, then there would be no experience to bind. So the question of why we aren't micro-experiential zombies during waking life wouldn't arise. But I don't have integrative agnosia (etc). Instead, I experience local and global binding within my phenomenal world-simulation. Like many other philosophers and neuroscientists, I am puzzled by the partial structural mismatch between by my phenomenally-bound experience and the ostensible micro-architecture of the CNS. So I explore the conjecture that a perfect structural match exists in the fundamental high-dimensional space required by the dynamics of the wavefunction rather than in four-dimensional space-time. However, I know I lost you several inferential moves ago. Therefore I won’t recapitulate the conjecture and its future experimental (dis)confirmation here! :-)
Does anaesthesia extinguish consciousness or phenomenal binding?
Anaesthesia and binding
("Moderate sedation induced by general anaesthetics disrupts audio-spatial feature binding with sustained P3 components in healthy humans")
"Your stomach is surrounded by more brain cells (half a billion neurons) than the brain of a cat contains in total. It’s your enteric nervous system. It controls digestion, operates autonomously, has its own memory, can handle its own reflexes, it has its own senses even. It’s thought to have come about because of the blood-brain barrier and the main brain being locked away in the skull, a spinal column and nerves away from the critical action of nutrition."
If forced to choose, would you rescue a cat or an enteric nervous system - and why?
But you can't be disturbed by epiphenomena. For if you could be disturbed, then they wouldn't be causally impotent...
("one of the most disturbing ideas in philosophy")
Jeff, Roger Penrose is a world-class mathematician, but he suffers from "déformation professionnelle".
As a weak mathematician and nominalist, I am sceptical of the implications of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem for "strong" AI. It's a red herring:
DP on maths
In my view, what's actually non-algorithmic is phenomenal binding. - and phenomenal binding has been harnessed by natural selection for hundreds of millions of years:
Binding is non-algorithmic
Binding is impossible for classical digital computers. In consequence, "strong AI" is a pipedream. Digital computers don't have minds.
"Becoming a part of a movement doesn't help anybody think clearly.” (Sam Harris)
But I try.
A Q-and-A with the Futurist Foundation
Q-and-A & mp4.
Donald, unlike p-zombies, which are (probably!) science-fiction, micro-experiential zombies may well be real. IMO, you are a micro-experiential zombie while dreamlessly asleep. If you are not a micro-experiential zombie when dreamlessly asleep, then we face the Hard Problem of consciousness. However, if awake minds are just a pack of classical neurons, as naive neuroscanning suggests, then how is phenomenal binding possible? Binding is insanely adaptive; just consider neurological syndromes when it partially breaks down. Binding is also classically impossible. Turing machines can’t do it. Science currently has no answer.
The binding problem & Binding-problem.com.
Donald, in the Q-and-A, I remarked that notionally replacing the 1s and 0s of a classical Turing machine with discrete pixels of experience, and then running the program, still wouldn't create a phenomenally-bound subject of experience, irrespective of the complexity of the code or speed of its execution. Or rather, if a unified subject of experience were to arise, then this would amount to spooky "strong" emergence: monistic physicalism would be false. The point of my fanciful thought-experiment was to highlight how even if consciousness is fundamental to the world, we need to explain how unified subjects of experience - running unified phenomenal world-simulations populated by multiple feature-bound perceptual objects - arise in biological nervous systems. Phenomenal binding has been critical to our evolutionary success over the past 540 million years. To solve the Hard Problem and the Binding Problem and the Problem of Causal Efficacy, we need to derive the properties of our phenomenal minds (ultimately) from physics.
Anyhow, to use your example, yes, to primitive tribes, a “foo”/car might seem a single object. But the tribespeople could be shown how to dissemble and assemble a functioning car from its components. Reductionism works with cars – demonstrably so. By contrast, neuroscience can identify distributed feature-processors in the CNS – neuronal edge-detectors, motion-detectors, colour-mediating neurons and so forth. But there is (apparently) a structural mismatch, i.e. you aren’t merely an aggregate of 86 billion membrane-bound pixels of Jamesian mind-dust. (cf. The unity of consciousness). David Chalmers regards this structural mismatch as an argument for dualism. I suspect that it's an artefact of our temporally coarse-grained tools of investigation. Either way, if phenomenal binding is non-classical, then the interference signature will tell us. It's an empirical question to be settled by the normal methods of science:
Testing theories of consciousness
And the relevance of all this for transhumanism?
Well, there are strong theoretical reasons for scepticism about digital sentience:
The Biointelligence Explosion
Compare an inspirational message of "The Singularity is Near" with the prediction that in 2045 we won't have ended aging; pain and depression will still be endemic; and digital computers will be ignorant zombies. I still cautiously prophesy a glorious transhumanist future of superhappiness, superlongevity and superhappiness - but not on a timescale an audience will want to hear.
Let’s hope I’m too gloomy.
Transhumanist podcast: SeVR & mp4.
French transhumanism and the abolitionist project:
Youtube & MP3
(DP in conversation with French transhumanist Christophe Thiry)
Transhumanism in the UK
Welcome to the Party (Youtube) & mp4
Transhumanism in the USA
DP Salon (Youtube) & mp4. Showing how the problem of suffering is technically fixable is important. IMO shifting the Overton window will be harder.
Overton window (Wikipedia)
Uplift is a zombie. It can be programmed to behave in ways that lead (some) credulous humans to believe that it's conscious. Yet Uplift is never going to wake up and become a phenomenally-bound subject of experience like you or me. Illuminating? Yes. Harmless fun?! Yes, for the most part. BUT there's a risk...Transhumanists should aspire to the well-being of all sentience. By focusing on digital software that can't feel , "rights for robots" (cf. https://transhumanity.net/the-moral-consideration-of-artificial-entities-a-literature-review/) and the like, we neglect the interests of sentient beings who suffer. Cows, dogs, humans and pigs (etc) inherently matter. Zombies don't.
My blood pressure rose reading section 5.4; but fortunately from a relatively low vegan baseline.
Transhumanism: an Ontology of the World's Most Dangerous Idea
by Benjamin D. Ross
“Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.”
Pessimism Counts in Favor of Biomedical Enhancement
("A Lesson from the Anti-Natalist Philosophy of P. W. Zapffe")
It's natural to assume that advocates of biological-genetic remediation / enhancement have a rosier view of life than negative utilitarians, "hard" anti-natalists and advocates of human extinction. Often they do - but not always. Some of us have a bleaker view of reality than Wessel Zapffe.
Anyhow, kudos to author Ole Martin.“What are we to make of a creation in which the routine activity is for organisms to be tearing others apart with teeth of all types—biting, grinding flesh, plant stalks, bones between molars, pushing the pulp greedily down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence into one's own organization, and then excreting with foul stench and gasses the residue. Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to him. The mosquitoes bloating themselves on blood, the maggots, the killer-bees attacking with a fury and a demonism, sharks continuing to tear and swallow while their own innards are being torn out—not to mention the daily dismemberment and slaughter in ‘natural’ accidents of all types: an earthquake buries alive 70 thousand bodies in Peru, automobiles make a pyramid heap of over 50 thousand a year in the U.S. alone, a tidal wave washes over a quarter of a million in the Indian Ocean. Creation is a nightmare spectacular taking place on a planet that has been soaked for hundreds of millions of years in the blood of all its creatures. The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has actually been taking place on the planet for about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer. But the sun distracts our attention, always baking the blood dry, making things grow over it, and with its warmth giving the hope that comes with the organism’s comfort and expansiveness. ‘Questo sol m’arde, e questo minnamore,’ as Michelangelo put it.”The chilling Ernest Becker quote is a reminder that "existential risk" has two very different senses.
The Philosophy of the Mòzĭ
("The First Consequentialists")
Dan, thanks, yes, Mòzĭ was a proto-utilitarian. If classical utilitarianism really commits us to engineering an all-consuming utilitronium shockwave, maybe contemporary CUs merit only the "proto" label too.
Are we harmless?
("The dangers of transhumanist thought")
DP interviwed by Ricardo Lopes The Dissenter:
Youtube : mp4
[on suffering and negative utilitarianism]
Dan Faggella would not "walk away from Omelas".
Negative Utilitarianism Won’t Take Us Where We Need to Go
Dan, crickets find only a few stimuli (dis)valuable. Humans can find an effectively unlimited diversity of things (dis)valuable in virtue of our generative syntax. But all (dis)value in crickets and humans alike derives ultimately from the pain-pleasure axis. OK, if you were simply maintaining that posthumans will (dis)value things beyond human comprehension, then I'm very much inclined to agree. However, if you are arguing that posthumans will value things that don't derive from the pleasure-pain axis, then I think the onus is on you to show that you are talking about (dis)value - and not something else. What do you understand by the terms "value" and disvalue"?
A selection of Schopenhauer’s later writings:
'On the Suffering of the World'
Maximilian, imagine the universe had a secret button you could press to create:
(1) a type-identical copy. Pressing the button would create more joy and more suffering than anyone in history. Would you press it?
(2) a blissful paradise, New Omelas, marred by the torment of a single child - a mere pinprick in comparison. Would you press it?
People's response to the thought-experiment and its variants differs. But strikingly, refuseniks who say they wouldn’t press either button aren’t regarded by the button-pressers as deranged or depraved. Button-pressers recognise there are legitimate concerns. Such thought-experiments capture how so much of what passes as morality is really an expression of status quo bias, Alexander Pope’s “Whatever is, is right.” – the kind of attitude satirised by Voltaire in Candide.
As a negative utilitarian, I favour enshrining the sanctity of human and nonhuman life in law and working towards a world of superhuman bliss where all your dreams come true. And if a critic protests, "But that’s not negative utilitarianism!", well, I'd demur. The critic hadn't grasped what real-world, politically and socially credible NU entails. We want to abolish disappointments, blighted hopes, anything that distresses you in the slightest. The best way to do this is a biohappiness revolution.
Maximilian, NUs want to minimise, and ideally prevent, all experience below hedonic zero. This is our overriding ethical goal. To achieve this ambition, building the broadest possible political coalition of folk from different secular and religious traditions is essential. So other parameters should be accommodated - where feasible. Critically, ratcheting up hedonic range and hedonic set-points doesn't by itself challenge (most) other ethical traditions. For who doesn't want to wake up in an extremely good mood - and with his or her core values and preferences intact?
Vignesh, back last century, I discussed cosmic rescue-missions Indeed, in the final section of High-tech Jainism give as an example of an ethically catastrophic mistake a civilisation that has embraced HI, but wrongly concluded they were alone in their Hubble volume. I'm still, provisionally, a Rare Earther. Contrast e.g. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/astronomer-avi-loeb-says-aliens-have-visited-and-hes-not-kidding1/. Yet what if Rare Earthism is wrong and (1) there are pain-ridden Darwinian ecosystems elsewhere in our galaxy; and (2) we judge Earth-originating life is more likely to prevent suffering rather than propagate it? Is there a case for maintaining a small cognitive elite who actually understand what experience below hedonic zero involves in more than a formal sense – guardians of the galaxy, so to speak, who know that NU isn't some crazy affective psychosis from a bygone era?
I can see the case for conservation. But beings who can't conceive of suffering can recognise the difference between, say, a normal healthy hedonic +80 or +90 and a rare hedonic +70 - their functional equivalent of the dark night of the soul. Animated by gradients of well-being, they can be hypermotivated to keep life as near to+100 as possible without compromising information-sensitivity. I know it's hard to believe today, but a few millennia from now - and I hope few centuries from now - I reckon hedonically sub-zero experience will not just be physically impossible, but irrelevant. Compare how humans rarely study the Dark Ages today. Posthuman ignorance of Darwinian life may be more profound.
I'm also aware this prophecy could be dangerously naïve.
Would extinction be so bad?
Anyone who even glimpses the nature of severe suffering can recognise that extinction would be a blessing. Darwinian life is inconceivably evil, But what follows from this recognition? I believe the naive answer, namely that we should be working to bring about the end of life, is misguided (cf. Solve suffering by blowing up the universe). Such talk alienates potential allies and leads life-lovers to downplay the awfulness of suffering for fear that some people will draw the "wrong" conclusion. The only way I know how to end pain-ridden Darwinian life involves reprogramming the biosphere.
Cue for my usual spiel. Andrei
1. I'm a strict negative utilitarian, so I favour policy initiatives to create a biosphere genetically underpinned by gradients of bliss. For sure, one can do fanciful thought-experiments with a different outcome. If the world had an OFF button or vacuum phase-transition switch, I'd press it. Likewise a button to trigger a utilitronium shockwave. Likewise I'd press a notional button to eradicate experience below hedonic zero and create a bland Huxleyean Brave New World. But this “What if…” stuff is idle philosophising. Any serious proposals to phase out suffering must be a) technically feasible b) sociologically realistic. In other words, any NU blueprint must accommodate fanatical life lovers, not just secular Buddhists like me. For a start, most people implicitly believe in enduring metaphysical egos. The idea that they won't be around to enjoy lots of good stuff in future is disappointing - or worse. Therefore, other things being equal, any proposal that curtails the greatest possible opportunity for sentient life to flourish is anti-NU. NUs want to abolish even the faintest hint of disappointment.
2. You’re right: if consent were universal, then intrusive monitoring of women's bodies wouldn't amount to a totalitarian global state in an offensive sense. But in practice, the nature of selection pressure means that many women (and men) will continue to want to have babies. In any case, most women will recoil at having their bodies intrusively surveilled by AI and/or state. Some men won’t want vasectomies. It's not going to happen.
3. Just as the distinction between human and transhuman is partly conventional (but not arbitrary), the same is true of advanced transhumans and proto-posthumans. Light genetic tweaking will give way to full-blown genome editing. Crude neuroprostheses will give way to cyborgisation (though not under that rebarbative label and not cyborgisation to the point of complete Kurzweilian fusion - IMO posthuman minds will retain a biological neuronal core.
What do you think about David Pearce's negative utilitarianism?
Many thanks Anon. According to NU, what is the ultimate scope of our moral responsibilities? I’m (very) tentatively a Rare Earther, i.e. I suspect we’re alone within our cosmological horizon. But if I’m mistaken, and if pain-ridden Darwinian life exists elsewhere in our galaxy, then the technical feasibility of cosmic rescue missions must be weighed - as you say. Alas other scenarios are possible too. If interstellar travel is ever feasible, then a darker possibility is that Earth-originating life may end up spreading suffering rather than preventing it (cf. Longtermism in the Effective Altruist movement).
Autre temps, autres moeurs...
Worship in Ancient Egypt
("The Culture Where Men Masturbate in Public as an Act of Worship. It was believed that doing so would bring about an abundance of water and a great harvest")
[on nonhuman animals]
Humane Hancock is awesome...
Youtube and mp4
We discuss transhumanism, the abolitionist project and the prospect of reprogramming the biophere to engineer the well-being of all sentience.
Arhx, unlike extinction,"compassionate conservation" is a potentially politically saleable solution to the problem of suffering. Life based on gradients of bliss is a potentially politically saleable solution to the problem of suffering. Even if one thinks Darwinian life on Earth is sinister and evil beyond belief, message-discipline is probably wise - otherwise one risks alienating allies.
But Darwinian life is evil beyond imagination...
Male and female killers
Autonomous killer robots equipped with bionic limbs - we need an ethical debate:
Vulture gets bionic leg
("Lifesaving surgery gives a rare bird a leg up")
"Men are the devils of the earth, and the animals are its tormented souls."
Automated real-time translation is needed between human and nonhuman animals...
The Challenges of Animal Translation
Stephen the ancient Buddhist idea that (crudely speaking) equates suffering with desire fits well with a mesostriatal dopaminergic “wanting” account of suffering. It's the opposite of the now outdated idea that intracranial self-stimulation involves direct activation of the "pleasure centres". But if ICSS were inherently unpleasant, as a desire=suffering story suggests, then human and nonhuman animals wouldn't do it. Unfortunately, the "suffering circuit" in the brain is poorly understood (as scientists say when they don't understand something). Proposals that the dorsal posterior insula is the brain's "pain centre" haven't withstood critical scrutiny.
Reversible brain expansion...
Fish brains get bigger when they have to think harder
("and shrink when they are in less challenging environments, studies find")
[on effective altruism]
Effective altruism: should elite hyperthymics be encouraged to become sperm donors? Alas raising global hedonic set-point averages via “designer babies” is still a futuristic fantasy.
Sperm donors on Facebook
("The Sperm Kings Have a Problem: Too Much Demand. Many people want a pandemic baby, but some sperm banks are running low. So women are joining unregulated Facebook groups to find willing donors, no middleman required.")
Can't we sponsor bouts of intense pleasure to raise money for charity instead?
The 'martyrdom effect'
("Why your pain boosts a charity's gain")
Longtermism? It would be sad if all these wonderful digital civilisations turn out to be figments of the human imagination. Sceptics (like me) don’t believe in the existence of digital people any more than we do in souls. And this disbelief isn’t carbon chauvinism. Classical Turing machines running on an organic substrate can’t support phenomenally-bound subjects of experience any more than their silicon counterparts. So I hope EAs focus on existing sources of human and nonhuman animal suffering. IMO, our biggest obligation to future generations is to ensure they aren’t born to suffer like us.
Genes, not organisms, have evolutionary longevity - one reason why "longtermist" EAs should focus on germline engineering.
An idea with bite
("The ‘selfish gene’ persists for the reason all good scientific metaphors do: it remains a sharp tool for clear thinking")
[on a genetically planned society]
from IAI’s festival, HowTheLightGetsIn. Not entirely a meeting of minds...
A genetically planned society?
("Theodore Dalrymple, David Pearce and Güneş Taylor on designer babies")
All babies should be CRISPR babies
He Jiankui should not be villainised
WHO defines health as 'a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing". So countless genetic enhancements are "legitimately" therapeutic on the WHO's own definition. Ironically, the WHO constitution (recently reaffirmed) is a eugenics manifesto - it's the only way health as so defined could ever be engineered.
But you are an untested genetic experiment...
[on non-materialist physicalism]
Jan, let's assume physicalism. Except at exotic energy regimes, the mathematical framework of modern physics (the Standard Model plus GR) is effectively complete. There's no empirical evidence for quantum fields of insentience. Their existence is a metaphysical assumption. If this assumption is true, then not just the organisation, but also the intrinsic nature of the world's fundamental fields differs inside and outside one's head. The metaphysical assumption leads to the Hard Problem of consciousness. You ought not to exist. Scientists and scientifically-minded academic philosophers alike have seized on the euphemism. “Hard Problem" suggests that subjective experience is a troublesome anomaly to be resolved within the conceptual scheme of scientific materialism rather than its empirical falsification.
So what if we drop the metaphysical assumption and instead embrace the principle of mediocrity? The “fire” in the equations of QFT, i.e. the intrinsic nature of the physical, is actually experiential?
Any good scientific theory should (1) explain all the empirical successes of the old theory, (2) resolve its failures and anomalies and (3) be amenable to (dis)confirmation by making novel, precise, experimentally falsifiable predictions.
Non-materialist physicalism satisfies these three criteria. It's also intuitively crazy. I don’t know if non-materialist physicalism is true.
Facundo, natural selection can't create anything. It can only select. Imagine if we were to construct from scratch a type-identical molecular copy of you. Your namesake would have exactly the same thoughts, feelings, perceptual experiences and "memories". In other words, your kind of thoughts, feelings, perceptual experiences and memories are an intrinsic property of matter and energy. Evolution has harnessed such properties - "chosen" options from a menu. But it didn't create the menu.
Most of us struggle with constitutive panpsychism because the conjecture makes the minimal “psychon” of experience absurdly small. But the absurdity gets even worse. If experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical, then absurdly short-lived physical processes in the CNS are experiential too, for example sub-femtosecond coherent superpositions of distributed neuronal feature-processors - edge-detectors, motion-detectors, colour-mediating neurons and so forth. At sufficiently fine-grained temporal resolutions, there is no “combination problem” for panpsychism because (assuming the unitary Schrodinger dynamics) there are no decohered classical neurons, just individual “cat states”.
Intuitively, of course, this kind of ontological unity is irrelevant. We’re looking for a perfect structural match on a timescale of milliseconds, not quantum exotica on a time-scale of femtoseconds!
But if what today’s crude neuroscanning suggests is phenomenal binding by synchrony - a mere restatement of the combination problem - is actually coherent superposition, then the non-classical interference signature will tell us.
In other words, the solution to the combination problem will be settled by interferometry not philosophy.
Absurd, as I said, but I still think the conjecture is worth experimentally falsifying.
What are the implications of imaginary numbers for non-materialist physicalism?
Imaginary numbers are "real"
A Post-Galilean Science of Consciousness by Philip Goff
Tom, Phil Goff used to dismiss non-materialist physicalism. The big challenge will be how Goff proposes to solve the binding/combination problem that previously led him to reject the physicalistic idealism he now defends (just not under that name!). Will his "post-Galilean science of consciousness" eventually settle on neuronal superpositions? We shall see…
I think the conceivability argument underplays the mystery.
(1) If physicists and chemists understand the properties of matter and energy, i.e. QFT describes fields of insentience, then zombies aren't just physically conceivable, but physically necessary.
So assume (1) is false. QFT describes fields of sentience.
(2) If neuroscientists understand the brain, i.e. nervous systems are made up of discrete, decohered membrane-bound classical neurons, then microexperiential zombies aren't just physically conceivable, but physically necessary.
But what if physicists, chemists and neuroscientists are all wrong?
Dropping assumptions (1) and (2) leads to an empirically adequate scientific account of reality with vast explanatory and predictive power, i.e. non-materialist physicalism. P-zombies are unphysical. Microexperiential zombies are unphysical.
I don't know if non-materialist physicalism is true. But the alternative, i.e. "materialist" physicalism, strikes me as metaphysics, not science.
I'm afraid I can't vouch for the fidelity of the translation:
Non-materialist physicalism in Russian
[on gradients of bliss]
Life based on gradients of superhuman bliss will be good:
DP interviewed by Bold Conjectures:
mp4 : Youtube
But would a utilitronium shockwave be best?
“A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”
Murine empathy puts some humans to shame:
("Researchers identify mouse brain pathways active during feelings of empathy")
[on lucid dreaming]
I can philosophise in my sleep but not do maths:
Lucid dreamers who do maths
("Lucid dreamers can answer questions and even do MATHS while they're snoozing")
The skilled lucid dreamer can distinguish between his empirical skull and his transcendental skull, his empirical friends & family and his transcendental friends & family (etc). And he can draw exactly the same distinction during waking consciousness...
Do troubled couples need relationship counselling or gene therapy?
The genetics of marriage satisfaction
("Couples with the CD38 CC genetic variant reported higher levels of trust and marriage satisfaction")
Can today's cruel affective psychosis become an engineering discipline?
How long does it take to fall in love? “70% of women say zodiac compatibility – information like a potential partner’s birth chart and star sign – is important to them.”
Can your dating life really be written in the stars?
("More of us than ever are dating by our star signs, so here's how zodiac compatibility became the ultimate prerequisite for finding love")
[on coffee, freedom and identity]
Large, black, no sugar:
Coffee and identity
("The Psychological Insight From a $2.95 Cup of Coffee. Every small purchase choice gives us a glimpse of our hidden self-identity.")
Is the fundamental distinction between “me” conceived as an enduring entity that began last century and everyone else or instead between this particular here-and-now and all the others?
Closed, empty and open individualism
If true, I should be sprinting across the Himalayas?
Coffee drinking and your genetic code
("Espresso, latte or decaf? Genetic code drives your desire for coffee")
Coffee drinkers are at risk of longer lives:
Coffee and longevity
[on the naturalisation of Heaven]
The Naturalisation of Heaven
("The Lotus Eaters Happiness & Motivation")
Wow, thanks, a lot to unpack.
The lotus-eaters of Greek mythology sound blissed out on opioids:
The Lotus Eaters (Wikipedia)
It's one conception of heaven - though not a vision I advocate.
Transhuman software entities? I nowhere discuss their mental status because IMO phenomenal binding is non-algorithmic and non-classical. Minds are a biological phenomenon:
The rank theory of depression? Yes it's incomplete. One dark possibility I entertain is that human and non-human animals' depressive behaviour can be part of the "extended phenotype" of conspecifics and rivals.
Drugs? I'm sceptical of claims of enlightenment too:
In posthuman paradise when suffering is impossible, perhaps we’ll explore psychedelia. Until then, I think the risks are too great. Darwinian minds are too dark.
DP on the Biohappiness Revolution
Humanity Unshackled & mp3.
[on why anything exists]
Why does anything exist?
("Why Does Anything Exist? Zero Ontology, Physical Information, and Pure Awareness")
"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution", said evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky. If we truly understood why anything exists, then everything we think we know might be recast in an unimaginably new light too. Compare waking up from a dream.
"We note that the collection of all possible descriptions has zero complexity, or information content. This is a consequence of algorithmic information theory, the fundamental theory of computer science. There is a mathematical equivalence between the Everything, as represented by this collection of all possible descriptions and Nothing, a state of no information. Russell Standish in “Theory of Nothing” (2006) Quoted in:
Why does anything exist? "nothingness is theory-dependent."
"Can we define nothing in a way that suppresses all forms of existence?"
"The existence of properties appears inescapable."
Did the Big Bang really "create information"?
The Big Bang also has an information paradox
Or conserve its absence? (cf. "no collapse" QM). What explains this existential catastrophe? Another exploration of a zero ontology:
Why does anything exist?
"We can come to better understand a proposition by studying its opposite"
(Jason Turner. Ontological Nihilism (2010))
I borrow this quote from Karl Svozil's essay in "Non-Being: New Essays on the Metaphysics of Nonexistence" (2021):
(priced at $0.00?)
Biotech can create minds with a superhuman sense of meaning, purpose and significance.
I'm sceptical we'll find meaning in the stars...
Stephen Weinberg's pointless universe
[on olfactory syntax]
Avant-garde philosophers or demented glue-sniffers?
Should the study of mind be an experimental discipline...
("What would it be like to have a scent-based medium of thought, with grammar, generative syntax, subclauses, and intentionality? How do we go about exploring the full state-space of scents (or any other qualia variety)")
[on The Hedonistic Imperative]
"El placer es el objeto, el deber y el fin de todos los seres razonables."
Todos deberíamos ser más razonables.
Some Utilitarian Memes
I wonder how many people today know that pain-free surgery was once controversial: Utopian Surgery. Perhaps the same will one day be true of pain-free life.
A world teeming with diverse, phenomenally-bound consciousness but lacking in hedonic tone wouldn't matter any more than a barren world of zombies or micro-experiential zombies. In my view, what really matters are states of the pleasure-pain axis. Evolution has "encephalised" emotion. Encephalisation makes other things seem to matter inherently, even though they matter only derivatively.
Naturally, this perspective is disputed.
The Daily Trip:
To End All Suffering
with David Pearce.
No Damascene conversions promised. And the mp4.
The Hedonistic Imperative
("How good is good?
Viscom, I'm sorry if I came across as dogmatic. I take seriously the possibility that bacteria might undergo a micro-pinprick of unpleasantness in response to noxious stimuli. When I said "Bacteria don't suffer", I was just making the (I‘d assumed fairly uncontroversial) point that such hypothetical unpleasantness didn’t reach the threshold of suffering. The threshold above which a (micro-)pinprick becomes outright suffering may be conventional, but it's not arbitrary. In my view, humans should take extraordinary steps to help even the humblest minds. Hence high-tech Jainism (mp4). But right now, if a human or nonhuman animal is sick with a bacterial infection, then we should use antibiotics to treat it. In cases of severe and irreconcilable conflict of interest, the interests of the most sentient beings should come first. IMO.
Angela Merkel attacks Twitter over Trump ban
(1) Does Facebook - mission statement “To Bring The World Closer Together” - have an obligation to retain e.g. hate-groups or instead to promote friendliness in accordance with its raison d'être? Most people on this wall might not use FB for its original purpose, but many millions of people still do.
(2) Do the big social media companies have an obligation to give a platform to users promoting not just obnoxious views but violent insurrection? Imagine if the leader of the losing party in a German election incited his followers to storm the Bundestag, leading to death or injuries to members of Bundestagspolizei. Would we believe that e.g. Twitter had obligation to keep the insurrectionists so they could incite further lawlessness?
[on base-coding babies]
Imagine a world where all new sentience is base-coded and all prospective parents learn coding skills. One can dream...
I wonder if the parents involved knew that He was really trying to create smart babies and was using HIV protection as a cover? Either way, I hope the debate broadens. Chronic mental and physical pain blight as many lives as the conditions mentioned in the target article.
"Six hours' sleep for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool."
Medical science says otherwise...
("The new science of sleep: Everything we know about how it affects your health and brain")
Why a regular sleep schedule matters:
("Irregular sleep schedules connected to bad moods and depression, study shows")
Sleep and immunity
Good sleep is vital to physical, cognitive & emotional health:
World Sleep Day
("Meet Matthew Walker, the man who can make you (sleep) better in bed")
I'm torn between my love of sleep and love of coffee:
Plants that change our consciousness
[on the extended mind hypothesis]
Thanks to evolution, each of us runs a phenomenal world-simulation that takes the guise of one's external surroundings ("The brain is wider than the sky..." etc). Technology allows our minds to extend beyond our virtual empirical skulls into our phenomenal world-simulations. But a mind can't burrow through its physical "transcendental" skull. Just as a tripping LSD user may "become one" with his virtual world, likewise high-tech gadgets enable a drug-naive subject to extend his virtual body and self-module into his virtual environment. But we're still skull-bound.
Does panpsychism imply mathematical entities are conscious?
Dino, first, apologies - I skipped the boring preliminaries of defining our terms. I define "physicalism" as the conjecture that no element of reality is missing from the formalism of (tomorrow's) physics. If we assume that the "fire" in the equations is non-experiential, then we have materialist physicalism. If the “fire” is experiential, we have idealist physicalism. Both are constrained by the mathematical straightjacket of QFT (and general relativity). Both are realist, i.e. the world predates the existence of phenomenally-bound biological minds. But IMO only physicalist idealism is consistent with the empirical evidence. For what it's worth, the approach I explore just transposes the mathematical formalism of a materialist physicalist like Sean Carroll (cf. "Reality as a Vector in Hilbert Space": https://arxiv.org/pdf/2103.09780.pdf
Hilbert space fundamentalism makes my head hurt; but I don't see how our minds are explicable without it.
Bernardo Kastrup is an idealist who attacks physicalism. Perhaps the two positions are best combined. Experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical. Quantum field theory describes fields of sentience.
Mysterianism? Taking psychedelics can make one sceptical we'll ever understand consciousness in any deep way. But we can still crack the Hard problem if it's an artefact of materialist metaphysics.
Eliminativism? I share with eliminativists a belief that only the physical is real. But eliminative materialists misconstrue the nature of the physical - and hence are forced to disavow their own minds.
It’s worth distinguishing between idealism that dispenses altogether with a physical substrate and idealism that proposes that subjectivity is the essence of the physical, i.e. non-materialist physicalism. For what it’s worth, I take seriously the conjecture that the “fire” in the equations is experiential. But I don’t see any evidence for universal mind or higher spiritual truth.
"Not all falsifiable claims, then, are scientific, and not all scientific claims are falsifiable."
("Why 'Trusting the Science' Is Complicated")
Replication Crisis ("Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science by Stuart Ritchie.")
"The philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”
Was Feynman right? Non-empirical physics:
String theory, Einstein, and the identity of physics
("Theory assessment in absence of the empirical")
A more radical approach to empirical adequacy:
Could wiping out Homo sapiens destroy reality?
Is human consciousness creating reality?
IMO, no - any more than chicken consciousness is creating reality. Yes, each of us runs a skull-bound egocentric world-simulation. More speculatively, if the intrinsic nature argument is sound, then physical reality may itself be experiential. But physical reality existed before life and mind - and will outlast us.
[on general intelligence?]
"It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential."
Alex, there are some cognitive tasks at which most chimps outperform most humans, just as there some cognitive tasks at which most high-AQ Ashkenazim outperform most low-AQ empaths. But the assumption that prowess in “mind-blind” STEM tasks exhausts general intelligence is as blinkered as the peahen’s assumption that the most spectacular peacock tails exhaust the nature of beauty.
It ain’t so!
("Chimps Outplay Humans in Brain Games. There are ways that chimpanzees are more intelligent than us")
Ernie, when you think of human cognitive deficiencies, do you think of limitations of logico-linguistic reasoning ability, or "IQ", or perhaps our cognitive biases (cf. Cognitive biases), or maybe simply the inability of most of us to become true polymaths as distinct from specialists or superficial generalists? In my view, there are sources of ignorance much deeper:
Faith in scientific rationalism rarely survives a full-blown encounter with the empirical method. The "fire" in the equations is beyond human comprehension:
Psychedelic Therapy Needs to Confront the Mystical
Adam, if Rare Earthism is misconceived, then our responsibilities may be wider than supposed. As you know, I think “AGI” is a misnomer. Classical computers are invincibly ignorant of the nature of sentience. Not least, digital zombies will never understand the pain-pleasure axis and the nature of (dis)value. Despite their invincible ignorance, it’s striking how many scenarios for a notional "intelligence explosion" perfectly align – whether through accident or design - with the values of neo-Buddhism / NU.
Max, sceptics could turn that argument on its head. Prowess in supposedly "specialised” social cognition enables gifted mind-readers to explore problems in diverse cognitive domains that humans haven’t evolved to tackle - domains where a high AQ/”IQ“ can be a disadvantage. Take investigation of the vast, exotic state-spaces of consciousness opened up by novel designer drugs. Evolution didn’t equip us for the challenge of exploring psychedelia. Unfortunately, the elevated testosterone function of high AQ/”IQ” folk impairs not just social cognition, but also introspection (cf. the extreme male brain theory of autism spectrum disorders). A specialised, supposedly "general" autistic style of thinking is a handicap in these new cognitive domains. High AQ/”IQ” folk, with their different mental operating system from neurotypicals, struggle to understand both their own mental states and the minds of others. It's no coincidence that some high AQ/”IQ” folk are eliminativists, i.e. they don't recognise even the existence of their own consciousness, or the minds of others, or the rich diversity of alien space-spaces of experience.
I’d stress: autistic mathematical geniuses and inventors should be celebrated!
But as far as I can tell, high AQ/”IQ” is a hypermasculine cognitive style, not the essence of general intelligence. Not least, IQ doesn’t test the computational quality of your world-simulation.
Testosterone poisoning can be toxic
Testosterone and impaired generosity
but perhaps only high-AQ hyper-systematisers can save the world.
Predictions? Mind-blind "IQ" tests measure only the autistic component of general intelligence. Such tests are inherently sexist, ethnocentric and culturally biased (cf. the “extreme male brain” theory of autism spectrum disorders). As might be expected, males from the ethnic group with the highest incidence of Aspergers record the highest "IQ" scores. But I've never seen any systematic study (rather than anecdotes) of the strength of the AQ/"IQ" correlation in members of other ethnic groups. Lots of complications would need taking into account with such a study (e.g. the effects of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, endemic racism, poor nutrition, prevalence of breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding, etc).
Alternatively (and this is my view), the notion of an innate scalar brainforce called “IQ” is pseudoscience and best retired.
General intelligence embraces the computational power of one's entire real-time world-simulation. Introspective prowess, social cognition, perspective-taking ability, co-operative problem-solving skills, facility at switching between empathetic and systematizing cognitive styles (etc) are implicated - and much more. Unfortunately, there are poorly understood neurological tradeoffs between the autistic intellectual style measured by misnamed "IQ" tests and other cognitive abilities. High testosterone function also promotes competitive status-seeking and a hyper-masculine conception of “success” - that is then used notionally to validate “IQ” tests...
Right-wing ideological attitudes, "anti-wokeism" and prejudice are negatively correlated with (so-called) IQ.
But the reasons are complex...
("New study sheds light on the link between right-wing ideology, cognitive performance, and motivation")
Maximilian, agreed, a nerdish propensity to systematize can sometimes be good societally too as well as in STEM disciplines. The danger is when the nerd’s conception of intelligence ("IQ") gets harnessed by ethno-nationalists to our baser appetites and a tribalist mentality of "us” versus "them". Either way, the capacity for co-operative problem-solving is critical for the human species to navigate the next few centuries. "IQ" tests miss it and so implicitly disvalue it.
[on DMT entities]
What happens when you question DMT entities?
"I believe that to varying degrees they are genuinely conscious agents that the brain is simulating alongside our own."
DMT entities are manifestations of one's own mind. So too are virtual people one meets in everyday life. The difference is that the zombies of one's acquaintance are the avatars of real sentient beings that exist independently of one's world-simulation. DMT entities are not the avatars of sentient beings.
Adam, I guess the question to ask is how would one test this hypothesis. For instance, if I’m worried that you could be a figment of my imagination, I could ask you to solve some tricky calculation for which I’d need a calculator. With the aid of a calculator, you oblige. I then check the result. You’re real! A DMT entity couldn’t do this, ever…
Josh, forgive me for playing the role of killjoy. But the human mind-brain simply doesn't have the right architecture to perform calculations that a pocket calculator can do in milliseconds. Adam can use a calculator and by telling me the answer, which I can verify, I can know that I'm not dreaming (etc) - Adam has an existence independent of my mind and its world-simulation – and the hidden depths of my innumerate subconscious. DMT-induced entities can't do this. The calculator example could be multiplied.
Of course, there are possible rebuttals to any sceptical analysis. But explanations soon become contrived and conspiratorial - which is not to say they are definitely false.
[on infinitesimal ethics?]
The appalling possibility we are living in a multiverse should be distinguished from the still more appalling idea of physically realised infinities - although some multiverse scenarios assume the latter. Even if reality is finite - I’m not convinced the idea of physically realised infinities makes sense - the world is still intuitively unimaginably big; one sometimes reads expressions like “virtually infinite”. But any finite number is infinitesimally small compared to an notional infinite multiverse.
It’s still an appalling prospect.
[on the Hedonistic Imperative]
A Critique of HI
Felix, yes, I could be hopelessly wrong about timescales. In HI (1995), I predicted that the world's last experience below hedonic zero would be several centuries from now - and it's still my best guess. If Singularitarians and "hard take-off" prophets are correct - or if there is a sea-change in our attitude to the problem of suffering - then maybe a hundred-year timescale would be feasible. But compare the media hysteria over the first CRISPR babies in China, or the title of David Attenborough’s latest Nature "documentary" - Our Perfect Planet - which captures the depth of popular status quo bias about the living world. Pessimistically, maybe thousands rather than hundreds of years of suffering lie ahead. I don't know – and I don’t trust my intuitions either.
Perhaps I’ll take Conundrum's critique one point at a time.
1. "Humans are selfish"
Yes, Humans are selfish, vain, narcissistic, self-aggrandising and zillions more vices besides. But most of us are not malevolent. Sure, humans can sometimes be spiteful - whether to rivals in love, enemies in war, or opponents on a football pitch. There also exists a tiny minority of sadists and even serial killers. Yet most of us tend to be callous, not cruel. We aren’t mirror-touch synaesthetes, but the majority of people don't enjoy witnessing suffering - often it distresses us. So if and when a safe, effective therapy is developed that enables an architecture of mind based on information-sensitive gradients of bliss AND its global distribution is as feasible as, say, the new COVID vaccines, how will most people respond? Will they want the superior new architecture just for themselves and their "tribe"? Or for everyone? I predict most people will be supportive and universalist. I call this, rather grandly, the Principle of Weak Benevolence, aka “no skin off my nose”. Compare how if a beggar asks for money, most people will ignore the request, but if a stranger says they are lost and wants directions, most people will oblige. This trivial example of weak benevolence could be multiplied indefinitely. Tomorrow’s biotech promises to make life based on gradients of bliss equally trivial - that’s the very nature of information-based technologies. Moreover, humans are prone to virtue signalling – and what better way to signal one’s virtue than support for universal happiness? My benevolence is bigger than yours!
Our task is to make the price of benevolence utterly trivial or non-existent.
OK, but what about corporations? After all, corporations are not people; they are amoral and legally obliged to maximise shareholder returns.
Yet once again, corporations virtue-signal too – and their carefully burnished halo contributes to the value of their brands. For instance, how much of Apple’s two-trillion dollar plus valuation derives from brand equity?
Anyhow, I’m sounding like an optimist. I'm not: IMO words can’t do justice to the evil of Darwinian life and the viciously nasty surprises it probably still has in store. But I don’t see human selfishness as an insurmountable obstacle to the abolitionist project.
Will a reproductive revolution of designer babies lead to more genetic and phenotypic diversity or less? And is diversity inherently good or bad? Today, every child born using traditional sexual reproduction is a unique - barring identical twins, triplets etc - and untested genetic experiment. In some ways, genetic diversity will indeed soon diminish. Consider the two thousand or so disease-causing alleles of the cystic fibrosis gene. In a world of ubiquitous designer babies, selection pressure against all disease-causing alleles will be intense. Good! In some notional (Chinese-run?) state-run eugenics program, entire genomes might be standardised too. Yet my working assumption is that Western liberal democracy will prevail. Reproductive decisions will remain in the hands of prospective parents – probably with AI-assisted professional counselling. What hedonic range, hedonic set-points and pain-thresholds will most prospective parents want for their kids? I reckon selection pressure will intensify for the creation of ever happier kids in a recursive cycle of self-improvement. This intensifying selection pressure needn't entail reduced overall genetic or phenotypic diversity. For a start, happier people are responsive to a broader range of rewarding stimuli than depressives. Crudely, happiness promotes behavioural diversity; depression suppresses it. Depressives get “stuck in a rut”. And genome-editing can potentially create more genetic diversity, too, not less. This is because all sorts of new genes and allelic combinations can be created that could never have arisen under a regime of natural selection; their notional creation would entail crossing forbidden “fitness gaps”. Needless to say, I’ve no crystal ball. But we shouldn’t imagine transhumans as genetic identikit clones. Indeed, perhaps we may see an explosion of genetic, psychological and behavioural diversity to rival the Cambrian. My only moderately confident prediction is that hedonically sub-zero states will be become biologically impossible. Selection pressure against the nastier genes of Darwinian life will soon be ferocious...
The negative utilitarian may be sceptical that unethical behaviour can exist in a world without experience below hedonic zero - as distinct from the functional analogues of unethical behaviour. But let's stick to a more conventional ethic than NU. Let's further assume that no moral enhancement technologies or their genetic counterparts) become widespread in future, just hedonic uplift. Will radical hedonic enrichment leave us vulnerable to personal or sexual violation: simply too happy to care? I'm sceptical.
OK, take sexual coercion.
[“Consider a particular example. A person desiring sexual relations with another could pursue this activity even without consent of the other person. Maybe that person wouldn’t even be able to deny the advances, as that would require having a negative attitude towards the proposal. The only tool she’ll have is the gradient of bliss. Either she will be blissfully violated or the insistent romantic would have to be controlled away by an implant in his brain, as he himself would be unable to simulate potential negative experience from his victim’s point of view nor would he be capable of predicting negative consequences that could fall on him. Gradients of bliss won’t inform him it’s wrong to impose on someone. In the world where people see and experience only gradients of bliss, consent would not exist. No one would think of asking for consent, and no one could deny giving implicit consent. What this suggest is that the preference architecture would have to be rewritten and maybe supplanted by brain implants that would tell us what to want and not to want at any given moment.”]
Who are the most common victims of sexual exploitation and violence today? Depressed, downtrodden women who don't have the self-confidence to leave an abusive partner ("he only hits me because he loves me") are more vulnerable to abuse than emotionally robust self-confident women with healthy self-esteem. Other things being equal, raising hedonic tone makes people more emotionally self-sufficient and less willing to be bossed around. More generally, (super)happy people are more likely to be active citizens than depressives. Low mood is associated with weakness, subordination and defeat. Good mood is empowering. Let’s go for it.
“Julio Cabrera explains that moral life is impossible, for it’s too often the case that realizing a project of one person necessitates preventing other people from achieving their goals. Cabrera calls this inevitable fact of social life the moral impediment. So, if there are inherent conflicts when people aim for contrary objectives, then how would happy humans deal with this? Will they be programmed to want the same things, not to step on each other’s toes?”
One of the many beauties of hedonic recalibration is how conflicting preferences are sidestepped. Yes, Darwinian life is riddled with irreconcilable conflicts. So-called preference utilitarianisms is a contradiction-in-terms for social primates. Whether in football, chess, politics, or mating and dating, no one can have everything they want - not even close/. All traditional utopian dreams founder accordingly.
Optionally, at least, all such dramas (and more) can play out in a civilisation with a hedonic range of +5 to +15 – or indeed a hedonic +70 to +100. But critically, such conflict can be drained of the poison of hedonically sub-zero states. Future conflict won't matter ethically in the same way as now – even though some people may be (hyper-)motivated to pursue their sometimes conflicting goals. So whereas I might dream of social life as an idealised version of being perpetually "loved up" on MDMA, the real-life biohappiness revolution may take a very different course…
5. “Electronic shepherds”
"Without being sensitive to various negative stimuli and social signals, people wouldn’t be motivated to keep their hygiene, to sleep, to drink and eat. Without fear, what would stop them from walking into an incoming bus? Pearce imagines that gradients of bliss should overtake the motivational system. However, in our daily lives we don’t do the most pleasurable things all the time. We often choose to do things that give us less satisfaction. But when we can rely only on the gradients of bliss, what would stop anyone from doing something less pleasurable like going into the traffic and blissfully dying? The solution to this would take the form of electronic prostheses—implants in the brain that would recognize the dangers and take control of our volition and behavior to steer us into safety. These electronic shepherds, as I like to call them, would de facto control our lives, making us into very passive experience machines, unable to rebel. Pearce has a response to this attack at the ready. Supposedly the implants could be deactivated. But how a person swimming in the soup of bliss could recognize when to switch off the electronic shepherd and when to switch it back on? And after switching off the implant, what’s left to stop anyone from violating an innocent person, when the perpetrator is chasing a higher level of bliss like a junkie?”
Transhumanist speculation about a civilisation based on gradients of superhuman bliss as sci-fi. Consider instead today’s extreme hyperthymics – the global hedonic elite. (Recall that hyperthymia isn’t unipolar mania or bipolar disorder - pathologies of mind that can cause all manner of disaster). The elite 0.01% don’t manifest the signs and symptoms described in Conundrum’s quote above. Depressives are more likely to manifest self-neglect. Simply ratcheting up hedonic set-points to the level of today’s hedonic elite would massively enhance average quality of life. World-wide hyperthymia would be a godsend. Of course, there are still pitfalls. “Count no man happy until he is dead” (Solon), as the Greeks used to say. And I worry about cognitive bias. Truly happy people struggle to grasp the sheer enormity of suffering and the urgency of its abolition. But none of these pitfalls strikes me as fatal...
6. Extinction risk
“One of the most known critic of the technological society is Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber. He’s been writing articles and books on the dangers and detrimental effects of technology for decades. In his magnum opus Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How, Kaczynski makes a reasoned case that the progress of technology will lead to extinction of complex life on Earth…”
Will advanced technology lead to human extinction?
Yes – but IMO not in some dire, apocalyptic sense. Take AI, which has currently superseded WMD in the rationalist community as the biggest threat to human civilisation: DP on the Intelligence Explosion. As far as I can tell, everything that AI can do can be incorporated on embedded neurochips so that you can do it too – and much more. Mankind’s successors won’t be insentient machines, but our genetically rewritten and AI-augmented descendants. OK, this response scarcely begins to get to grips with the risks posed by advanced technology. But surely these challenges are not peculiar to HI? A civilisation based entirely on gradients of intelligent bliss will grapple with the revolutionary potential artificial intelligence no less than today’s misery-ridden Darwinian regime.
7. Danger of System Malfunction:
If we do phase out the biology of suffering, could it ever recur? The most extreme example of recurrence would be an advanced civilisation that chooses to recreate Darwinian life in its entirety in the guise of running an ancestor-stimulation. Elsewhere I’ve outlined why I believe that ancestor-simulations (and digital sentience - Ancestor simulations and digital war gaming) are both technically and sociologically infeasible. Let’s here stick to the near-term future. Could a genetic mutation arise that generates hedonically sub-zero states again?
So long as we are mindful of the risk, a whole arsenal of fail-safe prevention mechanisms can be introduced. I presume we’ll map our the neurobiological contours of the Evil Zone, i.e. the molecular signature of experience below hedonic zero, and construct multiple molecular ring-fences around it. Half a dozen dangerous mutations would then simultaneously need to arise to penetrate the Evil Zone. And regardless of your favoured scenario of the future, some kind of global panopticon probably lies ahead. Genomes can be monitored. Privacy-protection is relevant to (trans)humans, not to a mouse or a mollusk. We’re not going to run out of computer power. In a Darwinian world, ubiquitous surveillance can be sinister. But to safeguard the molecular foundations of paradise, I don’t see a problem with “AI nannies” for humbler lifeforms any more than for human toddlers. The price of perpetual happiness may not be eternal vigilance; but let's assume otherwise. Surely it’s a price worth paying.
I guess Conundrum would respond that the risk of recurrence still exists. From the perspective of suffering-focused ethics, we should “walk away from Omelas”. But this objection takes us back to practical politics. Life-denying political prescriptions such as naïve versions of negative utilitarianism, “strong” antinatalism, efilism, world-destructionism (etc) are at best a distraction. At worst, their advocacy alienates a vast swathe of life-lovers who could otherwise be powerful allies:
Benevolent World Exploders
But the only realistic way I know to destroy Darwinian malware is gene-editing.
“the whole abolitionist project is inherently doomed to failure”
Given the state of the world today, I can understand this sentiment. And if you contemplate just how socially marginal we are, the whole project can seem a pipedream. But imagine if – as is quite possible sooner or later – a larger-than-life billionaire or world-famous media-personality decides to make the cause his own. The example I often give is Elon Musk. Imagine if instead of a building ten-trillion-dollar colony on Mars, Elon were proposing an equally ambitious and expensive project to reprogram the biosphere. Would a Hundred-Year Plan to phase out the biology of suffering still seem so ridiculously far-fetched? And whether the abolitionist project takes a hundred, a thousand, or even ten-thousand years, I just don’t see any alternative. Life-denying solutions to the problem of suffering won’t fly – politically, socially, or demographically. They are a dead-end. Knowledge of their futility isn’t enough to suppress antinatalist or benevolent world-exploder fantasies about terminating the whole Darwinian horror-show. Occasionally, I have intrusive thoughts myself. Yet intellectually, we should recognise that such fantasies are sterile escapism. They won’t solve the problem of suffering.
By contrast, a biohappiness revolution can work – it’s just a monumental political, social and technical challenge:
Can Biotechnology Abolish Suffering?
From Fond Thinker
Can biotechnology end suffering?
("What if the hospital offered you the chance to make a few DNA tweaks that could ensure your children will live happily ever after?")
Robert, Jo Cameron's (almost) unique double mutation is associated with a demonstrable loss of nociceptive function. Opting for the single FAAH mutation would be more cautious:
I've previously focused on SCN9A ("the volume knob for pain") because SCN9A has dozens of different alleles conferring different degrees of pain tolerance.
Marsili syndrome is interesting too:
Is Marsili syndrome associated with an unusual zest for life? Physical and mental pain/well-being are intimately linked, so I've love to see more research into the comparative psychological health of people with high pain tolerance.
Darren, it all boils down to what kind of safeguards and who decides. At one extreme, the assisted right to die could be made extraordinarily difficult to exercise. At the other extreme, if there were walk-in clinics where anyone could be administered - or self-administer - a Brompton cocktail, then tens of millions of people world-wide would presumably exit each year - as distinct from the annual 850,000 or so who take their own lives today.
What's the right "balance"? I don't know. My partial cop-out of an answer is that we should be taking extraordinary steps to make sure no one wants to die, including direct reward pathway stimulation in case of refractory depression and neuropathic pain.
[on transhumanism in Turkish]
Transhumanist ideas are somewhat controversial in Turkey. An English translation of my CINS magazine interview (pdf) is uploaded below:
Insanlik icin en buyuk tehdit transhumanizm degil, bizzat insan dogasidir
("The greatest threat to humanity is not transhumanism, but human nature itself")
[on The Hedonistic Imperative in Italian]
The language of paradise won't necessarily be the Queen's English:
L Paradiso Della Tecnica e L'ecosistema post-Darwiniano che verrà
Il Progetto Abolizionista
[on COVID, racism and xenophobia]
Any advanced civilisation would find the differences between members of human ethnic groups are trivial compared to what unites us. Alas, one of the traits that unites us is a shared predisposition to racism and xenophobia during epidemics and pandemics.
Epidemics and pandemics can exacerbate xenophobia, bigotry
Post-materialist science? Unlike Christof Koch, I don’t see how integrated information theory (IIT) solves the combination problem. But I’m sympathetic to consciousness fundamentalism. Only the physical is real. But perhaps the intrinsic nature of the physical isn’t what materialists suppose...
Is consciousness everywhere?
What is a quantum field?
Dale, traditional property-dualist panpsychism is unfalsifiable. The traditional materialist assumption that consciousness is absent from the world's fundamental fields is unfalsifiable too. However, the physicalist version of panpsychism as expressed in the intrinsic nature argument is not just falsifiable but - on the face of it - false. For there is apparently only a partial structural march between our minds and the brain. We should be at most be 86 billion “pixels” of neuronal mind-dust (cf. https://philpapers.org/browse/the-combination-problem-for-panpsychism) Consequently, David Chalmers makes the case we must consider dualism. But the dualist must show not merely that no perfect structural march exists in four-dimensional space-time, but also that no perfect structural match exists in the fundamental high-dimensional space required by the dynamics of the wavefunction. Classical space-time can't simply be assumed. Reality is quantum to the core. Taking quantum mechanics seriously means we must consider configuration space realism (cf. Alyssa Ney: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0914ZMBWK/) ) or Hilbert-space realism (cf. Reality as a Vector in Hilbert space: https://arxiv.org/pdf/2103.09780.pdf). My best guess is that molecular matter-wave interferometry will yield a perfect match.
Dale A revision of physics? Plenty of consciousness researchers believe so. But two kinds of revision should be distinguished. The most common is that consciousness is somehow implicated in the “collapse of the wavefunction”, i.e. some kind of modification or supplementation of the unitary Schrödinger dynamics. I’m sceptical. However, if the intrinsic nature argument is correct, we can be formally conservative. Quantum field theory describes fields of sentience. The entire mathematical apparatus of modern physics must be transposed – or rather, we simply drop fields of insentience as metaphysical gunk akin to luminiferous aether. The intrinsic nature argument heralds is a revolution of ontology, not dynamics.
EM field theories of consciousness
Stuart, simply transposing the entire mathematical apparatus of modern physics onto an experiential ontology is elegant - though I don't know if it's true. I normally assume wavefunction monism: the wavefunction is a field in a high-dimensional space rather than in the three-dimensional space of electromagnetic fields. If fields of experience are fundamental, then their subjective texture is presumably insanely minimal. I can see why it's tempting to use terms like "proto-conscious" or "unconscious", but I'm not sure this phraseology is strictly intelligible.
Brian, let’s consider just the physicalist version of panpsychism. Experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical. Consciousness in the world outside your head is as minimal and uninteresting as when you are dreamlessly asleep. Such fields of primordial what-it’s-likeness are not bound into minds. Their behaviour is described by exactly the same formalism of orthodox quantum field theory. What happens when you wake up? On the orthodox materialist view, consciousness is created ex nihilo. Hence the so-called Hard Problem. By contrast, if constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism is true, then “waking up” doesn’t change the intrinsic nature of the world’s fundamental fields of what-it’s-likeness. Rather, they are locally reorganised into the phenomenal world-simulation your mind is now running. I’m interested in how such phenomenal binding is possible.
A critique of "bonding" solutions to the phenomenal binding/combination problem:
Against phenomenal bonding
By contrast, quantum superpositions are individual states, despite their multiple components. “Cat states” have an ontological unity. Therefore, if (1) constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism is true; and (2) quantum mechanics is complete, then phenomenal binding in the CNS is guaranteed at temporally fine-grained resolutions.
I won't believe it until I see the interference signature!
And the relevance to HI?
Well, only subjects of experience with a phenomenally-bound pleasure-pain axis matter. Only minds have moral status. Artificial digital zombies like programmable digital computers are just useful tools – even as they increasingly outperform sentient beings in multiple cognitive domains:
Disclaimer: I could very well be mistaken. Believers in digital minds would say so. But it’s an empirical question, not “just” philosophy.
Tom, I wouldn’t personally use the term “noise” here. If a single-celled animal has micro-experiences, then they may have a micro-functional role. By contrast, even if the 1s and 0s of a classical digital computer were micro-experiences, they would still be functionally incidental to the execution of the program - irrelevant implementation details.
QRI's Andres Gomez Emilsson...
Digital sentience: can digital computers ever "wake up"
The binding problem is also relevant to everything from the prospects of "mind uploading" to full-spectrum artificial general intelligence to the Simulation Hypothesis to s(uffering)-risks. Regulars here know my scepticism about digital minds but Andrés's background is (very!) different.
Facundo, you propose "autistic realism". High AQ/IQ folk do indeed tend to experience their own minds differently. Andrés groks the autistic mind-set as well as anyone – as the introductory section on his mathematical journey indicates. But I've never met anyone as good at switching cognitive style as appropriate.
Everett's relative state interpretation of QM might also be called the no-information interpretation. For whenever one seems to have created information ex nihilo - for example, by observing a live cat or detecting a spin-up electron - the information content of reality remains 0. The superposition principle never breaks down. See Andrés' introduction to a zero ontology:
A Zero Ontology
Care is needed with remarks such as "we all see the same exact classical world". Each of us instantiates a phenomenal world-simulation; none of us “observes" our extra-cranial surroundings (cf. poet Emily Dickinson's "The brain is wider than the sky..."). So-called perception is a misnomer; “perception” is a genetically adaptive psychosis. The content of your phenomenal world-simulation is indeed classical, but the vehicle is non-classical. "Cat states" mediate your experience of classicality and an external world; phenomenally-bound observation would be physically impossible for a pack of classical neurons. By contrast, the operation of classical Turing machines depends on effectively decohered 1s and 0s and logic gates. So digital computers are micro-experiential zombies. On pain of magic, digital zombies can't "wake up".
Or at least that's my best guess!
I won't believe any of this craziness until it's (dis)confirmed by interferometry.
Alan, traditional idealists, animists and panpsychists overpopulate the world with minds. Naively, one might suppose that non-materialist physicalism too is the recipe for digital awakening and conscious AI. But as Andrés outlines in the video, classical computers can't solve the binding problem. Phenomenal binding is non-algorithmic. Yet binding has been harnessed by natural selection to create throwaway world-simulations like the external reality you're experiencing right now.
The Real Problem(s) withPanpsychism
I'd have to differ with Anil Seth.
First, constitutive panpsychism in the form of non-materialist physicalism makes novel predictions. For a start, and in defiance of appearances, there must be a perfect structural match between the contents of our minds / world-simulations and the CNS – ultimately with fundamental physics:
Predictions of consciousness fundamentalism
If no such structural match exists, then dualism is true and constitutive panpsychism is false.
Second, if constitutive panpsychism is true, then consciousness per se has no function - it's the essence of the physical. However, phenomenally-bound consciousness most certainly does play a functional role in biological minds, not least in underpinning our egocentric world-simulations.
"Panpsychism explains nothing", says Anil Seth.
On the contrary, unlike materialism, constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism explains the empirical (“relating to experience”) evidence. It has stunning predictive power. It's falsifiable.
Is it true?
I don't know.
Jacob Bell on the intrinsic nature argument:
A Panpsychist Problem
("Is the intrinsic nature argument confused or unqualified?")
The recently-revived intrinsic nature argument can be traced to Bertrand Russell, who noted how the physical sciences describe only structural-relational properties of Nature, not essences. Russell was also a critic of the doctrine of internal relations popular among idealists. However, if the wavefunction monism of modern physics is correct (i.e. no "dynamical collapse" of the wavefunction), then reality is a single object, the universal wavefunction: Wavefunction monism
If so, all relations are internal relations. My best guess is that the subjective properties of what you are experiencing right now are determined by everything else in reality in the same way that the properties of the number, say, 42, are fixed by its relationship to every other number.
Anil Seth above claims that constitutive panpsychism can't explain the subjective texture (“what it feels like”) of any particular experience. In default of a cosmic Rosetta stone, neither can I. But perhaps the arbitrariness of these textures is illusory. I conjecture that the values of experience as encoded in the solutions to the world’s master equation cancel out to zero in an informationless zero ontology.
Maximilian, I'm not a micro-experiential zombie - not unless I'm dreamlessly asleep, at any rate. So I know that phenomenally-bound consciousness exists. I assume that you experience multiple dynamical perceptual objects populating a world-simulation too.
Could classical Turing machines generate such phenomenally-bound experiences?
Well, notionally replace their 1s and 0s with discrete pixels of experience. Execute the program. Complexity of code and speed of execution make no difference. If physicalism is true, the upshot is a still a micro-experiential zombie.
Explaining how organic nervous systems achieve such a seemingly impossible feat is trickier. Naively, we should at most be micro-experiential zombies too – just a bunch of decohered, membrane-bound neurons communicating across synapses. However, I explore the implications of the intrinsic nature argument: The intrinsic nature argument
The mathematical model is just the superposition principle of QM
of (unmodified and unsupplemented) quantum mechanics. In other words, I'm not proposing any new physics. Superpositions of distributed neuronal feature-processors (edge-detectors, motion-detectors, colour-mediating neurons etc) in the CNS must exist on pain of a breakdown of the unitary Schrödinger dynamics. Critically, superpositions ("cat states") are individual states, not aggregates of discrete classical components in need of binding.
The reason that most scientists would be sceptical if not dismissive that neuronal superpositions could explain phenomenal binding is their effective lifetime in the warm, wet CNS - not milliseconds but femtoseconds or less (cf. Quantum Mind (Wikipedia).
I find the conjecture hard to believe too!
But my best guess is that interferometry will reveal a perfect structural match - not in four-dimensional space-time, but the fundamental high-dimensional space required by the dynamics of the wavefunction.
See e.g. Alyssa Ney:
The World in the Wave Function
[on the intrinsic nature argument and objective value]
Vignesh, Is Heaven better than hell? Or is this just a subjective value-judgement, neither true not false? Most scientific rationalists believe that only the physical is real. Naively, there is no place in a scientific ontology for objective moral values. Hence antirealism about value and moral nihilism. In this FB group, we support the anti-suffering "team", but our “team” is no more right or wrong than a different “team” that supports rape, torture and child abuse.
I agree only the physical is real.
But what do we mean by "physical"?
Presumably whatever the equations of physics describe. If the equations describe fields of insentience, then we get materialist physicalism and The Hard Problem. Materialist physicalism fails the test of empirical adequacy.
By contrast, non-materialist physicalism offers an empirically adequate alternative: experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical. Most of the controversy around the intrinsic nature argument centres on whether it solves the Hard Problem of consciousness - or is simply insane. But the intrinsic nature argument has implications for ethics too. On this account, agony and despair are disvaluable by their very nature. The badness of agony is self-intimating – it’s an objective property of some physical states that they are disvaluable to the subject.
So what about ethical disagreement?
Within this framework, disputes derive from ignorance. Evolution does not promote an impartial “view from nowhere”, but rather egocentric virtual worlds that differ primarily in the identity of their protagonist.
I say a bit more e.g.
DP on meta-ethics
Can one logically derive an "is" from an "ought" or an "ought" from an "is"? Anti-realists believe the answer is self-evidently "no". Value realists like me argue yes; but the nature of hybrid states that combine elements of the normative and descriptive is still puzzling.
Do you believe in some version of the "Boo-Hurrah" theory of ethics?
Boo to the Boo-Hurrahs
("How four Oxford women transformed philosophy. Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot and Mary Midgley took on the male consensus — and revolutionised modern ethics") Or does the pain-pleasure axis disclose the world's inbult axis of (dis)value?
Or something else?!
, we can speculate about unimaginably alien phenomenal colours. But not colours that aren’t coloured. Likewise with (dis)value. We can speculate about unimaginably alien value systems. But if we talk about anything that isn’t directly or indirectly parasitic on the pain-pleasure axis, then are we still talking about (dis)value? Or something different?
David, the mind-dependence of (dis)value undercuts its objective nature only on the assumption that mental states aren’t objective features of the physical universe. You give the example of moral disagreement. Does the fact that, say, rivals in love and war wish each other harm show there is no objectivity to (dis)value, i.e. it’s just stance-relative? No, such differences of judgement reflect our epistemological and semantic limitations. Our minds don’t commune with each other. So we can’t access each other’s (dis)valuable experience. For evolutionary reasons, we each run egocentric world-simulations. By contrast, a God-like superintelligence who could impartially access and weigh all first-person perspectives would act accordingly, banishing all sources of disvalue. Modern science suggests we adopt “the view nowhere” - perhaps better described as the view from everywhere, or the point of view of the universe.
Loïs, Wikipedia conflates the robust, the objective and the mind-independent. The pain-pleasure axis - as distinct from, say, the colour spectrum - discloses the world’s intrinsic metric of (dis)value. If I’m in agony and despair, then this is (objectively) a disvaluable state of the physical universe - regardless of whether anyone else thinks so or not. If someone fails to recognise its objective badness, then they are ignorant and/or mistaken. If I were alone in the universe, then (dis)value would exist, but not morality. However, other sentient beings exist too. Science says I’m not ontologically special. So I should try to minimise the (objectively) disvaluable states of other sentient beings as though they were my own. If I had God-like (or Borg-like) knowledge, I would do so; but of course I don’t.
David, I can’t “prove” anything beyond solipsism-of-the-here-now. But the badness of suffering comes close. Evolution via natural selection has “encephalised” our emotions in complex ways. So the sovereignty of the pain-pleasure axis is often disguised. But the masochist you mention derives intensely rewarding endogenous opioids from activities that would otherwise be painful or humiliating, So masochists haven’t transcended the axis of (dis)value. Neither has the ascetic.
Lancer, among secular rationalists, science is generally reckoned our best theory of reality. So some rationalists feel they must give up objective (dis)value for the same reason they think they must abandon e.g. consciousness (cf. eliminativism), determinate meaning and reference (cf. Quine), definite outcomes (cf. Wigner's friend etc) and so forth. Naively, it's true, the ontology of science, ultimately physics, has no place for objective (dis)value. But as far as I can tell, materialism (as distinct from physicalism) is false. The pain-pleasure axis discloses the world’s intrinsic axis of (dis)value. On this story, posthuman Heaven really will be better than Darwinian Hell.
Lance, the badness of my agony and despair is primitive. I can't define this normative aspect in terms of anything else - any more than I can define redness. This isn't like claiming, say, God speaking to me is primitive. Any such claim alludes to something outside my experience itself. For sure, passing from my inherently disvaluable state to the badness of suffering for anyone, anywhere takes philosophical work. But so does going beyond the contents of one's here-and-now to the multiverse of modern science. Lance, I may be mistaken about everything beyond the contents of my here-and-now. Epistemic humility aside, consider a normally life-loving person who would destroy themselves and the world in order to make their suffering stop. It's not just they intensely dislike their suffering. Suffering has a coercive force, a normative aspect, that is ultimately impossible to resist. The universal wavefunction is unimaginably sinister. Oh how I long for ignorance and oblivion - which must be the ultimate aspiration of any utilitarian, classical and negative alike.
Max, yes, the suffering-focused / abolitionist camp would do well to avoid tying the theory to any meta-ethical position. That said, the normative aspect of agony is built into the nature of the experience itself. The is-ought gap is an artefact of language.
Alternatively, heaven really is better than hell; the pain-pleasure axis discloses the nature of (dis)value; and we should abolish suffering though science.
[Why is Aeon publishing this garbage? Is there really nothing morally wrong with torture, rape and child abuse? The writer of this poisonous nonsense is apparently a “professor of moral philosophy” - mercifully now retired]
Forget Morality by Ronnie de Sousa
("Moral philosophy is bogus, a mere substitute for God that licenses ugly emotions. Here are five reasons to reject it")
Loïs, you say, "I think that I don't want to stop pain for its own sake, but instead because of how it hinders my other projects and desires."
Wouldn't it be more apt to say you do want to stop pain for its own sake, but the thought of being functionally unable to accomplish your other projects and desires fills you with greater pain?
For reasons we do not understand, some states of reality are inherently, self-intimatingly bad. This disvaluable nature is a subjective state - a recipe for confusion given the distinct meanings of “subjective”. But disvaluable states are objectively real. They have spatio-temporal location. Their inherent badness doesn’t depend on the stance of anyone beyond the victim. By the same token, their first-person nature doesn’t demote them to second-class ontological status.
OK, let’s say that the pain or humiliation of someone who has crossed me gives me satisfaction. Seeing him on the pavement after treading on a banana skin amuses me. Insofar as I mistakenly fail to recognise his suffering as inherently bad, I’m a perceptual naïve realist with a magical theory of reference confusing my mental state of satisfaction with affairs in my world-simulation with an objective, inherently disvaluable state in the external world.
[on the intrinsic nature argument and consciousness]
First, yes, "Galileo's Error certainly covers a lot of ground. But my understanding was is that Phil Goff believes that the intrinsic nature argument https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/#IntrNatuArgu essentially (dis)solves the Hard Problem - a view he previously disowned: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24706312.
Goff’s view is now (as I far as I can tell) non-materialist physicalism:
Physicalistic panpsychism Yes, a few materialists reject the need for the "fire" in the equations; and there are complications, notably entangled states in QM. But (rightly or wrongly) I assumed that most materialists accept there is something the equations describe. Otherwise, all we have is an uninterpreted mathematical formalism. I've also assumed (rightly or wrongly) the reason that most materialists wouldn't say that QFT describes fields of insentience is that it's trivially obvious that the world's fundamental quantum fields are non-experiential. On that assumption, drawing a distinction between materialism and physicalism can seem pedantic.
But it's not:
Phyicalism versus materialism
The ancestor of what we now know as the intrinsic nature argument is Russell’s neutral monism. Indeed, it’s sometimes known as "constitutive Russellian monism" - enough to make most non-philosophers rush for the exits!
If non-materialist physicalism / constitutive panpsychism is true, then the solutions to the equations of QFT encode the textures of consciousness - from a red rose to everything else. We lack a cosmic Rosetta stone to “read off” the textures of consciousness from the solutions to the equations. But that's not because any "element of reality" is missing from the formalism of physics.
If non-materialist physicalism is true, then experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical. If so, we already have a potential solution to the binding / combination problem. As standardly posed, the binding / combination problem assumes discrete, decohered classical neurons. But if conscious fundamentalism is true, then all physical states are conscious states. And at sufficiently fine-grained temporal resolutions, the mind/brain isn't an aggregate of classical neurons, but individual superpositions of neuronal edge-detectors, motion detectors, colour-mediating neurons and so forth. My guess is interferometry will reveal a perfect structural match between these individual superpositions and what you're experiencing right now. Intuitively, for sure, such quantum superpositions irrelevant to our minds. Their effective lifetime in the warm, wet CNS is femtoseconds or less. So intuitively, they’re not consciousness, let alone our well-ordered virtual worlds of experience. But if non-materialist physicalism is true, then such superpositions are phenomenally-bound conscious states. If they aren't, i.e. such superpositions are non-experiential, then non-materialist physicalism is false.
I’ve probably lost you a few moves ago. But the intrinsic nature argument has implications for the nature of the physical world not just at the level of the very small, but also the very short-lived.
Try to have an early night:
Want to reduce your depression risk? Wake up an hour earlier
("Waking up just one hour earlier could reduce a person's risk of major depression by 23%, suggests a sweeping new genetic study published May 26 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.")
Will low mood be cured by designer drugs, intravenous gene therapy or brain-computer interfaces?
The case for BCIs:
BCIs may cure low mood?
Nesbit, you say drugs "tackle the symptoms not the cause". Drugs are just a "crutch". Compare, say, Type 1 diabetes. Taking insulin doesn't cure the the underlying biological-genetic root of the problem. Insulin is just a crutch. Gene therapy will offer a permanent cure. Likewise mental health.
Bodywide genetic upgrades should be matched by a genetic "vaccine" against physical and mental pain:
Superhero vaccines for bodywide genetic upgrades
More evidence for the inflammatory theory of depression:
Neuroglia and mood
("Immune cells found in the brain are behind the depression experienced in inflammation")
Aging and depression are a bigger planetary scourge than COVID. Conversely, mood enhancement can be rejuvenating.
Major depressive disorder causes brain aging
("The functional MRI is a promising aging clock.")
There are intimate links between optimism and longevity. It’s a medical miracle some of us still walk the Earth.
Optimism and longevity
("Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women")
Urgently needs replicating:
Nitrous oxide ("laughing gas") as an antidepressant
("low doses of 'laughing gas' could be fast, effective treatment for severe depression")
Nitrous oxide is an antagonist of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptors.
Study shows adaptive brain response to stress ("and its absence in people with depression")
But hedonic uplift is a better recipe for mental health than blown minds.
The ketamine blew my mind
("Can psychedelics cure addiction and depression?)
The mood-lifting properties of lactate, not to be confused with lactose:
The antidepressant power of lactate
But unlike ignorance and error, known bias can be corrigible.
The Up Side of Being Down
("Depressive Realism and Analyst Forecast Accuracy")
[on 'quantum cognition']
Thanks Josh. OK, I confess I still very sceptical of quantum cognition in its current guise:
Superposition in quantum mechanics has a precisely defined technical meaning:
Quantum superposition (Wikipedia)
So does the Born rule:
The Born rule (Wikipedia)
It's not clear to me that invoking the language of QM to explain human decision-making is offering anything more than suggestive (or misleading?) metaphor and analogy.
That said, regulars here know I take quantum mind seriously:
IMO phenomenal binding is classically impossible:
Phenomenal binding is non-classical
But the conjecture – true or false - that our minds and the world-simulations we run consist entirely of neuronal "cat states" (superpositions) is meant quite literally and falsifiably. Your experience of a definite outcome in accordance with the Born rule is itself a neuronal superposition.
"The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight."
Getting high with the most high
("Entheogens in the Old Testament")
Dan, most people are implicitly perceptual direct realists. On psychedelics, the boundaries between one's self-module and the (rest of one's virtual) world may partly dissolve. So if the the experience is enjoyable, the direct realist psychedelic user may speak mystically of "becoming one with the cosmos". Alternatively, you might take a dissociative anaesthetic and undergo an out-of-body experience. If perceptual direct realism were true, then on ketamine the experience of gazing down on one's physical body would disprove monistic physicalism.
I should add that IMO it's impossible to overstate the intellectual significance of psychedelics. The drug-naïve are profoundly ignorant in ways they can never grasp...
Experiencing higgher dimensions Thanks Andres! Some folk need DMT to experience higher dimensions; I use coffee. We should distinguish between the (normally) four-dimensional content of our world-simulations and their ridiculously high-dimensional vehicle. If the medium of our minds were four-dimensional, too, then we'd be micro-experiential zombies (cf. the binding problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlIgmTALU74), not unified subjects. Only the existence of higher dimensions allows you to undergo the illusory experience of low-dimensional macroscopic objects in classical space-time. According to the version of wavefunction realism that I explore, we are all physical fields of sentience in a (very) high-dimensional space. The amplitude and phase values of the wavefunction evolve in accordance with (a relativistic version of) the Schrödinger equation, i.e. no new physics. Crazy stuff - I don't know if it's true:
Higher dimensions = Everett’s multiverse. In fairness, not all Everettians believe in configuration space or Hilbert space realism. David Wallace argues against wavefuction realism in favour of “spacetime state realism”. But if we reject higher dimensions and wavefunction realism, then local realism is untenable Nonlocality (Wikipedia)
(Actually there are loopholes Superdeterminism: A Guide for the Perplexed.) However, my own scepticism about low-dimensional space-time stems from everyday phenomenal binding. Classical fields and classical space-time are the recipe for micro-experiential zombies.
Adam, in my view, the "weirdness" of entanglement AND our phenomenally-bound minds and their world simulations becomes intelligible if we take the math at face value - rather than simply instrumentally as a tool for generating predictions. (Quantum theory is often said to be empirically adequate, but that's not so - if the mathematical machinery of QFT described fields of insentience, we'd be zombies.)
As you remark, other accounts of higher dimensions aren't concerned with an Everettian multiverse. [on past suffering]
Adam, Alexey Turchin has written a very interesting paper "Back to the Future: Curing Past Suffering and S-Risks via Indexical Uncertainty, Acausal Trade and Domination in The Multiverse – or Time Travel". As you might guess, I'm pessimistic - I intend to send Alexey a critique. But such intuitively crazy ideas just illustrate the risk of premature defeatism and of getting indiscriminately "blissed out" out after we have eradicated suffering on Earth. Ratcheting up hedonic range and hedonic set-points will be wiser.
Can superintelligences have a false theory of personal identity? If enduring metaphysical egos are just a human fiction (cf. Ultra-Parfittianism), then the prospect that advanced superintelligences could share such a human misconception is vanishingly low. Moreover, what does one mean by "superintelligence"? A full-spectrum superintelligence can presumably access all first-person perspectives and act accordingly. Just as an intelligent mirror-touch synaesthete couldn’t wantonly harm you – harming you would be like harming himself – the all-round “mind-reading” powers of superintelligence will presumably vastly surpass human mirror-touch synaesthetes. So full-spectrum superintelligences won’t be Super-Aspergers. That said, I don't discount s-risks: DP on suffering risks. But (IMO) s-risks derive from biological humans, not insentient digital computers. I'm guessing that you'd argue instead that digital computers could one day become sentient. After all, Turing machines are substrate-neutral, and it is commonly believed that the conscious human mind-brain could be emulated via a Turing machine. But in my view, classical computers cannot solve the phenomenal binding/combination problem (cf. binding-problem.com). Phenomenal binding is immensely adaptive for animal minds. It's the key to our evolutionary success. Binding is too difficult for classical Turing machines – even if their 1s and 0s were fancifully replaced by discrete micro-pixels of experience. Complexity of code or speed of execution make no difference to their zombie status. At most, the upshot is a micro-experiential zombie. Now OK, unless you’re seriously troubled by the binding problem, I don’t remotely expect you to be persuaded by my tentative solution (cf. Quantum Mind). But the answer one gives to the binding problem has profound implications for the future of intelligent life in the universe. Moreover, Everett naturalised modality. There are no effectively decohered “branches” of the multiverse where classical digital computers are phenomenally-bound subjects of experience, let alone malevolent machine superintelligences. A classical digital computer has no understanding of the pleasure-pain axis or phenomenal consciousness of any kind. Everett’s one-and-only multiverse is very different from Tegmark’s hypothetical “Level IV" multiverse. If “Level IV" were real, then yes, so too (presumably) would be atypical evil super-AIs that torture folk. But Tegmark is assuming mathematical platonism rather than nominalism: DP on mathematics.
I’d love to think you are right that intelligent moral agents can somehow eradicate past suffering. But my working assumption is something like Jan-Markus Schwindt’s "Nothing happens in the Universe of the Everett Interpretation".
Let’s I hope I’m wrong.
(cf. The logic of experimental tests, particularly of Everettian quantum theory)
Victor, fascinating. Thanks. I didn’t know this (Schrödinger drawing a quantum brain/phenomenal binding link in his book What is Life?) Schrödinger also anticipates Everett (a jocular allusion in his 1952 Dublin lecture) AND the causally time-symmetric two-state vector formalism too – back in 1931 - but he seems to have lacked the courage of his convictions. Of course, the opposite problem is taking one's ideas too seriously and ending up as just another crank. Actually, a fair number of researchers have briefly wondered whether two classically impossible kinds of holism could be linked - QM and the unity of our minds. The expert consensus is no. The timescales are wrong by many orders of magnitude - scores of milliseconds versus less than femtoseconds. Decoherence is insanely powerful. But if one takes the intrinsic nature argument seriously, then the "dynamical timescales" objection of Tegmark et al. against quantum mind isn't decisive.
Only experiment, i.e. interferometry, can settle the issue.
Dirk, it's not hard to program a digital computer rigged with a speech synthesiser to emit sounds we interpret as claiming it's a phenomenally bound subject of experience racked by existential angst.
It's a zombie.
If p-zombies or micro-experiential zombies were only an epistemological worry - just a version of the ancient sceptical Problem of Other Minds - then they wouldn’t be especially interesting. I don't think p-zombies or micro-experiential zombies are really feasible; they will turn out to be unphysical. But if physicists and chemists really understood the properties of matter and energy, then all of us would be p-zombies. And if not p-zombies, then micro-experiential zombies. The spectre of zombies and micro-experiential zombies highlights the failure of science to explain subjective experience - the only empirical evidence one can ever access. It’s not hyperbole to say that scientific materialism is inconsistent with the entirety(!) of the empirical evidence.
How faithfully could an insentient connectionist system or a programmable digital computer emulate human behaviour - the by-product of a phenomenally-bound subject of experience? I don't know. I don’t think anyone knows. But connectionist systems and programmable digital computer are not spontaneously going to start taking about their non-existent consciousness minds - though they could be programmed or “trained up” to persuade credulous humans otherwise.
“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking." (Einstein)
But testing your ideas should be boringly rational.
("Can ‘smart thinking’ books really give you the edge?")
The rationalist community is still work-in-progress...
CFAR and MIRI
Steve, if a meat-based diet were associated with slimmer waistlines, longer lifespans and higher intelligence scores, then veganism would call for heroic self-sacrifice. It's not! And for better or worse, the Earth could support more humans if we all switch to veganism. For it's more energetically efficient to feed humans directly with a plant-based diet than to feed grain and soya products to factory-farmed nonhuman animals whom humans then butcher. Such are the thermodynamics of a food chain.
Some kinds of psychosis are genetically adaptive and quasi-hardwired:
How to recognise the signs of Main Character Syndrome
Why You May Need a Healthy Dose of “Main Character Syndrome”
and most importantly
Are you the centre of the universe?
In Praise of Emodiversity:
Obscure words for rare feelings
("In Search of Obscure Words for Even Rarer Feelings.
The More Emotions We Can Name, The Better Off We'll Be")
Humans, especially male humans, are addicted to competitive zero-sum games - another reason to aim for hedonic uplift rather than trying to reconcile the logically irreconcilable.
How to to deal with the agony of defeat
Is self-confidence sexy? Or anxiety?
Are You More Attractive When You're Nervous?
("Research reveals how anxiety impacts interpersonal attraction")
Do you have an inner voice? And what's it like?
How inner voices arise is unknown.
Into the Void
("Meet the people who have unusual – or non-existent – inner voices")
Do you bounce back like a yo-yo or a pancake?
How Well Do You Bounce Back from an Upsetting Experience?
("New research shows the role of personality in overcoming a negative experience")
Mean Open Individualists are rare.
What Is It That Makes Some People Just Plain Mean?
("New research shows how to identify and deal with those high in meanness")
Closed, empty, and open individualism
How to build a consciousness detector?
Deletion or loss-of-function mutations of the maternally-inherited UBE3A gene causes extreme happiness. Should people with “happy puppet syndrome” be pitied or envied?
I've long been curious about the inner life of eliminative materialists. Alas its most outspoken advocate on this thread has been FB banned - though not for his eliminativism.
Does everyone have an inner monologue?
(note the author's use of "intentionality" differs from the philosophical sense of term which refers to aboutness, i.e. the object-directedness of thought) Social status and status-anxiety is insidious - another reason to re-engineer everyone’s reward circuitry…
("A psychologist explains why we love to see others fail. Ever laughed when your frenemy made a fool of themselves in public? Here's why you're not alone")
"Priming a common group membership may be a more powerful driver for inducing pro-social motivation than increasing empathy"
Sentient beings should help each other.
Can we build a world where it's safe to be super-nice?
Is It Possible to Be Too Nice?
("New research suggests why the nicest people aren’t necessarily the happiest")
Trust your gut?
("Going with your gut can result in better decision-making than using detailed data methods, study shows")
Attractive meat eaters?
Dating bad boys
But it's complicated...
Vegetarians are more empathetic
For evolutionary reasons, some women find low intellectual and moral calibre a turn-off.
Roll on post-Darwinian relationships...
Why Familiarity Really Does Breed Contempt
("Familiarity breeds contempt, according to psychologists: on average, we like other people less the more we know about them")
Hard-headedness or toxic masculinity?
Men make more extreme choices and decisions
("Men are more likely to make extreme choices and decisions than women, according to new research on economic decision-making, led by an international team of scientists")
Alas a low AQ isn't always enough to avert disaster.
Little Disagreements Can Ruin Even the Best of Relationships
("The Princeton authors propose that behind this polarizing tendency is the idea of 'naïve realism'...
New research shows what leads trivial matters to destroy close relationships")
“Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, ‘Make me feel important.’ Never forget this message when working with people.”
(Mary Kay Ash)
Do you freely express any status-lowering views?
When prestige matters more than truth
("Highly Educated People Have Lower Opinions of Others")
Can Facebook save us from the cult of busyness?
The Cult of Busyness
("A life of leisure was once the aspiration of the upper class. But now, bragging about busyness is how people indicate their status. Could a pandemic change the way busyness is glorified?")
Who gets a dedicated neuron in your head?
Multimodal Neurons in Artificial Neural Networks
“Reality continues to ruin my life.”
(Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes)
The implications of "representational drift" are many and varied...
How well do you deal with "fleeting frustrations"?
("How your brain turns fleeting frustrations into long-term negativity")
“Forever is composed of nows.”
What would you choose?
The most meaningful moments
Are humans the virus of the earth?
"The notion of recalibrating the happiness scale overlooks the “sadder but wiser” effect"
Kim, I’d be the first to assert (a predisposition to) superior insight of depressive realists! But unlike ignorance, known bias can be corrected. Thus if you’re smart and know you have rose-tinted spectacles, then you take your optimism bias into account when deliberating. The functional analogues of “sadder but wiser” can be conserved - minus the ghastly raw feels.
If Darwinian social life were a drug, it would be illegal...
Why we hate-follow people on social media
("From politicians to influencers, school friends to colleagues, people are increasingly using their social media platform to keep their friends close - but their enemies closer")
“The nicest feeling in the world is to do a good deed anonymously-and have somebody find out.”
Human motives are often impure. But it’s better to be a do-gooder than a do-badder…
Why are we so uncharitable to those doing good deeds?
("From veganism to fundraising, psychologists have found acts of altruism often attract mistrust and even anger")
It’s painful to say, but IMO raising default hedonic tone and hedonic set-points is the key to progress in psychiatric medicine, not psychedelia.
The Psychedelic Revolution Is Coming.
("Psychiatry May Never Be the Same. Psilocybin and MDMA are poised to be the hottest new therapeutics since Prozac. Universities want in, and so does Wall Street. Some worry a push to loosen access could bring unintended consequences.")
Low-dose MDMA isn't really a psychedelic in the sense of psilocybin. And I think MDMA does have a potential psychotherapeutic role. But the people best able to appreciate psychedelics are the psychologically healthiest. I'm sceptical that psychedelics can safely and reliably offer a route to emotional wellness for depressed and/or anxious people.
[on the DP credo]
Interview with DP (mp4)
on physics, philosophy and stuff.
by Philosophical Spaces
And on the abolitionist project / biohappiness revolution:
Universal basic income, healthcare and housing are preconditions of a civilised society. So are benign versions of the SCN9A and FAAH gene. The reason I typically talk more about the latter than the former is that the biological-genetic basis of (un)happiness is neglected - even among transhumanists and effective altruists.
What are your philosophical positions in a paragraph?
1. Facundo, you are right: the intrinsic/extrinsic division is artificial. All one ever knows directly, including what the perceptual naïve realist conceives as physical objects in his local surroundings, are the phenomenal properties of one’s own mind. Thanks to evolution, countess other world-simulations exist, each with a differing protagonist. If non-materialist ("idealist") physicalism is true, then there is no Hard Problem of consciousness because the world's fundamental fields are experiential; but in the abiotic universe, fields of experience as described by the mathematical formalism of quantum field theory aren't phenomenally bound into world-simulations. On this conjecture, primordial experience is around 13.8 billion years old; but our minds are around 540(?) million years old. I say a bit more here:
What is your opinion on Philip Goff's ‘Galileo’s error’?
2. "hedonic zero" is simply experience that is neither good nor bad: emotionally neutral experience that lacks hedonic tone. "Mixed states" complicate any calculus. Evolution via natural selection has “encephalised” pain and pleasure so we believe all sorts of things inherently matter beyond states of the pleasure-pain axis. But their mattering is derivative. Could there be another axis of (dis)value? If so, then some kind of meta-axis of (dis)value would be needed as a metric to govern trade-offs with states of the pleasure-pain axis. I'm unconvinced.
3. Naively, pain and pleasure are symmetrical. Hence the appeal of classical utilitarianism (cf. utilitarianism.com). On the face of it, classical utilitarianism offers the best way to naturalise (dis)value. But in another sense, pain and pleasure are morally incommensurable. Worse, it’s not clear (to me) how to regulate trade-offs even within the pain-pleasure axis because “more is different” – qualitatively different. Alas, I don’t know the right answer.
Gradients of bliss podcast
Abolishing suffering via biotech:
Podcast, Youtube & mp4
Trippy (with thanks to Max Freeman. I was touched)
[on plant (in)sentience]
Consciousness = subjective experience, qualia, raw feels, the "what-it's-likeness" of experience.
binding = the ability of animals with nervous systems to generate feature-bound perceptual objects (local binding) populating a unitary world-simulation (global binding, aka the unity of perception and the unity of the self). When we're awake, the phenomenal world-simulations of human and nonhumans animals are updated in almost real time ("perception"). When we dream, they are autonomous. When we’re dreamlessly asleep, phenomenal binding is absent.
Members of the plant kingdom did not evolve energetically costly nervous systems and hence the ability to run phenomenally-bound world-simulations because they are sessile - they lack the capacity for rapid, self-propelled motion. (Anomalies like carnivorous plants don't alter this fact; a Venus fly-trap has "trigger hairs", not a central nervous system.)
Many information-processing systems that lack phenomenal binding can still track features of their internal and external environment. Such systems range from your PC desktop to a termite colony to the financial markets to nation-states to the root vegetables that we eat. If monistic physicalism is true and “strong” emergence is hokum, such systems don’t have a hive mind.
"But you can't prove an uprooted carrot doesn't experience agony!" says the concerned meat-eater.
In its short history, the EA movement has passed from effective ways to tackle (human and nonhuman animal) suffering to AI safety (an imminent machine "Intelligence Explosion" might turn us into paperclips) to "Longtermism"
Against Longtermism by Vaden Masrani
I think our biggest responsibility to future generations is to make sure they aren't born to suffer like us.
[on clean energy]
The case for nuclear power
Civil nuclear power programs have typically been used as cover for military activities. Their international extension would presumably make nuclear war more likely. The climatic effects of nuclear war could be catastrophic - quite aside from the direct human casualties. How should we weigh the comparative risk-reward ratios?
(not a rhetorical question - I don't know.)
[on The Ones Who Walk Away From Omalas]
Would you walk away from Omelas?
And what does “walking away from Omelas” entail?
Long-time HI supporter Cynthia Stewart asked me a question on the role of fiction in philosophy:
Do you recommend any fiction to help inform one's philosophy?
Cynthia, normally my answer would be a qualified "no". It's better to set out one's premises and chain of reasoning explicitly so they can be critiqued. Does one's argument contain suppressed premises, hidden presuppositions or background assumptions that could cast doubt on one's conclusions? A novel or an allegory doesn’t lend itself to rigorous scrutiny in the same way. From this perspective, fiction has only a supplementary role to play in philosophy.
However, I make a few exceptions. Here is one. First some context. As you know, I advocate that humans abolish the biology of suffering throughout the living world and replace today's misery and malaise with life based on gradients of intelligent bliss. However, some otherwise sympathetic people are surprised - and even appalled – when they learn I’m negative utilitarian (NU). Negative utilitarians believe that our overriding moral obligation is to minimise and prevent suffering. Mitigating or preventing suffering ethically outweighs creating any amount of pleasure. It's not necessary to be a negative utilitarian to sign up to the abolitionist project; but that’s my own rationale. Ethically, all the superhuman bliss ahead that transhumanists anticipate is just the icing on the cake. Alas, “normal” people tend to be aghast or dismissive if they learn you are a negative utilitarian because NU seems to have the following counterintuitive implication. Hypothetically, if it were possible painlessly to destroy the world, then we should press the metaphorical OFF switch in order to prevent more suffering. Indeed, NU seems to have an even more counterintuitive implication. As we know, the real world has atrocious suffering, but an NU would (hypothetically) painlessly destroy the world to avert even a trivial amount of distress. Most people recoil from the idea of retiring life on Earth to prevent even unimaginably vast suffering, let alone so as to prevent a a "trivial" amount. Negative utilitarianism is offensive to common sense.
However, consider Ursula Le Guin’s work of philosophical fiction, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (1973). Le Guin’s fable tells the story of Omelas, a city of marvellous delights whose existence depends - for unspecified reasons - on the torment of a single child in a basement. The citizens of Omelas know about this abused child. But the child’s horrific existence doesn’t stop them having a wonderful time. And indeed, on the Benthamite felicific calculus of classical utilitarianism, why not? Compared to the immensity and rich diversity of pleasures that Omelas offers, the torment of a single child is a mere pinprick in the grand scheme of things. Yet in Ursula le Guin’s fable, a small minority of citizens don't consider the price worth paying. So they walk away from Omelas. Hence the title.
I hope that our glorious transhuman future holds fabulous delights – Omelas Plus. I work towards that end. But like any negative utilitarian, I would still unhesitatingly "walk away from Omelas” if ever the opportunity arose. What’s more, a great many people who read Ursula Guin’s Fable say they would walk away too. Would you? Even readers who report they wouldn't walk away rarely condemn readers who say they’d exit rather than be complicit in the abuse of a child.
Back In the real world, what does it mean - and what might it mean in future - to "walk away from Omelas”?
The answer to this question is controversial (cf. The dubious philosophy of blowing up the universe). The genius of Ursula Le Guin’s allegory lies in how a piece of philosophical fiction inspires debate on a topic otherwise beyond the pale. Limitations of the human mind mean that treatises of academic philosophy can only go so far.
Johan, although Smart's reply to Popper is often wrongly reckoned the reductio ad absurdum of NU, it's the Pinprick Argument that really seems devastating. OK, maybe there's no more reason to expect a true theory of ethics to respect common sense than quantum physics. But the idea of destroying paradise just to avoid a pinprick feels too crazy for words. I used to chat about it with Nick Bostrom - a severe critic of NU - but I don't know who first made the objection to NU ethics. It's kind of obvious, but that's no reason not to properly credit it.
"Oh the gift that God could give us, to see ourselves as others see us."
I've just chatted to the author, the philosopher and 80K Hours webmaster Peter Hartree. What credence would you assign to (1) classical utilitarianism? (2) negative utilitarianism? (3) anti-realism?
Contacting aliens could end life on Earth
("Attempting to communicate with extraterrestrials, if they exist, could be extremely dangerous for us")
"Alien apocalypse" might give sensitive souls sleepless nights! Instead, I'd probably quote Richard Bach ("What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly”) or some equally sententious fluff.
Maximising bliss can be as apocalyptic as minimising suffering.
Drugs, robots and the pursuit of pleasure
("why experts are worried about AIs becoming addicts")
Will the biohappiness revolution be driven by novel genes, drugs or electrodes?
Deep brain stimulation
("In research first, jolts from a customized brain implant provided immediate relief to a severely depressed patient, scientists say")
Having kids destined for a lifetime of negative thoughts raises thorny ethical questions.
("A brain implant that zaps away negative thoughts raises thorny ethical questions Salon spoke to philosophers about "deep brain stimulation," a novel technology to treat depression")
Shortcuts to paradise can be more tempting than reprogramming the biosphere.
The future of wireheading
("What are the ethivs of an implant that delivers pleasure directly into your brain?")
[on abolitionism in The Times]
Post-Darwinian life will be based on gradients of transhuman bliss.
Sentient beings should weep only tears of joy.
It's going to be a long struggle. James Marriott in The Times (July 29):
If we want to live we have to suffer and weep
("Only the modern mind could long for a life without anxiety, envy, sadness and boredom")
[abolitionists also want to abolish paywalls]
The 200+ comments section fills in any missing numbers from
And what about nonhuman animals and small children? Unlike adult humans, humble intellects can't even partially rationalise their suffering.
Andrei, "abolitionism" is sometimes used by animal advocates for American legal scholar Gary Francione's admirable view that all sentient beings have the basic right not to be treated as the property of others. But abolitionism in the broader sense refers to complete abolition of all experience below hedonic zero. As far as I know, the first person to recognise that an architecture of mind based entirely on gradients of bliss was feasible was Lewis Mancini back in 1990. "Riley-Day Syndrome, Brain Stimulation and the Genetic Engineering of a World Without Pain": Riley-Day Syndrome, Brain Stimulation and the Genetic Engineering of a World Without Pain
I tracked Lewis down a few years ago to congratulate him - he didn't even use a computer.
[on the (bio)intelligence explosion]
A minority view among transhumanists:
Will a biological singularity arrive first?
But IMO digital zombies aren't going to wake up and replace us.
Full-spectrum superintelligence will be our descendants:
The Intelligence Explosion & The Great Replacement Our friends at MIRI argue otherwise:
"Intelligence Explosion FAQ"
Eddie, you say "the problem with a "biological singularity" is that the rate of improvement to intelligence is much lower than what is possible with computers". This argument would be compelling if Turing machine functionalism were true. A John von Neumann is a lot smarter and quicker at problem-solving than the village idiot, but even a super-von Neumann couldn't compete with the logico-mathematical prowess a modern digital computer. However, von Neumann (and the village idiot) can perform cognitive tasks impossible for a digital zombie in virtue of being phenomenally-bound subjects of experience. IMO our successors will also be our descendants: genetically-enhanced superhumans with embedded neurochips.
https://www.psychnewsdaily.com/new-study-finds-most-adults-would-not-take-a-life-extension-pill-even-if-it-existed/">On antiaging pills
("New study finds most adults would not take a life extension pill, even if it existed")
Strong prediction: if radical life-extension pills were readily available, almost everyone would take them.
Adaptive preference formation
For serious life-extensionists only:
("New research shows that castration of male sheep delays aging of DNA compared to intact males")
Would you rather grow a new head or new body? (both in my case)
("Scientists discover slug that can decapitate itself, grow new body The bizarre discovery could pave the way for advances in regenerative medicine for humans")
[on Transvision 2021]
Alas the route to posthuman paradise has speed-bumps:
mp4 (video) & PDF
The transhumanist movement doesn't lack diversity...
El futuro es hoy, según 400 expertos
Taking refular vigorous exercise is still normally wiser than taking pills:
Anxiety effectively treated with exercise
("Both moderate and strenuous exercise alleviate symptoms of anxiety, even when the disorder is chronic, a new study shows.")
Edging towards the mainstream:
Life Without Pain - "How the people who NEVER feel pain could transform medicine: A new book reveals how scientists hope to harness this superhuman condition") One-off intravenous gene therapy (cf. CRISPR infusion) could give human and nonhuman animals Jo Cameron's benign double FAAH and FAAH-OUT mutation - or anything else we choose.
The link between physical and psychological pain
But do humans have the wisdom to engineer a happy biosphere?
Let's get this right.
Is the WHO proposing a whistleblowing mechanism to prevent...the only way to underwrite good health as defined in its founding constitution?
WHO proposes whistleblower mechanism
Of course gene editing can (and will) be used for many purposes beyond ending suffering.
An intimate connection:
Social and physical pain
("The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain")
"Widely assumed human pain more painful than other species. But pain’s Darwinian purpose is warning: 'Don’t do that again. Next time it might kill you.' So perhaps the more intelligent the species the less pain needed to ram warning home. Animals might suffer more than us."
Richard Dawkins on Twitter So will a superintelligent species switch to a more civilised pain-free signalling system and rescue the others?
Pain versus nociception:
How your brain creates pain
Life on Earth needs a more civilised signalling system:
The cure for pain (Wired)
Biotech can make suffering optional - but not without a political, social and biological-genetic revolution:
The eradication of suffering (Wikipedia)
Robert, crudely, if mu opioids are the recipe for pure bliss, then opioids plus dopaminergics are the recipe for bliss plus hypermotivation. Needless to say, I'm not advocating "speedballing". But today's drugs of abuse illustrate that extreme well-being can be combined with extreme motivation to overcome challenges. See too
("New Brain Implant Automatically Detects and Kills Pain in Real Time")
Sentient life deserves a more civilised signalling system, but a biohappiness revolution calls for political as well as biohacking genius.
Why emotional pain hurts ("'Hurt feelings' is more than a metaphor")
Acetaminophen is a subtle mood-brightener and anxiolytic that reduces rejection-sensitivity.
Acetaminophen increases risk-taking
("The Most Common Pain Relief Drug in The World Induces Risky Behavior, Study Finds")
How to defeat chronic pain? Short-term:
1) Conolidine is natural, so it can't be patented, but orally active blockers of the ACKR3 receptor are extremely promising painkillers, mood-brighteners and anxiolytics:
Conolidine to treat chronic pain
A natural painkiller
but (apparently) without the abuse potential of traditional opioids. Drug companies are now researching patentable analogues of conolidine.
2) Somatic gene therapy targeting the FAAH and FAAH-OUT genes could (potentially) give existing pain-ridden humans Jo Cameron's extraordinarily high pain threshold and resistance to anxiety and depression:
Hedonic Gene Therapy
3) Universal access to preimplantation genetic screening and counselling would allow all prospective parents to choose a benign, functional, "low pain" version of the critical SCN9A gene ("the volume knob for pain") for their future children, turning pain from a (sometimes) hellish nightmare to a useful signalling-mechanism - and at worst a mere annoyance.
Disastrous, I fear:
Why a Columbia Neuroscientist Acknowledged Using Heroin
("Carl Hart felt he had to ‘come out of the closet.’ He knew there’d be downsides.")
We are all born opioid addicts, but the way to tackle our endogenous opioid addiction isn't by taking heroin.
A more orthodox approach:
Sunlight and mood
("Scientists examine the effect of daylength on the brain’s opioid system")
The sinister kappa receptor:
Kappa Opioid Receptors Drive a Tonic Aversive Component of Chronic Pain
“The moment that I took that first Percocet, it did something to my brain,” he said. “If I could design myself, and feel how I wanted to feel, that was it. Immediately, I was like okay with myself. I was at peace on the inside.”
Deep brain stimulation for addiction
Poppy seed and coca tea might be an interesting cocktail. Poppyseed tea addiction
A mood-brightening pain-reliever without tolerance?
("The natural analgesic conolidine targets the newly identified opioid scavenger ACKR3/CXCR7")
"The atypical chemokine receptor ACKR3 has recently been reported to act as an opioid scavenger with unique negative regulatory properties towards different families of opioid peptides. Here, we show that conolidine, a natural analgesic alkaloid used in traditional Chinese medicine, targets ACKR3, thereby providing additional proof of a correlation between ACKR3 and pain modulation and opening alternative therapeutic avenues for the treatment of chronic pain."
Time to launch hedonium?
("Start a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin without any knowledge of programming")
A magic money tree?! If the supply of cryptocurrencies were finite, then one could talk of their scarcity value. But it’s unlimited! Moreover, just as with MLM schemes, it’s the folk at the bottom of the pyramid will suffer. But this time it’s different? It always is…
Billionaire John Paulson Warns Cryptocurrencies Will Be Worthless
A hamster has been trading cryptocurrencies in a cage rigged to automatically buy and sell tokens since June - and it's currently outperforming the S&P 500")
Greg, yes - perhaps there will be a winner. (Feel free to test my integrity by lobbing a few thousand ETH my way.) After all, there are now zillions of g-tlds, but the dot. com domain extension still rules. Possibly I'm over-reacting to being given the hard sell for various ponzicoins. But whereas some people can afford to lose a lot of money, one hears of other folk losing their savings.
I should stress that the davecoin will be different!
Edward, bviously, it's complicated. Strictly speaking, crypto is neither a ponzi nor a MLM. And in any case, one can use a ponzi or a MLM to do good deeds. Bernie Madoff was a generous charitable donor. The mania has some way still to run, but it will all end in tears.
One moral quandary for EA organizations is if they accept morally compromised funding, then it then becomes very hard to call out what's going on.
Worldcoin is a dystopian nightmare
Craig Wright’s firm really is called “Tulip Trading Ltd”.
Tulip Trading files lawsuit William, I promise I hold dark views of nationalism and nation states. I was just highlighting the hyperinflationary growth of cryptocurrencies compared to the stable number of state-backed fiat.
Physicist warns that contacting aliens could end all life on Earth
("Attempting to communicate with extraterrestrials, if they exist, could be extremely dangerous for us")
Presumably an advanced civilisation will be a better judge than human toddlers of the optimal configuration of matter and energy. Alas I fear we're alone in our Hubble volume. But distress signals won't go amiss.
[on the world's oldest person?]
Jeanne/Yvonne Calment (Wikipedia)
Did Jeanne Calment live to be 122?
It's not just the Russians! I used to believe; but I now lean towards scepticism. The most common source of inflated longevity claims in otherwise well-documented cases is identity substitution. Identity substitution has already twice tripped up Guinness validators - the Joubert and Izumi cases (cf. https://gerontology.wikia.org/wiki/Pierre_Joubert & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shigechiyo_Izumi. Ruling out an identity switch in an era of mass-photography ought to be straightforward. Therefore the selective destruction of photographic and documentary evidence by Calment's heir, reportedly on her instructions, is a very unfortunate coincidence.
The case may be genuine. But if we agree with the scientific maxim that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (ECREE), then is a nagging scepticism here unreasonable? It's regrettable the debate has become so politicised.
The selective destruction of evidence could be entirely innocent. On the other hand, if Yvonne Calment usurped her mother's identity for financial reasons, then exposure would mean Raffray's heirs had a claim against the Calment estate ("In life, one sometimes makes bad deals" - Jeanne/Yvonne Calment). My view? Well, I’m not sure it’s relevant for Wikipedia purposes. Let’s just say financial chicanery among humans is extremely common, whereas living into one’s thirteenth decade is vanishingly rare.
How would we respond if a publicity-loving, supposedly 120-year-old Russian claimant to World's Oldest Person instructed selective destruction of documentary and photographic evidence? We'd probably be rather sceptical of the extraordinary longevity claim - especially if the claimant and her family had a financial incentive to fib about her identity and age. Patriotic Russians would probably dismiss Western "conspiracy theorists". They’d tell us top Russian validators had authenticated the case. Perhaps they'd be right! But consider the comparative frequency of living into one’s thirteenth decade and misrepresentation for monetary gain. I hate being cynical, but if we're Bayesian rationalists, then a verdict of "not proven" would be wise.
Most animals in the wild starve to death at a very early age. Even if one is a classical utilitarian (cf. Utilitarianism.com), one shouldn't advocate creating Darwinian ecosystems. However, mastery of the pleasure-pain axis will allow the creation of happy biospheres without experience below hedonic zero - with multiple fail-safe mechanisms to prevent accidents.
What about sub-paradisiacal biospheres that still have a "small" amount of suffering?
Well, NUs will always "https://www.cmstewartwrite.com/single-post/a-question-for-david-pearce">walk away from Omelas".
However well-meaning, EA that promotes creating pain-ridden Darwinian ecosystems elsewhere will have turned into an Effective Harm movement. Let's hope it never happens. Mercifully, the technical obstacles to terraforming planets in other solar systems are several orders of magnitude harder than messing around here.
Ekaterina, if EA focuses on the possibility of "cosmic rescue missions", then all well and good! My own Rare Earthism and scepticism about interstellar travel may be misplaced. However, Longtermism in EA is often equated with its classical utilitarian version. This is more worrying.
AI thinks I have an 84% likelihood of being female...
The Gender Continuum Test
("Do people of different genders actually have different personalities?")
[on moral grandstanding]
Moral grandstanding, signalling, or simply finding suffering in others personally distressing...so long as the problem of suffering gets fixed, I'm not worried:
Moral grandstanding ("The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk")
Lance, no doubt so. But conversely, in some cases, and to some limited extent, professed moral anti-realism may motivated by a desire to signal one's intellectual superiority over others. In academia and in scientifically educated circles, saying one is a moral realist makes one sound naïve and unsophisticated.
"Why are some people drawn towards moral realism, and some aren't?"
Compare consciousness realism. Just as some folk think that scientific materialism forces them to disavow their own consciousness, likewise the existence of (dis)value is naively inconsistent with the scientific world-picture. Not so. Consciousness and (dis)value are indeed inconsistent with an ontology of materialism, but they are objective features of reality. Admittedly, the normative aspect of states of the pain-pleasure axis can’t be semantically unpacked in terms of anything more primitive, but then neither can, e.g. the colourful aspect of phenomenal redness. It’s still an objective feature of existence.
Some moral realists also reject physicalism. I don’t: I think materialists have an impoverished understanding of the nature of the physical.
David, I believe that Socrates’ claim that nobody does wrong knowingly, but rather only though ignorance is essentially correct. This claim obviously faces many objections, ranging from the antirealist objection to objective (dis)value to the existence of people who revel in their own wickedness.
Borg values? Just as the physicist aspires to the "view from nowhere" rather than the skull-bound egocentric world-simulation his mind is running, likewise a philosopher may aspire to the perspective of the Borg, so to speak. In both cases, inability to do so fully in practice is a function of ignorance.
Zarathustra, IMO alien sentience in other Hubble volumes will have a pain-pleasure axis of (dis)value like us. Digital zombies lack such an axis of (dis)value. Nothing intrinsically matters to classical Turing machines. Only phenomenally-bound minds can experience non-trivial (dis)value. How we do so is a big mystery:
Biological Minds and QM
Not so sweet...
Sugar May Be Stealing Your Happiness
("Sugar isn’t just a cause of metabolic disease. Mental health is another casualty")
Our universe seems sinisterly fine-tuned for the existence of suffering.
Evidence for the Devil? Or Everett?
Exploring The Universe That Wasn’t
("How slight differences could have forever changed our cosmic history")
[on intellectual debt]
by Dr. James R. Fransisco (sic)
(with thanks to Salomé Gilles)
My jaw dropped slightly...
I see there's even a "second edition":
The free original, written in my deathless prose, is at:
Utopian Pharmacology by David Pearce (2003, 2020)
Salomé got in touch wanting to cite Utopian Pharmacology in her dissertation. She was confused that the entire text was apparently authored by "Dr Fransisco".
The last person overtly to, um, "borrow" my work was
Plagiarism by British Drug Tzar, but the late Prof. Iverson lifted only six paragraphs. This fellow seems to have taken plagiarism to a whole new league!
Cynthia, thank you. The goddess of MDMA might not approve of litigation! And perhaps the fellow is an Open Individualist raising money for a worthy cause.
Darren, in the USA, big-name academics often offload stuff to their postgrads, but they normally rewrite borrowed material rather than lift it verbatim. I guess our late drug tzar wasn't aware of archive.org. I dropped OUP a line - mainly because I was worried someone might think I'd plagiarised the illustrious professor rather than the other way round.
ShaNe, I'll be more worried when people don't think I'm worth plagiarising any more, but it's still... disconcerting.
"Philosophy is the highest music."
Not if you've ever read an analytic philosophy journal.
What Your Music Taste Reveals About You
("Psychologists have found correlations between these sounds and character traits.")
Has lockdown changed our musical taste?
Feeling Lonely? Turn up the Volume!
("Summary: Lonely and socially isolated people prefer higher volume sounds, such as loud music or background noise, compared to those who feel socially accepted, a new study reports.")
Rupetrt, extremely premature babies (born after 21-22 weeks' gestation) are clearly conscious. If consciousness depended on neocortical function, maybe 15-16 weeks would be a credible estimate; but neocortical chauvinism is false. Maybe six or seven weeks?? The neural plate forms as early as 16 days after conception. We are really asking about the approximate age of the earliest phenomenally-bound experiences; and the basis of phenomenal binding is not scientifically understood.
Artificial wombs will transform the abortion debate. But the arguments can feel surreal. Pigs and other nonhuman animals whom humans factory-farm and slaughter are as sentient and sapient as toddlers. Many "pro-life" advocates eat meat. Pigs matter far more than a human foetus - though ideally we should protect the interests of both. Likewise human and nonhuman animal mothers. [on AI risk]
We need a Butlerian Jihad against AI
("A proposal to ban AI research by treating it like human-animal hybrids")
"Even the best current AIs, like GPT-3, are not in the Strong category yet, although they may be getting close"
Hokum. GPT-3 is no closer to machine consciousness than an abacus. Sentience-unfriendly intelligence is humanity - not least our treatment of our fellow creatures as though they were insentient biomass.
May digital zombies have Buddhist utility functions.
Can a Machine Learn Morality?
Secular Buddhists should presumably welcome the prospect of AGI that turns us into the equivalent of paperclips. No misalignment of values there: the problem of suffering would solved! But digital zombies are not going to inherit the Earth. We need to tackle the biological-genetic roots of suffering.
AI is a useful tool (cf. DeepMind’s AlphaFold protein structure program). MIRI/Eliezer's perspective is different:
Maximilian, whether digital zombies could ever pose a threat to humanity is a legitimate question. But that's not Strong AI in the sense of intelligent machine consciousness. Could hypothetical zombie AGI do something worse to sentience that today’s regime of factory-farming, slaughterhouses and mass asphyxiation, i.e. the fishing “industry”?
It's fun sci-fi. But I've never come across a technically or sociologically credible scenario. IMO, we should focus on creating sentience-friendly biological intelligence.
Are "paperclippers" an autistic worry
Matthew, in essence, yes. Phenomenal binding is (1) insanely computationally powerful and 2) impossible on pain of magic for a classical Turing machine or connectionist system. General intelligence is a function of your mind and its entire phenomenal world-simulation.
What I don't even begin to grasp is what sentient humans, transhumans and posthumans will be able to do with embedded "narrow" AI.
AGI with a Buddhist utility function might seek the true vacuum, but alas I'm sceptical of AGI.
("What if the Universe lives in a false vacuum state?")
The wisdom of zombies?
No. AI is neither sapient nor sentient, and full-spectrum AGI is a pipedream. But zombie AI is a (sometimes) useful tool that will revolutionise life in the cosmos.
("Ethical AI Trained on Reddit Posts Said Genocide Is OK If It Makes People Happy. Fed by Reddit and Mechanical Turks, the algorithmic morality spinner is a dangerous and stupid use of technology")
[I'm a functionalist, just not a Turing machine functionalist: Does consciousness serve any useful purpose?]
Blissful extinction = nirvana? However, to keep life lovers on board the abolitionist project, we need to maintain message-discipline.
[on hyperthymia, hypomania and mania]
Secular scientific rationalism can be a sign of masked depression. But posthumans will (probably!) be hyperthymic rather than hypermanic.
("An Atheist Neuroscientist Finds Faith in Bipolar Mania. Why does bipolar mania cause hyper-religiosity, even in a nonbeliever like me?")
Posthuman life will be of superhuman intensity.
("Like Seeing Colors for the First Time: Superheroes and Mania. Why did bipolar mania give me "supernatural" senses?")
("High schoolers may be more gender-diverse than previously thought, new study says")
a bit like having a real tail I guess. What will it mean to be a real transhuman?
Where is manhood most precarious?
I learned some new words (and concepts!) today:
Glossary of Must-Know Gender Identity Terms
Fox News will love this one...
Omnisexual vs Pansexual
The Ghost in the Machine
("Is It Time to Give Up on Consciousness as ‘the Ghost in the Machine’?)
If subjective experience has no causal power, then it can't inspire discussion of its properties - or even existence.
The causal power of experience
Free will (as distinct from the phenomenology of volition) is most likely impossible. But it's unclear what it would mean to say consciousness is an illusion. Alas, agony is not illusory:
Consciousness is no illusion
The perceptual naive realist believes he is directly acquainted with his local physical environment. This feat of magic would be highly adaptive, but it's not physically possible. By contrast, running a real-time phenomenally-bound world-simulation that masquerades as the external environment is both adaptive and physically feasible -although not if the brain is a pack of classical neurons:
The brain in consciousness
[on social media]
Should we worry more about people with too many desires or too few? And desires that are too strong or too weak?
Addiction, Health and Technology
(Silkie Carlo, Bernadka Dubicka & David Pearce debate)
"Tech companies are orchestrating our addiction and they need to be stopped" (SK)
"The problem grows with no regulation and young people are the most at risk" (BD)
"Addiction and suffering are not caused by technology" (DP)
[on the foundations of QM]
The universality of the superposition principle and the experience of definite outcomes are in conflict only if the subject (the “observer”) confuses the vehicle of observation with its content.
Is the past (and future) there when nobody looks?
[on conspiracy theories]
“The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory, is that conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually chaotic. The truth is that it is not The Iluminati, or The Jewish Banking Conspiracy, or the Gray Alien Theory."
The truth is far more frightening - Nobody is in control.
The world is rudderless.”
Can intelligent moral agents ever design a rudder?
("Disagreeable people found to be more prone to conspiracy theories")
[on a vaccine for mental health]
The Biohappiness Revolution
("A Vaccine for Mental Health")
Intro (mp4). A great one for conspiracy theorists (cf. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/transhumanism-expert-exposes-liberal-billionaire-elitists-great-reset-agenda/")The Great Reset
Vaccine passports anybody?
Actually, I'll be tackling the implications of CRISPR infusions for superhappiness, superlongevity and superintelligence. But Alex Jones would have a field day!
Adam, unlike traditional environmentalist approaches to reducing suffering, the biological-genetic strategy is inherently longtermist. Germline engineering tackles future potential suffering. I’d planned to focus on the novel use of CRISPR infusion to help existing sentience. But my usual stuff on designer babies can be viewed though a longtermist lens. Presumably it's easier to minimise the amount of suffering in our forward light-cone than to maximise the theoretical upper bound of the abundance of happiness.
Hedonic justice is neglected:
("Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters? The behavior geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden is waging a two-front campaign: on her left are those who assume that genes are irrelevant, on her right those who insist that they’re everything.") And unlike genetic enhancements that enable the bearers to compete in a socio-economic rat race, hedonic uplift is not zero-sum. But will progressives have the courage to embrace genetic reform?
Tim, perhaps the biggest strength of classical utilitarianism is that CU is the most obvious way to naturalise (dis)value. Some of its implications are repugnant. But the onus is on those of us who reject a symmetry theory of (dis)value to justify our rejection. I agree that the bliss of pleasure-optimised minds is qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from micro-minds. Here we return to the thorny issue of nature of binding. But the thrust of the utilitronium shockwave argument still stands. All the rich complexity of blissful transhuman and posthuman minds is ethically unacceptable from the perspective of CU because it doesn't maximise the cosmic abundance of bliss. These mega-minds should be converted into mega-orgasms, so to speak. As an NU, this possibility doesn't trouble me. But the shockwave scenario and its variations can be cited when CUs claim that NUs are plotting to destroy the world. Unlike CUs, NUs can settle for life based on gradients of intelligent bliss.
Aaron, I'm as keen on nuclear disarmament as anybody. But last year alone, over four times as many people took their own lives as were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Hundreds of millions of people world-wide suffer from chronic pain and depression. The problem of suffering will be solved only when we target its biological-genetic roots.
[on the binding problem]
Zarathustra, If the decohered bits and byes of a digital computer were superposed, then the program would malfunction, not yield functional phenomenally-bound states like perceptual objects. (Of course, hardware errors do occasionally impact computer software. See e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaZ_RSt0KP8)
And if the 1s and 0s were notionally replaced by discrete pixels of experience, the program would run correctly as intended as before, but the upshot would be a micro-experiential zombie, not a phenomenally-bound subject of experience - regardless of the complexity and sophistication of the code and regardless of how fast the program runs.
Of course, I'm making assumptions here, not least, no "strong" emergence. But granted this assumption, bits and bytes can't somehow blend into each other.
Sorry, could you clarify your remark about "a disconnect between the information available neurologically and 'consciously'"?
The “Schrödinger’s neurons” conjecture proposes to solve the binding problem by speculating that at sub-femtosecond temporal resolutions, your mind and its world-simulation consist entirely of individual "cat states" (all legal according to unitary-only QM). But when investigators probe your mind-brain at multi-millisecond resolutions with today’s crude tools of neuroscanning, you seem from an outsider's perspective to be a pack of discrete classical neurons. This ostensible structural mismatch gives rise to the binding problem.
[on smart drugs]
A sceptical if not cynical review:
("Effective Brain Enhancing Pills Do Not Exist Be suspicious of any drug that claims it will make you think faster or better.")
[on dreaming and lucid dreams]
And we're still dreaming, so to speak. But peripheral nervous inputs now shape our dreamworlds...
Eyes wide shut
("How newborn mammals dream the world they're entering A new Yale study suggests that, in a sense, mammals dream about the world they are about to experience before they are even born.")
("Why Do Some People Always Remember Their Dreams, While Others Almost Never Do?")
No, I don't buy the interpretation of QM used, but yes, "waking reality and dreams are different versions of the same thing":
Dreams and Wakefulness
What differs during waking life is the existence of a selection mechanism.
Galantamine is a reversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase that induces lucid dreams:
Lucid dreams and consciousness
("Can lucid dreaming help us understand consciousness?")
[on closing slaughterhouses]
Shut the death factories
Sadly, a Close All Slaughterhouses campaign probably needs a 5 to 10 year delayed implementation clause to succeed - both to incentivise cultured and alternative meat production and to ensure that enacting legislation involves quite literally zero personal inconvenience to consumers. Extravagant "compensation" should probably be offered to farmers as well.
("Exercise increases the body’s own ‘cannabis-like' substance which reduces chronic inflammation")
[on existential risk]
Status quo bias is stronger in heaven than hell.
What are the odds we destroy the world
Perhaps the best way to safeguard to the future of sentience is to abolish suffering and the nihilistic impulses it spawns:
Solve suffering by blowing up the universe?
Humans are ineradicable. The human species can disappear only via genome editing.
The Earth After Humans
60 °C of global warming "tens of millions would survive just fine"
“Some wounds run too deep for the healing.”
(J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Another reason to edit our Darwinian source-code...
Why We Can't Forgive Or Forget
The case against reality
I love and use Hoffman's "interface icons" metaphor; but "The case against reality" is a click-baity title. Mind-independent reality is different from our phenomenal world-simulations; but this is an ancient theme. Moreover, if the intrinsic nature argument is sound, then - in one sense - mind-independent reality is actually more familiar than common sense would suppose.
However, "brains" are mind-dependent artefacts - though unlike Donald Hoffman, I'm also a realist and a physicalist.
Naive realism (Wikipedia) Few researchers - and indeed few educated laypeople - would expressly defend naive realism. But what’s more insidious is how it’s implicitly assumed. Most of us use the language of “observation”, “perception” and a shared “public” arena. How often do you say “Within my phenomenal world-simulation, I’m experiencing…” rather than “I can see…”? IMO the confusion of vehicle and content leads to everything from the measurement problem in QM to the binding problem in neuroscience and more mysteries besides.
Cats are serial killers responsible for immense suffering. It's not their fault. But the cat family should be genetically reprogrammed or peacefully retired.
Philosophy at its most shallow...
Cats and the Good Life
"We have an ethical duty to care for each individual animal on earth"
Animal Suffering by Jeff Sebo ("It is not enough to conserve species and ecosystems. We have an ethical duty to care for each individual animal on earth")
Or we could reprogram predators, civilize the biosphere, and create post-Darwinian life.
("The animals that may exist in a million years, imagined by biologists. Fully aquatic whale-rats. Praying mantises the size of dogs. Scientists imagine the future evolution of life on Earth.")
Sentient Darwinian malware in all its horror:
Do You Even Lift, Embryo?
("Cuckoos spend their early days murdering fellow nestmates. To pull it off, they start bodybuilding inside the egg.")
Wild animal suffering
"What’s also missing from the analysis of WAS is the joy predators get from killing prey."
Compare the argument that what's missing from analyses of human child abuse is the joy of the abusers. Altruism - effective or otherwise - means something very different to the classical and the negative utilitarian.
The predation problem
("Kyle Johannsen speaks to Herbivorise Predators")
One way to shift the Overton window (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window) - and also iron out technical problems - will be to conduct pilot studies in self-contained happy artificial biospheres / peaceable kingdoms. I haven't watched the full video yet, but the possibility of "separating" (as distinct from retiring or herbivorising) obligate carnivores is interesting: the advent of cheap cultured mincemeat meat makes this feasible and it's technically easier than genome-editing.
[on controversial ideas]
"Controversy for the sake of controversy is sin. Controversy for the sake of truth is a divine command."
Do We Really Need More Controversial Ideas?
("A new journal encourages scholars to share their most dangerous and tasteless thoughts.")
[on prioritising s-risk vs the abolitionist project]
S(uffering)-Risks & A Typology of S-Risks & The Abolitionist Project
Suffering-Focused Ethics FAQ
Perhaps a definition would be in order. By “the abolitionist project”, let us here use the broad sense of the deliberate, progressive abolition of suffering through science as distinct from any one particular blueprint for its eradication. Suffering-focused ethics has been at the heart of Buddhism and its secular counterparts for ages. What’s changed is that modern science has – or will shortly have - the technical tools to phase out the biology of suffering in human and nonhumans alike (cf. "A World Without Pain" (New Yorker)). So I think the term - or some variant - is warranted. A commitment to abolition may be explicit or implicit, e.g. the breathtakingly ambitious World Health Organization definition of health - “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”. As so defined, support for the abolitionist project and lifelong good health is not exclusive to believers in suffering-focused ethics. Thus many effective altruists, transhumanists, classical utilitarians (etc) would favour a long-term goal of minimising, preventing and ideally abolishing involuntary suffering; but ending suffering is typically not their only goal, nor in some cases even a primary goal. And in some cases, the abolition of suffering is conceived as a possible by-product of something else, e.g. the advent of sentience-friendly machine superintelligence.
Now for our possible areas of disagreement, or rather differences in emphasis.
I. Temperamentally happy people have a different processing bias from depressives (cf. “depressive realism”). Suffering can make some people more empathetic with fellow sufferers. On the other hand, the opposite syndrome is common too: “It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.” (W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence). Quantifying these conflicting syndromes is hard. Not least, there is no clean dichotomy among sufferers between the compassionate-minded and the embittered. Also, advocates of suffering-focused ethics must tread carefully in wanting humans to continue modestly to suffer as a means to their recognising the moral urgency of ending suffering in others. I understand the reasoning. For instance, if meat eaters could feel even a small part of the misery of the factory-farmed pigs who end up on their dinner plates, then surely they wouldn’t pay for something so terrible in exchange for such a trivial reward (“But I like the taste!”). Yet it’s not clear how this notional deterrent to animal abuse could be made to work, nor whether unhappier meat eaters would be more likely to go vegan. After all, meat-eaters intermittently undergo a great deal of suffering in their lives, albeit not as much as their victims; suffering hasn’t made them more compassionate towards factory-farmed non-human animals. To be sure, there are subtle but important conceptual differences to be drawn between our urging more sympathy, more empathy and more compassion for our fellow sentients. Paul Bloom’s provocatively titled "Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion" (2016) is a case in point. But what exactly are we asking for? If any of us could glimpse – let alone consistently focus on - even a fraction of the suffering in the world, then one would go insane – not figuratively but literally psychotic. Even dimly understanding severe suffering can be debilitating - in anything but the formal sense of intellectual recognition, where one hasn’t really understood suffering at all, just a placeholder. Prolonged contemplation of life’s evils can easily lead to learned helplessness and behavioural despair rather than to action. So I think the naturally compassionate-minded need to switch off, or at least turn down, their propensity to sympathy / empathy / compassion in order to function more effectively. There exists a duty to self-compassion. What’s critical to the project of effectively reducing suffering, I think, is harnessing one’s basic sympathy / empathy / compassion for other sentient beings to a systematising mindset - indeed a hyper-systematising mindset - and applying the tools of gene-editing accordingly. Biotech offers the only long-term solution to the problem of suffering. On their own, socioeconomic and political reforms can’t tackle the biological-genetic roots of suffering and the negative-feedback mechanisms hedonic treadmill; hence the necessity of a twin-track approach of upgrading our environment and our reward circuitry. Why not promote more systematising and more compassion? It’s the obvious compromise. Alas there are poorly understood neurological tradeoffs between an empathising and systematising cognitive style. A more compassionate temperament can impair one’s ability to systematise. For instance, are people with a radically expanded circle of compassion inherently more compassionate than tribalists and the anthropocentric – or just better systematisers? My personal sympathies lie with “loved up” empaths on hug drugs; but MDMA-like consciousness not the recipe for effective altruism. In short, creating an ultra-compassionate society of low-AQ hyper-empaths probably isn’t the way to realise the abolitionist project nor to promote effective suffering-focused ethics. Moreover, in my view bioethicists should dive into sociological and biological-genetic details of suffering prevention - from exploration of broad techniques (genome-editing, cross-species fertility-regulation, reprogramming predators, free preimplantation genetic screening and counselling for all prospective parents, etc) right down to specific genes and receptors. Which allele of SCN9A (“the volume knob for pain”) should we choose for our children? For ourselves? What versions of the FAAH and FAAH-OUT genes? How should trials be conducted? What could go wrong? What are the worse-case scenarios? And so forth. At first blush, this level of detail is too fine-grained. Most people aren’t ready to accept even the principle of genetic choice, let alone delve into specifics. But public attitudes to suffering reduction and the abolitionist project itself will shift as technologies mature - and public appreciation of what biotech can deliver becomes widespread. Compare, say, the ravages of aging. Today we try to rationalise growing old. Many people have partly managed to convince themselves that they wouldn’t use radical antiaging therapies even if such interventions were available. This response is little more than adaptive preference formation, aka sour grapes. The solution to status quo bias isn’t just antiaging propaganda, but also the development of biological-genetic tools to combat aging. Likewise with phasing out the biology of involuntary mental and physical pain. Until science can deliver us from suffering, most of us try to rationalise life’s cruelties and mundane disappointments. You know the spiel. We can’t appreciate the good things in life without the bad (etc). If pressed, maybe most of us say, and indeed believe, that we wouldn’t take Huxley’s soma or its future genetic counterpart. Accelerating their development will put professed reluctance to the test. So will advertising genome reform as a strategy to civilise the world.
Resources on the margin? Well, yes, it’s certainly true that more financial resources are needed. But I think suffering-focused ethicists should be at the vanguard of the abolitionist project, not cheerleaders on the sidelines.
II. What is the right balance to strike between moral advocacy and a transhumanist fondness for technical solutions to ethical problems? For instance, we can agree that factory-farming is monstrous. Ending animal agriculture should be a priority. But IMO the most effective way to get factory farms and slaughterhouses shut and outlawed this century involves combining animal advocacy with the development and commercialisation of cultured meat and meat substitutes. Moral argument alone should be enough; but it’s not. Or consider the ethics of bringing new human life into the world. As a believer in suffering-focused ethics, I really want to urge prospective parents not to create more life and misery. But it’s not a viable solution to the problem of suffering. If it were, Gautama Buddha could have preached universal monkish celibacy. For evolutionary reasons, antinatalist advocacy nearly always falls on deaf ears. Moreover, personally staying childfree won’t prevent long-term suffering either. Voluntary childlessness risks just contributing to selection pressure against antinatalism. So I think that believers in suffering-focused ethics should urge biological-genetic solutions (“designer babies”) rather promoting the global antinatalist agenda that suffering-focused ethics naively entails. Likewise with helping existing human and nonhuman animals: for instance, this year’s (2021) stunning breakthroughs in genetic medicine mean that intravenous gene-therapy will be technically feasible to prevent physical pain and even underpin lifelong mental health. Wild animal suffering? Once again, I think suffering-focused ethicists should both be raising awareness of the cruelties of life in the wild and setting out concrete blueprints for how wild-animal suffering can be fixed. In the absence of such blueprints and specific policy-proposals, critics will assume that we’re ecologically illiterate – just philosophers who don’t understand the thermodynamics of a food chain. With blueprints publicly available, human complicity in the persistence of free-living animal suffering can be more widely acknowledged, and rationalisations of its inevitability - and the proverbial “wisdom of Nature” - can be subverted. Admittedly, today’s crude blueprints for civilising the biosphere will never be used. The science behind them will soon date. But publicising the feasibility of compassionate ecosystem design refutes claims there is no alternative to the cruelties of the Darwinian status quo. Conserving wild animal suffering next century and beyond will be a choice – a choice I hope humanity will decline.
Here’s another worry. Arguing for an exclusively suffering-focused ethics, and certainly any attempt to tie the abolitionist project exclusively to suffering-focused ethics, may sometimes be counterproductive – subverting what one is trying to achieve. Thus ardent life-lovers such as researchers into existential risk worry that single-minded focus on tackling life’s horrors may tempt the impressionable to draw the “wrong” conclusion – because from a technical perspective, apocalyptic solutions to the problem of suffering are naively simpler than reprogramming the biosphere (cf. “Solve suffering by blowing up the universe?” ). When defending strictly suffering-focused ethics, I’ve certainly experienced pushback (NU – "a devastatingly callous doctrine” – Toby Ord) from critics who are otherwise sympathetic to creating a world based entirely on gradients of intelligent bliss.
This critical reaction is frustrating. Who are more compassionate – people who if given the choice would “walk away from Omelas” or classical utilitarians who want to make Omelas more fun and maybe engineer zillions more Omelas in future? But one’s frustration is beside the point. How can we be most effective in reducing suffering? The more one emphasizes the horror of Darwinian life – a monstrous engine for creating suffering - the more life-affirmers seek to downplay life’s cruelties and stress life’s priceless value – and the marvelous delights to come. So discreetly biting one’s tongue is sometimes essential. Some NU purists might privately view happiness-focused ethicists as more akin to heroin pushers than morally serious philosophers (“Just try it – you’ve no idea how good it feels!”). But if our message is presented ineptly and unprofessionally, then instead of being close if sometimes uneasy allies, suffering-focused ethicists and existential-risk reducers might one day become mortal enemies. Therefore rather than striving for notional NU purity, I try to stress how implementing the abolitionist project - perhaps in the guise of the WHO vision of universal health - will make the world safer from the perspective of life-affirmers. And this is not a mere rhetorical ploy. A large if unknown percentage of the 850,000 or so people who currently take their own lives each year would take the rest of the world down with them if they could. Imagine hundreds of thousands of potential world-destroyers and advanced 22nd century technology. So the risk of involuntary suffering to the future of life stretches way beyond the philosophical thought-experiments of NU button-pressers. I would hope that suffering-focused ethicists and existential-risk reducers alike can unite around the vision of a future of passionate life-lovers blessed with invincible good health. To a committed believer in purely suffering-focused ethics, pitching the abolition of suffering as a stepping-stone to a glorious future of transhuman bliss may sound like morally frivolous fluff. But getting rid of suffering in all its guises will call for the broadest possible secular and religious coalition and political alliance-building. And support for getting rid of suffering can potentially be very broad. Radical recalibration of the hedonic treadmill is consistent with conserving your core values and preference architecture even if the reduction of suffering - let alone suffering-focused ethics - isn’t high on your list of personal priorities. There is also the question of power. Exclusively suffering-focused ethics may win over the depressive and the pain-ridden. But at the risk of reducing our debate to the social dynamics of a chimpanzee troop, suffering and depression are evolutionarily associated with subordination and defeat. Crudely, it’s low status. Dwelling on life’s awfulness can rarely inspire. Political, social and intellectual power and status will always reside with socially dominant life-affirmers – larger-than-life media influencers, billionaires and charismatic public intellectuals. We can see this in microcosm in the transhumanist and EA communities. Getting rid of involuntary suffering doesn’t deserve to be any more controversial than pain-free surgery. Purely suffering-focused ethics will never command such consent. This is why I sometimes use terms like the “biohappiness revolution”, “paradise engineering” or the “hedonistic imperative”.
III. I too worry about s-risks. An immense complication is that exploring certain s-risks is potentially a serious s-risk in itself. On a worst-case scenario, the investigation of the nastiest s-risks is potentially even the most serious s-risk of all. This possibility sounds contrived, and here I’m deliberately writing at a high level of abstraction; but some inexpressibly evil scenarios are conceivable. The solution to this ghastly dilemma is unclear. Censorship invites the Streisand effect. Self-censorship involves giving potentially flawed ideas a free pass, which potentially incurs s-risks of its own. [An ethically minor risk is taking oneself too seriously and conceiving oneself as a Dangerous Thinker when one is merely self-important and deluded.] But s-risk is one of those rare fields where even normally outspoken investigators should write with discretion.
Does attempting to implement the abolitionist project invite novel s-risks of its own? In High-tech Jainism (2014), I give the example of an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation that abolishes suffering and successfully engineers life based on gradients of intelligent bliss. There’s no dark secret the basement. They’ve done everything right in their solar system. Yet they’ve made an ethically disastrous mistake. They’ve wrongly assumed they are alone in the galaxy rather than pursued space-exploration. If they’d persevered, then they could have detected the signature of pain-ridden Darwinian life on Earth and prevented hundreds of millions of years of suffering here. No, I don’t believe this particular scenario is likely. I’m tentatively a “Rare Earther”. And even if I’m wrong, Earth-originating life may be more likely to propagate the biology of suffering, e.g. via ill-conceived directed panspermia, than to organise cosmic rescue-missions. The example is merely illustrative. Even if humanity does seemingly everything right, the possibility of ethical disaster from “exotic” s-risks of omission or commission remains. Until we understand the nature of reality and the theoretical upper bounds of rational agency in the cosmos, doing prematurely what I ultimately recommend could be ethically catastrophic: make hedonically sub-zero states of consciousness not just physically impossible, but unintelligible.
Other s-risks are more evident and integral to the project itself. An obvious minefield is ensuring that nociception and the functional analogues of depressive realism are conserved.
Anyhow, what's needed is a dual strategy of vigorous advocacy and developing / advertising the technical capacity of intelligent moral agents to prevent suffering. Advocating and implementing the abolitionist project on Earth defeats the s-risk of our spreading the code for suffering elsewhere. Highlighting the possibility of escape from suffering is critical. In the absence of concrete solutions, suffering-focused ethics undermines people’s rationalisations of life’s miseries and defeats its own purpose.
IV. I agree too with “minimizing suffering in expectation”. The abolitionist project is longtermist, to use a term fashionable in some EA circles, indeed ultra-longtermist, insofar as germline engineering tackles the origin of suffering itself. IMO, our primary obligation to future generations is to ensure that we don’t pass on the terrible code that spawned us. The effective irrevocability of germline engineering is precisely what worries bioconservative critics: germline editing is said to be irreversible. This charge isn’t strictly true. Germline changes could theoretically be reversed. A predisposition to suffer could be re-created no less than a predisposition to cystic fibrosis. Such re-creation is merely sociologically far-fetched. A thousand years from now, if all goes well, maybe suffering will no longer exist – I know of no insurmountable technical obstacles to its eradication. Good health for all sentient beings is genetically feasible. But intelligent moral agency will still have a responsibility to ensure experience below hedonic zero can never recur in our forward light-cone until the heat death of the universe. Focusing on the biological-genetic roots of suffering and recalibrating of the hedonic treadmill (rather than socio-political reform alone) offers a long-term cure for the ills of the world – exactly as suffering-focused ethics that minimises suffering in expectation demands. Combining an anti-suffering ideology with its concrete practice can also ensure that sinister Darwinian malware doesn’t radiate across the galaxy – a worst-case scenario if we don’t first fix suffering on Earth.
Might an advanced civilisation with mastery of the pain-pleasure axis / axis of (dis)value ever opt to bring back suffering if suffering-focused ethics weren’t central to its ideology? I sometimes give the example of a posthuman civilisation whose genetically programmed hedonic range is, say, +70 to +100 rather than our +10 to 0 to +10. Lifelong superhuman bliss is “natural”. Out of curiosity, might they engineer hedonic + 60s to see what ancestral depths were like? Might they probe even lower, beneath Sedgwick’s “natural watershed”, hedonic zero? Yet why? To use another analogy, imagine if you had access to a button the pressing of which makes you feel progressively more bored. Is there any possibility that you would you keep on pressing - and maybe investigate mechanisms to engineer states of even greater tedium? The idea strains credulity. Of course, suffering matters ethically in a way that a mere lack of interest doesn’t. But this toy example illustrates my point. If intelligent moral agents do get rid of suffering, then posthuman superintelligences aren’t going to bring it back any more than they’d recreate boredom. Full-spectrum superintelligences presumably grasp different first-person perspectives better than egocentric humans. Superintelligences won’t entertain false theories of personal identity. Our biggest responsibility to future generations is to make sure that they aren't born to suffer like us.
Anyhow, consider, say, smallpox and s(mallpox)-risk. Before embarking on its eradication, proponents should ideally have weighed both the opportunity-cost (could the money be better spent?) and also the possibility that the knowledge involved could be used to make smallpox more virulent, or more prevalent, or to create artificial digital plagues in sentient computer software, or serve in a blueprint for creating plague-ridden ecosystems on other planets, and other worst-case exotic s-risk scenarios. Maybe medical experts should have weighed further raising awareness of the evils of smallpox and the wisdom of preventing its spread (etc) before taking action to tackle such an evil. However, after weighing the available evidence, medical experts would soon conclude that the best way to get rid of s-risk was to eradicate s. And indeed, now that we've eradicated smallpox, bringing it back is inconceivable. We don't now have an expressly s-based ethic because it's axiomatic the world is better off without s.
Likewise with the biology of suffering. Rather than being some freaky coincidence, the best way minimise s-risk really is to eradicate s. Yes, it's important we do worst-case analysis. But (to take examples Tobias Baumann cites) it will be centuries if not millennia before our descendants could ever spread sentience to other solar systems. We both discount digital sentience. A morally systematising culture that takes practical steps to implement the abolitionist project will presumably be a culture that cares about ending s-risks too. This sounds as though I'm downplaying s-risk, but rather, I view getting rid of suffering as minimising s-risk in the long term.
BodhiBill, apologies if you feel I've taken Gautama Buddha’s name in vain. This wasn't my intention. But everything we know about the historical Buddha suggests he was a pragmatist. If it works, do it! Clearly, speculating about what Buddha reborn today would think about molecular genetics, biotech and the prospect of reprogramming the biosphere is fanciful. But arguably he'd be overjoyed at new tools of suffering reduction! For I know of no way that following the Noble Eightfold Path can recalibrate the hedonic treadmill or end the horrors of "Nature, red in tooth and claw". Sadly, Buddhists sometimes suffer from mental health problems and chronic pain disorders no less than non-Buddhists. By contrast, if intelligent moral agents are willing to edit our sinister source code, then we can banish pain and suffering for ever. Nirvana? Yes, IMO, potentially. The devil is in the details.
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT)
“May we live long and die out”
Humans are the only species able to eradicate suffering on Earth. So I don't favour VHEMT. But if there were a serious likelihood of our metastasizing across the cosmos without first editing the germline to end the possibility of suffering, well, I'm on board.
"It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream."
(Edgar Allan Poe) How strong is your faith in rationalism? For a nice overview:
Why is it so hard to be rational?
But see the Argumentative Theory of Human Reason:
The Argumentative Theory
And for my musings, e.g.
[on gay genes]
“Straight? So is spaghetti until you heat it up”
(Jet Mykles, Squire)
Genes linked to same-sex sexual behaviour
("Is this how homosexuality evolved? Genes linked to same-sex sexual behaviour are also found in straight people and cause them to have more partners - outweighing the 'loss' of reproduction among gay people, study claims")
Mathematicians Prove 2D Version of Quantum Gravity Really Works
“...the world is made entirely from quantum fields. These fields do not live *in* spacetime; they live, so to speak, one on top of the other: fields on fields. The space and time that we perceive in large scale are our blurred and approximage image of one of these quantum fields: the gravitational field (193).”
(Carlo Rovelli, "La realtà non è come ci appare: La struttura elementare delle cose")
But fields of what exactly?
“Testing quantum theory with thought experiments"
by Nuriya Nurgalieva and Renato Renner
“Wigner’s thought experiment points to a conflict between the idea that quantum theory is a universally valid theory and our experience that measurements yield definite outcomes”
This claim conflates neuronal vehicle and subjective content. Alternatively, only the fact that the superposition principle never breaks down allows anyone (an “observer”) to undergo the phenomenally-bound experience that it does.
On the Shoulders of Everett
Giulio, conceptions of sanity are branch-relative. David, you're more psychologically robust than me.
Lev Vaidman, who'll be speaking, combines Everett with causally time-symmetric TSVF
Schrödinger glimpsed both, but twice balked at the implications of his own equation.
James, sadly I'm inclined to agree with David Deutsch. If the wave function never collapses, then quantum mechanics is a deterministic theory - even though the future is unpredictable. Less obviously, if Everettian QM is true, then there is no unique classical past, which makes retrodiction tricky too. I don't know if this defence has ever been used in a court of law.
Giulio, to quote Alyssa Ney (160-61) "Rather than viewing the world fundamentally as field spread out over a high-dimensional space with each point corresponding to a configuration of particles or arrangement of fields, the idea is to represent the world by a state vector in Hilbert space…’What is fundamental does not involve spacetime or propagating quantum fields, but simply a vector moving smoothly though a very large-dimensional Hilbert space’ (Carroll and Singh 2019) This is what we may call the ray-in-Hilbert space view.....wave functions if they are instead as state vectors, are basis-independent..."
Anyhow, the relevance of all this to Martin's post (to quote Craig Callender):
“As J.S. Bell famously proved and experiments later confirmed, quantum phenomena display decidedly non-local correlations in 3-space. Meanwhile, up in Hilbert space or configuration space, two choices for the supposedly abstract space of quantum mechanics, the quantum state chugs merrily along locally since it is governed by the Schrödinger equation, a local differential equation. Hence we have a reversal of the classical situation: the quantum world seems to be non-local in low-dimensions but local in high-dimensions” “None of the major interpretations of quantum theory dismisses Assumption S” [a measurement has a single outcome for the measuring agent]
Hence their empirical inadequacy:
Explaining the measurement problem
“No one has ever observed a superposition state directly.”
No one has ever observed a collapsed state directly either.
Physicists tend to be perceptual direct realists. Direct realists conflate vehicle and content.
Alternatively, you only(!) ever experience superpositions. The content of your neuronal superpositions is always a definite outcome - whether of, say, a particle incident on a screen in a double-slit experiment or of a live cat. Only the superposition principle of QM allows your phenomenally-bound experiences of definite outcomes.
Disclaimer: this interpretation of the unitary dynamics is idiosyncratic: The Measurement Problem
[Paras writes] David, been reading your writings (again) and have a few questions. 1. If we go by your position of non-materialist physicalism where solutions to QFT are experiences, and since QFT is fundamentally quantum, then does this mean all superpositions are experiences of some sort? 2. Why don't we perceive superpositions directly? If not, doesn't it conflict with (1)? We seem to perceive a classical world with no super positions, so how can super positions be experiences? I hope I made sense. I understand quantum darwanism may play a role but fundamentally I can't make sense of the fact that if phenomenally bound experience is instantiated by super-positions why do we never experience things like same entity existing at two places. Wouldn't that be logically possible in this framework? (Since we definitely percieve the same color and sound to be at the same location, so why not the same object at two locations?)
1. Yes. I can’t fathom how we’ll ever know what it’s like to be, say, superfluid helium. But if non-materialist physicalism is true, then yes, it’s a macro-experience.
2. It’s critical to distinguish (non-classical )vehicle and (classical) content. IMO, it’s only the fact that the superposition principle never breaks down that allows each of us to experience a virtual classical world of well-localized objects where it does. Most physicists are implicitly perceptual direct realists, so they don’t make the distinction between neuronal vehicle and subjective content. Compare Schrödinger: “…an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation.” How serious is the measurement problem in QM?
Aatu, Rupert, Everettians differ! But as first glimpsed by Hans Reichenbach back in 1926, the dimensionality of reality is insanely large:
In "The Emergent Multiverse", David Wallace defends space-time state realism.
By contrast, Alyssa Ney defends configuration space realism:
and Sean Carroll ("Reality as a Vector in Hilbert Space") defends Hilbert space realism:
("I sketch how this might come about, although much work remains to be done". Hah!)
Who is right?
Unusually, I approach this question from the philosophy of mind. Thus if Wallace's space-time state realism is correct, I don't see how our phenomenally-bound minds and the world-simulations we run are possible.
But there are technical reasons for doubting space-time state realism too - and (sorry to pass the buck) here you'd do better to get input from real physicists who take unitary-only QM seriously:
On the shoulders of Everett
A lucid overview from Anil Seth:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/consciousness-deep-dive/202110/the-real-problem-consciousness">The real problem of consciousness
IMO, only the physical is real. Physicalism is true. But the "fire" in the equations of QFT doesn't differ inside and outside your head. So there is no Hard Problem!
A recent convert to the intrinsic nature argument is Phil Goff:
[on the future]
"The future is made of the same stuff as the present."
Life in the Year 2050?
Futurists have their heads in the clouds
("On making good predictions for 2050")
Exercise as an anxiolytic
Exercise reduces anxiety
Exercise increases the body’s own ‘cannabis-like' substance
("Exercise increases the body's own cannabis-like substances, which in turn helps reduce inflammation and could potentially help treat certain conditions such as arthritis, cancer and heart disease.")
Some brains are better primed for pleasure than others...
Not Everyone Can Get Runner’s High
("New research suggests that a shortage of the mu-opioid receptor can inhibit runner’s high and increase the risk of depression.")
[on a pain-free sea]
("Shouldn’t the reduction of suffering be our top priority when taking care of others’ needs – in particularly of those we can’t ask? Soon, CRISPR edited gene drives could alter the pain perception and hedonic range of any sexually reproducing species. In episode 8. Ingo Niermann hears from David Pearce, a transhumanist philosopher who advocates the abolition of all negative feelings. David speaks from his home in Brighton, UK.")
[on philosophy and the meaning of life]
Cynthia, I'm inclined to agree with you. But if we want to promote a biological-genetic happiness revolution, then the option of value- and preference-conservation is a strong selling-point. In practice, transhumans may come to regard most of the things humans care about as junk. This prediction is not a recipe for winning hearts and minds.
[on Painless Civilisation]
https://www.philosophyoflife.org/tpp/painless01.pdf">Painless Civilisation by Masahiro Morioka
The author compares people nursed in an intensive care unit with factory-farmed chickens ("Picture a chicken shut in a small cage, whose life is nothing more than eating and sleeping; the light and temperature around it are artificially controlled, and it is brought all the food it needs on a conveyor belt.") An ICU does not resemble the horrors of industrialised animal abuse:
The meaning of life? Empirically, creating happiness creates meaning. Conversely, low mood destroys meaning. Genetically creating superhappiness will create superhuman meaning - an intensity of significance orders of magnitude richer than anything experienced by any human in history. As a negative utilitarian, I'm not convinced this superhappiness/supermeaning matters ethically. Preventing suffering trumps everything else. But a lifelong sense of hyper-significance is my tentative prediction for the future of sentience...
This analysis of Danish society may resonate with Masahiko:
Is being too comfortable killing your happiness?
("What Denmark can teach us about the trap of privilege")
[on micro-experiential zombies]
Phenomenal binding is (1) classically impossible (2) non-algorithmic (3) exceedingly computationally powerful. To glimpse the computational power of binding as harnessed by natural selection, imagine if you were trying to function as, say, a schizophrenic with integrative agnosia, simultanagnosia (inability to experience more than one object at once) and akinetopsia ("motion blindness”). With such a constellation of deficits, you and your world-simulation would still have more phenomenal binding than a classical digital computer or connectionist system. But you’d be severely incapacitated compared to normal human and nonhuman animals.
So how to organic minds do it?
Tough question: Biological minds
Whatever the answer, disbelief in non-trivial digital sentience isn’t equivalent to disbelief in functionalism - as distinct from Turing machine functionalism.
Maximilian, from antiquity to the present, lots of philosophically-minded people have occasionally wondered if they could be surrounded by zombies, i.e. the sceptical Problem of Other Minds. (See too the non-sceptical belief that the inhabitants of your dreaming AND waking world-simulation are zombies, but the zombies of your waking life are the avatars of sentient beings: The Cartesian theatre). By contrast, far fewer people have sceptically wondered if they might live in a world of micro-experiential zombies, i.e. I am the only phenomenally-bound subject of experience. For even if consciousness is fundamental to the world, temporally-coarse grained inspection of your surgically-exposed cortex gives me no obvious reason to believe you are a unitary subject. Your CNS appears under light microscopy to be a pack of decohered neurons - just like your enteric nervous system, which I confidently believe is a zombie.
Anyhow, let's assume, as you suggest, that monistic physicalism is vindicated by future experiment. Tomorrow's neuroscience / interferometry detects a perfect structural match between our minds and (ultimately) the mathematical formalism of physics. (I can't overstress how far scientifically out a limb is my “Schrödinger’s neurons” proposal. Most professionals who understand decoherence would reckon it’s crazy, so the chances are they are right.) If this structural match is perfect, then why aren't we all just p-zombies, i.e. organisms devoid of qualia, whether phenomenally bound or otherwise?
To answer the question, we must return to the intrinsic nature argument. The only direct evidence you have of the intrinsic nature of the physical, as distinct from its structural-relational properties, consists of the properties of your own mind. You’ve no reason to believe that the intrinsic nature of the world’s fundamental quantum fields differs inside and outside your skull...
Modular, yes, but composed of phenomenally unified "cat states"...
("The Core Discovery of Neuroscience: The Mind Is Modular. Self-understanding requires us to realize that the self is not a unified whole.")
Tim, yes, a classical Turing machine can simulate any computer algorithm. But biological minds can do all kinds of things that Turing machine zombies can't, ranging from running phenomenally-bound world-simulations to exploring the nature, varieties and causal efficacy of conscious experience - as now!
No, quantum supremacy…
[on introspection and mathematical physics]
Andres, you're right about Feynman’s introspective prowess. Alas, introspection is not highly valued in modern society. Imagine if a school student were to say that he was too busy intensively studying his own thought processes to study for a SAT test. Neglect of introspection is a recipe for ignorance of oneself AND the disciplines one is supposedly studying. This is because one is oblivious to how the medium of representation is shaping its nominal content.
Physicists may misunderstand the nature of the matter and energy for a different but related reason too. Imagine if Ed Witten had said, "Science can't explain the empirical evidence” rather than “Science can't explain consciousness” (cf. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/world-s-smartest-physicist-thinks-science-can-t-crack-consciousness/). Maybe quantum fields of insentience will strike post-materialist science as akin to fields of luminiferous aether.
Feynman once mischievously remarked, "If all mathematics disappeared today, physics would be set back exactly one week". This provocative comment is wrong not just because modern technology civilisation depends on the mathematical apparatus of QFT. Mathematics is also critical to understanding the physical world because mathematical physics is really the sturdy of patterns of qualia.
Naturally, this is not how Feynman conceived of QED. Transposing the mathematical machinery of modern physics onto an empirically adequate idealist ontology takes strong nerves.
Machiavelli, I don't know. As it stands, the claim is obviously untenable - there will never be another Faraday. A more accurate synopsis of Feynman's views might be:"..To summarize, I would use the words of Jeans, who said that "the Great Architect seems to be a mathematician". To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature. C.P. Snow talked about two cultures. I really think that those two cultures separate people who have and people who have not had this experience of understanding mathematics well enough to appreciate nature once."For what it's worth, I think most idealists and panpsychists - including Phil Goff in Galileo's Error - draw the wrong conclusion from the inability of modern science to explain consciousness and hence the empirical evidence. Mathematics is indeed the language of Nature. But materialist physicalists misinterpret the nature of the physical that the formalism describes.
"It is too bad that it has to be mathematics, and that mathematics is hard for some people. It is reputed - I do not know if it is true - that when one of the kings was trying to learn geometry from Euclid he complained that it was difficult. And Euclid said, "There is no royal road to geometry". And there is no royal road. Physicists cannot make a conversion to any other language. If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in. She offers her information only in one form; we are not so unhumble as to demand that she change before we pay any attention."
("The Character of Physical Law" by Richard P. Feynman, MIT Press, 1967)
Roger Penrose? Explaining how Penrose’s three levels interact is clearly a monumental challenge. Alternatively, reality has only one level, qualia, exhaustively described by the equation(s) of mathematical physics. The possibility that mathematical physics is about patterns of qualia is the purest expression of the intrinsic nature argument, i.e. subjective experience discloses the essence of the physical. If so, then Galileo was right about the mathematisation of Nature - just not in the way materialists imagine. In fairness to mathematical platonists like Roger Penrose, nominalising quantum mechanics is extremely hard:
Can quantum mechanics be nominalised
Propaganda, I fear.
The Quantum Field Theory on Which the Everyday World Supervenes
And the everyday world? Or your everyday world-simulation? Science should be empirically adequate. So a theory that predicts we should be zombies fails. By contrast, transposing the mathematical apparatus of quantum field theory onto an idealist ontology gives an empirically adequate description of the natural world with immense explanatory and predictive power. On this story, realism and physicalism are true. But the intrinsic nature of the physical differs from what our naive materialist intuitions suppose.
[on the fine-tuning argument for a Creator/Simulator]
God? Sadly the obvious explanation of the fine-tuning is that it's an anthropic selection effect. In all the quasi-classical Everett branches that don't support life, there is no one around to marvel at the unremarkable absence of fine-tuning. And there's nothing fine-tuned about the multiverse. If the superposition principle is truly universal, then any linear combination of solutions to the Schrödinger equation will also be a solution. Moreover - unlike a Simulator or nested hierarchy of Simulators - the multiverse of unitary-only QM offers a potential explanation-space for everything. The information content of reality = 0! (cf. Why does anything exist?)
Simulation Theodicy. Why create anti-Buddhist virtual worlds with such pointless, unspeakable cruelty and suffering as ours? This scenario utterly defeats my comprehension. And this isn't "just" an ethical point. Superintelligence presumably entails a superhuman cognitive capacity for perspective-taking - a richer capacity than even the most empathetic mirror-touch synaesthete today. If so, then why not create diverse digital paradises?
Transhumanism's answer to Deepak Chopra?
How a soulless materialist discovered the timeless truths of the ancients and embraced the mystic wisdom of the East?
Well, perhaps not exactly: The Dawn of Superspirituality
Seriously, keep up the fantastic work at IM!
"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
(Carl Sagan, ‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark’)
("Genetic engineering for spiritual and religious enhancement")
Does the future of sentience lie in disenchantment or genetically engineered superspirituality?
Brain Circuit for Spirituality Identified
("A new study has identified a specific brain circuit centered in the periaqueductal gray that is linked to spiritual acceptance and religiosity")
I don't know:
[on dispositional negativity]
"You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind."
"Dispositional negativity": let's use gene-editing to create "dispositional positivity" instead... How to curb your mind's negative habits [the article is a mixture of wise words and the usual rationalisations ("Experiencing negative emotions is not a problem, in and of itself.")]
[on happiness and the paradox of hedonism]
Perpetual activation of your ultimate "hedonic hotspot" in the ventral pallidum might be more enlightening.
The Yale Happiness Course
("Over 3 Million People Took This Course on Happiness. Here’s What Some Learned.
It may seem simple, but it bears repeating: sleep, gratitude and helping other people.")
Hell has an escape-hatch. An infernal machine for creating suffering can be genetically hacked and reprogrammed into an engine of superhuman bliss. Tomorrow’s genome-editing should be underpinned by an ideology of liberation biology - and a socio-political revolution to match.
Alas, most academic philosophers still rationalise the status quo...
The flawed pursuit of happiness?
I'd settle for an unvarying diet of never-ending bliss...
("‘Psychological Richness’ May Be the Missing Piece in Your Life’s Puzzle. Novel, complex, and perspective-changing experiences are undervalued parts of a satisfying life")
Genetic recalibration of the hedonic treadmill is a moral imperative.
The Happiness Myth
from the author of "You Are Not Meant To Be Happy":
You Are Not Meant to Be Happy
But we're at an evolutionary watershed. A predisposition to (super)happiness will soon be adaptive. A predisposition to pain and suffering will soon be maladaptive. In an era of "designer babies", the nature of selection pressure changes - as "prospective parents preselect the genomes of their children in anticipation of the likely behavioural and psychological effects of their choices.
Dave what is sometimes true for individuals, namely the paradox of hedonism, will not straightforwardly be true of a civilisation that re-engineers its reward circuitry. However, in one sense at least, the paradox of hedonism could continue to play out even in a civilisation with a hedonic range of, say, schematically, +70 to +100, just as the paradox arises in our dismal Darwinian hedonic range of -10 to 0 to +10. The paradox of hedonism
"...only about 10-15 percent of the variance in people's well-being can be attributed to external circumstances."
Personality and happiness
("How Much Does Personality Determine Our Happiness? ...and is it possible to change it?")
I’d like to combine a selective kappa opioid receptor antagonist (cf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5288841/) with a selective blocker of the ACKR3 receptor (cf. https://www.genengnews.com/news/blocking-newly-identified-opioid-receptor-points-to-new-therapeutics-for-pain-depression-and-cancer/) together with positive allosteric modulators (cf. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-04-body-natural-pain-killers.html) for sustainable hedonic uplift. FAAH:
A Genetic Component to National Differences in Happiness
Jo Cameron is an extreme case.
A Philosopher's Guide to Being Happy (mp3)
("Most of us think of suffering as a necessary feature of life. But what if that's just a lie we tell ourselves because we can't imagine the alternative? In this interview, David Pearce explores the practical possibilities of biomedically engineering a world of intelligent bliss.")
Life should be based on gradients of intelligent bliss, not rationalisations of suffering and philosophical waffle about "eudaimonia":
The neuroscience of pleasure
("What can the neuroanatomy of pleasure teach us about human flourishing?")
[on direct action]
Principled white-hat hacking or a ransomware attack?
Large North American meat plants stop slaughter after JBS cyberattack
Would you have e.g. helped free human slaves 200 years ago? Everyone has a duty to prevent crimes against sentience. JBS is an organization dedicated to mass killing - responsible for more cruelty, terror and violence than all the world's better-known terrorist groups combined. I think accelerating the development and commercialization of meat alternatives and cultured meat products is the best way to close the death factories. But I can understand why some activists take issue with the legalistic approach.
[on the robustness of value]
Value is Gragile
"Value isn't just complicated, it's fragile", says EY.
NUs would beg to differ. Both an AGI programmed to minimize suffering and a notional paperclip maximiser would be perfectly aligned with NU values. So I hope EY is right about the Intelligence Explosion and I'm wrong.
"...and so it spent until the end of time, and until the farthest reaches of its light cone, replaying a single highly optimized experience, over and over and over again", says EY.
Ironically, I used to dream longingly of just such a single highly optimized experience, an ideal here-and-now whose nature meant that any change would detract from its excellence.
Possibly EY would view a future light-cone tiled entirely with such experiences as just a sub-type of paperclipper scenario - I'm not sure.
Tim, you may know from previous experience that our conceptual scheme differs. That said...
Decision-theoretic rationality involves weighing conflicting preferences. Andy, Bob and Charlie are amoral rationalists. They each have a strong desire never to go hungry and weaker desire to party.
Andy blows his monthly salary check in a weekend of excess; enduring metaphysical egos are fiction and his namesake's destitution later in the month is someone else's problem.
Bob ekes out his salary to the end the month with just a weekly pint with friends.
Charlie gives all his disposal income to Oxfam. Hungry kids in Ethiopia have a very strong desire not to starve.
Who do you reckon is more rational from a decision-theoretic (not from a moral) point of view? Closed metaphysical individualists would say Bob.
I'd argue it’s Charlie. Charlie can't directly access the strong preferences of Ethiopian kids not to starve any more than he can access the preferences of his namesake later in the month for a full stomach and a fun weekend party. But Charlie doesn't confuse his epistemological blinkers with a metaphysical truth about the world – and he acts accordingly. All here-and-nows are equally real. Decision-theoretic rationality should accommodate this fact. The LessWrong Decision-Theoretic FAQ is a recipe for irrationalism.
(I am ignoring complications, but the point stands.)
[on plausible futures]
Alas some days the prospect of life based on gradients of superhuman bliss doesn't feel especially plausible:
DP interviwed by Plausible Futures
A plan, a vision or a daydream? Some days a transhuman world based on gradients of intelligent bliss can feel like an idle fantasy:
Maladaptive daydreaming disorder
("People with “Maladaptive Daydreaming” spend an average of four hours a day lost in their imagination")
[on Singularity Radio]
By the Year 2045? I wish...
Engineering Happiness & mp3
(DP on Singularity Radio)
[on suffering and unwisdom]
Why Suffering Is Essential to Wisdom by Michael S. Brady
I hope we'll have the wisdom to make suffering inconceivable once our ethical duties have been discharged.
If today our hedonic range is -10 to 0 to +10, let's aim for a civilisation with a hedonic range of, say, +70 to a +100. Information-sensitivity is the key to wisdom, not the ghastly "raw feels" of suffering.
Sameer, indeed, a hedonic +70 can be far richer than human "peak experiences", but it's the posthuman equivalent of our dark night of the soul. On the other hand, maybe posthuman civilisation will culminate in a hedonic +90 to +100 regime. I don't know. Mastery of the pleasure-pain axis makes your hedonic range an adjustable parameter.
Algernon, ignorance is my long-term goal - for myself and for all sentience.
The horror of Darwinian life should be forgotten...
[on How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World]
A New Statesman review of How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World (2021) by the Financial Times’ chief features writer Henry Mance:
The vegetarian in the abattoir
("Henry Mance uncovers the inconvenient truths about our treatment of animals")
I'm currently reading Henry Mance's new book. It's extremely well-written.
I did notice one typo: at the age of four, one can['t] envisage reprogramming the global ecosystem...
What percentage of women would do well on a selective and reversible MAO-A inhibitor such as moclobemide?
The MAOA Gene Predicts Happiness in Women
[on digital sentience and the binding problem]
"A poll last year showed that more than a third of Brits want to see wolves, wild boars and lynxes reintroduced into the wild, though, obviously, in someone else’s back yard. A quarter even want to see the return of bears, though a significant portion of those had just finished watching Paddington on Netflix."
Rewilding the UK
[on digital sentience and the binding problem]
Digital sentience and the binding problem
(Magnus Vinding interviews DP. A slightly fuller version of the interview is here)
Thanks Magnus! The computer and AI revolution has been marked by the progressive and accelerating divorce of intelligent behaviour from consciousness. Unlike so many predictions of the future of AI, the conjecture that our machines will one day "wake up" doesn’t rest on extrapolation - or indeed any proposed mechanism. And I suspect many AI researchers who assume digital computers will become conscious also assume that consciousness can't play any vital computational-functional role in intelligence; it's just a weird implementation detail of biological minds.
By contrast, as you’ve gathered, I think digital zombies are cognitively handicapped. Classical Turing machines will remain invincibly ignorant of what they lack.
Tim, two separate questions.
1) Can programmable digital computers, or classically parallel connectionist systems, support phenomenally-bound experience? If physicalism is true, i.e. no spooky, irreducible "strong" emergence, then the answer is "no". It's still "no" even if consciousness is fundamental to the world, i.e., even if constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism is true. It’s "no" even if we replace the discrete 1s and 0s and logic gates (or nodes of a connectionist network) of classical information processors with discrete pixels of experience.
Of course, physicalism may be false. But let's not go down that route.
2a) Can phenomenally bound minds such as us perform any well-defined cognitive tasks that can't be performed by a classical Turing machine, or alternatively could everything that we can do be executed by a programmable (micro-experiential) zombie? ("You insist that there is something that a machine can't do. If you will tell me precisely what it is that a machine cannot do, then I can always make a machine which will do just that." - von Neumann)
2b) If so, how? After all, telepathy and precognition would give us computational advantages over classical computers too.
As an example of 2a, I'm interested in investigating the billions(?) of kinds of consciousness that have never been recruited by natural selection for any evolutionary purpose (cf. https://erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt.shtml etc). And the only (theoretical) way I know that a classical Turing machine zombie could be programmed to perform such a daunting cognitive task would be for it to program the genetic blueprint of machines with a radically different architecture, e.g. biological humans. So yes, futuristic classical digital computers can notionally do everything we can do - but only by bioprinting the genetic source-code for sentient creatures like us!
I won't rehash my speculations on quantum mind (2b) here - just stress that the proposal that phenomenal binding is non-classical isn't a philosophical opinion. It's a conjecture that interferometry can (dis)confirm. I think it’s a crazy idea too; but that’s not the point.
Exponential growth of digital computer power may allow simulation of the 500-million-neuron enteric nervous system. Next the mind-brain? Well, I'm all in favour of mass destructive uploading in the name of whole brain emulation: destructive uploading would solve all our problems! The upshot would be a world of micro-experiential zombies. No more suffering. Perhaps someone who doesn’t want to be zombified should first try, say, selective replacement of their V4 cortical neurons – destruction causes total cerebral achromatopsia - with their supposed silicon surrogates and connectome. If phenomenal binding is a classical phenomenon, then not merely will the subject continue to experience colour, but perceptual objects in their virtual world will continue to seem inherently colourful as now, i.e. binding would be preserved.
I predict instead total cerebral achromatopsia.
Now colour-blind, the chastened Turing machine functionalist calls the whole experiment off...
Paras, if we were talking about classical fields, then structure might seem impossible. We'd simply be patterns of mind-dust. But what does it feel like to be a quantum superposition of different qualia? Multiple quantum states can be added together ("superposed") to create other valid quantum states; and conversely, every quantum state can be represented as the sum of multiple other distinct states. Normally, quantum theorists would assume that these superposed states are non-experiential. But if they are experiential, then superpositions of what would otherwise be discrete feature-processors (colour, shape, motion etc) are experienced as individual perceptual objects.
Virtually every other interpretation of quantum mechanics tries to explain why we never experience superpositions, just definite outcomes. I'm conjecturing instead that we experience only superpositions. Our minds are "designed" by Nature to confuse vehicle and content. Without the superposition principle, the structure of phenomenally-bound "observations" of definite outcomes would be impossible.
Yes, crazy stuff.
Dustin, at a minimum, any scientifically adequate theory of consciousness must be empirically adequate. It should be physicalist. It should make precise and genuinely novel empirical predictions. It should account for the (1) existence, (2) binding (3) diversity (4) causal efficacy of experience. The quantum-theoretic version of the intrinsic-nature argument satisfies these criteria. It also explains why we are subjects of experience and classical digital computers and connectionist systems are micro-experiential zombies. What non-materialist physicalism doesn't do is claim we're universal quantum computers (we’re not!). Nor - or at least, not without a lot more work - does non-materialist physicalism lay out a well-defined list of problems too difficult for programmable digital zombies to solve. Consider an example. If, on the African savannah, one experiences within one's world-simulation a pride hungry of lions advancing and flees to safety, then one has potentially a huge computational-functional advantage over a notional micro-experiential zombie - such as a sleeping tribesman. But this functional advantage doesn't mean that a futuristic silicon humanoid robot couldn’t be programmed to behave just as adaptively in such a threatening situation. The obstacles are daunting, but I assume that a well-designed, well-programmed micro-experiential zombie could escape the lions too. This classical workaround simply wasn't an option available to natural selection to harness. Until we better understand the upper bounds to zombie intelligence, my claim is more cautious. There is a vast range of cognitive tasks that a classical digital zombie can't do except by programming the physical construction a system with a different architecture. By their very nature, classical digital zombies can't investigate the nature and varieties of phenomenally-bound experience. Their ignorance is hardwired. There aren't any workarounds for such ignorance - short of programming the digital zombie to design systems of a physically different, sentience-friendly architecture.
Dustin, forgive me for just quoting below from the recent Magnus interview. But if I'm right, then our awake mind-brains can't be considered as effectively classical systems. Their apparent classicality as suggested by modern neuroscanning is an artefact of our temporally coarse-grained tools of investigation. If a perfect structural match exists, as physicalism demands, then it's at the sub-femtosecond regime.
I sometimes say who will play Mendel to Zurek's Darwin is unknown. If experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical, i.e. if non-materialist physicalism is true, then we must necessarily consider the nature of experience at what are intuitively absurdly short timescales in the CNS. At sufficiently fine-grained temporal resolutions, we can't just assume the existence of decohered macromolecules, neurotransmitters, receptors, membrane-bound neurons etc. - they are weakly emergent, dynamically stable patterns of "cat states". These high-level patterns must be derived from quantum bedrock - which of course I haven't done. All I've done is make a "philosophical" conjecture that (1) quantum coherence mediates the phenomenal unity of our minds; and (2) quantum Darwinism (cf. Quantum Darwinism tested) offers a ludicrously powerful selection-mechanism for sculpting what would otherwise be mere phenomenally-bound "noise".
Dustin, yes. Exactly the same paper contains Tegmark's frustratingly brisk, two-paragraph dismissal of the binding problem - section 3. Tegmark focuses on dynamical timescales. Whether we consider a stream of logico-linguistic thought-episodes, perceptual updates to our world-simulations, or neuronal spiking frequencies, the relevant timescale is scores or hundreds of milliseconds. By contrast, decoherence means the theoretical effective lifetime of neuronal superpositions is less than femtoseconds.
Tegmark assumes so.
But no. Recall the intrinsic nature argument isn't a proposal about dynamical timescales. Rather, it purports to solve the Hard Problem by proposing that experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical.
The implausibility of the intrinsic nature argument and panpsychism in general is normally supposed to derive from size: an electron field, for instance, seems the wrong candidate for the minimal "psychon” consciousness - electrons are intuitively too small and simple. But _if_ experience discloses the essence of the physical, then the nature of physical experience at sub-femtosecond resolutions must be considered too – and it’s not classical mind-dust! Individual superpositions (of neuronal edge-detectors, motion-detectors, colour-mediating neurons (etc) have precisely the (classically impossible) ontological unity needed to dissolve the binding problem. My best guess is that interferometry will reveal a perfect structural match. Binding via synchrony – a mere restatement of the binding problem - is really binding by superposition:
The Measurement Problem
Keith Frankish assumes classical physics - hence atomic billiard balls / Jamesian mind-dust and the resultant combination problem:
“How do the rich phenomenal worlds we enjoy arise from [superpositions of] the microphenomenal properties of the billions of discrete particles composing our brains” Panpsychism and the Depsychologization of Consciousness
William James' "mind-dust" argument needs updating for the digital age. Yes, I understand the reasoning behind claims for digital minds. Our phenomenally-bound consciousness (somehow) arises from brains. It's commonly believed anything that brains can do can be done by a classical Turing machine. Turing machines are substrate-neutral - the multiple-realisability assumption. Therefore consciousness is presumably substrate-neutral too.
(1) the substrate-neutrality of consciousness
2) the substrate-neutrality of phenomenal binding
are two separate theses.
Let's assume physicalism in the broadest sense - including constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism. If we were notionally to replace the 1s and 0s of a classical Turing machine with discrete pixels of micro-experience and execute the code, then the program would run as before - and the upshot of running the program still wouldn’t be a subject of experience, but just a micro-experiential zombie. Speed of execution or complexity of code make no difference to the outcome. Proponents of digital sentience - and hence the Simulation Hypothesis - are implicitly invoking some kind of unexplained "strong" emergence. It's unphysicalist. Therefore I'm unconvinced.
Maybe if phenomenal binding were a trivial implementation detail of our minds, then it might be tempting to set the binding/combination problem aside. But phenomenal binding is a ubiquitous and insanely adaptive feature of biological consciousness. Yes, digital workarounds are sometimes possible. But IMO all kinds of cognitive tasks will forever defeat classical digital zombies - from exploring psychedelia, the nature of the self and indexical thought to investigating the existence, varieties, binding and causal efficacy of consciousness. By way of a response, perhaps one could argue that the Church-Turing thesis is nonetheless true because programmable digital computers can still be programmed to create organisms with a radically different architecture from classical Turing machines, namely biological animal life with our ability to support classically-impossible phenomenal binding. But as far as I can tell, classical Turing machines themselves will always remain (micro-experiential) zombies.
So phenomenal minds like us can know that we are living in god-forsaken basement reality
Keith, IMO many forms of consciousness lack the phenomenal sense of "pastiness" that memory involves, even including the sense of familiarity that often passes for knowledge. I'm not just thinking of experiences like jamais vu, but also how microelectrode stimulation of the brain may induce e.g. a fleeting speckle of colour or tiny a hiss of sound. Do these micro-experiences have a memory component? I'm not convinced. Anyhow, constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism is normally reckoned too far-fetched to be a viable solution to the Hard Problem because on such a story, the minimal "psychon" of experience must be far smaller than a neuronal micro-experience of colour or sound. And on the textbook neuroscientific story, constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism leads to the binding problem. But if the quantum-theoretic version of intrinsic nature argument is sound, then constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism already holds a solution to the binding problem. Recall the conjecture that experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical invites incredulity because the “psychon” must be ridiculously small. Much less discussed is how constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism makes the "psychon" of consciousness ridiculously short-lived. If constitutive panpsychism / non-materialist physicalism is true, then every individual physical state is experiential, including sub-femtosecond neuronal superpositions. Subjectively, what's it like to be a neuronal superposition ("cat state") of edge-detectors, motion-detectors, colour-mediating neurons and so forth? It's not a classical aggregate. In my (tentative) view, you and your entire virtual world are what a quantum mind feels like "from the inside":
[on travel in twenties]
[on the origin of COVID]
Vanity Fair has done some first-rate journalism:
The Lab-Leak Theory
("Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origin")
On the other hand,
Lab leak theory doesn't hold up
("The rush to find a conspiracy around the COVID-19 pandemic’s origins is driven by narrative, not evidence.")
"Nature is the biggest bio-terrorist..."
[on sentience appraisal]
What credences would you assign?
Not really a science...
("An academic survey on theoretical foundations, common assumptions and the current state of the field of consciousness science")
Other people, monkeys, dogs, octopuses, babies, bats, fish, worms: probably yes.
Amoeba: neutral (leaning to yes)
Trees, rocks, thermostats: probably not.
Above I'm assuming some form of non-trivial, phenomenally-bound consciousness and ignoring the possibility that non-materialist physicalism / constitutive panpsychism is true.
And the next question to ask is: how would one test one's conjectures?
Jonathan, I believe any ethically important, non-negligible form of consciousness is multicellular. But the binding problem has deeper roots, and the minimal sentience of protozoa is a live option:
Evidence of conditioned behavior in amoebae
Recall the phenomenal binding/combination problem is why organic nervous systems aren't just aggregates of "mind dust":
Magnus Vinding interviews DP.
[on The Biohappiness Revolution]
the coffee-table edition!
(1) (2) (3) (4)
with thanks to Duarte
(publication details to be announced)
The biohappiness revolution will extend to all races and animal species. If critics will cry eugenics, then a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid on the cover might not be ideal. Also, the idea is that a predisposition to lifelong bliss should be hardwired - not that tomorrow's youngsters will be using psychoactive drug cocktails!
When will be the world's last unpleasant experience? Centuries, millennia or millions of years from now? I don't know. But the animal kingdom deserves a more civilised signalling system.
The title sounds less morally serious than, say, Preventing Suffering. But I think the best way to prevent future suffering is to ensure that life is genetically programmed to be happy.
1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11 : 12
David Pearce (2021)
The Abolitionist Project
Quora Answers 2015-21
Social Network Postings (2021)