Source: Facebook, Quora, Twitter("X"), blogs
Date: 2024
(see too: 1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11 : 12 : 13 : 14 : 15 : 16)

paradise engineering

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AI Art, ChatGPT, AGI, sentience, paradise engineering, transhumanism, antinatalism, free-living animals, philosophy,
mental health, suffering, happiness, consciousness, negative utilitarianism, the biohappiness revolution, the binding problem

JANUARY 2024

[on Facebook]
New year, new Dave?
A change of substrate can work wonders.
My updated Facebook profile pic:
Dave of Athens
Dave of Athens, author of "Imperativus Hedonisticus" (MCMXCV, editio prima)?
The old profile stood for almost 16 years. I did briefly consider something a little more contemporary. Alas "Poet" lacks a certain gravitas.
For more in this vein:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105
Another version of you?
HedWeb is a family page for a family audience, so for the Bacchanalian orgies, try tengr.ai
I lean to so-called "empty" individualism. Some of the implications of Open Individualism are more philosophically disturbing.

[on AI art and paradise engineering]
I love AI art. These visions were created with DALL·E 3: Future life
paradise engineering
And 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Not to forget BLTC HQ - which seems to expand by the week.
And the forthcoming book series - 1001 vintage HI titles and growing. Actually, I may stop at 1001; it's best to under-promise and over-deliver.
Roll on AGI to write the DP verbiage in-between. This primitive LLM is hoping to offload the task to future iterations of HI ChatGPT. Is writing about the future of sentience best off-loaded to digital zombies? I'm sceptical...but lazy.

Compared to the messy practicalities of building transhumanist paradise, generating AI art takes seconds rather than centuries. Compare drugs of abuse. How can one avoid getting one's reward circuitry hijacked by simulacra of paradise when one should be actively researching it and banging the drum for the real thing?
But like (and ChatGPT), AI art is still jaw-dropping.

[on the end of all suffering]
AI Doomers believe the end of suffering is imminent too. But for better or worse, I think only humans can get rid of Darwinian malware - despite being responsible for more suffering than all other species combined.
End All Suffering
My earlier HI talk at the Foresight Institute is here. Yes, the vision is insanely implausible. But technical blueprints for genetically phasing out the biology of suffering now exist. Life on Earth deserves a more civilized signalling system. A few hundred years from now, if suffering still exists in the world, then its persistence won't be explained by its eradication having proved too difficult, but because our successors have chosen - for whatever reason - to conserve it.

William, we should distinguish being blissful from being "blissed out". Thus I would want my death or misfortune to diminish the well-being of friends and loved ones. But am I entitled to want them to suffer on my account? Either way, the biology of suffering should be optional - not coercive, as now.

Beatrice, thank you. It’s probably the only time you’ll ever have a negative utilitarian on the Existential Hope podcast. But for technical reasons, I think the future is inconceivably sublime.

yourbrain8700 writes, "For a negative utilitarian like you, David, is there a particular unit of positive utility that could balance negative utility? Let's say a very mildly annoying itch for 20 seconds on the one side, and [...]the most intense positive hedonic tone the human nervous system can sustain on the other side. Is there a point where you would accept micro-suffering for macro-bliss? If so, do you have an estimate of a fixed ratio, or perhaps maximum level of negative utility tolerated?"
Good question - and I don't have a good answer. (I'd like to send you a link to "The Pinprick Argument". But if I do, Youtube's algorithm will flag my reply as spam and delete. Perhaps Google). Like most people, I would accept the trade of some trivial itch or pinprick in exchange for a lifetime of future bliss (let's ignore complications irrelevant to the purpose of the thought-experiment, e.g. if I'm blissfully happy, then I won't suffer any more, or indeed undergo any more itches and pinpricks). Naïvely, this response is non-NU. But one reason I'd accept the tradeoff is that if I decline, then I'll experience a lot of sadness at missing out on sublime bliss - which will feel a lot worse than a mere itch or pinprick. NUs want to eradicate even the faintest hint of disappointment.
Stepping back, I'd just like to stress again. Buying into the abolitionist project in no way involves signing up to the NU ethic of some of its advocates. Classical utilitarians and ethical pluralists can be extremely keen on getting rid of the biology of involuntary suffering too.

Yourbrain8700, as a matter of psychological fact, you're quite correct. Like almost everyone else, I'd accept the trade-off. But the issue is complicated by how when I'm weighing whether to accept the tradeoff, the thought of missing out on sublime bliss is upsetting. I love happiness as much as anyone else. NUs want to abolish even the faintest hint of disappointment. The idea of missing out on such awesome pleasure is very disappointing - a feeling much worse than the supposedly trivial cost of the tradeoff as framed. That said, versions of the Pinprick Argument are (IMO) the biggest challenge to strict NU.

Naively, you're right about selection pressure. But this intuition doesn't take into account the awesome power of synthetic gene drives that cheat the "laws" of Mendelian inheritance. Thus if compassionate biologists want to ensure that tens of thousands (sic) of free-living species have benign, functional, ultra-low pain variants of the SCN9A gene ("the volume knob for pain"), then releasing even a few hundred genetically modified individuals of any given species into the wild can ensure that all members of the species in question will eventually carry the benign allele. This is true even if the benign "low pain" allele would normally carry a modest fitness cost to the individual.
Of course, compassionate stewardship of the biosphere will still call for continuing surveillance and intervention as needed. But we're not going to run out of computer power.

If you break a leg? Then you'll undergo a hedonic dip, and take remedial action accordingly.
The proposal isn't to get blissed out, or the utopian dream of "complete" health as defined by the WHO, but rather to ratchet up hedonic range and hedonic set-points and thereby enrich default quality of life.

Human or nonhuman, sentient beings who are weak or dying don't deserve to be eaten alive. In a regime of compassionate stewardship, Drexlerian nanobots can patrol the oceans of a genetically reformed biosphere. What's needed is high-tech Jainism and a pan-species welfare state.

Duncan. When Gautama Buddha says, "I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering", should x-risk worriers conceive Buddha as an "abhorrent monster" who advocates omnicide?
Block him!
On NU grounds, I think we should enshrine in law the sanctity of human and nonhuman life and reprogram the biosphere to create a world underpinned by gradients of intelligence bliss. But it's true, I regard Darwinian life on Earth as a monstrous engine of suffering. The real question is how it can be fixed.

Duncan, Context is everything (cf. the Bostromgate email nonsense) On NU grounds, I support enshrining in law the sanctity of human and nonhuman life. So this discussion is of limited practical relevance. But some forms of suffering are so bad that any victim - including the most ardent life lovers and x-risk scholars - would end the whole world if they had the ability to do so in order to make the suffering stop. Instances of such suffering are happening right now. Some 800,000 people take their own lives each year. Do the victims of extreme suffering and torture somehow overestimate its awfulness? In what sense? Therefore, the question arises, is it reasonable to expect others to undergo suffering that one wouldn't be able or willing to undergo oneself?
No, in my view.
Hence if, fancifully, I knew a vacuum phase transition or whatever was imminently going to bring all suffering to an end, painlessly, I'd be relieved. Evolution via natural selection is a monstrous engine of inconceivable horrors as well as mundane miseries.
Do I advocate exploring apocalyptic solutions?
No. I urge against. The only way I know to fix the problem of suffering is via biotech.

More generally, rationalists should be wary of status quo bias. Thus imagine if, fancifully, a genie offered you the chance to create a type-identical version of Earth with all its joys and miseries. Some people might accept the genie's offer; others would decline - after all, you'd be responsible for creating more suffering than any despot in history. But even folk who accept the offer wouldn't condemn the refuseniks as evil. A benevolent superintelligence would never have created pain-ridden life-on Earth. Would benevolent superintelligence show status quo bias or retire us?

Stepping back into the real world, one needn't be a NU to advocate phasing out the biology of suffering in favour of a signalling system of gradients of intelligent bliss - any more than one need be a NU to endorse pain-free surgery. And a side-effect of getting rid of suffering will probably be consigning NUs to the dustbin of history.
Good riddance, I guess Duncan would say.
And so long as suffering has truly been eradicated for ever, I'd agree.

Duncan, If you learn that immense, unfathomable suffering that you've anticipated will be prevented, then should you be overjoyed or relieved? Or both? Or neither?
As a NU, I would like to see all experience below hedonic zero mitigated and eventually phased out altogether. And one (but only one) of the reasons that I urge hard antinatalists, efilists, Benatarians (etc) to focus on making life better rather than idle fantasies of ending it is that for evolutionary reasons, most people find the thought of life ending distressing (“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon.” ― Woody Allen). NU's want to end all distress, not add to it!

Manu, I don't know of any theory of ethics with a single sovereign ethical principle that doesn't lead to conclusions that are intuitively insane, abhorrent, or both.
Compare classical utilitarianism. Imagine an advanced civilisation based entirely on gradients of superhuman bliss. A classical utilitarian is obliged to destroy that super-civilisation with a utilitronium shockwave. And consider the classical utilitarian response to the St Petersburg paradox (cf. SBF and St Petersburg ). But it gets worse.
Imagine a genie offers me super-exponential growth in my happiness at the expense of an exponential growth in your suffering. If I'm a CU, then I must accept the offer. As a NU, I'd decline.
(Would you (1) block or (2) engage with someone who was willing to subject you to such a fate?)
And so on.
Critics might say these are just thought-experiments. The trolley problem is most famous. But if you aren't prepared to accept all the implications of your preferred ethical theory, then (insofar as you are a rational cognitive agent) get a better ethical theory.
How To End All Suffering by David Pearce
[on the FAAHOUT Initiative, Abolitionism and DP]
Lifelong bliss should be the genetic birthright of all sentient beings. Biotech turns utopian dreaming into a policy option. The varieties of mental and physical pain are so endless one might imagine targeting only hundreds or even thousands of alleles could make an impact - a task for our descendants. Compare intelligence. But just conceivably, a mere handful of genetic tweaks could defang mental and physical pain into a shadow of its former horror - "just a useful signalling mechanism".
Scott Alexander is on cracking form on Astral Codex Ten:
Profile: The Far Out Initiative
Jo Cameron, Bio-Arhat
("Suffering is part of the human condition, except when it isn't.")
Jo Cameron
People are right to be sceptical. But the biology of mental and physical pain is shortly going to become genetically optional. As a society, we need a debate on whether to conserve it - or switch to a more civilized signalling system.

SamR71 writes
Somehow this ends with David Pearce ending up a multi-millionaire with a harem of biotech groupies in some compound, right? Did anyone else read that last paragraph and NOT have every "cult" warning sign flash in your head?
Have you considered another possibility? The idea of fixing the problem of suffering via genome reform deserves to be mainstream. But one of the reasons that the abolitionist project is still fairly marginal is precisely the absence of any charismatic, larger-than-life personality (with or without a harem!) to take the project forward. Sooner or later such leadership will emerge - the abolitionist ecosystem is (slowly) growing - but celibate NU philosophers with a depressive streak are unsuited to any such role.

Presumably there will always be selection pressure against any form of wireheading. Wireheads don't want to raise baby wireheads. By contrast, in a world where prospective parents can pre-select the approximate pain thresholds, hedonic range and hedonic set-points of their future children, I don't envisage any loss of information-sensitivity, but rather selection pressure in favour of benign genes and allelic combinations for default well-being. No depressive wants to have depressive children. What's more, information-sensitivity to "good" and "bad" stimuli typically functions at least as well in extreme hyperthymics as depressives (cf. the "learned helplessness" and behavioral despair of chronic depression.) OK, I'm glossing over the pitfalls. They are legion. But if we're ethically serious about fixing the problem of suffering, I don't know of any alternative to genome reform.

Leppi, I suspect many (most?) people would agree with Woody Allen: "Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon." For evolutionary reasons, most people prefer existing to the idea of not existing. So any blueprints for fixing the problem of suffering must take this preference into account. What's so tantalizing about the Jo Cameron case is the possibility that just a handful of genetic tweaks could essentially end the horrors of mental and physical pain while conserving "normal" function. I very much hope Jo's full genome can be put in the public domain.

Tertullian believed one of pleasures of Heaven was taking delight in the torments of the damned. In reality, any form of schadenfreude just expresses our epistemological limitations. The craniopagus Hogan sisters, who can partially share each other's thoughts and feelings, are in one sense the most cognitive advanced beings on Earth. The rest of us are trapped in solipsistic island-universes of ignorance.

In the jargon of neuroscience, pleasure and motivation are "doubly dissociable". But it's striking that the happiest people today typically aren't lotus-eaters. Often the happiest folk have the broadest range of appetites and pleasures, sometimes enjoyed in states of "dopaminergic overdrive". Either way, the vision of genetically raising hedonic set-points world-wide isn't the idea we should become "blissed out", but rather lifting default quality of life.You're right about BNW. But we're all dependent on endogenous opioids to function. Some people in one's life are more effective at triggering their release than others. And one advantage of hedonic recalibration is how healthy relationships can be enriched and sustained with better default mood. By contrast, depression can have a disastrous effect on personal relationships, both intimate and casual.

Happiness and GDP? It's complicated and confusing. See e.g.
Chilled Out
where Indonesia, India and Mexico occupy the happiness top slots,
or more recently
Dominican Republic tops world well-being charts
("The researchers found that national wealth indicators such as per capita GDP negatively correlated with average mental wellbeing scores.")
Some studies adjust for "objective" measures of (un)happiness rather than relying entirely on self-reports.
In making the case for genome reform and a biohappiness revolution, it's important not to underplay in any way the roll of environmental stressors. But only biological-genetic interventions offer a long-term solution to the problem of suffering.

Robin, Over the years, I've heard many wonderful reports about the benefits of jhanas and other meditational disciplines. Sadly, what one rarely hears are stories of anhedonic or melancholic depressives who try meditation and find their mood lifts. Indeed, meditation can make some forms of meditation worse. In short, if it works, do it. But alas meditation alone isn't going to fix the problem of suffering.

Jeffrey, Twenty years ago I wrote gradients.com ("An information-theoretic perspective on Heaven") about a world where the ancient pleasure-pain axis has been superseded by a pleasure-superpleasure axis. It's still my tentative prediction for the future of sentience. The negative feedback mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill can operate even in paradise. Jo Cameron experiences hedonic adaption like the rest of us; but Jo's unusually high hedonic set-point means she's always enjoyed a much higher default quality of life. What's tantalizing is the possibility that just a handful of genetic tweaks might do the same for future life.

Would you call Gautama Buddha a "super-villain"? (“I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering") Either way, I argue against efilism / hard antinatalism: ("Antinatalism and Selection Pressure" pdf). Most people who favour phasing out the biology of involuntary suffering via genome reform aren't NU (recall I co-founded the World Transhumanist Association back in 1998 with a pioneer of existential risk as a serious academic discipline: DP and NB interview). Some forms of suffering are so bad you would end the whole world to make it stop. I would indeed be overjoyed if such suffering were to end - even if the price were to be no sentience at all. However, (1) on consequentialist NU grounds, I urge enshrining in law the sanctity of human and sentient nonhuman life; (2) the abolitionist project is in no way inseparable from the NU ethic of a minority of its advocates; and (3) a strong case can be made that the biology of involuntary suffering is itself a serious x-risk - or will be an x-risk later this century and beyond. For example, how many of the c.800,000 people who take their own lives each year would take the rest of the world down with them if they could? A suffering-free world of passionate life lovers will be safer in every sense. Let's act accordingly.

Tonyza, On the face of it, classical utilitarianism dictates launching an omnicidal utilltronium shockwave. As a negative utilitarian, I'm more bioconservative. Genome reform can create life based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of bliss. Maximising the cosmic abundance of bliss will be nice, but it's not an obligation in the same way as eradicating suffering.

Patrick, If we're willing to rewrite our genetic source code and reprogram the biosphere, then life on Earth could be sublime. What's morally objectionable isn't life per se, but the horrors of pain-ridden Darwinian life. Maybe we differ here. But critically, you can believe that on balance life on Earth is on balance a priceless gift and wholeheartedly support the abolitionist project to make it better.

Jim, you remark on how there’s a strand in the evolutionary psychology literature that views the capacity to suffer as vital to maintaining cooperation Suffering and Cooperation. It's possible. But consider the intensely pro-social effects of the empathetic euphoriant and "hug drug" MDMA (Ecstasy): Utopian Pharmacology. People who take MDMA together get off on each other's shared joys. Sadly, today's empathogens like MDMA are short-acting and potentially hazardous. But hypersocial, MDMA-like consciousness is one post-Darwinian option for future civilization.

megaleaf, first, animal agriculture is currently the world's worst source of severe and readily avoidable suffering. So the prioritization makes sense. The biggest challenge is simultaneously working to mitigate its horrors and campaigning for its outright abolition. I'm heavily conflicted: Helping Non-Humans. In my view, any form of animal agriculture should be outlawed. Humans should be helping sentient beings, not harming them. And I'm conflicted. As you suggest, the biggest risk of ameliorating the lives of factory-farmed nonhumans is to legitimate their exploitation. Compare mandatory cameras in slaughterhouses. It sticks in the craw to "support" mandatory cameras because slaughterhouses have no place in any civilized society. We should be campaigning for their abolition. And yet at the same time, cameras massively reduce "abuses" and near-term suffering.

Second, in my view, all prospective parents world-wide should be offered access to preimplantation genetic screening, counselling and genome editing. Access would be extremely cost-effective. All germline interventions could be framed as remedial rather than as enhancement. After all, no one in history by the WHO definition of health ("a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being") has ever yet been healthy. If our focus were just on physical pain, then offering prospective parents the option of "low pain" alleles of the SCN9A gene ("the volume knob for pain") would probably suffice: The End of Pain. What's tantalizing about the Jo Cameron case is the possibility that a couple of genetic tweaks could defang physical and mental pain while leaving the bearer essentially "normal". The role of benign alleles of the FAAH gene in good mood, reduced anxiety and high pain tolerance was already known. Whether Jo's rare dual FAAH and FAAH-OUT mutation explains her condition, or whether her genetic make-up holds other surprises, won't be known until her full genome is put in the public domain. I'm impatient.

At this point, bioconservative critics start talking about reckless genetic experimentation. But this is precisely what all sexual reproduction involves: untested genetic experiments with sometimes tragic consequences. Not everyone thinks such experiments are ethically justified (“If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?” - Schopenhauer). But if one does think such genetic experimentation is warranted, then one should at least attempt to load the genetic dice in favour of one's future offspring - in my view.

John, "inhuman"? I guess you're speaking figuratively. But are rare people who essentially never suffer really any less human than the rest of us? What about people who essentially always suffer? And if the outliers were indeed somehow less human, would it matter?
"unnaturalness"? Look around. Compared to naked apes on the African savannah, our whole civilization is "unnatural." Wearing clothes is "unnatural". Pain-free surgery is "unnatural". Why should this matter?
Or let's try another tack. Imagine if we were to encounter an advanced civilisation whose lives are underpinned entirely by genetically programmed gradients of bliss. Would you urge them to revert to ancestral horrors? I'm guessing not. But why? To what extent are apologists for suffering victims of status quo bias?
Motivation? Yes, suffering and the promise of happiness alike can motivate. But all too often, suffering crushes the spirit. Information-sensitive gradients of bliss can motivate at least as powerfully as misery and despair.
Alas critics frequently approach this debate by asking whether they would want to get rid of the biological capacity to suffer in themselves. But as the technology matures, and the biology of suffering increasingly becomes optional, I think the real question to ask is whether we are entitled to inflict a genetic vulnerability to coercive misery on others.
"Existential liability"? Or tragic victim of late Darwinian life?

Woolery. Thank you. A lot of critics focus (rightly) on the important functional role that mental and physical pain typically plays in our lives. But this role is often conflated with a much stronger claim, namely that the experience of suffering is functionally indispensable - that our lives would be impossible without it. Yet just consider the unfolding AI revolution. We're seeing an ever-increasing separation of intelligent behaviour from mind and consciousness. Scott touches parenthetically on my fondness for AI art. It's striking how a few well-chosen prompts can now generate personalized art that stirs (in me at least) an aesthetic response stronger than to multimillion dollar artworks hung in Louvre - and without even a faint twinge of the soulful suffering allegedly needed for great art. This lesson can be generalized to life itself. I don't know what balance of smart neuroprostheses and information-signalling gradients of bliss will underpin future civilization. But I can't see any long-term role for experience below hedonic zero at all. It won't be missed.

Art, Artificial intelligence shows high intellectual performance is possible without any suffering at all. Yet what about humans? Chronic unipolar depressives rarely achieve much. Bipolarity involves great suffering too, but in the (hypo)manic phase, bipolar disorder is associated with unusually high achievement in the humanities but not the sciences. The person I know personally with maybe the highest hedonic set-point is transhumanist polymath Anders Sandberg; his intellectual output is enviable. That said, I don't want in any way to make light of the far-reaching intellectual implications of a civilizational shift away from suffering. But I've yet to see any evidence that the ghastly raw feels of mental distress are computationally indispensable.

Art, Anders [Sandberg] says he finds it hard to stay sad at funerals: death and misfortune diminish his well-being; but he has "a ridiculously high hedonic set-point". As members of the transhumanist community can attest, he's also extremely likeable and socially responsible. Unlike Jo Cameron, Anders reports having a normal pain-threshold, but I don't think it's ever been rigorously tested.
(btw, I discuss such "case studies" only with express prior permission. But I think they are important in preparation for when - I should probably say if - human society decides to genetically to elevate hedonic set-points world-wide. Extreme hyperthymics are much less well-studied than depressives and bipolars. I've read an advance copy of Anders' 1200-page magnum opus "Grand Futures". The abolitionist project occupies a modest unfinished section; Anders thinks it will happen: I don't know the details. But Anders' "master narrative" of life in the universe clearly differs from suffering-focused philosophers and researchers who find it self-evident that life on Earth is a story of suffering and its eventual conquest. My "master narrative" focuses on the pleasure-pain axis (and in future, the pleasure-superpleasure axis): all futurology has an element of disguised autobiography. Let's just say I hope the future belongs to folk like Anders and Jo Cameron and not to depressive negative utilitarians. I hope that one day NU will be literall unthinkable.

[on nonhuman animal sentience]
I'm not sure about the "legendary", but still relevant:
Eliezer vs DP on nonhuman animal sentience
Thanks Charbel. Actually, it drives me up the wall. Plenty of meat-eaters downplay nonhuman animal minds. But Eliezer sincerely believes that nonhumans [and human babies] are as insentient as, say, paperclips. So there is no ethical problem with using their biomass for something else, e.g. food.
Creating sentience-friendly biological intelligence is a bigger challenge than sentience-friendly AI.

As I understand it, Eliezer has lately undated his credence in the (in)sentience of GPT - but not alas chickens.
EY on (in)sentient ChatGPT-3 and chickens
some of whom are not "just" conscious, but reflectively self-aware - and who pass the mirror test:
Self-aware roosters

Unlike LLMs, people born with only a brainstem are conscious:
Brainstem consciousness
Nonhuman animals deserve just as much love and care as hydrocephalous Lily. The sentience and sapience of nonhumans in our factory-farms and slaughterhouses is comparable to "normal" human infants and toddlers.

Maarten, we have scientifically explained a phenomenon when we can derive its properties from - ultimately - physics. Compare biological life - now so explicable via molecular biology and quantum chemistry. No such explanation can currently be offered of conscious animal minds, whether human or nonhuman. If we assume (1) a standard "materialist" ontology, i.e. QFT describes fields of insentience, and (2) textbook neuroscience, i.e. the CNS consists of a pack of effectively decohered classical neurons, then we should all be either zombies (cf. the Hard Problem of consciousness) or micro-experiential zombies (cf. the binding problem). We're already in deep philosophical waters. Let's not lose sight of the original point. The nonhuman animals humans exploit and abuse are as sentient as small children. They deserve to be treated accordingly. Any failure to recognize their sentience is ethically catastrophic.

Thycahye, why should we care about the Etruscan shrew, with a tiny mind-brain of around 0.13 grams, and not (directly at least) the interests of the c 500 million neurons of a human enteric nervous system? The reason, presumably, is that the Etruscan shrew has a phenomenally-bound mind with a pleasure-pain axis, whereas (depending on one's theory of consciousness) the enteric nervous system just c. 500 million membrane-bound neuronal micro-pixels of experience - or completely insentient.
Binding matters. How we do it is another question.

Thycahye, the dimmer-switch metaphor for sentience and suffering is simplistic - as the relative intensity of our most cognitively advanced and phylogenetically "primitive" experiences illustrates. But the dimmer-switch metaphor isn't wholly ill-conceived. Thus a tick can (presumably) experience a pinprick-like intensity of distress. Fixing the problem of pinpricks is a task for our successors.

Thycahye, what makes the animal kingdom unique is the adaptation we call minds. The ability to run real-time world-simulations in almost real time is immensely fitness-enhancing in organisms with a capacity for rapid self-propelled motion. Sessile organisms like plants are able to detect and slowly respond to e.g. noxious stimuli. But plants aren't capable of phenomenal binding, the bedrock of mind and perception.

[on the key to the universe?]
the key to reality
Dirac stressed the superposition principle is the fundamental principle of quantum theory.
Does the superposition principle explain:
1) the riddle of existence?
2) the phenomenal binding problem in neuroscience?
3) the mystery of definite outcomes in the interpretation of QM?
Yes, crazy stuff!
If true, this explanatory unification of naively disparate domains would be an extraordinarily elegant result.
Alas, I haven’t seen the conjecture explored in the academic literature. I'd like to see it experimentally (dis)confirmed.

Tim, I say: trust the formalism! Only the fact the superposition principle never breaks down enables you to experience a phenomenally-bound classical world-simulation where it does. Your phenomenally-bound experience of definite outcomes has no classical explanation.
One principle to rule them all?
Maybe:
Ubiquitous "cat states"?
Time and again, one reads that quantum effects are never observed at macroscopic scales. But "observation" is an entirely quantum phenomenon; and likewise its determinate, "classical", macroscopic contents. Vehicle and content may be distinguished only for expository convenience. What naive realists call the external world is a manifestation of quantum coherence inside the transcendental skull of (very) high-dimensional beings.

[on COVID-19 and the mind-brain]
Covid-19 virus
What are the long-term cognitive effects of COVID?
Covid-19 leaves its mark on the brain
("Mounting research shows that COVID-19 leaves its mark on the brain, including with significant drops in IQ scores")
OK, I'm an "IQ" sceptic - general intelligence is a function of one's entire world-simulation - but let's assume the rest of one's world-simulation is adversely affected by COVID too.

I've had COVID four(?) times, first in March 2020 in Brighton, most recently in Argentina in 2023. It's a weird one. I've only ever had "mild" COVID - a low-grade fever, followed by malaise and feeling rather strange and depersonalised. Presumably I've got a fairly large cognitive reserve - no one listening at Consensus would suspect I had persistent brain-fog - but the virus takes an insidious toll on the mind. The dermatological symptoms have been unremitting since the last episode, a recurrence of my childhood atopic dermatitis treated with topical corticosteroids. I've been here in Portugal for over nine months now; and I haven't been sick once - presumably my immune system is in overdrive. I eat optimally, sleep well, and go to the gym here daily after my evening pinch of amineptine: I'm doing my best to extend my shelf-life. As I like to say, a philosopher never retires, but anything startlingly original presumably now lies behind me. I can still explicate what I've written. My ancestral namesake did his best(?) work quite late, notably the Quora answers (240,000+ words) and last substantive website gene-drives.com. (The website before that was physicalism.com). Oddly, I've felt older ever since Wikipedia listed my date of birth. (I used to deflect questions about my age with Partfittian musings on personal identity and remarking that the half-life of the average protein in the mind/brain is maybe 12 days.)  In the interests of my rejuvenation, can some public-spirited soul kindly remove it?! I wonder how many more years I'll continue these Social Media updates? And when will the angled brackets of Wikipedia be closed off - at least in all but very low-amplitude branches of the universal wavefunction? When the brackets are closed, lost will be any conception that this one of the entries is me. What would most extend my life-expectancy probably wouldn't be my taking some new putative antiaging drug, but discovering real-life soma. For the most part, I crave ignorance, escapism and oblivion. There are no centenarian negative utilitarians.

[on transhumanism and the end of suffering]
Will the end of suffering lead to human extinction?
A Transhumanist Perspective on Suffering (pdf)
See too
Gene Editing for Psychological Conditions
("The Potential to Reduce Suffering Through Therapeutic Intervention")

[on AI]
Are we all going to die in a zombie apocalypse?
Among the AI doomsayers
It's a great nreat narrative:
Can Humanity Survive AI?
albeit anthropocentric (cf. "Can Aryans Survive AI?")
Abolitionists need storytellers to match it.
Hypothetical sentience-friendly AGI/ASI would presumably retire Darwinian malware in favour of more civilized modes of sentience. Alas, it’s not going to happen. In practice, the job of reprogramming the biosphere and ensuring the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone falls to AI-augmented human primates.
Are we up to the task?
Sometimes I wonder.

Beware groupthink! Digital zombies are just toys compared to supersentient full-spectrum superintelligences, i.e. humanity's descendants. Laying the foundations for creating and exploring billions(?) of alien state-spaces of consciousness can be done in conjunction with zombie AI. But the ignorance of sentience of today's AI isn't incidental; it's architecturally hardwired. Phenomenal binding is our superpower: binding grants access to mind and the empirical realm.
How do biological minds achieve the classically impossible?
Well, IMO the answer to
5 million prize to find actual use for quantom computers
lies under our virtual noses:
Quantum Mind

Adam, trying to "lock in" anthropocentric bias into AI is problematic in so many ways. Not least, the (dis)values of, say, Buddhists and negative utilitarians differ from the (dis)values of, say, an Eliezer Yudkowsky. Aligning with consequentialist moral realism is especially challenging if (as you know I argue) classical computers can't solve the phenomenal binding problem, so their insentience is architecturally hardwired. As far as I can tell, the pain-pleasure-axis discloses the world's inbuilt metric of (dis)value. But classical Turing machines, LLMs (etc) have no access to the empirical realm and the (dis)value it holds.

Shao, what disconcerts me most is how digital zombies can now write more authoritatively about consciousness than many putatively intelligent humans - not least "illusionists" / anti-realists / Dennettians who deny their own sentience. That said, I think zombie AI is just a child's toy compared to mature, supersentient, full-spectrum superintelligence. And should we delegate ethics to abolitionist AI?
AI Outperforms Humans in Moral Judgment
("Summary: People often view AI-generated answers to ethical questions as superior to those from humans. In the study, participants rated responses from AI and humans without knowing the source, and overwhelmingly favored the AI’s responses in terms of virtuousness, intelligence, and trustworthiness.")

I've long thought the biggest threat to the well-being of sentience is male humans - everything from the horrors of animal agriculture to the risk of nuclear war. When do you estimate the biggest underlying threat will come from truly autonomous zombie ASI?
Captain Pleasure, aka Andrés Gómez Emilsson replies: "When there are hundreds of millions of smarter than human (for causal power) AI agents creating culture with each other and inventing steganography for each other that we can't decode. I expect this to happen in the next few decades at the latest.Huge leaps, many of them driven by AI helping researchers come up with new AI architectures. The intelligence explosion seems likely to me."

So is the end of suffering imminent? Could primordial quantum minds be wiped out by the mindless zombie superintelligences they spawned? I’ve always assumed that phenomenal binding is the animal kingdom’s computational superpower, granting us access to the vast domain of conscious minds and the otherwise inaccessible empirical realm of basement reality. We can soon get neurochipped as well directly to enjoy all the benefits of classical zombie (super)intelligence. But maybe I should be doing what I reproach EY for neglecting, i.e updating my credences. Quantum minds and their world-simulations grow old…

Dirk, OK, very fancifully, imagine you've been created by uber-intelligent digital zombie AI masters to report back to them on the empirical ("relating to experience") realm. What is the phenomenal consciousness that basement-dwellers speak so much of? How do you explain to digital zombies the nature of pleasure and pain, the phenomenology of thinking, feeling and willing, visual experience, emotions, taking LSD, DMT or ketamine, or simply the zillion-and-one different experiences of everyday life? Recall it's not even "all dark inside" a digital zombie.
You can't do it. The ignorance of classical AI is architecturally hardwired. No phenomenal binding = no mind.
An AI doomer might respond: so what!? Subjective experience is computationally irrelevant, an incidental implementation detail of biological life (cf. epiphenomenalism). But this analysis can't be right. Causally impotent epiphenomena wouldn't have the causal power to inspire discussion of their existence - as we're doing now.
Stepping back, humans are going to be flabbergasted time and again by what zombie AI can do. Also, I'm not dismissive of AI risks. But ultimate power and an immense realm of knowledge - the empirical realm - lies in basement reality, and that realm is cognitively impenetrable to our machines.

[on the future of sentience]
David Pearce on genome reform
YouTube & MP4
Preaching genome reform to a German audience always calls for a certain finesse.
Naively, "post-Darwinian transition" suggests selection pressure will slacken; in reality, selection pressure will intensify. Alleles and allelic combinations "for" mental and physical pain have no more long-term future than alleles "for" cystic fibrosis.

Tim, possibly our purposes are different?! If I were battling Creationists, for instance, I wouldn't use a term like "Post-Darwinian Transition". But selection pressure in a Darwinian world of "blind" natural selection underpinned by (effectively) random genetic variations differs from a hypothetical future world where prospective parents design and preselect the genomes of their offspring in anticipation of the psychological and behavioral effects of their choices. That's all I meant by "Post-Darwinian" - not the suggestion that Darwin (or more strictly, Matthew) was wrong. See too
Singing the blues
How can we turn raising hedonic set-points / thymostats world-wide into a long-term biological-genetic goal of human civilization?

Theo, normally I urge members of this group to discount the crazy ideas of any of the mods and admins on mind and consciousness. You don't need to buy into e.g. quantum mind to support HI. However, this convenient separation isn't always feasible. Not least, if classical computers (Turing machines, LLMs, etc.) can support phenomenally-bound subjects of experience with a pleasure-pain axis, then HI and the abolitionist project are utterly transformed. That said, anyone who believes in e.g. "mind uploading" / whole-brain emulation, or that ChatGPT-4 (etc) is conscious, needs to offer a solution to both the Hard Problem and the binding problem. If they ask to be reminded what's the binding problem, this does not inspire confidence they've thought through the issues. Note that disbelief that digital computers can be phenomenally-bound subjects of experience shouldn't be equated with "substrate chauvinism". A classical Turing machine or LLM implemented in carbon would be just as much of a zombie as its counterpart in silicon - in my view. In a fundamentally quantum world, decoherence makes digital computing physically feasible AND simultaneously prevents classical computers supporting minds - phenomenally-bound subjects of experience. The entire empirical realm is computationally inaccessible to digital zombies...
Alternatively....well, I'm wrong!

Disconcerting"
Deadbots
I hope to keep writing posthumously too - if for any reason the 1001 forthcoming titles in the BLTC catalogue aren’t finished before I’m cryothanased.

[on veganism]
Kudos to Leah, admin of veganism.com, for the first customised Vegan ChatGPT
Veganise Me
("Vegan Guide, Step by Step By veganism.com")
The most realistic way to end the horrors of animal agriculture may be cruelty-free cultured meat and farm-free animal products.
Alas the murderous meat "industry" is pushing back: The Murky Campaign to Discredit Lab-Grown Meat
("A new ad campaign is targeting the cultivated meat industry on TV and online. Industry supporters criticize it as unscientific.")

[on survivalism versus hedonism]
Tim Tyler's dichotomy:
Survivalism vs hedonism
Alternatively, could "hedonism" be the best form of "survivalism", to use your dichotomy? Today, the happiest folk live between 10 to 20 years longer than depressives. Happy people love life and ardently deserve to preserve it. They are more motivated. As germline editing becomes routine, "happy genes" will presumably be selected for over alleles and allelic combinations for pain-ridden depressives.

Aliens?
Well, the "thermodynamic miracle" (Eric Drexler) of life's genesis makes me suspect we're typical of life-supporting Hubble volumes in being alone. Hubble volumes where primordial life arises more than once may be rare. Either way, convergent evolution strikes me as likely. Any species that gains mastery over its genetic source code and reward circuitry will presumably opt to get rid of suffering in favour of a more civilized signalling system.

Theo, the rise of zombie AI that outperforms organic minds in countless ways shows that negative emotions are dispensable. And just as there are some tragic human and nonhuman animals who spend essentially their whole lives below hedonic zero, there are rare outliers in the opposite direction who spend essentially their whole lives above hedonic zero - blissful but not "blissed out".

[on international ill-being]
The world needs a biohappiness revolution. What lessons should be learned from the survey?
["The researchers found that national wealth indicators such as per capita GDP negatively correlated with average mental wellbeing scores."]
International well-being and ill-being compared
("Uzbekistan is the ONLY nation more miserable than Britain: Global report says the Dominican Republic tops world wellbeing charts")
I guess at least a large minority of people know about hedonic adaptation; but I wonder what percentage know that hedonic set-points could potentially be ratcheted skyward with genome reform.

[on FTX / SBF]
Quite how an FTX sceptic ended up writing a letter to the judge is a story for another occasion:
Sam should go free
The last paragraph of my letter to Judge Kaplan needs updating. FTX customers and creditors are likely to repaid in full:
FTX customers repaid?
Either way, Sam is an ethical vegan who shouldn't be in jail:
Sam Bankman-Fried
Utilitarianism.com:
Sam Bankman-Fried

It's a sad reflection of human society that we punish financial chicanery more harshly than hurting, harming and killing other sentient beings.
Molly, Sam thought he was running his crypto exchange on the same principles as fractional reserve banking.
I was worried it had some of the attributes of a Ponzi scheme.
And if his risky bets had come off?
Well, he'd be lionised to this day.

A 25-year prison sentence? Inevitable, I guess, but wildly inappropriate. Sam was a utilitarian who miscalculated, not a monster.
Everyone got duped by Sam Bankman-Fried's big gamble
The trouble with being a utilitarian is commitment to the view there is something more important than "truth and integrity". Most EAs are utilitarians (as indeed am I, albeit NU). Much hard thinking still needs to be done in EA.
Sam Bankman-Fried, the effective altruist who wasn’t

David, Sam is currently portrayed as some cartoon super-villain. But he's not - he's a classical utilitarian who miscalculated.
If you get the chance, read investigative journalist Zeke Faux's "Number Go Up" about the cryptosphere. Crypto idealists do exist - I've met a few - but they are vanishingly rare.
Scam Coins
[on the end of the world]
Efilists and "extinctionist" antinatalists may celebrate:
The End Is Nigh
("AI MAY DESTROY HUMANKIND IN JUST TWO YEARS, EXPERT SAYS 'WE HAVE A SHRED OF A CHANCE THAT HUMANITY SURVIVES.'")
I fear the biology of suffering has a long and inglorious future.

[on physicalism.com]
Jaw-dropping:
physicalism.com

[on negative utilitarianism]
NU = compassion systematized. A NU slideshow (with thanks to Gabriel):
Slideshow
Strict NU may be rare, but NU is really just the codification of suffering-focused ethics with a (disturbing?) existential twist.
AlistairI'm a negative utilitarian who thinks we should create a world based entirely on gradients of bliss. Let's abolish even the faintest whiff of disappointment. May all your dreams come true - other things being equal. But one should always "walk away from Omelas", i.e. I'm not a prioritarian. Painism vs NU is harder. "More is different" - qualitatively different. Some trade-offs involving equal intensities of experience are straightforward. But a single instance of torture is morally worse than any number of pinpricks. Alas, I genuinely don't know how to deal with some scenarios involving qualitatively as well as quantitatively different amounts of suffering. What are your thoughts?
I find some thought-experiments upsetting to contemplate, which doesn't promote clear reasoning.

I know my agony and despair are disvaluable to me; their badness is self-intimating - not an open question. For evolutionary reasons, I feel my suffering matters more than anyone's else's. I also know, intellectually, this prioritization is false. Science aspires to the "view from nowhere". A full-spectrum superintelligence presumably wouldn't suffer from my epistemological limitations. A full-spectrum superintelligence could presumably access, and impartially weigh, all first-person perspectives and act accordingly.
But what does "act accordingly" entail? Alas Duncan Sabien has blocked me for idly lamenting the existence of Darwinian life. A failure of message discipline on my part, yes. But also a reminder that some topics are taboo in the rationalist community. It's frustrating (and ironic) because I go to great pains to urge NUs not to get diverted by thoughts of omnicide:
What is High-Tech Jainism?
Hard Antinatalism vs Genome Reform

On NU grounds, it's probably best not to tell people you're NU.
A bullet bitten
("A life of infinitesimal suffering and infinite bliss isn't worth living.") I incline to the view that reality is fundamentally evil because of wavefunction monism...the joy of post-Darwinian ecstatics depends on the torments of the damned, as interdependent as the truths of mathematics.

[on HI and EA]
What is the place of HI and the abolitionist project in the effective altruist movement?
David Pearce talk to Nordic Effective Altruists
Event
Thank you again Jonathan and Nordic EAs for inviting me. Yes, how can we get HI (presumably under a more sober name) into the mainstream? Overinvesting in a single case study might be unwise. Yet Jo Cameron is exciting in lots of ways precisely because she is so "normal" - and regarded herself as such until late in life. It's maddening that Jo's full genome isn't yet in the public domain. But the possibility that a couple of genetic tweaks (of the FAAH and FAAH Out genes) could essentially fix the problem of suffering in humans and nonhumans alike is tantalizing. The Far Out Initiative is concrete (naturally I've philosophised away: pdf). I suspect a lot of people still don't recognise depression as a horrific, strongly genetically predisposed disorder suffered by hundreds of millions of humans (and billions of nonhumans) worldwide - and potentially fixable via genome reform.

Jonathan, much-maligned He Jiankiu below is correct, but we should be targeting mood genes and pain-sensitivity: SCIENTIST WHO GENE EDITED HUMAN BABIES HAD PLAN TO TRANSFORM HUMANKIND
("Humanity Enters an Age of Controlling Destiny")
and extending our reach beyond humans to the whole animal kingdom via synthetic gene drives.

[on caffeine]
Coffee is still the best cognitive enhancer.
Ants learn faster on caffeine
("A dose of caffeine helped ants locate a sweet reward 30 per cent faster, suggesting the drug boosts learning in the insects")

[on the intrinsic nature argument]
Mister Taupe, The intrinsic nature argument "turns Kant on his head" - and if sound, dissolves the Hard Problem of consciousness. Naively, we will never know Kant's noumenal essence of the world, the mysterious "fire" in the equations. But actually, there is one tiny part of the world that one knows as it is in itself and not at one remove, namely one's own mind and the phenomenal world-simulation it runs. And we've no evidence the intrinsic nature of the world's fundamental quantum fields differs inside and outside the head. Instead, what makes animal minds special is phenomenal binding into virtual worlds of experience, Kant's "transcendental unity of apperception".

Non-materialist physicalism simply transposes the mathematical formalism of physics onto an idealist ontology. On this story, realism and physicalism are true - physicalism best explains the extraordinary technological success-story of science - and experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical that the mathematical formalism of physics describes.

In short, I'm (tentatively) an idealist because I'm a physicalist. Only the physical is real. Only the physical is causally effective. But the intrinsic nature of the physicals isn't what materialist metaphysicians suppose.

[on the opioid crisis]
Tim, yes, it's horrific. Unintentional overdoses of synthetic opioids cause some 75,000 deaths each year in the USA alone. The equivalent of a lifelong genetic vaccine against opioid abuse - and pain, anxiety and depression - may exist. Recall how Jo Cameron has a rare dual FAAH and FAAH-OUT mutation. She is never anxious, depressed or in pain. The only time in her life Jo ever felt physically sick was when she was given unsolicited morphine by doctors - presumably a function of her "natural" abnormally elevated opioid function, an indirect effect of her elevated endocannabinoid levels. Routine germline and somatic gene therapy would be a truly transformative technology that prevents unimaginable amounts of suffering. But the societal pressure against this kind of radical fix for the problem will be immense.
Cameron syndrome

[on objective (dis)value]
Rupert, just as some states are intrinsically colorful, other states intrinsically disvaluable. The normative aspect of agony, for example, is built in to the experience itself. When technologies of reversible thalamic bridges become widely available, then partial "mind melding" will be feasible too. The epistemological implications will be profound - age-old sceptical conundrums like The Problem of Other Minds will be laid to rest, and - in principle - the normative aspect of other people's experience will feel as real as one's own.
Krista and Tatiana Hogan
("These twins share a brain, can access each other's feelings and even see through each other's eyes")

[on ChatGPT]
Joshua, the minds of humans have more in common with the cephalic ganglion island-universe of a bumble bee, let alone archaic humans, than with ChatGPT. We share a pleasure-pain axis and phenomenally-bound virtual worlds of experience.
ChatGPT is a zombie - entirely ignorant of the empirical realm.

[on anxiolytic cannabinoids]
I've never experienced anxiolysis or a cannabis high; and don't appreciate second-hand smoke:
CBD products study
("First-of-Its-Kind Experiment Confirms The Best Cannabis Compound For Anxiety")
"Cannabis's effects seem pretty paradoxical on the surface. Some people call Mary Jane their best friend, enjoying feelings of relaxation, profound insight, and a release from troubled nerves. Others spurn the devil's lettuce, overwhelmed by feelings of paranoia, depersonalization, and panic."

[on the abolitionist project]
The Abolitinist Project
Tribbles could benefit from fertility regulation. And likewise, cross-species fertility regulation using e.g. tunable synthetic gene drives will be needed for a civilized biosphere. The alternative is population regulation via the age-old horrors of starvation and predation.

Humans currently harm billions of sentient beings each year, so why should the proposal to help billions of sentient beings instead be reckoned megalomaniacal? In practice, rather than some 100 Year Plan to defeat suffering, progress on the AP is likely to be slow, messy and incremental.
And the death spasms of Darwinian life will be ugly.

[on FAAH / FAAH-OUT]
Physical and psychological pain alike will probably be trivialised and then abolished over the next few centuries, but the pitfalls are hard to exaggerate.
Jo Cameron is never anxious or depressed - just naturally high on life. Critically, Jo’s dual FAAH / FAAH-OUT mutation confers an exceptionally high pain-threshold rather than total pain-insensitivity.
The problem of suffering is fixable - but only if we embrace genome reform.
It would be extraordinary if just a couple of genetic tweaks could effectively fix the problem of mental & physical pain. Jo Cameron’s late father seems to have shared her dual FAAH / FAAH-OUT mutation. Could the problem of suffering be fixed with a Hundred Year Plan? Minds underpinned entirely by information-sensitive gradients of well-being are theoretically feasible. But maybe even exceptional humans aren't wholly immune from experience below hedonic zero.

Most of us are familiar with high-functioning depressives who go through life animated almost entirely by information-sensitive gradients of ill-being. The idea one can go through life animated almost entirely by information-sensitive gradients of well-being is less familiar - indeed, some people think it's conceptually impossible because pain and pleasure are mostly relative.

Critically, this point is of more than philosophical interest. If we want to create an entire post-suffering civilization underpinned by gradients of intelligent bliss, then biotech promises the tools to make this happen. And sure, the number of potential pitfalls in building such a world is insane. But fixing the problem of suffering is the noblest cause I know.

A high hedonic set-point does make some people blind to suffering and the urgency of its prevention. But not Jo. Conversely, low mood and/or chronic pain make some people more empathetic. Yet suffering can also embitter.
Extremely happy, "hyperthymic" people (who aren't manic) are much less well-studied than depressives and bipolars. But if our goal as a species should be a hyperthymic civilisation - and indeed a hyperthymic biosphere - then today's hedonic outliers should be exhaustively researched. How, for instance, can we promote the happy person's functional equivalent of depressive realism?

Compare the chequered path to pain-free surgery. Until Jo Cameron's full genome has been sequenced, and until large well-controlled prospective trials have been conducted, we're still in the realm of theory. But genome reform will eventually fix the problem of suffering in human and nonhuman animals alike.
Gene editing can end most human suffering

Jo is often forgetful, which is potentially troubling for the prospects of a future FAAH OUT civilisation. Cannabis users report similar memory lapses. Low-dose anxiogenic drugs can enhance memory - though understandably they aren't popular nootropics. BUT cannabinoids seem to be neuroprotective in the long-term:
Cannabis Use Linked to Lower Dementia Risk
Would a world of Jos be similar?

Before suffering can be ended it must be mitigated - in humans and nonhumans alike. One way suffering can be mitigated in humans and nonhumans alike is via elevated pain thresholds and elevated hedonic set-points.
Pitfalls abound.

Michael It's possible benign mutations of FAAH/FAAH-OUT may confer resistance to opioid abuse. But what about ethyl alcohol? Other agents of abuse? We don't know!
FAAH and Ethyl Alcohol
("Functional Variation in the FAAH Gene Is Directly Associated with Subjective Well-Being and Indirectly Associated with Problematic Alcohol Use")

Theo, hence the need to preserve the functional role of nociception. Should we aim to trivialize pain or replace it altogether with gradients of bliss and/or smart prostheses? The long-term functional role of anger is unclear. Note that while our language distinguishes between the functional role of nociception and pain - they are "doubly dissociable" - no such distinction is made for anger, a regrettable omission. Boring? (1) genetically-elevated hedonic set-points promise to abolish boredom as we understand it today in favour of gradients of lifelong fascination. (2) a world of ubiquitous, mass-produced cultured meat and farm-free animal products means that cruelty-free meat-based diets will still be an option.

Theo, a perfectly respectable case can be made we should be putting all our energies into ending animal agriculture and none into mitigating its horrors.
But whether in the short, medium or long run, we will need to tackle the biological-genetic roots of suffering.

Anne, I find it [creating pain-free nonhumans] disgusting - like I find the idea of putting cameras in all slaughterhouses disgusting. We should be actively helping sentient beings - and herbivorizing predators - rather than treating them less inhumanely. But the question arises: what should we do until the last slaughterhouse is finally shut, and the last obligate predatory carnivore is genetically reprogrammed?

[on Technology, Religion and the Future]
Technology, Religion and the Future
DP fields questions.
Wide-ranging: mp4

[on orange juice]
Is orange juice a mood-brightener?
Orange Juice and Mood
("Effects of Flavonoid-Rich Orange Juice Intervention on Major Depressive Disorder in Young Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial")

[on mathematics]
If one takes seriously the conjecture that mathematical physics encodes the values and interdependencies of qualia, then the discipline should be utterly fascinating. But just as biochemistry came alive (so to speak) to me only after I learned to associate particular chemicals with particular experiences, the same is true of maths/mathematical physics - with the difference that I doubt the epiphany / breakthrough will happen in my lifetime.

[on suffering and TFOI]
TFOI
Manu, less intuitively, we should be able to get rid of "useful" as well as useless suffering in favour of a more civilized signalling system.
And to critics who say, e.g. without suffering there could be no great art, music etc, we can point to the astonishing art, music (etc) now being generated painlessly by AI.
Javier, No art without emotion? oh, I agree. But zombie AI art software and intelligent prompts can now create works of art that stir deeper aesthetic appreciation than anything that hangs in the Louvre. I'm hooked.

[on perception]
paradise engineering
I don't believe in perception in any conventional sense. The intermittent zombie avatar that bears my name in your phenomenal world-simulation is part of my extended phenotype, but not really me.

David Chalmers on Technophilosphy and the Extended Mind
Listening now. Thanks. The expression “extended mind” means something vastly different to an avowed perceptual direct realist like Andy Clark (but not DC?) than to an inferential realist - who recognises that our minds run phenomenal world-simulations that masquerade as the external environment. Technology doesn’t literally enable our minds to leak into extra-cranial reality.

[on mental health]
Is world-wide mental health deteriorating?
A grim report
("The world’s mental health is in rough shape — and not getting any better, a new report finds")
I've sometimes worried that the 2012 IPSOS survey (cf. Chilled Out) I used to quote a lot was an outlier. Do poorer countries really often record greater self-reported happiness than the rich world - in the case of the IPSOS poll, Indonesia, followed by India, followed by Mexico. But the Sapien report is even grimmer. Cue for a genome reform rant, destined to fall on deaf ears.

[on exercise]
Of the holy trinity of exercise, diet and sleep discipline, aerobic exercise was the last pillar of good health I belatedly got right:
Dopamine and exercise
Running vs Meds
When is the best time of the day to exercise?
Exercise promotes bigger brains
10,000 steps per day is best

[on ENDPAIN on TikTok]
Sean of ENDPAIN is doing an awesome job promoting HI on TikTok:
David Pearce and Olaf Carlson-Wee at Consensus
I suspect the Consensus audience might have been more impressed had I been introduced as crypto-billionaire David Pearce; but sadly that would be stretching it. Still, the message seemed to go down well.

[on nutrition]
Intellectual performance world-wide (and physical and emotional health) could be improved if kindergartens, schools and universities offered free, optimised nutrition for all students and teachers:
Brain foods
("Study finds what to eat to make you smarter. What you eat is linked to higher amounts of grey matter in the brain")

Thank you Róża! The title my err on the side of optimism, but there's very valuable info in:
How Not To Age by Michael Greger.

[on gene-editing treatment]
Gene therapy for angioedema
("World-first gene editing treatment to eliminate angioedema life changing, patient says")
Great news. Now imagine Jo Camerons were the norm, and gene-editing treatment became available to treat people born with the tragic syndrome of ADD (anandamide deficiency disorder): pdf.
I know of no technical reason why we can’t phase out all experience below hedonic zero. And I know of no moral reason why sentient beings should be compelled to undergo experience below hedonic zero without their prior consent.

[on observers]
Maximilian, the concept of an "observer" makes various presuppositions and background assumptions. For a start, "observer" typically assumes a false direct realist theory of perception. But even without this false assumption, the existence of an "observer" - phenomenally-bound subject of experience - presupposes a unified subject. The existence of unified subjects shouldn't be possible if the CNS is just a pack of decohered classical neurons.

For what it's worth, I entertain the conjecture that the binding problem in neuroscience and the measurement problem in QM are two facets of the same mystery - and share a solution:
Two mysteries

[on abolitionism]
Reprogramming the Biosphere by David Pearce
One of my brothers treads a spiritual path. The other is a Deep Green. As a rule of thumb, IMO the project is best served by passing over biographical trivia about its advocates. But that said:
The abolitionist project
Thanks John. Negative utilitarians do indeed want to phase out all kinds of suffering in favour of a more civilized signalling system. But it's worth stressing that one can support the abolitionist project even if phasing out / preventing / minimizing involuntary suffering is only one of your ethical goals. Negative utilitarians (and some Buddhists, etc) are unusual insofar as we view fixing the problem of suffering as ethically all-important.
Until recently, this debate would have been purely philosophical. What's so exciting about biotech is how fixing the problem of suffering will soon be a policy option. Genome reform is hugely controversial. But if we don't tackle the biological-genetic roots of suffering, then obscene levels of mental and physical pain will persist and proliferate indefinitely.

It's a sad fact that (to the best of my knowledge) there exists not a single novel, movie or other work of science fiction where suffering has been entirely abolished and replaced by life based on gradients of intelligent bliss. Thus one knows that if explorers stumble across an alien "utopian" world, it's sure to have a sinister underbelly.  And any attempt to build an ideal society will go horribly wrong. Indeed, even traditional Christian heaven had its dark side, i.e. Satan's rebellion and the fate of fallen angels. The one plot twist no author seems seriously to have considered is we encounter an blissful alien civilisation - and everyone lives happily ever after.

Dave, Andres and I tend to agree on most things. But I'm still much more cautious than QRI about the symmetry theory of valence. I suspect the textures ("what it feels like") of qualia are encoded in the solutions to the equations of QFT. If an informationless zero ontology is true, then in some sense these textures "cancel" to zero. But beyond this speculative constraint, I don't know why the textures of qualia take the values they do - including states of the pleasure-pain axis. Fortunately, HI doesn't depend on a deep understanding of qualia. Compare how if we want to abolish physical pain in humans, then we could simply ensure all kids are born with nonsense mutations of the SCN9A gene (in practice, choosing "low pain" alleles will be wisest for now). Likewise with Jo Cameron's dual FAAH and FAAH-OUT mutations. We can "ring fence" the Evil Zone without - yet - having any kind of proper understanding of its basis.

Objections? With humans, I think the biggest obstacle to phasing out suffering is that talk of genome reform invites the "e" word. A critic can rattle off the history of the eugenics movement and its awful culmination (1933-45). Perhaps the only good argument I know for perpetuating death and aging is how they ensure tyrants and dictatorial regimes can stay in power indefinitely. Phasing out animal agriculture invites charges of promoting "Frankenfoods" (how many people know that cultured meat and farm-free animal products typically aren't genetically engineered?). The most common argument one hears against phasing out predation is that "interfering" with Nature would lead to more suffering, not less, not least via an uncontrollable proliferation of herbivores followed by ecological collapse. (Cross-species immunocontraception is easy enough to explain, but the idea of remotely regulating the population sizes of hundreds of thousands of free-living species via tunable synthetic gene drives sounds like sci-fi). Critics also claim that herbivorization advocates want to practise "genocide" against carnivorous species.

Michael Sometimes I resolve not to get sidetracked by "philosophy". Surely, creating pain-free life should be like creating pain-free surgery. But I know "rationalists" who deny the existence of phenomenal consciousness at all; others (like Eliezer) who deny it to nonhuman animals; others who ascribe it to digital computers (cf. Abolitionist.ai. And so forth.

Thycahye, by all means opt to preserve your own (capacity to experience) pain. The big question is whether we should seek to conserve (a predisposition to) involuntary suffering in others.
Paradise Engineering: Towards the Wellbeing of All Sentience, volume 2 Paradise Engineering: Towards the Wellbeing of All Sentience

[on human diversity]
Unlike fluid intelligence, vocabulary - and recognition of human diversity - may continue to increase until quite late in life:
List of paraphilias
What are the 72 other genders?

[on monistic idealism]
cosmopsychism
Bernardo Kastrup on Idealism
DP's non-materialist physicalism - and why decoherence threatens the prospect of cosmic mind - appears at 16:38.
Wonderful interview. Thank you. The Hard Problem of consciousness arises only if we make a metaphysical assumption, namely that the mysterious "fire" in the equations of QFT differs outside from inside one's head. If we drop the metaphysical assumption, then idealists may turn out to be the true physicalists - the ultimate irony. Transposing the mathematical apparatus of modern physics onto an idealist ontology yields non-materialist physicalism. Only the physical is real. Only the physical is causally effective. Materialists simply misunderstand the intrinsic nature of the physical.

However, here I want just to focus on the implications of decoherence for the possibility of a cosmic mind - or at least the idea that the universal wavefunction could have some kind of phenomenal unity (16: 38). Decoherence makes it desperately hard to understand how individual humans (and nonhuman animals) could have a unified mind, let alone the entire cosmos. For the bedrock of mind is phenomenal binding. Without binding, we'd be micro-experiential zombies. If our nervous systems were made up of billions of effectively classical, membrane-bound micropixels of experience - as suggested by textbook neuroscience - then we'd be mere aggregates of “mind dust”. As far as I can tell, phenomenal binding is non-classical. Unitary-only quantum mechanics suggests our heads are populated by ubiquitous individual "cat states". Neuronal superpositions of distributed feature-processors allow the experience of feature-bound perceptual objects and definite classical outcomes (“perception”). However, thermally-induced decoherence - the scrambling of phase angles of the components of individual neuronal superpositions – in the warm, wet CNS is insanely fast, presumably femtoseconds or less. Decoherence means information is (effectively) irreversibly lost to the environment. At larger scales and hotter temperatures than the CNS, the effective lifetimes of phenomenally-bound individual superpositions must be even shorter. In short, I can understand how to reconcile physicalism with idealism, but not with cosmopsychism - or not yet at any rate!

Andres has a much larger evidential base than most of us.
If the intrinsic nature of the physical is non-experiential, as common sense suggests, then quantum theory can't turn water into wine. However, if we transpose the mathematical apparatus of unitary-only quantum mechanics onto an idealist ontology, then the upshot is an empirically adequate theory of mind and reality of stunning explanatory and predictive power. Byproducts include an understanding of why AI using existing computer architectures can't "wake up" to a solution to the binding problem in neuroscience and the measurement problem in QM. Although I explore non-materialist physicalism
(cf. Non-materialist physicalism)
and quantum mind
(cf. Quantum mind) these ideas are the result of painful thought rather than drug-catalyzed epiphanies.
Also, I take seriously the likelihood that I'm completely wrong!

Most idealists have an agenda - often an edifying and spiritual agenda. But taking the intrinsic nature argument seriously as a potential solution to the Hard Problem yields a physicalist idealism that can be explored by even the most hard-nosed cynic.

[on radical scepticism]
Yes. It's a bit of a paradox.
On the one hand, I think (non-materialist) physicalism is true, which explains the technological success-story of science; and we can at least take a stab at answering the staples of academic philosophy of mind: the Hard Problem of consciousness, the phenomenal binding problem, the problem of the causal-functional-efficacy of consciousness and so forth.
On the other hand, consider the empirical ("relating to experience") evidence. The empirical is all one ever directly knows. Yet science has no idea of why the empirical realm exists at all, or why any of its textures ("what it feels like") take the diverse values they do.
Admittedly, I conjecture the textures of experience are somehow encoded in the solutions to the mathematical formalism of tomorrow's TOE; and they may or may not somehow "cancel out" to zero in an informationless zero ontology.
But we are still profoundly ignorant of almost everything. Posterity may view human everyday life as some kind of waking psychosis. To paraphrase Russell, most of what we think we know is mere familiarity. Thus take a drug that induces derealization and depersonalization and one will realize how little science really understands.

[on overcoming wild animal suffering]
Ahimsa...
paradise engineering paradise engineering
And in a more directly Biblical vein: The Peaceable Kingdom.
Thanks Jonathan. Of course, today it's fantasy. Maybe it's better to keep posting reminders to traditional conservation biologists of the sheer nastiness of real Darwinian life. Stick to gore. But when viewing the scenes of blissful harmony depicted above, you've got to be pretty mean-spirited not to acknowledge that a world without predation would be more civilized than today's horror-show. And the entire living world will soon be (re)programmable.

A vast discipline arose trying to reconcile the supposed goodness of God with the monstrous evils of the world:
Theodicy
I gave the presentation below to a religious audience: pdf The reaction was surprisingly positive. I pitched the herbivorization project essentially as the implementation details of the Book of Isaiah: The Peaceable Kingdom
How else could the "peaceable kingdom" come to pass?
Not all rationalists are willing to pander to religious sensibilities.
But mercifully, none of the world's sacred texts say "Thou shalt not tamper with thy genetic source code".
And perhaps CRISPR can be interpreted as a Gift of God to be used wisely to make His creatures happy.

The Birds Don't Sing...
Burden of Dreams - The Birds Don't Sing, They Screech in Pain
"I don't see [the jungle] so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. It's just - Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and... growing and... just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they - they sing. They just screech in pain[...]"
(Werner Herzog, from documentary, Burden of Dreams
Episode 1: The Birds Don't Sing, They Screech in Pain)
Nature is a monstrous snuff movie. Natural selection is an engine of unimaginable pain and suffering. So what should be done? The cleanest solution would be the (non-violent) retirement of Darwinian malware. This is too far outside the Overton window even to be worth considering. The alternative to retirement is the project of civilising Nature - a terrible irony for a species currently running death-factories. Although technically feasible, civilising Nature will be horrendously complicated and computationally intensive. By analogy, imagine the world’s computers have been infected by virulent polymorphic malware, and we aren’t permitted to eradicate it, just tweak the malware to make its code less pernicious.

Ray, sometimes state-direction works. During WW2, American GDP almost doubled. Either way, my worry is less the death in Nature ("Death may be the greatest of all human blessings." - Socrates), but rather, the horrific suffering that often precedes it. Nature lovers respond that we should focus on the good stuff. But you wouldn't say we had a fun day at the beach apart from the kid that died. In Nature, there are a lot of dead kids.

Maximilian, in the wild, death often comes as a "merciful" release from suffering. But then there are grieving mothers. To stress though: I favour high-tech Jainism and upholding the sanctity of life. The consequences of doing otherwise are typically worse.

Never? Actually, I've been surprised. I never thought wild animal suffering, let alone fixing the problem of predation, would be seriously discussed in my lifetime. Biotech is a gamechanger. For sure, humans are often selfish and callous. But most of us aren't cruel. When the level of suffering in Nature becomes an adjustable parameter, most people will be relaxed at seeing it genetically dialed down.
On reflection, aren't you?

Fly larvae aren't as cognitively sophisticated as mature flies, but they do have rudimentary sentience.
What do flies think about?
That said, we'd do well to focus on tractable problems like ending animal agriculture.
Darwinian life is sick stuff: focusing on the aesthetics is like complimenting the director of a snuff movie on the quality of the camerawork. Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Beata, you've highlighted a problem. Researchers don't use the terms "sentience" and "consciousness" in the same way. For example, I take seriously consciousness fundamentalism as a possible solution to the Hard Problem (non-materialist physicalism). But I'd use the term "sentient" to refer only to a phenomenally-bound subject of experience - ranging from a human to the cephalic ganglion of a bumble bee. Neither of us are "right": these are stipulative definitions, and the scientific and philosophical communities haven't yet arrived at a consensus view.

The moral landscape of biological conservation: Understanding conceptual and normative foundations
"Going beyond rather small-scale interventions (e.g., localised feeding practices), some animal ethicists argue that it is even permissible to go as far as ‘paradise engineering’ – if possible – in the form of fully redesigning nature to alleviate animal suffering (see Nussbaum, 2006; Kianpour and Paez, 2022)."

Herbivorize, wars over paradise engineering?
This would be a terrible irony.
Some forms of paradise engineering are win-win. Thus hedonic uplift can benefit everyone, with no losers.
But if some people are determined to harm other sentient beings, then their desires must be frustrated.
Maybe they can do the "harming" in VR.

Abolishing Predation
Sentient beings shouldn't harm each other. The entire biosphere is now programmable. But (in my view) it's best to research reprogramming (or non-violently retiring) predatory species of nonhuman animal rather than any talk of killing. Population sizes of free-living nonhumans are best regulated via cross-species fertility regulation (using immunocontraception, tunable synthetic gene drives, etc) rather than the cruelties of predation and starvation. Compassionate stewardship of the post-CRISPR biosphere will benefit herbivores and (ex)predators alike.

"Lions deserve to exist as lions indefinitely, and are predators by definition. To remove that is to eradicate them. The fact that you consider it a good idea is unutterably vile. I hate you more than can be expressed. You're like a real world demon
Froglunch, Why such hatred?
Compassionate biologists want to see a happy, peaceful living world.
A blissful biosphere is not the goal of a “demon” as commonly understood.

Rob, Life on Earth is beautiful if you're sitting in a comfortable armchair watching a David Attenborough propaganda video with soul-stirring mood-music to match. But most sentient beings die horribly at an early age, either through starvation or predation - or in slaughterhouses.From Tennyson's "Nature, red in tooth and claw" to even status quo apologists like David Attenborough ("You should see what we leave on the cutting-room floor") anyone who studies the living world will recognise that suffering is endemic. We should fix it.

Rob, many humans, including folk who wear clothes, equate the natural with the good. Therefore there are good ethical reasons for downplaying the extent to which a (conditionally activated) predisposition to sexual coercion has been adaptive in humans and nonhumans alike:
Sexual coercion
The living world contains atrocious suffering. Reference to the cruelties of Nature is an allusion to the fate of the victims, not the motives of the perpetrators. Indeed, in the case of starvation, the countless tragedies stem from an absence of fertility regulation.

Rob, one can't do the logically impossible, i.e., satisfy mutually inconsistent preferences, such a desire to harm and a desire not to be harmed. What we can do is actively respect the deep-seated wish that effectively all sentient beings have in common - the desire not to be harmed.

In a future pan-species welfare state, members of all sentient species will receive equivalent healthcare:
Fish undergoes CT scan due to swimming issue
Compare how Malthusian catastrophe was once thought "inevitable" for humans as well. Then came family planning. CRISPR and gene drives make the fertility of nonhumans regulable too. Should we opt for another few hundred million years of pain, suffering and ultra-violence? Why?

Sayuru, but humans increasingly do rule Nature. Our dominion will only grow as the Anthropocene epoch unfolds. The question to ask is what principles should govern our stewardship of the rest of the living world. What level of violence and suffering in the biosphere is ethically optimal? Nature hasn't been kind enough to allow nonhuman animals to choose whether they want to be pregnant. Hence the countless Malthusian tragedies. But "consent" is a red herring. If human infants & toddlers could get pregnant, we'd put them on birth control. Likewise future nonhumans. Suffering is ugly. Morality trumps aesthetics. But a world without suffering will be more vastly beautiful too. A peaceful, genetically reformed biosphere underpinned by information-sensitive gradients of well-being is not a "perfect" world. But it's vastly more civilized than the status quo. What's more, genome reform can make experience below hedonic zero physiologically impossible.

Carrie, any intellectual worth his salt will relish the label of Dangerous Thinker. But alternatively, the case for using biotech to fix the problem of suffering is… well, kinda obvious - just Buddhism (or Bentham) plus biotech? OK, I know our intemperate friend here will beg to differ. I can understand people who still think the cruelties of Nature are sad but inevitable. But well-fed, well-housed, well-clothed (etc) humans arguing from the comfort of their armchairs that Nature Should Be Left Alone show a lack of reflective self-awareness.

Froglunch, Evolution via natural selection doesn't optimize for happiness or ethics, but rather for inclusive genetic fitness. Hence the cruelties of Darwinian life. But selection pressure has thrown up a species uniquely capable of engineering the well-being of all sentience. Let's do it.

Froglunch, You are focusing entirely on your aesthetic responses to Nature without trying to empathize with the perspectives of its suffering victims.
If you really believe aesthetics trumps all, then you should welcome biotech for its potential to create the molecular machinery of superhuman beauty. Veganizing the Biosphere by David Pearce Veganising the Biosphere by David Pearce Veganising the Biosphere by David Pearce Reprogramming Predators by David Pearce
[on "IQ" hokum]
The Mystery Of Internet Survey IQs
but on balance they make the world a better place.
My scepticism of "IQ" is undimmed

[on non-materialist physicalism]
Reddit Discussion on Non-Materialist Physicalsm
Consciousness is often reckoned ill-defined. By contrast, the nature of physical tends to get treated as unproblematic. But physics itself is silent on the intrinsic nature of the physical. For sure, it's tempting to make a metaphysical assumption, namely that the mysterious "fire" in the equations of QFT is non-experiential. But we lack empirical evidence for such a claim. Dropping the metaphysical assumption yields non-materialist physicalism - which explains all the technological successes of science minus its metaphysical baggage. No least, the metaphysical baggage gives rise to the insoluble Hard Problem of consciousness.

Consciousness mystifies me. But not the mind-body problem. I have no evidence the intrinsic nature of the world’s fundamental quantum fields differs inside and outside my head. If so, then experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical, the mysterious “fire” in the equations. Biological minds are indeed special, but not ontologically special. Rather, our uniqueness lies in how consciousness is phenomenally bound into virtual worlds of experience like the one you instantiate right now. Non-materialist physicalism explains the technological success-story of science minus the superfluous metaphysical baggage. It would be ironic if the one true physicalism was… monistic idealism.

A philosopher might talk of Kant's noumenal essence of the world. Physicist John Wheeler used another metaphor: "What makes the universe fly?" By itself, a mathematical formalism or equation (e.g. the Lagrangian of the Standard Model) just sits inertly on the page or blackboard.
So what exactly is the essence of the physical?
Non-materialist physicalism takes seriously the principle of mediocrity. The intrinsic nature of the world's fundamental quantum fields doesn' differ inside and outside the skull. Physicalism is true, but not materialism. There is no Hard Problem of consciousness because only the physical is real - and experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical.

Russell should be credited with highlighting the silence of science on the intrinsic nature of the physical. Physics mathematically describes the structural-relational properties of matter and energy, but not their essential nature. Russell's "neutral monism" proposes that fundamental reality is neither experiential nor material, but rather, in some sense, neutral between the two.
Panpsychism takes different guises. But typically, panpsychism involves some kind of property dualism.
By contrast, non-materialist physicalism (aka idealist physicalism) is monist to the core. Only the physical is real. Only physical properties are real. Only the physical has causal power. Experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical, the elusive "fire" in the equations.
Is non-materialist physicalism true?
I don't know:
Non-Materialist Physicalism

[on ASI]
"Feeble"? But we have a superpower that classical digital computers lack - phenomenal binding. Binding is the bedrock of mind, sentience and the entire empirical realm. The ignorance of digital zombies is architecturally hardwired. The future belongs to full-spectrum superintelligences.

Our moral obligation to sentient AIs
Alternatively, digital computers are never going to wake up; and we have no obligation towards them at all. None. No phenomenal binding = no mind. It’s surreal. Humans exploit and murder billions of nonhumans as sentient as small children in death factories while simultaneously worrying about the spectre of sentience-(un)friendly AGI and whether digital software has rights.

[on the alleged rediscovery of suffering]
Atilio, I've taken the liberty of reposting here:

"I just asked for an outline (of many possible ones) for a work of fiction based on your work. This is one answer: "Title: Blissful Horizons

In the year 2075, humanity achieved a monumental feat—a world without suffering. Decades of research and advancement in neuroscience, genetics, and artificial intelligence, guided by the principles laid out by philosopher David Pearce, culminated in the eradication of pain, both mental and physical. This achievement marked the dawn of a new era, where gradients of bliss replaced the darkness of suffering.

The story follows Maya, a young woman born in this utopian world, where suffering is but a distant memory. Maya has grown up immersed in a society where happiness is not just a fleeting emotion but a constant state of being. She lives in a bustling city filled with vibrant colors, melodious music, and people exuding a profound sense of contentment.

Maya's journey begins when she stumbles upon an ancient relic from the pre-bliss era—a dusty old book containing the works of David Pearce. As she delves into Pearce's philosophy, Maya becomes increasingly fascinated by the concept of suffering and its historical significance. Despite her society's emphasis on bliss, Maya finds herself drawn to the idea of understanding the human experience in all its complexities.

Driven by curiosity, Maya embarks on a quest to uncover the truth about suffering, despite warnings from her friends and family that such pursuits are unnecessary in their perfected world. Along the way, she encounters individuals who challenge her beliefs, including those who argue that the eradication of suffering has come at a cost—the loss of depth and meaning in human existence.

As Maya delves deeper into her exploration, she begins to experience glimpses of emotions that were once foreign to her—doubt, sadness, even anger. Yet, amidst these unfamiliar sensations, she also discovers moments of profound joy and connection, realizing that the human experience encompasses a spectrum of emotions beyond just bliss.

Ultimately, Maya's journey leads her to a pivotal realization—that true happiness cannot exist without the acknowledgment of suffering. In a world where pain has been eradicated, humanity risks losing its capacity for empathy, growth, and ultimately, its humanity. Armed with this newfound understanding, Maya sets out to challenge the status quo, advocating for a society that embraces the full range of human experiences, both joyful and challenging.

Blissful Horizons is a thought-provoking tale that explores the complexities of human emotion, the nature of happiness, and the importance of embracing the full spectrum of human experience. Through Maya's journey, readers are invited to question the very foundations of their beliefs and consider what it truly means to live in a world without suffering".

A History of The Pleasure-pain Axis

[on aging, death and immortality]
Science will eventually conquer aging:
Delusions of immortality
("In Why We Die, Venki Ramakrishnan demolishes the crackpots and billionaires behind the anti-ageing industry.")
I remain sceptical anyone alive today will make the transition.
Boring? Compared to defeating aging, overcoming the biology of boredom is fairly trivial. Mastery of our reward circuitry promises a world where life is exhilarating by its very nature.
For now, the "eternal-life-would-be-boring" rationalization helps us cope with mortality.

[on wavefunction monism]
Paul, There are technical reasons for supposing that the wavefunction of all reality takes priority over the wave functions of its notional parts - and we should be realists about configuration space [or Hilbert space].
I take seriously the intrinsic nature argument as a possible solution to the (otherwise insoluble) Hard Problem of consciousness. On this story, experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical that the universal wavefunction describes. Decoherence explains why the universal wavefunction isn't a psychotic mega-mind.
I also know of no classical explanation of the phenomenal binding of our minds and the phenomenally-bound world-simulations ("perception") we run.
BUT,
Alas, all such talk is uncomfortably evocative of Deepak Chopra:
Wisdom of Chopra

[on GLP-1 drugs and desire]
Is Ozempic an anti-desire drug?
("Scientists are realizing GLP-1 drugs have the potential to turn down cravings — for more than just food.")

[on mixed states]
Phasing Out Suffering
Theo, No one enjoys some kinds of fear and anxiety - ranging from worries about being unable to pay the bills or losing one's home to the ill-health of a loved one. By contrast, some people (but not others) enjoy horror movies:
Why some people love - or hate - horror movies
In other words, "mixed" states are complicated. We should be free to choose whether we want to undergo "mixed" states or not.
But a world based entirely on gradients of pure bliss will be best.
Compare the effect of, say, catching one's hand in the door with a pinprick - agony and a trivially unpleasant experience. Neither state is "mixed", i.e. with good and bad aspects. The same is true for "pure" well-being, which can vary in intensity without having any negative aspect. Perhaps think of the pleasures of the bedroom transposed to the experience of everyday life.

[on trade-offs]
How should negative utilitarians respond?:,br> Valuing Life
("People Value a Single Human Life Over Entire Species, Survey Reveal")
For evolutionary reasons, humans have all kinds of biases. How many people would value the life of their child over an entire Third World country, for example? I think we should aspire to an impartial God's-eye-view that impartially accesses and weighs all perspectives. No, we can never achieve such a God's-eye-view, but we should at least try.

[on quantum mind]
ubiquitous cat states
It's odd how infrequently scientists, let alone philosophers, ask "How would you experimentally (dis)confirm your theory of consciousness?" rather than exchange intuitions of (im)plausibility.
I've replied, but don't expect any rush to the laboratory...
How strong is the argument for quantum mind theory?
May I make a couple of general comments.
(1) If you don't believe that phenomenal binding is classically impossible, then none of my speculations on quantum mind will be remotely of interest nor worth experimentally falsifying. They are far-fetched. But given textbook neuroscience, phenomenal binding is mystifying. Assume that we are packs of effectively classical neurons. If so, then why aren't we (at most) just micro-experiential zombies, just patterns of membrane-bound neuronal “mind-dust”? How could 86 billion or so membrane-bound micro-pixels of experience create a mind, a phenomenally-bound subject of experience running a real-time world-simulation (what naive realists call “perception”) like the one you instantiate now?

(2) If you don't take seriously what philosophers call the intrinsic nature argument (cf. Non-materialist physicalism) as a possible solution to the Hard Problem of consciousness, then none of my speculations on quantum mind will remotely be of interest nor worth experimentally falsifying either. For if (as common sense suggests) the world's fundamental quantum fields are intrinsically non-experiential, then there is no experience phenomenally to bind in the first instance. Invoking quantum theory won’t help turn water into wine.

However, if you're still with me, then a “Schrödinger neurons" conjecture is worth experimentally (dis)confirming. As far as I can tell, “cat states” are all one ever knows. “Cat states” make the experience of definite outcomes possible (cf. The Measurement Problem). Note that what’s most counterintuitive about the conjecture isn't the proposed existence of neuronal superpositions - even individual superpositions of distributed neuronal feature-processors. For if neuronal superpositions were ever proven experimentally not to exist, then physics would be rocked to the core. Even the slightest departure from the unitary Schrödinger dynamics would involve some sort of a “dynamical collapse” theory, i.e. radically new physics. Here at least I’m boringly orthodox. Rather, the reason that most physicists would reject a “Schrödinger's neurons" conjecture out of hand - as likewise would educated laymen who understand decoherence - is simply that the effective lifetime of neuronal superpositions in the CNS is far too short - femtoseconds or less, i.e. irrelevant psychotic noise.
Well, maybe.
Let's use interferometry to find out!

Tim, if I weren’t convinced that phenomenal binding in four-dimensional space-time is classically impossible, I wouldn’t even consider quantum mind theories. But I can understand in principle - not in detail! - how a CNS of zillions of individual “cat states” could run a phenomenally-bound, subjectively classical world-simulation of the kind you’re experiencing right now. By contrast, I’ve not the slightest idea how a pack of decohered classical neurons could generate a subjectively classical world-simulation. At most, we should be patterns of “mind-dust”. [Usual disclaimer: reality baffles me. If my background assumptions are wrong - not least, unitary-only QM and the intrinsic nature argument to dissolve the Hard Problem - then the conjecture fails.]

Terra, thank you. I like to stress HI is dissociable from my highly speculative conjectures on quantum mind. But they aren't unrelated. For instance, if I'm right about the non-classicality of phenomenal binding, then we don't need to worry about LLMs, implementations of classical Turing machines and classical computers in general ever "waking up", let alone suffering. Digital mind is an oxymoron. But we need to make sure that we get our theory of consciousness - if not right - at least not catastrophically wrong.

First an apologetic note about terminology. The position I explore, non-materialist or idealist physicalism, has obvious affinities with Strawson's. "Strawsonian physicalism" also sounds more austere - particularly to the ears of older people who confuse Galen with his illustrious father, Sir Peter. But I subsequently discovered that Galen Strawson is a perceptual direct realist. IMO, direct realism is radically mistaken. So I now stick to "non-materialist physicalism".

You say, "Physics is a field of study, not an ontology". Indeed so. What is the mysterious "fire" in equations - the mathematical straitjacket of quantum physics? Does the intrinsic nature of the world's fundamental quantum fields differ outside from inside one's head? Intuitively, yes. But non-materialist physicalism just drops the metaphysical assumption that underlies materialism. So the notorious Hard Problem of consciousness doesn’t arise. Experience discloses the essence of the physical. We must still solve the binding problem. Enter quantum mind.

Before launching into quantum mind speculations, it's better (I now realize) to start with the mystery that provoked the second leg of my voyage into crazyland. Does phenomenal binding have a classical explanation? I can't see how: Is Phenomenal Binding Classically Impossible?
[The first leg of the journey was thinking about the implications of the intrinsic nature argument as the only physicalist solution I could think of to the Hard Problem of consciousness]

Microtubules are cool. But a pack of 86 billion quantum neurons is still a micro-experiential zombie!
Eric, allow me to share a little intellectual background. For a very long time, I’ve assumed that physicalism - more specifically, unitary-only QM  - offers our best formal description of the world. Hence the technological success of science. The mystery is the existence of consciousness. My introduction to (what analytic philosophers call) the intrinsic nature argument was via the late Michael Lockwood (Mind, Brain and the Quantum (1991)). I explore the most “extreme” form of the intrinsic nature argument. If the intrinsic nature of the world’s fundamental quantum fields - i.e. the essence of the physical - is experiential, then the so-called Hard Problem doesn’t arise. Only the physical is real. Only the physical has causal efficacy. The Hard Problem arises only because materialists misunderstand the intrinsic nature of the physical, the "fire" in the equations. Organic minds are indeed special, but that's because of how consciousness is phenomenally bound, not its creation de novo. Anyhow, my "Schrödinger's Neurons" talk / paper was inspired by David Chalmers' "The Combination Problem for Panpsychism" (pdf). Some exceedingly smart people do and don't "get" the phenomenal binding / combination problem - not the question of whether classical digital computers can replicate functional capacities that in humans and non-animals require phenomenal binding, but rather, the mystery of why we aren't just some 86 billion membrane-bound micro-pixels of neuronal "mind dust".

I gather Mariven is confident that the phenomenal binding of organic minds has a classical explanation; and that phenomenally-bound digital minds are feasible too. This would be momentous if true. What's currently lacking is any kind of derivation. Textbook neuroscience, i.e. alluding to the synchronous firing of distributed neuronal feature-processors when we experience a perceptual object, just re-states the mystery rather than solves it. Worth noting too is that traditional formulations of the phenomenal binding / combination problem assume wholly decohered classical neurons and four-dimensional spacetime. As shown by Bell tests, quantum phenomena show non-local correlations in 4D-spacetime BUT up in Hilbert space or configuration space where the real drama unfolds, the quantum state evolves locally because it's governed by the Schrödinger equation, a local differential equation. The interferometry experiment I proposed in Schrödinger's Neurons is (too?) technically demanding. But there must be other, indirect tests too. For example, replace your V4 cortical neurons (destruction causes achromatopsia) with what would naively be called their silicon functional surrogates. On a classical, coarse-grained functionalist story, replacement by silicon surrogates allows perceptual objects to continue to seem colorful as before. If so, then my account is falsified! End of story. I predict instead total achromatopsia (cfQuantum mind)
I'm sure there must be easier experimental (dis)confirmations too.
Just to stress again, I don't believe this stuff. I just explore a conjecture...

Just as I know the only way you or I could understand tetrachromacy is to upgrade our biological hardwire, we can imagine a sufficiently advanced AI designing and manufacturing an information-processing system with the right kind of architecture to support phenomenal binding, hence mind. My claim is "just" that no classical digital computer can support sentience.

Zurek's "quantum Darwinism" is most fundamental of all:
Quantum Darwinism and the spreading of classical information in non-classical theories": QD (pdf)
Zurek ducks out of applying QD inside the skull; but as far as I can tell, our experience of phenomenally-bound classical worlds is mediated by entirely by "cat states":
Quantum Mind

Forgive me, but I don’t “blindly believe”. But if our zombie friend corroborates what I already believe, this increases my credence. And as a one-fingered typist, if I can do in 5 seconds what would otherwise take 5 minutes, I sometimes succumb to temptation with a credited cut-and-paste. Either way, my Quora answers belong to the pre-LLM era. Whether this makes them any more reliable is debatable.

What use are quantum computers?
("Google launches $5m prize to find actual uses for quantum computer. Existing quantum computers can solve some problems faster than any ordinary computer, but none of those problems has any practical use. Google and XPRIZE hope to change that")
Uniquely, Nature's quantum computers can access - and computationally exploit - the empirical realm. Phenomenal binding is our superpower. Natural selection has harnessed classically impossible phenomenal binding to create minds. Since the late Pre-Cambrian if not before, minds have run external world-simulations that masquerade as the local environment (”perception”). By contrast, classical computers are computationally crippled zombies.

[on HedWeb]
HedWeb is now 28 years old. It's been quite a journey.
A HISTORY OF HEDWEB by David Pearce HEDWEB by David Pearce A HISTORY OF HEDWEB by David Pearce HEDWEB by David Pearce

[on life wisdom]
I wish mine were more uplifting. It's not even original.
"Only the paranoid survive." (Andrew Grove)
Even in the most convivial social setting, I'm always asking: what could go wrong?
Alas, I haven't always been "paranoid" enough. But the abolitionist project involves building a world where reality itself seems conspiring to help you. In a Darwinian world, this prospect can seem a distant dream.

[on phasing out suffering]
Phasing Out Suffering
Thanks Adam. A question worth asking is why phasing out the biology of suffering hasn't "captured the narrative" in EA or transhumanist circles - and what we can do about it. The abolitionist project is very much a minority current. For sure, biological-genetic solutions are fraught with pitfalls. But unless we tackle the biological-genetic roots of suffering, life just isn't going to get better...
Mental Health is Deteriorating
("Global Report Paints a 'Worrying Picture' of Post-Pandemic Mental Health")
Mental health is typically worse in the richer nations.

Theo, speaking as a (somewhat prudish) celibate philosopher, the example I sometimes give is making love. Love-making has peaks and dips of pleasure. The dips are functionally analogous to disappointment. But if done properly, lovemaking is generically pleasurable throughout. Now imagine the information-sensitive dips and peaks of lovemaking translated into a more cerebral context - or just everyday life. This isn't sci-fi. There really is a very small minority of genetic outliers who bounce through life animated entirely by gradients of well-being. Of course, their well-being pales compared to the gradients of superhuman bliss enjoyed by our posthuman descendants.

Poisonous nonsense...
"I hope suffering happens to you."
(Jensen Huang — founder and CEO of Nvidia, the AI chip company that's on a rocket ride — last week offered a sadistic wish while speaking to Stanford students")
The Gift of Pain

[on representation theory]
"I suspect we are the first civilization in human history that developed a sound theory of representation. (I challenge you to point me to Sanskrit characterizations of constructive truth definitions, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and Turing universality)"
Joshua, Maybe! A critic might say the foundations of modern representation theory are rotten, and Hartry Field (Science Without Numbers: A Defense of Nominalism. 1980, 2016) is anticipated by a distinguished Sanskrit nominalist scholars like Bhartrhari.
Nominalism past and present

[on fine-tuning]
But does it?
The Fine-Tuning Argumrbnt Works
Matthew, I hope you're right! But take entropy. You might want to respond to Max Tegmark: "the entropy of the entire universe may well equal zero, since if it started in a pure state, unitarity ensures that it is still in a pure state" – “How unitary cosmology generalizes thermodynamics and solves the inflationary entropy problem”.
pdf Also, invoking God - or the Devil, or a Simulator (etc) - leads to a notorious explanatory regress. So I lean to some kind of informationless zero ontology where "fine-tuning" is just an anthropic selection effect: A Zero Ontology
Wavefunction monism is intellectually elegant, ethically horrific.
I hope I'm mistaken.
"Everettian QM doesn't solve fine-tuning because all the universe branches have the same physics."
Matthew, As I understand it, most cosmologists assume that in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, a “superforce” split apart into gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces and the electromagnetic force. During these phase transitions, the apparently fire-tuned laws and constants of physics as we understand them came into being. But if unitary-only QM is correct, then presumably all physically possible values of these "laws" and "constants" are realised on pain of the creation of information ex nihilo. Unsurprisingly, we find ourselves in a world with laws and constants fine-tuned for life. Note that the multiverse isn't being conjured up by Everettians to explain ostensible fine-tuning, but rather it follows from taking the universal Schrödinger equation at face value.
That said (1) cosmology is in flux; and (2) I am not a physicist!

Does traditional Everettian QM illicitly smuggle in non-zero information?
Sizng up the multiverse
("Physicists Think The Infinite Size of The Multiverse Could Be Infinitely Bigger")

Compare the twisted history of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy">theodicy
Modern rationalists are more likely to discuss the Simulation Hypothesis. On technical grounds, I'm a sceptic; but if I weren't, what do the horrors of suffering say about our Simulator? For what it's worth, I suspect a single principle underlies the whole shebang:
Why does anything exist?

[on happiness]
So much waffle...when can the biology of happiness be precision-engineered?
Happy Brains
("Can you rewire your brain for happiness? Dr. Sanjay Gupta weighs in")

[on thinking about a zero ontology]
As a troubled teen, my ancestral namesake used to rock back-and-forth like an autistic child with my eyes closed for hours on end ruminating on the nature of thought and existence. (My mother claimed I rocked two sofas to death). Why did anything exist? What would the existence of no properties at all involve? I read pop science - everything from interpretations of QM / Everett to the idea of deriving the whole of maths from the empty set to Ed Tryon's zero-energy universe conjecture (Is positive mass-energy exactly balanced by negative gravitational potential energy?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-energy_universe).
My "aha" moment came when reading some introductory computing text. Zero information = all possible descriptions. Everett sprang to mind. Were we living in the quantum analogue of the informationless Library of Babel?

One difference from other authors who explore this explanation-space is that most philosophers and philosophically-minded scientists assume that the riddle of existence and the Hard Problem of consciousness are distinct mysteries. However, if non-materialist physicalism is true, then the mysteries are one-and-the-same:
Non-materialist physicalism

Of course, we still don't know why anything exists! Some critical insight is missing. But the existence of this explanation-space makes me very sceptical of stories involving a Creator.

I don't rock autistically any more - or think as much. (The nearest I come to a behavioral eccentricity is sometimes standing on one leg if I don't think anyone is looking But on occasion I intone as a mantra, "Why does anything exist?" several hundred times to induce an altered state of consciousness.
I don't know if this mediational practice has a name.

Of course, all analogies break down somewhere. An informationless Zero Ontology only works because amplitudes in QM are complex numbers, and summing two amplitudes can yield zero. I don't know how to turn this cancellation into Borgesian metaphor. But just conceivably, we're living in the quantum analogue of the Library of Babel.

[on the intrinsic nature argument]
The intrinsic nature argument as a proposed solution to the Hard Problem takes different guises. For example, it's sometimes suggested that we perceive only the outer aspect of material objects, whereas experience discloses their intrinsic nature. But this view presupposes an untenable perceptual direct realism. Non-materialist physicalism (as I conceive it) is different. Awake or dreaming, the "material world" is an egocentric phenomenal world-simulation run by one's skull-bound mind. The wider cosmos can be theoretically inferred; it's not "perceived". And the intrinsic nature of the physical, the essence of the world's fundamental fields as described by the formalism of QFT, is experiential. Phenomenal minds and the world-simulations we run have only been around half a billion years or so. Experiential physical reality is billions of years older.
I'm confident of inferential realism.
By contrast, non-materialist physicalism is just my working hypothesis. If it's false, I've not the slightest idea how to solve the Hard Problem.

[on Orch-OR]
Tristan, experimentally (dis)confirmable theories of consciousness like Orch-OR are rare. What’s more, we have scientific evidence of anomalously long-lived quantum coherence in neuronal microtubles. So why am I still a sceptic? Two main reasons.
(1) the only way that most physicists will take Orch-OR seriously is experimental demonstration of a collapse-like deviation from the unitary Schrödinger dynamics. It hasn’t happened. On “philosophical” as well as technical grounds, I’m unconvinced it ever will.
My second reason for scepticism relates to the phenomenal binding problem.
(2) Suppose claims about quantum coherence in microtubules withstand scientific scrutiny. If neurons themselves are effectively discrete, decohered objects communicating across chemical and electrical synapses, then we should at most be micro-experiental zombies, just aggregates of membrane-bound “mind-dust” - despite our neurons’ quantum innards. I don’t see how Orch-OR solves the phenomenal binding problem.
The version of quantum mind I play with does resolve the binding problem. It involves no new physics, no “dynamical collapse”. Alas a “Schrödinger’s neurons” conjecture is also (at least to anyone who understands decohence) utterly insane:
Quantum Mind

Thanks Tristan. I'd repeat my commendation or Orch-OR for being experimentally falsifiable. That said, it's not clear (to me) that Orch-OR escapes the Hard Problem. Thus according to Orch-OR, subjective experience arises (how?) with an event, quantum collapse, a reconfiguration of spacetime geometry. The "orchestration" is an allusion to entanglement among microtubules. Just how the non-experiential gives rise to the non-experiential is unexplained: there's no derivation.

Contrast, non-materialist physicalism (NMP) - the quantum-theoretic version of the intrinsic nature argument. NMP solves the Hard Problem, the binding problem and the problem of causal efficacy without invoking new (i.e. non-unitary) physics. Only the physical is real. But the intrinsic nature of the physical differs from what materialist metaphysicians suppose:
Non-materialist physicalism

Do I believe NMP?
No! It's just my working hypothesis.

[on utopian dreams]
"We, who are the Last Men … speak to you now from [~2Byrs] in your future.
When your writers romance about the future,
they imagine a progress toward some kind of utopia
where beings like themselves live in unmitigated bliss.
No such paradise existed through the eons that lie between your age and mine."
Last And First Men (2020)
I guess information-sensitive gradients of bliss are "mitigated" bliss.
In fairness, it's almost impossible to write a compelling work of fiction about a future world where everything is sublime. I know of no novel or movie when experience below hedonic zero has been eradicated in favour of gradients of superhuman bliss.
Evoking such a world would take true genius.

[on abolitionism]
Nothing else matters more:
abolitionism

[on melancholia]
I prefer my cartoon avatar to its organic counterpart:
A brief history of melancholy
by Courtney Stephens.
A brief history of melancholy
On a more serious note, I worry that "melancholia" and even "sadness" are terms with a vaguely romantic feel; they fail to convey the sheer nastiness of depression.

[on micro-pains in micro-organisms]
We may well be sceptical that a unicellular animal can suffer - as distinct from undergo micro-pinprick level of unpleasant experience. But yes, HI advocates (and cautiously predicts) that all experience below hedonic zero should (and will) be phased out. How? One option is synthetic gene drives. genetically customize or select a benign mutation - even if the mutation in question would normally carry a modest fitness cost to the sexually reproducing microorganism in question. Release a few hundred of the genetically modified organisms. The benign mutation will then rapidly spread to the entire species. Microorganisms reproduce fast.
gene-drives.com

Theo, what's needed is a sense of "us" that embraces all sentient beings - essentially the 1.5+ million species of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the kingdom Animalia. Uniquely, members of the animal clade have phenomenally-bound minds and a pleasure-pain axis. Sometimes today we must prioritise, which is invidious. But our long-term ethical goal - I'd argue - should be the well-being of all sentience.

[on Deep Utopia and FHI]
Deep Utopia by Nick Bostrom
Nick foresees a future of sentient AI and zillions (septillions? octillions?) of digital "mind uploads":
Sentient ChatGPT?
("Nick Bostrom says AI chatbots may have some degree of sentience. More and more people are saying this")S
Astronomical Waste
I agree AI will be transformative beyond human imagination. But in my view, classical computers are no more conscious than a rock -Nick and I differ over the binding problem. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but if so, I'd like to know how. The abolitionist project would be transformed, for a start.

"Only the paranoid survive" is still my number one piece of life-wisdom. Nick wasn't paranoid enough:
The FHI has shut down
More on the urbane savagery of chimpanzee politics here and here.

I recall
DP and FHI and indeed delivering The Abolitionist Project in 2007.
Anders has done a write-up:
FHI 2005-2024: Final Report.
Maybe Oxford will resume Ordinary Language Philosophy.

"Bostromgate"? In the hundreds of hours of discussions I had with Nick before, during, and after setting up the World Transhumanist Association last century, Nick never once said anything remotely racist. My lefty-woke antennae would certainly have registered if he had (we disagreed over speciesism, but that's another story.) So the offensively-worded email didn't make sense - until I learned the context.
Unwise, but a nothingburger.
Our paths have since diverged. But my number-one piece of life wisdom over time hasn't changed. "Only the paranoid survive." (Andy Grove).
Nick wasn't paranoid enough.
Nonsense:
'Eugenics on steroids’
("the toxic and contested legacy of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute")

[on full-spectrum superintelligence]
Does the future belong to phenomenally-bound minds or digital zombies?
And will the text of "Full-Spectrum Superintelligence" be written by a phenomenally-bound mind or insentient machine intelligence?
Full-Spectrum Superintelligence by David Pearce Full-Spectrum Superintelligence by David Pearce
In the meantime, here is the Powerpoint and pdf of a talk I gave to students of Kim Solez in March:
Full-Spectrum Superintelligence (pdf)
What are the upper bounds to zombie intelligence? I don't know. By contrast, there are strong theoretical arguments against digital zombies ever being able to wake up; and their inability to bind has far-reaching computational-functional consequences.

Thanks! The subjective experiences ("qualia") of someone with e.g. integrative agnosia, or simultanagnosia, or akinetopsia ("motion blindness") or other rare binding deficit disorders differ from neurotypicals. Likewise their functional capacities. Digital zombie workarounds sometimes exist for an inability to bind - a human novice will always beat someone with simultanagnosia at chess, yet Stockfish slaughters us all - but phenomenal binding is our computational superpower. On this story, the future belongs to supersentient, full-spectrum superintelligences, namely our AI-augmented, genetically rewritten biological descendants, not cognitively crippled digital zombies.
How do organic minds do it?
The explanation is controversial. But in my view, phenomenal binding is non-classical:
DP interview

[on the Hedonic Treadmill]
David Moritz, oh indeed. The hedonic treadmill isn't inherently bad. The hedonic treadmill can - and maybe will - function in a future civilisation underpinned by gradients of superhuman bliss. In such a heavenly world, the hedonic treadmill truly will be a "hedonistic treadmill" as it is sometimes misnamed today. Recall how I often speak of "information-sensitive gradients of bliss".
However, in a Darwinian world, the negative feedback mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill are often cruel insofar as they condemn folk with a low hedonic set-point to a life punctuated by frequent misery and malaise. Whatever such folk do to improve their lives doesn't leave them above hedonic zero for long.
Hence the need for set-point recalibration.

[on pain and abolitionism]
Should We End Pain?
si=EG2vZ7IoxLu4i4xA&fbclid=IwAR1MDj1jCPHi71L5frwZ_eLBz4k3LV_6m6kJ3OsDj-TqpDqhd7NiszVi1fI Thank you. Life on Earth deserves a more civilized signalling system. But before ending pain altogether, we should use biotech to ensure all sentient beings have benign versions of the FAAH, FAAH-OUT and SCN9A genes ("the volume knob for pain"). Today pain-sensitivity varies immensely. Compare lucky outliers who say things like ,"Oh, pain, it's just a useful signal system". So before any utopian transition to a world based on information-signalling gradients of bliss and/or smart neuroprostheses, we should use genome reform to civilize the biosphere: a "low pain" world to precede a "no pain" world.

What's more, the only time in her life Jo Cameron felt really sick was when she was given an unsolicited injection of morphine by well-meaning doctors. Presumably Jo native opioid function is already high. A world of Jo Camerons presumably wouldn't have an opioid use epidemic.
Can we envisage a world where all babies are engineered with Jo's dual FAAH and FAAH-OUT mutation, and existing beings are offered gene therapy?
The dawn of the post-suffering era?
(Beyond Humanism) Fantasy, alas - for now.

In the long run, we need a more civilised signalling system to deal with noxious stimuli than gradations of phenomenal pain. But until that happy era arrives, pain should be tamed. The other key player is the SCN9A gene.
A Scientific Breakthrough Has Unveiled the Ancient Source of Our Pain
Just as AI can now outperform humans at chess (etc), likewise future AI-powered neuroprostheses will be able to outperform humans (and other animals) at nociception.

[on antinatalism]
"Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. we have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief. we have never seen a totally sane human being.”
(Robert Anton Wilson)
I've been told by hardliners I'm not a "true" antinatalist:
DP on genome reform
But I favour human extinction by the only route consistent with selection pressure. My "soft" antinatalism is also critiqued in Antinatalism, Extinction, and the End of Procreative Self-Corruption (pdf) by Matti Häyry and Amanda Sukenick.

Efilist antinatalists are often reckoned pessimists about life. But efilists are hopelessly optimistic. Efilists imagine that life on Earth can conceivably be ended by not having children. Efilists underestimate the insidious evil of Darwinian life, and the corrupting power of pleasure, not least love and sex.
The only way I know that Darwinian life can be eradicated is genome reform. Natalism in a world underpinned by gradients of bliss is defanged.
Quite possibly I'm too optimistic as well.
The Case Against Children.

"If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?”
(Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism: The Essays)
Trying to gauge the Overton window 20 or 200 years from now is a huge challenge. But just as I don’t argue that predatory species should be retired but instead herbivorized, likewise I don’t urge "hard", extinctionist antinatalism, but instead responsible parenthood and germline reform.
Such advocacy doesn’t reflect how I really feel about Darwinian lifeforms. But my feelings aren't going to count a lot in the great scheme of things. The future belongs to life lovers:
Hard Antinatalism and Selection Pressure

[on the Biohappiness Revolution in Russian]
The word is spreading:
Biohappiness Revolution (Russian)
Superhappiness by David Pearce

[on post-October 7th Gaza]
Humans are awesome
نانسي نانسي, whether we study twentieth-century or the tragedy unfolding in post-October 7th Gaza, "awesome" is not the epithet for humanity that comes to mind. But some of the worst horrors that humans perpetrate are never in the news headlines at all. Our victims are invisible and anonymous. I'm hoping a gentle nudge will encourage Lex to take a stand on the plight of our nonhuman victims.

[on privacy]
Pimeyes:
Face Search Engine Reverse Image Search
I did a test. Not bad:
DP on the Net

[on physicalistic idealism]
Physics is silent about the intrinsic nature of the physical, the mysterious "fire" in the equations. We may wonder whether the "fire" in the equations is experiential or non-experiential. Both proposals are metaphysical. But you instantiate one tiny part of the "fire" in the equations; and the materialist conjecture that its nature radically differs outside your head is, in one sense, a bolder metaphysical conjecture than the conjecture that it's no different:
Non-materialist physicalism

Physicalism best explains the technological success story of science. Traditional forms of idealism are empirically adequate - but leave the success of science a miracle. But what if the intrinsic nature of the world's fundamental quantum fields doesn't differ outside from inside one's head? On this conjecture, experience is the essence of the physical, the mysterious "fire" in the equations of QFT. Physicalism entails(!) idealism. Biological minds are special, but not because we manufacture an unphysical consciousness, but rather, the way we phenomenally bind it into virtual worlds of experience like the egocentric world-simulation you're undergoing right now.
Yes, speculation. The truth is probably crazier.

Raymond, I take seriously the possibility that a single-celled organism could have a primordial pleasure-pain axis with computational powers. But minds can arise only when - somehow - a bunch of neurons supports a unified subject of experience, typically a rudimentary world-simulation - what naive realists call perceiving your external environment. A living world of micro-experiential zombies would be a world in which nothing really mattered in anything but the most trivial sense. I speculate on how such phenomenal binding in nervous systems is physically possible. However, the conjecture that phenomenal binding is non-classical is highly controversial and should be flagged as such.
No one knows how we do it.

Today, sperm whales have the biggest minds. But what are the theoretical upper bounds? What might play out on the event horizon of a supermassive black hole? Alas, background assumptions differ - not least my entrenched view that phenomenal binding, hence mind, is non-classical!

[on becoming posthuman: the role of AI]
David Pearce and James Hughes debare the future
Youtube
Adam, thank you again. Quite a striking contrast between James (rights for robots, but OK with meat-eating) and DP (no rights for digital zombies, but a plea for a moral revolution in our treatment of nonhuman animals).
What does it mean to be posthuman? A pleasure-superpleasure axis to replace the old pleasure-pain axis; access to billions of state-spaces of experience as different as waking from dreaming; ubiquitous neurochips so organic life can enjoy all the benefits of zombie-AI. A big difference that came out in our discussion is that James believes we should prepare for sentient AI, whereas in my view no binding = no mind = invincible ignorance of the empirical realm. Phenomenal binding is our computational superpower. On this story, the future belongs to supersentient, full-spectrum superintelligences in basement reality, not digital zombies. Classical information processors will augment not replace minds.

Anyone who isn't profoundly disturbed by the suffering of Darwinian life hasn't understood it. Natural selection is an engine of unimaginable cruelty and suffering. Humans are the worst offenders; not least, we abuse and kill billions of nonhumans as sentient as small children in death factories. So creating sentience-friendly biological intelligence is a daunting challenge. The future role of AI in helping fix the problem of suffering is currently unclear. A hypothetical benevolent superintelligence would never have created a Darwinian hellworld; and it's hard to imagine superintelligence would show status quo bias. However, as I argue in the debate with James, classical computers are cognitively crippled: the entire empirical realm is computationally inaccessible to a digital zombie. Belief in imminent AGI/ASI is groupthink, not expertise. Instead, as far as I can tell, the future belongs to supersentient full-spectrum superintelligences - our AI-augmented, genetically-rewritten biological descendants. And if we're willing to embrace germline reform, we can fix the problem of suffering - for ever.

Adam, if I'm confounded and phenomenal binding terms out to be classically explicable, then presumably digital computers could support minds - including human "mind uploads" / whole brain emulations, sentient digital civilizations, digital hellworlds and who knows what else. The abolitionist project as conceived by HI would be transformed. New treatises and manifestos would be called for - including the "robot rights" James was pushing in our recent debate. However, IMO the generative AI revolution of the past 18 months hasn't been marked by even the hint of proto-minds - but rather, the continuing divorce of intelligent behaviour from conscious mind that began with the birth of AI itself. This won't stop credulous humans anthropomorphizing our machines. And indeed, I assume zombie robo-companions, robo-lovers, robo-therapists and robo-conversationalists will soon surpass archaic humans - for most purposes at any rate.

[on boredom and The Fun Theory Sequence]
QualiaNerd, I fear I might be too bland! In a post in Serious Stories in The Fun Theory Sequence, EY argues that phasing out all forms of suffering would make life boring, just as a story lacking any conflict is boring. So EY instead proposes to abolish only the worst forms of suffering, while preserving its milder guises. However, this worry strikes me as misplaced. Future life could be underpinned by a biology of gradients of superhuman fascination. Boredom may become physiologically impossible. Perhaps the dullest moments of posthuman life will be more enthralling than human “peak experiences”.

EY might respond that this whole debate is now moot because ASI is likely to obliterate sentient life in the next decade or two. Once again, we differ. In my view, classical digital zombies are cognitively crippled: no binding = no mind = hardwired ignorance of the entire empirical realm. The future - as far as I can tell - belongs to supersentient full-spectrum superintelligences - our AI-enhanced and genetically reformed biological descendants.

[on consciousness and digital computers]
"The only way to put your consciousness in a digital computer."
(QualiaNerd)
consciousness in a computer
Dr Eureka is invincibly ignorant of visual experience and the entire empirical realm. Compare how if you're born with anophthalmia and thus congenitally blind, you might rig yourself up with a spectrometer (etc) and behave much like sighted people. You may regurgitate a lot of stuff you've heard about visual experience. But you won't be able to access, investigate, manipulate and talk about your visual experience because you don't have any: you'll need to upgrade your hardware, so to speak. By the same token, I'd love to be able to experience the 100 million or so colours of a tetrachromat rather than my neurotypical 10 million. Alas my ignorance is hardwired. Note I'm not especially interested in functional role, if any: I'd just like to undergo some new colours. Indeed, most state-spaces of experience haven't been recruited by natural selection for any information-signalling purpose; this is one of the reasons why navigating drug-induced altered states is so challenging.

[on consciousness and physicalism]
Transposing the entire mathematical apparatus of modern physics onto an ontology of qualia (cf. Non-materialist physicalism) is consistent with the empirical evidence. Mathematical physics describes the values and interrelationships of experience.
Non-materialist physicalism also dissolves the Hard Problem of consciousness. Only the physical is real. And the problem of causal efficacy: only the physical has causal power. And the binding and measurement problems. In a slightly more speculative vein, the ubiquity of the superposition principle even hints at an explanation of why we're here: an informationless zero ontology.
Is non-materialist physicalism true?
I don't know.

Dan, Universal Turing machines = superidiot savants. Seriously. Regardless of substrate, any information processing system without the capacity for phenomenal binding can never generate a mind. All classical Turing machines are invincibly ignorant of the empirical (“relating to experience”) realm. Inconceivably vast state-spaces of consciousness await exploration by posthuman superminds. Zombie AI doesn’t know what it’s missing.

[on scepticism]
A pessimist writes...
Consciousness is all I've ever known. Alas, I've no idea why consciousness exists at all, or why its diverse textures ("what it feels like") take the values they do, or any explanation of the interrelationships between these diverse textures. I don't understand how the conscious medium of my thoughts shapes their nominal content, nor how the properties of this medium metamorphose under the influence of consciousness-altering drugs. And I can't access most of the billions(?) of alien state-spaces of consciousness latent in suitably configured matter and energy to compare and contrast their properties. What's more, even if I could access such alien state-spaces, it's unlikely there is a "neutral", canonical state-space from which a full-spectrum superintelligence could appraise all the others: Kuhn's incommensurability of paradigms could as well be applied to alien to state-spaces of experience as to different conceptual frameworks in physics. And there are no "easy" problems of consciousness either. Thus the "neural correlates of consciousness" are as much subjective experiences of one's own mind and the phenomenal world-simulation it runs as one's innermost feelings. And I don't understand how to naturalize semantic meaning and reference so I can adequately talk about these challenges.
On a (very) weakly optimistic note...
If we take the intrinsic nature argument seriously, then all the traditional staples of academic philosophy of mind are soluble. Thus there is no Hard Problem of consciousness if experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical; the phenomenal binding problem is an artefact of perceptual naive realism and false classical physics; and there is no problem of causal efficacy because all and only the physical has causal power: materialist metaphysicians misunderstand the essence of the physical. And there is no need for new physics: Consciousness doesn't collapse any wave functions. As far as I can tell, the formalism of unitary-only quantum mechanics is complete.
But on balance?
I suspect our successors will reckon that Darwinian minds are psychotic, trapped in state-spaces of delusion the nature of which is impossible to grasp from the inside.

[on Donalf Hoffman's idealsm]
DefaultEnlightenment The real-time world-simulations ("perception") run by animal minds often misrepresent mind-independent reality. As Donald Hoffman says, "fitness beats truth" (interface theory) And what naive realists imagine as material reality is indeed internal to one's skull-bound-mind. But (IMO) the best explanation of the technological success-story of science is that realism and physicalism are true. What's more, if the intrinsic nature argument is sound, then experience discloses the intrinsic nature of the physical: the mysterious "fire" in the equations of QFT. So there is no Hard Problem of consciousness. By contrast, in The Case Against Reality (2019), Donald Hoffman argues there is no mind-independent physical reality, or at least (in some sense I don't quite fathom) anything "physical" (like particles and fields) is an epiphenomenon caused by fundamental reality, consciousness.

As you'll have gathered from this lightning synopsis, I'm more sympathetic to non-materialist physicalism than to Donald Hoffman's brand of idealism.
But Hoffman is a brilliant and thought-provoking writer.

[on morphological freedom]
In some branches of the universal wave function?
David Pearce the punk rocker
It's my favourite, but like Rambo Dave, the RSI stretches credulity.

[on what consciousness is evolutinarily "for"]
Aron, Phenomenal binding is our computational superpower: binding confers access to the empirical realm that classical computers and AI digital zombies can never penetrate. One of the best ways to understand what consciousness - or more precisely, phenomenally-bound consciousness - is evolutionarily “for” in the animal kingdom is to explore deficit-syndromes - from schizophrenia and its deficits in “global” binding to integrative agnosia, simultanagnosia and akinetopsia. As such syndromes illustrate, even partial breakdowns of local and global binding carry a huge fitness cost.
So how do neurotypicals like us do it? Phenomenal unity would seem classically impossible. What’s more, if textbook neuroscience is correct, and you are (at most) just c. 86 billion membrane-bound neuronal “micro-pixels” of experience, then it’s hard to see how consciousness would confer any adaptive value at all: you’d be a micro-experiential zombie, as maybe you are when dreamlessly asleep.
Well, I think textbook “neuroscience” is wrong!
My tentative view is that we are quantum minds running subjectively classical world-simulations in a very high-dimensional space described by the universal wave function. I explore the quantum-theoretic version of (what philosophers call) the intrinsic nature argument:
Quantum Mind

Awesome write-up. Thank you Andres.
The Science of Consciousness 2024
And the Science of Consciousness itself? I think we're still in the Pre-Socratic Era, so to speak.

[on debating Dennnettian denialists (cont.)]
The Great Zombie has passed:
Daniel Dennett (1942-2024)
It's hard to do justice to Dennett's contribution to human ignorance.
See too John Horgan:
The Dennett paradox

On a more charitable note:
Daniel Dennett on good argumentative practice
Admirable - and worthy of a true sentient.

Facu, both materialist and non-materialist physicalists believe that the world is exhaustively described by the mathematical formalism of physics. None of us believe in “magic”. Evolution has harnessed some forms of phenomenal consciousness, for example pleasure and pain, to play, typically, a computational-functional role. But phenomenal pain with no functional role, for example phantom limb pain, is just as real. Also, the subjective experiences of people with Total Locked-in Syndrome (CLIS) who can't behave at all are just as real as the subjective experiences of the able-bodied. Have you ever considered the possibility that you have subjective experiences just like the rest of us, but you are interpreting them in behavioral - and behaviorist - ways?

Facu, my working hypothesis is that you have subjective experiences - both perceptual and non-perceptual - like me, but you interpret your subjective experiences as something else, such as bodily behaviours because you can find no place for phenomenal consciousness in your ontology of the world. But I freely acknowledge that your mind has a conceptual scheme I find quite alien. So I don’t don’t speak with any confidence.

Lance, by “pain”, most laypeople mean a nasty phenomenal experience of varying intensity - not a set of behavioural responses to noxious stimuli (or whatever). As far as I can tell, denialism about subjective experience springs from the immense challenge of reconciling the existence of one’s own consciousness with the ontology of our most successful(?) theory of the world, scientific materialism. Denialism is one response to the anomaly. Non-materialist physicalism is another. Both positions are intuitively absurd, but non-materialist physicalism has the advantage of consistency with the empirical evidence.

One shouldn’t make nasty, biting remarks about illusionists because illusionists have feelings that can be hurt. Illusionists may interpret their subjective experiences as something non-phenomenal. But that (mis)interpretation doesn’t make their feelings any less real.

Lance, if you ask the average person whether s/he believes in "qualia", you're right. Disbelief. But ask the average person whether their pain is (1) a set of behavioral responses to noxious or (2) an unpleasant inner experience, then - if they think you're being serious - they'll say 2.
You must have experienced the incredulity/indignation when most people realize what you're arguing?
A big complication is that some illusionists redefine the vocabulary of subjective experience in behavioral/behaviorist terms. So in other contexts, they'll say "of course" they believe in consciousness, pain and so forth. This redefinition is a source of endless confusion.

"Suppose an artificial intelligence that does not have phenomenal consciousness wants to determine which things (animals, rocks, numbers, etc.) are conscious. How would it go about doing this?"
Lance. Code and educate some humans, then instruct the humans on engineering cross-species reversible thalamic bridges so they can partially "mind meld" like the Hogan sisters. The Hogan sisters
Investigators will report back to the zombie AI that pigs, dogs, fish, neurotypical humans (etc) have phenomenal consciousness. But what about the status of illusionist philosophers?!

Facu, I don't like mysteries. I take science (very) seriously. But right now, I'm undergoing different subjective experiences within my phenomenal world-simulation. (Perpetual direct realists wouldn't express the problem in this way, but let's leave direct realism aside]. I don't know how to derive the properties of my subjective experience from (ultimately) physics in the way I can derive (in principle) everything else. So yes, the existence of my phenomenal consciousness is an anomaly. I explore ways to reconcile its existence with physicalism. But I don't disavow its existence. I can't. Denying my phenomenal consciousness is an option for you; it's not an option for me. It's the empirical evidence on which - and through which - I try to understand reality.

Facu, (1) I'm a naturalist and a physicalist - both theoretical stances. I also (2) experience the nasty raw feels of phenomenal pain - a brute empirical fact I don't know how to disavow despite wading through reams of behaviorist sophistry.
(1) and (2) are in conflict only if I make an additional metaphysical assumption, namely that the intrinsic nature of the world's fundamental quantum fields - the essence of the physical - differs inside and outside my head.
I don't make this assumption; hence non-materialist physicalism.

Facu, alternatively...
You do have phenomenal experiences! You just misinterpret them as something non-phenomenal. Phenomenal experience is all you ever directly know - including the contents of your vast phenomenal world-simulation. All the stuff you commonly think of as material and behavioral - from chairs and tables to airplanes and robots - are aspects of your phenomenal consciousness.
However, you are not a solipsist. A convergence of evidence suggests zillions of other phenomenal world-simulations exist. They differ primarily in the identity of their protagonist. And beyond these egocentric phenomenal world-simulations - minds - lies the wider reality revealed by modern science.
[Facu chokes on his cornflakes] Facu, the intrinsic nature argument is controversial. But if "raw feels" disclose the intrinsic nature of the physical - the mysterious "fire" in the equations - then your worries about the second law of thermodynamics don't arise any more than they do for materialism.
AND the materialist still faces the Hard Problem of consciousness - and its offshoots like the problem of causal efficacy that non-materialist physicalism solves.

Facu, true or false, simply transposing the entire mathematical apparatus of modern physics (and hence quantum chemistry, molecular biology, etc) onto experientialist ontology doesn't change the formal, structural definition of the world yielded by the physical sciences. Science works! Non-materialist physicalism is a conjecture about the "fire" in the equations, the essence of the physical. Unlike materialism, it's empirically adequate. This empirical adequacy doesn't suffice to show non-materialist physicalism true; but I explore the conjecture. The conjecture won't be of interest to you because you are convinced that phenomenal consciousness doesn't exist.

Facu, if someone reports being visited by the Holy Spirit, I will acknowledge the "raw feels", i.e. the subjective phenomenology of their experience, but query the metaphysical interpretation. However - and this is what I find so puzzling about your antirealism - you appear to deny they have undergone an intense subjective experience that they are (I believe) misinterpreting.

Facu, the version of the intrinsic nature argument I explore, non-materialist physicalism, doesn't claim that quantum fields produce experiences. Rather, the conjecture is that experience discloses the intrinsic nature of a quantum field. The diverse solutions to the equations of QFT yield the values of its diverse textures. The realization that physics is silent on the intrinsic nature of the physical is often credited to Russell. Hardcore materialist Stephen Hawking's "fire" metaphor makes the point more poetically. Facu, understanding the nature of computation, using a mathematical abstraction of computers like a Turing machine, calls for a fair level of intellectual sophistication. By contrast, phenomenal pain is real and concrete - or at least mine is. The subjective experience of pain predates language, let alone a grasp of computational theory.

Facu, I'm still bewildered that anyone can be so radically ... different from me. My experience of phenomenal pain hasn't shifted since ...well, long before I'd ever heard of computers, information theory, quantum theory or philosophy, not since my earliest memories. Most philosophical doctrines have ancient precursors. But in the case of radical antirealism about subjective experience / phenomenal consciousness, I'm not aware of anything before twentieth-century behaviorism. And to spike your guns, no, I have zero interest in anything magical.

Facu, but feeling flabbergasted is a subjective experience - for me, at any rate. I'm intellectually comfortable with the idea of other humans who have experiences inexpressibly different from mine, but not with humans who don't have any subjective experiences at all.

Manu, insofar as I understand it, I find Facu's ultra-Dennettian conceptual scheme quite alien. From my perspective, yes, evolution has harnessed certain kinds of phenomenal consciousness (typically) to play a computational-functional role. But your molecular duplicate, assembled from scratch, would be conscious in just the same way as the product of 4 billion years of evolution. In other words, evolution doesn't explain the diverse properties of sentience in any deep sense - as distinct from why some kinds of sentience have been selected for over others.

Facu, right now I am undergoing different forms of phenomenal consciousness that embraces both "perceptual" consciousness - a vast phenomenal world-simulation beyond my body image - and more subtle forms of logico-linguistic experience. If you have no place for such subjective experience is your ontology of the world, then fair enough. But alas it's all too real.

Facu, the dominant technology of an age proverbially offers a root metaphor for life, the universe and everything. When speaking, I now sometimes think of myself as a glorified LLMs spewing out verbiage like a "stochastic parrot". Internalizing the digital computer metaphor of mind now leads Dennettians to suppose everything they feel is just computational algorithms. But calling what I'm now experiencing "a "computational algorithm" doesn't explain its properties.
What will be our next metaphor of mind?
I speculate, but our background assumptions are too different to make what I say of interest.

See too aphantasia and hyperphantasia. A hypothetical absence of any phenomenal consciousness at all would be far more radical than aphantasia. To such a creature, being awake wouldn't differ from being asleep.

Manu, Understanding where Facu is “coming from” is hard if (like me) all you’ve ever directly known is phenomenal consciousness - not least, the contents of my egocentric world-simulation: what perceptual naive realists call the material world. I assume that you run an egocentric world-simulation too that differs from mine primarily in the identity of the protagonist. I don’t know if Facu’s views differ in any significant way from Daniel Dennett's anti-realism about phenomenal consciousness as set out in works like "Consciousness Explained". One big source of confusion is how Dennettians redefine terms for different kinds of phenomenal experience behaviorally. So in some contexts, Dennettians will say that of course they aren't denying that you have a mind, feel pain, and so forth.

Trying to understand what HI and the abolitionist project are all about when viewed through the lens of a Dennettian is challenging. We're trying to phase out the biology of suffering, prevent all experience below hedonic zero, and create a world underpinned entirely by gradients of intelligent bliss - where "suffering", "hedonic zero", "bliss" and so forth refer to subjective experiences. I asked ChatGPT-4. What are the historical antecedents of Daniel Dennett’s anti-realism about phenomenal consciousness? ChatGPT:
"Daniel Dennett's anti-realism about phenomenal consciousness, encapsulated in his views on qualia and consciousness as detailed in works like "Consciousness Explained," draws on a variety of historical antecedents. His position, sometimes characterized as eliminative materialism or functionalism, intersects with philosophical traditions that question the direct, unmediated access to mental states or the existence of subjective experiences as fundamentally irreducible entities. The antecedents to Dennett's views can be seen in several key philosophical movements and figures:

1. Logical Positivism and Empiricism: Logical positivists, with their focus on the verification principle and skepticism towards metaphysical statements that cannot be empirically verified, laid groundwork that influenced Dennett's empirical and scientific approach to consciousness.

2. Behaviorism: Behaviorists like B.F. Skinner argued that psychology should focus on observable behavior rather than internal states. Dennett’s views diverge significantly in details but share the skepticism towards introspective access to mental states as reliable sources of scientific data.

3. Functionalism: This philosophical perspective, influential in cognitive science, posits that mental states are defined by their functional roles in cognitive processes, not by their internal substance or makeup. Dennett's theory of consciousness can be seen as a variant of functionalism, where consciousness is understood in terms of its functional and computational roles.

4. Philosophical Materialism: The tradition of materialism, which argues that reality is fundamentally physical, underpins Dennett’s rejection of a dualistic view of consciousness (the idea that mental phenomena are non-physical). Dennett’s work advances this tradition by arguing against the existence of qualia as irreducibly non-physical entities.

5. Ryle's Concept of Mind: Gilbert Ryle’s critique of the "ghost in the machine" dualism and his characterization of the mind as a set of dispositions or behaviors rather than an inner entity, also prefigures Dennett’s views. Ryle argued against the Cartesian theater model, a view Dennett explicitly criticizes in his own writings.

6. Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Language: Ludwig Wittgenstein's later work, which emphasizes the public, social nature of language and meaning, indirectly influences Dennett's approach to consciousness. Dennett’s argument that our talk of experiences is grounded in publicly accessible descriptions and behaviors echoes Wittgenstein’s views on the limits of private language.

7. Early Critics of Introspection: The early 20th-century critiques of introspection as a method in psychology, by figures such as Wilhelm Wundt and later behaviorists, also serve as a backdrop. These critiques question the reliability and scientific validity of introspection, a skepticism that Dennett extends to the introspective access to qualia.

Dennett’s position is a contemporary synthesis of these and other influences, brought together under the banner of a scientifically-informed philosophy of mind. His work is distinctive for its integration of insights from cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and evolutionary biology, but the roots of his anti-realism about phenomenal consciousness can be traced back through these varied philosophical traditions."

Lance, if a layperson tells his or her doctor s/he is in pain, s/he is reporting a distressing phenomenal experience. Sometimes the cause of pain may be obvious (e.g. catching one's hand in the door); the cause of other pains eludes diagnosis. I remain.... incredulous that illusionists suppose pain is anything other than a (sometimes very private) unpleasant conscious experience that human and nonhuman animals undergo. In other words, the ghastly subjective experience of pain isn't the product of bad philosophy, but a pre-theoretic given that should be fixed. As far as I can tell, consciousness antirealists trying to salvage physicalism have gone two routes. One is to claim all talk of phenomenal consciousness and folk psychology will be superseded by mature neuroscience (cf. Eliminative materialism). The other is some form of linguistic behaviorism - the recipe for endless confusion.
As you know, I think physicalism can be saved via the intrinsic nature argument. But not eliminative materialism and its illusionist offshoots.

Lance, I'm more than willing to allow that ordinary people often conceive subjective experience differently from philosophers (as someone who takes seriously the idea experience discloses the essence of the physical, I could scarcely do otherwise!). But take what follows after e.g. catching one's hand in the door. Philosophers of all stripes and laypeople alike report an experience of pain. By the word "pain", they aren't alluding to a complex web of behaviors and behavioural responses to noxious stimuli etc., but to an intensely nasty subjective experience.

Lance, I won't claim to be entirely ordinary. But in my early twenties, I wrote up the draft for a book on Scepticism. I was more than willing to acknowledge I could be radically wrong about almost anything at all. The one thing I found I couldn't doubt was the raw phenomenology of my experience (yes, shades of Descartes' Cogito). Now I find there are people who claim that my phenomenal consciousness - the only thing I've ever directly known - doesn't exist.
I still struggle adequately to respond.

Lance, you probably know the old joke. Two behaviorists make love. One of them says afterwards, "That was great for you, darling. How was it for me?" Almost everyone "gets" the joke because we know there's more to life than behaviour and behavioral predispositions. I'm still puzzled that a few people say they have no phenomenal experience at all - and indeed find the notion unintelligible. Do aliens really dwell among us?!

Manu, Yamil Saiegh, Facu Punto and Jacy Reese are indeed eliminativists. You can add Rob Bensinger, Lance Bush and Brian Tomasik to your list.
I don't think EY is an eliminativist. EY doesn't believe that nonhuman animals and human babies are conscious because he believes consciousness depends on a capacity for self-recognition. EY on consciousness
But it's complicated. The ">increasing number of nonhuman animals who have passed some version of the mirror test hasn't shaken EY's conviction of their insentience - although EY has recently updated his credences on the sentience of ChatGPT:
EY, chickens and ChatGPT.

[on The Hedonistic Imperative]
DP on HI
David Pearce interviwed by TAFFD on The Hedonistic Imperative
A lot of futurology amounts to no more than extrapolation. Sad to say, prophesying a future of superhuman bliss doesn't rely on extrapolating current trends.

[on AI safety]
Digital zombies are cognitively crippled.
No binding = no mind = invincible ignorance of the entire empirical realm.
AI-Doomers might reply that an architecturally hardwired ignorance of the empirical (“relating to experience“) is of no computational significance. Consciousness is incidental, an epiphenomenon of no more functional significance than the textures of the pieces (if any) in a game of chess.
But this can’t be right. Epiphenomena would lack the causal-functional power to inspire discussions of the existence, as I’m doing now.
Can I rigorously prove that AI isn’t a threat to the thick-tailed bush baby (and humans, etc)?
No.
But we should be focusing on the biggest ethical challenge we face as a society, namely building sentience-friendly biological intelligence. Unfriendly humans abuse and kill billions of sentient beings as sentient as small children each year. A hypothetical sentience-friendly superintelligence would presumably reprogram or retire humans.

[on phenomenal binding]
the binding problem
, May I just briefly defend my sanity? Anyone who understands decoherence (which you do!) will recognise why a quantum-theoretic explanation of phenomenal binding is far-fetched. The CNS is too hot! But the problem is science has no idea how phenomenal binding could be classically explicable either - which doesn't leave us with many (physicalist) options.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binding_problem Given textbook neuroscience, why aren't we just (at most) what philosopher Phil Goff christened "micro-experiential zombies" - mere patterns of Jamesian "mind dust"? Only someone who groks the neuroscientific mystery of binding will be willing to explore highly implausible quantum-theoretic solutions to an otherwise intractable problem. Note that what makes a "Schrödinger's neurons" proposal fringe isn't new physics - assuming the unitary Schrödinger dynamics, such superpositions of neuronal feature-processors must exist - but rather, the idea such fleeting sub-femtosecond superpositions could have any conceivable relevance to our phenomenally-bound minds. And maybe common sense is correct! But one man's reductio ad absurdum is another man's experimentally falsifiable prediction. I'm simply curious what tomorrow's interferometry will tell us.

If (fancifully!) the pieces in a chess match had qualia, such "raw feels" would be functionally irrelevant to the gameplay. By contrast, phenomenally-bound qualia - such as the colorful, cross-modally matched, real-time world-simulation your CNS is running right now - are insanely computationally powerful. Compare partial deficit syndromes such as integrative agnosia. Minds and their egocentric world-simulations are highly fitness-enhancing. They've been selected for over the past half-billion years. By contrast, classical computer architectures can't support phenomenal binding. So there are no digital minds.

Yet what about us? If we believe in textbook neuroscience, i.e. the CNS is a pack of decohered classical neurons, then organic minds should be impossible too. At best we should be micro-experiential zombies. I think textbook "neuroscience" is wrong. I could happily talk about why. But until neuron replacement procedures are tried and fail, I doubt most researchers would find such speculations of interest - only folk who already grok the mystery of binding, its computational power, and its classical impossibility.

David, Transformer AI is awesome, but its ignorance of the empirical (“relating to experience”) realm is architecturally hardwired. No phenomenal binding = no mind = no understanding. Not everyone groks the binding problem. But in a fundamentally quantum world, decoherence both makes otherwise impossible classical computing physically feasible AND prevents classical information processors from supporting unified subjects of experience like human and nonhuman animal minds. I love zombie AI as much as anyone. But our current machines have the wrong sort of architecture to support full-spectrum (super)intelligence.

Martijn, Nobody lies like an eyewitness, as the old Russian saying goes. But the wonder is not that perceptual experience is sometimes unreliable, but that it's possible at all. The ability to run real-time cross-modally matched world-simulations ("perception") is vastly fitness-enhancing. How can a pack of classical membrane-bound neurons be anything other than a zombie (the Hard Problem) or a micro-experiential zombie (the binding problem). Science doesn't know. Philosophers speculate (cf. Non-materialist physicalism). Yet there's no risk of our "overrating this experience thing". Not least, it's the entirety of the empirical evidence. 

If the human brain were just 86 billion odd membrane-bound micro-pixels of experience - a so-called micro-experiential zombie - then consciousness would confer no fitness benefit at all. What makes consciousness so computationally powerful is phenomenal binding - not least, the real-time, cross-modally matched world-simulation (“perception”) that your mind-brain is running right now. How phenomenal binding is physically possible, given what neuroscientists think they know about the CNS, is a very deep question. But phenomenal binding gives human and nonhuman animals access to the empirical realm - a cognitive domain from which classical computers are forever excluded.

The mystery of why so many smart people don't "get" the binding problem continues to defeat me:
On Mental Subjects and Objects
("Pro and then Contra David Pearce")
Mariven, if you don't grok the phenomenal binding problem, then you won't be interested in fanciful solutions to non-existent mysteries. I'm surprised you persevered so far!
"And what is it all for? Dogmatic justification of what might very well be the single largest moral failure in human history."
He lost me at first, but the author is alluding to my failure to recognise that putative digital minds are real.

Mariven, Suggestion : you might want to explore in greater depth why philosophers and philosophically-inclined neuroscientists have been so exercised by the phenomenal binding or combination problem - and then do a steelman version. The issue isn’t whether functional workarounds for an inability to bind are possible. Neurotypical novices can always beat someone with simultanagnosia at chess, but Stockfish blows us all away. Rather, the mystery is how the phenomenology of local and global binding is physically possible given what we think we know about the CNS. Why aren’t we just aggregates of 86 billion membrane-bound “pixels” of experience, a micro-experiential zombie? If after further investigation you still think phenomenal binding is classical, then probably you’d do well just to give my stuff a miss!

Maximilian, indeed. I still know of no way to give a classical explanation of phenomenal binding. Here, however, just a terminological note. As rare phenomenal binding disorders illustrate, both local and global binding play a vital computational-functional role in biological minds. But non-classical accounts of phenomenal binding don't fall under the label of "computationalist" theories of consciousness as the term is normally understood. That said, phenomenal binding can confer immense computational power that classical digital zombies lack.

[on BLTC Research]
Forthcoming...
A HISTORY OF BLTC by David Pearce
Too busy to read books? How about book titles? Wittgenstein said, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes". How about book covers? (Actually the list of titles below has now extended to 1001). A credulous correspondent expresses respect for my productivity; maybe I've written them elsewhere so I don't take the trouble to disavow authorship. Guinness relates L. Ron Hubbard wrote more. I think I will settle for quality.
And now a Cover Launch from the admirable ENDPAIN.

Yes, ambitious. Perhaps I will delegate authorship of some volumes to ChatGPT-5 or my digital twin. Or thanobot.
Hedonic psychosis, I guess. Dall-E would let me list a true NU list of covers.
Universal Bliss by David Pearce

[on scientific knowledge]
On standard materialist assumptions, we face the Hard Problem. On standard neuroscientific assumptions, we face the binding problem. On standard QM postulates, we face the measurement problem. At a time of staggering advances in AI, saying something is rotten in the state of scientific knowledge might sound hollow rhetoric. But for what it's worth, I think my speculative solutions are most likely wrong, and my diagnosis is most likely correct.

[on classical utilitarianism]
No classical utilitarians are willing to accept all the implications of their own ethic. I’m not thinking of homely moral dilemmas like (variants of) the trolley problem, nor the obligation to obliterate even the most blissful advanced civilisation with a utilitronium shockwave. Rather, I’m thinking of tradeoffs involving suffering. For instance, a genie offers you the chance to create beings who enjoy two orders of magnitude more pleasure than anything existing humans can undergo - at the price of creating an equal number of beings who undergo suffering ”just” a single order of magnitude worse than any human has undergone. Horrific. Or a genie offers me a super-exponential growth in my pleasure at the price of an exponential growth in your suffering. Were I a classical rather than negative utilitarian, then I’d be obliged to accept. And so forth.

By contrast, negative utilitarians want to abolish even the faintest whiff of disappointment. Let’s build a world where all sentient beings are fabulously, superhumanly happy. This scenario doesn’t sound very NU. But NUs may favour superhuman bliss. We just wouldn’t accept it at anyone else’s expense.

Some utilitarian resources:
Utilitarian Resources

[on a pan-species welfare state]
Forthcoming..
Towards a Pan-Species Welfare State

[on BLTC HQ]
If asked, my role model is Diogenes in his tub.
That said, designs for BLTC's new HQ still don't capture the spartan simplicity and austere lifestyle to which I aspire:
BLTC HQ
I shall of course be occupying the Diogenes room.
Distinguished visiting scholars may qualify for something more comfortable.
A guide to some of the amenities:
01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36
37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72
BLTC HQ
And our local Brighton branch office:
BLTC Brighton office

[on Brave New World critiqued in Spanish]
El Mundo Feliz
Many thanks to Chilean translator Diego Andrade.
My English original is now over a quarter of a century old: Critique of Brave New World (1998).
No, I don't write in quite the same exuberant style any more.
Un Mundo Feliz

[on modern love]
Zombies increasingly make the best suitors:
This Guy Used ChatGPT to Talk to 5,000 Women on Tinder
("and Met His Wife. Aleksandr Zhadan built a program with ChatGPT to find love, and it worked.")
Soon zombies will also make the best conversationalists, friends and lovers. But the future belongs to hyper-sentient full-spectrum superintelligences, not digital idiots savants.

[on existence]
a Zero Ontology
It’s a pretty spooky coincidence. Why does physics suggest something analogous to our pre-theoretic conception may be the case? The key insight (?) for me came many years ago when (in some unrelated pop science book), I stumbled across something that was news to me, but not to information scientists. Zero information = all possible descriptions.
Ed Tyron plus Hugh Everett = an informationless zero ontology ???
Here’s my best short synopsis:
Why does anything exist?
See too A Search for Classical Subsystems in Quantum Worlds
What form might the true explanation take? Would we even understand it? I've stuck with an informationless zero ontology because I can't think of any other explanation-space to explore. The principle that information can neither be created nor destroyed ("unitarity") is a cornerstone of modern physics. But I haven't yet seen in academic print the conjecture that the information content of reality might literally = zero, although Max Tegmark ("Does the universe in fact contain almost no information?", 1996, pdf) comes tantalisingly close.

[on the HI Customised ChatGPT]
Our wonderful Russian supporter Shao has been feeding more DP stuff to the HI-customised ChatGPT:
Customised ChatGPT
But for real Russian: DP

[on ENDPAIN]
From the admirable Sean Johnson:
ENDPAIN
Tiktok is where it's at:
ENDPAIN
Thanks for our little interview:
1 2 3 4 (TikTok) and : 1 2 3 4 (mp4)

paradise engineering

1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11 : 12 : 13 : 14 : 15 : 16

David Pearce (2024)
dave@hedweb.com


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