Source: The Hedonistic Imperative group, Facebook
Date: 2012, 2013, 2014.
(see too: 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9)

The Hedonistic Imperative

Raw Hedonism
Unsorted Facebook postings by David Pearce on
suffering, panpsychism, the binding problem, physicalism, consciousness, transhumanism

The Abolition of Suffering
in the Daily Telegraph

* * *

[on panpsychism]
Are microqualia the stuff of the world?
David Chalmers: Two articles on panpsychism

(I just posted these thoughts on David Chalmers' FB Wall)

I think there are counterarguments open to the constitutive panpsychist. Here are two.

1) The argument that if panpsychism is true, "we can expect only a handful of microqualities, corresponding to the handful of fundamental microphysical properties" is intuitively appealing. After all, every electron in the world is identical to every other electron. Electrons are exceedingly simple. After we've specified the mass, charge and spin of an electron, what else is there to say? However, if instead of a particle-based ontology, the panpsychist assumes a quantum field-theoretic ontology, then it's natural to conjecture that the values of the fundamental fields yield the textures of microqualia - a vast palette of qualia field values. For sure, in our present ignorance we don't yet know how to "read off" the values of microqualia from the values of the different fields. We lack any kind of cosmic Rosetta stone. But on this story, there is no "element of reality" lacking in the quantum field-theoretic formalism that encodes the world's fundamental microqualia. In contemporary physics, fields are defined purely mathematically. They take a vast range of values ("numbers in space") And crudely, "more is different" - micro-experientially different.

2) Structural mismatch? Once again, the argument that "macrophenomenal structure of my visual field is prima facie very different from the macrophysical structure of my brain" is intuitively appealing. But this intuitive appeal may simply reflect how the temporal resolution of our tools for investigating awake / dreaming mind-brains is too coarse. Perhaps appearances of a structural mismatch are deceptive. Here's a comparison. If panpsychism is true, then the macrophenomenal structure of superfluid helium consists of a simple, long-lived irreducible macroquale - a perfect structural match between formal and subjective properties. Of course, we'll never know what it's like to instantiate superfluid helium. But I predict that if / when our experimental apparatus allows probing the CNS at the sub-femtosecond timescales above which Max Tegmark ("Why the brain is probably not a quantum computer") posits thermally-induced decoherence, then we'll get a huge surprise! I predict we'll find, not random quantum noise, but instead the formal quantum-coherent physical shadows of the macroscopic bound phenomenal objects of everyday experience - computationally optimised by hundreds of millions years of evolution, i.e. a perfect structural match, not a mismatch. Indeed, quite possibly the greatest cognitive achievement of organic minds over the past few hundred million years has been to solve the binding problem - and run data-driven, cross-modally matched egocentric world-simulations of the local environment in almost real time. When thinking about the combination problem, we ask how on earth (ostensibly) distributively processed edges, colours, motions (etc) could be "bound" into unitary experiential objects populating a unitary experiential field instantiated by a fleetingly unitary self? Such phenomenal binding seems impossible for discrete membrane-bound quasi-classical neurons / "mind dust". But unless quantum theory breaks down in the mind / brain (unlikely!), we know that macroscopic quantum-coherent states must exist in the CNS. We just assume that they must be destroyed too fast to be computationally useful - and therefore any notional macrophenomenology they instantiate could at most be mere psychotic "noise". Maybe so; but it's an experimentally untested assumption.

An obvious counterargument to such a (hypothetical!) temporal fine-grained match between microphysical and macrophenomenal structure in the CNS is that we perceive our surroundings with a time-lag of scores of milliseconds or more - a timescale far too long for ultra-rapidly thermally destroyed quantum-coherent states to be computationally relevant to perception. But this objection falsely assumes a perceptual direct realism in which we "see" the mind-independent world. By contrast, on a world-simulation model, the role of the local mind-independent environment is essentially to select states of the awake mind/brain via optic nerve inputs (etc). My best guess is that our world-simulations run at around 1015 quantum-coherent "frames" per second. Either way, we don't know whether the combination problem has an essentially classical or quantum-theoretic explanation. Although my heart normally sinks when I hear the expression "quantum mind", I suspect it's the latter. For what it's worth, I'm (tentatively!) both a reductive physicalist and a monistic idealist....

See too
http://philpapers.org/browse/panpsychism

* * *

Jonatas, IMO even the sperm whale mind/brain is a gigantic quantum supercomputer. The human cerebral cortex is 2–4mm thick but actually we have to take a four dimensional approach and imagine 10100 or so quasi-classical Everett branches "jostling" each other before becoming irreversibly "split", i.e. decohering. [A deeper analysis might reveal how our seemingly low-dimensional world emerges from an insanely high-dimensional reality.] Let's assume, controversially, that Strawsonian physicalism / panexperientalism is true. This position is what David Chalmers calls "constitutive" (or "Russellian") panpsychism - although to my mind the term "panpsychism" has dualist echoes. Two questions then arise in tackling the seemingly classically insoluble binding problem / combination problem: 1) Is macroscopic quantum coherence in the CNS real? 2) If so, is it doing any computationally / experientially useful work - as distinct from being mere "noise"? If quantum mechanics is complete, then the answer to the first question is yes, albeit for what are intuitively vanishingly short durations. But their existence doesn't, of itself, make the mind-brain a quantum computer any more than the quantum-mechanical properties of silicon etc semiconductors make your desktop PC a quantum computer. Your mind / world-simulation is a quantum computer only if what - naively and classically - we describe as the synchronous firing of classically parallel neuronal feature detectors (edges, colours, motions, vertices etc) fleetingly support a unitary experiential object. This brief loss of individual neuronal identity of what would otherwise be essentially classical objects presumably occurs with an ultrafast refresh rate. Dropped frames etc aren't noticed because they aren't explicitly represented. (cf. the persistence of vision when we're watching a movie at 30 frames per second - though in the case of real life, we're the movie.)

Anyhow, I'm not positing any new physics, just arguing Max Tegmark hasn't proved his case against quantum mind by showing Hameroff radically overestimates the physically credible duration of quantum coherence in the human CNS. Unfortunately, today we associate quantum computing with the prospect of e.g. factoring 1000 digit numbers. This is the very sort of computational task our minds are bad at. Instead, the evidence organic minds are quantum supercomputers lies right in front of our (virtual) eyes - the phenomenal sunsets and symphonies of our virtual worlds...

One angle of attack on the problem - prior to the kind of utopian physics needed to probe sub-femtosecond(?) time-frames in waking/dreaming minds - will be to investigate syndromes where phenomenal object binding or the unity of perception partially breaks down [e.g. simultanagnosia, where the subject can see (technically, instantiate) only one phenomenal object at once, motion blindness, etc] The problem with articles like the BBC piece below is they make quantum mechanics sound "weird" and the classical world "normal". But what's really weird [i.e. poorly understood] is the emergence of quasi-classicality in a world that is fundamentally quantum mechanical.
"Quantum biology:
Do weird physics effects abound in nature")

* * *

Daryl, thanks again. Like you, I can't see how macroscopic quantum coherence could explain how a wholly nonconscious world could give rise to conscious beings either. As you say, plants aren't subjects of experience; their individual cells are encased in thick cellulose cell walls for a start. However, what are our background assumptions? Construing our minds as a manifestation of macroscopic quantum coherence in the CNS that assumes Strawsonian physicalism rather materialism is consistent with the phenomenology of minds - both local and global phenomenal binding. The acid test of this conjecture will come when we can probe the brain at temporal resolutions where macroscopic quantum coherent states must occur if unmodified QM is correct. To which a critic would respond that probing the CNS for such effects is a waste of time: we already know the answer. Consider a game of chess. It's not that in principle we couldn't do for chess pieces what we can do for buckyballs Rather, any breakdown of classicality at sub-femtosecond scales is completely computationally irrelevant to the gameplay. And for chess, critics would of course be right. Likewise for a classical CPU. But explaining classically forbidden phenomenal binding is another matter. Unfortunately, I think Hameroff & Penrose are barking up the wrong end of the evolutionary tree by focusing on mathematical esoterica rather than the basis of our waking and dreaming existence for the past half-billion years - phenomenal binding.


[on the transition from harming to helping other sentient beings ]
Rights for Non-Human Persons (video)
(DP in Australia)
Thanks Adam. Should sentient beings have a legally guaranteed right to be helped? Or merely not to be harmed? Ultimately, sentient beings are entitled to be helped, IMO; but in the meantime, factory-farming and slaughterhouses should be outlawed.

* * *

[blush] it would be good to get more Buddhists on board Josh. ("May all that hath life be delivered from suffering": Gautama Buddha) No, compassionately re-engineering the ecosystem isn't quite the same as following the Noble Eightfold Path. But Gautama Buddha seems to have been a pragmatist. If it works do it; if it doesn't, discard it.

* * *

Thanks Fay. You always bring a smile to my face. Naively, one might imagine that conservation biology is a science, whereas compassionate biology is an ideology. But they are both equally normative disciplines - or rather in the case of compassionate biology, a proto-discipline. In principle, we can mix conservation and compassion. But like most compromises, the outcome may be messy.


[on drugs to boost mood, motivation and cognition]
Andres, simultaneously enhancing both autistic intelligence ("IQ") and empathetic / social / introspective intelligence is quite a challenge. But I'd like to see more research into the "cerebral activator" indeloxazine (Elen, Noin)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indeloxazine
and also the anxiolytic psychostimulant bromantane (Ladasten)
(despite its supposedly anticholinergic effect at very high doses)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromantane
Both could be combined with oxytocin if bioavailability issues could be resolved.

[I should probably flag that distinguishing autistic intelligence ("IQ") and empathetic / social / introspective intelligence and subsuming them both under a wider label of general intelligence is not consensus wisdom in the intelligence-testing community. Andres is anomalously high in both; but IMO they are largely orthogonal traits.]

* * *

...On a wider canvas, just as individuals can stumble on their ideal drug of choice and later discover unsuspected side effects, we should worry that the same might be true of a whole pharma-based civilisation that gets locked into a substandard utopia before its ethical duties have been discharged. Hence the need to develop full-spectrum superintelligence rather than getting blissed out (as distinct from intelligently blissful!).

* * *

Back to the boring stuff. IMO good sleep discipline
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24179461
("Neurobiological consequences of sleep deprivation")
regular aerobic exercise
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24149089
("Aerobic exercise interacts with neurotrophic factors to predict cognitive functioning in adolescents.")
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23916669
("Regular treadmill running improves spatial learning and memory performance in young mice through increased hippocampal neurogenesis and decreased stress.")
and critically, an ideal diet are still more likely to be cognitively beneficial than drugs for most people today.

* * *

Also, though vegetarians statistically tend to be more intelligent than meat eaters, possibly with creatine supplementation the intelligence gap would be wider still:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21118604
("The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores.")

Timothy, the seven-point IQ gap here in the UK between vegetarians and meat-eaters suggests that cognitive function in meat eaters is subnormal. Of course this statistic doesn't show a vegetarian diet is healthier. As you point out, high IQ kids are more likely to become vegetarian in the first instance. In principle, meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike can all enjoy optimal nutrition. Ethics aside, however, it's clearly safer [from an entirely self-interested perspective] to be a lazy meat-eater than a lazy vegetarian, and (much) safer to be a lazy vegetarian than a lazy vegan. This is especially the case if the convert to an ethical diet is young (typically female) and also dieting to stay slim - where nutritional ignorance can be disastrous.

* * *

Timothy, if we lived in a slave-owning society and it happened to be the case that people who chose not to own slaves were statistically more intelligent than slave-owners, I would probably drop this fact into the debate even though its precise relevance was uncertain. However, citing now how vegetarians tend to be slimmer, longer-lived and record higher IQ scores than meat-eaters is not merely a rhetorical ploy to win over folk whose values tend to coincide with their own perceived self-interest. Rather such statistics suggest - though they don't of course prove - that the nutritional deficiencies that some meat-eaters ascribe to a meatless diet in order to rationalise continuing to eat meat can't be especially severe.

* * *

Despite progress, at times it feels we're only one step beyond Franz Mesmer:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24112912
("Treating the depressions with superficial brain stimulation methods")

Not exactly mainstream Andres. But there is a rationale...
http://www.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00100/abstract ("The endocannabinoid system as a possible target to treat both the cognitive and emotional features of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)")

Should we aim to phase out boredom? Or just the biology of suffering?
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/are-you-indifferent-restless-or-apathetic-scientists-identify-a-fifth-type-of-boredom-8954590.html ("Are you indifferent, restless or apathetic? Scientists identify a fifth type of boredom")

The functional analogues of boredom are presumably needed to prevent loss of critical insight. Otherwise, everything would be indiscriminately fascinating. This doesn't mean that even the dullest longueurs of posthuman life won't be richer than today's peak experiences.

* * *

[on appropriate responses to death or misfortune]
Evan, quite so. Also, a lot of people find the idea that one's death or misfortune should trigger a mere hedonic dip in loved ones - rather than an outright plunge below hedonic zero - to be a disturbing if not repugnant prospect. I think this response can be deflected in various ways. One is to ask if we are really entitled to ask others to suffer on our account? How does this sought-after distress express true love or friendship? In the longer term, however, we may anticipate phasing out death and the traditional Darwinian misfortunes. Presumably several centuries of such ills remain, maybe more.

* * *

Yes, perhaps one imagines looking back on one's life after one's death and locating one's place in the great scheme of things. As you say, has one left one's mark? But from this impossible perspective, there is nothing that locates any one of the world's sentient beings as "me". Either they all are or none are... (cf. Daniel Kolak's Open Individualism)

[As usual, I've managed to turn a plea for action into a philosophical rumination. So to reiterate: yes Evan, let's make it happen.]


[on mathematical platonism]
Do numbers suffer?
("Is the Universe Made of Math?": excerpt from Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark )

Conjecture: only qualia are real. Mathematical physics describes their patterns. The solutions to the field-theoretic equations yield their values. It's tempting to reify ("turn into a thing") the formalism. If we don't, then we'll miss features of the natural world inexpressible in any other way. Likewise with, e.g. semantic meaning. But abstract objects are useful fictions. We shouldn't confuse its numerical proxies with the thing itself.
[Of course, I could be wrong! Yet see too e.g. Benacerraf's Dilemma.

* * *

Chris, I should stress I'm not a sceptic about the mind-independent world, or that the formalism of (tomorrow's) physics exhaustively describes the behaviour of the stuff of the world. But we shouldn't conflate the equations with the "fire" whose behaviour they describe.

Chris, Nick's Simulation Argument is intriguing. But I think it has suppressed premises about the nature of meaning and reference that when made explicit throw the argument into doubt. [Also, unlike me, Nick doesn't believe the phenomenal binding problem is unsolvable by classical computers. He takes seriously the prospect that subjects of experience could emerge at multiple levels of computational abstraction.]

* * *

Platonic ideals? Unless we posit something like them, then we will miss features of concreta that are inexpressible in any other way. Compare, say, the heart. We might say the heart "implements" the function of pumping oxygen-rich blood to every living cell of the body. Pragmatically speaking, this sort of teleological-functional language is indispensable to our making sense of the body. But ever since Darwin, we've known the ultimate story is causal.

Of course, the "fit" between the formalism of physics and the fields of qualia (the Strawsonian physicalist believes) they describe is much tighter - seemingly magically so. But the mathematical straitjacket of quantum field theory isn't literally identical with the fields of qualia it describes. Or so I'd argue, at any rate.

* * *

Chris, some might say I not waving but drowning too! In his (very readable) new book, Tegmark drops the "probably" from his less dogmatic "Why Your Brain (Probably) Isn't A Quantum Computer". Unfortunately, he identifies consciousness with our serial thought-episodes and relies on a one-liner about decoherence times rather than an exploration of the phenomenal binding problem ("...so I'd need to be able to think fast enough to have 10,000,000,000,000 thoughts each second. Perhaps Roger Penrose can think that fast, but I sure can't." Max Tegmark, Our Mathematical Universe.)

Chris, intuitively yes. We speak of our "stream of consciousness" - and how we can normally think of only one thing at once. It's natural to conceive of our interior monologue or stream of logico-linguistic thoughts as though our minds were slow and inefficient serial digital computers. BUT.... if we accept the world-simulation model of perception, what each of us apprehends as the mind-independent world "out there" is an almost real-time conscious simulation run by the CNS of fitness-relevant features of the local environment - when we're awake rather than dreaming, at any rate.

* * *

I've now read Tegmark's book rather than just a review. In a different section from his critique of quantum mind, Tegmark does accept the world-simulation model of perception. Now of course, it's possible to accept the world-simulation model and insist that the massive parallelism involved is of a purely classical connectionist system. The existence of local and global phenomenal binding shows (I argue) this can only be part of the story.

"Our failure to understand consciousness doesn't stand in the way of a complete understanding of the external physical reality." (Max Tegmark)
How common is this faith, I wonder?

* * *

David, as it stands no; I agree with Jason. Suffering - and all forms of qualia - has intrinsic phenomenal properties. Numbers, on the other hand, are abstract objects. Their properties are purely relational; or at least, their relational properties entirely fix their notional intrinsic properties. However [philosophical spiel to follow!] if we're Strawsonian physicalists who believe consciousness is fundamental, the "fire" in the quantum field-theoretic equations, then the solutions to equations of mathematical physics may encode the values of experience. On this story, the amplitude and phase of your wave function presumably yield the exact values of your subjective experience. The relational properties expressed by the formalism that describes us may fix our subjective properties: and perhaps if we summed the values of all the natural world's fundamental qualia then they'd cancel out to zero. I conjecture that "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences" is an expression of a zero ontology.

The huge pile of conjectures above is no less speculative than Tegmark. It's necessary to take one's ideas seriously enough to develop them but not so seriously one believes they are actually true (probably not!), at least not unless and until they are validated by the scientific community. Both Strawsonian physicalism and quantum mind are currently minority positions - and almost nobody takes seriously my falsifiable prediction that we're going to discover structural shadows of "bound" experiential objects in the CNS in the guise of macroscopic quantum coherent states at femtosecond timescales.

[I feel a bit queasy discussing such topics here. This is because the case for abolitionist bioethics - though mostly regarded as "fringe" - is compelling, whereas my musings on consciousness may very well be mistaken; and probably contribute to the perception we're just a fringe group. On the other hand, thinking about Reality is a whole lot more fun than thinking about suffering.]

* * *

David, Strawsonian physicalism:
http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~seager/strawson_on_panpsychism.doc
("Why physicalism entails panpsychism")
Everett is QM-lite: the universal Schrödinger equation without wavefunction collapse.


[on the moral equivalence of animal abuse and toddler abuse]
Someone who castrated a human toddler without an anaesthetic would be locked up for life. Is it absurd to believe that doing exactly the same to a being of comparable sentience is morally equivalent? To be sure, most but not all human toddlers have the potential to become cognitively sophisticated adult humans. But children deserve love and respect for who they are, not for what they may - or may not - one day become. Likewise pigs and the rest of our victims. Dawkins is right IMO.

* * *

Mihnea, I agree: most humans can suffer more than most nonhuman animals. The question is whether two beings of equal sentience deserve equal consideration, regardless of their ethnic group or species membership or cognitive potential. Thus pigs are at least as sentient and sapient as human prelinguistic toddlers. Why don't they deserve equal care and respect - and equal protection from harm?


[on gender choice]
"The Sun" is a Murdoch-owed right-wing tabloid. So I was quite encouraged by some of the comments on this heart-warming LGBT story - not just the usual haters. Progress?
Meet the teen sex swap couple
Eve Glicksman remarks how in classical antiquity lovers believed that a kiss would literally unite their souls, because the spirit was said to be carried in one's breath. Oh to be innocent of evolutionary biology...
Russell, if you think about its implications, most of life is sad - not least heterosexuality, which seems to have a strong heritable component. But anyone sceptical of the idea of moral progress should consider the history of the LGBT movement

Of course, there is still a (very) long way still to go.


[on the link between suffering and existential risk]
Fox, do you distinguish between existential risk and global catastrophic risk? Hundreds of millions (and perhaps billions) of humans may all too plausibly die this century in man-made catastrophes. But I find it surprisingly hard to construct human extinction scenarios that are both technically and sociologically realistic.

A sufficiently extensive gigaton thermonuclear Doomsday device could wipe out multicellular life; such a device not going to be built. A super-virulent but delayed action biological agent is perhaps the most realistic candidate for a human species extinction event. The resources needed for its design and propagation are more modest. (cf. Lethal virus 'could wipe out humans'. A notional nonbiological classical utilitarian super-AGI would also presumably dispatch us; contra MIRI, I regard its existence as technically infeasible, at least with existing AI architectures.


[on rationalising meat-eating]
Brighter Brains? Meat-eating

One's heart sinks. "Back to the Palaeolithic" is not an inspiring choice of transhumanist slogan. I've knocked out a standard reply; but it's all been said before....

"When is it ethically acceptable to harm another sentient being? Justifying animal abuse or child abuse on the grounds that the pleasure derived by the abuser exceeds the suffering of the victim would be problematic even if the maths were correct - which seems unlikely. Will choosing veggieburgers rather than meatburgers really impoverish one's life?

Likewise, it's hard to see how the greater sentience and sapience of an abuser compared to his victim(s) justifies the suffering caused. From an ethical perspective, surely the vulnerable need more protection, not less?

In what sense is the distinction between insentient plants and suffering animals "arbitrary"? The distinction between the conscious and the non-conscious is perhaps the most conceptually fundamental I know.

How is giving consideration to the lives of pigs and cows equal to human infants and toddlers of comparable sentience supposed to be an expression of "misanthropy"? To accuse antiracists who believe black babies deserve as much as care and respect as white babies of thereby "hating white people" would be absurd. Why make an equivalent charge against vegetarians?

The comparative cognitive deficits recorded by meat eaters compared to vegetarians (a seven-point IQ gap here in the UK) have many possible explanations. Not least, better educated and higher IQ young people are more likely to become vegetarian in the first instance. (cf. the BBC news story: High IQ link to being vegetarian. But it's ironic that a plea for meat-eating should be posted on "Brighter Brains". If we seek cognitive amplification, we'll need to enrich and extend our cognitive capacities to empathise with other subjects of experience. Outlawing slaughterhouses and the meat "industry" will be a start.

Graeme, teeth are a sinister relic of our Darwinian ancestry; but I agree their absence must be an inconvenience. May I recommend ground nuts, seeds and berries? [Holland and Barrett stock all the range listed: http://www.linwoodshealthfoods.com/us/] When I travel, I like to pass myself off as one of the natives. Yet I normally aim to supply my own portable food: anthropology has its limits.

A refreshing contrast:
Personhood Beyond the Human
- and congratulations to the conference organisers. My main worry is that the suffering of beings who fail to cross any plausible threshold of "personhood" risks being downplayed.


[on zombies and reductive physicalism]
If 1) reductive physicalism is true and 2) the fundamental constituents of the world are non-conscious fields / branes (or whatever), then consciousness is impossible. We ought to be zombies. I'd relax assumption 2; other researchers relax assumption 1. Eliminative materialists bite the bullet and proclaim they are zombies. Alas I'm not.

Of folk who relax assumption 2, many assume that the Hard Problem is thereby dissolved. But zombies can be made of "mind dust" just as can sticks and stones, the collective population of the USA, and dreamless sleepers. We still need to solve the phenomenal binding problem consistently with reductive physicalism.

* * *

Daryl, just a note on your original post. You're tying the world-simulation model of perception to the conjecture that organic mind-brains are quantum computers. This would indeed be my position. But a world-simulation model can be endorsed by someone who is neither a Strawsonian physicalist nor a quantum mindist, let alone both, as me. Thus Antti Revensuo's Inner Presence is the best contemporary treatment I know of the world-simulation model. Ignoring perceptual direct realists like Andy Clark - and a surprising number of analytic philosophers - anti-representationist approaches are favoured by Rodney Brooks, dynamical systems theorists and others. And one can be a world-simulationist and also a purely classical connectionist.

Sad to say, I think the poet Emily Dickinson had a better grasp of the neuroscience than naive realists. [“The Brain—is wider than the Sky— ...”]


[on the unsung blessings of global surveillance]
Indeed. Surveillance, micromanagement and control sound inherently evil - especially when extended to every cubic metre of the planet. But such technologies are also a prerequisite of phasing out the biology of [involuntary] suffering throughout the living world. We just need to ensure they are used for that purpose.

* * *

To return to Daryl's question. Thankfully, it seems we should technically be able to get rid of experience below hedonic zero even in the absence of a scientific consensus on why suffering exists. We need only prevent its physically necessary preconditions.


[on the genetic roots of optimism and pessimism]
Should the human genome be lightly re-edited or comprehensively rewritten?
Genes predispose some people to focus on the negative
"If you think this Universe is bad, you should see some of the others.”
(Philip K. Dick)

NE, some of my transhumanist colleagues at MIRI believe artificial general intelligence is quite likely to convert the world into the equivalent of paperclips later this century. If so, I guess negative utilitarians should rejoice. For what it's worth, I suspect several hundred billion years of blissful sentience lie ahead. Alas the track record of futurology is not encouraging.
http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Paperclip_maximizer

Humanity faces the same challenge as the sailors on Neurath's raft as we edit the human genome.
["Imagine sailors who, far out at sea, transform the shape of their clumsy vessel from a more circular to a more fishlike one. They make use of some drifting timber, besides the timber of the old structure, to modify the skeleton and the hull of their vessel. But they cannot put the ship in dock in order to start from scratch. During their work they stay on the old structure and deal with heavy gales and thundering waves. In transforming their ship they take care that dangerous leakages do not occur. A new ship grows out of the old one, step by step -- and while they are still building, the sailors may already be thinking of a new structure, and they will not always agree with one another. The whole business will go on in a way we cannot even anticipate today. That is our fate."]

* * *

Indeed so Li Lu. Even in a world animated by gradients of bliss, presumably there can be the functional analogues of depressive realism - folk prone to focus on information-signalling hedonic dips rather than peaks. But technically speaking, life can still be generically wonderful. I speak as a negative utilitarian.
[...] More accurately, I should probably say life can feel self-evidently marvellous and meaningful. How we metaphysically unpack this wonderful, magical-seeming phenomenal experience is more controversial....

* * *

New life? Well, no one is harmed by not existing. So I'm not convinced we have an ethical obligation to create new life - even when its well-being can be safely underwritten. But in a future world unblighted by experience below "hedonic zero", I think we can rebut David Benatar's claim that coming into being is inherently harmful. Darwinian life, maybe. But not posthuman life.

Sadly, I could be catastrophically mistaken.

* * *

Li Lu, indeed. If reality had an OFF switch I'd press it - and not for the purposes of a reboot. However, living in the real world, we have to devise solutions to the problem of suffering that are technically and sociologically credible. Biotech means we can at least glimpse technical solutions. Whether they prove sociologically viable is another matter. Ultimately, I suspect so - though not without at least a century or two more of misery and malaise. But there are too many variables to call this prediction / prophecy anything other than an informed guess.

One side-note: if one says that humans are going to decommission natural selection, it's easy to be misunderstood as prophesying the end of selection pressure - which leads to all kinds of worries about dysgenics etc. In fact, selection pressure will presumably intensify in the new era of "designer babies" and beyond. The difference is evolution will no longer be "blind" and genetic mutations will no longer be essentially random.


[on consensus-building versus philosophical purity ]
Intellectuals tend to prefer controversy over flabby consensus. But I think there is a powerful ethical case for trying to build the broadest possible coalition over abolitionist bioethics. This means embracing religious believers. By all means let theologians reinterpret hedonic recalibration as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy; the miracle of the loves and the fishes as prefiguring in vitro meat; and high-tech Jainism as the lion lying down with the lamb...


[on infinity]
"Infinity's End
Time to ditch the never-ending story?" A small but growing minority of researchers argue that infinities are pathological in physics and mathematics alike. The existence of physically realised infinity would be potentially catastrophic in ethics (see Nick Bostrom's "Infinite Ethics", but also the lesswrong "Torture vs Dust Specks" debate - where utilitarians must allegedly prefer to allow torture to prevent an abundance of pinpricks - or in the case of the example used, a speck of dust in the eye.) Of course nasty ethical dilemmas remain even if ultrafinitism in both maths and physics is correct.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929300.700-infinitys-end-time-to-ditch-the-neverending-story.html
http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/infinite.pdf
http://lesswrong.com/lw/kn/torture_vs_dust_specks/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultrafinitism

All varieties of utilitarianism - and indeed all ethical theories I know of - have implications that are abhorrent to our moral intuitions. Nick himself is agnostic on the best ethical theory. I used to argue these questions energetically. I'm mow inclined to be more pragmatic. Let's build the broadest possible secular and religious consensus around phasing out the biology of involuntary suffering. Few ethical theorizes don't give some weight to reducing the world's miseries; what's fundamentally changed is the technology to tackle them.

* * *

Timothy, indeed so. What needs to be shown is that the violently counterintuitive is also false. If meta-ethical realism is correct, i.e. there is an objectively correct ethic to be discovered, then presumably its policy implications may be as much at odds with folk morality as is quantum theory at odds with folk physics.

Lucas, the ultrafinitist argues this seemingly unavoidable conclusion [the torture vs dust specks debate] may be resisted. If we give a mote of dust in the eye or a pinprick (etc) some seemingly negligible but nonzero negative weight, then yes, on a utilitarian ethic, Graham's number (or whatever) of pinpricks must, on the face of it, be more terrible than torturing someone. But ultrafinitism in maths and physics (which may ultimately be co-extensive) potentially defeats this seemingly inexorable conclusion. No number of pinpricks is worse than torture.

* * *

Wolf, no version that has been rigorously formulated to my knowledge. Although ultrafinitism in maths and physics can potentially defeat the motes-of-dust / torture trade-off, the conjecture doesn't defeat all sorts of ugly trade-offs involving slightly differing durations and intensities of suffering.
Jazi, I sympathise with the sentiment. But if meta-ethical realism is true, then perhaps ethics is computable.
Sean, the Moral Maze inquisition reminded me of how far we have to go. But in brighter moments I think how far we've come.

* * *

Wolf, I agree it's still ugly - and I don't pretend to have an adequate account of how trade-offs in general should be made. I'd just argue that the seemingly logically unassailable torture-for-many-motes-of-dust argument has a suppressed premise, i.e. nonfinitism in maths and the natural world is true - a premise that may be false.

A lot of interesting points there Daryl. First, extinction. Within the next few decades, won't self-sustaining human colonies be established elsewhere in the solar system, first I guess on the Moon and Mars? Their existence will presumably make human extinction (in the apocalyptic sense of extinction rather than genome rewrites etc) much less likely.

* * *

Wolf, oh, sorry, I should have made clear: I agree with you. Once we have made sure - absolutely sure - we have established the upper bounds to what rational agency can accomplish even in theory, then there is no point in troubling ourselves about what' is beyond is our capacity to influence.

"He who is rational about love is incapable of it". I know some people feel the same about ethics. They "just know" what is ethically appropriate. Jazi, I agree with you that in our current ignorance, ethics cannot be reduced to computation. But I also support the Effective Altruist movement (I suspect you do too) - and the compassionate but hard-headed utilitarians at its fore.

* * *

Jazi, here I would beg to differ. The pain-pleasure axis - and its neurological correlates in the brain - offers a natural way rigorously to measure (dis)value. We need ethics because (among other reasons) natural selection has not favoured impartial appraisal of the pains and pleasures of other sentient beings. My pains and pleasures seem more important than those of anyone else.

* * *

Wolf, yes, the question is essentially of theoretical interest. Most of us are resigned to the fact that we can make only a tiny impact in the big scheme of things. But there would be something totally demoralising about discovering that nothing one does diminishes the suffering in reality in the slightest - as nonfinitist cosmology might suggest. Hopefully, reality isn't that cruel.

* * *

Wolf, pragmatically I agree with you. Actually - and in defiance of our common supposition that knowledge good by its very nature - I hope that in our forward light-cone sentient beings can lose all understanding that suffering is possible or even what the word "suffering" means. But first we must establish the theoretical bounds of rational agency.

Karn, before tackling your substantive point, many cosmologists (as I understand it) believe in physically realised infinities - a notion of which I admittedly struggle to make sense. Thus according to Max Tegmark, for instance, your nearest type-identical copy is 10^10^28 metres away. And you have a infinite number of copies, all as really existent as each other.
http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/PDF/multiverse_sciam.pdf


[on 'What Is Your Philosophy of Mind?']
Andres Gomez Emilsson asks:
What Is Your Philosophy of Mind?

  1. Monism: Panpsychism/Strawsonian Physicalism
  2. Monism: Materialism
  3. Strawsonian physicalism and macroscopic quantum coherence to "bind".
  4. Unknowable
  5. Epiphenomenic Cosmicism
  6. Neutral monism
  7. Something else (trialism?, tetralism?)
  8. Monism: Idealism ala Berkeley
  9. Dualism: Dual interaction
  10. Dualism: Epiphenomenalism
  11. Dualism: Mind to matter interaction only
  12. New computationalism
The link with epistemology - good and bad - is intimate. See for instance:
Mind into Matter Where we end and the world begins"
"Extended mind" theories simply don't work IMO. But a surprising number of well-respected philosophers and researchers are tempted.
"The Extended Mind" by Andy Clark & David J. Chalmers]

* * *

Stephen, IMO all bets are off! Either way, if we do eventually find the answer, I wonder how much violence will the explanation do to our existing conceptual scheme - say on a scale of 1 to 10? Answers range from very little (crudely, 1 out of 10, e.g., "How obvious! Why didn't I think of that" - James Watson) to 10 out of 10 - a meta-paradigm shift beyond our current imagination.

* * *

Vito, in one sense I agree with you. The case for phasing out the biology of suffering via biotech ought to be regarded as obvious. Success doesn't depend on any deep understanding of the nature of consciousness. So long as we prevent (what is most naturally described as) expression of the neural signatures of experience below hedonic zero, unpleasant experience of any kind is physically impossible.

But this doesn't stop me - and indeed other folk who regard the case for phasing out suffering as compelling - from wondering how on earth it's possible for phenomenal experience to exist in the first place given our materialist intuitions. Dualism, epiphenomenalism and eliminative materialism all have their champions. As you know, I'm personally, tentatively, a physicalist - a monist but not a materialist - and predict that experimental neuroscience will discover the formal structural analogue of phenomenal binding in the CNS in the guise of macroscopic quantum coherent states. If such speculations aren't to your taste, I'll quite understand!

* * *

Vito, I hate mysteries. If I thought there were the slightest chance that the phenomenal binding problem is merely some philosophers' pseudo-problem, a "bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language", I'd be delighted.

First, do you agree with philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel: "If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Probably Conscious"?
http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzPapers/USAconscious-130208.pdf

I'm guessing (please correct me if I'm mistaken) that you'd answer: No! 320 million odd skull-bound Americans are individually conscious. But over-and-above their individual minds and behaviours, there isn't some unitary super-mind who hears concerts, witnesses a sunset, or finds a joke funny.

Might we be mistaken?
Yes. But if so, then farewell to reductive physicalism.

So how about a community of some 86 billion ostensibly discrete, membrane-bound neurons of a human CNS? Yes, like the population of the USA, our neurons are interconnected. Distributive feature-processing of edges, textures, colours, motions, vertices (etc) of patterns of inputs from the optic nerve, cross-modally matched with input from other senses, ensures that there is normally a high level of functional integration. But to posit the generation of phenomenal sunsets and symphonies apprehended by a unitary self would seem absurd. At most, neuronal pixels could form patterns of classical "mind dust". Only of course we know this isn't the case! Uncommon neurological disorders like simultanagnosia aside, we each instantiate multiple bound phenomenal objects in a fleetingly unitary egocentric world-simulation. When we are awake, our world-simulations tend causally to co-vary with fitness-relevant patterns in the mind-independent local environment. Yet on the face of it, our unitary virtual worlds populated by unitary phenomenal objects in a unitary spatio-temporal l field shouldn't exist at all. Like the USA, we should be zombies!

The above description treats the neurons of the mind-brain as though they were essentially classical objects. I don't believe this can be the case. But either way, the binding problem is a profound challenge - regardless of the explanation-space in which we think the ultimate answer lies.

* * *

Chris, apologies, I've been using the "combination problem" and "binding problem" interchangeably (I prefer the latter). If Strawsonian physicalism and quantum coherence can deliver phenomenal binding, then there is no structural mismatch between neurology and our phenomenology - a seeming mismatch that helps push David Chalmers to his naturalistic dualism. An orthodox materialist might respond that 1) we have no evidence that Strawsonian physicalism is true; and 2) the sub-femtosecond timescales beyond which quantum coherence in the CNS is destroyed (Tegmark's estimate is orders of magnitude different from Hameroff's) are too rapid to allow any phenomenological or computational work, i.e. it's just "noise".

* * *

Chris, I didn't realise this. If so, there would seem no reason for Chalmers to reject monistic physicalism. [to rehash something I said earlier. Explanations invoking ultra-rapid quantum coherence apparently fall victim to an obvious rejoinder even prior to the development of tools capable of probing such ultra-fine temporal resolutions. Surely we perceive our local environment with a time-lag of scores of milliseconds, not femtoseconds - or whatever ridiculously short timescales thermally-induced decoherence in the CNS occurs. But this objection misconceives the nature of perception. When we are awake rather than dreaming, the role of impulses from the optic nerve (etc) is to select states of the mind-brain. None of us ever "wake up" from our dreams / world-simulations - in the folk-psychological sense of being "awake" - to access the extracranial world. However, during an "awake" state of consciousness, our world-simulations typically causally covary with fitness-relevant patterns in the local environment.]

Andres, yes, it's a powerful intuition. Here is a counterargument: we do not experience the passage of time. The claim we experience time's passage assumes an enduring metaphysical self. Rather, each here-and-now, every "specious present", has a phenomenal temporal depth that may not correspond to its physical duration any more than activation of a few cubic centimetres of neurons in the striate cortex need be apprehended as a few cubic centimetres of phenomenal space. Instead, activation of these striate cortical neurons may be identical with instantiating e.g. an expanse of phenomenal sky seemingly kilometres in extent (recall the poet Emily Dickinson:
"The Brain­
is wider than the Sky­
For­ put them side by side­
The one the other will contain
With ease ­and You­ beside"
]

On this "block universe" account, strings of "frozen" here-and-nows, strung together in data-driven sequences computationally optimised by millions of years of natural selection, timelessly constitute what we would more naturally describe as the life of a person. If quantum theory and general relativity are essentially correct, then we all tenselessly occupy the coordinates we do in the universal wave function. Each "frame" of the movie, so to speak, is frozen even though internally, phenomenally, each frame may be apprehended as dynamic. This conceptual framework would be clearer if each of our "frames" bore superscripts (e.g. Andres46781 Andres46782, Andres46783, etc) After all, what do we imagine it would be like to instantiate a quantum mind whose world-simulation was running at, say, 1015 frames a second? Each "frame" tenselessly occupies the spacetime (or Hilbert space) coordinates it does; but apprehended from the inside, it can be phenomenally rich, temporally deep and complex. Thus phenomenal here-and-nows each of a few hundred milliseconds allow us to e.g. enjoy music, a game of football - and much else besides.

[The story above combines the (comparatively) orthodox with the idiosyncratic and highly controversial, i.e. quantum mind. Sorry, I should really flag what is and isn't consensus wisdom.]

The starkest exposition of the "timeless" view of physics is Julian Barbour's "The End of Time". A counterblast to the prevailing "timeless" orthodoxy in physics is Lee Smolin's recent (semi-popular) "Time Reborn".
I confess I wasn't convinced.

* * *

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
(Edgar Allan Poe)
"Dreams: Full of meaning or a reflex of the brain?"

Alex, I sympathise: the available options seem either totally absurd or demonstrably false. The position I (reluctantly) favour invokes not one but two absurdities - and doesn't yet lend itself to empirical testing. This is not a happy situation to be in.

Information-based ontologies should probably be added to Andres' taxonomy of options.
Digital Physics

* * *

Why can't philosophers speak in plain English?! Heaven knows what any non-philosopher coming to Andres' list of options and the subsequent discussion would make if it. But the consensus in the philosophical community is that certain semi-technical terms - not least "physicalism", "panpsychism", "monistic idealism", "monistic materialism", "dualism", "epiphenomenalism" and "eliminativism" - are essential in conducting debate and (hopefully!) making progress.

Andrew, which of Andres' terms would you especially like amplified?
"Strawsonian physicalism":
http://www.amazon.com/Consciousness-Its-Place-Nature-Physicalism/dp/1845400593

For the binding problem / quantum coherence, perhaps see e.g.
The Cognitive Binding Problem: From Kant to Quantum Neurodynamics.

"Monism" is the idea that the world is made up of only one fundamental kind of stuff. Contrast dualism - interactive or otherwise. The most common monism in the scientific era is materialism. "Physicalism" is often used as a near-synonym of materialism in recognition of the fact physicists don't deal with classical atomic billiard balls any more but rather quantum fields (etc). But whereas materialism is a claim about the stuff of the world, physicalism is best understood as the claim that the world is exhaustively described by the equations of physics and their solutions. Maybe the "fire" in the equations is indeed nonsentient - as materialists and most scientifically literate people suppose. But this is an additional conjecture.

* * *

Consciousness is an outrage. Even so, it's worth stressing that panpsychism is not animism. The panpsychist / Strawsonian physicalist no more believes that a rock is a subject of experience than does, say, Daniel Dennett. Unfortunately, the panpsychist / Strawsonian physicalist still has a lot of work to do to show how a bunch of supposedly discrete quasi-classical nerve cells / "mind dust" can generate bound phenomenal objects or a unitary phenomenal self.

Vito, I can sympathise. Both panpsychism / Strawsonian physicalism and selection-optimised macroscopic quantum coherence in the CNS as an explanation of phenomenal binding are wildly counter-intuitive. Yet in combination they aren't unscientific. The hallmark of pseudo-science is an absence of concrete, falsifiable predictions: an idea that is "not even wrong". If probing the mind-brain at the temporal resolutions at which macroscopic quantum coherence occurs yields simply "noise", the conjecture will be refuted.

I believe, provisionally at least, in the ontological unity of science. Vito, there's nothing "needlessly complex" about wanting to preserve reductive physicalism. But preserving reductive physicalism - if it's possible at all - comes at a high price. The existence of one's own consciousness is inconsistent with a materialist ontology. The irreducibility of first-person facts (e.g. I-am-in-pain) is not like the irreducibility of, say, DNA to superstrings. We can understand how, in principle, a reductive explanation of the latter is feasible (i.e. molecular biology to quantum chemistry and quantum chemistry to fundamental physics). A reduction is merely too difficult in practice. Yet in the case of (somehow) deriving first-person facts from third-person facts, sentience from non-sentience, we're dealing with entirely different ontological categories.

* * *

[Thomas] Nagel is correct IMO. Panpsychism is the view that physical matter and energy have subjective properties as their inner aspect. An advantage of describing oneself as a "physicalistic panpsychist" rather than a "monistic idealist" is that the latter carries overtones of Bishop Berkeley and/or the German idealists. But if one takes seriously the possibility that the "fire" is the equations of physics is intrinsically subjective, then "monistic idealism" might be more accurate. Both views still face:
http://consc.net/papers/combination.pdf
("The Combination Problem for Panpsychism")

* * *

Michael. I agree. A counterargument that an orthodox materialist might make is that physicists know precisely the properties of, e.g. an electron - its electric charge, its rest mass, it's spin. An electron has no "hair"; there are no hidden variables, no "element of reality" that isn't captured in the theory of quantum electrodynamics. All electrons are identical. At the most fundamental level, Nature is extremely simple. QED gives agreement with experimental results down to ten decimal places.

IMO this argument fails.

* * *

Does anaesthesia destroy consciousness - or just binding?
The Key to Consciousness: Efficient Information Flow?

* * *

Saif, first, excellent points / questions. Before going off again on my quantum mind spiel, I'd like to press you on one point, the evolution of classical mechanisms to generate unitary world-simulations. Are you suggesting that an essentially classical account can be given of functional object feature-binding and the functional unity of perception and functional unity of the self - in a way analogous to how interconnected skull-bound American minds could be used, crudely, to track / simulate features of the USA's local environment (with the connectivity presumably ensured by ultrafast electromagnetic signals rather than neurotransmitters / chemical synapses as in the CNS? Or more radically, are you suggesting that phenomenal binding and phenomenal unity of perception and phenomenal unity of the self can be reductively explained classically? A quantum mind sceptic can always say "Why not?" in the same way Eric Schwitzgebel can claim "If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Probably Conscious"
http://faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzAbs/USAconscious.htm
But if so, then reductive physicalism fails - a catastrophe for the [ontological] unity of science.

My focus is exploring what must be the case if reductive physicalism is true - and there is no "element of reality" lacking from the formalism of (tomorrow's) physics.

* * *

Daryl, I'm reminded of an intervention by a neurosurgeon using microelectrodes on the prefrontal cortex of an awake, locally anaesthetised subject. Applied in one region, the subject's hand shoots up. "Wow" says the subject. "You did that". When the microelectrodes are applied to an adjacent region, the hand shoots up again. "I decided to lift my hand", the subject reports.

Assuming a mind-brain identity theory, in both cases the subject's experience of his hand - or rather his body-image's hand - lifting upwards is identical with a pattern of neuronal firings in the CNS. Only in the latter case is the phenomenology of volition / willed agency present.

Returning to your observations, I think we need to distinguish between two issues.
1) Is it possible on the basis of neuroscanning to predict with a high measure of accuracy how a person will behave hundreds of milliseconds - or even several seconds - before the action in question?
2) Is the experience of phenomenal agency identical with a brain state? If so, the brain state in question cannot be described as causing the phenomenology because identity is not a causal relationship.

* * *

Saif, if Strawsonian physicalism is true, then the world is exhaustively described by fields (strings / branes??) of micro-qualia. The solutions to the quantum field-theoretic equations presumably yield the exact values of micro-qualia. However, the only scientifically literate form of panpsychism is not animism. At first sight, we're no nearer to explaining why we're not quasi-zombies, i.e. no more unitary subjects of experience than rocks, trees or a dreamless sleeper. On the face of it, mere patterned aggregates of "mind-dust" - discrete pixels of micro-experience - cannot literally become a single bound, cross-modally matched phenomenal object, let alone a unitary experiential world-simulation, simply in virtue of crossing a threshold of complexity or functionality. On a naive direct realist story of perception, membrane-bound neurons certainly appear gross classical objects under a light microscope. We're faced with a structural mismatch between the phenomenology of our minds / world-simulations and the distributive processing of the microstructure of the brain. This mismatch pushes Davis Chalmers to dualism and Eric Schwitzgebel into radical ontological emergence. But perceptual direct realism is false.

Now let's consider an example of a kind of holism ostensibly very different from the holistic phenomenology of our experience: superfluid helium. At low temperatures, a collection of what were effectively discrete helium atoms lose their individual identity and become a giant macroscopic wave-function - a single entity. Again assuming Strawsonian physicalism, here we have a single gigantic macroscopic quale - conjecturally, a perfect structural match between physical structure and subjective experience. Alas this conjecture is untestable. But an analogous conjecture is testable, in principle at any rate, in the waking/dreaming CNS. Compare the ostensible structural mismatch between the phenomenology of our minds / world-simulations and the gross classical microstructure of the brain. When a subject apprehends a phenomenal object in her world-simulation, neuroscanning of her CNS reveals discrete cellular colour detectors, edge detectors, motion detectors (etc) firing simultaneously, not the signature of a giant macroscopic wavefunction. What I'm predicting is that when we can probe the mind-brain at the (naively) ridiculously fine-grained timescales above which thermally-induced decoherence destroys macroscopic superpositions in a system as warm as the CNS, what we'll find is not random psychotic "noise", but the successive structural shadows of the phenomenal objects populating our world simulations. What each of us naively perceives as the classical world is "what it feels like from the inside" to be a biological quantum computer - a simulation running at around 1015 quantum coherent frames per second optimised by hundreds of millions of years of evolution to track fitness-relevant patterns in the local environment.

Nonsense, says the sceptic: conscious mind must surely be a classical phenomenon. Yet if the quantum mind conjecture sounds implausible and lacking the slightest shred of supportive empirical evidence, then I can only say: good. This is precisely what we need in order to make progress towards a scientific understanding of conscious mind - not armchair philosophising or a faux prediction (i.e. a retrodiction in the guise of a prediction) but a falsifiable and counterintuitive prediction that almost everybody who considers the possibility at all dismisses as crazy. And of course it may well indeed be false. If so, back to the drawing board. But something like this approach is the only way I can think of to save reductive physicalism. And IMO the alternatives are ghastly.


[on lesion-induced hyperempathy]
Hyper Empathy
("Brain Surgery To Remove Amygdala Leads To Woman's 'Hyper Empathy")

How few of us would recognise our own brain...
A Lissencephalic Brain
("Is this the most extraordinary human brain ever seen?)

Chris, to disclose one is, tentatively, both a reductive physicalist and a monistic idealist is to run the risk of sounding as though one is gibbering in schizophrenic word-salad. But recall Bertrand Russell's notorious and oft-repeated remark that one never sees anything but the inside of one's own head. I don't think the natural world contains classical brains and classical nerve cells - not when we're awake or dreaming, at any rate: IMO cheesy wet neural tissue is as much an artefact of the mind-brain as is, say, phenomenal colour.

Do the comatose revert to mind-dust?
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130918180246.htm
("Coma: researchers observe never-before-detected brain activity")

Psychonauts may be allowed a wry smile...
http://www.livescience.com/39812-strange-consciousness-state-in-surgery.html
("Strange New State of Consciousness Could Exist, Researcher Says")


[on the BBC "Moral Maze"]
Is Middle England ready for a utilitronium shockwave?
Moral Maze: The Pursuit of Happiness
Apparently I'm debating a psychologist, a psychoanalyst, and a Buddhist.

Jason, thanks, I didn't know in advance what the questions were going to be. I was expecting I might need to deal with the complications and controversies relating to hedonic set-point theory, whereas Giles Fraser hadn't heard of hedonic set-points - and didn't seem unduly keen to learn more!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill

Sean, thanks for your unwavering support. Despite the incomprehension of Giles Fraser, the past two decades have witnessed a growth in hedonic set-point theory - and a deeper molecular understanding of the negative feedback mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill in the CNS. What's still lacking - outside the margins of the scientific counterculture - is any serious exploration of how hedonic set-points can be safely and sustainably raised.

Stephen, I agree with you in a sense. Whether resisting the Gestapo interrogators rather than betray one's comrades, or putting up with the more mundane miseries of everyday life, suffering can sometimes be meaningful - on occasion intensely so. But suffering is only (I'd argue) meaningful as a means to prevent worse suffering. And the great majority of suffering in the living world isn't meaningful in any sense at all.

Sean, thanks again for the kind words. With my dark view of human nature, I'm sceptical that my motives are purer than our opponents. But from a narrowly technical perspective, at least, I think we win hands down. A combination of genetic engineering and sociopolitical initiatives can abolish the biology of involuntary suffering. Social engineering on its own is doomed to fail.

* * *

"If I hadn't lost my legs in the car accident, I'd never have found the time to write my great novel." We all try and rationalise our suffering. Sometimes our rationalisations are less flimsy than others. A future economy of mind based entirely on gradients of bliss offers a richer quality of life than anything accessible today.

Stephen, yes, intuitively perhaps we imagine the delicate and refined Eloi in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine - so unlike the robust but depraved Morlocks dwelling in the subterranean caverns below. But recall that antidepressant drugs are tested today in "animal models" by their capacity experimentally to increase resilience - and their ability to reverse the learned helplessness and behavioural despair characteristic of depression. In short, happiness promotes resilience. Posthumans are likely to be psychological supermen in every sense.

Contrast? Will hedonic dips in sublime bliss come to seem akin to suffering? Well, perhaps compare sensual love-making today. Using mutual feedback, accomplished lovers can make some aspects of lovemaking even more enjoyable than others. This doesn't make the "merely" enjoyable aspects somehow unpleasant. Positive hedonic tone is maintained throughout.


[on stroke-induced sadness deficits]
Stroke victim unable to feel sadness
see also: "There's More to Life Than Being Happy"
Of course there's more to life than not having a raging toothache too. But while the toothache endures, such philosophical ruminations are beside the point.

* * *

Stephen, yes, if only some folk upgrade, a begrudging attitude to the hedonic aristocracy is certainly a possibility. On the other hand, I've never heard anyone say a word against the person I know with the most optimally calibrated hedonic treadmill, transhumanist scholar Anders Sandberg ("I do have a ridiculously high hedonic set-point")

[...]Freud was certainly no neuro-utopian. His goal for psychotherapy was "to transform hysterical misery into common unhappiness"? Even today's lame antidepressants can often do better than that. I think we should have a neuro-utopian roadmap even if the journey's end takes longer than we anticipate.

* * *

Stephen, I'd agree, taking (today's) drugs is not the answer. Heroin is illegal for humans; purity and dosages are uncontrolled, and chronic users must somehow raise funds to support their habit - a recipe for crime, prostitution and an unhealthy lifestyle that alienates family and friends. But...
Captive nonhuman animals given unlimited access to food, water, and cocaine will be dead within a month.
Captive nonhuman animals given unlimited access to food, water and strong opioids can live normal lifespans.

* * *

Stephen, I agree! Most of today's licensed psychiatric medicines and street drugs alike are quite trashy. But instead of trying to ban mood-enrichment, I think we should be developing safe and sustainable mood-brighteners - though only as a stopgap on the route to remedying genetically our default state of consciousness.

* * *

Well, perhaps one's first responsibility is not to bring even more suffering into the world. So before having children, I think prospective parents should at least use preimplantation genetic screening to ensure their kids are predisposed to high hedonic set-points, (e.g. by choosing the benign allele of the COMT gene) and high pain thresholds (e.g. choosing a benign "low pain" variant of the SCN9A gene) Alas autosomal genetic enhancement technologies for mood enrichment are presumably still a couple of decades(?) away. So those of us stuck with legacy code need drugs.

[Sorry, the above policy prescription is simplistic, I know. What we really need is genetic counselling for prospective parents, universal access to preimplantation genetic screening, and a sea-change in our conception of mental health. Amongst other things.]

* * *

Sadly, there are some people who only ever feel well on opioids. As Timothy rightly points out, the physical risks of taking opioids of known purity are overblown. Captive nonhuman animals with unlimited access to strong opioids, food, water and shelter can lead normal lifespans. But going on opioids for the treatment of depression rather than acute pain (or end-of-life palliative care] is still a momentous decision to take. Not least, tolerance doesn't plateaux until quite heroic dosages - and the emotional self-sufficiency that heroin etc induces can disrupt normal social relationships whose functioning is opioid-based. Then there are the legal and financial ramifications of living in an opiophobic society...

* * *

I sometimes describe HI as high-tech Jainism. In its purest form, Jainism involves not harming - or allowing to come to harm - any sentient being by word or deed. If not harming by deed is tough, not harming by word is almost impossible. Like most people, in my darker moods I sometimes feel I'm surrounded by knaves and fools. But it's worth stepping back and reminding ourselves that any comparative differences in human insight and rationality are likely to seem marginal at best to our posthuman successors.
Less long-windedly, I think it's time for the digital equivalent of a group hug.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism

Thanks João! I confess I'm curious what percentage of otherwise drug-naive academics who take modafinil as a "smart drug" are really using the drug for its subtle mood-brightening effect. If one is feeling good, one does indeed feel smarter.


[on the universality of (dis)value]
Does the world have a single axis of (dis)value? "Two dimensions of value
Dopamine neurons represent reward but not aversiveness".

Some researchers conjecture there could be more than one axis of (dis)value in another sense altogether. But IMO the pleasure-pain axis is fundamental. http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Paperclip_maximizer

Philipp, you ask if I believe that with omniscience any experience or sensation could be attributed a real value in [-1,1] (or (-inf, +inf))?] That's an interesting (and important) question. in short, yes IMO. Ultimately, (dis)value is computable.
The vast majority of potential experiences have no hedonic tone at all; but thanks to evolution, neural projections from the limbic system lend all sorts of otherwise hedonically neutral states hedonic tone - the so-called "encephalisation of emotion".

[There are all sorts of complications here. For example, as an ultrafinitist in maths, I'm sceptical about the reals. And until we have a satisfactory account of phenomenal binding, we can't hope for a cardinal ranking of (dis)valuable experience. And we need to assume a God-eye-view: all sorts of experiences that are phenomenally (dis)valuable to the subject (e.g. the taste of eating meat, the sexual pleasure of a rapist (etc) may be (dis)valuable in a wider context.]

João, could you give an example of (dis)value that doesn't, directly or indirectly, depend on the pleasure-pain axis for its (dis)valuable nature? You may be right there's no "big, shiny and totemic universal principle" underlying everything. But without hedonic tone, I'm not convinced anything matters at all.

Chris, yes it's a troubling dilemma. No one is going to make the switch to life animated by gradients of bliss and discover it's a horrible mistake. But what about the holdouts - blinkered bioconservatives who won't glimpse what they're missing? I just think that taking the project forward depends on our stressing freedom, opportunity and informed consent - not paternalism. Even on strictly utilitarian criteria, it's probably best to enshrine in law the individual's right to choose his or her own genetics and states of consciousness. Perhaps the knottiest ethical questions relate to prospective parents. When unpleasant experience of any kind becomes technically optional, should anyone be ethically or legally entitled to bring involuntary suffering into the world to satisfy their own appetites? I suspect such irresponsible behaviour will be reckoned unethical; perhaps one day criminal; and eventually inconceivable.

Sadly so, Thomas - and unless manifested as overt self-harm, mostly invisible to the world.
[I once mashed up my leg - and I was shocked at just how kind, sympathetic and considerate almost everyone was...I really wanted to say, look, this is trivial compared to low mood.]

* * *

Tim, under the 1968 Medicines Act and its subsequent amendments, it's unlawful for a UK business to market unlicensed / prescription-only meds to UK consumers. I can, however, make an unsolicited request for you to act as my agent in importing up to three month's supply for personal use. (I believe the provision was originally introduced so that diplomats etc could still get their meds even if they weren't UK-licensed. I've used qhi.co.uk since 1995. I originally wondered if they might be prudent to use a non-UK domain extension; but QHI evidently have good lawyers.

Kevin, be bold! Whole cultures and civilisations such as those of the Indian subcontinent have been based around a meatless diet. To the best of our knowledge, Indians don't enjoy eating food any less than Westerners. Most meat-eaters do eat vegetables [together with dead animal flesh]. And many newly-weaned children initially don't like the chewy taste of meat, though alas they soon acquire it.

Thomas, true, insects don't have a capacity for reflective self-awareness. But IMO their ganglia are still conscious. And bees, for example, are capable of surprisingly sophisticated cognition:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bee_learning_and_communication


[on Antispeciesism]
Sentient nonhumans should not be treated as property.
The Antispeciesist Revolution by David Pearce.

“Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity”, said George Bernard Shaw. Hank, very many thanks for the link. Transhumanists are fond of high-tech solutions to the world’s problems. But the single biggest reduction in suffering would come from shutting factory-farms and slaughterhouses - a simple, direct and effective solution to suffering on an unimaginable scale.

* * *

RMS, a pig is hugely more sentient - and sapient - than a new-born human child. We may agonise over whether an extremely premature baby, or indeed a normal newborn infant, deserves human rights. But we wouldn’t seriously question that two-year-old human toddlers deserve love, care and protection. Pigs are of comparable sentience and sapience to human prelinguistic toddlers. The differences between the mind-brain of a pig and a human prelinguistic toddler are quite marginal.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/science/10angier.html
The anti-speciesist argues they deserve to be treated accordingly.

* * *

As transhumanists, we are happy to sign up in the abstract to noble sentiments like a commitment to the well-being of all sentience. (cf. http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-declaration/) Alas we’re not always so comfortable with all the ramifications of what such a commitment entails. One obvious example is quitting eating meat and animal products. But as you note, a less obvious implication is the status of obligate carnivores. At present, we protect young and vulnerable members of our own species from human predators. We’ll shortly be in a position to protect young and vulnerable nonhumans from predators in our wildlife parks too.
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/5358
("The Problem of Predation")

Thanks Robert. Transhumanists advocate all sorts of advanced and exotic technologies to try and create a better world. But the change that would make the biggest direct impact on the burden of suffering doesn't involve high technology at all. However, it does involve marginal personal inconvenience.
(See you soon I hope. I have happy memories of Quebec!)

Does ordering a veggieburger rather than a meatburger cross the threshold of inconvenience into outright suffering? I guess living longer may be a serious inconvenience - but perhaps it's risk worth taking!

Thomas, a nervous system is energetically expensive. In the absence of a capacity for rapid, self-propelled motion, there could be no selection pressure for plants to evolve anything analogous to the CNS.

Sean, you're right to say that suffering can't yet rigorously be quantified. Its measurement can nonetheless be "operationalised", i.e. we can investigate how hard an agent will work to avoid different varieties and intensities of noxious stimuli. Reports from verbally competent subjects tally well with the behavioural and neuroscientific evidence (e.g. receptor density, occupancy, ligand binding by full, partial and inverse agonists and antagonists, etc) Utopian neuroscience should eventually allow suffering to be quantified with mathematical precision. IMO.

* * *

Man is a rationalising animal.
http://lesswrong.com/r/lesswrong/lw/i3s/why_eat_less_meat/
("Why Eat Less Meat?")

There seems to be a natural watershed, Sidgwick's "hedonic zero", above which experiences have positive hedonic tone and below which negative hedonic tone. Unlike emotionally neutral hedonic zero, the question of when exactly a merely unpleasant experience intensifies and crosses a threshold to become outright suffering is to some extent conventional; but it's not arbitrary. And muddying the story are composite painful-pleasurable experiences, like those induced by eating spicy food, bitter-sweet nostalgia etc. But ultimately - and here I'm going way beyond the available evidence - the exact textures of all our experiences are mathematically encoded by the solutions to the field equations of quantum physics. IMO.

Thomas, recall we know how to switch off pain altogether: nonsense mutations of the SCN9A gene. Plants lack an SCN9A gene - or any functional analogue. If you commit GBH on a carrot or a cabbage, its lack of any capacity for rapid self-propelled motion makes an ability to suffer redundant.
http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/SCN9A

* * *

Robert, perhaps consider mood that is ever-so-slightly positive and mood that is ever-so-slightly negative. Is there no neutral state in-between? Or must we pass straight from one frame of mind to the other?

On a different note, my (unproven) conjecture would be that the vast majority of neurons and local neural networks have no intrinsic hedonic tone in the absence of opioidergic and monoaminergic projections from the "primitive" limbic brain. If so, how affective binding occurs is unknown. It's one facet of the phenomenal binding problem more normally posed in terms of apparently distributively processed features of phenomenal objects or the unity of perception - or the synchronic unity of the self.
But as I say, this is just speculation.

Thanks Jason. Outside factory-farms, prisons and slaughterhouses, perhaps the majority of states of mind are just mediocre - not terrible, not wonderful, just "blah". Ethically speaking, abolishing the biology of involuntary suffering clearly takes precedence over getting rid of mediocrity. But by posthuman standards, any reward pathways that don't run on utilitronium may be pathological - archaic relics of mental ill-health from the Dark Ages.

Harry, clearly the sentience of unborn children is a function of their level of development. But an extremely premature 23-week-old baby in a neonatal care unit is sentient; and we have no grounds for supposing her sentience was caused by passage through the birth canal. Alas creatures far more sentient than micro-preemies end up on human dinner plates after a lifetime of abuse. I am of course opposed to genocide against humans and nonhumans alike.

Harry, I can't rule out the guiding hand of Providence isn't behind the biotech revolution, though the Standard Model in physics doesn't leave much elbow room. Either way, the technology to engineer suffering out of existence is real - or will shortly be so. Surely it's better we use biotech to try and help sentient beings rather than harm them? If you want to see the corrupting influence of absolute power at work, visit a factory farm or slaughterhouse.

* * *

Perhaps the religious-minded should view biotechnology as the route to super-spirituality. Almost certainly, there are state-spaces of spirituality richer than anything physiologically possible today.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_gene
(The "God Gene")

Jason, yes, I fear most folk would reckon phasing out the biology of suffering here on Earth is an impossibly grandiose project. IMO it's more likely to happen piecemeal and via selection pressure ("designer babies" etc).

Harry, the Bible doesn't say "Thou shalt not enjoy life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss." Are you sure it's against the Word of God? Doesn't He want his creatures to he happy?

Harry, we all know life is messy. But deciding whether "I like the taste" justifies harming another sentient being is not a complex moral dilemma calling for the wisdom of Solomon. Rather two-year-old Brazilian toddler Luiz Antonio puts some eminent theologians - and big-name academic philosophers - to shame:
video ("The Case for Vegetarianism - Explained by a child")
In what sense can phenomenal agony be "simulated"? If you feel it, it's real - not simulated at all. Yes, I fear we're trapped in god-forsaken basement reality.

The cat family needs editing as well as Homo sapiens:
http://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-explains-why-cats-get-grumpy-cat-sense-8C11073589
("Cuddly kitty or killer? Evolution explains why cats are grumpy")

* * *

“I think it is very good when people suffer. To me that is like the kiss of Jesus.” (Mother Teresa)
Robert, yes indeed. Defeating the ideologies of pianism may prove harder than overcoming its biology.

Telling people science will abolish suffering can be as tactful as telling people medicine will abolish aging - a few decades after they are dead. Perhaps we shouldn't seek too hard to strip away rationalisations until we can be sure they are truly redundant.

* * *

Life is messy and sometimes involves difficult moral dilemmas. Choosing whether to help or harm sentient beings isn't one of them. Or at least, it shouldn't be.

Excellent Martin - though cephalopod consciousness may genuinely be quite different from the unitary minds of vertebrates:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982209015462
("Nonsomatotopic Organization of the Higher Motor Centers in Octopus")

Imagine each of your limbs had its own mind-brain and was a fully-fledged subject of experience with substantial autonomy (an octopus has nine "brains") But what's critical, ethically, is that cephalopods share with vertebrates a pleasure-pain axis.
(for illustrative purposes, I'd probably use a picture of a pig for the headline "conscious awareness; just like humans".)

Wolf, yes, some neural networks intermittently become a unitary subjects of experience, e.g. the mind-brain when not in a dreamless sleep. Other neural networks are (probably) never a unitary subject of experience at all, notably the enteric nervous system ("the brain in the gut"). But how about some of our other peripheral ganglia (cf. the swift withdrawal of one's hand from the hot stove before the mind-brain experiences a searing pain?) And what about the individual nerve ganglia of, say, insects?

The question is normally framed as, "Are they conscious?" But the morally urgent question is, "Are they phenomenally bound"? Even if we take (very) seriously the possibility that individual neurons support rudimentary consciousness, such micro-consciousness is presumably utterly trivial - both in intensity and ethical significance - compared to the status of unitary bound subjects of experience.

* * *

The threshold at which pain becomes suffering is conventional; but it's not arbitrary. And I think we can make a strong case that no isolated, quasi-classical neuron can ever suffer - although it can support rudimentary aversive experience.

Even so, it's sometimes suggested that if we allow even a trivial negative value to such rudimentary aversive experience, then the prevention of a sufficient abundance of such micro-pinpricks / motes-of-dust must ethically outweigh even torture. This trade-off is claimed as some sort of logico-mathematical necessity. (cf. http://lesswrong.com/lw/kn/torture_vs_dust_specks/)

The suppressed premise here IMO is that ultrafinitism is false. As you know, I contend ultrafinitism is true. Yes, pinpricks are ethically undesirable. But no number of pinpricks outweigh torture.
Of course, difficult issues of ethical trade-offs remain.

I think there is a powerful ethical case for allowing species of predatory obligate carnivores to go extinct. [note: this does not entail "exterminating predators", as critics would say]. However, most people - not just animal advocates - are aghast at this prospect. So if we want to phase out the biology of involuntary suffering and conserve familiar iconic species like lions and tigers, then genetic / behavioural tweaking is probably the only solution. Thoughts?

* * *

Uncontrolled habitat destruction means that almost the only large free-living terrestrial predators alive later this century and beyond will reside in our wildlife parks. Steve, I'd readily agree with you that humans have an unmatched capacity to mess things up. But for better or worse, the choice isn't between interference and non-interference, but rather what ethical choices should govern our interventions. Should we e.g. support captive breeding programs for big cats, rewilding, and similar initiatives from "conservation biologists"? Or aim instead for a "welfare biology" - to borrow Yew-Kwang Ng's term:
http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/ng-interview.html

Steve, intuitively yes. If predators rather than food scarcity have been the limiting factor in herbivore population growth, then their removal/reprogramming might be expected to lead to a population explosion followed by mass starvation. But the option of cross-species fertility regulation (via immunocontraception, etc) means such Malthusian horrors are potentially redundant - for human and nonhuman animals alike.

Sean, yes, in view of the crimes against sentience we're perpetrating right now in our factory-farms and slaughterhouses, its almost farcical for humans to explore what compassionate stewardship of the rest of the living world will entail. Yet free-living animal suffering is the final strand of the abolitionist project - here on Earth at any rate. The 540 million year horror story has gone on long enough.


[on QM, Everett and phenomenal binding]
Evan, excellent. Thanks for the background. Two more resources - though I'm afraid neither author is US-based. David Wallace on post-Everett Quantum Mechanics:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Emergent-Multiverse-according-Interpretation/dp/0199546967
And Revonsuo's overview of the binding problem:
https://www.hedweb.com/intelligence-explosion/binding.pdf


[on the Reproductive Revolution]
Alex, Timothy, ideally we might hope for some grand World Health Organization-sponsored global species-project to eradicate the biology of involuntary suffering. My best stab at what's really going to unfold is to consider the nature of selection pressure in a world where prospective parents are increasingly customising the genetic make-up of their future children, i.e. as much "bottom up" as "top down". What do you reckon?
The Reproductive Revolution

[One reason why more transhumanists don't explore the issue is that believers in some kind of imminent Technological Singularity prophesy that humans will shortly merge with - or be superseded by - our intelligent machines, thereby making the nature of long-term selection pressure in primitive organic robots moot.]

* * *

Benjamin, I can't imagine you auditioning for anyone more bloodthirsty than Gandhi. The sad thing is Hitler didn't set out to be Hitler, so to speak. Many of us entertain utopian fantasies about what we'd do if we ruled the world; the real-life outcome would probably be catastrophic.

Timothy, lobbying the political parties for universal free provision of preimplantation genetic diagnosis and genetic counselling would be a start. But by far the greatest contribution to reducing the burden of suffering in the world isn't high tech at all. We should close down and outlaw factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Timothy, yes, Einstein was spot-on: "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

I wonder if intelligence or testosterone is the relevant variable here? [High testosterone function is linked to a sense of optimism and vitality and also (controversially) to "autistic" intelligence as measured by IQ tests.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402093750.htm
("Exploring the antidepressant effects of testosterone")
http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/03/14/testosterone-hormone-linked-to-higher-iq/24379.html
("Testosterone Hormone Linked to Higher IQ")

If an "elfiltronium shockwave" is feasible, I guess it may come about through the unwitting efforts of researchers of existential risk - who investigate countermeasure against it! The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) believe an analogous scenario is actually likely to play out later this century - as a nonhuman-friendly singleton AGI converts the accessible universe into the functional equivalent of paperclips.

My money is still on posthuman life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss.

Ideologically-driven idealists are (IMO) more likely to destroy the world than misanthropes. But if I thought this line of inquiry were promising (which I don't!) I might sign up for institute dedicated to combatting existential risk - and aim to get to get funding (to research "countermeasures") too.

* * *

Let's say you're in agony. A radical eliminativist like Dennett might say that you merely seem to be in agony - you're in the grip of a false theory of qualia. And it's true that within the context of a materialist ontology and behaviourist epistemology, phenomenal agony ought to be impossible, merely distress vocalisations. But if materialism were true, the phenomenal experience of "seeming" would be impossible too: a reductive physical explanation of first-person facts to third-person facts is impossible. Now I'm all in favour of considering even the craziest-sounding theories of consciousness. But radical eliminativism simply won't fly. One problem of talking about "qualia" is that using an exotic philosopher's term of art leads people to assume you're invoking an exotic and speculative phenomenon too. Not so.


[on paradise-engineering at Stanford]
"A fool's paradise is a wise man's hell!"
(Thomas Fuller)
What are the odds we'll botch this?
https://www.facebook.com/events/1432752510280066/?
("David Pearce at Stanford: Fostering Post-Darwinian Life")

Yes! Just in case anyone misses Sean's allusion, Henry Mancini is the author of (what I regard as) the first scientifically literate blueprint for phasing out the biology of suffering in humans.

Thomas, yes, what the British call Heath Robinson devices and Americans call Rube Goldberg machines strike us as comically absurd. Yet post-humans may recognise that even more irrational inefficiency is built into humanity's "natural" neural reward machinery. That said, adopting the equivalent of wireheading or mainlining heroin is currently neither ethical nor prudent.


[on Ray Kurzweil]
Yes, Kevin, you're right. Ray is an extraordinary and warm-hearted human being. Recall how in the space of 15 years or so the intelligence-amplification debate has passed from whether nootropics ("smart drugs") can offer modest gains in intellectual performance to a possible future of posthuman superintelligence later this century. That said, I don't believe digital zombies will inherit the Earth - ever.

What I can't fathom are the theoretical upper bounds to the dimensions of a unitary subject of experience. Here we get deep into the philosophy of mind and the binding problem.
http://www.nature.com/news/brain-decoding-reading-minds-1.13989
("Brain decoding: Reading minds: By scanning blobs of brain activity, scientists may be able to decode people's thoughts, their dreams and even their intentions")

Kevin, indeed. Santayana claimed that belief in anything beyond solipsism-of-the-here-and-now rested on "blind animal faith". What philosophers call the "inference to the best explanation" suggests a different story. But yes, it's unsettling that one's status as a moral agent rests precariously on a ton of speculative metaphysics.


[on DP's Singularity Weblog interview. Interviewer Nikola Danaylov]
David Pearce on Singularity 1 on 1
Thanks Jønathan. I guessed I'd be asked questions on the Technology Singularity; perhaps few viewers will get past the initial discussion on meat-eating. Anyone who doesn't need convincing we should be helping rather than harming our fellow sentients should probably skip to the second half...

There is a strong positive correlation between religiosity and fertility. For better or worse, many secular rationalists are increasingly drawn to antinatalism. Opting for voluntary childlessness or adoption does not augur well for any genetic predisposition to secular rationalism...
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1846681448/
("Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century" by Eric Kaufmann)

Sun Moon, thanks! First, it was discourteous of me to suggest Eric Schwitzgebel had an unpronounceable Germanic name; if I could edit the interview, I would properly acknowledge him. On your substantive point, I agree, I'd be the last person to claim that the merely psychological criterion of intuitive absurdity disqualifies any position in the philosophy of mind. Rather my point was that philosophers and scientists who discount the possibility the USA is a subject of experience on the grounds such phenomenal unity would be inconsistent with reductive physicalism must face up to exactly the same challenge if neurons are essentially classical. No, we can't exclude the possibility the USA is a subject of experience, current shenanigans in Congress notwithstanding. But if this is so, then reductive physicalism is false. On the face of it, the existence of phenomenal object binding and the fleeting synchronic unity of the self does falsify reductive physicalism. Phenomenal binding is as forbidden to discrete classical membrane-bound neurons as it is forbidden to discrete skull-bound American mind-brains. Instead of accepting this falsification at face value, I'm concerned to explore what must be true in the CNS if reductive physicalism is to be saved.

* * *

Yes, Strawsonian physicalism is a form of panpsychism: perhaps the only scientifically respectable kind of panpsychism. But panpsychism is not animism: the possibility fields of micro-qualia are the "fire" in the equations that the quantum field-theoretic formalism exhaustively describes isn't animism: physicalistic panpsychism doesn't solve the phenomenal binding problem and make rocks, trees, digital computers, the USA (etc) unitary subjects of experience. On the face of it, Strawsonian physicalism can't make patterns of classical neuronal "mind-dust" into a unitary subject of experience supporting bound phenomenal objects either. After all, the mind-brain is nothing like the exotic macroscopic quantum entities (chilly superfluid helium etc) that do manifest macroscopic quantum coherence for any appreciable length of time. But if reductive physicalism is to be saved, I'd make the conjecture that when we probe the mind-brain on the timescales at which Max Tegmark calculates macroscopic quantum coherence must occur - only to be rapidly destroyed via thermally-induced decoherence - we won't discover mere "noise", as we might now naively suppose. Rather we'll discover the formal structural shadows of the bound objects of our everyday experience. Recall it's the seemingly gross structural mismatch between the phenomenology of our minds/world-simulations and the ostensible microstructure of our brains that helps push David Chalmers into his naturalistic dualism. (cf. http://consc.net/papers/combination.pdf) By contrast, I'm a monist and a reductive physicalist - until the experimental evidence falsifies this conjecture, at any rate...


[on the Oslo H+ Transhumanist Conference]
Humanity 2.0?
"We are prisoners of our own metaphors, metaphorically speaking..."
(R. Buckminster Fuller)
https://www.facebook.com/events/508723555879930/
HUSK! Onsdagsdebatten: Humanity 2.0: Transcending evolution
Public · By Kulturutvalget and Det Norske Studentersamfund


[on speciesism and sentientism]
Karn, I confess I too am an sentientist. I have no qualms about mangling a lettuce - or more controversially, a silicon robot - if the need arises.

* * *

I'm curious just what evidence it would take before proponents of digital sentience acknowledge that digital computers aren't going to become conscious - even as they become ever faster and more sophisticated. Of course, this challenge is distinct from the question of what (if any) computational (dis)advantages being subjects of experience gives organic minds - and perhaps, in theory, futuristic nonbiological quantum computers.
That said, Karn, I agree with you. On ethical matters, wherever possible, err on the side of caution; and always take seriously the possibility one could be catastrophically mistaken.

Jonathan, if a silicon ((etc) robot were to request anaesthesia before bodywork repair, say, then this behaviour would be strong presumptive evidence the system was conscious. Of course even now, there is nothing to stop us programming distress vocalisations (etc) that might fool a naive observer about silicon sentience. But it's still a zombie - at least if ( as I do) one assumes phenomenal binding is indispensable to non-trivial sentience.

[I say "nontrivial" because I'm extremely receptive to theories that fields/strings/branes of micro-qualia are the stuff of the world which the formalism of physics mathematically describes.

According to interpretations of quantum mechanics that do invoke wavefunction collapse, an unobserved system evolves in a continuous, linear, deterministic manner until a measurement / observation is made. This measurement (somehow) triggers a nondeterministic, nonlocal "collapse of the wavefunction". Although indeterministic, this "collapse" is non-random: the probabilities that a measurement will yield a particular outcome are given by the Born rule:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Born_rule

If outcomes were totally random, then we wouldn't recover an approximation of the classical world. The Born rule is probabilistic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correspondence_principle
[Here's an attempt to derive the Born rule within the Everett framework:
http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0906/0906.2718v1.pdf]

I suspect the casual visitor may be scratching his or her head wondering how we got on to the interpretation of quantum mechanics. But it's by no means clear one can hope to be an effective altruist in the absence of a passably accurate conception of reality. This constraint is especially troubling if (like me) you're unconvinced we've got any real handle on what's going on.


[on nociception versus pain]
Nociception is necessary; pain is optional:
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/suntzu20130810
("Is Pain a Functional Necessity?")


[on anti-natalism]
I deeply sympathise with anti-natalism NE. My worry is what happens if naturally kind, caring and responsible people are the ones who decide not to have children....

* * *

Mike, yes, if everyone opts to have taller children, say, there will probably be no net benefits. But happier children with higher hedonic set-points? Happiness, thankfully, is not zero-sum.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17687265
("The catechol-O-methyl transferase Val158Met polymorphism and experience of reward in the flow of daily life.")

* * *

Alas we tend to "remember" the future rather than model it. And the future we recall, so to speak, is often Brave New World and Gattaca...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gattaca

* * *

The idea that organic but not silicon robots are forever doomed to suffer is widely shared. But treated as an engineering challenge, this simply isn't the case. Yes, transhumanists entertain all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas that may or may not come to pass. But the IT and biotechnology needed to defeat the biology of suffering throughout the living world doesn't depend on exotica like the Singularity, "mind uploading", etc, but recognizable extensions of existing technologies. Whether we use such technologies for any such noble purpose is of course a separate question.

Courageous, yes. Heaven doesn't exist; but happiness does. And the nature of selection pressure suggests that it won't be anti-natalists who inherit the Earth. If we want to get rid of suffering, opting out of the gene pool is not going to work.

* * *

Not predetermined. Even so, AQ score has a fairly high genetic loading. But although an empathetic rather than systematising "autistic" cognitive style might seem ethically desirable, high AQ folk are more likely to excel at the impartial rule-following that behaving ethically often entails.
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html
(the Wired AQ Test) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empathizing%E2%80%93systemizing_theory
(Empathising–systemising theory)

Karn, I agree that voluntary childlessness but sometimes be appropriate. I just think we need to stress that the only long-term solutions to the problem of suffering involve engagement with the world rather than opting out of it.


[on transhumanism]
At a party the other day, someone told me that when they'd heard I was a "transhumanist", they'd understood this as meaning I was transsexual. And why not?
"Transhumanism; Nick Bostrom and David Pearce Talk to Andrés Lomeña".

I guess the opposite of a utilitronium shockwave would be a dolorium shockwave (cf. dolorism). I can't envisage any circumstances in which a dolorium shockwave would be launched. But latent in inert manner and energy are subjective proprieties more evil - and more sublime - than anything humans can imagine.

Thanks Sean. Plotting the growth of digital sentience from ENIAC to the latest Cray supercomputer ought to be a sobering exercise. Classical digital computers were zombies seventy years ago; they are zombies now. Quite how fast and sophisticated our classical toys will be before evangelists for mind-uploading acknowledge that digital sentience will never happen, I don't know.

Sean, yes, it's worth distinguishing two kinds of mind-uploading scepticism. One kind acknowledges that a sentient copy of you could be digitally created - whether via constructive or "destructive" uploading - but claims that your sentient upload would merely be a type-identical copy of you, not you. Maybe so; but your flesh-and-blood namesake who wakes up tomorrow morning would seem in the same boat. This isn't my real worry...

The second kind of mind-uploading scepticism focuses on the phenomenal binding problem - and disputes that a classical digital "upload" would be a unitary subject of experience. I won't rehash my substantive grounds (Strawsonian physicalism plus natural selection-optimised quantum coherence) for doubting that the phenomenology of organic minds can be implemented in a classical digital computer. How close a functional simulation is feasible I simply don't know. Either way, a digital zombie isn't you.

On the other hand, perhaps as a negative utilitarian I should announce I've recanted my scepticism - and organise a universal destructive uploading party by way of celebration....Classical digital computers also lack "phenomenal intentionality" ["intentionality" in Brentano's sense of the object-directedness of thought]. For most purposes, their invincible ignorance doesn't matter. But only consciousness can investigate consciousness...

Greg, I believe we can defeat ageing. No law of Nature dictates that organic robots must grow old. But I don't think we can cheat death by turning ourselves into digital zombies. Are you signed up to Alcor?
I think our grandchildren will make it; I'm sceptical of the prospects of anyone over the age of forty who isn't suspended - and within minutes of nominal death to boot. The insurance premiums for someone of your tender years would be negligible. I'm a great admirer of Ray Kurzweil; but Year 2045 (or thereabouts) as the date of our digital apotheosis owes more to marketing genius than science IMO.

* * *

Indeed so Timothy.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Brain_Project
I once asked Anders Sandberg (cf. http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/brain-emulation-roadmap-report.pdf) what credence he placed on the properties of our minds as being anything other than classical. Anders said 5%. I don't know what figure Henry Markram would give. Either way, building trumps philosophising. I look forward to eating my words!


[on signalling behaviour]
One byproduct of male peacocking may be saving the world.

For a slightly more scholarly treatment:
"The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature".

* * *

Hence the size of my harem, João, joking aside, you're probably right. There is a messianic strain in transhumanism / Singularitarianism that has deep historical roots. Genetically selfish, fitness-enhancing signalling behaviour in disguise presumably underlies all manner of noble - and ignoble - causes. And the best way to fake sincerity is to be sincere...

The evolutionary arms race of competitive male altruism will soon (I hope) assume cosmological dimensions. Save the world? How parochial! What about the Galaxy? The Universe? The Multiverse?! (The latter at least has defeated me:
http://imaginingthetenthdimension.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/suffering-in-multiverse.html


[on total health]
The Constitution of the World Health Organisation has an extraordinarily radical definition of health: "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Note the complete - a breathtakingly ambitions goal that captures abolitionist bioethics to the letter. Such complete physical, mental and social well-being can be achieved only via biotechnological and biosocial interventions that put today's genetic tinkering in the shade. Can we wrap ourselves in the mantle of WHO orthodoxy? It's a lot easier than trying to sell a revolution...

A better question might be: Should any kind unhappiness not be medicalised? We have a desperately impoverished conception of mental heath.

UN authority? I think everyone should support the UN as the arbiter of international law with a monopoly on the use of force. Otherwise, war - most likely nuclear war- between nation states this century as not just possible but IMO probable. UN sovereignty isn't quite the same as world government - though arguably it amounts to something similar.


[on neurostimulated bliss]
Targeted brain stimulation provokes feelings of bliss
Indeed. Both orgasm and heroin could be made more pleasurable - in the case of heroin, by blocking the nasty kappa opioid receptors the drug activates too.
Understandably, perhaps, neither option is currently viewed as a therapeutic priority.
http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/11/pain-brain-regions-also-active.html
("Pain brain regions also active during female orgasm")


[on a Christian Thrash Metal critique of abolitionist bioethics]
a critique of abolitionist bioethics set to the haunting melodies of Christian Thrash Metal:
Let's Abolish the Abolitionist Project (Part 1)
Shazam suggests the track in question is
"Abolition" by Fasedown on "Victory In Christ".

A thought experiment. Imagine if you had a device for getting rid of people as simple as the remote-control of your TV. Over time, how faithfully would you uphold the principle of the sanctity of life?
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23895-vendettas-not-war-unpicking-why-our-ancestors-killed.html
("Vendettas, not war? Unpicking why our ancestors killed")
(I'm not talking here about the kindness of a negative utilitarian who might wish to euthanase you in your sleep out of love.)

Yes, I think posthumans will regard NU as a depressive psychosis - insofar as they can conceptualise subzero hedonic states at all. So Andres, I hope you'll feel relaxed enough to take a nap next time we meet!


[on the "vegetarian butcher"]
The 'vegetarian butcher' is opposed by the improbably named Jos Goebbels, head of the Dutch Central Meat Sector Organisation:
http://phys.org/news/2013-09-dutch-vegetarian-butcher-frankenburger.html
("Dutch vegetarian butcher takes on the 'Frankenburger'")

* * *

Thanks Sean. I wonder if Dawkins would still stand by his "It must be so" quote. Of course, given the way humans currently treat nonhuman beings in factory-farms and slaughterhouses, one might credibly argue that it's sociologically fanciful to believe transhumans will ever practise the costly, complicated high-tech Jainism needed to deliver the well-being of all sentience in our future wildlife parks. But from a narrowly technical perspective, at least, perhaps Dawkins could be persuaded that the project is feasible. Ultimately, the perpetuation of the cruelties of Nature is a question of ethics.

* * *

Yes, perhaps understandably so Christiani. But this is one reason for doing detailed and costed case studies of the practicalities of what compassionate stewardship would entail.

* * *

Thankfully neither the Bible nor the Koran condemn genetic engineering. "Thou shalt not recalibrate the hedonic treadmill" is a prohibition unknown to the scriptures. Richard Dawkins confronts religious believers head-on. The alternative is to ask whether an All-Merciful, All-Compassionate God wants us to perpetuate the scourge of involuntary suffering - and cite scriptural authority to match (e.g. Isaiah 66:3 "He that slayeth an ox, is as he that slayeth a man"; Isaiah 11:6 "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.")

God evidently wants us to be vegetarians in the run-up to the Second Coming, our condition before the Fall. And can the miracle of the loaves and the fishes can be interpreted as Jesus endorsing invitrotarianism over killing nonhuman animals?
Was Jesus himself a designer baby? (etc.)

Yes, I'm not convinced any of us really understand the implications of what we're doing - or even how to calculate approximate risk-reward ratios. The historical track record of utopian revolutionaries isn't encouraging. Nor is a plea of "This time is different". But if the transhumanist project carries risks, so does bioconservatism...

* * *

Another possible response is to claim that if we phase out the biology of suffering, the meaning of things "going wrong" changes. After all, silicon (etc) zombies make mistakes too; but they don't suffer phenomenally in consequence. They learn from their errors. Alas this response is inadequate as it stands. Critics would counter that by rushing to abolish suffering - and by seeking happiness too greedily - transhumanists risk locking ourselves into a substandard utopia - a stagnant Brave New World. On the other hand, to tell someone with a toothache that there are more important things in life than toothache may be true - but it's rather missing the point.

* * *

An optimistic message:
http://phys.org/news/2013-08-evolution-youre-selfish.html
("Nice organisms finish first: Why cooperators always win in the long run")
I fear a much stronger evolutionary case can be made for quasi-sociopathy. However, one reason I think we're going to phase out suffering is that human males in particular are prone to displays of competitive altruism. Transhumanist technologies promise opportunities for hyper-systematic altruism on a gargantuan scale. Of course there's far more to abolitionist bioethics than male signalling behaviour.

* * *

Here's an example of technology that could be used to help all free-living sentient beings or harm them:
http://esciencenews.com/articles/2013/09/03/canine.remote.control
and status quo bias. If and when we do finally phase out death and suffering, it's (almost) inconceivable we'll later decide their abolition was a mistake...

Why is it only "almost" inconceivable we'd contemplate their reintroduction? Because some futurists believe our descendants are going to run full-blown "ancestor simulations"...)

* * *

Andres, absolutely. Racking my mind, the only conceivable reason I can think of why an intelligent agent in a post-Darwinian world would create ("simulate") a hellhole like ours would be to (somehow) avert a greater evil. I don't find this plausible. Sadly, plausibility is only a psychological criterion. It would be nice to have a rigorous proof.

* * *

A naturalised criterion of (im)possibility is false in all Everett branches. I won't rehash my views on quantum mind and the binding problem here. But I don't think a classical digital computer is sentient - or supports "uploads" or simulants who are sentient - in any of them. However, a cruel fate often awaits falsifiable hypotheses. Most researchers would in any case give the a priori response and say that quantum effects in the mind-brain are just "noise".

Andres, when you say "simulated", do you mean at some level of computational abstraction?
If phenomenal binding is a manifestation of quantum coherence, then our fleetingly unitary conscious minds disclose an aspect of basement reality, the "fire" in the equations, i.e. we don't exist at some level of computational abstraction as programs run on a classical digital computer. You could be physically "simulated" by building another type-identical biological mind-brain. But your first-person properties couldn't be digitally emulated. Yes, ultracool nonbiological artificial quantum computers may one day be built that can sustain unitary consciousness for indefinitely long periods. Perhaps posthuman superminds may be classical-quantum hybrids. I don't know. Yet the phenomenology such a system could support is unknown too; I'm not (yet!) persuaded this includes the phenomenology of organic minds.


[on the upper bounds of bliss]
Bliss orders of magnitude richer than anything physiologically accessible today may be feasible. Its upper bounds are currently unknown. Not least, we don't know the upper bounds to a unitary subject of experience. Beyond life animated by gradients of bliss, there is presumably pure undifferentiated "hedonium" or "orgasmium". I'm not convinced promoting a "hedonium shockwave" is sociologically realistic. And in any case, responsible stewardship our Hubble volume entails first building posthuman superintelligence.

Digital nirvana? On technical grounds, I don't think a classical digital computer can be conscious, let alone blissful. But this takes us into the contentious realm of the binding problem and quantum mind.

* * *

Both anguish and euphoria can induce psychosis, reversible or otherwise. Orgasm, for example, shuts down much of higher brain function. But whereas the uncontrolled exhilaration of, say, euphoric mania is inconsistent with critical insight, other blissful states may be associated with a tranquillity and a clear head. In short, lucidity and sustained hedonic tone orders of magnitude richer than the upper bounds of human experience would seem technically feasible. It's time to create Pleasure Laboratories.
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36434.Touched_With_Fire
("Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament")

* * *

Can natural selection be decommissioned?>bR> http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/jul/19/our-biotech-future/
("Our Biotech Future" by Freeman Dyson)
and
http://www.amazon.com/The-Shulgin-Index-Volume-Phenethylamines/
("The Shulgin Index")
Alas DIY hedonism has many pitfalls.


[on a utilitronium shockwave]
Quite a long countdown, I suspect. And not infinite, just unimaginably big.
https://www.facebook.com/events/397250603719774/
("Infinite Bliss? Countdown to a Utilitronium Shockwave: A Talk by David Pearce")
Utilitarian ethics and speculative cosmology might seem far removed. But perhaps the only credible candidate naturalising value has seemingly apocalyptic implications that have never (to my knowledge) been explored in the scholarly literature.

Enlightenment? Well, perhaps Nick. Whether we aspire to launch a vacuum phase transition or a utilitronium shockwave depends on our conception of nirvana. The latter option strikes me as more feasible technically and sociologically - though in what measure of Everett branches such a scenario unfolds, I don't know.

Nick, what physicist Sidney Coleman calls the "ultimate ecological catastrophe" would be a act of mercy - if you're a negative utilitarian. But the technical challenges of engineering a "vacuum metastability event" mean NUs aren't currently on the Department of Homeland Security's watch list.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_vacuum

* * *

The "constants" of Nature seem fine-tuned to promote the evolution of suffering - presumptive evidence, we might suppose, for the existence of the Devil. Yet most string vacua are devoid of life. Our existence may be just a cruel anthropic selection effect.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_theory_landscape

* * *

Mike, I agree that 'bliss and suffering are what certain forms of neural computation feel like". But tellingly, "raw feels" and computational-functional role can be decoupled - though today alas neuropathic pain is more common than neuropathic pleasure. We know pain and noiception are "doubly dissociable", the same seems true of the functional role and raw feels of each of our core emotions. So the question of which computational-functional roles we wish to conserve is can be distinguished from which raw feels we wish to conserve - and enrich. Compare, say, anxiety and jealousy. The computational-functional role of anxiety is presumably vital this side of the millennium. But jealousy, I hope, can be relegated to history - both the feeling and the computational-functional role.

* * *

Only fairly recently have the apocalyptic implications of a classical ethic been appreciated. Standardly, negative utilitarianism is treated as potentially world-destroying whereas classical utilitarianism is viewed as life affirming. In practice, classical utilitarianism may pose a greater threat to-intelligent life - or from another perspective, our passport to blissful oblivion (Nirvana?). Thus a superintelligence with a classical utilitarian ethic would presumably launch a utilitronium shockwave and put Darwinian humans out of our misery. Not with a bang but a moan of pleasure...
[I have a half-finished essay "Utilitronium Shockwaves versus Gradients of Bliss"]

* * *

Gradients of bliss Ruairí. If we are to assume responsible stewardship of our Hubble volume, we will need to develop posthuman superintelligence. Both the upper and lower bounds of our hedonic range - and our typical hedonic set-points - could still (in principle) be fixed arbitrarily close to the theoretical hedonic maximum. Informational sensitivity to good and bad stimuli - and our core values - could (in principle) be retained without loss of critical insight or social responsibility.

* * *

Ruairí, hah, the Moral Maze is just knockabout stuff. I make the case for boring old gradients of intelligent bliss in e.g. superhappiness.com (skim brutally: life is short)
I think you're right: aiming to propagate a hedonium shockwave beyond our solar system might be an acceptable compromise. But it's unclear if the classical utilitarian can rest until he has turned us all into pleasure plasma....

* * *

Dima, just as "computronium" is matter and energy optimised for maximum computing power, "utilitronium" is matter and energy optimised for maximum utility - which may (or may not) be identical to pure bliss (hedonium), which may (or may not) be identical to orgasmic pleasure.

The technicalities? Well, perhaps first identify the molecular signature of unadulterated bliss in the vertebrate CNS. Elucidating the unique architecture and gene expression profile of our twin hedonic hotspots in the ventral pallidum and rostromedial shell of the nucleus accumbens would be a good start. Next, solve the binding problem and prototype the largest pleasure centre consistent with the laws of physics. Then tile the cosmos accordingly using
von Neumann probes radiating across our Galaxy and local supercluster at almost the speed of light. I'm omitting numerous complications here, e.g. unlike many researchers, I argue that classical digital computers can only ever be zombies.

* * *

Why aren't we p-zombies? Strawsonian physicalism and quantum coherence (to generate classically forbidden phenomenal binding. cf. "The Combination Problem for Panpsychism": http://consc.net/papers/combination.pdf)
IMO explain why organic robots and not classical digital computers are (fleetingly) unitary subjects of experience.

Is this conjecture testable? Yes. The conjecture will be confirmed - most quantum mind sceptics would confidently say falsified - if probes of the subfemtoosecond decoherence timescales in the CNS calculated by Max Tegmark reveal, not the formal shadows of bound macroscopic objects of our world-simulations, i.e. the perfect structural match that I'd predict, but instead just random "noise". Of course, the risk of making falsifiable predictions is that they turn out to be false. But phenomenal binding does seem classically forbidden. If the solution doesn't involve quantum coherence, then I'm completely stumped where the solution-space lies. The real answer may be something nobody has thought of. Mysterians like Colin McGinn would go further. They'd say the real answer may be humanly unthinkable.

* * *

Mike, if you were dismissive, then you'd be in very distinguished company. The responses of the lesswrong community are probably representative - though they seem to assume quantum-mind hypotheses are exhausted by the Hameroff-Penrose Orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR) model of consciousness and focus on high-level cognition rather than phenomenal binding.
http://lesswrong.com/lw/hjy/who_thinks_quantum_computing_will_be_necessary/
("Who thinks quantum computing will be necessary for AI?")

One obvious rejoinder to the particular quantum mind conjecture I sketch - prior to the development of tools capable of probing the ultra-fine temporal resolutions involved - is that we perceive our local environment with a time-lag of scores of milliseconds, not femtoseconds. But this objection misconceives the nature of perception. When we are awake rather than dreaming, the role of impulses from the optic nerve (etc) is to select states of the mind-brain. None of us ever "wake up" from our dreams / world-simulations - in the folk-psychological sense of being "awake" - to access the extracranial world. However, during an "awake" state of consciousness, our world-simulations typically causally covary with fitness-relevant patterns in the local environment.

* * *

Hedonic tone and binding? I view them as intimately connected. The vast majority of possible states of a community of nerve cells, not least our neocortex, are intrinsically hedonically neutral. But innervation from opioidergic and monoaminergic cells projecting from the limbic brain "paints" them with an emotional coloration. Experimentally, receptor-blocking opioid antagonists and monoamine antagonists drain them of that emotional coloration. IMO this is not (just) a causal process that can be described purely classically. In our world-simulations, snakes seem intrinsically scary, nubile mates seem intrinsically sexy, excrement seems intrinsically disgusting, and so forth. Such binding is computationally exceedingly powerful. The molecular mechanisms by which the mind-brain carries it off are still speculative. IMO a deeper mystery than evolutionarily ancient quantum mind is the late emergence of quasi-classicality, i.e. the slow, serial, logico-linguistic sequence of thought-episodes in our stream of consciousness that leads to the popular root-metaphor of mind as some kind of slow, inefficient serial digital computer.

* * *

Andres, yes. I think the pleasure-pain axis - or rather one extremity of the axis - has a long future. But its information-processing role may eventually be superseded altogether even in purely organic minds. Andres, Ruairí, we should plan the world's inaugural conference: Countdown To A Utilitronium Shockwave. This might seem premature. But - complications relating to uncertainty aside - one implication of utilitarianism is that a rate of temporal discounting indistinguishable from zero is unethically unacceptable. So we should devote our efforts accordingly.

No such urgency attaches to negative utilitarianism. Once we have ensured no experience below hedonic zero occurs in our forward light-cone, our ethical duties have been discharged. The cosmos is our oyster, so to speak. Yet a few centuries hence, perhaps NU will be viewed as of purely historical interest - a depressive psychosis from a bygone era. Brian Tomasik would dissent here. I'm still agnostic.

Mike, thanks, it's a fascinating question: ["If we had perfect (classical) knowledge of a brain's connectome and activity, would this be factually sufficient to derive its hedonic tone?"] Recall Searle's "brain replacement" thought-experiment involving the replacement of the neurons of your mind-brain with silicon chips. If the (relatively) coarse-grained functionalism you canvass is correct, then such substitution may be technically feasible. I'd argue (and predict!) that the "replacement" will fail: all sorts of functional and phenomenological deficits will occur as the notional replacement progresses - not least loss of phenomenal object binding, the synchronic unity of the self and, yes, hedonic tone.

Dean, yes, going from the from the impoverished contents of the here-and-now - what philosophers call the "specious present" - to the Landscape of M-theory is an extraordinary cognitive achievement. More conventionally-minded positivists, on the other hand, would dispute superstring theory and its extensions are even science:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_theory_landscape
http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/

* * *

Einstein wanted to conserve realism, locality, determinism and completeness, i.e. no "element of reality" must be lacking in the formalism of our ultimate physical theory. In the "'Relative State' Formulation of Quantum Mechanics", published two years after Einstein's death, Hugh Everett offered exactly what Einstein wanted. We can only speculate whether Einstein would have found the price acceptable.

Timothy, I'm torn. Aesthetically, I find Everett elegant and the alternatives ugly. Ethically, Everett is ugly beyond words. If Everett is correct, then observers in quasi-classical world-branches will inevitably find their worlds are inescapably probabilistic - even though the evolution of the universal wavefunction is continuous, linear, unitary and deterministic. The issue of whether the Born rule can be derived from the other assumptions of quantum mechanics is controversial. Everett himself believed so. David Deutsch has attempted a mathematically rigorous proof. There is a lively controversy over whether Deutsch has succeeded. I am just an interested spectator. However, I wrote "Suffering in the Multiverse" on the pessimistic assumption that Everett is correct.
http://www.abolitionist.com/multiverse.html

See too http://arxiv.org/pdf/0906.2718v1.pdf for David Wallace's "A formal proof of the Born rule from decision-theoretic assumptions" - which explores Deutsch's purported proof in more depth.

Dean, my best guess - and I stress it's a guess - is that Hubble volumes where primordial life arises more than once are rare. If so, the principle of mediocrity dictates that for practical purposes we are probably alone. The principle of mediocrity is more commonly invoked to argue the opposite conjecture, i.e. we are not alone.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis


[on paradise engineering in electropop]
"Music is well said to be the speech of angels."
(Thomas Carlyle)
Good to see we're making progress in the American electropop community...
(thanks Astro James)
YACHT: Paradise Engineering


[on naturalising value]
Can morality be naturalised? Or is e.g. John Mackie correct (cf. "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong"
Mackie argues that, strictly speaking, all our moral judgments are false.

* * *

In a nutshell, I'd argue that there is something intrinsically, self-intimatingly disvaluable about the first-person experience of agony or despair. Thus when one is in a state of agony, for example, its disvaluable nature is not an open question (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-question_argument)
Further, science teaches us that there is nothing special or ontologically privileged about this particular here-and-now. The impression each of has that we are the centre of the world is a fitness-enhancing adaptation; but it's false. So I infer that since agony is bad for me, then it's bad for any subject of experience, anywhere, regardless of race or species.

An anti-realist citric is unlikely to be impressed by this argument. "Sure", he may say, "your agony is bad for you. It's not bad for me!" But this response confuses an epistemological limitation with a metaphysical truth. If we all had perfect knowledge of each other's first-person states, i.e. if we were all full-spectrum mirror-touch synaesthetes, so to speak (cf. http://www.livescience.com/1628-study-people-literally-feel-pain.html - "Study: People Literally Feel Pain of Others") - then I would know the disvaluable nature of your agony no less than I experience the disvaluable nature of my own.

Of course, there are lots of possible counter-arguments open to the anti-realist here. For example, what is this supposedly "self-intimating" property of agony that makes it disvaluable?

(to be continued)

* * *

Thanks Mike for the brainstorming - a great checklist. The subjective degree of "(dis)liking" reported by verbally competent human subjects to selective full, partial and inverse mu opioid receptor agonists correlates strongly with the expressed preferences of nonhuman animals - and how hard nonhuman animals will work to obtain or avoid a given pleasant or noxious stimulus. So in that sense, hedonic tone can be "operationalised" even in the absence of more sophisticated neuroscanning tools. Centrally acting kappa opioid agonists subjectively induce dysphoria. But the molecular signature of pure bliss is unknown. Critically, I think we need to decipher the unique gene expression profile of cells in our ultimate twin cubic-millimetre sized “hedonic hotspots” in the ventral pallidum and rostral shell of the nucleus accumbens. Kent Berridge and his colleagues are at the forefront of research here:
http://www.lsa.umich.edu/psych/research&labs/berridge/publications.htm

Unlike most AI researchers, on theoretical grounds I doubt that classical digital computers can ever be endowed with - or support "uploads" that are endowed with - hedonic tone. But the consequences of being mistaken in such organic chauvinism (actually micro-functionalism) are ethically potentially catastrophic. After all, a minority of people today still don't accept that nonhuman animals are conscious - though I suspect such scepticism has more to do with rationalising personal dietary habits than scientific rigour.

* * *

Alex, think of euphoria at one extreme and despair at the other. Between these extremes is a watershed - "hedonic zero" - experience that is neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but hedonically neutral. Of course. we don't go around asking each other, "How's your hedonic tone today?" Natural selection has "encephalised" our feelings in fitness-enhancing ways. In today's environment, you may be depressed "because", say, Manchester United have just lost. Crudely speaking, the neural expression of this encephalisation of emotion is projections from our limbic system to the neocortex. But regardless of life's ups and downs, some people spend most of their lines above hedonic zero, just as depressives spend most of their lives below hedonic zero.


[on Lewis Mancini]
Today is the birthday of Lewis Mancini, author of the first ever (to my knowledge) scientifically literate proposal for phasing out human suffering.
"Riley-Day Syndrome, Brain Stimulation and the Genetic Engineering of a World Without Pain"

* * *

Thanks Daryl. Yes, quite striking. As well as their mood-brightening properties, anticholinergics are the ultimate "dumb drugs". Even weakly anticholinergic agents can be dementing for older people; and they can impair concentration, memory and verbal facility in the young. We urgently need mood-brightening pro-social smart drugs instead.


[on eradicating boredom]
As well as phasing out suffering, can we banish the biology of mediocre states of mind too?
http://immortallife.info/articles/entry/boredom-is-a-killer
("Boredom Is A KILLER - will it disappear in the future?")

* * *

Andres, yes! Drawing up a Hundred Year Plan to phase out the biology of involuntary suffering sounds grandiose and invites ridicule. But IMO we already know enough to set out in surprising detail how technically it's feasible - though I'm not making any prediction the project can be achieved on that kind of timescale. Alas we do need a new level of professionalism and leadership.

* * *

Must we wait for a hypothetical Epoch Six?
Abolition is Imperative in Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch Scenario" by Jønathan Lyons

Robert, intuitively you're right - a least until we develop the technology to phase out the biology of ageing. But recall the whole purpose of the religions of the Indian subcontinent is not immortal life, but rather moksha, i.e. liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara).

Of course, transhumanists would argue that a better way to escape the cycle of suffering is to abolish the biology of suffering instead.

* * *

Mike, I think the unique watershed that Henry Sidgwick called "hedonic zero", i.e. experience that is affectively neutral, is better defined than suffering. Thus the difference between "mere" pain (e.g. a pinprick) and suffering is to some extent conventional - but not arbitrary. Prior to more sophisticated neuroscanning technologies, one way to operationalise suffering (and pleasure) is to see how hard a given human or nonhuman animal will work to obtain or avoid a given stimulus.


[on the Technological Singularity hypothesis]
http://www.meetup.com/London-Futurists/events/110562132/">London Futurists
("Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment")

The launch of the Springer Singularities volume in London on Saturday. Crudely speaking, will posthuman superintelligence be

  1. our eugenically redesigned biological descendants?
  2. a Kurzweilian fusion of humans and machine intelligence?
  3. a nonbiological singleton AGI as prophesied by MIRI (formerly the Singularity Institute?
  4. None of the above?
Some general background to the debate:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity

MIRI (Machine Research Intelligence Research Institute:
http://intelligence.org/
http://lesswrong.com/
Ray Kurzweil:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Singularity_Is_Near
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity
Eugenics plus "narrow" AI:
http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/
http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/parable.html

Any topics / questions you'd especially like to see tackled?

* * *

Will all superintelligences eventually agree?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aumann's_agreement_theorem
But I've always been more persuaded by Kuhn.

Daryl, I don't find it convincing either. The "incommensurability of paradigms" and "theory-ladenness of observation" are no longer buzzwords in post-Kuhnian philosophy of science; but I'm not confident we've digested their lessons.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commensurability_(philosophy_of_science) ..

* * *

...on the other hand, the more self-disciplined part of me feels that rather than trying to be philosophically "interesting" and expounding my wild and wonderful views, we should instead focus on the ethical and theoretical minimum. 1) the biology of involuntary suffering (more radically, experience below hedonic zero) should be abolished 2) a clear biotechnological roadmap can be now laid out to achieve this utopian-sounding goal - a roadmap that doesn't violate most "normal" people's religious or secular values. Consensus-building leads to intellectual flabbiness. But no one should feel signing up to the abolitionist project entails signing up for a lot of controversial philosophical baggage as well. If the case for harnessing...

Daryl, yes, potentially. But for good or ill, the technology is coming. What is distinctive about scenarios involving use of biotech to phase out suffering isn't their advocacy of hi-tech but a distinctive conception of how it should be used - which (I hope) we'd broadly share with Effective Altruists. I know Brian {Tomasik) has worries about what will happen if humans - or intelligent agency spawned by humans - radiate beyond Earth. But since (to the best of our knowledge) we are alone, this isn't central to the abolitionist project, but rather a reason to win consensus for not recreating the ancestral horrors of life on Earth elsewhere - or staying at home.

* * *

Video of the launch
Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment
(video production and editing by Adam Sommerfield)

I was mildly disconcerted to learn from event organiser, the admirable David Wood, that one person had cancelled attendance and demanded their money back on learning I'd be speaking - on the grounds they "didn't wanted to be exposed to a lot of vegetarian propaganda".
In fairness, I'd probably react badly myself if anyone accused me (in effect) of doing something profoundly unethical. However, the absentee in question missed out on a great meet-up. Apparently Springer are fully committed to the project too. A series of follow-up volumes are planned.

* * *

What are the upper bounds to intelligent bliss - as distinct from raw bliss? So long as informational sensitivity to positive and negative stimuli is retained, hedonic tone can be extraordinarily rich - IMO vastly richer than anything physiologically feasible today. Of course a Happiness Explosion wasn't the focus of Saturday's book launch. But any discussion of our prospects that focuses on superintelligence rather than superhappiness may pass over one of the defining features of the posthuman era.

Daryl, first, I agree that the abolitionist project deserves to be stripped down to the absolute core. Any optional philosophical fluff should be discarded. Where perhaps we may differ is that I don't think we should talk about abolishing just human suffering any more than we should talk about abolishing just Aryan suffering. If we accept the evidence that a pig is just as sentient as a prelinguistic human toddler, then we cannot treat outlawing factory-farms and slaughterhouses as one of those optional extras. As the greatest source of severe and readily avoidable suffering in the world today, factory farms and slaughterhouses rank high in the catalogue of horrors we must confront - now.

Hunter-gatherer butchery can be a grisly business. But I agree with you Daryl that its cruelty pales before factory-farming. Yes, in theory closing factory-farms - and the industrialised killing machine of slaughterhouse meat-production - can be divorced from a transition to a veggie / vegan diet. But the whole thrust of the abolitionist project is on helping sentient beings, not harming them more "humanely". To be sure, appeals for moral clarity are best issued sparingly. But this is one issue where I think we should be forthright: no more killing.

* * *

Some futurists believe that we are destined to resurrect Genghis Khan and his horrors in the guise of "ancestor simulations". No so IMO. The existence of suffering is one signature we're living in the world's ugly basement. Fortunately, basements can be beautified - in part at any rate. Alas the multiverse has horrors forever beyond the scope of rational agency to repair.

Andres, yes, I fear a world without suffering (or cuckoo clocks) would be akin to mathematics without the number 42, i.e. impossible. But IMO strictly speaking, reality is exhausted by concreta. But unless we assume some kind of mathematical and computational platonism, the interrelationships between these concreta will be cognitively inaccessible.
Science Without Numbers: A Defence of Nominalism by Hartry H. Field.

Daryl, I find the notion that we're living in a multiverse truly frightful. But the fact that interference effects from quasi-classical Everett branches that have decohered ("split") never wholly disappear - and whenever we can experimentally test for their existence they are shown to be real - means their existence can't be dismissed as a metaphysical flight of fancy. Of course I hope I'm wrong.

Can humans even glimpse the implications of Everett? Sometimes I wonder...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Everett_III
Daryl, on all but aesthetic grounds, I dislike Everett too. But the continuous, unitary, deterministic evolution of the universal wave function seems formally to describe of the world - and also the appearance of wavefunction collapse on the act of measurement:
The Emergent Multiverse: Quantum Theory according to the Everett Interpretation by David Wallace.

Daryl, apologies, I had in mind solving the binding problem.
http://cdn.preterhuman.net/texts/body_and_health/Neurology/Binding.pdf
http://consc.net/papers/combination.pdf
and for examples of neurological syndromes in which binding partially breaks down:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simultanagnosia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akinetopsia

Recall I argue that Strawsonian physicalism is merely a precondition for any explanation of our minds.

* * *

David Chalmers calls it the problem of structural mismatch. The macro-phenomenology of our experience apparently bears scant relation to the microstructure of the brain - at least as classically (mis)perceived. Consider again by analogy 1.3 billion skull-bound Chinese minds. Daryl, do you think there is any configuration they could adopt - any pattern of functional connectivity - that could "switch on" bound percepts and a unitary self in the population of China? As it happens, IMO there must in reality a perfect structural match between our macro-qualia and a formal mathematico-physical description of the mind-brain. But the ability to test this hypothesis depends on detecting ultra-rapid patterns of quantum-coherent states in the CNS on a timescale way below the threshold of existing experimental tools of investigation. And if all that utopian neuroscanning discovers is "noise" - as we would naively expect? Well, if so, I think we'd need to give up on reductive physicalism: a heavy price to pay.

Daryl, yes, the unity of consciousness is incomplete. What's remarkable - at least if we assume that neurons are essentially classical macroscopic objects - is that this fleeting phenomenal unity can exist at all - at least within the conceptual framework of reductive physicalism. Whether your world-simulation instantiates a symphony of a soccer match, you are not an aggregate of mind-dust. I agree that a computer chess program, say, bears little resemblance to patterns of 1s and 0s, on and off switches. But despite this ostensible structural mismatch, it's possible exhaustively to derive all of the gross properties of a chess program from the low-level description - in principle at least. By contrast, there seems no way to derive the macro-phenomenology of our minds from any configuration of membrane-bound neuronal "pixels" of experience. Not as classically conceived, at any rate...

Thanks Stephen. I've read a fair bit of Paul Smolensky's early work on connectionism - and "The Harmonic Mind" is on my To Read" list. But I can't fathom how a purely classical parallelism of a massively parallel connectionist architecture can be reconciled with the phenomenology of the world-simulation one instantiates. Of course, if one is a perceptual direct realist like Andy Clark, this is not a problem. But I argue that the phenomenal macroscopic world is what an organic quantum computer feels like from the inside...

* * *

A world where we were all "loved up" would be unimaginably different. Technically it's feasible - though not without a much deeper understanding of the homeostatic mechanisms of the brain. And of course even if it's technically feasible, there are plenty of circumstances where cold-headed dispassionate calculation are needed - though hopefully we can increasingly offload such tasks onto smart digital software.


[on unwarlike women]
"There has never in the history of humankind been one example of women banding together wage war on another society to gain territory, resources or power."
(Adrian Raine, The Anatomy of Violence).
Oxytconin functionally antagonises testosterone.

Whatever Next? Predictive Brains, Situated Agents, and the Future of Cognitive Science by Andy Clark
An interesting article, but IMO profoundly mistaken ["it remains correct to say that what we perceive is not some internal representation or hypothesis but (precisely) the world."] When dreaming, one instantiates an egocentric world-simulation. When one wakes, is a world-simulation replaced by perception of the local environment? Or does the local environment merely (partially) select the contents of one's world-simulation? Perhaps the most lucid contemporary expositor of the world-simulation model is Antti Revonsuo (cf. "Inner Presence") I'd start on chapter three.

Steve Lehar is another world-simulationist.

...I think there's another problem. The academic study of mind is still pre-Galilean. A unified theory of conscious mind, brain and cognition will need to combine the third-person perspective of natural science with the rigorous first-person methodology and systematically designed pharmacological tools of investigation pioneered by Sasha Shulgin in PiHKAL and TiHKAL
Alas much of what passes for research into consciousness in academia is mere scholasticism. Of course empirical research has many pitfalls...

* * *

I'd argue by far the greatest cognitive achievement of post-Cambrian minds has been to solve the binding problem - and run data-driven, cross-modally matched egocentric simulations of the local environment in almost real time. In contrast to the world-simulation paradigm, Andy's view that "what we perceive is not some internal representation or hypothesis but (precisely) the world" is IMO a magical tale. On this story, whereas in dreams we instantiate world-simulations, when we "awake" these world-simulations disappear to be replaced by an unexplained capacity to hop outside one's head and access the world. I don't buy it.

...Quite so Andres. Andy is unusual in that he makes his direct realism explicit. But some sort of direct realm is widely presupposed in academia - which understandably leads investigators who challenge such a story to believe they've devised a radically new theory.

Thanks Stephen. "So in my view, it's still better to say that we encounter the world". In all sorts of contexts, it is pragmatically useful to treat everything from perceptual direct realism to classical physics as true, even though they are false. But if we want to understand consciousness, mind and the world - let alone go on to build full-spectrum superintelligence - then I think it's necessary to give up the naive idea one "encounters" anything beyond the contents of the particular world-simulation that one instantiates - computationally optimised by millions of years or evolution, for sure, but still a virtual world populated by virtual people.

* * *

One reason I don't describe myself as a social constructivist is that a notional asocial Davidsonian swampman, born of an improbable quantum fluctuation, could instantiate a world-simulation type-identical to yours or mine right now. In other words, the contents of our minds /world simulations are an intrinsic subjective property of certain configurations of matter and energy that natural selection happens to have recruited for information-signalling purposes: an approximation of metaphysically impossible "external" content. Genes and culture have co-evolved, but neither natural selection nor cultural transmission explain the intrinsic properties of our minds, merely why some properties rather than others have been selected. Or so I'd argue, at any rate...
But can the internalist avoid simply talking to himself? Why doesn't semantic solipsism collapse into a philosophically uninteresting solipsism?

* * *

There is a rare neurological condition where sleepers act out their dreams because they lack the muscular atony that stops the rest of us from doing so. As a thought-experiment, imagine a race of such dreamers who never "wake up". Over time, selection pressure means that dreamers whose dreamworlds happen to covary with fitness-relevant patterns in the local environment out-reproduce random or magical dreamworlds. As time wears on, nervous inputs from peripheral transducers start partially selecting (but not creating or imprinting a signature upon) their dreams. Eventually, our race of lucid dreamers live in virtual worlds phenomenologically indistinguishable from our virtual worlds. The only difference is they never "wake up". And that, to bring this little parable to an end, is my conception of the Human Predicament.

If not a swampman, who is fanciful, then e.g. a type-identical molecular duplicate of you or me designed by posthuman superintelligence. My point is that though culture is (of course) hugely important - only children raised in an English-speaking environment will in practice grow up speaking English - culture can (partly) explain merely why some states of our mind-brain-world-simulations were selected over others, not the intrinsic properties of the states themselves. And it's the intrinsic subjective properties of the mind/brain that are all each of us will ever have access to...

I agree with you about neural networks. The term is question-begging. Let's stick to the language of connectionism.

* * *

Yes, I agree Andres. The world-simulation model of mind is not a sceptical hypothesis.

In "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", Dennett describes evolution via natural selection as a "universal solvent, capable of cutting right to the heart of everything in sight." Only it doesn't. Most of the menu of options is currently hidden. Psychonauts and designer chemists may glimpse tiny fragments; but most potential qualia, bound or otherwise, have never been co-opted for any information-signalling purpose at all.

* * *

I've never tried heroin; but taking strong opioids apparently acutely extinguishes all desire - akin, perhaps, to Buddhist nirvana. Of course the effect then wears off. Dopamine-receptor blocking neuroleptic drugs destroy desire and volition too; but in a different way. Subjectively they can be very nasty. I've never tried them either.

* * *

Willing, motivation, striving, anticipated reward...these seem to be a function of the evolutionarily ancient mesolimbic dopamine system. Dopaminergic function can be experimentally amplified or extinguished by biological interventions independently of hedonic tone, although the opioid and dopamine systems are intimately linked in a host of reciprocal connections.
Activation of mesolimbic dopamine system enhances motivation and purpose - and gives you a sense of things-to-be-done. Conversely, dopamine D2-blocking neuroleptics have the opposite effect: profound apathy.


[on the abolitionist project in academia]
There is a crying need for a professionally organised, financed and administered society to take the abolitionist project forward and maximise our impact in academia, politics, and the world at large. Sad to say - and this is just a statement of fact, not a plea for kind words - I do not have the psychological robustness or organisational skills to take on a leadership role here. (Support, yes; but words are cheap. Sean will bear me out here.) Organisationally, abolitionism and the wider transhumanist movement is, candidly, a mess. At times, it's tempting to yearn for strong charismatic leadership to take the project forward. In practice, a fully democratic and accountable organisation is the least worse option, despite the inevitable factionalism and inefficiency. One group that seems to work extraordinarily well is Stanford Transhumanists. Andres, do you think the formula can be transferred and extended?

It would be good to liaise with Felicifia:
http://felicifia.org/
You don't need to be a utilitarian to support the abolitionist project, but classical and negative utilitarians alike should be abolitionists.


[on abolitionism]
Towards The Abolition of Suffering
Reflections on the Abolitionist Project
UNC School of Medicine Campus


[on ethical priorities]
Shutting factory-farms and slaughterhouses should be our overriding priority: the whole apparatus of industrialised killing and abuse is the greatest source of severe and readily avoidable suffering in the world today.

Vegetarianism doesn't involve "mass genocide" - this argument is extraordinarily weak. Going vegetarian doesn't involve killing anyone at all. Far more humans could be supported feeding grains and soya directly to people rather than factory-farming nonhumans and then slaughtering them. Not Chomsky's finest hour.


[on the risks of spreading sentience beyond our solar system: discussion with Brian Tomasik]
I fear Reality may be worse than Brian imagines. It's probably unwise to say such things, but if the multiverse had an "OFF" button, then I'd press it - despite my tentative belief that we're destined to phase out the biology of suffering in our forward light-cone and enjoy life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss orders of magnitude richer than anything physiologically accessible today.

So why support initiatives to reduce existential and global catastrophic risk? Such advocacy might seem especially paradoxical if you're inclined to believe (as I am) that Hubble volumes where primordial information-bearing self-replicators arise more than once are vanishingly rare - and therefore cosmic rescue missions may be infeasible. Suffering sentience may exist in terrible abundance beyond our cosmological horizon and in googols of other Everett branches. But on current understanding, it's hard to see how rational agency can do anything about it.

1) Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. Advocates of voluntary human extinction have zero political prospects. David Benatar's plea for human extinction via voluntary childlessness falls victim to the argument from selection pressure. Technically, we could probably sterilise the planet with e.g. cobalt-salted multi-gigaton thermonuclear Doomsday devices. Such devices are not going to be built. Further, the creation of self-sustaining bases on the Moon and Mars later this century means in any case such mega-weapons wouldn't eradicate life in the solar system. The window of opportunity - or alternatively window of risk - of human extinction is small: perhaps only a few decades.

More realistically, I think anyone who cares about suffering should instead promote a messy, complicated, and piecemeal approach centred on biotechnology, in vitro meat development, and later high-tech Jainism - and of course the hundreds of health, education and welfare initiatives practised locally around the planet today. Life based on gradients of well-being is potentially saleable; world-destruction isn't.

2) If we go to the trouble of phasing out the biology of suffering on Earth, how likely are we to recreate the miseries of our past in terraforming solar systems in the rest of the Galaxy and beyond? Exceedingly naive as this sounds, isn't there anything akin to ethical progress? How likely is the creation of suffering in a era of radical transparency and ubiquitous neuroscanning? Like, say, two mirror-touch synaesthetes having a fist-fight, creating suffering may come to seem irrational and absurd. I understand Brian's point is that the exponential increase in computational power means that someone, somewhere is likely to proliferate digital hell-worlds. Here Brian and I disagree over the prospects of digital sentience - and whether unitary conscious minds are essentially classical or quantum phenomena. As I discuss elsewhere, possibly the greatest cognitive achievement of organic minds over the past few hundred million years has been to solve the binding problem - and run data-driven, cross-modally matched egocentric world-simulations of the local environment in almost real time. I know the assumption that a classical digital computer can be conscious - and support "brain-emulations" that are conscious - is quite widely shared in the AI community. However, there is no empirical evidence to support this conjecture.

3) We simply do not understand Reality - and therefore we do not understand the upper bounds on rational agency. Posthuman superintelligence will presumably be better cognitively equipped than humans to take the decisions needed for responsible stewardship of our Hubble volume.

...The precise textures of what it feels like to be you are as much an objective fact about the world as the rest mass of the electron. We wouldn't expect posthuman intelligence to be ignorant of the rest mass of the electron. How likely is posthuman intelligence to be ignorant of what it's like to be other subjects of experience? Or do we suppose they understand and don't care? Like warring mirror-touch synaesthetes, such hypothetical indifference poses problems. We don't yet know whether the orthogonality thesis or the convergence thesis is true.

In practice, I think human extinction risk this century is extremely low, and global catastrophic risk is extremely high. The last thing we need is some misguided NU super-terrorist killing several billion people with a long-latency weaponised pathogen. (It could be done.) I doubt humanity will survive more than a few centuries; but this is because humans are likely to edit our genetic source code and bootstrap our way to posthuman superintelligence rather than the outcome of Earth-destroying Armageddon.

Of course, as Brian argues, I could be catastrophically wrong. Hence the need for more research.

* * *

Brian, one argument that some futurist critics make against promoting superhappiness is that the outcome will be the opposite of what you most fear. By seeking too much bliss too greedily now, runs this argument, we'll get trapped in suboptimal local maximum here on Earth - a blissful but stagnant Brave New World, so to speak, or maybe even the functional equivalent of wireheading. For it's much easier to engineer raw bliss than ultraintelligent, pro-social information-sensitive gradients of superhappiness.

* * *

Technically, at any rate, I agree with you in one sense: the adaptive radiation of intelligence across our local supercluster will in theory leave scope for creating immense suffering elsewhere - a capacity that, if exercised, presumably dwarfs the sufferings of naturally evolved Darwinian life if such life really does exist elsewhere in our Hubble volume. I don't think this argument holds for the abolitionist project narrowly conceived, i.e. simply phasing out the biology of suffering. But if your worries about the propagation of suffering are well founded and the critics are correct, shouldn't you be arguing in favour of aggressive near-future happiness maximisation?

Sean, yes, despite the scorn some utilitarians heap on rights-based approaches, I think a powerful utilitarian case can be made for legally strengthening the rights of human and nonhuman animals alike.

Meta-ethical antirealism? Brian, as you know, I argue that the pain-pleasure discloses the world's inbuilt metric of (dis)-value. Ultimately, unethical behaviour is irrational - like stealing from your own pension. A God-like superintelligence with perfect knowledge could not behave unethically because doing so would be a form of self-harm. By contrast, the natural human propensity to behave selfishly expresses a combination of ignorance and the usually lousy and always lossy compression algorithms we use to represent other subjects of experience. For example, I spend money on a shiny new iPad rather than donate money to Oxfam because my conception of Third Would anonymous orphans is weak and abstract, whereas my conception of fondling an iPad is vivid and concrete.

But what about intuitively unethical behaviour that stems, not from weakness of will ("akrasia"), but instead from a radically different value system? Well, consider any example from history of behaviour we would regard as immoral, e.g. genocide, human sacrifice, human slavery etc. I'd argue that such behaviour always rest on theories or background assumptions we would now recognise are simply false. A more fundamental source of error, however, is the sustained and systematic distortion of perspective caused by the egocentric illusion - a hugely fitness-enhancing adaptation that helps our genes leave more copies of themselves but is no less mistaken than the geocentric world-view. Presumably a God-like superintelligence will not entertain false notions of personal identity....(to be continued)

* * *

Brian, yes, mastery of our reward circuitry might in theory lead to global wireheading or its equivalent; but there will presumably always be strong selection pressure against wireheads and junkies. Perhaps more sociologically plausible is a stable (or "stagnant" to use the pejorative Brave New World term] world of superhappy posthumans who lack any desire to radiate throughout the Galaxy and beyond. I still think adaptive radiation is likely, on balance. Yet I wonder how much of our enthusiasm for space exploration stems from the Star Trek-like fantasy of meeting new forms of life and civilisations. If a consensus emerges that all that lies in faraway solar systems is sterile lumps of rock etc, perhaps enthusiasm will pall. Unlikely but possible.

* * *

HI and optimism? If one doesn't take seriously the existence of other Everett branches or other multiverse cosmologies, and if one doesn't credit a block universe conception of space-time, then the prospect of future life animated entirely by gradients of intelligent bliss sounds like a fairy tale come true. Tragically, I fear immense realms of suffering Darwinian life elsewhere will be forever beyond help. Of course I hope I'm mistaken.

...Yes, I fear we're poles apart on meta-ethics. I believe Heaven is objectively better than Hell. Proving this is another matter.


[on fitness-enhancing traits]
The nature of fitness-enhancing traits will change as the reproductive revolution unfolds. This is because prospective parents will choose the genetic make-up of their prospective children via preimplantation genetic diagnosis (and later designer zygotes) in anticipation of the likely psychological and behavioural effects of these genetic choices. Compare "blind" natural selection and the quasi-random meiotic shuffling of alleles involved in sexual reproduction. Some of our nastier, previously fitness-enhancing alleles will be strongly selected against as the reproductive revolution gathers pace. Cystic fibrosis alleles do not have a bright future. Nor (I predict) do alleles predisposing to depression and other psychiatric disorders.


[on the brain's music pleasure zone]
Welcome to the pleasure zone...
http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2013/apr/12/song-challenge-scientists-brain-music-pleasure
("Song challenge: Scientists identify brain's music pleasure zone")


[on abolitionist organisation-building]
Quantimodo
Thanks Mike. You've done a fantastic job extending the quantified movement. Rich hedonic tone is the bedrock of a high quality of life. Yet hundreds of millions of human and nonhuman animals today spend most of their lives below hedonic zero
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantified_Self

* * *

Hypomania gets things done! For now, at least, there is still a place for the functional equivalent of depressive realists too. Putting together a team with the right mix is a challenge.

Mike, I share you impatience - and I promise I'm just as unenthusiastic as you about bureaucracy. I was just pointing out that to be maximally effective, we should try and emulate the best run charitable organisations that gain the givewell seal of approval:
http://www.givewell.org/
I found Holden Karnofsky's reflections, "Thoughts on the Singularity Institute (SI), very instructive (and despite their critical tenor, it's a badge of quality that SIAI / MIRI gave the report prominence and threw it open to public discussion) For example (although this might seem blindingly obvious) before actively soliciting funds from the public or wealthy donors, it's going to be vital to have proper financial controls and accounting in place.

* * *

The paperwork for The Neuroethics Foundation is complete with tax-exempt status in the US. As you've noticed, I've avoided pitches for cash on our abolitionist websites for fear of tarnishing the message. But undoubtedly with some serious money, we could take the project forward.

* * *

Daryl, yes. Right now, we need a corporate-looking design for The Neuroethics Foundation webpage. In future I hope we can support visiting scholars, hold academic conferences and make the abolitionist project a flourishing field of rigorous scientific research. But achieving this goal will take a level of professionalism, self-discipline and organizational skills that are alien to roving philosophers. If you drop me a line at dave @ knightsbridge .net, I can put you directly in touch with the Foundation's financial director.
http://www.neuroethics.com/


[on negative utilitarianism]
David, just a small note of qualification. In a world without suffering, the strict negative utilitarian has no ethical grounds for pressing a hypothetical cosmic "OFF" switch. However, the existence of single pinprick - or if a pinprick doesn't cross the threshold of outright suffering, then a single toothache - mandates pressing the button.

The above example is fanciful. But we may envisage real-world future scenarios is which negative utilitarians are regarded by the authorities as incredibly dangerous potential super-terrorists - as distinct from harmless philosophers. I guess it's probably not fruitful to discuss these scenarios. Suffice it to say that anyone worried about existential risk would do well to consider the problem of suffering. Typically, these two topics are reckoned to be orthogonal. Not so...

* * *

"Non-existence has never hurt anyone. Existence hurts EVERYONE"
Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with Thomas Ligotti
http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/128466.Thomas_Ligotti

....The ganglia of insects and other invertebrates are sentient; but nonhuman animals without a central nervous system are unlikely to be unitary subjects of experience. Other things being equal, I think we are entitled both ethically and pragmatically to prioritise vertebrates. But in the long run, utopian technology can deliver the well-being of all sentience down to the humblest nerve ganglia.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentience

I suspect a superhappiness pill or therapy would directly or indirectly target the mu opioid receptors of our twin, cubic centimetre-sized "hedonic hotspots" in the ventral pallidum and rostral shell of the nucleus accumbens. The wonderpill would presumably either re-regulate the receptors themselves, or the intracellular cascade triggered downstream of their activation by full agonists, and / or alter the gene expression profile of these extraordinary cells.

Unfortunately, we don't yet know the precise molecular signature of pure bliss. More radically, we could aim to increase the both the numbers and neocortical projections of these marvellous cells. An immense complication here is that (presumably) we're not trying simply to enrich normal hedonic tone, but do so in ways that are 1) pro-social, or at least not antisocial; and 2) don't impair cognitive performance. We would also need to weigh the far-ranging societal implications.
superhappiness.com

* * *

Although we can already in principle use PGD to endow our future children with a higher hedonic set-point, autosomal gene therapy sustainably to elevate hedonic-set-points among those who walk the Earth today is probably decades away. Hence the need for improved drug therapies.

Sean, yes, this is a real dilemma. I think any victim of severe and intractable depression should have the right to opioid-based antidepressant therapy. But this option is not a decision to be taken lightly. The dilemma is greater still if we are considering superhappiness. We don't yet know how to create empathetic euphoriants on a sustainable basis, certainly not without compromising cognitive function. MDMA, for example, exerts its peak subjective effects only for around 90 minutes.


[on intelligence and IQ]
Indeed. Thanks David. I just hope we sequence too exceptional hyperempathisers and people with abnormally high hedonic set-points. And enrich our mindblind conceptions of intelligence.


[on extracting Jeanne Calment's DNA]
We should sequence the DNA of perhaps the oldest person who ever lived:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldest_people
When will some public-spirited soul extract a sample of late supercentenarian Jeanne Calment's hair for DNA analysis?
http://www.supercentenarianstudy.com/
Technically grave-robbing, I guess, but not exactly Burke and Hare.

[...]in Trinquetaille Cemetery, Arles, Dept des Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur. I've been tempted to pay my respects in the best way I know how. We wouldn't think twice about doing a DNA test if a deadly epidemic had broken out; but we're in the grip of a plague just as lethal. Let's sequence the DNA of all supercentenarians alive and dead [short of express non-consent on the part of the living] followed by the centenarians. Let's get things moving. Just as epidemiology provides vital clues to the nature of a disease prior to a full understanding, genetic studies of the oldest old can potentially be invaluable pointers to a deeper understanding of ageing - and eventually a cure. Billions of lives and billions of research dollars could be saved - and I can't see how taking a DNA sample from a dead woman's hair is disrespecting her memory in any way.

No...it's not yet been done. Jeanne Calment's grave is untouched. [Thankfully she was buried not cremated.] Although I'm normally cautious about allegedly "utilitarian" initiatives that do more harm than good, I'd cite an overwhelming public health need here. We live in a society that hyper-ventilates about ethical trivia - and ignores the important stuff that could benefit countless lives. Despite my views on personal (non)identity, I certainly regard ageing and death as a scourge. Despite the disappointing results reported from the NIA study of caloric restriction in rhesus monkeys, the effects of FGF21 are striking:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121016103411.htm
("Starvation hormone markedly extends mouse life span, without need for calorie restriction")
We badly need a "holding operation" until more radical interventions are feasible.

* * *

Andres, yes, a surprising number of thoughtful people I know have decided not to have children. If generalised, this admirable wish not to bring more suffering into the world will presumably exert exactly the wrong sort of selection pressure. Such folk should be out donating to sperm banks! (I hope you do!) Choosing what we may simplistically call happy, smart, prosocial genes /allelic combinations has countless pitfalls; but so does today's genetic crapshoot.

* * *

I think we should aim for genetically preprogrammed superhappiness, superlongevity and superintelligence. But I fear posthumans will regard our conception of "intelligence" as quaint. Thus a sceptic might claim that abnormally raised IQ is a sex-linked disorder
http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/03/14/testosterone-hormone-linked-to-higher-iq/24379.html
("Testosterone linked to higher IQ")
http://intelligence.org/team/
tied to reduced reproductive fitness
http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1972320?uid=4...
and impaired social cognition
http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1972320.
("Literacy, Education, and Fertility, Past and Present: A Critical Review")

If we want our intelligence tests to have ecological validity, it's simply autistic to exclude the perspective-taking, mind-reading prowess that helped drive the evolution of distinctively human intelligence
http://archives.evergreen.edu/webpages/curricular/2006-2007/languageofpolitics/files/languageofpolitics/Evol_Anthrop_6.pdf
("The Social Brain Hypothesis")
Alas what might seem "merely" a cognitive deficit, namely our human failings in cross-race and cross-species empathetic imagination, can be ethically catastrophic. Hence the death camps, slaughterhouses, factory farming and the holocaust.

Despite the above, I hope we do raise IQ scores world-wide.

* * *

Andres, all good points, I am 100% in favour of robust brains - and high "IQ" scores too, other things being equal. (You're right about rhetorical landmines). Eminent scientists? Well, it's worth recalling that Michael Faraday, one of the greatest experimental scientists of all time, was mathematically illiterate...

* * *

Mike, yes, education is certainly a factor. We only need to consider the difference in behavioural phenotype between a queen bee and a genetically identical worker bee to see what a difference environment/good food can make. Alas humans don't yet enjoy the counterpart of royal jelly. But compare Faraday with, say, Ramanujan. Mathematical genius clearly does have a high degree of genetic loading. I'm just sceptical about the existence of "g" as anything more than a statistical artefact. "IQ" tests reveal at least as much about conceptual scheme, value judgements and cognitive style of the test creator as the intelligence of their test subjects.

* * *

IQ scores can be raised most quickly, most effectively and least controversially by optimal nutrition, better control of infectious disease
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-is-average-iq-higher-in-some-places/
education campaigns to promote breast feeding rather than bottle feeding
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/surety-bond-breast-feeding/
Epigenetic factors are relevant here too:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10518-you-are-what-your-grandmother-ate.html

What could go wrong? How likely are unanticipated side-effects both societally and personally? For example, it might seem obvious that breeding humans to learn faster (etc) is ethically desirable, just like Doogie mice:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/making-smart-mice/
("Making Smart Mice: Lab-bred "Doogie" mice learn faster and remember more than their field-born brethren")
But it transpires Doogie mice are much more vulnerable to chronic pain:
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/13302/title/Better-Mouse-Memory-Comes-at-a-Price/
("Better Mouse Memory Comes at a Price")

And what if it transpires that extremely high IQ is bound up with high testosterone exposure?
For sure, the links between testosterone and (certain kinds of) intelligence are actually very complex. But a modest increase in testosterone function might have globally catastrophic effects [recall testosterone functionally antagonises pro-social oxytocin] How confident can we be that raising IQ scores will not concomitantly raise AQ scores? The ethnic group with the highest IQ scores also has the highest incidence of Aspergers:
http://web.mit.edu/fustflum/documents/papers/AshkenaziIQ.jbiosocsci.pdf

Doesn't the success (awards, prizes, Fields medals etc) of scientists who record high IQ scores independently validate IQ?
Well, not if the common underlying variable were testosterone function. Thus testosterone promotes competitive status seeking ("success") as well as masculinised high AQ / high IQ brains.
[I grossly over-simplify here]

* * *

I wonder what the Chinese make of
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/iq-tests-are-fundamentally-flawed-and-using-them-alone-to-measure-intelligence-is-a-fallacy-study-finds-8425911.html
("IQ tests are 'fundamentally flawed' and using them alone to measure intelligence is a 'fallacy', study finds")
I am much less charitable about the notion of IQ as understood today than the authors of the Neuron study.

* * *

Do we know what we're talking about when speaking of intelligence, let alone "superintelligence"?
I know one or two border collies
Chaser the border collie 'knows more than 1,000 words'
as well as
Top 10 Least Intelligent Dogs
But I suspect posthumans will regard the range of human intellectual prowess as similar.

Despite the above, I agree with Andres. We should choose better genes for our children - including alleles /allelic combinations associated with high intelligence. But we're scarcely even scratched the surface of potential pitfalls.
The Reproductive Revolution
Liberal Eugenics
The Biointelligence Explosion
Humans and Intelligent Machines
co-evolution, fusion or replacement?"

Andres, you could be right. But the simple answer is we just don't know. In fact, there are all sorts of potential confounding variables here. For example, IQ tests are overwhelmingly designed by hyper-systematising high-AQ males [Once again, I'm afraid impressionistic evidence will have to do duty for scientific rigour. I don't actually know the strength of the correlation.] IQ tests designed by low-AQ women - or by me, not that I'm anything other than a red-blooded male - would yield substantively different results. Of course, this IQ test revolution is unlikely to happen because high testosterone high-IQ / high-AQ alpha males occupy positions of power and authority...

Insofar as want our revised IQ test to have ecological validity, then we'll want to score competence at mind-reading and cooperative problem-solving - which will entail a radically different test environment than today's autistic social isolation ("No cheating!"). I'm assuming here that social dynamics has played - and will continue to play - a major role in the evolution of higher intelligence:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_human_intelligence

A high AQ / IQ defender of orthodoxy would protest we're dealing with a personality variable here, not true intelligence. But alas perspective-taking prowess is not by itself any guarantee of agreeableness:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machiavellian_intelligence

Anyhow, get ready for the launch party of The New DP IQ Test.
(though perhaps keep the champagne on ice for awhile)


[on hedonic recalibration]
Recalibrating the hedonic treadmill
("Interview: David Pearce walks the walk & talks the talk on recalibrating our Hedonic Treadmill")

* * *

Thanks Franco. Yes, any responsible prospective parent would worry about passing on the cystic fibrosis gene (or rather one of its alleles). But there are other alleles we should care about too, such as variants of the COMT gene. If we're going to bring new life into the world, let's not bring needless suffering too.


[on the academic use of smart drugs)
You can't take the peptide (because it's broken down in the gut). But you can take orexin / hypocretin-boosting modafinil. How many academics are actually taking modafinil for its subtle mood-brightening effect?
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130307145720.htm
("Is this peptide a key to happiness? Findings suggests possible new treatment for depression, other disorders")
(cf. the rise of "academic doping"
Professor's little helper

...A night without sleep can itself have an acute antidepressant action in otherwise chronically depressed subjects. So yes, disentangling the effect will be complicated.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080819213033.htm
("One Sleepless Night Increases Dopamine In The Human Brain")

Indeed. IMO modafinil is best taken in harmony with natural sleep-wake cycles rather than to subvert them - all-night essay crises aside.

* * *

In my view, most of today's "smart drugs" are scarcely worthy of the name - and reflect our impoverished conception of intelligence.
Smart Drug Smarts
("Philosopher David Pearce Talks Transhumanism")

Jean, I promise in the long run I'm optimistic about the prospects of full-spectrum cognitive enhancement. Alas some of today's "smart drugs" typically impair social cognition and creative thought. Anyhow, this is a plea for caution - and a richer conception of the nature of intelligence - not defeatism!

Thanks Nicolas. Of course I'm still looking for the elusive wonderdrug that will make me leap out of bed in the morning ready to take on the world and win...

The Naturalisation of Heaven
("David Pearce - The Naturalisation of Heaven - The Lotus Eaters - Happiness & Motivation")

http://giordano-bruno-stiftung.ch/blog/david-pearce-uber-das-leid-und-gluck-in-der-welt/ ("David Pearce über das Leid und Glück in der Welt)
Thanks to Mr Google, I now understand German.

Women-Only Leadership
Would it prevent war? by Hank Pellissier


[on timescales]
Timescales? IMO our long-term goal should be not just freedom from pain, but lifelong bodily and psychological well-being. But this century, perhaps a more realistic goal is to turn pain into a mere useful signalling mechanism - as it is perceived by some (predominantly male) people with extremely high thresholds today.

* * *

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." (Heraclitus)
David, let's assume for the sake of argument that a strict conception of personal (non-)identity over time is correct. If so, what (if any) do you see are its practical implications for your view ["The point is, we shouldn't be creating happiness for the sake of happiness. We should make already-existent sentient organisms as happy as possible, I believe."]?


[on anthropic selection effects]
This would make our survival (in some Everett branches) a freakish anthropic selection effect! Until particle accelerators reach the kind of energies found in the most energetic cosmic rays, most physicists won't be troubled by the prospect of triggering a vacuum phase transition. (But would you trust the reassurance of a negative utilitarian?) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ra

Cosmology is currently in flux. But on current evidence - I use the term loosely - negative utilitarians should despair and positive utilitarians exult.
And classical utilitarians? I don't know

* * *

Could existence be a static structure - akin to the timeless truths of mathematics?
This is of course a separate question from determinism.
My best guess - no more - is that the multiverse exists tenselessly. What we naively describe as its time evolution is described by a deterministic wave function (i.e. Everett / the two-state vector formalism of QM). In most quasi-classical Everett branches, the probabilistic Born rule holds; but it's only derivative.

What's really going on? Heaven knows - we've glimpsed only a tiny part of the "fire in the equations". But in the context of reality as a whole, I fear utilitronium shockwaves are mere ripples.


[on San Francisco H+
Prophetic Narratives:
Will Humanity's Successors Also Be Our Decendants?
Humanity+ @San Francisco 2012


[on nonhuman amimals]
Should humans aim to help other sentient beings or exploit them?
http://arzone.ning.com/forum/topics/arzone-podcast-61-looking-back-moving-forward">AR Zone


[on IQ and AQ]
Mike, I think you are right. One caveat is that attempting genetically to raise IQ scores may end up raising the incidence of Aspergers - given the limitations of our current understanding of intelligence. On the other hand, the prospect of, say, state-sponsored clonal communities of Chinese super-Einsteins recursively self-modifying their own genetic source code would be one route to full-spectrum superintelligence.

Indeed so Jonatas. My analysis: raw pain and our core emotions are simple, evolutionarily primitive and intense, as borne out my microelectrode studies using awake human subjects. But over hundreds of millions of years, projections from the limbic system to the cerebral cortex have "encephalised" our emotions in ever more complex and genetically adaptive ways. I don't know how much the cerebral cortex is contributing to the intensity of our "raw feels"; but in consequence of these limbic projections, our world-simulations seem charged with meaning and significance. More concretely, a snake, for example, looks intrinsically scary. This is highly adaptive.

* * *

...Like Molière's Monsieur Jourdain, who is surprised and delighted to learn that he has been speaking prose all his life without knowing it, we need to encourage more people to realise they are transhumanists too!

* * *

Einstein's brain was a lot smaller than average - and some smart people get by with very little brain at all.
(cf. "Is Your Brain Really Necessary?"
http://www.rifters.com/real/articles/Science_No-Brain.pdf)


[on "locked-in" patients and hedonic adaptation]
Of "locked-in" patients who can communicate by by blinking, forty-eight percent of long-term survivors report their mood as good:
http://scienceblog.com/59037/loyola-neurologists-describe-the-most-feared-and-devastating-strokes/
("Neurologists Describe the Most Feared and Devastating Strokes")
"Forty-eight percent reported their mood was good"
I wonder what's the comparative figure for healthy long-term survivors of lottery wins?
The hedonic treadmill is both a curse and blessing. Recalibrated, it could be wholly the latter.

...And even here the data are equivocal. (cf. http://www.economist.com/node/21548213: "Chilled out A poll contradicts what we thought we knew about income and happiness") One might imagine that immense time, effort and resources are being lavished on investigating ways to recalibrate our hedonic treadmill. Sadly not.


[on doppelgängers and multiple bodies]
Would you rather have multiple personalities or multiple bodies?
Polyopic heautoscopy: Case report and review of the literature
Heautoscopy, epilepsy, and suicide.

Polyopic heautoscopy: "Heautoscopy, i.e., the encounter with one's double, is a multimodal illusory reduplication of one's own body and self. In its polyopic form, more than one double is experienced..."

"Ben, normally additional body-images are passive. Rarely, the subject is confused as to which body-image is "really" his own - and sense of ownership may oscillate. Oliver Sacks describes an unusual and tragic case of heautoscopy as related by a mid-19th century physician in his new book "Hallucinations":
"I knew a very intelligent and amiable man, who had the power of thus placing before his eyes himself, and often laughed heartily at his double, who always seemed to laugh in turn. This was long a subject of amusement and joke, but the ultimate result was lamentable. He became gradually convinced that he was haunted by [his other] self. This other self would argue with him pertinaciously, and to his great mortification sometimes refute him, which, as he was very proud of his logical powers, humiliated him exceedingly. He was eccentric, but was never placed in confinement or subjected to the slightest restraint. At length, worn out by the annoyance, he deliberately resolved not to enter on another year of existence, paid all his debts, wrapped up in separate papers the amount of the weekly demands, waited, pistol in hand, the night of the 31st of December, and as the clock struck twelve fired it into his mouth."


[on hedometry]
Measuring Happiness
Are people more likely to understate or overstate their own (un)happiness? How big a factor in responses are cultural norms (e.g. is one supposed to be grateful to God for the blessing of life? etc) How big a role does signalling play? (happiness = success; unhappiness = loser, failure. Is there a strong evolutionary incentive for men, in particular, to overstate their well-being?) Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the chart is its weighting of the well-being of nonhuman animals, i.e. zero. Countries with high levels of factory-farming presumably record more abject misery.


[on amplifying altruism]
Amplification sorely needed:
http://www.livescience.com/25860-altruism-brain-cells-found.html
("Found: Altruism Brain Cells")

Can we endow AI with the functional counterpart - hopefully not just species-specific:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friendly_artificial_intelligence

...And only human animals have the capacity to systematise altruism - though today systematic cruelty (i.e. factory farming) is more widespread.


[on amineptine]
Delicensing amineptine was ill-judged. Why is this passing as cutting-edge research?
Dopaminergic antidepressants
("In search of better antidepressants; New study suggests targeting dopamine-releasing neurons could lead to more effective therapies.")


[on posthuman superintelligence]
Posthuman superintelligence may have thoughts like sunsets. Alas formal models of mind omit what defines the mental - and some of our conceptions of superintelligence remind me of sophisticated malware rather than God-like minds.

To understand the world, we'll need to extend this capacity to include the first-person perspectives of all sentient beings. To be useful, however, this hyper-empathy needs to be harnessed to a very different cognitive style, namely the systematising, rule-following, "Aspergerish" mind-set that underlies the success of modern science and technology. Alas high-tech Jainism does not come naturally to killer apes. ...Enhanced, grown and overexpressed. However, I think the real challenge will be to avoid trade-offs between, simplistically, the empathetic and autistic mind-set. There are plenty of compassionate folk whose benevolence is squandered through lack of rational analysis:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GiveWell

* * *

I think Bill Gates, for example, is an effective altruist precisely because of his Aspergerish traits:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_%26_Melinda_Gates_Foundation
So I don't think we should be aiming at lowering global AQ scores
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html
but rather to promoting a capacity for flexible cognitive style-shifting. What is the biological basis of such flexibility?

* * *

Women are statistically more empathetic than men and score higher on the personality dimension of agreeableness. Testosterone functionally antagonises oxytocin in the brain. And no, "roid rage" isn't pretty, though it could be useful if the barbarians are at the gate. [On the other hand, the barbarians are likely to be testosterone-driven too...]

* * *

If intelligence (as distinct from IQ) were a function of high testosterone levels, the outcome of an intelligence explosion wouldn't be pretty:
"High-testosterone People Feel Rewarded By Others' Anger, New Study Finds".

The Dunning–Kruger effect is quite common in high IQ folk with impaired social cognitive function.


[on Schadenfreude]
A very disturbing post:
Schadenfreude
Could posthuman superintelligence experience Schadenfreude?

Alas a predisposition to spite / gloating / Schadenfreude can be fitness-enhancing:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamiltonian_spite
Darwinian life is a sinister affair.


[video interview ]
"The Mind of David Pearce
(video interview of DP by Andres Gomez Emilsson)

If I'd known more about the colourful past of the interviewer, Andres Gomez Emilsson, I could have asked questions of my own:
http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/543885.html
("Plasma joven que increpó a Calderón su espíritu de lucha en Hi5")
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/10/04/portada.pdf
http://universitas.no/news/52291/apprehended-for-criticizing-the-president

Andres is that rare beast, a hyperempathetic mathematician.

* * *

Thanks Jonatas! Alas I can never force myself to watch - which is dysfunctional for the purposes of getting our message across more effectively. My interviewer, Andres, is an "Abolitionist-Singularitarian" - a hyphenated variation that I trust will one day be redundant...


[on destroying the world: NU versus CU]
The negative utilitarian believes we have an overriding ethical obligation to phase out suffering. R.N. Smart's rebuttal of Popper is often considered decisive:
http://www.utilitarianism.com/rnsmart-negutil.html
But whereas a negative utilitarian believes that after we've phased out suffering, all our ethical duties have been discharged, the classical utilitarian seems obliged to work towards a utilitronium shockwave - and thereby obliterate intelligent life in the process.

Perhaps it's worth adding that the negative utilitarian can still advocate the creation of life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss (I do!); s/he just doesn't claim there is a distinctively ethical obligation to do so (except insofar as a biology of invincible bliss gets rid of suffering). The urgency of suffering is self-intimating, at least to its victim, whereas no self-intimating urgency attaches to e.g. making someone who is happy even happier - or converting a rock into blissful utilitronium.

The argument that a negative utilitarian ethic dictates pressing a hypothetical button to destroy the world is often considered a reductio ad absurdum of negative utilitarian ethics. However, a chronic pain specialist who devotes his life to the relief of suffering isn't generally taxed with the charge that the logic of his ethic dictates he should kill off all his patents to put them out of their misery.

I broadly agree with the diagnosis of David Benatar ("Better Never To Have Been") for Darwinian life. A more troubling if purely theoretical dilemma for the negative utilitarian is the Pinprick Argument. Imagine a notional world rich in sublime bliss whose price is a single pinprick. Is it really ethical to bring such a world to an end to avoid something so trivial?

Both classical utilitarianism and preference utilitarianism, on the other hand, suffer from massive problems of their own ("preference utilitarianism" is a contradiction in terms IMO)

"Prioritarianism" probably captures more of our moral intuitions, i.e. it's more important to minimise suffering than maximise happiness, but happiness still carries some weight. Yet what kind of non-arbitrary metric should we use for the trade-off?

...Just as "computronium" is matter and energy optimised for maximal computing power, "utilitronium" is matter and energy optimised for maximum bliss. Utilitronium would presumably be propagated from its place of origin at close to the velocity of light via suitably programmed von Neumann probes etc.

A utilitronium shockwave is potentially lethal to intelligent life with complex values because utilitronium is (generally assumed to be) a relatively homogeneous organisation of matter and energy.

Counterarguments?
Yes, but I'm not sure if they work.
Classical utilitarianism has vastly more counterintuitive implications than the homely moral dilemmas of Trolleyology might suggest:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

For the classical utilitarian, there are circumstances where the well-being of the many trumps the well-being of the few. One can envisage something analogous for negative utilitarianism - though with the maximum relief of suffering prioritised. But on indirect utilitarian grounds, we may opt to guarantee certain rights in law - not least the rights of minorities. A rights-based approach may lead to happier (or less unhappy) outcomes than supposedly "utilitarian" policies. Indeed, all sorts of supposedly anti-utilitarian ethics can be consequentialised in this way.

It's much harder to show why a classical utilitarian isn't obliged to convert your matter and energy into blissful utilitronium as soon as the opportunity permits. Moreover, since other things being equal, the utilitarian has a rate of temporal discounting indistinguishable from zero, he must devote most of his time, energy and resources to engineering this outcome.

Working for life based on information-sensitive gradients of intelligent bliss doesn't have this counterintuitive outcome But except as a stopgap to be pursued until we understand the ramifications of whet we're going, can sub-maximum bliss be ethically justified?

* * *

Hedonic points will eventually plateau: every exponential function is really just a sigmoid curve in disguise. But this exalted level of well- being around which full-spectrum intelligences fluctuate will be orders of magnitude richer than today's hedonic ceiling: what humans call "peak experiences". Hence the Hedonistic Imperative.

* * *

Very few of us can be motivated by the prospect of utilitronium. Intuitively, "it" would not be "me". Gradients of intelligence bliss are easier to identify with, though how much of out existing identity and preference architecture will be conserved in post-Darwinian paradise is questionable: ultimately very little I suspect. But one doesn't want to frighten the horses...

* * *

Yes, one might imagine so. Folk who speak of the loss of identity involved in utilitronium proliferation don't on the whole complain that their orgasms last too long, and the orgasmic subject of experience isn't their authentic self.

* * *

Responsible stewardship of our Hubble volume, on the other hand, will take both superintelligence and - to use a less commonly encountered concept - superwisdom. For the foreseeable future, I think we should be stressing the case for intelligent bliss rather than getting blissed out.

* * *

Just as the implementation of supposedly utilitarian policies on Earth often leads to a worse outcome in utilitarian terms, the same might be true cosmologically in the event of a premature launch of a utilitronium shockwave - with no second chances in this latter case.

Also, the assumption that utilitronium is akin to "orgasmium" could be questioned.

Jonatas, apologies, I was arguing above that we don't really yet understand what a utilitronium shockwave would entail. (Wolf was making a similar point) The prima facie case that a utilitronium shockwave would involve conversion of most of the world's accessible matter and energy into unintelligent and homogeneous orgasmium can be questioned.

But even here on Earth, what maximises bliss? 10 billion people leading rich, complex intelligent lives? Or 150 billion people wireheading / opiated? Again on the face of it, matter and energy used for anything other than pure bliss/hypervalue creation is matter and energy immorally wasted - again assuming a classical utilitarian ethic.

Jonatas, if we're speaking of the near-term (and by "near-term" perhaps millions of years are in play) I broadly agree. But in the long run, it's unclear if the classical utilitarian can avoid a commitment to the ultimate conversion of everything into orgasmium - everything, that is, beyond the infrastructure needed to keep the orgasmium factories functioning, which given its hypothetical homogenous nature may not be especially difficult.

Another classical utilitarian argument against pushing this "extreme" conclusion is that the prospect of "utilitronium" can never motivate [I'm tempted to say neither could orgasmium, though human male sexual behaviour might suggest otherwise.] Of course, the promise of radical hedonic recalibration doesn't tend to set pulses racing either. But unlike the prospect of utilitronium, the idea of set-point recalibration doesn't (normally) elicit contempt or hostility - and it's potentially neutral between multiple value-systems. Indeed recalibration is better than neutral between multiple value systems inasmuch as most value systems give at least some weight to subjective well-being.

* * *

In practical terms, I'm inclined to agree Jonatas. However, if we assume value-realism, there is a ranking of all the finite number of ways matter and energy can be configured within any given Hubble volume. For the classical utilitarian, pure orgasmium (apparently) ranks top, even if getting there requires a transitional epoch of posthuman superintelligence. Utilitarian (super)intelligence may ultimately be self-subverting. I don't know.

* * *

If we live in an infinite world, then withdrawing one's hand from the fire will not reduce suffering. The paradoxes / contradictions involved in the notion of infinity make me sceptical of its physical intelligibility [which of Cantor's notional infinite hierarchy of infinities are we supposed to sign up to?]. But even if one is a strict finitist in mathematics and physics alike, the region of the multiverse accessible to rational (and hopefully ethical) agency is apt to seem tiny - tiny enough to induce fatalistic despair. However, again assuming finitism, the fact that the world has an immense amount of suffering doesn't ethically permit us either to add to it, or to allow suffering to continue if there is any technical means to put it to an end. Hence our responsibility not to become blissed out (rather than blissful) until we have ensured we have done literally everything conceivably possible to relieve suffering sentience elsewhere.

* * *

A child is drowning before your eyes in a shallow pond. Do you choose to:
1) carry on ruminating on the prospects of a Friendly Technological Singularity? After all, the life of a single child is of trivial significance compared to achieving friendly AGI.

2) dive in and rescue the child?

In practice, we'd all do (2). And I'm not convinced the cognitive style that induced anyone to do (1) would lead to a happier global outcome.

Less fancifully, I don't think tackling suffering as it exists in the world today entails any kind of trade-offs with the long-term future of life in the universe. Trade-offs might occur only if were to aim at perpetual maximum bliss without regard to cognitive function.

* * *

I hugely respect the formidable intellects at work at SIAI [or rather MIRI: I'm still digesting the ramifications of: http://singularityu.org/2012/12/09/singularity-university-acquires-the-singularity-summit/ ("Singularity University (SU) today announced that it has acquired the Singularity Summit") with the added piquancy of the Kurzweilians believing AGI is most likely to save the world and SIAI believing AGI will most likely destroy it.] SIAI are now rebranded as MIRI. But the counterpart of saving the drowning child is the plight of nonhuman animals. I gather an informal proposal to characterise the raison d'etre of SIAI as Sentience-Friendly AGI rather than Human-Friendly AI was turned down, probably (if one may be allowed to speculate) because Sentience-Friendliness would have entailed leading lights quitting their meat-based paleo diets. No doubt advocates of a meat-based paleo diet would plead it's vital to their staying in tip-top intellectual form preparing for a [Human-]Friendly Singularity. But since the greatest source of chronic, severe and readily avoidable suffering in the world today is factory-farming, I think this decision sends the wrong signal. Moreover, it's most unclear if the notion of distinctively Human-Friendly AI is any more intellectually coherent than Aryan-Friendly AI or Cannibal-Friendly AI. If one is dedicated to overcoming cognitive bias, then why enshrine anthropocentric bias in one's mission statement?

* * *

If one agrees with David Benatar ("Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence") then paperclippers are one class of Friendly AI rather than its antithesis. Negative utilitarians should support AGI research and hope SIAI (or rather its successor MIRI) are ignored. Full speed ahead with the Kurzweilians at the Singularity University! Actually, as you know, I think a Biointelligence Explosion (cf. http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/ & http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/parable.html) is more credible than biological life's outright replacement by digital zombies. So despite my negative utilitarianism, I'm not getting ready to celebrate the imminent end of Darwinian life quite yet.
On the other hand...
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/17/chinese-arrest-mayan-apocalypse-rumours
("Chinese authorities arrest dozens for spreading Mayan apocalypse rumours")

* * *

The immensity of suffering in the world can at times induce a despairing paralysis. But imagine if you or a loved one were being severely harmed, and someone chose to forgo the opportunity to help on the grounds the total impact of doing so would be negligible...

* * *

Pleasure certainly seems to be the engine of value - which is not of course to say they are the same. What's especially distinctive about MDMA, however, is its combined action of euphoria and oxytocin release. Sadly this is not sustained.
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-12-countering-brain-chemical-suicides.html
("Countering brain chemical could prevent suicides")

* * *

The Simulation Argument is neat. But it gets its bite from the intuitive notion among the techie-minded that running ancestor simulations sounds like a cool thing to do if one has the computational resources to do so [together with the widely held (and IMO mistaken) idea that unitary software-based digital minds will in future be feasible.] However, ask anybody if they think posthumans will decide to recreate Auschwitz and they'll say (IMO rightly) that this prospect is vanishingly unlikely. These two responses are not mutually consistent.


[on the terminology of bliss]
I have peak experiences, you have euphoria, he gets high. Yes, we need a new language to characterise well-being. Use of expressions like "getting high" can cheapen some of the best experiences in a person's life. One needn't identify pleasure with value to acknowledge that pleasure is the engine of value-creation. Mastery of the molecular machinery of bliss should allow us to amplify its expression by orders of magnitude. Posthumans may enjoy hypervaluable experiences every day of their quasi-immoral lives.

Today we associate opioids with a numbing or dulling of consciousness. Ironically, "intensify" is word coined by laudanum addict Samuel Taylor Coleridge to describe opium's effects on consciousness: the full story is more complicated.

* * *

"The first opiate I ever took was codeine....It made me feel right for the first time in my life....I never felt right from as far back as I can remember, and I was always trying different ways to change how I felt. I used lots of drugs, but none of them really did it for me. Codeine was a revelation, and I've been an opiate addict ever since...Opiates have caused me lots of trouble, but what they do for my head is worth it..."
[Thirty-four year old woman quoted in From Chocolate to Morphine (1993) by Andrew Weil and Winifred Rosen]


[on controlling physiological tolerance]
Intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS: "wireheading") is not a future I advocate or predict for humanity. But what ICSS does show is that pleasure - or more accurately a frenzy of desire - shows no physiological tolerance. Engineering perpetual pure bliss - or information-sensitive gradients of bliss - isn't technically harder than engineering perpetual pure misery - or information-sensitive gradients of misery. But for evolutionary reasons, Nature favours discontent over sustained happiness. Thankfully, we can improve on natural selection.

* * *

The same physical stimuli and the same drugs can certainly elicit radically different responses in different people. But no one to my knowledge finds maximal activation of his or her mu opioid receptors by full mu agonists in our twin "hedonic hotspots" anything other than blissful. In that sense, nothing much has changed over the past few hundred millions years.

* * *

...a richer language would capture all the gradations of tone in between. But if we're serious about improving ourselves, we'll shift the range of life's hedonic tone above anything genetically feasible today.
Autosomal gene-editing software doesn't yet exist. So I can't point to anything like Ray Kurzweil's impressive charts. But what David Chalmers calls the proportionality thesis, i.e. increases in intelligence lead to proportionate increases in the capacity to design intelligent systems, may hold for recursively self-improving organic robots who modify their own source code and bootstrap our way to full-spectrum superintelligence. Maybe.

* * *

I'm pretty confident I know what is superlongevity; and (perhaps) we may dimly grasp something weakly analogous to superhappiness. But in the case of "superintelligence", I sometimes wonder if the buzzword term as used today simply fails to refer. Any history of futurology makes sobering reading:
A History of Futurology
("But This Time Is Different?" I wouldn't bet on it...)


[on perspective-taking]
A reflex might be expected to habituate over time, or at least remain constant. Co-operative behaviour strengthened in this case. And why decide to leave a chocolate chip? Empathy does indeed involve emotion, but it's also cognitively demanding (Can anyone manage seventh-order intentionality? Most people can't manage sixth.) I'd agree superintelligent beings could not reply on empathy for many cognitive tasks; but if we are talking about full-spectrum superintelligence, then their perspective-taking capacities will presumably be greater than humans - since the phenomenology of other first-person perspectives is as much a feature of the natural world as the properties of the Higgs boson.

* * *

It's also possible advanced intelligences will renounce aspects of their intelligence once they have ascertained that some horrors outside their forward light-cone are beyond their power to influence. Conceivably, the whole of Darwinian life may be consigned to oblivion. By analogy, some people today choose not to study the Holocaust on the grounds they can't do anything about it and they know enough to make sure it can never happen again [On the other hand, perhaps folk who think we should run ancestor simulations should study history more deeply.]

* * *

An ancestor simulation sounds a cool sort of program to run...for a few seconds before you consider its implications. And are we to suppose posthuman superintelligence won't understand those implications? And in any case, how strong is the evidence that software-based phenomenal minds can be generated at any level of computational abstraction?

* * *

One can generally make an informed estimate of the AQ as well as the IQ of anyone who writes about superintelligence. But this tends to be true of futurology in general, much of which can resemble disguised autobiography.

Alas this cuts both ways. Whether writing about overcoming suffering / high-tech Jainism / gradients of bliss, I wonder how much of my narrative is idiosyncratic, for all its universalist pretensions. If the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world's inbuilt metric of (dis)value, then perhaps I shouldn't worry. But this attempt to escape Hume's Guillotine and naturalise value is itself controversial.

In the transhumanist community, two other big meta-narratives are Overcoming Aging and Achieving Superintelligence. Thankfully, these narratives are complementary rather than mutually exclusive.

I'd add another: post-Shulgin Overcoming Ordinary Waking Consciousness. But it doesn't do to mention the "C" word among Singularitarians.

* * *

Rare exceptions aside, our aim can't sensibly be to convert the old but educate (critics would say mislead) the young. And I certainly wouldn't claim superior cognitive flexibility. The whole Singularity memeplex seemingly erupted from nowhere and caught me unawares. For years I'd been writing about marginally enhancing nootropics / smart drugs under the impression this was "radical"; and suddenly I'm asked to believe we're on the brink of posthuman superintelligence. Maybe I just don't "get it".

* * *

Yes. But....One of the drivers of distinctively human intelligence has been our capacity for co-operative problem-solving, based not least on our unsurpassed mind-reading prowess. This trend seems likely to accelerate with the growth of online networking. So despite our multiple individual stupidities, I'm cautiously optimistic. The subjective properties of matter and energy and their combinatorial binding, on the other hand, will IMO take millions of years to explore - and our odyssey has barely begun...

* * *

GLYX-13 is a neuroprotective, mood-brightening smart drug. Let's hope clinical trials are a success. The history of psychopharmacology is littered with false dawns:
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-12-drug-hard-to-treat-depression-brain-receptors.html
(Drug fights hard-to-treat depression by targeting brain receptors in a new way)


[on posthuman superintelligence]
A PDF and PPT: Will Humanity's Successors Be Our Descendants?
(based loosely on http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/parable.html )
http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/organic-singularity.pdf
http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/organic-singularity.pptx

* * *

Jonatas, perhaps I should add (as a negative utilitarian!) I certainly don't favour the development of such lethal agents - any more than a chronic pain specialist should favour euthanasing his patients to put them out of their misery. I think the way to phase out suffering is through biotech. But might other NU's, depressives, religious zealots (etc) draw more apocalyptic conclusions? One can foresee a future where today's harmless "cranks" are regarded as incredibly dangerous potential terrorists. This is one reason I think the problem of suffering and existential/global-catastrophic risk are not orthogonal issues as is normally supposed.

* * *

I won't rehash my scepticism about software-based classical digital minds because I agree the issue is too controversial to be settled definitively yet either way. However, perhaps the risk of focusing on "exotic" scenarios is that we neglect the deeper origins of the most pressing threats to survival:
Demonic Males Apes and the Origins of Human Violence by Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham.
Steven Pinker of course draws happier conclusions.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature


[on the contemporary correlation of meat-eating and IQ deficits]
The present-day correlation between meat-eating and low(er) intelligence has many possible explanations. But at the risk of sounding cynical, perhaps the transition will accelerate if adopting a meatless diet is perceived as signalling one is smart as well as ethical.

Meat-eating should no more be a "personal choice" than child abuse should be a personal choice. Clearly, this view needs to be expressed diplomatically. But then I'm all in favour of discouraging child abuse diplomatically: our message should still be uncompromising.

* * *

If we encountered a tribe of cannibals, would we urge them to stop barbecuing [human] babies only after tissue technologists develop in vitro human flesh? I think the cruelties of factory-farming should be criminalised now. But realistically, we need a twin-track strategy in the face of profound moral apathy from the meat-eating majority.

* * *

Indeed so Stephen. I hold quite traditional Biblical views on how the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Biotech just allows us to fill in some of the technical details.
Reprogramming Predators

* * *

Yes, the technical challenges are immense. But recall the nature of selection pressure will change when genes and allelic variations are chosen by rational agents in anticipation of their likely behavioural consequences. For a costed study, see
https://www.hedweb.com/abolitionist-project/elephantcare.html


[on flumazenil]
Flumazenil (flumazepil, code name Ro 15-1788) is the only currently licensed benzodiazepine receptor antagonist:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121121145613.htm
("Need a lot of sleep? An antidote for hypersomnia")

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8159265
"Chronic administration of flumazenil increases life span and protects rats from age-related loss of cognitive functions: a benzodiazepine / GABAergic hypothesis of brain aging."

* * *

Do many forms of consciousness have no behavioural expression?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20268044
("Vegetative patient Scott Routley says 'I'm not in pain'")


[on the Simulation Argument]
Just a note that the Simulation Argument (SA) doesn't purport to show that we're living in a Simulation. For what it's worth, last time I asked Nick, he assigned the Simulation Hypothesis (SH) a credence of no more than 10%. Rather SA's bite lies in how it seems to show that if any of (what naively we call) our descendants do run ancestor simulations - a conjecture that many futurists find plausible - then statistically we would seem likely to be in one of them.

Once again, for what it's worth I think the SA contains suppressed premises regarding the nature of meaning and reference that we should question; and I'm sceptical of the possibility that software-based phenomenal minds can exist at some level of computational abstraction. But a variety of rebuttals of SA have been attempted; and the scholarly consensus seems to be that none of them have yielded a knock-down refutation.

* * *

I'm inclined to agree. On the other hand, one recalls how e.g. Auguste Comte, the founder of positivism, declared of the stars in 1835 that it was certain that “we shall never be able by any means to study their chemical composition" - a few years before the invention of stellar spectroscopy. Today, one wonders if speculative theories about what happens at e.g. Planck-scale energies or the Landscape of string vacua will ever be testable. Either way, I'm not sure it's even intelligible to say that e.g. phenomenal pain could be just simulated pain. If it hurts, it's real; and we should get rid of it. I can't see posthuman superintelligence ever bringing back, in the guise of an ancestor simulation or otherwise.

* * *

It's odd to reflect how even super-rationalists spend around a sixth of their lives completely psychotic. But then maybe posthumans will regard our "ordinary waking consciousness" as a sick chemical psychosis.


[on Nozick's Experience Machine Argument]
Perhaps what's really at issue here is status quo bias. See e.g. the Inverted Experience Machine Argument:
The Inverted Experience Machine

Either way, radical recalibration of the hedonic treadmill (as distinct from immersion in an Experience Machine) doesn't demand giving up (most of) our existing beliefs and values in favour of a fantasy world of self-delusion. If future life is animated by information-sensitive gradients of bliss, then we can engage with (what passes as) the real world with no less commitment than today - and perhaps more so.


[on coffee as a weak MAOI]
Is coffee an antidote to depressive realism?
Human MAO inhibition by coffee
I should be dancing in the streets...


[on non-friendly AGI]
Is NonFriendly AI a form of Superintelligence - or a hypothetical virulent kind of malware?
http://kruel.co/2012/05/11/implicit-constraints-of-practical-goals/
("Implicit constraints of practical goals")

More penetrating questions from Alexander Kruel:
http://kruel.co/2012/11/03/what-i-would-like-the-singularity-institute-to-publish/
("What I would like the Singularity Institute to publish")
SIAI [MIRI] are fortunate to have a critic Alexander Kruel who engages their arguments so closely.

Could one have a God's-eye-view of all possible first-person perspectives and not be benevolent? What precisely such benevolence entails is another question.


[on empathy and analytical thought]
How do we overcome the trade-off?
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-10-empathy-represses-analytic-thought-vice.html ("Empathy represses analytic thought, and vice versa")

* * *

Will rat-human teleconferencing lead to more civilised inter-species communication?
http://www.livescience.com/24484-rats-control-human-avatars.html
("Rats Control Human Avatars")


[on nonhuman animal suffering]
Sick stuff...but will it make people think? Horrifying Planet
("Zebras: Nature's Ultimate Prey - Horrifying Planet - Ep.1")


[on suffering and art
"But suffering is needed to produce great art and literature".
Not for much longer...
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/9764416.stm
("Man or machine - can robots really write novels?")


[on unlimited abundance]
Even if GNP increases a million (or a trillion) times, the supply of status goods and services does not increase.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positional_good
The critical scarcity we face is the deficit of subjective well-being - a consequence of the brutally efficient negative feedback mechanisms of the brain. Nature is extremely miserly with pleasure. Fortunately, unlike perpetually scarce positional goods and services, the molecular substrates of well-being won't need to be rationed.

* * *

Only after a very long struggle...
Five Top Reasons Transhumanism Can Eliminate Suffering

"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity."
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

We pay for it. I still find the horror hard to grasp. Gotthold Lessing was right: "There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose."

* * *

Wolf, spot-on, alas. In fact unless we add "this definition applies only to members of our own species", most humans satisfy the current DSM-IV definition of the disorder.


[on the Fundamental Question]
Why Does The World Exist? by Jim Holt

* * *

Philosophers can seem a frightful bunch: "If a woman appeared in the audience, he [Wittgenstein] would remain standing silent until she left the room." And Heidegger never renounced his early enthusiasm for Nazism.


[on the perils of moral enhancement]
chemical approach to transhumanism...
http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-09/06/chemical-enhancement
(Smart drugs to 'moral enhancement': a chemical approach to transhumanism")
The Wired UK article relegates moral enhancement to below "combatting baldness".

* * *

Indeed Chris. Long-acting empathogens (e.g. safe and sustainable analogies of MDMA might change our cognitive style. In theory, long-acting empathogens and hug-drugs might help us be more moral by promoting a tendency to perspective-taking and greater compassion. Yet sometimes the hyper-systematising, rule-following, "autistic" cognitive style of the classical utilitarian can be more appropriate [http://www.economist.com/node/21530078 - "Goodness has nothing to do with it: Utilitarians are not nice people") than getting "loved up".
I still think it's worth trying; but "moral enhancement" has innumerable pitfalls.


[on confusing advocacy with prediction]
Deborshi, indeed, the question of whether we ought to phase out involuntary suffering is distinct from the prediction that we shall do so. Futurology has a dismal track record. How do we know, either way? But compare, say, how we eradicated the scourge of smallpox, i.e. first understood the necessary and sufficient conditions for its persistence, then eliminated them altogether. How can we predict that smallpox won't return to the world 100 or 1000 years hence? No, we can't be sure. It's just very unlikely.

Clearly, experience below "hedonic zero" is much more complicated than smallpox. But we are well on the way to understanding its necessary and sufficient conditions, even if we don't, in any deep sense, understand why conscious experience exists at all. If suffering exists a few centuries from now, this won't be because its elimination has proved technically too difficult, but because we have decided, for whatever reason, to keep it.

* * *

The egocentric illusion? Those of our would-be ancestors who correctly diagnosed the egocentric illusion and successfully overcame it weren't the one's who passed on their genes to us. Programming egocentric virtual worlds is a hugely fitness-enhancing adaptation thrown up by selfish DNA. Could Eastern wisdom defeat existential pain? Some folk tell me so. I'd love to think they are right! Sadly, natural selection has evolved a brutally effectively set of negative feedback mechanisms that stop most of us being very (un)happy for very long. Discontent is genetically adaptive. As a stopgap, we can preserve its functional analogues while eliminating its nasty "raw feels". But ultimately, maybe it will share the fate of smallpox: I don't know.

If we were all mirror-touch synaesthetes who lived in intimate social groups, then we'd experience each other's joys and sorrows as if they were our own. For obvious reasons, evolution did not favour mirror-touch synaesthesia: the "disorder" is rare. Strictly speaking, however, even the mirror-touch synaesthete doesn't literally feel your pain. Ultimately, we're each trapped in our own egocentric worlds - even when we effectively simulate the egocentric virtual worlds of other subjects of experience. Or as TS Eliot puts it,
"What is hell? Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone."

* * *

...One is sometimes told that universal happiness would be the death of progress. Not so. Once we've engineered our reward circuitry with invincible good mood, then psychedelia can be explored in safety. Until then, extreme caution is needed IMO. The drug naive have simply no idea what they are letting themselves in for...
....Spot-on IMO. It's easy to get distracted from what's morally urgent into whatever one finds intellectually interesting.

* * *

Subject-object duality is indeed a source of suffering and ignorance alike. But without the molecular signature of unpleasant hedonic tone, suffering is physically impossible. We just want to make sure its elimination is universal - not race- or species-specific. IMO.


[on the evolutionary origins of low mood]
more on evolutionary theories of depression:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_approaches_to_depression
and the inflammatory theory
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201103/depression-caused-inflammation-thus-other-diseases-civilization
("Evolutionary Psychiatry: The hunt for evolutionary solutions to contemporary mental health problems. Depression - Caused by Inflammation, Thus Like Other Diseases of Civilization.")
I personally take ibuprofen daily because I find it has a (weak but distinct) mood-brightening effect.


[on intelligence]
Faruq, for what it's worth I'm sceptical that intelligence is akin to an innate scalar brain force that you could boost by popping a pill. But you could try modafinil or selegiline ordered from an online pharmacy and perhaps score a modest improvement on existing "IQ" tests.


[on happiness and meaning]
One can't be apathetic about one's own agony (or bliss). The fact such agony (or bliss) matters is built into the nature of the experience itself. If, on the other hand, one is in an affectively neutral state, then nihilistic apathy writ large may seem viable on a cosmic scale. This is because most of us aren't mirror-touch synaesthetes. We don't have the representational capacity to suffer (or savour) the profoundest experiences of other subjects of experience as if they were our own. In practice, nihilistic apathy is usually a sign of masked depression. In depression, meaning drains away from life. Perhaps the most extreme manifestation of nihilistic depression is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotard_delusion">Cotard's delusion, the belief one is already dead. Conversely, the happier one becomes, the more meaningful everything seems - a deep sense of meaning far removed from the "empty hedonism" one might suppose. Thus the grandiosity that accompanies bipolar mania may even extend to believing one is God (theomania).

* * *

A sense of meaning(lessness) is experimentally manipulable. Enhancing dopamine function, for instance, boosts motivation: dopaminergic drugs can induce an urgent, hyper-meaningful sense of things-to-be-done. By contrast, dopamine antagonists like antipsychotics induce apathy, emptiness and amotivation.

* * *

We tend to assume that Happiness and The Meaning Of Life are separate questions. But after we have mastered organic life's reward circuitry and engineered a civilisation based on sublime bliss, then empirically the meaning of life may seem self-intimating. In other words, take care of happiness, and the Meaning Of Life will take care of itself. Our descendants - and in theory our elderly selves - may not just find life to be orders of magnitude more blissful than archaic humans can imagine, but also orders of magnitude more significant too.


[on propagating happiness]
"Let's pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere"
(C.S. Lewis)
Does iniquity have a future?
http://reflectivedisequilibrium.blogspot.com.ar/2012/09/spreading-happiness-to-stars-seems.html
("'Spreading happiness to the stars seems little harder than just spreading' by Carl Shulman")

Whether primordial life, let alone primordial intelligent life, emerges more than once in a typical life-supporting Hubble volume is still an open question. But if so, would Eudaimonians or instead Classical Utilitarians who launch some kind of "utilitronium shockwave" prevail? By contrast, Carl pits Eudaimonians against Locusts.

* * *

Yes, the posting makes a lot of contestable assumptions. But it's good to see heavyweight researchers like Carl taking the prospect of stewardship of our Hubble volume [and beyond if you're right, Charles] seriously. The technical challenges to technologies built on Alcubierre warp drive are of course horrendous.
(cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcubierre_drive)
The ethical responsibilities of rational agents will be further extended if [as argued by Lev Vaidman - http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/0105101v2.pdf - the two-state vector formalism in quantum mechanics must be combined with a post-Everett ontology to make us partly responsible for what [naively] we call "the past". The lesson, I guess, is that before doing anything irrevocable, for example initiating a utilitronium shockwave in our forward light-cone, we'd do well fully to understand the ramifications of what we're doing - which now just isn't the case.


[on art, activism and happiness]
"People have many different kinds of pleasure. The real one is that for which they will forsake the others."
(Proust)
Pitfalls of Abolitionism ("'Abolishing Suffering via Bio-Engineering and Drugs - would this cripple social activism and art?' by Hank Pellissier")
Social activism isn't an end in itself. Shouldn't its purpose be to combat suffering? And beauty? Well, we can identify its molecular signature in the brain and amplify its substrates too. Compared to posthuman aesthetic experience, I suspect today's "masterpieces" will seem little better than painting by numbers.


[on ethnic differences in autistic intelligence]
Intelligent people [as defined by psychometricians] tend to have fewer children. IQ scores keep rising. (The Flynn Effect) Something is seriously askew with our conception of intelligence. Nevertheless, one clue to enhancing intelligence, narrowly defined, is offered by Ashkenazi Jews. Ashkenazim record IQ scores almost a standard deviation above the global mean, but they also record the highest prevalence of Asperger's syndrome i.e. there may be trade-offs to enhancing mind-blind autistic intelligence. (cf. http://harpending.humanevo.utah.edu/Documents/ashkiq.webpub.pdf: "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending) African Americans may record lower IQ scores - and the lowest AQ scores too (cf. The Myth of the Black Aspergian), though to the best of my knowledge this negative correlation has never been rigorously quantified.

* * *


[on rationing the substrates of bliss]
Indeed. Faruk, I've no more enthusiasm for primitive primate dominance hierarchies than you. But unlike status goods and services, which must always be scarce, the substrates of bliss don't need to be rationed. And without low mood, the subordinate behaviour that props up class structures will most likely disappear. (cf. https://www.biopsychiatry.com/depression/index.html )

* * *

Talk of "revolution" scares most people. By contrast, the promise of life animated by gradients of well-being, i.e. recalibration of our hedonic treadmill, can be sold as a radical conservatism. Superhappiness needn't entail giving up your existing values and preferences - unless those values and preferences are directly tied to the infliction of suffering on others.

For now, Faruq, I'd try and optimise your diet, aerobic exercise regimen and sleep discipline. Gene therapies to boost e.g. memory may shortly be feasible; but beware advise side-effects. For example, specially bred "smart mice" are more sensitive to pain:


[on suicide]
Time to tackle the genetic roots of suicide:
"Five percent of people in the world try to kill themselves at least once during their lifetime".
The number of people who wish they didn't exist - a lot of the time at any rate - is larger still. We need a Manhattan project to cure low mood. Alas until an era of mature gene therapy arrives, I'm not convinced depression can be effectively treated in all depressives without targeting the neurotransmitter system most directly in low mood, i.e. the opioid system.


[on the history of transhumanism]
An authoritative history of transhumanism has yet to be written...
http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo1/coleman.php
(Better Than Human The Transhumanist Transition to a Technological Future")

Theo, not even superhuman intelligence could write such a history without treading on a few toes - and I favour universal chiropody.

* * *

Yes, the soul is dead, and God is dying. I don't think the ontology of materialism is any healthier. I call myself a Strawsonian physicalist, www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~seager/strawson_on_panpsychism.doc But the nature of the mysterious "fire in the equations" is elusive.

* * *

The existing Wikipedia entry for "physicalism" frustrated me (there is even a proposal to mere it with "materialism"], so I've just added I've just added a section on Strawsonian physicalism:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physicalism
Although I think something like it is indispensable to solving the so-called Hard Problem of consciousness (hard for materialists, at any rate), Strawsonian physicalism doesn't by itself explain how phenomenal object binding and the [fleeting, synchronic] unity of consciousness is feasible. Why aren't we just patterns of classical "mind dust"?

Strawsonian physicalism is a monistic. The only other monistic ontology on offer to the scientifically literate is materialism, and materialism has the disadvantage of being manifestly false, refuted by a single compelling counterexample. Whether the subjective properties of matter and energy play an information-processing role depends on the system in question. No, in the case of, say, a digital computer simulation of the weather. Yes, in the case of, say, the pain one feels after putting one's hand on hot stove [and no, in the case of neuropathic pain]. However, the success of sophisticated multicellular organic robots over the past half-billion years depends not just on simple experiences like raw pain or pleasure, but on our computational capacity to run data-driven, (almost) real-time simulations of fitness-relevant patterns in the local environment - what is commonly called perception. And we don't understand how apparently spatially distributed information-processors, i.e. supposedly discrete, membrane-bound neurons, even if endowed with primitive subjective properties and massively interconnected, could instantiate bound perceptual objects, let alone the unity of perception or the unity of the self.

To the best of our knowledge, an organic robot would still exemplify these complex subjective properties if it were a Davidsonian "swampman"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swampman
or a Boltzmann brain.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain (etc)
So the existence of these complex subjective properties is not explained by the information-processing role they typically play in organic robots. Natural selection explains merely why they were selected, i.e. which items on the menu were chosen, not the menu itself. As you know Dustin, I think the explanation of the [fleeting, synchronic] unitary of consciousness and experiential object binding is quantum mechanical.
(for reasons sketched in our July 23 discussion
https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/35830349229/)

* * *

Quantum mechanics is often thought mysterious and classical physics unproblematic; but actually the emergence of quasi-classical macroscopic worlds is the deeper mystery. Rather my surprise, Jim Holt canvasses Strawsonian physicalism & quantum coherence in an "Interlude" in his wonderful little volume Why Does Anything Exist"

* * *

Dustin, the fact that all sorts of systems are not subjects of experience but [effectively] mere aggregates, functionally organised or otherwise, doesn't refute Strawsonian physicalism / monistic idealism. Rather what's interesting about organic minds is that our phenomenology can't be explained on the assumption our minds have discrete classical "parts"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mereological_nihilism
- or not when we're awake or dreaming, at any rate.

By contrast, the quantum mechanical properties of the hardware of a serial digital computer are purely incidental to its function. Quite possibly such properties may be also incidental to our own logico-linguistic thought-episodes (and contra Penrose, to logico-mathematical reasoning too). But such late evolutionary innovations are not the grounds for believing post-Cambrian minds function as naturally evolved quantum computers.

* * *

The most fundamental conceptual distinction I know is between the conscious and the non-conscious. Within the conceptual framework of scientific materialism, the Hard Problem is more troubling than not having an explanation for the existence of consciousness.

Yes, I was begging the question. But note that femtosecond timescales - and even the attosecond intervals [around 12 attoseconds or 1.2 × 10-17 seconds] that are currently the shortest controllable times humans can measure - are still unimaginably long intervals compared to the natural fundamental unit of measurement: somewhere on the order of 3.7 × 1026 Planck times as protracted.
http://www.nature.com/nphoton/journal/v4/n7/full/nphoton.2010.91.html


[on The Abolitionist Project]
The Abolitionist Project - Introduction (Part 1)
"David Pearce introduces and explains the Abolitionist Project: how suffering will be eliminated in the future." http://www.abolitionist.com/

---------

Thanks Chris. One may share David Benatar's bleak diagnosis of life on Earth without sharing his anti-natalist conclusion. For the problem with urging voluntary childlessness is that choosing not to have children just exerts selection pressure against the ethically responsible, and in favour of the feckless, the reckless, and religious fundamentalists who seek to "go forth and multiply". So instead of plotting life's extinction, I think we should be exploring ways to design life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss, i.e. recalibrating the hedonic treadmill so that being born is inherently good. Humans [or our transhuman & posthuman successors] are the only species within our Hubble volume intellectually capable of securing the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone.
http://www.abolitionist.com/anti-natalism.html

* * *

A nice idea Ben. But unless such a cultural transmission mechanism were completely reliable, wouldn't adoption just increase the selection pressure in favour of feckless breeders - who can increase their genetic inclusive fitness by inducing responsible anti-natalists to adopt their offspring?

* * *

Chris, yes indeed. In fairness I should have noted that the Rare Earth hypothesis is no more than a conjecture. But the claim that only humans (or our transhuman or posthuman successors) can assume stewardship of our Hubble volume is not a mere ungrounded assumption.

_________________

New Pleasure Circuit Found in the Brain
"We hope...the discoveries will unite pleasure and purpose, elevating everyday experiences to something truly satisfying, and perhaps even sublime."

A paean to Mill's higher pleasures? Not exactly...
Wireheading: The Conundrum of Uber-Hedonism & Simulated Bliss


[on Obamacare for Elephants]
A case study. Caring for some of the other 5900 odd species of mammal will be more of a challenge..
A Welfare State for Elephants


[on the molecular machinery of paradise]
The delay is maddening Faruk. But if it's any consolation, I think your later years will feel more sublime than anything in the history of the universe to date. Within the next decade of so, neuroscience is likely to unravel the molecular machinery of pure pleasure. The ultimate "hedonic hotspots" in the posterior ventral pallidum and rostral shell of the nucleus accumbens of the rat brain are around a cubic millimetre in size. (cf. Humanity's ultimate http://www-personal.umich.edu/~berridge/">hedonic hotspots are slightly larger: around a cubic centimetre. But we still don't know the precise gene expression profile and molecular signature of pure bliss. When we do, then splicing in (and "over-expressing") extra copies of the relevant alleles should allow experiences orders of magnitude more wonderful than anything physiologically feasible today. For sure, recalibrating the hedonic treadmill, enriching oxytocin function to promote social cognition, knocking out some of the genetic "bad guys" (genes I mean, not people!), and fine-tuning the mesolimbic dopamine system will take many decades. But both artificial intelligence and personal user-friendly genetic and epigenetic editing tools should be on hand on help.

The USA was founded on the principle of "....unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". IMO a Declaration of Independence from the horrors of Darwinian life ought to entail nothing less. To critics, I'd simply ask the following question. When any experience below hedonic zero becomes technically optional, would you force anyone to suffer against their will? How much? how often? And enforced by what means?

* * *

Faruk, as far as we know, the pleasure-pain axis is universal - certainly throughout the vertebrate line and beyond. A system that isn't sentient doesn't inherently matter, whether it's a rock or a Cray supercomputer. Of course a Cray supercomputer is potentially much more valuable instrumentally than a rock. But in a world without sentient beings, it wouldn't matter at all. Politically correct? Yes, I guess I'm PC in the sense I'm antiracist, antisexist, antihomophobic and antispeciesist. But I am sentientist - and proud of it.

* * *

But contrast our attitudes here. The prospect of life animated by gradients of intelligent bliss is attractive, at least to some of us, whereas the prospect of "utilitronium" leaves almost everyone cold. One reason is the anticipated loss of self: if one's matter and energy were converted into utilitronium, then intuitively the intense undifferentiated bliss wouldn't be me. By contrast, even a radical recalibration of one's hedonic set-point intuitively preserves the greater part of one's values, memories and existing preference architecture: in short, personal identity. Whether such preservation of self would really obtain if life were animated by gradients of bliss, and whether such notional continuity is ethically significant, and whether the notion of an enduring metaphysical ego is even intellectually coherent, is another matter.

* * *

We really ought to reach out to the Buddhist community too. None of the world's 350 million odd Buddhists need to be reminded of the moral urgency of phasing out suffering. Persuading the Buddhist community that the route to a world without suffering lies through biotechnology rather than the Noble Eightfold Path is more of a challenge. But everything we know [not much admittedly] about the historical Gautama Buddha suggests that he was, above all, a pragmatist. If it works, do it. On this basis, Gautama Buddha would warmly welcome the biotech revolution and the revolution it promises in mental and physical health.

* * *

Faruq, I agree. But perhaps we may differ over certain issues of gender. (cf. http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/pellissier20110215
("Women-Only Leadership: Would it prevent war?)

* * *

For what it's worth, I suspect we're on our own, at least within our cosmological horizon. But IMO convergent evolution means that the evolutionary trajectory of intelligent life may be similar. Extraterrestrial life that evolves far enough to master biotechnology is likely to hack its own genetic source code and abolish suffering too.

I take seriously the possibility that ET would launch a utilitronium shockwave - though the hypervaluable nature of "utilitronium" may be far richer than the "orgasmium" with which it is sometimes equated. The non-existence of any such shockwave within our Hubble volume is (weak) confirmatory evidence that the responsibility of cosmic stewardship falls to us - or rather our posthuman descendants.
(cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis)

* * *

Strains of rats are deliberately bred by investigators to be extremely depressed
(cf. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22351423)
or immune from depression.
We could already genetically underwrite the emotional
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22351423
http://www.reproductive-revolution.com/5-httshort.html
and physical
https://www.opioids.com/pain/scn9a.pdf
well-being of our future children by choosing benign alleles and allelic combinations via preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Ultimately we can do the same for all sentient life.

* * *

A contagious viral infection that induced chronic euphoria in its victims is within the bounds of medical possibility (cf. http://cmr.asm.org/content/16/3/534.long "Borna Disease Virus Infection, a Human Mental-Health Risk"). However, aiming for such a pandemic might raise one or two eyebrows. I think we should stick to voluntary targeted interventions.

* * *

Sadly we can calculate decoherence functionals and - barring a conceptual as well as technological revolution - the vast majority of life-supporting Everett branches will forever lie beyond intervention by rational agency - even granted utopian technology. On a brighter note, perhaps our conceptual scheme is fundamentally mistaken. I hope so.
(cf. The Emergent Multiverse for the most philosophically sophisticated treatment I know of post-Everett quantum mechanics. And also the edited volume "The Wave Function Essays on the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics.")

* * *

A contagious viral infection that induced chronic euphoria in its victims is within the bounds of medical possibility (cf. "Borna Disease Virus Infection, a Human Mental-Health Risk"). However, aiming for such a pandemic might raise one or two eyebrows. I think we should stick to voluntary targeted interventions.

* * *

The Third Reich? Hitler's Social Darwinism and the high-tech Jainism of HI are somewhat at odds. And somehow I don't think the Führer would have approved of my support for a greater role for women in politics and pink pacifist philo-semitism. Details aside, he had a strength of purpose that was worthy of a better cause.

...Faruk, I think we need to ensure the well-being of all sentience, regardless of gender, species membership or ethnic group. It's easy (and evolutionarily adaptive) to slip into thinking of "us" and "them". But we need an inclusive sense of "us" that embraces all sentient beings. Recall Hitler espoused an extreme form of Social Darwinism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Darwinism
Somehow I don't think he'd approve of HI.
As his sister Paula recalled after the War: "I would have preferred it if he had followed his original ambition and become an architect. It would have saved the world a lot of worries..."

* * *

I take seriously the possibility that they'd launch a utilitronium shockwave - though the hypervaluable nature of "utilitronium" may be far richer than the vulgar "orgasmium" with which it is sometimes equated. The non-existence of any such shockwave within our Hubble volume is (weak) confirmatory evidence that the responsibility of cosmic stewardship falls to us - or rather our posthuman descendants.
(cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis)


[on rival conceptions of posthuman superintelligence]
What is your conception of greater-than-human intelligence?
http://scienceprogress.org/2012/06/could-the-organic-singularity-occur-prior-to-kurzweils-technological-singularity/
A wide diversity of opinions is represented in the forthcoming Springer volume:
http://www.springer.com/engineering/computational+intelligence+and+complexity/book/978-3-642-32559-5
My money is still on organic superintelligence (cf. http://www.biointellignce-explosion.com) But the dismal track record of futurology is sobering.>br> (with thanks to Amnon)


[on compassionate conservatism]
Programação das Comunicações
ABSTRACT
Conservation Biology versus Compassionate Biology

Since the Cambrian explosion, pain and suffering have been inseparable from the existence of life on Earth. However, a major evolutionary transition is now in prospect. One species of social primate has evolved the capacity to master biotechnology, rewrite its own genetic source code, and abolish the molecular signature of experience below "hedonic zero" throughout the living world. This talk explores one aspect of the evolutionary transition ahead, namely interventions to phase out the cruelties of Nature. The exponential growth of computer processing power promises to let us micro-manage every cubic metre of the planet. Responsible stewardship of tomorrow's wildlife parks will entail cross-species fertility regulation via immunocontraception, "reprogramming" predators, famine relief, healthcare provision, and eventually a pan-species analogue of the welfare state. Can science and technology engineer the well-being of all sentence in our forward light-cone?

Here is the PDF and PowerPoint of "Conservation Biology versus Compassionate Biology":
http://www.abolitionist.com/reprogramming/compassionate-biology.pdf
http://www.abolitionist.com/reprogramming/compassionate-biology.pptx Although the two approaches are here contrasted, they can in principle be combined. But where to strike a balance?


[on utopia and dystopia]
Utopia? Dystopia? Or Muddling Through?
Are you optimistic about the future?
Is Humanity Accelerating Towards Apocalypse? or Utopia?

Electing an all-women political class would probably save hundreds of millions of lives and prevent untold suffering in war. No doubt the claim evolution "designed" men to wage war is simplistic. But high testosterone function is clearly a huge factor in territorial aggression and armed conflict - just as ethyl alcohol consumption is a risk factor in traffic accidents.
Alas it's hard to have a rational debate on this topic, conceived not as feminist issue, but purely as a technical measure of global catastrophic risk-reduction ("You should meet my ex-wife"; "It's discriminatory"; "Feminists hate men"; "What about Margaret Thatcher?" etc.)

Tom, yes, Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature is a gruesome yet in one sense encouraging book (gruesome because to make his point, Pinker chronicles the stomach-churning barbarities of the past in some depth). I agree with Pinker's main thesis. My main criticism is that his text neglects the horrors of factory farming and the death factories. For sure, humans today are less prone to celebrate nonhuman animal suffering for entertainment purposes than our ancestors; but we inflict far more of it and for purposes no less frivolous.

* * *

Sadly yes. Unless war between large/medium-sized state actors has come to an end, nuclear weapons will be used in conflict this century - with immense ramifications. I fear we are sleepwalking towards the abyss...


[on the abolitionist project]
The Abolitionist Project
the Reproductive Revolution (trippy video)
(with thanks to Adam Summerfield)

Would you rather have autism spectrum disorder or Williams syndrome?
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-06-hormone-oxytocin-heart-rare-genetic.html ("'Trust' hormone oxytocin found at heart of rare genetic disorder")
The Biointelligence Explosion

But what kind of explosion? Phasing out the biology of suffering can be done with recognisable extensions of existing technology. Its abolition doesn't depend on posthuman superintelligence. My best guess is still that world's last aversive experience in our forward light cone is still hundreds of years away. But if either Ray Kurzweil's or MIRI's conception of a Technological Singularity this century are essentially correct, unpleasantness could be over far sooner. Alas I'm still sceptical. Hence my biointelligence talk at Essex. Let's hope I'm wrong!

Indeed. I've long assumed the crude trichotomy of 1) wireheading 2) designer drugs 3) genetic engineering exhausted the technically feasible options for phasing out suffering - options listed here in ascending order of desirability and sociological plausibility.

But what about artificial posthuman SuperIntelligence - not as some distant dream, but as variously conceived by the modern Singularity movement: an imminent "intelligence explosion" later this century?
The Singularity Hypothesis

Of course the abolition of suffering isn't the primary focus of most Singularitarians. Eliezer Yudkowsky (http://singinst.org/), for instance, would probably class a "utilitronium shockwave" scenario as an example of "unfriendly AI". But no Singularitarian would claim that the challenge is technically too hard for a super-AGI. As you've gathered, I'm sceptical that digital computers / symbolic AI will yield Full-Spectrum Superintelligence. But maybe I'm mistaken.

* * *

Will digital computers / silicon robots be able to experience, refer to, manipulate, philosophise about, and explore (etc) different states of consciousness - and understand and predict the behaviour of sentient beings like us who do so? Or will they still be zombies: super-smart idiot-savants?

On theoretical grounds, I doubt a digital computer will ever feel phenomenal pain and pleasure. And we can phase out painful experience altogether in our forward light-cone.
What kind of well-being will sentient beings enjoy instead? I don't know. But I suspect we're living in purgatory by comparison with posthuman paradise.


[on the possibility of happy nonhuman animals]
Animals Can Be Happy Too
An interesting - and important - question. If he's a male, he will probably be sexually frustrated and in search of mating opportunities. If s/he a herbivore, perhaps slightly anxious. But normal hedonic tone? I don't know. Only social animals seems to get depressed. So neutral or even positive?
I'd be lying if I said Nature is a wonderful place. But we can make it so.

Displaying distress or injury can be genetically maladaptive for members of a "prey" species. So their feelings aren't always obvious. But a convergence of evolutionary, genetic, behavioural and neurobiological evidence suggests that our core emotions are strongly evolutionarily conserved in the vertebrate line and beyond.


[on corrupted mindfiles]
Does your mindfile need remastering or remixing?
Remastering the brain?
("Covert operations: Your brain digitally remastered for clarity of thought")


[some links]
Is will-power nourished by food or dopaminergic drugs?
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-08-willpower-depleted-replenished-food.html
("Study indicates willpower not depleted by use nor replenished by food")
See too why many psychoactives are more rewarding when you're hungry:
http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-08-implicates-dopamine-food-restriction-drug.html
("Study implicates dopamine in food restriction, drug abuse")

Obstructing the right of US citizens to the pursuit of happiness is unconstitutional - though I'm not sure an Englishman's opinion carries much weight in such matters.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/08/14/meet-the-dread-pirate-roberts-the-man-behind-booming-black-market-drug-website-silk-road/
("Meet The Dread Pirate Roberts, The Man Behind Booming Black Market Drug Website Silk Road")

Robert, the best stab I know at reconciling Christianity, transhumanism and universal immortalism is Frank Tipler: "The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead". By contrast, IMO most if not all of the Darwinian dead are best left well buried.


[on the reproductive revolution in German]
Die reproduktive Revolution
Selektionsdruck in einer post-darwin'schen Welt
Stefan Meid has kindly done a German translation of "The Reproductive Revolution" if any native German speakers would like to proof the text. Thanks! However, a defence of eugenics may be a tough sell to a German-speaking audience.

[...]Yes, the "e" word probably can't be salvaged. The problem arises when a critic says: "So are you advocating eugenics?"

* * *

What is the "optimal" way to abolish suffering?
Wireheading and its variants aren't ecologically sustainable. Strong selection pressure would be exerted against wireheads.

Designer drugs allow the possibility of high functioning well-being - and fine-grained, reversible control of our consciousness. But do we want to medicate our children from birth? And do we want a society based around drug-consumption?

Genetically preprogrammed mental health strikes me as the best option for life-long intelligent bliss:
http://www.reproductive-revolution.com
Wouldn't it be good to enjoy a default state of consciousness that we weren't eager to change - so we could just get on with life instead.

Do you think the three options for getting rid of suffering, i.e. variants of wireheading, designer drugs or genetic engineering, are exhaustive? I've considered "uploading" scenarios. But I'm sceptical they are technically feasible; and (short of ubiquitous "destructive" uploading) they still leave a pain-ridden meatworld intact. A more radical alternative might be a "utilitronium shockwave" option; but sociologically speaking it's hard to see what circumstances would lead to its adoption.

* * *

Imagine if immersive VR becomes so realistic that we each have access to our own "Experience Machine". So-called "supernormal" stimuli deliver the stuff of fantasies - and hyper-realism too. But will the selection pressure against any predisposition to non-veridical VR immersion be any weaker than selection pressure against junkies today?

* * *

Jonatus, I agree with you. Although our "hedonic set-point" (and hedonic maxima and minima) are genetically constrained, the experience of chronic uncontrolled stress, for instance, can lower the victim's hedonic set-point - leading to depression. And other things being equal, becoming Emperor (or dominant alpha-male etc) is more satisfying than playing the role of lowly serf. Tellingly, however, biographic study of the lives of the Roman Emperors (and Ottoman Sultans, Russian Tsars, etc) suggests few were especially happy.

AI? We know nociception can be substrate-independent, as our silicon / gallium arsenide etc robots attest. Does the same hold for phenomenal pain? Or is phenomenal pain a substrate-specific feature of biological nervous systems? Are qualia in general "program-resistant"? In future, perhaps the signalling function of the specific molecular machinery that mediates unpleasant experience in organic robots can be replaced by a prosthetic analogue - a functional analogue that lacks our nasty "raw feels" - while subjectively valuable experience can be amplified and enriched. Such a hybrid system would entail posthumans are "cyborgs" - but only in the most benign sense of the term.

Ancestor-simulations? I know a future of what we might call Sociopathic AI has lately been quite widely canvassed. But autistic, "unfriendly" AI is a pitiful travesty of full-spectrum SuperIntelligence. Likewise, I've never come across a psychologically, sociologically (or ethically) plausible account of why posthumans would choose literally to recreate the horrors from which they emerged. Would you recreate your last toothache? Or even the last time you were really bored? Scaling upwards, recreating Auschwitz in the guise of running an "ancestor-stimulation" wouldn't just be immoral but too dumb for words.

* * *


[on the webmaster's Reddit AMA]
What are the ethics of making (what one hopes will be) self-fulfilling prophecies? (and in other contexts, what are the ethics of self-stultifying prophecies?) In my Reddit AMA (cf. http://www.reddit.com/r/Transhuman/comments/r7dui/david_pearce_ama/) "benthamite" takes me to task for wishful thinking. He's surely right to say we should be suspicious of any prediction that coincides with the hopes of its author. But if enough people believe that humanity is going to phase out the biology of suffering, abolitionist scenarios are more likely to happen.


The Hedonistic Imperative
1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9

David Pearce (2014)
dave@hedweb.com


hedweb.com

HOME
2017 (FB)
2016 (FB)
2015 (FB)
2014 (FB)
Talks 2015
Pre-2014 (FB)
Quora Answers
LessWrong 2013
Some Interviews
The Abolitionist Project
Social Network Postings (2017)
Can Science Abolish Suffering?